This is the story of Hayley Hodgson and her 14 day imprisonment in a Covid Internment Camp in Australia. It happened last month, November 2021. Hayley was forced to spend 2 weeks confined in the camp even though she never once tested positive for Covid. This post is taken from an interview she gave to UnHerd, a British online magazine (the full interview is also on Real Clear Politics, YouTube, and Bit Chute). She decided to go public with her story to give other people the opportunity to do something about it before it happens to them.
Hayley is a 26 year-old woman who lives in the Northern Territory of Australia, in the city of Darwin. She moved there earlier this year from Melbourne because she was tired of the severe restrictions and seemingly endless lockdowns in that city. She thought the Northern Territory would be more open.
Her confinement experience began when authorities in Darwin identified her as having been in proximity to someone who had tested positive for Covid. Video footage had picked up the license plate of her scooter, which she was riding at the time. Two plainclothes police officers showed up at her house. She told them she had just recently tested negative for Covid, which wasn’t true. But she had just spent time in an internment camp the previous month, and was panicked at the thought of being forced to go back.
The police checked and found she had not been tested recently. This time two uniformed officers showed up at her house and said she would be taken to the Howard Springs Internment Camp. She profusely apologized for misleading authorities. She asked if they could just test her before sending her away. She was told she would have to go to the camp, but she would be tested there upon arrival. She was led to believe that if her test at the camp was negative she would be able to return home.
Hayley protested and said that she did not consent to being taken away. But it didn’t matter.
She was given the choice of being taken to the camp by the police, and having to pay $5000 for the ride, or being picked up by a “Covid Taxi” and taken there without charge. Either way she was going there. She chose the “Covid Taxi”.
There was no option given her to consult legal counsel or to appeal the decision. There was no due process. She was told to go pack a bag and await the arrival of her transport. A van owned by a local casino showed up to take Hayley to the internment camp.
The two uniformed police officers followed the casino van turned “Covid Taxi” to the detainment facility. When she arrived at the camp, the two officers left. They were not allowed into the camp. Hayley was not tested for Covid but was instead taken on a golf cart, accompanied by people in hazmat suits, to her “cabin”. This was where she was first told she would have to stay the full 14 days.
The place where Hayley was taken was the Howard Springs Internment Camp in the Northern Territory of Australia. It is considered the model for other such camps that are being built in Australia and around the world (there is currently a bill pending in the New York state legislature that would authorize confinement in such camps at the discretion of the governor). During her forced stay at the facility, Hayley was tested three times for Covid. Each time the test came back negative.
Her space at the camp was a tiny dwelling, which she described as a “box”. The box had a small front porch marked off with boundary lines. There were cameras everywhere and authorities patrolling in hazmat suits. Her food at the camp was delivered to her once a day.
One time Hayley, not wearing a mask, left her little deck area to throw something in a nearby trash can. The hazmat wearing authorities came to “have a chat” with her. She filmed the interaction. Hayley actually has a medical condition that is supposed to exempt her from wearing a mask. But again that didn’t matter.
While talking with the camp police, Hayley pointed out that their policies make no sense. Here is the interaction:
Police in Hazmat: “You definitely can’t go up to the fencing rails, but you’re allowed to go to the laundry, yeah? That’s always been the case.”
Hayley: “Right. So if I was sitting just here,” she said pointing to the nearby chain link fence, “which is right near the fence, why are these guys in a cabin that’s right near the fence. It makes no sense does it?”
Police in Hazmat: “Yeah, but you can’t leave your balcony to go to the fence to talk to somebody else. That’s just obvious. Again, it doesn’t have to make sense. And there has to be lines everywhere drawn, yeah? And one of the lines is you cannot leave your balcony and you cannot go to someone else. When it makes no sense or doesn’t seem right to you, that is the line, and that’s what the law is, and that’s how it goes, yeah.”
Hayley: “The law. There is a law that says that?”
Police in Hazmat: “There’s a CHO direction. Yep, there’s a CHO direction on how the behavior must be done. Especially in this area, because it’s much more highly infectious and likely to have infected people here.”
Hayley: “Highly infectious. When all of us people are negative?”
Police in Hazmat: “So far, but the risk is still very high, yeah? While you’re here can we just do that? Otherwise. next time it’s a $5000 fine, and we don’t want to do that.”
Hayley: “It’s a $5000 fine if what?”
Police in Hazmat: “If you breach again.”
Hayley: “If I walk out onto that path?”
Police in Hazmat: “Without your mask on and for no reason other than the laundry.”
Hayley: “If I cross that yellow line, then I’ve broken the rule and I will be issued with a $5000 fine?”
Police in Hazmat: “That’s correct.”
Police in Hazmat: “We could even do that now. But we’re giving the warning first. Have a chat with you because it’s a big fine. We’re all just doing the right thing, yeah? Like I said, I’m not here to fight with you.”
Police in Hazmat: “I don’t want to fight with you. I just want everybody to do the right thing.”
Police in Hazmat: “And unfortunately it’s my job to make sure they do. The ins and outs have got nothing to do with me. I’m just here to make sure the rules are adhered to, yeah.”
According to the Northern Territory government website, a CHO directive is an order issued by the Chief Health Officer of the Northern Territory. It is not a law passed by the legislative assembly.
One of the police officers in hazmat used the phrase “do the right thing”. This phrase seems to be used regularly as cover for “do whatever we tell you to do.” In other words, “do the right thing” means whatever the recognized health authorities say it is on that particular day and hour.
After several days in confinement, Hayley became stir-crazy and just wanted to get some exercise. When she asked camp authorities if she could go for a walk, she was denied. Instead they said a doctor would prescribe valium, in order to calm her down. She didn’t take the valium. She thought about trying to escape, but was afraid of what the consequences would be.
When she was asked how she felt about being in that situation, with others in control of her every movement, she said ” It’s horrible. It’s a horrible feeling. You feel like you’re in prison. You feel like you’ve done something wrong. That if you’re in trouble, they’ll lock you up for longer. They even threatened me that if I was to do this again that we’ll extend your time in here.”
Hayley said that now she wants to get the word out about what is happening with these camps in Australia. And what could happen in other nations.
Her message is timely. The legislature in the state of New York is currently considering a bill that would allow for the indefinite forced confinement of anyone deemed to be “a health threat”.
A few observations/thoughts:
- When Jews were taken to concentration camps by the German SS, they were often told it was for their “health and safety”
- Terms like “health” and “safety” are not terms of morality and can be defined to suit the aims of those in authority, as if those terms are sole province of “health experts”.
- Freedom, by contrast, is much more straightforward. Freedom is about not being enslaved. That is why Paul says in Galatians that “It was for freedom that Christ has set us free. Do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
- The police officer in hazmat essentially told Hayley that he was just following orders. This defense was used by many former Nazi officials and collaborators at the post World War II Nuremberg Trials to no avail.
- The lockdowns that happened in March 2020 all over the world all at once were meant to be the pattern for everything that was to follow. That seems clear. Rollout each new step worldwide all at once. The fact that attempts to roll out subsequent steps like covid shot mandates and covid internment camps worldwide have thus far failed, is a sign that the twisted agenda behind the oppression is being interrupted and defeated.
I believe we are being shown all these things that we don’t want to see so we’ll have the opportunity to do something about it. It is God’s grace. We have the opportunity to push back in the Spirit and in the natural and stand in victory!
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On the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia are inscribed words of freedom from the Bible: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” It is from the book of Leviticus (25:10) and speaks of the year of Jubilee, which occurred in Israel every 50 years. In the year of Jubilee, debts were forgiven and slaves were set free. It was not freedom for only certain inhabitants of the land, but freedom for all, including children.
There is reason to believe we are in a modern year of Jubilee. A year in which slaves are going to be set free. Yes, there is still slavery. But it has been hidden, and now it is coming into the light. Often referred to as human trafficking, it is about people made in God’s image that are bought and sold like cattle, used up and discarded like trash.
