Ex-slave was among final Revolutionary War participants

Determining the last survivor of pre-20th century conflicts has long been an iffy proposition.

Birth registration in some US states, for example, did not begin until the 1920s, and a number of individuals who claimed to be the last surviving Confederate soldiers in their respective Southern states were nearly all later shown by census records to almost certainly have been born too late to have actually served in the 1861-65 conflict.

Even more problematic is determining the last veterans of the Revolutionary War. The US didn’t begin its national census until 1790 and it was a far leaner affair than that of today, with questioners seeking little more than the name of the head of household, their address and the number of other residents broken down by a handful of categories (free white males over 16, free white females, slaves, etc.). Not exactly a wealth of knowledge.

If one wanted to try to game the system to secure a veteran’s pension, there were no Social Security numbers, birth certificates or computerized records to overcome. One suspects a good story and a couple of willing accomplices willing to verify said story was all that was needed.

That said, the last generally accepted veteran of the American Revolution is Daniel Bakeman, who claimed to have served for a New York militia unit. Born in 1759, Bakeman died in 1869, at age 109.

Bakeman had no tangible proof of his service, stating that he had lost it in a fire earlier in his life. Of course, fires were a regular occurrence in pre-20th century America, so it’s quite possible that Bakeman was so victimized.

It appears that the last 10 or so men accepted as final surviving American veterans of the American Revolution came from northern states and/or died in northern states.

This is not surprising giving that when the final Revolutionary War vets were enjoying their last hurrah, the US Civil War was either taking place or the South was under Reconstruction, making it unlikely that historians or US government officials would be searching for Revolutionary War veterans in the South, or that Southern veterans would be applying for pensions.

Because a considerable part of the war was fought in the South, particularly in the latter years of the Revolution, and the war in the South often was a more informal affair, with an emphasis on guerilla fighting, meaning there was proportionately higher participation among the population, albeit not always on the American side, it’s almost certain that some War of Independence veterans in the south were overlooked.

One of these last survivors was Bob Wheeler, a former slave who died on Sept. 16, 1866, at age 107.

According to an Oct. 9, 1866, story in the Columbia Phoenix, “During the Revolution, Bob was a boy between sixteen and eighteen years of age, and as his memory and mind remained unimpaired, he delighted to tell of his recollections of the old Revolution when the red coats were the terror of every neighborhood. He was for some time a waiting boy for Gen. Wade Hampton.”

That would be Wade Hampton I (1752-1835), grandfather of Wade Hampton III, the Confederate cavalry commander and later SC governor and US senator.

Hampton served in the American Revolution as a lieutenant colonel in an SC cavalry regiment, and he later led US troops in the War of 1812.

Wheeler considered the first Wade Hampton “the next greatest man to Geo. Washington, and during his whole life had a great veneration and respect for the Hampton family,” the Phoenix reported. “When he heard of the promotion and success of our worthy and beloved (Confederate) Gen. Wade Hampton, the old man’s eyes would kindle, and he would stand almost on tiptoe, rejoicing at his achievements, saying that ‘the true old blood would show itself.’”

When the first Wade Hampton died, he was “left by his master’s will to help to support his three daughters,” the paper stated. “This duty he discharged faithfully and honestly.”

Wheeler died near Pomaria, SC, in today’s Newberry County. His burial site is unknown.

(Top: Hampton-Preston Mansion, Columbia, SC, owned by Wade Hampton I from 1823 until his death in 1835. In later years it hosted such luminaries as presidents Millard Fillmore and Franklin Pierce, and Senator Daniel Webster.)

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Sir Lucius O’Brien, a politician who impressed only himself

Born on this date in 1731 was Sir Lucius Henry O’Brien, the third baronet of Dromoland, in County Clare.

O’Brien served in the Irish House of Commons for 30 years, but he proved a notable example of how nobility and brains often didn’t come in the same package.

