Anyone who knows me knows that I have a great love of history. This Sunday’s sojourn is going to visit some of my early days as a student of history. I think my love of history, especially of the American Revolution was nurtured by one particular record album and I want to share it with you as our Fourth of July Independence Day approaches.
Through the years I’ve seen this record written about from time to time in places like blogs or journals and something interesting emerges. Some writers have called it one of the rarest albums in existence, yet others counter that it is not rare at all. On the one hand, some consider it rare because so few copies have survived and others say if you could readily get it on eBay then it can’t be rare. Both statements are true and it is an album with so few copies in existence but is not really sought after by collectors.
The reason for this is simple. The album was a souvenir from one of the pavilions of the 1964/1965 New York World’s Fair. Most copies were probably brought home, not well cared for, given to the kids to play with and then eventually found their way to the trash. My copy has survived and is quite playable because even as a kid, I found records precious and took care of them.
|An aerial view of the Continental Insurance Pavilion featuring Cinema '76 at the New York's World Fair in 1965|
I played this record often as a kid. On it were the stories of the heroes of the American Revolution. Their stories were moving, heroic and invoked a patriotism and love in me that I’m sure added to my love of things historical. I would play it off and on through the year, but it would become a permanent fixture on the turntable during the Fourth of July season.
I finally got to study the American Revolution in high school and I was shocked to find that my history book, and my teacher for that matter, was not including the greats like Timothy Murphy, Deborah Sampson, Allan McLane or John Glover. How could they omit them? I’m going to give you a brief overview of each of these heroes that are presented on this album. Their contributions to our independence are astounding and I hope I inspire you to join us on July 2 to come and hear this rare delight.
1. The Continental Soldier: The album opens with a song honoring the typical soldier in Washington’s army. He faced all sorts of hardships but persevered to overcome the British Army, considered the greatest in the world at the time..
2. Timothy Murphy: Before I explain the significance of Murphy, I need to explain something about the firearms and warfare of the day. The muskets lacked any accuracy at all and as armies would line up across the field from each and fire, they were lucky to hit anything. You could aim your gun straight across the field at a particular soldier and possibly hit the soldier standing twelve or fourteen places down the line. The invention of the rifled barrel changed all of this. This barrel had twisted groves cut into its interior that would bite into the bullet and put a spin on it much like a quarterback throwing a spiral pass. This created a small gyroscope flying through the air that would travel straight. It was now possible to aim for a target at a distance and hit it.
The rifle was so new that it was practically unheard of during the Revolution. One of the few known cases was the weapon carried by Timothy Murphy of the 12th Pennsylvania Regiment. He not only had a rifle, it had two barrels allowing him two shots without reloading. Soon his skill became well known and it was said that Murphy could hit a 7” (18 cm) target at 250 yards (229 meters), an impossibility in most military men’s minds of the day. His most famous feat came at the Second Battle of Saratoga on 7 October 1777 when he was ordered to take out British General Simon Fraser. Tim climbed a tree and shot Fraser, killing him, from a distance of 300 yards (274 meters). It was the first time that a military sniper was used in the history of warfare and something undreamt of by the British. Murphy would go on to take out further targets during the war with equal accuracy.
3. Henry Knox: Henry Knox was an expert on artillery and known to be a rather portly individual. His most amazing feat came when he ended the Siege of Boston and drove the occupying British troops and Navy from the city on 5 March 1776. The British had occupied and held Boston since shortly after the War started at Lexington and Concord. The Continentals knew that they could not win unless they recaptured the city but the British were confident that their position was secure. The thought of the Continentals using artillery never entered their minds because it was completely impossible. Cannon were so rare and the Continentals didn’t have any. The closet cannon available to them were at the captured fort at Ticonderoga, over 300 miles (480 km) away.
It was Knox that suggested that the cannon might be retrieved and led the mission to do so. He brought the 60 tons of artillery through the Berkshire Mountains and the deep snows of winter in an impossible feat. On the night of 4 March 1776, the cannon were used to fortify the high ground adjacent to the City of Boston on Dorchester Heights. When the British awoke on the morning of March 5 to the sight of the fortifications and artillery, they knew they had to flee the city. British General Howe is quoted as saying, "The rebels have done more in one night than my whole army would have done in a month." After the War when Washington became the first President of the United States, he made Henry Knox Secretary of War.