It is time for it to end. It is time to proclaim liberty throughout all the land. It is time to stand our ground against this abhorrence and proclaim “Let Freedom Ring!”
We are living in what Paul referred to as “the day of evil” (Ephesians 6:13). The word that is translated as “evil” in the Bible has to do with that which is malicious, malignant, from the heart of those who have given themselves over to evil, given themselves over to the evil one. The kind of evil that spawns the twisted desire to use and abuse children. To take everything from them, including their lives.
We are in a time when the evil of slavery is worse than ever. There are now more enslaved people than at any other point in history. Perhaps the worst aspect of this is child trafficking. A few years ago the dark money generated by child trafficking surpassed the illegal arms trade. This terrible windfall has continued to grow until it recently exceeded the revenues generated by the illegal drug trade.
Think about that.
Children are bought and sold as if they were a drug, used to feed demonic appetites. Child trafficking is not just oppressive and heartbreaking, it is wholly evil. It is malicious, of the evil one, and continues to grow like a malignant cancer, spreading everywhere, driven by the powers of hell. It is not just “someone else’s problem”.
Along with many others, I believe that God has heard the cries of the children and the cries of many worldwide for deliverance and justice. In the Bible, it was often the murder of children that would spur God’s judgment. It is truly about the children. This evil is being exposed right now. We need to open our eyes and see. We need to pray and take action where possible.
Let Freedom Ring!
The bell that once hung above Independence Hall in Philadelphia was first dubbed the “Liberty Bell” by abolitionists in the early 1800s. It has always been associated with freedom from the evil of slavery. The Liberty Bell is known as “The World’s Symbol for Liberty” and has provided inspiration for those seeking freedom since the 1770s. The world’s first anti-slavery society was formed on April 14, 1775 in Philadelphia within view of Independence Hall and within the sound of its bell (click here to hear the sound of the Liberty Bell).
The ringing of bells to proclaim liberty is part of the fabric of our nation. The phrase “Let Freedom Ring” was first heard at Park Street Church in Boston in 1802. It’s from the song called “My Country ‘Tis of Thee”. You may also know the song simply as “America”. It was written and first sung at Park Street Church. It has been sung and proclaimed many times since. When I was a second grader, we would sing it in school. The first verse of the song:
My country, ’tis of thee,
sweet land of liberty,
of thee I sing:
land where my fathers died,
land of the pilgrims’ pride,
from every mountainside
let freedom ring!
One organization that is fighting to free children from slavery is “Operation Underground Railroad” (ourrescue.org). It was started by a man named Tim Ballard. Tim is a former agent of the Department of Homeland Security, and in that role he pursued Americans that were involved in child trafficking. But he wanted to do more.
Tim was inspired by the Underground Railroad network of the 1800s that helped enslaved black people escape to freedom. As a result he started Operation Underground Railroad to rescue abducted kids around the world. Tim was not only inspired by the Underground Railroad, but he learned everything he could about the tactics of Harriet Tubman and others. Savvy, intelligent strategies that had worked with remarkable success. He put those tactics to work in modern-day settings.
A movie has been made about Tim Ballard and Operation Underground Railroad called “The Sound of Freedom” (click here to watch the trailer). Starring Jim Caviezel (Count of Monte Cristo and the Passion of the Christ), the movie plunges into the world of child trafficking and the rescue of children. It also powerfully makes the point that child abductions and slavery are everyone’s problem. As Caviezel’s character says in the movie “over 2 million children a year are being sucked into the deepest recesses of hell.”
Shunned by the filmmaking establishment, the movie has been completed. But there has been much opposition in Hollywood to its release. There is speculation that it hits too close to home. The producers hope to release the movie by early next year. In April of this year, Jim Caviezel spoke about the movie and the horrors of child slavery.
It is an evil that is hard for us to look at. Hard for us to know about. Many Americans, including many American Christians, seem to have a hard time seeing the actual existence of evil in this world. We know in the abstract it exists, but recognizing evil at work is another thing. But it does exist. People from countries like Cuba, Venezuela, China, and Vietnam recognize evil at work because they have lived with it, been oppressed by it, sometimes tortured by it.
But thankfully the story doesn’t end there. Evil is not the most powerful presence at work in this world. There are many people rising up to confront the evil of child trafficking, of all human trafficking. God is moving in the hearts of many and making a way to shine His light in very, very dark places. Making a way for rescue and deliverance.
On every mountainside Let Freedom Ring!
Protecting children starts at home and we need to be vigilant about guarding our own children. Pray for the protection of other people’s children. The threat has been more in our face than we’ve realized.
In Luke 4:18-19 Jesus stood up in front of the people of his hometown of Nazareth and proclaimed that
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”
Let Freedom Ring!
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The Tension Between Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness Part 4 – Keeping Things in Perspective
One of the great casualties of the coronavirus lockdowns has been a loss of perspective. Do you remember life before March 1, 2020?
Being in isolation has taken us out of the full context of our lives. We cannot see what is going on around us. The fog is lifting. But it is lifting slowly.
One of my favorite authors, Stephen Lawhead, has written that the modern times we live in are like a digital clock, which provides us instant information with no context.
Seem familiar? We have received lots of information, lots of numbers during the pandemic, but for the most part those numbers are without context, without explanation.
We need context.
Do you remember what it is like to gather with more than 10 people at a time? Do you remember that we have never shut down our society like this before for any reason? We need to remember.
My last post addressed the question “What is Essential?” Keeping things in perspective is also essential. It’s essential for our sanity.
I wanted to share some things that have been helpful for me the last 3 months to keep perspective.
Make a point to remember what your life was like before the lockdowns started. Write it down if necessary. Don’t get disconnected from who you are. Don’t get disconnected from others. Remember what is important to you. Remember who is important to you. Remember what you did in January and February of this year. What events did you attend? Remember what it is like to be around more than 10 people at once. This time has been disorienting. Remember that the world did not start over in March of this year.
Reject the Lies
Reject the lie that we are living in the “new normal”. Reject the lie that a virus ultimately determines the outcome of our lives.
Do not Act Out of Fear
Easier said than done. Pray, go for a walk, talk to a friend, count your blessings. Go across state lines to get a haircut and eat lunch – at a restaurant. Go fishing. Do something. I have had to tackle some of my own fears to write this blog post. Fear is a thief. The Bible talks about how the thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy. Fear robs us of the ability to think rationally and see things in perspective. This is not the same as feeling afraid. The fear is understandable. It has been hyped day in day out for months now. Yet there is hope for us. There is hope for our country. We need hope.
Put your Hope in the Right Place
Our security is not found in masks. Our ultimate hope is not in science, not in a vaccine. What if an effective vaccine is never found? I pray one will be found, but ultimately, our only hope is God. He is our light in the darkness. This doesn’t mean that we don’t take precautions, that we don’t watch out for those who are vulnerable. This does not mean we don’t seek out a vaccine or at times wear a mask. We need to protect those in danger. But more than that, we need to put our hope in what will not fail us.
Put the Numbers in Context
Here’s an example. In my own state of Minnesota, as of May 20, there had been 809 reported deaths from the virus. One of many numbers that has been given in the news without any context. It turns out that Minnesota, like several other states, enacted a policy that forced or pressured nursing homes to take patients that were infected with coronavirus. Out of a total of 809 deaths, 663 had occurred in nursing homes. To give more context, as of May 20, 2020, 82% of the reported coronavirus deaths in Minnesota were in nursing homes, the highest percentage of any state in the country. Yet the entire state of Minnesota was largely locked down during that time period. It is still locked down in many ways. Unfortunately the lockdowns have not protected many of those at risk.
