Sunday, August 23, 2015

Concord, Massachusetts, Part 1-- the Start of the American Revolution and a home of Louisa May Alcott, African-Americans

I arrived in Boston at almost 2 a.m. on August 21, 7 hours late and exhausted.  I did get to see Nadav, Leah and Kai the next day before they headed out to NY for a wedding.  I took a day to recover and then Sunday drove 30 minutes to the Concord, MA area where  I spent the day at Minute Man National Historical Park and the surrounding area.

 I started at the Minute Man Visitors Center (on the right of the map above).  The walk from the parking lot to the visitor's center was short but beautiful and calming.  

 After going through the treed area, I walked by a pond and a small meadow and then turned a corner and saw the center.  It is one of the earlier ones and a more authentic structure.

At the main room in the center, there is an exhibit that tells about what happened in Boston in the days leading up to start of the Revolution on April 19, 1775.  A man was dressed in a British soldier's uniform among the explanations, waiting for people to take pictures with him.  
 I watched an excellent 25-minute multi-media  movie on the start of the American Revolution. In 5th grade, we studied earlier  U S. history and the two things I remember memorizing are the poem by Longfellow entitled "Paul Revere's Ride" 
which you can find at

and the Gettysburg Address by Lincoln,   I still remember the first lines of both.  Anyway, the movie and the explanations really helped to put things into perspective.   

The story began with the British addition of  taxes and tightening the rules for the Americans, especially in Boston.   As the militia began to store military weapons, the British decided to search and confiscate them. 

I had not remembered  that Revere and another Patriot named William Dawes started out at the same time but on different routes to go to the towns to the West to warn people that 760 British soldiers were coming to confiscate military weapons in the Concord area and to tell them to hid them. (The soldiers went by boat and then walked miles.) Another patriot named Samuel Prescott joined them at Lexington  and eventually a British patrol surprised them.  Two of the riders got away, but Revere was stopped about a quarter mile west of the visitors' center--something I had totally forgotten--and finally let go a few hours later as the British arrived.  However, the other two managed to spread the word.  (The poem I memorized never mentioned the fate of Revere.)

At Lexington the British and locals confront each other at 5 a.m..  Without any orders, a shot is fired (not sure by whom) and the British started firing, killing 8 colonials.  The British soldiers find some weapons and burn them.   The colonials think that the town is on fire and are upset.  At North Bridge  at 9:30 where the British had been on both sides of the bridge, for safety, they go to one side.  About 400  militia men group on the hills behind the bridge.  They confront the British, and the British start shooting, killing two colonials.  The colonel authorizes the men to return fire, an act of treason to the British govt, and would soon become famous as "The shot heard round the world."  The British soon stop shooting and retreat and the militia follow and gather more along the way.  Although more British troops join them, more local militia join, and the exhausted British soldiers get ambushed along the way, with  247 dead or wounded.  49 Colonists had died and 41 were wounded.  That was the start of the Revolutionary war.  

Eventually 20,000 patriots join the fighting, with recruits from MA, CT, NH and RI.  There were loosely structured  and disillusioned  until George Washington was appointed the head of "all the continental forces" on June 15, 1775 and arrived in Cambridge on July 2, greatly improving the situation.

African-Americans also fought in the revolution.  Many did so because of promise of freedom from slavery. The story of Peter Salem is an example of one.

Here is some background on Paul Revere.

The video was excellent, but I needed a change of pace.  So I skipped a few places along the trail including Paul Revere's Capture Site and Hartwell Tavern, and stopped next at Orchard House.  

The Wayside, next door, is a National Historic Monument, but is closed for remodeling/repairs.  It had been one of Louisa May Alcott's childhood homes and later the home of Nathanel Hawthorne.  The Orchard is where Alcott lived as an adult for 19 years with much of her family.  It is privately held so there was an admission charge of $8 for seniors.  It was well worth the money.    Our guide was a high school student and she was well versed in Alcott's life and the story of Orchard House.  She has read all of Alcott's books for girls as some of her books for adults (most of which are rather "gothic.")  