4. Deborah Sampson: This woman was so patriotic and embraced the cause of American Independence so deeply that she cut her hair, bound her breasts and enlisted in the 4th Massachusetts Regiment, as a man, using the name “Robert Shirtliff.” In this way she served in combat at several battles and it was outside of Tarrytown, New York in 1782, that she was wounded by two musket balls. She went off on her own to treat her own wounds rather than risk being discovered. She used her penknife to remove one of the bullets but she would carry the other one for the rest of her life. After she had recovered sufficiently, she returned to her unit.
The following year, while still serving as “Private Robert Shirtliff, she fell ill with a bad fever. She was treated by the army surgeons who discovered her secret. Despite enlisting under false pretenses, her record was so exemplary that she was honorably discharged at West Point in 1783. She went on to marry and have a family. She would not only get a pension for her service, but her husband, Benjamin Gannet, would continue to collect it after her death. It was the first time that a husband had ever received a “widow’s benefit.”
1. Allan McLane: Ask any military mastermind. After battlefield tactics, the most critical consideration is your supply train and intelligence. If you don’t have supplies, you can’t fight and you certainly can’t win. The Continental Army had practically no resources or supplies and they were facing the British Redcoats with the full support of the British Empire behind them. No one expected the American Colonists to win. Allan McLane was an expert forager and always managed to find what Washington needed. When his troops were barefoot, it was McLane who found them boots. When the troops had no food, McLane led a team and rustled a herd of cattle from the British Army. The British had originally “commandeered” the cattle from the colonists so McLane was just taking back what was ours. When the army needed uniforms, it was again McLane who came through, even spending his own money to provide Washington what was needed. He had inherited a small family fortune and would often dig into his pockets to finance the war.
Along with foraging supplies, he also set up an intelligence network second to none. This way, Washington had extremely accurate intelligence for the day on the movements of the British.
2. John Glover: General John Glover commanded the 14th Continental Regiment out of Marblehead, Massachusetts. Marblehead to this day is known as a fishing port as it was back in the 18th century. The 14th consisted mostly of able bodied seamen and were skilled with boats. Fortunately, they were on hand at the Battle of Long Island in August of 1776 when Washington and his army found themselves surrounded on Brooklyn Heights with their backs to the East River. As the sun set on August 29th, it was obvious that they would face capture or be killed by the outnumbering British force in the morning, the War seemed to be over. Using rowboats, John Glover’s men were able to secretly evacuate Washington’s army and when the sun came up, the British found no Americans on the island. They had miraculously disappeared. Using rowboats, the 14th had evacuated 9,000 soldiers from Long Island to Manhattan in the dark without a single loss of life. Washington and his army would survive to fight, and eventually win, the War.
Glover’s 14th Regiment performed admirably during many battles but their most famous task happened on Christmas Night, 1777. On that night, Glovers 14th was responsible for crossing the Delaware River, ferrying Washington’s army to perform a surprise attack on Trenton, New Jersey, held by the Hessians on behalf of the British. Across the icy river and through treacherous currents, they delivered 2ooo troops and their cannon to the New Jersey side in the darkness of night. The attack was a success and the 14 Regiment under Glover has become known as the first ever amphibious unit. All amphibious landings, including those at Normandy Beach during the Second World War, can trace their origins to John Glover and his men of Marblehead, Massachusetts.
3. George Washington: I guess you have to include him. He is the one hero that is probably universally known on the album. I see no need to explain who he was so nuff said.
4. General Von Steuben: Many historians note the American debt to various foreign elements in their defeat of the British. Most notable is the French alliance through the Marquis de Lafayette, but another figure was the German, Baron Friedrich Wilhelm Ludolf Gerhard Augustin von Steuben (the full name is used throughout the song), or just General Von Steuben. Washington’s army was not only under supplied, they had no formal training. The average British soldier was a career warrior with the best weapons and training known at the time. The typical Continental Soldier was a farmer that was given a musket and asked to serve. Washington couldn’t hope to be victorious against the best trained army in the world. Enter Von Steuben.
He volunteered to help Washington and train his troops. He spoke no English, yet through example and other means, he managed to train 100 troops to properly drill, use military tactics and properly engage the enemy in a disciplined fashion. He taught these men to train others and thus Washington’s army learned to fight in a proper military fashion. Washington made him Inspector General of the Army and he went on to write Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States, which was still the standard manual almost 100 years later during the Civil War. Now procedures and tactics were unified and the army could work well together, with everyone knowing how things worked and what their part in it was.
After the War, Baron Von Steuben became an American citizen of considerable prominence, living out his life in New York and New Jersey.