The Front Lines of this Pandemic go Beyond Medical Settings
Those in hospitals and in clinics have certainly been on the front lines in this pandemic. But there are also other fronts in this battle. Fronts that would have been almost unimaginable 3 months ago. Who would have thought that a 77 year-old barber in Michigan, a gym owner in New Jersey, or a salon owner in Oregon could be placing themselves in legal jeopardy just by opening up for business? Think about that. The link below is to a video from in front of the Atilis Gym in New Jersey from May 18th. The owner decided to open his business in defiance of the governor’s executive order. Several people showed up outside the gym to support the owner. The police showed up, told everyone they were formally in violation of the executive order, told everyone to have a nice day, and then left. I find the video inspiring and worth a minute to watch. It gives me hope that we are not yet losing our country.
— Atilis Gym Bellmawr (@TheAtilisGym) May 18, 2020
Get Out and Go Places
If you have been working from home, go and drive by your workplace. Go and drive by your church. Get out and walk around the building and pray. Go to places that are important to you.
Realize that Good Will Come From All of This
We have seen this pandemic, and the related shutdowns, bring out the best in many people. Many people have stepped up and taken action. Bible sales have been at record levels. People are seeking answers, seeking hope, seeking meaning. We have also had the dubious opportunity to see temporary tyranny on display. It is good to see it while we can do something about it. Realize that we have an opportunity to shape the future. The irony is that the lockdowns have set a lot of things in motion. Resolve to use this time for good. We need goodness to survive and thrive as a country.
John Adams said that “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
On that note, I’ll leave you with this quote from the classic work Democracy in America. Frenchmen Alexis de Tocqueville wrote almost 200 years ago that “I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers… and it was not there… in her rich mines and her vast world commerce… and it was not there… in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution… and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and her power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”
If you want to read more about the history of religious freedom, check out my historical novel Taking the Cross. It is about the beginnings of religious freedom movements.
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Essential. It’s a word we’ve heard a lot in the last two months.
It has been the defining word in the multitude of lockdown and shelter-in-place orders affecting the overwhelming majority of Americans. Essential workers, essential businesses, essential activities. Essential. Essential. Essential. Non-essential. Elective. Unapproved.
This is all based on the assumption that the lockdowns themselves continue to be essential. There have been reasons to take precautions, even to shelter in place for a time. The virus was an unknown. It is clearly very contagious. It is a real threat to certain groups of people. But there are many other threats, many other causes of death.
I think we have lost perspective. What is actually essential? What is non-essential? Essential for what?
Words mean things.
According to Merriam Webster, essential means “of the utmost importance: basic, indispensable, necessary” It comes from the Latin word essentia, which has to do with “what constitutes the essence of something”.
Essential then is something that is basic to who we are. Something we can’t do without. The essence of who we are.
What is the essence of who we are as people? What is the essence of who we are as a society? Who should decide what that is?
The stated emphasis the last two months has been on keeping people physically safe from the coronavirus. Whether it is admitted or not, this focus on trying to keep people physically safe from one certain threat has necessitated countless trade-offs. New actions always bring unintended consequences. The swiftness and severity of the actions that were taken meant that there was no way to think through the consequences to any great extent.
Many of our leaders have been willing to trade people’s freedoms, mental health, livelihoods, physical health, and deaths from numerous other causes. Whatever the motives behind the shutting down and locking down of our society, and I think the motives are varied, it is inescapable that these trade-offs have already occurred. They continue to occur everyday.
During this pandemic, essential is being defined as what is necessary for physical health. When I was a kid in the fourth grade, I remember sitting on the playground having a discussion with my friends about the essential things of life. We decided in our ten-year old wisdom that food, water, clothing, and shelter were the basic necessities. Physical needs. Upon hearing this, the cynical uncle of one of my friends chimed in “all you really need is money”.
We need all these things to stay alive, even money. But we are more than a physical body, more than a series of chemical reactions. People have a soul and a spirit, and therein lies the tension. People need hope, they need meaning in life. We are wired to believe in something bigger than us. This means that those who reject God, who reject formal religion, will still seek out a cause that seems meaningful to them. This is why people desire freedom so much. So they can find meaning in life.
For most of history, societies were not free, so people sought freedom underground. This is why the ancient Christians met in the catacombs beneath the city of Rome, a major reason why there was a thriving black market in the Soviet Union (and other tyrannical, oppressive states), and why millions of people have risked their lives to come to the United States. There is an innate longing for freedom. There is not only staying alive, there is having a life worth living.
We are experiencing great tension right now between freedom and security. But it is a felt security and not a true security. There are no guarantees in this life. Backing away from one threat without looking around may cause us to tumble backwards off a cliff.
It seems we are still experimenting with the American Experiment. In my first post about the Tension Between Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, I wrote about how we must not forget the source of our rights nor allow them to be permanently scaled-back. In my second post, I wrote about how the pandemic haze we are in is being supplemented by fog machines, people doing and saying things to further obscure our view. It is hard to see clearly in these days.
This has been a difficult post to write because of the tension we are experiencing. Our American Experiment of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness is being stress-tested like never before in our history. Not even during the Civil War or the Great Depression did such a thick black fog roll in so quickly. The pace of the social distancing, shutdowns, and shelter-in-place orders was dizzying and breathtaking. It is like there was one central light switch for the whole world and somebody hit the switch and plunged us into darkness. The viral pandemic has not been nearly as bewildering as the worldwide response to it. It is anxiety producing to even think seriously about it and try to put down my own thoughts.
We have had extraordinary freedoms in this country that can easily be taken for granted. I don’t think a person newly arrived from an oppressive country would be as calm as many Americans are now about the widespread suspension of their most basic rights. The essential reason that people have journeyed to America since the 1600s is freedom. They often risked their lives on the journey. They often lost their lives on the journey. People still risk their lives for “Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness”.
When people see those freedoms threatened, they sound the alarm. The essence of what we seek is freedom.
In Raleigh, North Carolina, after police broke up a peaceful protest rally and made arrests, the police tweeted out “protesting is a non-essential activity”.
Protesting is a non-essential activity.
— Raleigh Police (@raleighpolice) April 14, 2020
In this case, two of the five rights promised in the First Amendment, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, were violated in one fell swoop. If essential is defined in terms of immediate physical safety from the coronavirus, then protesting is non-essential. But the essence of who we are as a country is freedom. I wrote a blog post a few years ago about the Statue of Liberty and religious freedom. It applies to American freedom in general. What I wrote is that the Statue of Liberty is so well anchored into Liberty Island in the Inner New York Harbor, that to knock it down you would essentially have to overturn the entire island. The same is true with liberty in America. It is so embedded in the ground of who we are that you would have to uproot our entire country and overturn it to take away our freedoms.
I am concerned we are very much in danger of selling our birthright for a mess of pottage. That we are trading our beloved freedoms for the mere perception of safety. This does not mean that the coronavirus is not serious. But we have also learned that 75-80% of those who are affected have no symptoms. Quarantine is for those who are sick. At some point, extended quarantine for those who are not ill is overbearing and oppressive. The Governor of California actually released a list of approved outdoor activities: https://covid19.ca.gov/stay-home-except-for-essential-needs/#outdoor
Tyranny does not show up with a flashing sign and bullhorn announcing it has arrived. It is more like cancer. Once its presence is obvious, it is already pervasive.
C.S. Lewis said “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
I think many people have the sense we are being tormented “for our own good”.
In the Declaration of Independence there is a phrase that speaks about the progression of tyranny: “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
The first part of this phrase means that when we see a pattern of action from those in power that is leading toward oppression and tyranny, it is our obligation to do something about it. Our country’s founders tried peacefully to reconcile with King George III. But those overtures were rejected. A pattern emerged in which the tyranny not only continued but grew and expanded. The Declaration of Independence is primarily a document that lays out the royal abuses of power. Our country was founded to escape the arbitrary proclamations of those in power.
An important thing to remember about the orders to close certain businesses and shelter in place, is that they are not “laws” in the sense that they were passed by a duly elected legislature. They are edicts from a government executive, whether governor, county commissioner, or mayor. To a certain extent, governors and mayors have authority; however, we are far down a path we have never travelled before as a country. We have never had executive orders that micromanaged our lives to this extent. Separation of powers means that the courts and legislatures can check the authority of state and city executives.
