The 1630’s to Now
As opposed to focusing on a certain person, I tried to focus on my family story. I chose to investigate more on some people of importance, but for the most part I am just trying to get a general understanding of what events were taking place around my ancestors. Throughout I try and relate those events to how they could have played a role in my family’s life and make a road map of sorts through my family history.
I wanted to see how I became me, in a sense, since we are the culmination of hundreds of years of experiences. These experiences impact our lives daily, so I wanted to find out what kinds of experiences my ancestors had to see how they have impacted my life. In a way we are our ancestors, so I would like to find out more about my beginnings through a variety of outside sources.
Dow, George F. Every Day Life in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. New York: Benjamin Blom, 1967.
It all started when the Hubbards, Ffiskes, and Whites made the conscious decision to make a life altering change, to move away from everything they had known in the pursuit of a purer form of Christianity (specifically Protestant). That’s why my ancestors came to America, and why I sit here today.
George Dow, an accomplished antiquarian who dedicated his life to the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, hopes to enlighten readers on “some phases of life in the early days” in the Massachusetts Bay Colony including everything from the voyages that brought settlers there, to the crimes and punishments that were inflicted on the people of this strict, Puritan colony.
According to Dow, because the day to day in the colony was so “familiar,” many of the “intimate details of existence” have been lost through the ages. Despite this he was able to compile what was left of the existing works on the lives of the colonists and digest it for readers to get a general understanding of the “well-balanced narrative” of how life was for the colonists.
Their new life starts on the voyage to the new world. Reverend Francis Higginson who came on the Talbot, a ship armed with almost as many guns as it had crew, advised the colonists on what provisions were necessary for life in the colonies, which include bringing their own “leather for shoes” and “glasse for windows.” There was nothing to be bought in the colonists’ soon to be home, so everything had to be brought from the country they were so desperately trying to escape.
The cost for passage was five pounds per person, which covered their voyage and supplied them with enough food to get them across the Atlantic. In a way everyone was on the same playing field because everyone had to start from scratch. After the voyage devoid of “creature comforts,” many got sick and perished from the shock of the “biting cold of winter and the heat of the summer days” in New England. The rotten food consumed during the voyage also did not help to keep the settlers healthy.
Once they arrived, their search for shelter began. Despite the image of a picturesque log cabin we all have, many people built rudimentary shelters, called Wigwams (similar to native American teepees), slept in tents, and one man even slept in a coffin because of the lack of housing. This facilitated the spread of scurvy and other diseases. Homes that were built later on in the century were sparsely furnished and bare unless it was one of the houses belonging people of wealth.
Life was hard but according to Dow, worshippers years down the road tend to make out our forefathers as “martyrs to the noble cause of free religion and self-government.” The culture shock of moving from England, where a certain standard of living was kept, to the unknown wilderness, would throw anyone off kilter. England did support their colonists though while trying to make a profit off of them. Supplies were sent and traded for either money or the resources that the colonists could muster like lumber, fish, and beaver.
Life was about necessity, not luxury. In their pursuit for a purer Christian religion, most people lived simply. “All frivolous amusements were forbidden” along with the imposition of a strict curfew, dress codes, and if a child struck a parent, they would be put to death. The finer things in life were looked down upon, and the people of Massachusetts Bay were only allowed to celebrate one holiday, Thanksgiving.
All in all, Massachusetts was a strictly religious, Puritan settled colony. Their goal was to live and be a shining example to all other colonies of how to be good Christians. They faced death and hardship, but in the end my ancestors were able to survive which has lead to the long line of my ancestry and eventually me.
It lays out how the family that came before me lived which allows for parallels to be drawn and illustrates differences in how my family lives today. Despite the fact that I am not from seventeenth century Massachusetts, valuable insight into the humble beginnings of our roots in New England can be gathered from this novel.
Winkler, Peter. “Salem Witch Trials: Can You Survive Salem’s Witchcraft Hysteria?.” National Geographic. http://education.nationalgeographic.com/media/salem-witch-trials-interactive/.
In the course of my family’s history, there are circumstances that are darker. One of the most notable instances is the role my ancestors played in the unfair executions and deaths of over 25 people in Salem, Massachusetts in the 1690s. In this interactive piece by National Geographic, I get to learn about the Salem which trials and find out if I would have survived them.
