Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Salem Poor: A Revolutionary War Hero Born a Slave

1975 U.S. Postal Stamp
Salem Poor was a Revolutionary War solider from Massachusetts. He was born in Andover in the late 1740s or the early 1750s. The story of how he made his way from a boy in Andover to a man who fought in Boston and beyond is poorly documented. However, we know Poor was a brave man who possessed an inordinate amount of patriotism for someone who was born into his life. You see, Salem Poor was born a slave.

Salem Poor's early life was presumably that of any slave born into servitude, but he somehow managed to buy his freedom in 1769. The price he paid for his freedom was 27 pounds. Soon after Poor became a free man, he married another free African-American. Her name was Nancy, and the couple had a son together.

In 1775, war broke out against the British. Salem Poor joined Colonel Frye's Regiment, leaving his wife and son to fight for the colonies. On June 17, 1775, he appeared with his regiment on Breed's Hill to build fortifications against the British. That day, he fought in the battle that would become known as the "Battle of Bunker Hill."

A document exists in the Massachusetts State Archives that describes Salem Poor as a "brave and gallant soldier." It also states that, on June 17, 1775, he "behaved like an Experienced officer, as well as an Excellent Soldier." [sic] It went on to say "to set forth the particulars of his conduct would be tedious." The document is dated December 5, 1775. No less than fourteen officers who witnessed Salem's deeds that day signed it.

The particulars of Salem Poor's service at the Battle of Bunker Hill are not known. However, one can assume that he went beyond what was expected of him to be spoken of in such a way by so many officers, one of whom was Colonel William Prescott. No other man who fought on Breed's Hill that day was honored in such a way. Salem went on to fight at the Battles of Valley Forge, Saratoga, White Plains and Monmouth. His deeds in these battles are unknown as well, but we can imagine that he was no bystander.

Salem Poor appears to have gone back to the life of a barely regarded African-American man in Massachusetts after the war. Despite his gallantry and the sacrifices he made for his country (leaving his family and fighting in a war that hardly benefited him), his life after the war has seemingly gone undocumented.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Dwight Hal Johnson: Medal of Honor Recipient

U.S. Army Medal of Honor
Dwight Hal Johnson was a distinguished soldier of the United States Army who fought valiantly during the Vietnam War. His bravery and caring for his fellow soldiers while in Vietnam earned him the Medal of Honor. Like many other recipients of the Medal of Honor, Dwight's story does not have a happy ending.

Dwight Johnson was born in Detroit, Michigan on May 7, 1947. He was drafted during the Vietnam War and went on to earn the rank of Specialist 5th Class. He was a tank driver. In this capacity, he found himself in a conflict with a North Vietnamese force on January 15, 1968.  He was 20 years old.

That day in the Kontum Province in Vietnam, Dwight Johnson was "a member of a reaction force moving to aid other elements of his platoon, which was in heavy contact with a battalion size North Vietnamese force." according to the official report. As soon as Dwight arrived, one of the tracks on his tank broke. He was a sitting duck, or at least his tank was; Dwight was not the sort of man to sit there. He took the only mobile weapon within his reach–a .45 caliber handgun–and exited the tank. He immediately went directly for the enemy. He used up his ammo dispatching several members of the opposing force, miraculously remaining unharmed.

When Dwight Johnson ran out of ammo for his .45, he went back to his tank, which was naturally the focus of much enemy fire. Against the odds, he managed to get in, get a sub-machine gun and get out without being killed. He went straight back into the midst of the enemy and killed a few more. He continued his attack until he ran out of ammunition once again. At this time, Dwight Johnson went to a different tank and saved a man's life.

Dwight Johnson's platoon sergeant had an injured man in his tank. Dwight, now unarmed, went to the tank and pulled his fellow soldier out. He then carried him to a personnel carrier. Johnson then returned to his platoon sergeant and helped him fire the tank's main gun until it jammed. Never one to stop when the odds were against him, Johnson returned to his tank one last time. There, he operated the tank's .50 caliber machine gun until the conflict was over. He was exposed the entire time.

This conflict lasted roughly half an hour. In that time, Johnson killed anywhere between 5 and 20 enemy soldiers. Unfortunately, this seems to have broken the man. After going home and receiving the highest award any member of the military can receive, he became unhappy. Doctors said that he suffered from nightmares, depression and survivor's guilt. Modern medicine tells us that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Sources say that when Dwight Johnson came home, he buried himself in debt, despite getting a job as a recruiter. He was also severely depressed, despite having a wife and a baby boy. Accounts of what happened as a result of this are conflicted.

Some say that Dwight walked in on an armed robbery at a liquor store and was shot. Many more sources say that Dwight was the man doing the robbing, but that he did not fire a single shot. Either way, he was shot to death by a liquor store clerk on April 30, 1971 in Detroit, Michigan. He was only 23-years-old. Dwight's mother reportedly felt like her son wanted to die, but needed somebody else to do the killing.

Dwight Hal Johnson was a hero, regardless of the manner of his death. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, where he belongs.


