Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Will the Real Salem, Massachusetts, Please Stand Up?

Chances are pretty good that when you see or hear the words "Salem, Massachusetts" you think of witches. And that's understandable, since the infamous witch trials of 1692 are a valid part of Salem's history.

But consider this...

By the 1640s (that's 135 years before the first shots of the American Revolution were fired in Lexington), ships from Salem, Massachusetts, were carrying New England lumber and Atlantic cod down to the West Indies. There the lumber and cod would be traded for rum and molasses which would then be either sailed back home to Salem or sailed to Europe where they were traded for manufactured goods that were then brought back home. This profitable trade continued until England, in the 1770s, imposed upon the colonies a series of duties and taxes and altogether very restrictive trade regulations. But woe to the country that gets between a wealthy shipowner and his profits. Many of Salem's shipowners subsequently became the prime financial backers of the American Revolution.

And consider this...

When the American Revolution began, the fledgling Continental Navy had a grand total of 25 ships. Certainly not much of a threat to the Royal Navy. So the Continental Congress got creative. Firstly, they authorized colonial shipowners to prey on English merchant ships during their own commercial voyages. Then they licensed privateers to attack and capture English ships. By war's end, Salem had supplied more sailors and ships during the American Revolution than any other North American colonial port.

And then there's this...

Shortly after the conclusion of the American Revolution, England closed its ports in the West Indies to American shipping. A spiteful move, yes, but not surprising. It would have been devastating to those American ports whose economies were based on trade, were it not for the bold merchants of Salem. They would not be deterred. They began to send Salem's ships to Russia, to the Philippines and even to the East Indies. From 1790 until the War of 1812, Salem's trade, especially with the East Indies, made it one of the richest cities in our very young country.

So why isn't this information as well known as the Salem witch trials?

Why does one year of witch trials trump thirty years of incredibly lucrative trading that helped to pay, through customs taxes, the bills of our fledgling government?

Is it that shipping and trading are simply not as interesting, not as sensational as witches?

Then more's the pity, because the 170+ years of maritime history in Salem, Massachusetts, had a much more profound effect on the development of our country than a year of hysteria.

So here's the question. What represents the real Salem, Massachusetts?


Or this?

I've made my choice.

End of rant.

--- Barbara (currently in Pomona, California)
Day 163
Total miles: 14,717

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Old Ironsides

In 1794 Congress authorized the construction of 6 frigates to defend the maritime interests of the fledgling country. One of these was named the USS Constitution. Launched in 1797, she first put to sea in 1798. During the war of 1812, after cannon shot were seen glancing off of her sides, the ship earned the nickname "Old Ironsides". Due to continuing public support, the navy has refurbished the ship a number of times, and it is now the oldest continuously commissioned ship still serving in the world.

I had been through Boston for short periods on a number of business trips, but had never had the chance to tour the grand old ship, and Barbara had never been to Boston. So when we finally got into Boston proper on this trip, one of the top things on my list was to visit the USS Constitution. Normally only the top deck can be visited unless part of a guided tour, which visits the top 3 decks. But because of refurbishment going on, there were no tours and the public was allowed to wander all three top decks as they wished. There were a few navy personnel in early navy uniforms available to answer questions.

The USS Constitution floating at dock in Boston Harbor.

Some of the cannon aboard the ship.

Imagine spending several months sleeping like this.

This fellow was an actual physician who was enjoying spending his 2 weeks of active duty in the reserve as an 18th century doctor for the ship tours.

With major renovation work being done on the top deck, many of the cannon and much of the rigging had been taken off the ship.

We found this ship to be a direct link to our post revolutionary history, and thoroughly enjoyed our visit. This is a must do for those interested in early American history.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Don't Know Much About History...Part II

We're back!

Not back home (yet), but back to blogging after a month-long hiatus. During that month, we continued to explore the eastern United States (Boston, Plymouth, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., among other places) and we visited friends and family. We have some catching up to do and so I'll get right to it.

But first, a warning: Thar be history ahead, mateys!



"Listen my children and you shall hear of the midnight ride of Paul Revere..."

So wrote Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1863.

"Paul Revere? Lexington? Concord? The American Revolution? Yawn. Who cares?"

So thought me in the 1950s. And the 1960s. And the 1970s.

Then a funny thing happened. Once I had lived long enough to have some history myself, I realized how important history really is. What happened long ago really does have an impact on us today. Who knew?

