Sunday, July 04, 2010

prodigal patriots

Like a bad gossip, history is very good at telling us what happened.  Never very good at telling us why.

We know that Moses Rolfe moved his large family from Massachusetts to Vermont -- and then on to Canada.  To the recently-incorporated former French colony of Quebec.  The year is less clear.  But both moves followed the American War of Independence.

It is easy to forget that not all American colonists were avid supporters of the American Revolution.  And we really do not know exactly where the Rolfe clan came down on the issue.

They were part of the original group of settlers that came to Newbury colony in 1634.  Like their cousin countrymen at Plymouth, they came to America to escape religious persecution in England, and to worship as their consciences saw fit.  For almost 150 years, they settled and farmed in the northeastern corner of what would eventually become Massachusetts.

For whatever reason, they packed up their DNA and headed to Vermont -- and on to Canada.  Slipping back into the United States (through Minnesota) in the 1880s.

I have no idea what type of governmental documents they had for both international moves.  I suspect none.  That may be one reason I am not a big defend-the-borders advocate.  If they had been faced with contemporary bureaucracy, I suspect I would have been celebrating Canada Day last week rather than Independence Day today.

And that is why I am teling this tale of  Moses Rolfe.  He was, as the genealogists love to say, my fourth great grandfather on my mother's side.    As it turns out, my father's genes were floating around in the same Newbury pool.  Mixing with my mother's.  Like some Ozark gentry, I am my own cousin.

But this is not a tale about me.  It is about the men who fought in the American War of Independence.  I am glad the forces of independence won.  This experiment that is America would never have occurred if the Tories (a derisive term I picked up in my youth -- probably from watching Swamp Fox) had won.

If the Rolfes left because America no longer held the same promise for them as their ancestors who arrived in the early 1600s, we do know that one branch decided to return.  What lured them across the border into Minnesota, we will never know.  Maybe it was the balmy climate.

The point is, they returned.  Perhaps like the prodigal son -- seeking the ideals they originally sought in the 1600s.

What we do know is each subsequent generation produced men and women who were willing to defend those principles that drove them across the Atlantic in tiny ships.  Principles that would be articulated 150 years later: 

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.

Each Inependence Day, I put out the Union Jack in remembrance of my familiy members who may have retained an llegiance to the British crown.  For a while.

And then became American patriots to the core.

To them, and to you, I wish a very happy Fourth of July.  Where freedom rings.


Laurie said...

Good tale, Steve. My mother's family went from France to Canada to Louisiana. But we never celebrate Bastille Day or the like. None of my ancestors are remotely English but I like the look of their flag. Enjoy the 4th.

Anonymous said...

The prevailing attitude now, apparently, is that if you're OK with something, anything, then that's all that's important really. It makes pushing pet issues and/or agendas a bit easier too. By first determining another's attitudes one has the advantage; bait and lead, it's safer. It's probably safe to *almost insult an entire state, and displaying a British Union Jack is certainly safer that hanging up a Mexican tricolor.

Anonymous said...

As I recall Moses served aboard ship during the Revolutionary War. At least four other ancestors of my mother served during that war.

I think Moses and some, if not all of the above, traveled to Canada with their Minister.


Gary Denness said...

For what it's worth, I'm glad you got your independence too. It's funny how so many people assume that all the colonists rose up though - as I understand it, a third were for, a third were against and a third just didn't care too much.

At the same time, the war wasn't terribly popular back in Blighty either, socially nor politically.

Perhaps next year you can fly the original flag instead...!

Steve Cotton said...

Lurie -- Your family was probably headed toward Louisiana just as mine was headed into Quebec. Yours may have got the better part of that bargain.

Anonymous -- I am not certain of your point, but putting up a Mexican bandera in my neighborhood would cause no stir at all. In fact, I have seen several on national days.

Mom -- Next year I should have you be the guest columnist.

Gary -- But, of course, you are an anti-imperialist of the most generous sort. I suspect you would have been standing beside Edmund Burke in the 1770s.

I know my flag is anachronistic. But I lack a more accurate one. I am careful how I hang it, though. I recall Harold Wilson's first visit to America as Prime Minister. While riding in his limousine with President Johnson,. he noted all of the British flags had been hung upside down -- and no one had noticed.