Johnson, Dwight, retrieved 8/31/10, cmohs.org/recipient-detail/3317/johnson-dwight-h.php

Dwight Hal Johnson, retrieved 8/31/10, findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&Grid=5758187

Monday, January 23, 2017

Paul Revere: Patriot and Craftsman

1813 Gilbert Stuart portrait of
Paul Revere
Paul Revere was an American patriot who is known for his legendary midnight ride to warn Massachusetts colonists that “The British are coming.” Oddly enough that is not what he would have said at all; the colonists themselves were still considered British at the time. Regardless of the misconceptions about his famous ride, Paul Revere was a dedicated patriot and he did play an integral role in warning the people of Massachusetts that fateful night. He lived in Boston during some of the most tumultuous times the city and the country have ever seen. He may not have known it then, but he was a witness to some of the most important moments in United States history.

Paul Revere was born in Boston in December of 1734. He was the son of Paul and Deborah Revere. Paul was one of eight of the couple’s children that survived to adulthood. Paul Sr. was a French immigrant who had come to America to seek his fortune and had become a goldsmith. His father changed his name from Apollos Rivoire to Paul Revere after coming to America. Paul Jr. attended the North Writing School for a few years and then his father took him as an apprentice in his goldsmith business.

In 1754, when Paul was nineteen years old, his father died, leaving him the business and the family to care for. In 1756, Paul Revere volunteered for the Crown Point Expedition. He went to Lake George, New York as an officer to fight the French troops there. The following year, he married Sarah Orne. Together, the couple had a total of eight children, two of which died in infancy.

During this time in Paul Revere’s life, tensions between the colonists and the British troops in Boston were rising. Taxes were increasing greatly and it was putting a strain on Boston’s economy. Paul became a freemason and was introduced into a secret organization called the “Sons of Liberty” by a fellow freemason named Dr. Joseph Warren. Paul Revere became a very active member of the “Sons of Liberty” and he also did what he could to help spread propaganda concerning the British. He began making engravings of political cartoons for publications and when the Boston Massacre occurred in 1770, Paul made his most famous engraving ever.

In May of 1773, Paul’s wife died shortly after giving birth to a daughter; the baby died not long after her mother. That fall, he married Rachel Walker, with whom he would have another eight children, three of which died before the age of four. The marriage took a lot of the strain off of Paul, who had been juggling his covert activities, his job and his children, since the death of his first wife.

In December of 1773, the British tax on tea had the people of Boston furious. When a large shipment of tea came into Boston and was sitting on ships in the Boston Harbor, some of the colonists decided that it would be a good idea to dress as Indians and dump the tea into the ocean. It is unknown if Paul Revere was directly involved in the Boston Tea Party (as the event would come to be called), but it is certain that his political cartoons helped spread animosity for the British among Bostonians. That year, Revere also became a messenger rider for the Committee of Correspondence and the Committee of Safety.

Delivering correspondence and news brought in a little extra money for Paul, which he could’ve used seeing that the British troops had closed off the port in Boston and effectively crippled the economy there. However, he was also helping his cause by delivering news as far as New York and Pennsylvania. He and other messengers like him were a critical line of communication for patriots throughout the colonies. In 1774, Paul took his patriotism to another level and began working with other patriots to spy on the movements of British troops in Boston.

On the night of April 18, 1775, these spies noticed that the some British troops were on the move. Dr. Warren asked Paul Revere to ride out and spread the news. He was also asked to get the message to Samuel Adams and John Hancock in Lexington. It was thought that the British troops meant to arrest them. Contrary to popular belief, Paul Revere was not alone in his mission that night. Two other men were sent on different routes with the same goal and their warnings prompted other men to spread the word as well. Because of these men, the Massachusetts militia and minutemen were able to prepare for the arrival of the British in Lexington and Concord.

In the early morning hours of April 19, 1775, the three original riders met up and were arrested. The other two riders were able to escape, but Paul Revere was detained for a while. He was eventually let go, but his horse was taken. He then traveled on foot to Lexington Green where he witnessed part of the first military engagement of the American Revolution.

After his famed ride and the Battle of Lexington and Concord, Paul Revere continued his printing and participated in the revolution as much as he could. He joined the Massachusetts militia and was eventually made a Lieutenant Colonel. He was given a post as the commander of Castle Island in Boston, but he saw virtually no action until he was sent to Maine with the Penobscot Expedition.

The battle in Penobscot ended disastrously for the Americans, troops and officers alike scattered, while disobeying orders. When the troops returned home, Revere and others were charged with insubordination and cowardice. Revere prided himself in his patriotism and was ashamed of this charge. He requested a court martial and was eventually given one. It was found that in light of the horrible planning and execution of the expedition and the subsequent battle, there was no way orders could have been given or received properly. The men were acquitted of all charges.

In 1785, the fledgling nation officially gained its independence. Paul Revere continued with his goldsmith business in Boston and met with some success, despite the economy, by crafting items that were attainable for average citizens and not just the wealthy. He also branched out and opened a foundry as well as a hardware store. His new businesses were also successful and by 1800 he could afford to branch out yet again and begin rolling copper. Once again, he met with success. In fact, his copper was used in the building of the USS Constitution, and the New State House.

In 1801 Paul built a second house for him and his wife in Canton, MA. Paul seems to have been happy at that home and even wrote a poem about living there. He continued being involved with his companies into his old age and spent a lot of time with his wife. Rachel Revere passed away in June of 1813 at the age of 68. Paul Revere followed his wife three years later on May 10, 1818; he was 83 years old.


Paul Revere: The Midnight Rider, Dave Pryke, A&E Television Network, 1995