We have all been learning together. We need to take our hard-won knowledge and put it to work. So what are we to do?
The first answer is to pray. I find myself increasingly praying for God’s will to be done, because these days I often don’t know how to pray. But I have also been praying for God’s light to pierce the fog in which we are living. Pray for clarity. If we have a sense that something is not quite right, we need to pray about that. We also need to pray for spiritual awakening. for eyes to be opened and hearts to be changed by the power of God. People are looking for hope and searching for answers.
We also need to stop being on defense, even if it’s only a change in mindset.
It’s time to stop ending the isolation and finding ways to reach out to others, even if we need to get creative. It is essential that we have contact with others. I believe we were made for relationship with God and with people. That is the essence of who we are.
If Americans overall do not have the responsibility to handle their freedom correctly as we go through this pandemic, than we have far greater troubles than a virus. But I think it is ultimately up to the American people to determine which workers, activities, and businesses are essential.
Lastly we need to remember that we live in a republic, which means we elect people to office and can vote them out. Our republic is represented by our flag, which is a symbol. We are one nation, a nation under stress and strain but still one nation. We are a nation under God. We are a nation indivisible. We are a nation that has held up the ideal of and ultimately sought liberty and justice for all.
In my next blog post I am going to talk about why context matters.
If you want to read more about the history of religious freedom, check out my historical novel Taking the Cross. It is about the beginnings of religious freedom movements.
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I think when we look back on this crazy, hazy time we’re in, we’ll see that the lockdowns really started to lift on Easter Sunday. Not because government officials decided the restrictions needed to be lifted. Not because medical experts decided they needed to be lifted. But because, by and large, the American people decided they needed to be lifted.
It was right after Easter that the protests started.
I think that many people sensed that on Easter Sunday we had crossed a line. They sensed that the fog around us was about more than the uncertainty of the pandemic. Even if they can’t put it into words, many people have realized that the already hazy situation is being further obscured by fog machines.
Fog machines being run by people with good intentions who simply are too narrowly focused on the coronavirus problem. People who have lost sight of the broader picture. It’s easy to do in this time, and understandable. But things that were hazards before, did not cease to be hazards because of COVID-19. For instance, we are learning that the bans on “elective” medical procedures may be fatal for many people and could lead to the shuttering of several hospitals. The actual number of deaths from the pandemic had been obscured as well. Every time someone dies and is found to have coronavirus in their system, the death is being attributed to COVID-19.
Other fog machines are being operated by those in power that have overstepped their bounds. There often seems to be no rhyme or reason for which activities and businesses are deemed essential. In times like this, it is good to remind our elected officials who put them in office, and who can vote them out.
The protests that started after Easter were sparked by videos like this one from King James Church in Greenville, Mississippi: https://bit.ly/2Y1JOUq. In the video, you can hear a police officer telling the pastor that his rights are suspended. The pastor responds by saying that “Our rights don’t come from authority. It comes from the Bible. So, the authority does not have right over the Constitution. We talking the constitution of law, the First and Second Amendment, the U.S. Constitution that was given to us by our forefathers. Mayor Errick Simmons can’t take it away, nor the police officer.”
Who was overreaching here? Was it the Mayor of Greenville for issuing an order against drive-in church services, or the Pastor for defying it?
Among other reasons, it is worth watching the video simply for the sight of multiple police cars and police officers. In a church parking lot. Ready to cite people for driving into the parking lot of their church. In the United States.
Congregants who drove into the church parking lot and refused to leave, even with their windows rolled-up, were each given $500 citations. At the same time, residents of Greenville were allowed to gather at drive-in restaurants with their windows rolled down.
Was the pastor violating Romans 13 which says to obey those in authority over you because that authority comes from God? Or was he obeying God rather than men?
Was the Mayor of Greenville merely trying to protect people? Or was he abusing his power?
It is clear that the shutdown orders were not evenly applied. Churches have often been bearing an unequal burden of restriction.
Like the Bereans in the book of Acts that checked the Bible to see if Paul was telling the truth, we need to think for ourselves and not always take our elected officials at face value. This is certainly a time to look out for others, but it is not a time to be passive. If there is something that is going on that doesn’t seem right, we need to pay attention to that. Sometimes we need to push back. It is part of the freedom and responsibility we have as American citizens.
There are reasons why the Constitution has checks and balances.
The preamble of the constitution begins “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
We need to both “promote the general Welfare and secure the Blessings of Liberty”. We can do both. At the same time.
It is time to move into an “all of the above” approach. We can move back out into society and still look out for others.
It’s time to look up.
It’s time to look around. There is a lot we need to see. There are good things happening and things that are cause for concern.
Being cooped up naturally encourages people to look down and look inward. Sometimes we need to do that.
But if we want to move ahead we need to look up. When playing a game of basketball or soccer, we shouldn’t look down when dribbling the ball. When playing the piano, we don’t want to look at our hands, we need to look at the music.
We need to look around. We need to see what’s ahead.
Now of course when you are first learning to play you need to look down. You need to learn technique and how to orient yourself.
We have been learning to live with “social distancing”. We have needed to look down and look inward. We have needed to learn how to orient ourselves. We’ve all faced new challenges.
Now it’s time to look up, to look around, and go back out into the world.
Four days after Easter, the mayor of Greenville was sued by another church, and the mayor lifted his ban on drive-in church services.
We must continue to secure “the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity”.
In next week’s blog, I’ll be asking the question “what is essential?”
If you want to read more about the history of religious freedom, check out my historical novel Taking the Cross. It is about the beginnings of religious freedom movements.
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How often in the last month have we heard the words “in these unprecedented times…”?
We are living in days where it feels nearly impossible to put things in perspective.
Who among us has lived through a time where we have come so close to shutting down our entire society?
Time will tell if the viral pandemic itself is unprecedented. There seems to be little doubt that the virus we battle is extremely contagious and that certain populations are more vulnerable. Yet for all the numbers we see floated on the news, we really don’t know how many people have the coronavirus, how many have died from it, or how many have recovered. What is more certain is that we have never closed down our country to this extent, not even during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1919.
We are in uncharted waters.
In state after state, governors. mayors, and other officials are struggling to define what is “essential”. In the last month, millions of people that had been employed by “non-essential” businesses have lost their jobs. The ranks of the unemployed are growing faster than they did during the Great Depression.
In order to protect the lives of others, people have been willing to temporarily surrender many of their own rights. People are correct to make short-term sacrifices to help save the lives of others. But the keyword here is temporary. This must all be temporary.
In the midst of all of this we must not forget the source of our rights nor allow them to be permanently scaled-back.
In the preamble of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Our rights come from God and not government.
I believe the three rights of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness represent a hierarchy. Life is to be valued over liberty, as liberty is to be valued over the pursuit of happiness.
But they are all intertwined. The more freedom people have, the higher the standard of living. The higher the standard of living, the fewer the people that suffer in poverty, and the fewer that perish from lack of basic necessities and medical care. If any one of these things are removed from the equation, then sooner or later the other 2 crater and collapse.
Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom, and we must be vigilant. Some of the words and actions by those in government are cause for concern. The mayor of New York has threatened to close some churches permanently. The governor of Kentucky had police take down the license plate numbers of those who drove into a church parking lot on Easter.
On the flip side, we are currently seeing a renewed and welcome focus on the value of life.
Yet we must remember that the coronavirus is not the only cause of death.
Whenever anything new is tried there are always unintended consequences. Always. We are living through a new experiment in social distancing. Some of the unintended consequences we are experiencing are good. For example, people are having to slow down and wrestle with what is truly important. Overall, that is a good thing. But some of the consequences are negative. The isolation that will save some people’s lives will take the lives of others, especially the longer this shutdown continues. We are seeing an uptick in suicides. We are not made to live in prolonged loneliness. Like babies that will die if they are not held, we need interaction with others.