In the mid-1770s, while serving in the Irish Parliament, O’Brien worked to remove restrictions on trade between England and Ireland, making frequent speeches in parliament opposing the government’s stand. However, “his speeches lacked lucidity, and his audience were said to be seldom the wiser for them,” according to the Dictionary of National Biography, a reference work detailing figures from British history.

In fact, O’Brien was eventually described as “a man who disagrees with the rest of mankind by thinking well of himself.”

If modern politicians were to look for a “patron saint,” O’Brien would seem an ideal choice.

(Top: Irish House of Commons in session, ca., 1780.)

Pocket watch of Civil War veteran on the auction block

Heritage Auctions, one the nation’s largest auction houses, has an array of pocket watches for sale this week. One, a silver Newark Watch Works timepiece, in engraved with the initials “O.W. Brackett” and the dates “Jan. 13th 1841 / Feb. 4th 1900”.

A quick bit of poking around on the Internet turned up this bit of information: O.W. Brackett was Orrin W. Brackett, a native of Freeport, Maine, who later moved to the coastal town of Yarmouth and served as private in Co. G of the 25th Maine Infantry Regiment. He was indeed born in 1841 and died in 1900.

It’s likely that good ol’ O.W. had his name engraved on the watch while he was alive, and a family member added his birth and death dates afterward.

Brackett’s Civil War duty was relatively uneventful: He signed up for a nine-month tour of duty, being mustered into service Sept. 5, 1862 in Yarmouth, along the Maine coast, and mustered out with the rest of his company on May 7, 1863, in Chantilly, Va.

The 25th Maine spent a majority of its service around Washington, DC, guarding the “Long Bridge” across the Potomac River, and constructing fortifications. It moved out of Washington onto Chantilly, Va, to serve picket duty before returning to Arlington Heights in 1863.

The 25th Maine didn’t participate in any battles but still lost 25 men to disease.

Brackett apparently felt his nine months of service were sufficient; he did not re-enlist after his tour ended. He likely bought the watch shortly after the war ended; the Newark Watch Co. was only in operation from 1863 until 1870.

O.W. Brackett’s Civil War powder horn, auctioned last year.

Brackett’s brother, Alvin M. Brackett, served as a private in Co. F of the 1st Maine Cavalry Regiment and was killed during Dahlgren’s Raid on Richmond on March 4, 1864, at age 21.

Another Orrin W. Brackett, a private in the 6th Maine Battery and likely a cousin of the aforementioned O.W., hailed from Waterville, Maine. He died of disease at home in March 1863.

Like many men of earlier generations, O.W. Bartlett seemed to be pretty handy with a pocketknife. Last July, Cowan’s Auctions sold a powder horn with the carving “O.W. Brackett / Co. G. 25 Maine Vols / Chantilly, VA / May 7, 1863. / Enlisted in / The Town of / Yarmouth / Sept. 5, 1862”. The 6-1/2 inch powder horn fetched $216.

Despite knowing O.W. Brackett’s full name and likely place of death, I have been unable to locate, at least online, his final place of rest. If nothing else, his memory lives on through his pocket watch.

Update: Thanks to a reader named Maxwell, O.W. Brackett’s final resting place has been located, in Riverside Cemetery in Yarmouth, Maine. 

What is obligation of government to those in high-crime areas?

North Charleston, SC, while far less known than the nearby tourist hotspot of Charleston, is garnering recognition it would probably like to avoid.

Although the city makes up but 14 percent of the region’s population, it accounted for 37 percent of its homicides during the past five years.

Last year was the deadliest, with 35 slayings, three more than in 2016. Yet in 2011, by comparison, there were just five homicides. At least some of the increase can be attributed to a change in policing.

Prior to 2015, when North Charleston police officer Michael Slager shot Walter Scott after pulling him over for a traffic violation even though the latter was unarmed and running away, city police issued nearly 26,000 warning citations annually, many in minority neighborhoods with elevated crime rates, according to the Charleston Post and Courier.