It all began with two small girls, one the daughter of Samuel Parris (the town’s rigid but insatiable minister), fell ill with convulsions after being captivated by “mesmerizing tales” of the future told by the family’s slave, Tituba. There was no explanation to be found due to their lack in knowledge of medicine and the body, so they asserted that witches had sent the devil upon them. They picked on those who could not defend themselves and named Sarah Good, Sarah Osburn, and Tituba as the first three witches.
Because the Puritans were so devoted to being the purest of the pure, they “scoured their souls” and the souls of those around them for any kind of blemish. Sin is seen as a roaring lion that they had to face off against until their judgment day came, and these so called “witches” became that source of stain. In the prosperous Salem, after years of the “lion” laying in wait, it decided to come back with a vengeance in its pursuit to destroy the Puritans.
A witch-hunt erupted and finding these so called witches “became a crusade” not only in Salem, but also in all of Massachusetts. So with their bibles in hand and mob mentality in mind, the hunt began, and in the end “the witch-hunters ultimately proved far more deadly than their prey.”
In Salem alone, twenty-five died which included nineteen hangings of “witches”, the torture and death of Giles Cory (defendant who would not enter a plea at trial), and five deaths in prison which included one infant. As the hysteria continued, the four rounds of executions were starting to show the public just how absurd the whole situation was. Because of their lack of knowledge, they were relying on “spectral evidence” to justify killing people.
Eventually people became disgusted when everyone and their mother were being accused of witchcraft. The Superior Court of Judicature was enacted and refused to take into account this so called “spectral evidence.” Out of fifty-six people accused, the court only condemned three. Eventually in 1693 those in jail for witchcraft were pardoned and retribution was made to the families of those who had been killed.
Ancestors on the Fisk line of my family were jurors in many of the Salem witch trials, which is how we played a role in all of those unjustifiable murders. Much like the general body of Massachusetts at that time, Thomas Fiske repented and formally stated that their judgment in the trial cases had been incorrect, but that doesn’t make up for the fact that he had played a part in the deaths of fellow colonists.
In the interactive portion, I reflect on how “Satan is loose in Salem,” question whether everyone around me is a witch, am then accused of being a witch, thrown into jail, and put to trial among other things. Questions like “How do you know you are not a witch?” are asked of me, which is exactly how they justified killing all of those innocent people, by asking stupid questions.
In the end, I am found guilty of witchcraft, and I hang. I guess that means even I would not have been able to survive my ancestors during the Salem witch trials.
While we often laugh joke about the ridiculous, outlandish situations the Simpsons are put into on a weekly basis, some can be based on fact. In one of the beloved “Treehouse of Horror” episodes, the town of Springfield is taken back three centuries to parody the Salem Witches Trials.
It opens on a dark day in the fictitious town of “Sprynge-Fielde” with the town’s motto, “First Toil, Then the Grave.” While this was never actually stated in the Salem colony, it seems to be the sentiment of the area. The puritans lived a life where they would work hard, pray hard. Then they die.
A mob surrounds a man in the gallows and three women tied to poles. While this is obviously cartoonish in nature, (the people of the town hold sythes, flaming torches, and pitchforks) these condemnations and deaths were largely for the public. Witchcraft became a public event in which people could falsely accuse, watch the trail, and then go to the public hanging, pressing, drowning, or burning.
Everyone cheers as the women are set ablaze, everyone that is except for Marge and Lisa. They seem to represent the people who grew disenchanted with these barbaric rituals as time passed and eventually helped to end the witch trails.
Mass hysteria was a driving proponent in the deaths of the many men, women, and children accused during the trials. Homer insinuates that because Lisa does not support the deaths, she could be a witch herself. This seems silly, but in reality no one was safe from being accused. It was common for one member of a family to accuse another, most likely due to feelings of jealousy or contempt.
These colonist, because of their pursuit of perfection religiously, relied on little evidence in conviction because it made it easier to convict people without actually evidence, which allowed them to “process” more people for witchcraft as Flanders states. They were trying to appease God and rid themselves of the devil by killing people, which is ironic.
They proceed to “open the floor to any wild accusations” which is not far from the actuality of how people were accused. Often young girls would roam the town and when they found someone they wanted to indict, they would go into wild hysterics. There was no actual evidence other than the “spectral” kind, which as we know is mainly hearsay.