And so, ever since my historical epiphany, I've been rather interested in history (understatement ;-D ). Yet there were still some events that existed for me only in history books. They remained as dry as the pages their pertinent names and dates were printed on. I previously blogged about one of those events: the Viking presence in North America 500 years before the 1492 voyage of Christopher Columbus. That came alive for me when we visited L'Anse aux Meadows, the site of a 1,000 year old Viking settlement in Newfoundland. There's nothing like walking in the footsteps of Leif Ericsson, sitting in what was his longhouse, and seeing actual archaeological artifacts from that time to make you a believer.

And now I'm delighted to say that I can add yet another entry to my list of "Historical Events That I Now Give A Damn About."

The American Revolution.

It became real for me the day Art and I visited the villages of Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts. Lexington and Concord...where, on April 19, 1775, militias made up of farmers and shopkeepers and clergy and doctors took up arms - for the first time - against their King and the British military. Lexington and Concord...where the first shots were fired, where the first fatalities were recorded. Where the American Revolution began.

I give full credit to Minute Man National Historic Park for my American Revolution awakening. The park is located between Lexington and Concord, and the folks there have taken a very busy and pivotal day in the history of our country and have created interpretive exhibits and preserved historical sites (including battlefields) that clearly and compellingly tell the story of that very significant day. The people, the places, the events of April 19, 1775, are now so real to me that it feels like it must have happened mere months ago, not 233 years ago.

I found myself responding especially to those exhibits that cast some of the well known participants of the American Revolution (in particular, Samuel Adams and John Hancock) in a new and much more realistic light. Ironically, it was seeing these folks as mere mortals instead of the larger-than-life heroes they usually are portrayed as (especially in elementary and high school history books) that made them so much more real to me, so much more interesting.

In addition, I was fascinated by the stories that gave long overdue credit to people who played highly significant roles in the American Revolution, but somehow, and sadly, never made it into the history textbooks. At least not the basic ones I had while in school. I was especially taken with the story of Dr. Samuel Prescott.

Dr. Prescott lived in Concord, which is west of Lexington (which is northwest of me, this is important to the timing of what's to come). On the night of April 18th, 1775, the good doctor was in Lexington, courting his lady love who lived there (yes, courting...remember, this was the 1700s ;-D ). But their courting was put on hold when they received the news that Paul Revere had arrived in Lexington with word that British troops (known as Regulars) were on the move west, toward Concord. They were marching under orders from General Thomas Gage, Britain's top man in Massachusetts at the time, and were to seize and destroy military stores and equipment that General Gage knew were stockpiled in Concord.

Back in the 1770s, the most direct route from Boston to Concord was through Lexington, so Revere wanted to warn the good folks of Lexington that 700 British soldiers would soon be marching through their small village. But Revere also had another reason for stopping in Lexington that night. Samuel Adams and John Hancock - two of the colonial rebels' biggest guns and sharpest thorns in the side of King George III - were guests of Lexington's parson that night. There were real concerns that the British Regulars were also on the lookout for Adams and Hancock with the intent of arresting them.

But back to our Dr. Prescott. Hearing the news that the British troops were on the way to his town, he bid his lady love goodbye and headed back home. He soon caught up with Revere, who was now, having delivered his warning to Lexington and Adams and Hancock, on his way further west to Concord. But Paul Revere was not alone on this leg of his ride. He was accompanied by William Dawes, another midnight rider who had been dispatched from Boston at the same time as Revere. Dr. Prescott's timing in meeting up with Revere and Dawes was perfect, for the three men soon met up with a group of British soldiers. The outcome?

Paul Revere was captured. He never made it to Concord.

William Dawes escaped, but was thrown from his horse and walked back to Lexington. He never made it to Concord, either.

And Dr. Samuel Prescott? He also escaped and was the only one to successfully make it to Concord with the news that 700 British troops were on their way.

Well, then.

That will teach me to learn history from a poem. For in Longfellow's poem, there is no mention of William Dawes. And - even more significant, I feel - there is no mention of Dr. Samuel Prescott. Longfellow has Paul Revere - and Paul Revere only - reaching Concord. What is up with that? And with all due respect to Mr. Revere, he (and William Dawes) had volunteered for this potentially dangerous mission. But Dr. Prescott was just a young doctor, out late (very late) courting his gal. He just happened to be in the right place at the right time to help. And he did. Now THAT would make a great poem.