Louisa's father Branson left home at 14 and peddled books, traveling through the US.  He got involved with the Transcendental movement and first brought his family to Concord in 1840.  They left 3 years later to join a utopian agrarian commune where they neither ate animals nor used any of their products.  Life was difficult and food was short, and Louisa's mom, nicknamed Marmie, insisted they return to a more normal life.  In 1845 they bought a house named Hillside but sold it in 1852 to Nathanial Hawthorne who renamed it Wayside.    In 1858, he bought the nearby property where Orchard House was to be.  Branson named it that because the property had a 12-acre apple orchard.  There were two small houses on the site, and Marmie said that house was a "pig sty."  It had been used by militia and was in sad shape.  In a year, Branson rehabbed it, combining the two structures into one.  We were not allowed to take any photos inside but I did find some online.

In the sitting room, we saw an oblong pillow that looked out of place.  It actually was Louisa's mood pillow.  If it was upright, she was is a good mood, but if it was on its side, family members knew it was best to stay away from her!

The family was mostly vegetarian and had a large garden on the side of the house.  (The father was vegan.)

Because of lack of money, the three older girls never went to school but their were tutored by their father and other local philosophers such as Thoreau and Emerson, when the sisters were not working as seamstresses, etc.  Louisa's parents encouraged them to read and all four were musical, but Elizabeth was the most talented.  There was a piano and two instruments similar to a harpsichord in the house.  About 80% of the artifacts in the house originally belonged to the Alcotts. Downstairs had a front  sitting room and dining room.  The latter was used for the girls to put on plays with the audience sitting in the front room.

Louisa's room was quite large so she could write.  She had a double bed, which she shared with her sister Anna and her two young sons when she came back to live in the house  after the death of her husband.  By the way, Anna (the eldest sister) got married on her parents' 30th wedding anniversary, in the main rooms of their house.  She didn't want a fancy, fussy wedding so just sent out the invitations on the day of the wedding, insuring that few people could come!!

Louisa was encouraged to write, and her father built a desk for her, something that was unheard of at that time.  It is the small desk on the left of the photo below.  Louisa loved owls, and there are two pictures of owls painted by her sister May, one before she went to study art in Europe and one after.
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 Louise used to run or walk 20 miles each way into Boston regularly before the Civil War. It took 4 hours each way!

Unlike Jo in the book, Louisa never married as she chose not to.  Also, her father was too old to be in the Civil War, but Louisa volunteered and worked as a nurse.  She caught typhoid pneumonia.  It was treated with a compound that had mercury, and she suffered from the side effects mercury poisoning the rest of her life.

Below is a picture of Branson and Marmie's room.  It was large, also with a double bed, and several comfortable chairs.  Marmie spent a lot of time here.  There is a large, narrow walk-in closet off of the room, and on the other side, Branson built a play room for Anna's boys.  There were also 3 original dolls that the Alcott sisters played with and one that was made by one of the sisters.  A game of Mansion of Happiness was displayed on the wall.  It was a type of "monopoly" game base don the book Pilgrims Progress.
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May (Amy in the book) was the youngest and very gifted artistically and taught art students in Concord.  One later went on to make the Minute Man Statue (pictured above) and also the sitting Lincoln of the Lincoln Memorial!

After Louisa earned money from her books, she was able to send May to Europe three times to study art.  May met her husband there, a Swiss man who was younger than she was.  They had a daughter named Louisa, but May died 6 weeks after she was born.  Eventually the child nicknamed Lulu was sent to her aunt Louisa to raise, but when the author died at age 55 (and Lulu was 9), Lulu was sent to live with her father's family in Germany and only returned once to the US but had almost no memory of Louisa.  

After Orchard house was sold, Louisa moved into Boston.  Near the end of her life she was in some sort of nursing home.  People thought that she died of complications of mercury poisoning, but lately evidence points to an auto-immune disease like lupus.