Marge is then accused of witchcraft because she stands up in front of the congregation and states the obvious that this whole situation is a circus. Her neighbors are jealous that her laundry is always whiter, which draws from the fact that jealousy was often a driving factor in accusations, probably not for reasons as trivial as whiter whites, but jealousy nonetheless.
Death was inevitable after being accused. While they didn’t throw people off of cliffs with brooms to see if they could fly, they did burn, hang, drown, and press, among other things, those who were found guilty of witchcraft.
The Simpsons is a funny, family-ish show, but more often than not, the writers base much of their stories on those of the past and the current events that shape our nation. They mock and parody real life situations to maybe someday help us to avoid those same situations in the future by showing us just how dumb we can be.
Having ancestors who helped to further these unjustified and deplorable actions, despite the fact that after all of this was over they apologized and regretted it, is embarrassing. Obviously today we would never do anything like that and situations like this didn’t occur again in our family history, but this dark place in my history shows that while yea, we did screw up royally, the progeny of the jurors in my family learned from the mistakes of the past and strove to be better.
Castiglia, Christopher. Bound and Determined: Captivity, Culture-Crossing, and White Womanhood from Mary Rowlandson to Patty Hearst. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1996. Google Scholar.
One of my more notable ancestors was Mary White Rowlandson. In this book she is compared with other women, like Patricia Hearst, who were held as captives and is deemed to have developed the “woman’s captivity narrative.”
This book begins by mentioning the theory that America is the new Eden with men being Adam and women being Eve. Castiglia questions what the new Eve is supposed to say in our modern day world. Should she be limited to two words as the Eve of the garden was before, and if she does speak, will we be punished? According to Castiglia she not only speaks but, also writes, changing realities. Mary White Rowlandson was one of these women.
She was the daughter of a well off landowning family and was married to a minister in the Massachusetts colony. She, along with their three children, were taken by the Narragansett Indians in 1676 and was held captive by them for eleven weeks. Unlike many women in that time, Mary knew how to read and write, so after her return to her home, she wrote about her ordeal and her story was published in 1682. It became “the first distinctly American best-seller,” which is a big deal, especially because it was written by a colonial woman.
Susanna Rowson and Catharine Maria Sedgwick among others based many of their books on accounts of the female captivity of historical female figures like Mary White Rowlandson. Many of these novels deal with how a woman fits in to our society and the mythology that comes along with stories of the American wilderness. However many of these novels tend to make the story in to the evil savages kidnap and torture the “benevolent and unsuspecting white neighbors.” This as we all know now, is not the whole story. They helped to lessen “white guilt” and promote expansion in the colonies.
Women in their captivity stories often use narrative to change the gender norms in stories, which according to Castiglia makes “the American Adam into a New World Eve.” They manage to do this while making women seem vulnerable and without hope.
Nonetheless, Mary White Rowlandson, was forced through a hellish experience, and managed to live through it. However, she did not come out unscathed. This book gives a good bases of understanding on the white, female, captivity narrative.
Silver, Peter. Our Savage Neighbors: How Indian War Transformed Early America. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2007. Google Scholar.
“Blood streams from the dead man’s and woman’s chest injuries, who’s head markings may be meant for scalping wounds; the woman’s eyes have been gouged out, and a child’s body is at center”
As tensions with natives rise, my ancestors had first hand experience on the frontiers of American dealing with the so-called “savages.” Mary Rowlandson, among others, was personally affected, but in the late seventeenth and first half of the eighteenth centuries tensions rose between colonists and natives culminating in the French and Indian War. Peter Silver, a prominent early American historian and Harvard graduate, delves into how Our Savage Neighbors were a vital part in shaping early America from their relations to the settlers, to how conflict arose.
Religious diversity was one of the biggest stakes to be driven between the natives and the colonists, especially in the Massachusetts Bay, where in the early days it was either Puritanism or the highway. Conversion was a common practice as missionaries spread far and wide to try and show the natives the err of their ways. Some natives who fended off conversion tried to “reorder this new world of resentful social fragments,” but alas European colonists refused to “think in terms of separate creations.”