Now for some "Midnight Ride Trivia" (because you never just might find yourself on "Jeopardy" one day with the category of "Famous Midnight Rides")...

Firstly, as Revere and Dawes rode through the countryside on their different paths to Lexington, they warned folks in all the small villages along the way. Many residents of those villages then set out on horseback to deliver warnings to yet other villages. It is believed that by the end of the night, there may have been as many as 40 "midnight riders" galloping throughout the immediate countryside!

In addition, contrary to what I have believed most of my life, Paul Revere did not shout out "The British are coming! The British are coming!" as he rode through the villages. For one thing, the colonial rebels really didn't want any British patrols in the area to know that THEY knew that 700 British soldiers were headed towards Concord. Also, the residents of all these villages were all still British subjects and many still considered themselves British. So to shout out "The British are coming!" would not have been all that alarming.

Paul Revere's warning (according to Paul Revere himself and to eyewitness accounts, and not shouted, but personally delivered to members of the various village militias) was "The Regulars are coming out."

Yeah, I know. It doesn't have the same ring to it.

Now for a few photos...

Captain James Parker

This statue, on the Lexington Battle Green, pays tribute to Captain James Parker - farmer, former soldier in the French and Indian War and commander of the Lexington militia on April 19, 1775.

The Lexington Common, later renamed the Lexington Battle Green

This is the very spot where Captain James Parker and 77 members of the Lexington militia stood as 700 British Regulars marched down the road towards them. Except for the fact that they had to march right by it, the small village of Lexington was of very little interest to the British troops on the morning of April 19, 1775.

But Captain Parker and his men had decided to make a statement. So there they stood, muskets at their sides, on the Lexington Common as dawn approached. There were no plans to stop the British troops and Captain Parker had ordered his men not to fire. But still, there they stood.

Many historians believe that as experienced a soldier as Captain Parker was, he would have known that the British troops would not just simply march past a group of armed men. He would have known there would be some interaction. So what was Captain Parker thinking? That question can actually be answered by posing yet another question. What was Samuel Adams thinking?

Remember, Samuel Adams was in Lexington when Paul Revere arrived with his news about the British regulars moving towards Concord. He had worked passionately and tirelessly for ten years to keep the idea of rebellion against Britain alive in the colonies. In early 1775, he had been increasingly dismayed by the colonists' apathy, even in British-beleaguered Massachusetts. He needed something to happen, something outrageous, something that would convert that apathy to outrage. And the outrage to rebellion.

So is it possible Adams believed the advancing British troops might provide the "wake up and smell the coffee" event he had been waiting for? Was he behind the potentially inflammatory decision for 77 men to face off against 700?

Many historians think so.

But Captain James Parker - not Samuel Adams - was responsible for the safety of the men in the militia. All of them neighbors, many of them relatives. So when the British major in command of the first group of Regulars to reach Lexington ordered his troops to move from the road and onto the Lexington Common (he was not about to file by this armed militia - no matter how small it was - and then have them at his rear), and when he then ordered the Regulars to surround and disarm the militia, Captain Parker made the only decision he could. He ordered his men to disperse. He also - and this is very important - ordered them not to fire. Equally important is the fact that the British major had also ordered his men not to fire.

It was perhaps not what Samuel Adams had in mind, but what happened next served his cause just as well.

Someone - and to this day, no one knows who - did fire their musket. The British soldiers then broke ranks and began firing at random, ignoring orders from their own officers to stop. Not surprisingly, there was return fire from the militia. By the time the British troops were back under control, eight Lexington militia members lay dead. One British soldier was wounded.

After the disastrous unplanned stop in Lexington, the British Regulars continued on to their primary destination of Concord.

Upon reaching Concord, around 7:00 A.M., the commander of the Regulars separated them into three groups. This division proved critical two hours later.

One group was ordered to stay in the village of Concord to search for and destroy military supplies. This they did with - according to many colonial eyewitness reports - a great amount of courtesy. Another group was ordered to cross the North Bridge, west of the village, and search for and destroy military stores and equipment that were known to be hidden at the farm of Concord's militia commander, Colonel James Barrett. The final (and smallest) group was ordered to stay at and guard the North Bridge in order to keep the militia - who were gathered on a ridge just west of the bridge, just watching the British soldiers - away from the village.

The North Bridge over the Concord River (complete with a "redcoat"!)