Following the shooting death of Scott, for which Slager was recently sentenced to 20 years, that number fell to 15,000 in 2015 and 9,000 in 2016. It had risen to more than 9,000 last year, but was still well below what it was three years previous.

Proposals to bring back more police activity in areas with heavy crime, particularly violent crime, haven’t been met with enthusiasm.

“Ed Bryant, who leads the North Charleston NAACP, said he isn’t convinced that more traffic stops correlates with fewer homicides,” according to the Post and Courier. “One thing surely did result from the stops, he said: a negative perception of the police among many black residents.”

“Doing things over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity,” Bryant told the publication. “Now you’re going to resort back to the same thing and expect a different result? That’s insanity. … If they’re going to go back there, they’re asking for more trouble.”

More trouble as opposed to what: An average of one homicide every two weeks? A reputation as one of America’s most violent cities? Residents living in constant fear of being gunned down or having a family member or friend killed?

Others aren’t as adamantly opposed to increased policing, but it’s not clear how much more police presence they’re willing to accept.

City Councilman Ron Brinson suggested that a new approach to traffic stops could be customized based on what members of each neighborhood want.

“Do we need to go back to how it was done before? I don’t know,” he told the Post and Courier. “Surely, I think there is a middle ground.”

Shaundra Scott, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina, said statistical data and personal accounts show that people were being stopped unfairly under the old initiative.

“Perhaps there could be a meeting of the minds,” she said. “But saying we need to go back to those tactics that hurt people is very concerning.”

Some believe that a heavy police presence in minority neighborhoods causes residents to see the police as the embodiment of the government and also creates fear and hostility toward the whole idea of government.

This can been seen, they assert, among young black men who keep their heads down in an effort to go unnoticed in the belief that it is the best way to keep from being arrested.

I do not live in a high-crime neighborhood nor am I a minority, so I don’t feel fully qualified to evaluate those assertions. I do understand that no one wants to live in a police state.

However, a key responsibility of government is to protect its citizens. Clearly that is not happening in parts of North Charleston.

Concern over alienating residents of minority, high-crime neighborhoods is understandable, but shouldn’t there at least equal concern about stemming violence and homicides in North Charleston’s minority, high-crime neighborhoods?

Oregonians melt down over prospect of pumping own gas

I get the whole “tapestry of life” concept and the fact that there are plenty of folk out there who I will never understand. That’s fine. There’s plenty of room in this world for everyone and, left to myself, I’m happy to let others be.

But occasionally I get a glimpse of another world that truly confounds me, where individuals are so utterly foreign in their thinking that I cannot begin to wrap mind around what makes them tick, or even how they keep ticking.

Consider the uproar among some in Oregon after a law went into effect Monday that will shortly allow residents in some rural counties to pump their own gas. From the outcry, one would have thought the law required them to pump their own stomachs.

First, I didn’t even realize there were still places in the US where it was illegal to operate self-service gas stations, but it’s still prohibited in New Jersey and, as of Monday, in Oregon counties with more than 40,000 inhabitants.

Second, it should be noted that the new Oregon law doesn’t require anyone to pump their own gas; it simply gives them the opportunity to use self-service, which almost always means lower prices.

But when Medford, Ore., television station KTVL posted the story on social media, it received numerous negative comments from residents who apparently aren’t interested in getting out and pumping their own petrol:

  • “I’ve lived in this state all of my life and I REFUSE to pump my own gas. I had to do it once in California while visiting my brother and almost died doing it. This (is) a service only qualified people should perform. I will literally park at the pump and wait until someone pumps my gas,” said Mike Perrone.
  • “No! Disabled, seniors, people with young children in the car need help. Not to mention getting out of your car with transients around and not feeling safe too. This is a very bad idea. Grrr,” said Cathy Dahl.
  • “Not a good idea, there are lots of reason(s) to have an attendant helping, one is they need a job too. Many people are not capable of knowing how to pump gas and the hazards of not doing it correctly. Besides I don’t want to go to work smelling of gas when I get it on my hands or clothes. I agree. Very bad idea,” said Tina Good.
  • “I don’t even know HOW to pump gas and  I am 62, native Oregonian … I say NO THANKS! I don’t want to smell like gasoline!” said Sandy Franklin.