Below is a picture of May's room.  It was long and narrow and had a second, separate entrance from off of the kitchen. On the walls were pencil drawings she had made and which have been preserved.
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The house also had a bathroom/outhouse semi-built in to the house, so one did not have to go outside to use it.  It was part of what is now the gift shop by the entry to the museum.

The house held a lot of original books by Alcott as well as her father's books on philosophy.  He had originally tried to teach children, but had much more success when he taught adults and eventually moved his classes out of the house and into the School of Philosophy school which he built next to the house.

The tour lasted about 45 minutes.  I asked a lot of questions, and the guide was able to answer them quite well.   I was impressed, especially when I found out that she was just in high school.  She spoke highly of her HS, the Concord-Carlisle HS.

My visit inspired me to go back and read Little Women, 8 Cousins (the tour guide's favorite) and maybe more.  Also, recently Geraldine Brooks wrote a historical account of the fictional March family from Little Women, and I want to read that too.  It is entitled March.

Below is a link to differences between the life of the Alcotts and the March family in Little Woman.  It complements what I learned on the tour.

I stopped briefly at the Old Manse, a privately owned home that had once been owned by the Emersons and Hawthorne, and could be considered the home of Transcendentalism, 

but decided to skip the 30+ minimum tour (with a change) and go to the Robbins house across the street, whose history interested me more at the moment.

This 544 square foot 1.5 story house was built in the early 1800s by former African-American slave and Revolutionary War veteran  Caesar Robbins and by fugitive slave Jack Garrison.Robbins also fought in the French and Indian War and probably was emancipated before the Revolutionary War.  . Caesar's grown children Susan and Peter were the first to live in this house.    Each family lived in one side of this small house.  Although Jack was a runaway, he never hid and was never returned to his "owner."  By sharing the house and the mortgage, the two families could afford to live there.  

There is only one photo of an inhabitant of the home.  The others just of people who lived at the time that could have lived in the home.  There are no artifacts in the home as they have no records of exactly what would have been there.

Slavery was abolished in 1783 in Massachusetts.  The African-American children in the Concord area went to school and studied together with the other children whereas in Boston schools were segregated until almost the mid 1800s.

Susan was a human rights leader, fighting for the rights of African-Americans, Indians, and women.  She was a founding member of the Concord Female Anti-Slavery society and it's only African American.   Her brother Peter had bought one side of the house for her, and although he was a hard worker, he had trouble paying the mortgage and lost the house in 1855.  

The house was later moved to the Italian District of Concord and the property was sold in about 2011.  The new owner was going to tear down the tiny structure, but a local preservation society got him to sell it to them for $1, got the land owners right next to the national park to rent them the land for $1 a year, and raised $20,000 to move the house.  It was quite a festive day when the home was moved.

I found the following chart interesting too, a listing of African Americans living near Concord historically:

You can read the history of the house and the residents who lived there at this site:  Here is a list of the residents;

After that I tried to stop in town for a brief lunch, but found that was impossible.  Lunch, even take out, took a half hour to get at the Main Street Market and Cafe.  I think I made a poor choice, ordered the Fish Tacos.  But I later got a yummy mocha ice cream at the Beford Farms shop.  However, I found out that a small ice cream is huge!  

From there I headed to the North Bridge Visitors Center, saw  a ten-minute film, and then walked to the North Bridge and the Minute Man Statue. The center was built in 1911 by the family that owned the property and didn't have the "charm" of the main Minute Man Visitors' Center.   
                    North Bridge Visitor Center
I then walked along an open, dirt road to get to the North Bridge.  The white oblisque  below was erected on the 200th anniversary of the city of Concord in 1836 to commemorate the battle at the bridge.
The Minute Man Statue, built by Daniel Chester French in 1875.

 The views over the side of the bridge was beautiful and calming.

 And on the other side was the grave of two soldiers that died there.

It was impressive to see the bridge, to see the place where the fighting for the Revolutionary War began....but it was time to go home.

I hope to come back in two days to see the Museum, the town library,  go to the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery and take the walk from Emerson house to Thoreau Pond..