According to many historical accounts, the British Regulars were having a much easier time of it in Concord until two things happened. Firstly, the numbers of militia present on that ridge grew steadily as men from villages to the west of Concord joined them there. The news of the British army's mission had been taken far beyond Concord itself. And, not surprisingly, word was now spreading quickly about what had taken place in Lexington at dawn.

The second thing that happened was this: a decision was made by the British troops in the village to burn any wooden "contraband" they found, rather than simply smash it. The smoke rising from the bonfires set for this purpose was spotted by the ever-growing numbers of now seriously concerned militias on the ridge.

There was real fear that the British Regulars were setting fire to the entire town. By this time, the number of men on the ridge had grown to 400. They now outnumbered the British troops stationed at and around the North Bridge, 4 to 1. Around 9:00 A.M., with orders from Colonel Barrett to not fire unless fired upon, the combined militias (now regarded as the first American army under a unified commander ever to take the field) began moving down the ridge towards the North Bridge.

The 84 British troops at the bridge were on the west side of it, with the river and the bridge at their back. Not a prime position for them to be in as 400 angry men advanced towards them. So the British soldiers scurried back across the bridge and attempted to get in a defensive formation to prevent the militia from advancing any further. As in Lexington, a shot was fired. But unlike Lexington, depositions taken from members of the colonial militia, as well as British soldiers, point to a warning shot being fired by one of the Regulars. That shot was followed by others from the British before their commanding officer could stop them.

Two minutemen were hit and killed, and four more were wounded. The militia was then ordered to return fire. Or, to phrase it in a different way, for the first time in the North American British colonies, British subjects were ordered to fire upon British soldiers, killing three of them.

The "shot heard round the world." There was no turning back now.

The story of what happened next, as the remaining British soldiers attempted to make their way back to Boston from Concord, has been told in countless books. If you, perchance, have had your interest in early American history piqued by what happened at Lexington and Concord (as I obviously had), I encourage you to search out a couple of those books. Treat yourself to a rip-roaring adventure that ultimately led to the creation of our United States.

The Minuteman Statue

In 1875, on the 100th anniversary of the the battle at North Bridge, a contest was held to create a monument honoring the minutemen and the militia. A young man from Concord by the name of Daniel Chester French won the contest. The Minuteman statue is cast from bronze that was melted down from Civil War cannons. Daniel Chester French went on to become a great sculptor and is perhaps best known for the seated Abraham Lincoln statue in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.

The statue depicts a farmer who leaves his plow and picks up his musket to defend his land and his liberty. The statue does not represent a particular person (like the Lexington statue of Captain James Parker), but rather is representative of the nature of the minutemen, many of whom were farmers. It is known, though, that Daniel Chester French did make sketches of some of the descendants of the first colonial killed at the North Bridge.

These days, the terms militia and minutemen are often used interchangeably. But back in the 1700s, there was a definite difference between the two. All minutemen were members of the militia, but not all militia were minutemen. Minutemen were selected - based on their physical strength and reliability - from a town's militia to form a special force. Usually about 1/4 of a village's militia would serve as minutemen.

Now to wrap up this history-in-a-nutshell lesson (are those sighs of relief I hear? ;-D ), I earlier mentioned "the shot heard round the world." A famous phrase that no doubt most of us associate with the American Revolution. But many folks (including me, prior to our visit to Lexington and Concord) were uncertain as to whether the "shot" referred to Lexington (where the first shots of April 19, 1775, were fired), or to Concord (where the order to fire upon British troops was first ordered).

We learned that the phrase comes from a poem titled "Concord Hymn" by Ralph Waldo Emerson, written in 1837 for the dedication of a monument on the North Bridge in Concord. Emerson's grandfather was at North Bridge on April 19, 1775, and their family home is within sight of the bridge. Here is the first stanza of that poem:

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.

In the end - and this is only my opinion - it doesn't really matter where that shot was fired. The fact that it was fired at all is what is truly important. The fact that a bunch of British colonials bravely decided that the rights of their family and friends and neighbors were worth risking their lives for...that is what I take from this poem. And that is what I take - humbly and appreciatively - from our visit to Lexington and Concord.

If you have read this entire blog entry, I thank you. I have discovered that I cannot help myself when it comes to history...I am smitten.