5. The Continental Soldier (Finale): We revisit the man in the field, the everyday Continental Soldier. Many men served with great honor and dedication and their efforts were no less than the ones sung about here. In order so they do not fall into obscurity, this final version of the song contains an emotional reading of the rolls of one of the Companies of the Continental Army from and existing muster list.
When my father went away on business, he would bring us each back something as a reward for being good while he was gone. In 1965, he made a business trip to New York City and he brought us each home a souvenir from there. I got the Cinema ’76 record and I was delighted. As a young kid, I already had a love of music and records, and my father knew this.
|An artist's depiction of the exhibits within the pavilion depicting the Revolutionary War subjects.|
The record came from a pavilion that bore the same name as the record, “Cinema ’76.” It was sponsored and promoted by the Continental Insurance Company, and was obviously an indirect ad for the company promoting their corporate logo which was the Continental Soldier. Visitors were invited to watch presentations at various stations depicting the story of each individual using dioramas and slideshows. (See above.) The story was told with the songs that are collected together on the album. The record is really the soundtrack to the exhibit.
One interesting thing about this record is that the stories are told without any exaggeration or the taking of any license. It is refreshing in this regard. Every fact sung about is 100% accurate historically and if errors are made at all, it is in the under-telling of information for brevity’s sake. My narratives above are written to help flesh out some of these under-tellings.
|Cover of the brochure depicting the Continental Insurance logo on the front of the pavilion.|
Fun Fact #1: When Washington crossed the Delaware, both Henry Knox and Timothy Murphy were among the 2000 men ferried across the river by John Glover and his men. Henry Knox was in charge of the artillery and Sgt. Timothy Murphy was member of the 12th Pennsylvania Regiment.
Fun Fact #2: It was General Benedict Arnold who gave the original order for Timothy Murphy to take out British General Simon Fraser. Later in the war, Benedict Arnold would betray the Continental Army, forever equating his name in American vernacular with the word, “traitor.”
Fun Fact #3: There is a line in the song about George Washington that says, “He was more than the subject of a Gilbert Stuart portrait.” Artist Gilbert Stuart’s famous portrait of Washington was used to create the image on the Dollar bill and is what most people think of when they think of him. Unfortunately for poor old George, he hated that picture of himself and said it didn’t look anything like him. The image that generations would use to depict him was one he couldn’t stand. How would you feel, upon becoming famous, learning that history will forever remember you by your dopey driver’s license photo?
Fun Fact #4: Deborah Sampson served as a member of the Light Infantry Company of the 4th Massachusetts Regiment. The light infantry consisted of men who had above average strength, speed and combat skill. They had to move swiftly and cover flanks, perform reconnaissance and cover retreats. They were essentially the Green Berets of their day. Some have theorized that she did this on purpose. After all, who would suspect a woman performing in that capacity? The subversion worked and Deborah served admirably, striking and early blow for Women’s Liberation.
Fun Fact #5: There is a line repeated in the John Glover song about the Marblehead boatmen, “Row men, row!” This line caused some confusion for DJ Sue when she first listened to this record as a child since she was pretty sure that the Roman Army was not involved in the American Revolution. (“Row men” sounds just like “Roman.”)
Fun Fact #6: Many commentators have credited this record to the late great recording artist, Ray Charles. There is a credit in the album, “Words & music by Ray Charles,” but it is a different Ray Charles and not the famous R&B legend.
DJ Sue's Vault...
|The cover of my copy of Cinema '76|
|Back Cover showing one of the images used to tell about Allan McLane|
|Opening the record reveals a book with pages to go with each story. This page helps to tell the story of Baron Von Steuben.|
|Another page, this time telling the story of Allan McLane. Note the second frame is the back cover shown above.|
|The front page of the book has the lyrics to the Continental Soldier. The picture of the soldier is actually the corporate logo for the Continental Insurance Company at the time. A shameless plug.|
Most of you know how deep my love of history goes. I have written extensively on the history of the Mowadeng and Shadowhawk families in Second Life and carefully woven the threads into the real world history surrounding the events. This love of history started early with my interest in the American Revolution and that interest started with my father giving me this record. I found the heroism in these stories on par or exceeding those in any storybook so I took interest in them.
So join me this Sunday night (July 2nd) at AWT from 7-9 PM, as we get into the spirit of the July Fourth Independence Day celebration. Let us honor these heroes whom history seems to have forgotten. There is a line from the song, Allan McLane, which is probably most telling for most of them: