A Revolutionary Boy

You will get more from this story if you learn something about the American Colonies, and what life was like for people around the 1700s. 

Explorers had been coming to America for a long time. In 1607, a colony (or settlement) called Jamestown came about. Those settlers nearly died. Other colonies failed completely. Over time, and largely due to help from the Indians, more and more colonies came about, and grew. Most were along the east coast of what is now the United States, and along rivers. The French were coming to the north, and the Spanish to the south while they continued to settle in Central and South America, Mexico and the west coast of the United States. Eventually, the new world now called America developed into thirteen Colonies. Each of them were similar to the states in that area now and had an ever growing number of villages, towns and cities. Most people, though, still lived on farms and had little contact with others. There were few roads, and often no roads at all. You probably already know that there was no electricity, no lights other than candles or lanterns, no telephones, no radios or televisions.

Many towns had a town crier who would gather the news then walk around the villages with it. People gathered at taverns and town halls. Newspapers began to appear, especially in the larger towns to the north. Even there, paper and printing were expensive. Often, something very important like the Declaration of Independence would be posted on walls and poles . 

It took a lot of work and dedication for the Colonies to unite. No one really believed it would happen, especially against powerful England. Also, many of the colonists didn’t want to separate, and certainly didn’t want war. 

A boy like Nathan would lead a hard life. He and his family would be up with or before the sun. There was a LOT to be done. He might have a dozen brothers and sisters to help. If he was lucky, he would get at least some schooling so he could learn to read and write. Most of the time, girls got no schooling at all. The children would often learn from a reading primer or horn book. At home in the evenings, it was fairly common to practice and learn by reading the family Bible.

 

A REVOLUTIONARY BOY

Nathan didn’t mind collecting the eggs each morning, but of all his chores it was one of his least favorite. He was grateful that they got enough that there were extra that his father could sell or trade. What he hated was to get his hands pecked every morning. Not even the thick leather gloves he got from the blacksmith completely stopped the peck, peck, peck. Nathan could feel it even through the leather. 

His family had always raised chickens. Before Nathan was old enough to have egg collecting added to his list of chores, many times he’d heard a shout from the chicken coop. Now it was his turn. “Don’t peck on me!” 

As usual the chickens paid little attention, but those leather gloves from the blacksmith helped a lot. 

Nathan liked Mr. Abernethy, the blacksmith. He’d even talked to his father about being an apprentice. The blacksmith shop was an important center to the town and the farms around it. If there was news, it could be heard at the tavern, or seen posted at the town hall. The men would also gather at Mr. Abernethy’s shop to read the posted news, and to talk about the issues. 

One of these stories frightened Nathan. It frightened many people. Long before Nathan was born, there had been trouble for the colonies. There had always been a struggle just to survive. Colonists had come to this new land to set up colonies. Where Nathan lived, most were from England. Mr. Abernethy was from Scotland. Not too far away to the north, many of the settlers were from France. Then there were the Indians. Everyone seemed to want the same land. They fought over it. Living was still very dangerous in many places. Like most men, Nathan’s father kept a musket close at hand – but these days it was used mostly for hunting. Actual fighting seemed far away to Nathan. At least it had until recently. 

More and more of the news was about how King George of England expected more and more from the colonists. Talk around town, and even at home, was about how the colonists were demanding freedom. Nathan didn’t know where they were but did know that there had been battles in places like Lexington and Concord. War was still something distant for Nathan but it was very real. 

Nathan’s older brother, Thomas, was ten. He found an old basket and put some cloth over it. He would tap on it with two sticks and pretend to be a drummer boy in the militia. Papa kept his musket clean and ready. He was very good at hunting and often brought home good things for the family to eat. This was different. Several times, someone would ride by their farm. After some whispering between them, Papa would stop his work, take his musket and loading pouch, and leave. Nathan knew that men all over the area were doing the same thing. He had seen it before. Sometimes they’d be back very soon – sometimes the men would be gone for several days. 

They called themselves Minutemen. Papa explained that they weren’t actual soldiers. “We are a militia,” he said. “Most of the time we do our usual work. But, these are difficult times. The king’s soldiers come near towns and even farms. A war has started between the colonies and England. We’re trying to make sure that it doesn’t get worse, and that the people are protected. So, we are ready to act in a minute if we have to.” 

Mostly, life went on as usual, at least for Nathan. He’d be up before dawn to get at the many chores. Gathering eggs was just one. Nathan was kept very busy. Still, it bothered him to see his father with the musket always close – and to hear the stories and rumors each time they went into the village. 

On a warm August afternoon, a rider came by their farm to talk with Papa. Nathan was busy cutting some of the early corn from the stalks. He expected the usual nervous time with Papa heading out with his musket. Instead, Papa came over to Nathan and said, “There is news posted in the village. Would you like to come along?”

Of course, Nathan was so excited that he nearly dropped his knife and basket. Papa, Nathan and three of Nathan’s brothers walked along what served as a path (made easier by the number of horsemen speeding along it to call the father to duty). Quite a crowd had gathered. Fancy looking papers were posted here and there. Few of the words meant much to Nathan, but he was good at listening. 

The man who served as his occasional teacher stepped onto a platform. He could read words, even fancy words, and even explain them. “Perhaps it is time to read this again,” he said. “Our Congress …” he paused a moment … “OUR Congress signed this last month.” He went on to read, or try to read, the papers in his hands. It seemed that everyone had something to say. 

Nathan didn’t understand everything that was being said. The words from the document being read spoke of the laws of nature, and of the rights of people. It puzzled Nathan a little that some of the things actually needed to be said – like how people have the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Of course they do! But, isn’t that obvious? It was to Nathan so how could it be something strange to those who want to be in charge? 

As the reading went on, there was a long list of complaints. Those in the village square listening had much to say. King George had been doing many bad things for a long time. People in the Colonies had tried many times to get things to work. The king merely sent more soldiers to force people to obey. Nathan knew of this personally because he’d seen his father get the musket ready – not to go hunting so the family could eat, but to join with others to protect their homes from “the redcoats.” 

Through the reading, those listening were noisy. They agreed with what was being said. Toward the end were the words “Representatives of the United States of America.” Nathan joined in with the cheer that came from the people. 

Nathan squeezed his father’s hand. “Are we going to war, Papa?”

His father patted Nathan’s little hand. “We already are, and have been. Now comes the future. Your future.” He looked into Nathan’s worried eyes. “For now, Nathan, you only have to think about getting the eggs and the corn. Tomorrow morning, you and Thomas need to repair that door to the barn. It’s warm now, but winter is coming. Right now is the time to get our farm and home ready for the coming winter.”

They walked toward home in silence until Nathan asked, “What was that paper being read?”

Papa answered, “It’s called the Declaration of Independence.”


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