--- Barbara (currently near Knoxville, Tennessee)
Day 140
Total miles: 11, 558

Friday, September 26, 2008

Mount Desert Island

In 1604 French explorer Samuel Champlain was exploring the north-east coast of America. One large island he named "l'Isles des Monts-d├ęserts" because of mountains bare of vegetation. Today this island on the south-east coast of Maine is known by it English name of Mount Desert Island. Much of the island is now part of Acadia National Park. Acadia National Park was the first national park established east of the Mississippi. This park is also the only national park created by donations of private land. In the late 1800s, the island became the summer playground for very wealthy American industrialists such as the Rockefellers, Morgans, Fords, Vanderbilts, Carnegies, and Astors. They built large summer mansions euphemistically called "cottages". Because of increasing commercial development on the Island, these land owners began exploring ways of preserving the Island. In 1901, George B. Dorr and others formed the Hancock County Trustees of Public Reservations to acquire land for perpetual public use. The land was offered to the federal government, and in 1915 President Wilson established Sieur de Monts National Monument. In 1919 Lafayette National Park was created from the monument. In 1929 the park nearly doubled in size with the donation of the Schoodic Peninsula. But this land was donated by a British family with the stipulation that the Francophile name of Lafayette be changed. In 1929 the park was renamed to the present Acadia National Park.

There is a 27 mile scenic loop automobile road within the park on the eastern part of the island. There are also about 45 miles of carriage roads that were built by John D. Rockefeller Jr. The carriage roads are open to hiking and biking, but closed to autos. There are even horse-drawn carriage rides available.

On the island is the town of Bar Harbor. This area is an extremely popular travel destination with many inns, restaurants and shops. Even though we visited after Labor Day, there were still many people visiting. But we were told it was nothing like the crowds during the height of summer.

Also found around the island are restaurants called "Lobster Pounds". These restaurants serve the crustacean that happens to be one of Barbara's culinary passions, so we had to try a couple of them. These places have live lobsters in tanks. You pick the one you want and they then cook it for you. The best one we tried (Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound) cooked its lobsters outside in boiling seawater heated over wood fires.

Here is a view down to Bar Harbor from Cadillac Mountain. Cadillac Mountain is the highest point along the eastern coastline of the United States. As you can see, cruise ships visit Bar Harbor.

Here is one of the few sandy beaches along the mostly rocky coastline of the island.

This is typical of much of the coastline surrounding the island.

The island was covered by glaciers in the last ice age. Much of the granite rock on the island was left smoothed and exposed.

This is one of many beautiful bridges over streams and roads that were constructed using the local stone.

Acadia National Park is definitely not to be missed if traveling in the area. There are also several good restaurants, gift shops and tours available in Bar Harbor, but be prepared for lots of people.

A Lovely Little Island, But...

After a short ferry ride from the northern coast of Nova Scotia to Prince Edward Island (see map below, if you would like a reminder of how the Atlantic Provinces are arranged), we looked forward to exploring what is promoted as the Gentle Island.

PEI (the acceptable nickname of Prince Edward Island) is the smallest of all the Canadian Provinces. It's flat, very pastoral and ringed with sandy beaches. It's noted for its many golf courses and is famous for its potatoes. Yes, indeed. It is gentle.

But after the wilds of Newfoundland and Labrador, and after the rich multicultural history of Nova Scotia, we just couldn't get too excited about Prince Edward Island. It was, perhaps, a little too gentle for us.

And, truthfully, we were dismayed by the crass commercialization of PEI's favorite daughter "Anne of Green Gables."

"Anne of Green Gables" is a popular children's classic about a young redheaded orphan and her coming of age on Prince Edward Island. It was written in 1908 by Lucy Maud Montgomery, who was born on PEI. "Anne of Green Gables" has made the island famous around the world and is vitally important to the province's economy. I can understand and accept that.

And, this being the 100th anniversary of the publication of the book, there are - understandably - special events. And special merchandise. But little Anne is everywhere on this small island. Her fictional face is on posters for festivals and musicals, on dolls and coins and stamps, on jars of jam and bags of potato chips. And frankly, we got weary of seeing her.

We did, however, enjoy our visit to the College of Piping!

Ah, piping. As in bagpiping, that most noble of Scottish musical pursuits. The College of Piping is devoted to promoting and preserving Celtic culture and offers instruction in traditional Celtic disciplines: Highland bagpiping, Scottish-style snare drumming, Highland dancing and Island step dancing. That, my friends, is cool. Very cool.

