March 19, 2011

Cannonball Cake Anyone?

So, how was your Evacuation Day? Did you get together this past Thursday, like I do every year, with family and friends? Maybe Mom cooked a big ham and definitely some Boston baked beans. After dinner you probably went outside and played the annual game of “Chase the British Out of Town,” where whoever draws the short straw wears a red coat and gets chased out of the yard. Afterwards you all sat down in front of the flat screen to watch the Boston Cannons play lacrosse. Of course Aunt Helen brought her famous cannonball cake. Not only does it look like a cannonball, but lands like a lead weight in your stomach. I love it when Dad and all the uncles tell drunken stories of past Evacuation Days. That’s how it always goes in my family, probably yours too, right?

What? What do you mean you didn’t celebrate Evacuation Day? What do you mean you’ve never heard of Evacuation Day? Henry Knox? Cannons? British? No? Hmmm?

Well what else could you have been doing on Thursday? Oh, wait. were you eating corned beef, drinking green beer perhaps? I thought so. Well, since I’m Irish by descent and have a shamrock tattooed on my arm 24/7, 365, let me crack open my historical pot o’ gold and tell you about the holiday you missed.

Evacuation Day, first celebrated in Boston in 1901, marks the day in 1776 that the British troops left the city following the 11-month siege by the Continental Army. Henry Knox, who had returned from Fort Ticonderoga with his cache of artillery on January 26, 1776, began a bombardment of the city on March 2. The cannonade continued almost uninterrupted for days while the Americans stealthily setup new fortifications and gun-works on Roxbury heights.

Knox’s guns were now in such an advantageous position that General William Howe ordered the evacuation of Boston. On March 17, 1776 over 10,000 soldiers and loyalists left the city for Nova Scotia. Among the loyalist evacuees were Henry’s wife’s family. Lucy’s father Thomas Flucker, secretary to the Royal Governor of Massachusetts, her mother and her sisters left Boston never to return. Shortly after, the Continental Army took possession of Boston in what was arguably the first major victory of the American Revolution.

So, next year, when your looking for leprechauns out of the corner of your eye and busting out those shamrock-printed boxers, take a moment to remember the impact of Knox’s brave expedition. Maybe I’ll invite you over to watch the big lacrosse game and have some cannonball cake.

March 16, 2011

Who's that guy?

Well, when I started this project I said I was looking for a learning opportunity and so far so good. I am daily learning about my ability to schedule, produce and stay focused. This week’s lesson: don’t lose your notes.

That being said, last week I visited Monterey, the next town with a Knox marker after Great Barrington. I had driven through Monterey earlier in the winter taking pictures of markers. At that time the marker, set in a low stone wall on the left hand side of Route 23 just past the intersection with Tyringham Road, was barely visible through the snow.
On this occasion the snow had melted considerably and some one had placed flowers and a flag on it. The Monterey General Store was always a favorite stop during my time as a flooring installer. One of the joys of working in a construction trade was always getting to eat lunch in a new place every few days or so. The store in Monterey always had some of the best lunch specials in Berkshire County and when in season some fantastic local cheese.

I got a beverage and couple of cookies, the other thing I always liked about a trip to Monterey. I asked the women behind the counter what she knew of Knox and her reply was some thing akin to “not much.” But, when I asked if anyone ever mentions Knox or the trail, she said she knew a guy in Otis I should talk to. She said, “He knows all about that stuff, who was it you wanted to know about?” I smiled and took the information. I grabbed some local newsletters on the way out and went next door to the Post Office.

I think I may have startled the women behind the counter at the Post Office with my questions about Henry Knox since she gave the “thousand-yard” stare. She explained that she was just a temp and usually worked out of the Pittsfield office. At this point a women who had been sorting her mail at a table behind and to my left offered that she certainly knew of Henry Knox. The woman, who I came to know as Francine, said she it was “amazing what he was able to accomplished with such [comparably] primitive means.” Francine told me that her knowledge of Knox came from a general interest in history. After a bit of pleasant conversation I informed her of the Henry Knox presentation coming to the Sheffield Historical Society, thanked her for her time and made my exit.