There are no completely safe options to choose from. Nothing in life is ever completely safe. But there are more than 2 options. Much of the thinking out there seems to be that either we shut everything down until the virus is completely eradicated or by definition we open up things too soon and experience mass mortality. We need to find a third option.
I believe we are fast approaching a tipping point where we will put to death more than we save. Perhaps we are at the precipice now.
We enjoy the freedoms we have now because of the thousands that came before us that willingly laid down their lives to preserve those freedoms.
We must preserve the American Dream. The American Dream is not primarily the Pursuit of Happiness, but the pursuit of Freedom. We fought a bloody Civil War not only to remain one nation but so that one person’s right of the Pursuit of Happiness does not outweigh another person’s right to Life and Liberty.
We are living with a siege mentality and it is time to open the gates and go on the offensive. To save the lives of others we will need to do more than “shelter in place”. To move forward it will take more than government action. It will take all of us. We will need to reach out and support those who must remain in isolation.
Americans have always been very willing to sacrifice for others. But if we pass along to future generations a poverty-stricken America devoid of freedom, then no amount of lives saved will be worth it. More will perish from other causes than were saved from a viral pandemic.
My next blog post will continue the series about the Tension Between Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
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Author’s Note: This is part 4 in a series about the Regiment that manned the boats for Washington’s Delaware River crossing. They were called the Marblehead Regiment, named for the town on the Massachusetts seacoast from which they hailed. In the last half of 1776, this extraordinary group of soldiers saved the American Revolution at least 4 times. I am writing this series through the eyes of Captain William Blackler, who piloted Washington’s boat across the Delaware River on Christmas night, 1776. This year is the 240th anniversary of the Crossing of the Delaware.
Around 4pm on Christmas Day, 1776, the muster was called on the West Bank of the Delaware River. The troops of Washington’s Continental Army assembled in formation. It was something they did each day. But today there was a different feeling in the air. The soldiers were told they were to march to a place called McConkey’s Ferry. But they weren’t told where they would be going from there. They were ordered to take 60 rounds of ammunition per man and to maintain a strict silence.
Officers were given a white piece of paper to be pinned to the backs of their hats. It was so their men could follow them, even in darkness. They were expected to lead from the front.
The weather hovered around freezing and there was a driving icy rain. It soaked already tattered uniforms. The men walked the few miles to McConkey’s Ferry in utter quiet, focused and serious. The cowards and shirkers and “sunshine patriots” had long ago abandoned the Cause. The snow on the path stained red from wounded feet releasing blood into ground through cracked and broken shoes. Still they continued to walk in silence.
As they reached McConkey’s Ferry, the rain began to freeze and turned to sleet and hail. Colonel John Glover’s Marblehead Regiment finished moving the last of the Durham Boats to the ferry. The boats had been hidden upriver under piles of brush to keep them from the British, and to make preparation for the endeavor they were about to undertake.
The Delaware River at the point of crossing was about 800 feet across. It was swollen from the rain that had fallen and was at flood stage. They were to cross at the narrowest point of the river. Yet the constricted channel meant that the current flowed even more swiftly.
The river has its origins in upstate New York, and there its waters had already begun to freeze. The ice had broken apart and traveled downriver in large ice floes that appeared smaller than they actually were.
At 5:30 pm the sun set. In the gathering dark, Washington’s troops assembled at Mc Conkey’s Ferry. There was nearly a full moon that night, but it was obscured completely by the storm. Blocked by clouds that expended their wrath upon the chilled soldiers standing by the river. But perhaps it was a mercy, albeit a harsh one, because the clouds would help shield the Continental soldiers from unfriendly eyes.
Captain William Blackler
The final fading embers of twilight were extinguished in the distance. I wiped the rain from my eyes. We pulled the first of the boats up to the dock. McConkey’s Ferry only had space to load 2 boats at a time. Washington wanted all the troops across by midnight. Colonel Glover had told his Excellency it was impossible, but his men would try to do the impossible.
I gathered my company by the dock. “We are crossing the Delaware to march on the village of Trenton. Our regiment is to man the boats during the crossing. Each boat will need 5 crew. An officer to command and to steer the craft, 2 men in the middle to row and 2 in the front with 18 foot poles to deal with the ice and keep us on course.”
There was an uneasy silence as my men grappled with the reality of the charge before us. “These conditions are as bad as any we have faced on the open ocean. Those that know the weather here believe this storm will only intensify.
“The Durham Boats are light and they are stable. But they are long and will be vulnerable to damage from the ice floes. There will be 30 to 40 men in each boatload. If a boat sinks out on the river every man aboard will die. Most cannot swim, but even among us who can, our gear, the coldness of the water, the ice floes, and the swiftness of the current will all conspire to drown us.” I paused. “We will not lose a single man out there. Not on my watch. Is that understood?”
The men nodded. They spoke as one. “Yes sir.”
I looked across the river. “This night’s labor will be exhausting. Even more so than the night of rowing back and forth from Long Island to Manhattan Island last summer to evacuate the army. But this night we are not on retreat. We go to attack an enemy that has put the Continental Army to flight time and again. An enemy that has shot surrendered soldiers in the head and stabbed them in the back with the bayonet. Tonight we are on the attack. Once all are across this river, we must be ready to march the 10 miles to Trenton to fight the Hessians. Our regiment is to lead the army into Trenton. We are being entrusted with the fate of the army and of the country this night. Gentlemen, I know we will not fail.”
To a man they looked me in the eye. They were ready.
Moments after I finished addressing my men, his Excellency General Washington rode onto the dock and dismounted. With him were Colonel Glover and Colonel Henry Knox. Together these 2 colonels were to command the crossing. Glover would oversee the loading of the men into the Durham Boats and Knox the loading of his artillery and horses onto wide flat ferry boats. All 18 cannon were to be brought with us this night.
The sleet and hail intensified and the howling of the wind increased. Sunlight faded completely and the moon was obscured. It was difficult to hear and almost impossible to see. Colonel Knox, a massive man, taller than Washington, and with “stentorian” lungs, was the only one who could be heard at any distance above the howling of the wind and the sharp clacking of the sleet as it fell.
A regiment from Maryland was loaded into the first 2 boats and they pushed off from the dock.
As 2 more boats were brought to McConkey’s Ferry, Colonel Glover approached me. “Captain Blackler,” he said in the hearing of my men. “General Washington wishes to cross now to lead the men by example, for many among them think this storm and the swollen river to be a bad omen. Many of his generals and staff will cross with him. You are to pilot his boat across the river. I do not have to tell you the seriousness of the charge you are being given.”
I could not help but smile. “Yes sir. I understand completely.”
He placed his hand on my shoulder. “I know you understand. This night we finally go on the attack. Get them there alive and whole Captain Blackler.”
“We will not lose a man, you have my word.”
Glover left and returned with his Excellency. I took General Washington’s hand and helped this tall, strong man onto the waiting Durham Boat. In turn I assisted General Nathaniel Greene and General John Sullivan, his 2 division commanders, onto the craft as well. Among the others I helped onboard was young Captain James Monroe.
Durham Boats look like giant canoes. They are about 40 to 60 feet long and 8 feet wide in the middle. They taper to a point at each end. They are made for hauling cargo down the Delaware River to Philadelphia and ports farther south. Cargo like coal, iron ore, pig iron, and whiskey. The sides are about 4 feet high. Since they are flat-bottomed, they have a shallow draft. Even when fully loaded with iron ore, they only sink 2 feet at most into the water. The cargo would be much lighter tonight. The boats would almost be able to reach the opposite shore before the men disembarked.
All the men stood in the boat. To sit down would have meant soaking one’s posterior in the 2 inches or so of rain and slush that had already accumulated at the bottom of the boat. My men and I took up our positions and we pushed off the dock at McConkey’s Ferry.