The College of Piping is the only year-round teaching institution of its kind in North America and is affiliated with the College of Piping in Glasgow, Scotland. It has an excellent gift shop: Celtic music CDs, Celtic jewelry, Celtic tee-shirts...what more does one need? Being a school, it also offers a student supply store where all your bagpiping needs are met:

I happen to dearly love bagpipe music, but I do realize that not everyone does. However, it is my hope that those of you who remain resistant to its soul-touching melodies, some melancholy and some stirring and some as infectious as fiddle music, can appreciate the complexity of the bagpipe itself. Any musical instrument that uses cobbler's wax and goose adapters is an instrument to be admired (although Art and I do wonder what the goose thinks about its participation). And no wise a** comments on the bore oil, please. ;-D

To wrap up this short (for me!) update on PEI, Art and I would like to say this: Prince Edward Island is a lovely little island, but - and this is just our opinion - it would perhaps be best served as an appetizer for the main courses that are the other Atlantic Provinces.

--- Barbara (currently in Brattleboro, Vermont)
Day 109
Total miles: 10,013

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Peggy's Cove

Another of the places in Nova Scotia we had heard a lot about was a little sea side village along Nova Scotia's south-western coast called Peggy's Cove. This is said to be one of the most photographed sites in Nova Scotia because of its picturesque setting. The village is most definitely extremely photogenic, but it also draws lots of tourists. Just be aware of the possibility of crowds if you visit.

One of the most photographed subjects is the Peggy's Cove Lighthouse. This is still operated by the Canadian Coast Guard. In the summer the Canadian Postal Service operates a tiny post office in the bottom of the lighthouse. Cards and letters mailed from here are given a special lighthouse themed cancellation stamp.

The origin of the name of the village is the subject of various theories. The popular local version is that the name came from a young girl who was the sole survivor of a shipwreck. Having no memory of events before the shipwreck, including her name, the young girl was named "Peggy" by the people who took her in. To further add confusion to the origin of the name, is a fictional novel by artist/author Ivan Fraser called "Peggy of the Cove". He grew up in the area and has written a couple of books giving a fictionalized account of Peggy's life. We visited with Ivan at his museum/gift shop. He is quite the fascinating character, and we had to get his picture with Barbara during our visit.

From this area we head north towards Prince Edward Island.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Fortress of Futility

The message came from the top. Our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to infiltrate the French-built Fortress of Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia.

There's a catch, however. We need to infiltrate the Fortress circa early 1700s. 1744, to be precise.

Art and I look at each other. No problem. Time traveling is our specialty.

So we do our time traveling thing and arrive safely in 1744. Our dossier on Louisbourg stated that construction of the fortress began in 1713. France had just lost its outposts in Newfoundland and the Bay of Fundy to Britain. Its North American coastal holdings were now down to two islands - Cape Breton and Prince Edward. The French weren't about to lose those islands to anyone. Especially those pesky British.

So they had a plan. They would build a walled city, a fortress, that would support a commercial economy based on cod fishing and trade. And it would house a mighty military presence that would protect Louisbourg from assault by land or sea. It's now the year 1744, and so far, so good. But Art and I know the clock is ticking for the good folks of Louisbourg.

We proceed cautiously to the fortress gate, aware that we are under the muzzles of heavy artillery and in the sights of musketmen.

We reach the gate, but encounter our first obstacle. A French soldier on guard duty.

Word is that the French soldiers here only drink rum. They would, of course, prefer to drink French wine. But they can't afford it. So they drink cheap rum while their officers and the town administrators and the many well-to-do merchants enjoy the French wine.

We attempt to bribe the guard with a bottle of France's finest. A 2005 Louis Latour. It was the best we could do. Fortunately, the guard does not look too closely at the label.

We're in. The city of Louisbourg is before us.

Our main objectives on this mission: find and document the French armament and see what the citizens of Louisbourg are up to.

It's not long before we encounter our first stronghold. We see a formidable array of cannon, each capable of firing an iron ball weighing 26 pounds. We document our discovery.

Suddenly, we hear the beating of a drum. It's soon accompanied by the high clear notes of a fife. We observe the citizens of Louisbourg hurrying down the Rue Toulouse to Place Royale, the main town square. We join the crowd and are witness to a show of French firepower.

After this impressive display, meant to reassure the townspeople of the security of the fortress and serve as a warning to any spies who might be in town, we notice one lone soldier heading towards the King's Bastion, the main battery of Louisbourg. Knowing we will see even more artillery there, as well as get a good birds-eye view of the entire town, we stealthily follow him into the citadel.

