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.

Wreck of Australia’s first sub, lost in 1914, discovered

Australia’s most-enduring naval mystery was solved this week with the discovery of its first submarine, which went missing off the coast of Papua New Guinea in the opening weeks of World War I.

HMAS AE1 disappeared on Sept. 14, 1914, after a successful mission to help capture the territory then known as German New Guinea. It had been in service just seven months.

The submarine went down with 35 men onboard. AE1 was the first Allied submarine lost in the First World War and the first ship lost by the Royal Australian Navy.

AE1, which had a crew made up of men from Australians, New Zealand and Great Britain on board, was found in nearly 1,000 feet of water, off the coast of the Duke of York Islands, in east Papua New Guinea.

“After 103 years, Australia’s oldest naval mystery has been solved,” Defense Minister Marise Payne told reporters in Sydney. “This is one of the most significant discoveries in Australia’s naval maritime history… The loss of AE1 in 1914 was a tragedy for our then fledgling nation.”

The expedition that discovered the sub was the 13th search for the craft since 1976. AE1 was found by the search vessel Fugro Equator, which was also used by Australia to hunt for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

The official cause behind the loss of AE1 has yet to be determined. However, retired Rear Admiral Peter Briggs, who worked on the search, told The Australian that he believed the cause was most likely “a diving accident,” according to a story in The Guardian.

“The submarine appears to have struck the bottom with sufficient force to dislodge the fin from its footing, forcing it to hinge forward on its leading edge, impacting the casing,” he said.

A small commemorative service was held upon the discovery of AE1 by those aboard the search vessel, and descendants of the crew will be notified of the finding.

“For Navy, it demonstrates the persistence of a view that fellow mariners always have – that is, we always seek to find those who have sacrificed so much for our country [so they can] actually lay to rest,” said Royal Australian Navy Vice Admiral Tim Barrett.

(Top: AE1, foreground, with other Australian ships off Rabaul on Sept. 9, 1914, less than a week before it sank.)

Writer: Ron Paul had it coming because he’s a libertarian

Many, at least in the United States, know of the recent attack on Kentucky Senator Rand Paul by a neighbor, an assault that left Rand with six broken ribs.

Attacks on sitting U.S. Congressmen being relatively rare and generally frowned upon, the mugging, by Paul’s neighbor, retired doctor Rene Boucher, has generated considerable coverage. Initially there was speculation that the incident, which occurred while Paul was riding on a lawn mower with noise-canceling headphones, was political in nature.

It now appears that Boucher’s blindside blitz was personal in nature, though it’s not entire clear why the doctor took it upon himself to tackle Paul.

However, more than one pundit has waddled into the fray by stating that Paul’s libertarian stance was not only the casus belli, but a justifiable excuse.

USA Today wrote that Paul was the neighborhood’s problem child because “he has a strong belief in property rights.”

A writer for GQ magazine opined that Paul was “an asshole neighbor” because he “bought a house in a neighborhood that has certain rules with regard to lawns, and he decided that he doesn’t need to follow those rules because of his belief in ‘property rights’ that don’t actually exist.”

This, the writer explained, is the problem with libertarianism: “Libertarians don’t want to follow the rules that we as a society have agreed upon, because they feel those rules step on their freedoms.” Alas, if only John Locke and John Stuart Mill, proponents of libertarian views, had been able to subscribe to GQ they might have seen the error of their ways.

Best of all, though, was Elie Mystal of the website Above the Law, which claims to provide a behind-the-scenes look at the world of law and original commentary on breaking legal developments. Mystal is no novice to the legal world, having earned a Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School after receiving a bachelor’s degree in government studies from Harvard, and he later worked as a litigator before entering the media world.

It would be safe to say that Mystal isn’t a fan of libertarianism:

“The thing everybody knows about Rand Paul is that he’s a libertarian and ‘libertarian’ always sounds like a fine legal and political theory to people who haven’t thought deeply about how to live with others,” he wrote. “‘You can do what you want and I can do what I want and, so long as we’re not hurting anybody, the government can do nothing.’ It’s … cute, as theories of social interactions go. It’s not a workable basis for law and governance.”

Libertarianism isn’t a workable basis for law and governance because … Elie Mystal said so.

Mystal goes on to demonstrate that earning a J.D. apparently requires little in the way of logical-thinking skills:

“Rand Paul’s broken ribs prove the weakness of libertarianism. According to reports, Rand Paul likes to grow pumpkins on his property. You might like pumpkins, but to some people, pumpkins are kind of big and ugly and, stinky. A slightly past harvest pumpkin patch smells the worst.”

“Reports also indicate that Paul makes his own compost (also stinky) and ‘has little interest for neighborhood regulations.’ This, my friends, is what libertarianism looks like in practice. I’ll grow what I want, put trash where I want, and maintain my space however I want, and you can’t do anything about it. FREEDOM!

Yes, that’s right, libertarians embrace a political philosophy with liberty at its core so that they can flout homeowners’ association regulations regarding pumpkin growing and composting. Stickin’ it to the Man every which way they can!

(Not to break Mystal’s path of incoherency, but it should be noted that Paul and Boucher, while neighbors, live more than an acre from one another, so we’re not talking about two individuals who shared a duplex for the past 17 years.)

Then the great unhinging begins to kick into high gear. From reckless pumpkin growing and composting, it’s a small leap to cowardice and misuse of power, in Mystal’s view:

Libertarians only want the heavy hand of ‘government’ involved when things get tough. When things get physical, libertarians will run to your nearest law enforcement officer and demand that something be done.

But libertarians also think they can stand on the very edge of their property and bother you however they deem fit, and then expect you to be restrained in your reaction by the government and … that’s just not how society works. You can only needle a man so long before he tries to break your face, legal technicalities be damned. Libertarianism is the social and political philosophy of instigating conflict without suffering the consequences of their own conduct. It works well enough on paper, but in real life it’s going to inspire otherwise decent people to tackle you off your lawnmower and try to break all of your ribs.

Yes, I’m victim-blaming. Yes, I’m saying Rand Paul was “asking for it,” over these past 17 years.

After all that, though, Mystal never indicates if he even knows Paul personally. His rantings seem based solely on a dislike of libertarianism and Paul, without any apparent genuine understanding of the senator, the issues in this incident or of libertarianism in general.

My guess is that his dislike of the latter philosophy probably stems from an incident long ago, perhaps during his time in the Harvard dorms, when perhaps a fellow student, likely with an interest in libertarianism, dared to commit some egregious act such as leaving pizza boxes in the dorm hallway and then reacted poorly to Mystal’s despotic attempts to rule the roost (read: calling in everyone from the resident assistant to the dean of diversity affairs).

Mystal’s logic: One slob with an interest in libertarianism years proved displeasing; therefore, in Mystal’s eyes, all libertarians are jackleg reprobates.

If the logic displayed in Mystal’s commentary is in any way reflective of the general mindset of 21st century U.S. jurisprudence, we might as well return to trial by ordeal. The results are pretty much the same, but the latter is a whole lot less sanctimonious.