We had only to journey 800 feet, but what an 800 feet it would be. It might be the most treacherous stretch of water we had ever traversed. I could not see 5 feet in front of me much less as far as the opposite shore. It also meant any Hessian or British scouts would have difficulty seeing us. Ice floes had gathered near the West Bank and my men at the front of the boat had to push them out of the way with the poles. It was slow work and it was several minutes before we even reached open water. The men in front walked on raised platforms that left them standing less than 2 feet below the rim of the boat. They were in constant danger from falling into the river from the sleet slick wooden ledges, but there was no way we could cross otherwise.
Once we were free of the initial ice jam, the men in the middle began to row. But even with their synchronized strong swift strokes, the violent current almost immediately began to pull us down river. Steering in the back of the boat was almost useless in these conditions. I grabbed a pole and jammed it into the river bottom to push us back upstream and to keep us on course. My men in front did the same. About every third stroke, the rower on the left side of the boat hit his oar against an ice floe. There was a sickening crack as a particularly large chuck of ice crashed against the side of the boat. I fully expected the craft to spring a leak.
Officers with swords literally leapt to the left side of the craft. They unsheathed their swords and thrust them into the water as if to slay the approaching ice floes. They were able to hold many of the floes at bay until the boat had moved past them. General Washington was the most active among them. As we neared the middle of the river, I saw him stab again at another approaching chunk of ice. His saber disappeared from him as if it was ripped from his hand. The tip had broken off in the ice and his sword was claimed by the river.
The storm grew into a full nor’easter and the wind approached hurricane strength. It blew the sleet and hail almost horizontally into our faces. We were moving against the wind. I still could not see the light at Johnson’s Ferry on the East Bank of the Delaware.
The men kept their silence. Everyone was focused and sober. The rowers continued their strong pull strokes. The oars were slowly being coated in a layer of ice. Water was freezing to the poles as well. I kept jamming the pole into the river and pushing to keep us on course. The men in front struggled to keep their balance as they did the same. Officers kept stabbing at the ice floes they could see. Other chunks of ice kept slamming into the side of the boat from the north.
At length I saw a faint light to the east. It grew stronger as we approached the shore. The private soldiers in front each raised an arm for the rowers to halt their pull strokes. They jammed their poles into the river bottom and brought us to a halt. We had reached the ice pack on the East Bank of the Delaware. Slowly, methodically, they pulled the floes out of the way, one at a time.
We came within a dozen feet of the river’s edge before having to stop. If we went any further we were in danger of running the craft aground. One by one the men clambered onto the ledges in front. I and my men helped his excellency and his officers and staff out of the boat. They were still up to their knees in the icy Delaware River when they first stepped out of the boat. But it was far better than being up to one’s waist.
After the last man disembarked, the polers pushed off. The ice floes they had pushed out of the way had already been replaced by new ones. They had to spend several minutes clearing a path back to the main river channel.
I was relieved. We had ferried his Excellency and his commanding generals across. Though Washington has lost his saber, we had not lost a single man.
The crossing back to McConkey’s Ferry was easier without the weight of passengers. We were getting into a rhythm for the night. I said a silent prayer of thanks for the divine protection of Providence. I knew I would never forget ferrying Washington across the Delaware on Christmas.
Our next boatload was a regiment from Connecticut. The officers again rose to the occasion to fight off the ice floes. I was encouraged to see the fight. Men no longer waiting to be attacked, but attacking. It boded well for the battle to come against the Hessians in Trenton.
By around 1 in the morning we had everyone across. All the Durham Boats were pulled up on shore. We wanted to make sure they did not get pulled down the river with the current.
It was the time to bring the artillery across. Our entire regiment crossed back over on the wide flat ferry boats that plied the river. They had been designed to transport a coach and four across the Delaware. They were about 12 feet wide and around 45 feet long. They were very difficult to get through the ice because they were so wide. They were surrounded by a low wooden wall. At either end, the wall was hinged at the bottom. It could be swung down and used as a ramp.
The horses could be ridden right onto the ferry boats. The cannon still had to be carried a short distance. Even with a half dozen or more men on each cannon, it was arduous work. Ice had formed on the cannon and they were difficult to grasp.
It took another 2 hours to get all the cannon and horses across the East Bank of the Delaware.
By 4 in the morning, the ranks were formed up and ready to March. We took the lead in General Sullivan’s column. It had started to snow.
My next blog post will be about the night march to Trenton and the battle that followed.
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Author’s Note: This is part 3 in a series about the Regiment that manned the boats for Washington’s Delaware River crossing. They were called the Marblehead Regiment, named for the town on the Massachusetts seacoast from which they hailed. In the last half of 1776, this extraordinary group of soldiers saved the American Revolution at least 4 times. I am writing this series through the eyes of Captain William Blackler, who piloted Washington’s boat across the Delaware River on Christmas night, 1776.
After taking New York City, the British moved to trap the American army on Manhattan Island. In 1776, the only bridge from Manhattan Island to the mainland was at the far northern end of the island at a place called Kingsbridge. In an attempt to reach Kingsbridge before Washington and his army, the British landed nearly 4000 troops at a place called Pell’s Point. It is now part of the Bronx.
Colonel John Glover and his brigade, which included the Marblehead Regiment, had been placed by Washington at Pell’s Point. On the morning of October 18th, looking through his spyglass, Glover watched the British land about a mile from where he was stationed.
Captain William Blackler
The mass of ship’s masts appeared on the surface of Pelham Bay at first light. It was as if a forest of tall straight trees had grown out of the murky depths overnight. From those ships bristling with cannon, a multitude of smaller boats were launched in quick succession, loaded with armed redcoats. It appeared the entire British army was concentrating for an attack upon Pell’s Point.
They were at most 1 mile from our position.
Colonel Glover handed me his spyglass. “Will, what is your estimate of their numbers?”
I did a quick count of the number of ships and the number of landing craft. “Sir, there are thousands of British and Hessians troops rowing across the bay. I estimate their strength to be between 4000 and 5000. That is only from the ships we can see. What if more arrive?”
I turned around to look at our own troops stationed along the main road that ran the length of Pell’s Point. “Our own numbers are not more than 800, sir.”
Glover shook his head. “750. We are not even 800. Your count of the enemy’s strength matches my own. We could be outnumbered more than 6 to 1.” He exhaled and gazed off into the distance. “Our own General Lee is at least 3 miles away. Those accursed lobsterbacks will be upon us before Lee can send reinforcements to our aid. What I would not give for his expertise right now.”
“Sir, with all deference, I believe Lee would tell you to retreat, to run for the hills as it were.” I cleared my throat, thinking I had exceeded my bounds. “What will you do sir?”
He rose to his feet. “I cannot let them pass. They are but a few miles march from Kingsbridge. If they reach Kingsbridge today they will halt the retreat of our own Continental Army from Manhattan.” He raised his arms toward the heavens as he stretched. “No sir, we must hold them here. They will be coming down a narrow road lined with stone walls. We use the walls to our advantage. We must hold at least long enough for Washington to get the troops off Manhattan Island.” He turned and started walking briskly back down the hill.
I ran to catch up. “What are your orders?”
Glover increased his pace, his look determined and focused. “They will send an advance guard up the road. We must meet it and force them to deploy all their troops here.”
“Very well sir. Where do you want me and my men?”
Glover told me I was to meet their advance guard with my company and another company from Colonel Loammi Baldwin’s regiment. I would command both companies. The road that runs the length of Pell’s Point ascends a hill from Pelham Bay to a ridgeline and then descends into a small valley dotted with farms. We would hold the British in that valley. The properties were separated by stone walls that varied between 3 and 4 feet in height. We were to meet the advance guard of redcoats just as they reached the crest of the hill at the ridgeline.