Once inside, we behold the ramparts. And more cannon. It seems the French are serious, deadly serious, about preserving their North American assets. Little do they know, it won't be enough.

We observe an officer up on the ramparts. There's something familiar about him. His posture, his bearing. Could it be?

Alas, no. Napoleon Bonaparte was not even born until 1769.

We furtively climb up the ramparts and peer over the wall into the town. And a pretty little town it is, too. With a population of roughly 4,000 people (1/4 of those being soldiers), Louisbourg in 1744 is doing what it was built to do. It's a bustling home port for French fishing and merchant fleets. In fact, in 1744, Louisbourg is the 4th most important port in North America, after Boston, New York and Philadelphia.

We climb down the ramparts and head back to the main town square to rendezvous with our contact. Ah, there she is! Code name: Little Red Riding Hood. We've seen Louisbourg's military prowess; Red is our ticket into the other side of this fortress town: its homes and its citizens.

And, evidently, its gardens. Cabbage, beans and carrots add essential nutrients to a diet heavy on bread and salted cod.

Red takes us into an inn. Look! It's a ceilidh! No, sorry. It's two French (not Scottish) fishermen playing the guitar and fiddle. I wonder what the French word for ceilidh is.

With Red's assistance (she knows the cook), we enter a Louisbourg residence. We slip into the kitchen and immediately realize that we are not in the kitchen of a poor fisherman, or even a moderately wealthy merchant. This is the kitchen of a prominent citizen: Etienne Verrier, a military engineer and the architect of Louisbourg's bastions, as well as the main gates and most of the public buildings in town. Busy man.

Food is in abundance in this kitchen...meats, fowl, vegetables, grains. And the man has a chocolate pot! Monsieur Verrier is, indeed, a member of Louisbourg's elite.

But egads! What is that? Some hideous 18th century torture device?

Ah, thankfully, no. Art, my own personal engineer, quickly ascertains its true nature. It's an ingenious invention that automatically, without electricity (remember, this is 1744), turns a spit for roasting meats. It uses a heavy weight on a chain, along with a speed control and gears. I want one.

Red sneaks us into a few more homes. We are privileged to meet and speak with the folks who are the heart and soul of Louisbourg. But knowing what's to come, Art and I realize we need to leave these good people. The future must have its day.

As we leave Louisbourg, we look back at the town and its harbor and think about what will unfold here in the months to come.

Later in the year, France will declare war on Britain (the War of the Austrian Succession, also called King George's War in North America). As French forces from Louisbourg attack various British ports in other parts of Nova Scotia, French privateers are harassing New England ships. Neither the British nor the New England colonists are amused.

The governor of Massachusetts decides that the French threat to New England must be dealt with immediately. Knowing that Britain has its hands full dealing with the French in Europe, he proposes assembling a colonial force to capture - yes, actually capture - the Fortress of Louisbourg. You have got to be kidding. A novice militia daring to take on veteran troops who are safe behind massive fortifications? Those gutsy New Englanders! Now we know where the American Revolution militias got their grit. But back to Louisbourg. The operation is authorized and over 4,000 colonial volunteers (from Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire) get ready to head to Louisbourg. The Massachusetts governor decides to appeal to London for naval support and three British warships from the Caribbean are sent to aid the New Englanders.

Knowing there will be repercussions for their military forays, Louisbourg prepares for an attack. Expecting it to come from the sea, expecting it to be led by the British, expecting it to be led by the British in war ships, Louisbourg points nearly all its cannon at the harbor and its mouth. But on April 30, 1745, the New England militia lands two miles down the coast from Louisbourg! They face no opposition as they bring in men and artillery.

Much has been written about what then ensues, and therefore, I won't go into the details here (although I am, don't you know, sorely tempted :-D ). But for the purposes of this blog, let me just say this...what does ensue is a seven week siege of the fortress, with heavy losses on both sides, culminating in the surrender of the French on June 16, 1745. The mighty Fortress of Louisbourg is handed over to the British. The remaining French soldiers and citizens of Louisbourg are allowed to return to France. The New England colonies are reimbursed for the costs of the expedition.

And the British give Louisbourg back to the French.


Yes. In the 1748 treaty that ends the war that began in 1744, Britain gives Louisbourg back to France.

The New England colonists are, understandably, furious. They did not plan, participate in, suffer and sacrifice their lives in the capture of Louisbourg to have it simply handed back to the French. They do not wish to be poker chips in some grand imperial game. They will not forget this.