As much as I would like to believe my ancestors were open to the native’s lifestyle, as prominent members of the church, I have a hard time thinking they could ever do that. The colonists could not see from the native’s point of view, which spurred “mutual distaste” on both sides leading to animosity and bitterness.
In the mid seventeenth century, colonist lived in fear of not only native attacks, but also of “French marauders” raiding their coastal cities and Spanish pirates, who they deem “the very dregs of mankind,” ransacking their vessels. Because of this volunteer military companies, often convincing people to join through the Old Testament, were established to ward off these occurrences.
Violence ensued as printed sermons from people like Gilbert Tennent encouraged colonists to make their “arrows drunk with blood.” Often these “arrows” were heading straight towards those who were “seduced by strange customs.” Incentivized by the “word of god” some colonists took arms against the natives and their beliefs, while others, like the Quakers, resisted and instead promoted pacifism.
Eventually after multiple gruesome Indian attacks on colonial settlements and vise versa along clashes over land, war officially broke out in 1754. One man recalls the “multitude of Black Carts” in which “their loading was dead bodies” of both sexes heaped upon each other. Mass graves had to be implemented as the death toll just kept increasing.
Because we mainly see from the colonists’ point of view during these events, we know that they often lived in great fear that the natives along with the French would “burn bibles and torture people with the Inquisition’s dreadful instruments.” Many would rather submit to the French, becoming part of their empire, than live with that fear and torture.
As the war waged on the slaughtering became a main scare tactic. Anyone was fair game including small children “mangled and scalped” often staged through “careful postmortem operations.” People were being attacked in full daylight, which inspired widespread fear and chaos, exactly what the natives wanted.
Finally after years of fighting, the official war ended in 1763 with the treaty of Paris, but obvious tensions still remained between the natives and the colonists. This is understandable. We came here, encroached on their land, and continued to take more of it unfairly all while expecting them to just roll over. These were the conditions that my family in Massachusetts had to face: chaos, danger, and even death. Without fail our relations with natives have shaped not only our nation, but have substantially impacted my family throughout generations.
Bailyn, Bernard. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1967. Google Scholar.
Because of our roots in the New England area, especially Massachusetts, it’s not a surprise that the American Revolution has touched my family’s history. The factors that pushed John Fisk, John White Jr., and Thomas Hubbard into becoming patriots of this event are unknown exactly, but in this piece, Bernard Bailyn of Harvard University delves into what the revolution actually meant, from the literature of the era to the “contagion of liberty” which helps to pull back some of the curtains to their motives.
The revolution happened before any war broke out, according to Bailyn. It took place “in the minds of people” over the course of fifteen years when their views on the authority of Parliament were changed drastically due to the French and Indian war’s aftermath. Much of this was due to the literature of the decade and a half before any fighting started.
During this time, the patriots were employing any and every form of medium to get their ideas across. Newspapers, letters, official documents, speeches, pamphlets, and sermons were being mass printed and spread throughout the nation with Massachusetts being a focal point in all of this. No doubt my relatives were touched by all of this literature, which was a driving force in rallying the public.
Pamphlets seemed to have the most impact in spreading their message of revolution due to their size, ability to be made quickly, and lack of rigid and formal writing structure. They functioned as “above all else… expressions of the ideas, attitudes, and motivations that lay at the heart of the revolution.” They made up most of the literature of the seventeenth and eighteenth century and included satire, parody, sarcasm, and allegory, which resonated with the average American colonist.
Often patriots drew from classical philosophers and intellectuals like Aristotle and Cicero who lived during a time when vast change was coming over an empire or there had been decay in the “moral and political” virtues of the republic. While many only had a surface understanding of those people, they related their toils to the current American situation, and guided colonists to rebel against their oppressors and the corrupt system in place.
These writings fueled “the tradition of opposition thought” that had been spreading throughout the colonies since the turn of the seventeenth century. They ate up the revolutionary ideas and values shown to them in publications like the Boston Gazette and The Independent Whig. They reached out to even the farthest colonists from the central locations of the revolution, like “landowning yeoman farmers,” effectively and became a unifying force in the adoption of revolutionary ideas.
Literature in the colonies most likely was the reason that liberty was so contagious. Everyday citizens from farmers, to low class artisans, to the elite could spread their ideas to people like my ancestors. Patriotism became a household activity that anyone could participate in and a unifying force in our nations history along with mine. This makes the abundance of revolutionary literature the most likely reason the Hubbards, Fisks, and Whites entered into the revolutionary activities and war in Massachusetts.
With the help of translator Benjamin Walker, Baron von Steuben trains the Continental Army.www.cc.com
As members of the militia in the American Revolution, my ancestors had to be trained for battle against the highly skilled troops of the British. While episodes of Drunk History are probably not the most detailed source on the training of the troops (Von Steuben’s specifically), they are historically accurate and provide a comical overview in layman’s terms of the event that played a role in the overall colonial victory over the British.
In Valley Forge 1778, General Baron Von Steuben arrives with his entourage of sorts, “dressed to the nines,” with Washington’s support behind him. The French had sent him over after the colonial victory at Saratoga proved that colonists deserved their monetary and military support. Many of the troops, including the brigades my family was in, were in disarray (they often consisted of everyday laborers and farmers) and needed guidance from some sort of higher-ranking military expert. The expert that exemplifies that for Washington’s troops is Von Steuben. He specifically notes the common occurrences of death, starvation, and their lack of ammunition and love to the unreceptive army. George Washington however desperately needed the colonists to “give [him] a chance,” so, having no other options, they do.
Immediately upon arrival, Steuben sees the American “group of dogs” and notes their destitute conditions. Steuben plans to whip the army into shape, as the narrator jokes about how the “new coach is in town.” As their intense training begins, their remains one barrier; Steuben speaks Prussian and the troops don’t understand him. All the colonists hear of him is “blah blah blah blah blah blah blah” which was a problem many troops faced when French support came in. Luckily a young captain, Ben Walker, comes into the scene claiming to “understand all of the blah blah blahs.” Walker and Steuben become very close friends as the training finally becomes effective now that the language barrier has been broken.
As “Eye of the Tiger” begins to play, the quintessential training montage begins. Steuben teaches them not only about war tactics but also personal hygiene to combat disease. As Von Steuben holds up a bar of soap he claims, “this is how you win a war” to the naysayer troops. He trains them harder than ever before and “churned the army into butter.”
I would like to think that these comical kind of montages happened to my ancestors although I know the humor in this is obviously embellished by the intoxicated narrator for entertainment purposes; nonetheless the information is accurate. While Baron Von Steuben probably did not impact my family directly, his training techniques did affect the American troops that included my family. Without the French’s help in our revolutionary war, we would be in a very different place and would have lost many more citizens, which could have led to the end of my historical line.
Rowell, Lin. “After the War.” World War 2. http://www.world-war-2.info/poems/poems_21.php.
“After the War”
When the tale is told in text books
Of the battle in the west,
Where the desert meets a desert
And the pasture ain’t the best.
When the story’s set and stated,
Written down in black and white
For the up and coming soldier
To peruse from left to right.
When the printed pulp is published,
Page on page of lettered lines,
And its dispositioned forces
And its places, points and times.
When the book is there before us,
Full of tactical defeats,
And technical advantages
And strategical retreats.
When the past is put on paper,
Telling why and when and where,
It’ll curb the curiosity
Of the thousands that were there.
For the folks that fought this warfare,
On the home front or at the base,
Can peruse their penny papers
And see such and such took place,
But the bloke amidst the battle
Sees his own small, sticky sphere,
And hasn’t heard what happened
Further forward or down rear.
He doesn’t know the northern news,
The southern state’s the same,
And he hopes to hell that convoy
Coming closer turns out tame.
So when those books see daylight
And meet him face to face,
He can pick ’em up and so find out
What actually took place.
- Lin Rowell, A Troop, 27 Bty
Coming from a relatively long line of northern-based military families, many wars were fought for the United States by those who came before me including my father, both of my grandfathers, their fathers, and civil war and revolutionary patriots.
In the poem “After the War” written specifically about World War Two, but applicable to all wars, Lin Rowell describes the way we portray wars versus how those living through it on the front lines see it.
