Monday, August 13, 2007

A Nearly-Hostile Takeover

Saturday on our way back from the beach we had an impromptu field trip to Moore's Creek battlefield. This 1776 clash between loyalist and patriot factions near Wilmington resulted in about 30 loyalists (and only one patriot) killed. More significantly, it prevented about 1500 loyalist volunteers from reaching Wilmington, where they were to join with Clinton and Cornwallis on their way to Charleston. The embarrassing failure of the British fleet to reduce Fort Moultrie convinced them to leave the south for later, concentrating their early efforts on the northern colonies.

The battlefield is well-maintained and accessible, and the progress of the engagement is easy to follow with the trails and markers. The visitor's center is small but thorough, and the new video presentation is good too (and available for sale in the bookstore).

What did fall short is the presentation by the park rangers. I don't know if it was the particular ranger leading our group, or if it is the official script prepared for this site, but we could only stay with him for the first 200 yards of the tour. The presentation seemed determined to prove that it was just simple fairness that Parliament imposed taxation on the colonies without representation, that the American colonists were simply sulky and petty to complain about their rights, and patriots like Samuel Adams were motivated by nothing but merchantile interests. (Yes, they brought Adams right into the swamps of Pender County, NC; go figure. It's a wonder global warming wasn't involved.)

My wife, bless her, pointed out that the actions of Parliament were a violation of the Magna Charta, and this was the fundamental law governing the relations between the sovereign and his subjects -- abrogated by the Crown's representatives. The ranger replied with a smile that the distance was so great and communication so slow that it simpy wasn't practical for the colonists to expect representation in Parliament.

"If they can get taxes over there, they can get a representative," my wife responded, with a ripple of approval from the rest of the group. As they walked on, my wife said to me, "He needs to read more original sources, not just the official text."

After two stops like this we decided it was time to take charge of our own experience, so we let the group walk on and my wife and I finished the presentation for our children. While we didn't have family at Moore's Creek per se -- though I guess the loyalist Colonel MacLeod may have been a relative -- we have read pretty extensively about the colonial and Revolutionary periods, and we do have our own patriot ancestors like Beat Rebsamen, the Swiss immigrant who was pardoned for his involvement with the S. C. Regulator movement, but then supplied the Colonials when the war came about; or Matthew and Christopher Singleton, who signed a Mecklenburg-type declaration in Camden District, S.C., only six weeks after Lexington and Concord; or the Wrights, Solomon and Uriah, father and son, who served in the Virginia militia -- Uriah, present for duty at the conclusion at Yorktown.

Thank you, we do know something about the causes of this war, and they run much deeper than an overreaction to a "reasonable" tax. And either Moore's Creek was a well-planned action on the part of citizen soldiery that shaped the subsequent events in the early war for our independence -- we have to remember this was ten months into the open hostilities --, or it was just a sad local tragedy that left thirty-one colonists dead for trivial political reasons.

I suppose since we're apologizing for history in other areas, we might as well send our humble regrets to the Queen and redesign our coinage to look like Canada's. Sorry, your majesty -- our bad.

It made me think about the ongoing fight of Doug Phillips and Vision Forum against creeping revisionism at places like Plymouth and Jamestown. Who writes these scripts for the National Park Service?

UPDATE 1: I had a very enlightening visit with the chief ranger at Cowpens National Battlefield the following week and posed that question to her. The answer is the ranger writes the script. This is by design; the Park Service provides certain basic historical facts which need to be covered, but the "interpretive rangers" (as opposed to "law enforcement" rangers) are free to put their own knowledge and experience into their presentations. This can be both boon and bane, as you might expect -- and as we have experienced.

UPDATE 2: The ranger I spoke with, incidentally, very graciously pointed out that Plymouth is not a NPS site, and she also had noticed the interesting change in interpretative emphasis to a modern Native American viewpoint. Jamestown is more complex, as there are three different entities in the same basic location, only one of which is Park Service.

UPDATE 3: Well, maybe we had kinfolk there after all. My mother ran into the past president of the Clan McLeod Society and through him I have been corresponding with a McLeod genealogist. It appears now that our McLeods may have been in the colonies, and in North Carolina, no less, at that time -- previously we believed the first in America arrived in 1792. Too early to say whether we had Loyalists among the McLeods, though I already know the German side of the family fought for the Tories at Ramseur's Mill.

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