I gathered my men and told them of the honor we had been accorded. They were enthusiastic and itching for a fight. We formed up and began marching up the hill toward the ridgeline. A scout atop the hill motioned that the British were close and there were a large number of Hessians with them. Their advance guard was perhaps 100 men. I had at most 40 under my command.
We saw the hats of the Grenadiers first. Grenadiers were the elite of the British army. To a man they were required to be over six feet tall and were extraordinarily strong. They were often sent in first to intimidate the enemy.
But a musket can kill a seven foot man as easily as a five foot one.
I stretched my force across the road from stone wall to stone wall, twenty men abreast and staggered two deep. We could see the faces of the grenadiers now. I raised my right arm. “Front line aim!” The grenadiers were now exposed from the waist up. They could see us now and neither halted their march nor raised their muskets to fire, as if in their presumed superiority they could just walk right over us. “Fire!”
Twenty muskets balls were let loose by the explosion of gunpowder in the barrels. Hot lead tore into British flesh and the first row of Grenadiers crumpled to earth.
The ones behind stepped over the fallen and kept walking. Their discipline was amazing. They would not form up until all the advance guard had crested the hill.
The first row of my boys kneeled as they reloaded and the second row raised their muskets into position. “Aim!” I drew in as large a breath as I could manage. I released the word with all the force within me. “Fire!”
The second row of grenadiers flinched but did not turn aside. As many in their ranks fell to ground, the entire British advance guard crested the hill and formed up along the ridgeline. Yet because the stone walls constricted the road, their formation was no more than twenty abreast like ours. They let loose their first volley. Either their position atop the hill threw off their aim or they were rattled, because most of their lead shot passed over our heads. Two of our men were grazed by musket balls in the shoulder, the rest were untouched.
We continued exchanging volleys and they continued to absorb more casualties than us. After we had loaded and fired maybe eight times, the scout signaled that the rest of the lobsterbacks had nearly reached the crest of the hill.
That was our signal to fall back. By my count, we had suffered 1 dead and 3 injured. They had suffered many more.
The road was lined on either side by stone walls, but walls of field stone also ran perpendicular to the narrow road as they formed the boundary lines between these small New York farms. My troops that had met the British advance guard were the only ones among our entire Brigade that were visible to the British. Hundreds of Redcoats crested the hill and quickened their march as they entered the valley. It would have appeared to them that my force of 40 men was the only opposition they would face this morn. I marched my men double quick to the far end of the little valley behind a massive boulder that flanked the road.
The British and Hessians pursued, their faces eager for the kill. When they came within perhaps 20 yards of one of the perpendicular stone walls, Colonel Loammi Baldwin’s regiment rose up from hiding behind the wall. They fired without even waiting for an officer to give the order. I had known what was coming but I was still shocked by the speed of it all.
The British absorbed the withering volley. If they continued to march forward, this was going to be like Bunker Hill for them all over again.
A second wave rose up from behind the same wall and fired again. The surprise was complete. My pulse quickened with excitement. This was the closest I had even seen redcoats come to losing their formation entirely. They regrouped, formed up and returned fire.
But Colonel Baldwin’s men, with their muskets resting upon the wall, had only part of their heads exposed and nothing more. They kept reloading and firing. More British and Hessian casualties fell to earth and clogged the road. There were perhaps 2000 troops under British command in the valley now with more cresting the ridgeline each moment. The British fixed bayonets and charged the stone wall with a great hue and cry.
Colonel Baldwin’s men fell back as planned and took refuge behind another wall some yards distant. The British pursued as if they had yet again won the day. When the redcoats came within 15 yards of the next stone wall, Colonel Read’s men rose and fired almost point blank into the charging lobsterbacks. The British formation completely came apart as the men behind tripped over the ones who had fallen in the front. A second wave of Colonel Read’s men rose and fired into the confused mass of British and Hessian soldiers. It was evident the enemy clearly had no sense of how many of us there were.
On Colonel Glover’s signal, I moved my men quickly from behind the boulder to the next wall where we lay in wait with Colonel Shepherd’s men.
By now over 4000 British and Hessian troops were in the valley and they were being held at a complete standstill by Colonel Read’s 200 private soldiers and skeleton crew of officers. They just kept reloading and firing. Lead balls and gunpowder rammed down barrels, steel sparking against flint. The British were pushed back. At length they reformed and charged straight into another volley as more redcoats fell and caused one another to tumble to ground.
Colonel Read’s men fell back behind another wall and the British charged down the road again. When they were within about 20 yards of another wall near the far end of the valley, we rose up with Colonel Sheperd’s men from behind the wall and let loose many pounds of hot lead. Colonel Baldwin’s men rose up from behind another wall and flanked the British. They were pouring musket balls into the side of a Hessian formation and were nearly behind the enemy.
The British pulled back and retreated up the road toward the middle of the valley. Colonel Glover was beside me firing his brace of silver pistols. I could hear his voice over the din of battle. “If we only possessed even half their number we could totally annihilate them here!”
The British reformed and charged again but our men held their ground. We had killed hundreds of redcoats this day and hundreds more lay wounded.
We did not have even half their numbers. Even with all their casualties, they still outnumbered us at least 5 to 1. Colonel Glover led us in a fighting, tactical retreat as we slowly withdrew from the back end of the valley. If we remained, we were in danger of running out of ammunition. We had to get resupplied. They continued to charge and we continued to inflict casualties. I think they could not believe we refused to run away.
In our slow withdrawal, we left behind a rear guard of snipers to harass them, and they did not pursue us. They remained in the valley and did not advance.
We moved north toward White Plains and word reached us that the retreat of all American troops from Manhattan Island was now complete. Someday the entire Continental Army would turn and fight an offensive battle against the British and their Hessian mercenaries.
I hoped that day was soon.
The next blog post through the eyes of Captain William Blackler is coming on Christmas. It will be about the crossing of the Delaware itself. December 25, 2016, is the 240th anniverary of Washington crossing the Delaware.
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Author’s Note: This is part 2 in a series about the Regiment that manned the boats for Washington’s Delaware River crossing. They were called the Marblehead Regiment, named for the town on the Massachusetts seacoast from which they hailed. In the last half of 1776, this extraordinary group of soldiers saved the American Revolution at least 4 times. I am writing this series through the eyes of William Blackler, who piloted Washington’s boat across the Delaware River on Christmas night, 1776.
The reason I am writing this series now, 240 years after we declared independence, is that the Marblehead Regiment is a promise of what our country is meant to become. These were men that stood their ground and fought bravely when others ran away. They inspired others to stand and fight. They were a racially integrated unit at a time when slavery was still prevalent. Free blacks lived alongside whites in Marblehead, attended the same churches, worked on the same fishing vessels, and fought together in the same companies. They truly gave their lives, their treasure, and their sacred honor. In the turbulent days we live in now, I think we need a reminder of what our ideals are as a nation.
After being overrun by the British at the Battle of Brooklyn, the Continental Army had managed a night retreat from Long Island back to Manhattan Island. The Marblehead Regiment executed the crossing at the behest of George Washington.
The Americans had a temporary reprieve, but where would the British strike next? Now that Brooklyn Heights had fallen, British guns were pointed down toward New York City. Many of Washington’s generals thought holding the city was untenable.
In 1776, New York City was an urban area of about 20,000 people that occupied only about a square mile at the southern tip of Manhattan Island. It was the 2nd largest city in America at the time, after Philadelphia. It was the key to the British military strategy against the upstart rebels they sought to conquer. If the Redcoats could take New York and then the Hudson River, they could cut off New England from the Southern states.
Washington, with orders from the Continental Congress, was determined to hold the city. Some of his generals thought the city should not only be abandoned, but also burned to the ground in order to deny the British such a comfortable base of operations.
On September 13, 1776, as the British sailed around Manhattan in preparation for invasion, Washington’s generals prevailed upon him to quit the city. He relented and a hasty evacuation of New York City was begun.