After the war is over and done with “the tale is told in text book,” anyone far and wide can hear about all that took place. After the battles fought in tough terrain and horrifying conditions are over, soldiers come home and get to read about all they have experienced. Rowell emphasizes “from left to right” almost as if to show the contrast between the structure of writing between the United States and Asia (where many of our wars twentieth century have been fought), where writing is done from right to left. The stories are printed in “black and white” to suggest that what the people at home are seeing is the only part of the war. It makes it seem cut and dry; it suggests that there is no reality of gray. We are supplied with what authors and leaders want us to see versus getting the whole story from the soldiers who lived through it. With facts of the war supplied to the general public, our curiosities are satiated.
When the “real” stories of the war come out from military historians who weren’t even there, soldiers on base at home can “pursue their penny papers” and see all of the things that happen. While they might not know the whole scope of what exactly happened or why exactly they are still fighting, they are closer to the truth of war than civilians, but no one can understand what really happened other than “the bloke amidst the battle.”
From what I have gathered from stories of war from my family, there is no real way to understand other than to be there, on the front lines, risking your life and taking others. War is not an easy thing; it changes people, which sound so cliché but in reality is true. It scary and its hard and you can never know what is around the corner or who you’re going to lose next. The fear of uncertainty runs rampant as you “hope to hell that convoy coming closer turns out tame.” Often soldiers are left clueless to the news of other troops or even news of your own troop “further forward or down rear.” Faith is shaken with every report of death and loss, and often soldiers begin to question what they are really fighting for. That fear stays with you long after the war is over.
When they return, they return to books, articles, and stories of what happened during the war that they were there for. All around, people tell soldiers what happened to them during the war they fought in, not the other way around. When “the books see daylight” and the soldier who was there can get a hold of them, Rowell almost mockingly states that soldier can “pick ’em up” and find out “what actually took place,” as if the books discredit the soldiers experiences somehow and people back home could actually understand what these men (and women now) had gone through. There are facts and reasons that go along with war, but the only thing that is real for deployed soldiers is what is happening immediately around them; those soldiers stories often go unpublished unlike the history books that are distributed far and wide.
Gruber, Jonathan, and Daniel M. Hungerman. “Faith Based Charity and Crowd-Out During the Great Depression.” Journal of Public Economics 91, no. 5–6 (June 2007): 1043–69. Google Scholar.
My great grandma Hattie was born in 1914. She lived through America’s involvement in the First World War and the economic boom that times of war brought for us. On the opposite side of the spectrum she was a teenager in suburban Massachusetts when the Great Depression hit in 1929. Coming from a family who came to America for their religion, it has played a large role in our history, but religion has become less vital to my family as generations passed.
In this scholarly study the decline of church involvement in the United States affairs and everyday life is studied. Today people heavily rely on religious organizations to provide social services. At the turn of the century right before my great grandmother was born, the reliance on church charity was similar to as it is today, heavy, but when the great depression occurred and the New Deal was enacted, the “church’s charitable spending” was crowded-out. They find that higher government spending seems to result/coincide with “lower church charitable activity.”
In the study they wanted to determine just how much the expansion of government spending impacted the church’s benevolent spending while also trying to determine just how much the government “crowded out” the church.
We are not a theology in America, but the church and government often work hand in hand to provide aid for the poor through legislation and benevolence. People like Marvin Olasky are convinced that historically, welfare set up by the government is inferior to the charity given by religious organizations. In the year 1926 churches spent over $150 million on social services while state governments only spent $23 million on programs “charitable in nature.” With the crash of 1929, the fall of their benevolent spending also occurred. Churches are historically known to be charitable, so why in the nation’s time of need did the government have to take over for them?
It can be assumed that a church would not just cut funding for any reason during a time of economic crisis. The recession hit everyone hard, including religious organizations; as money became tight or even nonexistent, people had less to contribute to religious bodies. However, this does not explain why there seems to be an inverse correlation between government and church spending. For every dollar that the government spent for relief, the church spent three cents less that before. This lead to the New Deal “crowding out” “at least 30% of benevolent church spending.” These finding were conclusive in multiple denominations and religions and held steady despite different state laws and policies pertaining to the relief.
People often questioned what kind of God could do something so destructive, and the expansion of government spending coupled with the decrease in church spending could make them want to rely on something more seemingly concrete leading to a drop in those that identify with a religion and the drop in the churches benevolent spending.