Granted, these are worst-case reactions, but I’ve never thought of rural Oregon as  a place where common sense was in incredibly short supply. Or where ignorance of a simple task would be worn as a badge of honor.

Perhaps there is high propensity of drug-addled former hippies hiding away in the state’s hinterlands, unable or unwilling to handle something as pedestrian as filling up a gas tank.

Whatever the case, I’d love to see the individual who pulls up to the gas pump and just sits there waiting … waiting … waiting for someone to fill ‘er up. If it were my station, I’d tell him he can either pump his own gas or go pound sand.

On the bright side, no one’s food will spoil …

The new year is off to an exceptional cold start my neck of the woods. As in, bone-rattling frigid.

This morning the thermostat in my car registered a low of 8 degrees Fahrenheit. Not only is that 24 degrees below freezing, but it’s twice as cold as the previous day.

At this rate, two days into 2018, if temperatures continue to drop twice as much day to day, we will reach Absolute Zero, or about minus 460 degrees Fahrenheit, in about a week.

I anticipate this ending poorly for mankind, as crops, oceans and rivers would freeze quickly.

All power sources would stop, and there would be nothing to use for fire. Communications would cease, as well, forcing hipsters to emerge from their smug smartphone-induced trances to see what the ruckus was about.

In short time the Earth’s core would be sealed inside a thick covering of global ice, and all life, or at least that in my whereabouts, would cease to exist.

Of course, this is a worst-case scenario.

Personally, I’m hedging my bets and wagering that it will warm up at some point. Or, if not that, I’m reasonably confident that Absolute Zero is not in the foreseeable future.

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel like it, though.

Here’s hoping wherever you are, your new year is just a little warmer.

(Top: Representation of how it felt in my neighborhood this morning. Hint: Not warm.)

Smartphone technology drags Luddite into 21st century

While I may not have been the last able-bodied adult in the Western world to switch from flip phone to smartphone, it certainly seemed that way at times.

Mind you, this generally wasn’t perceived as a negative, at least by me, particularly when watching hordes of students wandering across streets oblivious to everything but the little toy in their hands, or witnessing families in restaurants silently engrossed in their individual phones rather than talking with one another.

But with a passel of children who don’t do email and prefer instead to text, it was becoming increasingly obvious that I would have to make the move at some point.

An example: in the time it would take me to poke out a finger-by-finger response to one of my daughters’ texts, three more would arrived. Recognizing that, due to some sort of logarithmic progression, I could only fall further and further behind, I would at that point simply pick up the phone to stop the madness.

But what finally convinced me to make the jump a couple of months back was the incredible quality of smartphone cameras.

The above photo was taken recently by Daughter No. 1 at sunset in Lexington County, SC. I have used a Kodak EX with optical zoom for the past 10 years and even compensating for operator error, there is no way my camera could have managed a photo as stunning as that above.

Even more remarkable is that she doesn’t have a state-of-the-art 2017 model, but one that is somewhere between three and five years old.

The technological advances made in smartphone cameras have been nothing short of remarkable over the past 10 years.

“The main technical difference between smartphone cameras and standalone digital cameras is that smartphones use tiny lenses and tiny sensors. The smartphone’s results ought to be much worse. They are not,” according to The Guardian. “Smartphones produce high-quality results by using their powerful processors and built-in graphics engines to process the image data and compensate for their technical limitations.”

Best of all, phones with high-quality cameras that were quite pricey two or three years ago are now very affordable. The same will almost certainly be the case two or three years down the road with what is cutting-edge today.

One supposes it has never been easier or more convenient to take high-quality images at any time in history.