Our first assignment during the retreat from New York City was to evacuate all those too sick or too wounded to fight. We rowed them across to the Jersey shore. Like the retreat from Brooklyn, this consumed an entire night, the night of 13 September. Our skill with boats was now well known and we were dubbed the “Marine Regiment”.
On 14 September, as we prepared our baggage and provisions to be loaded onto boats and sent up the river, there was no small commotion as the order came to evacuate with all haste. British ships were circling the island. The entire Continental Army was in danger of being trapped. Most of our supplies were abandoned in the city. We formed up and marched to Harlem Heights, in the North of Manhattan Island. From there we were ordered to march to Kingsbridge at the extreme Northern tip of the island. We were to guard the only bridge from Manhattan to the mainland. It was thought the British might invade there to cut off the only escape route by land.
On the morning of 15 September, word reached us that the British had dropped anchor in the East River, near Kips Bay, just north of New York City. We shouldered our muskets and started a forced march back down the length of this very long island. The British Cannon barrage began before we reached Kips Bay. We did the double-quick and reached Kips Bay as the British landing craft were being rowed across the East River.
Four British ships were anchored offshore. They were turned sideways and lined up bow to stern so that over one-hundred guns were pointed at Kips Bay. Fire and smoke issued forth, as if belched from the very pit of hell. The earth was torn up around us, chunks of dirt and stone dislodged by iron. But the fire of cannon balls and grapeshot did not only drive the ground from its place. Entire regiments began to break and run as the first of the British flotilla reached the Manhattan shore. They were scampering off without so much as firing even a single shot!
We marched through the fog of cannon fire and lined up behind them. One Conecticut militiaman turned around in his blind retreat to find the barrel of my musket in his face.
“Out of my way or we’re all going to get shot!” He was flailing his arms like an idiot.
My face felt hot with anger. “Stand and fight or I’ll shoot you myself!”
The face of the fool went white. He slowly turned to face his true enemy.
On either side of our ranks men ran as if the very hounds of hell pursued them. Out of the fog, his Excellency General Washington emerged, his saber in hand. He was red-faced, whacking private soldiers and officers alike with the flat of his blade. “Do I truly have such soldiers as these!” To a man, they ignored him and ran into each other during their furious retreat. He remained in the fray, within range of British muskets, until other officers essentially dragged him from the field.
The army was becoming far too skilled at withdrawing in the face of the enemy.
We held our ground, made formation, and opened fire on the British as they marched ashore. We forced them to take formation and slowed their advance. More and more embarked ashore from their flat-bottom landing craft. They were becoming far too skilled in amphibious assault. Soon their numbers were too great and we began a slow, measured retreat inland, with the hope of holding them off until the whole of the army had left New York City. Our charge was to keep them at bay until the whole of the army was north of our position.
We slowed their advance to the point that all the Continental Army was able to reach Harlem Heights.
Once again the Cause was preserved and we would fight another day.
I will be writing more blog posts through the eyes of William Blackler every few weeks until the end of the year.
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The last half of 1776 was a dark time for the American Revolution. During those “times that try the soul”, one regiment rescued the American cause at least 4 times.
The last of those times was the crossing of the Delaware.
Never heard of this heroic group of soldiers? You are not alone.
They were called the Marine Regiment. They were so named because they were all deep sea fishermen. They were also known as the Marblehead Regiment because they hailed from the village of the same name on the Massachusetts shoreline. They knew how to handle any kind of boat with expertise unmatched. They could also fight like no other regiment. Time and again they held their ground against British redcoats while others ran away or deserted.
One member of this regiment was Captain William Blackler. It was Blackler that piloted Washington’s boat across the Delaware on Christmas night 1776. It is through the eyes of Captain Blacker I want to tell you the story of those days in 1776. Days when so many despaired of the American cause. A time when the American army almost disintegrated. Desperate hours when the British were often only yards away from victory. A triumph denied them many times due to the efforts of the Marblehead Regiment.
In the present time, when so much is dark in our nation, stories like this help us remember why we exist as a country. May we never forget our heritage.
Over the next three months, I will be writing of those events in 1776 as if Captain Blackler himself was telling the story.
The first of those times was the night of August 29, 1776. General George Washington directed the Marblehead Regiment to execute a daring retreat across the East River from Long Island back to Manhattan Island. Daring because they had to abandon their defenses in order to retreat. They made the crossing at roughly the same place the Brooklyn Bridge stands today.
Captain William Blackler
Why had Washington not commanded us to come with all speed to Brooklyn Heights? We were stationed on Manhattan Island when the Battle of Brooklyn began. I was disheartened at not being able to join the fight. All of us Marbleheaders were. His Excellency General Washington did not know where the British would attack in New York so he had scattered his troops between Long Island, Manhattan Island and New Jersey.
We arrived on Long Island only in time to witness the American lines break and run, outflanked by the British. The entire Continental army was like a retreating wave, pulling back to Fort Stirling in a single rolling movement.
“Stand and fight!” I yelled. Many of the troops captured by the British were given no quarter. They were shot or run through by the bayonet.
It was not Bunker Hill. Defending New York City was not going to be like driving the British from Boston. In Boston, we had the British bottled up in the city, trapped on a peninsula. Their mighty navy did not avail them. Around New York City, an island city, they sail the waters with impunity. If the British take Brooklyn Heights, they will be able to fire their cannon at will down into New York City.
On July 9 we had stood beneath the Liberty Pole in New York City while the Declaration of Independence was read to us. Now that precious independence, not two months old, was already imperiled. If the British take New York, they will split the country in two. New England will be cut off from the Southern states. The loyalists are strongest in New York City and in the Southern states. Our Cause will be weakened.
That night the British began to lay siege to Fort Stirling. It was only a matter of time before the Redcoats advanced close enough to storm the fort.
On the evening of 29 August, my commanding officer, Colonel John Glover, gathered all the officers in his regiment together. He informed us that Washington wanted to retreat back to Manhattan. He said what I already knew, that if we remained another night, the British would overwhelm us by morning. We could hear their shovels and pick axes clinking in the rocky ground as he spoke. They were digging new trenches again.
“The East River is one mile across. We must get all the men across this night, before daybreak.” Glover paused for a moment, looked each of us in the eye. “His Excellency bids us to execute the crossing. He said he places the fate of the country in our hands. We have the boats to sail across, but there is no wind, we will have to row across on skiffs.”
“The crossing must be absolutely silent. No talking, no coughing, no belching. Cover the oars with cloth. It will weigh them down but it will deaden any sound.” He paused. “This task has fallen to us, gentlemen. If we do not succeed our Cause will be finished by morning. Godspeed and strong arms.”
The retreat began at nightfall. We used any boat available to us. The men took turns rowing so we always had fresh arms. We filled the boats as full as we could without swamping them. The tops of the boats were often only inches above the waterline. Load after load we rowed across that wide expanse of a river.
Everyone was silent. All grasped the gravity of the hour. We had but one night to move 9000 soldiers, dozens of cannon, and countless horses back to New York City, all without making a sound.
It was perfectly executed.
Dawn approached. The first streaks of light appeared in the East. We would never get everyone across by daylight. But the air seemed to thicken before us and a blessed fog rolled in. It was pure joy. I had never been so glad to see such thick fog in my life. It was a veil, effective as any rampart. Then the wind picked up. We were able to use the sailboats. The pace of the crossing increased. The last two times I returned to the Long Island shore, I could hear the British. They had moved so close to Fort Stirling that I could hear them talking.
Yet the fog shrouded us from their view as if it were the breath of God Himself.
Still his Excellency remained on Long Island even after first light. Silently I and others entreated him to enter our boats, but he refused. He remained until all others had boarded watercraft. At last he stepped off the landing into a skiff. As we rowed out of firing range of the British, the sun broke through the veil, the fog lifted. I saw the first British soldiers reach the dock. They squinted their eyes and shook their heads.
We would fight again another day.
I will be writing more blog posts through the eyes of William Blackler approximately every 2 weeks until the end of the year.
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