My family started off as strict puritans, and now, religiously, we hold many beliefs. Every person is an individual capable of making their own decision and choosing their own beliefs, despite that it would be ignorant to say that how we are brought up doesn’t affect what we believe. As time went by, issues facing my ancestors were sure to have changed them and their beliefs, which in turn resulted in my family, and in congruence with events that have affected us personally, what we each believe.
Pugh, Emily. Architecture, Politics, and Identity in Divided Berlin. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2014. Google Scholar.
My family’s roots in America lie very deep, despite that we are very well traveled compared to the general public. My grandmother, mother, and I are all military brats and with every generation, there seems to be more travel. I have never lived in a foreign country, but I have been to over forty. My mother and grandmother have not been to that many countries, but they have lived in many including Panama, Okinawa, and Germany. Of all of those, Berlin, Germany seems to be the one that they both remember and liked the most. They were stationed in West Berlin in the 1970s when my mother was a teenager and lived there for two years before returning to the U.S. Emily Pugh in her book helps to illustrate the unrest in Germany during this time of turmoil cause by the cold war.
It all started with the division of Berlin on August 13, 1961 (coincidently seven months after my mother’s birth). After world war two tensions continued to rise between the “Eastern and Western Cold War powers” that abruptly led to the division between East and West Berlin. Many saw this as a “demonstration of naked violence” as this day was seen as one that Berliners would never forget. Travel restrictions would be imposed on those in the East and life in Berlin would be changed for the next twenty-eight years.
The wall was not only a physical barrier keeping the east and west apart, but also a “symbol of the Cold War” itself. When you think of Berlin you think of the wall first and then the Cold War. Because of the wall the people and governments on both sides tried to “construct more concrete notions of identity” and create separate “German identities.” According to Yi-Fu Tuan “visibility is a key way of establishing a sense of place” and since the citizens had a huge wall in their vision the conflict became a physical part of their everyday lives.
Eastern and Western powers encouraged this conflict between the two cities, making people choose one or the other, not both; the wall was instrumented to make the choice physical. The two cities were presented as opposites “politically, economically, and aesthetically” from one another and Germans were often presented as good vs. bad, with my family stationed on the “good” side. This detracts from the individual, turning one into all. Because of this unrest surrounding the wall, some psychologists theorize that the wall itself was the root cause of the problems plaguing the “national psyche.” The wall was being used as a scapegoat for the real causes of the turmoil and division facing Berlin.
In the midst of all of this, my grandmother, her husband, and their four children moved to the “democratic” western controlled West Berlin with only a wall between them the “socialist” East Berlin. At this time the wall was not new; it had been up for over a decade reinforcing the idea that there is some kind of fundamental difference between those in the East and those in the West that still lives on even today.
Almost as abruptly as the wall went up, on November 9th, 1989 it was announced that the wall would come down, but after almost three decades of division, it was not only a wall keeping them apart. They had their own national identities and ways of life that still prove to be points of contention to this day.
My family only got a taste of the problems Berlin faced in their two years of living there during the cold war. Even as a young teenager, my mom must have been able to recognize the unrest and tension there, but despite this and their short time in Germany, both my mom and grandma loved it and speak about it freely if asked. Because of their travels to Berlin, amongst other places, my mother has an expansive worldview and my family is very open to other beliefs, cultures, and customs.
Klaft, Lynne. “Civil War Regiment from Area Logged Thousands of Miles.” http://www.telegram.com/article/20151023/NEWS/151029593.
My grandmother’s hometown is Ayer, Massachusetts. She lived there until she married my grandfather, Jim, who was stationed at Fort Devens. Coincidently in our ancestry we have soldiers in the civil war that fought on the North’s side. This article touches base on both of those things.
In 1861 during the civil war, Abraham Lincoln ordered for 300,000 more troops “and the men of Central Massachusetts responded to the call to arms.” Because my family was spread in New England at the time, it’s in all likelihood that some of them my have ended up responding to this “call.”
The 53rd Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry was one of the regiments enacted and consisted of 950 men from all over the northeast. Their base was at Camp Stevens, which is located in present day Ayer. Once there, they cleared the land and built twenty-three buildings in twelve days. Everyday men constituted those training at the fort named in memory of Isaac Ingalls Stevens, a Major General West Point grad who died in the Battle of Chantilly. They traveled from Long Island to New Orleans while fighting and winning some major battles for the Union army in the civil war with only 731 making it back home to Massachusetts.
