By Tammy J. Trail
For many of us, the month of April is welcome. It’s been a long hard winter for some parts of the United States, and Spring can’t come soon enough. This month our topic is about favorite historical time periods, and since I write historical romance, this is a great chance for me to share.
I have always been enamored with our nation’s historical beginnings. So many men and women came to America for a better life, dreaming of freedom to own land, establish their own businesses, and worship God. These folks are my heroes. If it were not for some of them, you or I might not exist. Our great country as we know it might not exist.
Even though today’s political climate leaves us confused about the direction our country may be heading, I truly believe that there are patriots among us who are just as passionate about preserving traditional American values today as they were centuries ago.
While I was researching the American Revolutionary time period for my novel, I came across many stories of characters from that era whom I had never read about in history books. We all know about George Washington, Paul Revere and Benedict Arnold. But did you know that the 18th Century had its very own “Hercules?” His name was Peter Francisco.
In 1765, Peter was found abandoned on a wharf on the Virginia coast at the tender age of 5. He lived in a dock warehouse in the care of an old watchman, along with the housewives of that city making sure he was well-fed. Over time, Judge Anthony Winston decided to take him as a beloved indentured servant to his sprawling plantation. By the age of 16, Peter grew to an amazing 6 feet, 6 inches, and weighed 260 pounds. His vocational training as a blacksmith helped build his future reputation.
Judge Winston allowed Peter to join the 10th Virginia regiment in 1776 as a private. In 1777, Peter fought with General George Washington at Brandywine Creek, where they attempted to halt an advance of 12,500 British troops on Philadelphia. He was wounded as he held the last line of defense in order for the rest of the American forces to withdraw in defeat.
Peter was wounded several times during his military career, but always returned to terrorize the British Army. One of the most notorious stories involved Peter’s lifting a 1,100 pound cannon out of its carriage, which he perched on his shoulder and carried off the field, successfully preventing it from falling into enemy hands. Historians argue that this could not be humanly possible, but during the Bi-Centennial celebration in 1976, the U.S. Postal Service created a stamp with this very scene. After the war, Peter finished his education, married, and had three sons and a daughter. He died of appendicitis in 1831.
Another surprising character is Patience Lovell Wright. She was born into a wealthy Quaker family on Long Island in 1725. At a very young age, she began to show an uncanny talent for making sculptures.
In 1748, she married Joseph Wright, an elderly Quaker farmer and wealthy landowner, and they had three children. In 1769, she was left a widow with young children still at home to care for and with one on the way. Unfortunately, in that era, women did not inherit their husbands’ property. At the encouragement of a friend, she began to turn her unique pastime into a full-time business to provide for her family. By molding portrait busts of well-known people from wax, she attached cloth bodies to them and created a traveling wax museum.
Later in 1772, Patience moved her family to England. Benjamin Franklin was instrumental in helping her gain a foothold into London society, where she continued to practice her art. She even made sculptured portraits of the King and Queen, referring to them as George and Charlotte as they posed for her. Her eccentric personality gave her access to all the well-known actors, politicians and noblemen in London.
Her open support for the American colonies, however, caused her to fall from grace in royal circles. She opened her home to American prisoners of war and often wrote to Benjamin Franklin. As prominent politicians sat for their portraits in her studio, any overheard conversations were written as secret messages and hidden inside a wax bust she sent to her sister, who ran a wax museum in Philadelphia. She longed to return to America to create a wax sculptured portrait of George Washington, but unfortunately, she died in England in 1786.
I found many stories of courage, bravery and sacrifice during my research. For me it just solidifies my patriotic pride in the freedoms we should never take for granted.
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Writing Prompt: The 18th Century hero or heroine I most admire is …