In the meantime, the French return to Louisbourg. Fishing resumes, commercial shipping resumes, the French garrison triples its numbers and the town grows to a population of 6,000.

And in 1755, the next war breaks out between Britain and France. Yes, another one. This time it's the Seven Years War, known in North America as the French and Indian War. And this time, because the New England colonists have not forgotten, there is little to no enthusiasm in New England for helping the mother country. When, in 1758, the British lay siege to and capture Louisbourg once again, it will take 13,000 British troops and 40 warships. The New England colonists could be forgiven, I should think, if they feel a bit of grim satisfaction when they hear this.

We now bring the story of Louisbourg to a close. In 1759, the fortress serves as a British base for a successful attack on Quebec. It is the beginning of the end for the French empire in North America. And in 1760, to ensure that the French will not once again regain possession of Louisbourg in a future peace treaty, King George III orders Louisbourg to be demolished. The Fortress of Louisbourg is no more.

DISCLAIMER: Okay, we confess. There was no time traveling. At least not in the scientific (or even science fiction) sense of the word. But we did visit the Parks Canada historical reconstruction of 1/4 of the original Fortress of Louisbourg, as it was in 1744. It was a fantastic experience and one of the highlights of our trip. Archaeologists, historians, engineers and architects were all involved in the reconstruction, as well as many unemployed coal miners from Cape Breton who were taught 18th century French masonry techniques in order to create a reconstruction that was as historically accurate as possible. The original plans for the fortress, found in France, were used, as well as many of the original stones. The result? You would swear you were in Louisbourg in 1744! And for a while there, Art and I really thought we were. ;-D

I'd like to bring this update to a close by sharing with you photos of a couple of paintings of Louisbourg. They were painted by Canadian Lewis Parker who did extensive research on the fortress. I hope these paintings will give you even a better idea of what Louisbourg was like in 1744.

"View from the Clock Tower" (above) and "View from a French Warship" (below) show the very busy Louisbourg harbor as it would have appeared in the summer of 1744. Parks Canada staff helped Lewis Parker gather information on the ships that were actually in the harbor on August 18, 1744.

A final and personal note: it's pretty clear that when I began writing this update, my mood was one of whimsy. But as I found myself getting deeper into the history of Louisbourg, I couldn't keep it up. Reading and writing about war will do that to you.

But sometimes, somehow, whimsy and war come together. Here's one more photo from Louisbourg. We call this one "Irony."

--- Barbara (currently in Mystic, Connecticut)
Day 107
Total miles: 9,865

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Driving the Cabot Trail

As we had been planning our trip we read a lot about the Cabot Trail. The Cabot Trail is a very scenic 185 mile loop that circles the northern end of Cape Breton. Much of the road is in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Because the road is steep, curvy, and narrow in places, it is usually recommended not driving it in an RV. The other options are to drive it all in one day, or spending one or more nights in an inn or B&B along the way. Wanting to sleep in our RV, we decided to drive it in one day.

We started the day with a stop at the Cape Breton Highlands National Park Visitor's Center near Cheticamp, then headed up the coast. As we climbed into the highlands of the National Park we drove into fog which grew steadily worse. Unfortunately, we drove most of the western part of the road in dense fog and missed some of the more dramatic scenery. We have since heard this is not an uncommon problem.

After we came down from the highlands and turned east, the fog cleared. Since there was a waterfall off a short side road we decided to investigate.

We drove to the parking lot for Beulach Bahn Falls and hiked up the short trail. As some of you know, Barbara is a self admitted "waterfall junkie!" This one did not let her down. We later were told that this is probably the best waterfall along the Cabot Trail.

After we got to the east side of Cape Breton we stopped in the village of Neil's Harbor for Lunch. This is a view of part of the harbor, with the ubiquitous stacks of lobster traps.

The eastern part of the Cabot Trail gives one many views of the rocky coastline.

After a long day of driving, we finally got back to our campsite. The day ended with a very colorful sunset.

After driving the Cabot Trail, we are still glad we didn't take the motorhome. There are definitely some tough stretches (and we are used to driving California's Highway 1 and the western mountains). It IS drivable in a motorhome but you would need be careful in a couple of stretches. If towing, we would advise driving the toad separately through the worst stretches, if possible. If you don't mind motels, booking a room makes a lot of sense if you really want to explore the area.