Barry E. Schwarzel, a member of Ayer’s Historical Commission who had presented recently at a lecture series going on at Fort Devens, took an interest in this former base. As an avid historian, he especially took notice of area when he found out it was directly across from “the former Moore Airfield on Route 2A.” In his pursuit to find out more, he drove to the site of the 53rd regiment only to find that the memorial stone was shrouded by shrubbery, so with a grant from the commonwealth, the area was cleaned up and made into a small public park.
This small town, like many others, ended up playing a role in the civil war. The people in modern day Ayer take pride in their history and, despite some neglect to the memorial stone of the 53rd regiment, honor the sacrifices and accomplishments of their ancestors, just as my family does. Ayer is the way it is because of the deeply patriotic roots of the town’s past. My grandmother was born and raised there and she ended up there because of the lives of our ancestors, making us into deeply rooted patriotic Yankees.
Written by Flowers, Brandon, Keuning, Dave B., Stoermer, Mark A., Vannucci, Ronnie Jr. (C) 2005 The Island Def Jam Music Group
My final annotation comes from the song that my project is titled after: “All These Things that I’ve Done” by The Killers. This song is by my favorite band, which is probably part of the reason I find so much meaning in it, but I also feel like it resonates with my family story. It’s about redemption and determination, which we have plenty of.
After a lifetime of running, it begins with the question “is there room for one more son” almost as if the person in the song has spent all of their time avoiding that one thing they need to make them happy. They seem to be asking God if there is a way that they can still make it through life happily. Life is hard; we all know that but sometimes it just feels like too much, so we plea and we pray when the only thing we can really do is “hold on.” Religion played a huge role in our history. We came to America for it, lived in tough times through it, and even did some bad things because we thought that was what we were suppose to do.
Sometimes when it all gets to much we want to “stand up” and “let go” because we think what life throws at us is worse than giving up, but we really don’t know what life has in store. It is human nature to want to “shine on in the hearts of men.” We feel the need to be remember and beloved, which can drive us to write a book like Mary Rowlandson or fight in the Revolutionary war, like the Whites, Fiskes, and Hubbards. We also need to find meaning in our lives lest we face an empty existence, which is supported by my ancestor’s strong religious beliefs.
Our lives pass us by as “another head aches” and “another heart breaks.” Important events and emotions become commonplace; they seem to lose their meaning as we grow “so much older than [we] can take.” After a while everything becomes routine, despite the fact that being born and living out life is a miracle. We need to break the routine and getting outside help for that, whether it be God or an insightful individual, isn’t a bad thing. “[We] need direction to perfection” because even though no one can be perfect, we can still aim to make our lives better for not only ourselves but also the people around us, like my Grandmother did.
There’s nothing wrong with asking for help, and in this song he is almost pleading for it. I picture Brandon (the lead singer) on his knees begging for the help he needs to be a better person. He is tired of running and can’t be put “on the backburner” any longer. The changes he made by himself in his life “ain’t changing [him]” from “the cold-hearted boy” that he was. He has made his mistakes, just like my ancestors in the Salem Witch Trails did, and now he is repenting. He is big enough to ask for help, and so is my family. We try and do things on our own for the most part, but over the years we have learned that asking for help doesn’t make you weak. With other people helping you up, you become stronger.
Just like the song, my family has so much soul. I have never gone without love and passion in my life from those family members close to me, but sometimes we don’t act on those passions for the things we love. In a physical sense we can be the soldiers (literal wars), but sometimes on an emotional plane, we’re not the soldiers. Sometimes emotionally we give up the fight even though we know that we could have kept pushing. That’s when we ask others who are strong enough to “bring [themselves] down” and help to lift us up so we can both be strong. We need help to be the soldiers, and I often think of my mom and grandma as the people above me who can help to lift me up.
It’s the “last call for sin” as we start to band together to be better. Even if life is hard and you feel like you can’t make it through, there is always someone else to lift you up, and that someone else is usually family. Everyone is lost in life, but by living your life “the battle is won” through all the things that you’ve done, whether they were big accomplishments like surviving Native American kidnapping, or just waking up in the morning.
We need to find joy in life and put our hearts into everything we do, and even if sometimes you feel like you can’t do that, “if you can hold on, hold on.”