Episode 2. I Have a Name! William Temple Franklin!
Amidst all that good fellowship, yesterday, I missed the real news, which is that Philadelphia is preparing for war. At breakfast, Aunt Sally told me about the big events that happened while we were still at sea. What happened was the first battle — or the first two skirmishes — I don't know yet what to call them — between the Americans and the British. Blood was spilled and people were killed on both sides.
Here is how Aunt Sally explained it: "The colony of Massachusetts held its first provincial congress last fall in the little town of Concord a few miles from Boston, and decided in April, just a few weeks ago, to store military supplies in secret places. Learning this, the British military commander in Boston sent 700 of the 3,000 troops encamped in the city to reconnoiter the countryside and find the weapons."
— "And did he find them?"
— "No. A silversmith by the name of Paul Revere became aware of this move and, as was prearranged, he spread the alarm. He jumped on his horse near midnight and soon reached the town of Lexington, 11 miles away, where he found Sam Adams, the head of the Sons of Liberty, and the Boston merchant John Hancock. On his journey, Revere roused others, who in turn awakened even more."
"The colonies have been organizing their own militias of late and a part of the militias, roughly one third, call themselves Minutemen — ready to fight in a minute. When the British arrived at Lexington, they found nearly 80 of the militia standing on the village green with orders not to fire on the British unless they were fired on first."
"When the British officer saw them there," said Aunt Sally, "he shouted: 'Lay down your arms, you damned rebels!' but someone fired a shot."
— "Someone on which side?"
— "I don't know," she replied. "That shot may well be the starting point of a war, people say. Eight Minutemen were killed and one British soldier wounded in the ensuing fighting but things got much worse when the British pushed on to nearby Concord. An engagement that had started on the bridge became a running battle nineteen miles long. Finally, the British had to retreat, and a bloody retreat it was, with four thousand Americans firing from every direction, from every hidden spot in the land they know so well. Seventy-three English soldiers perished in that operation."
"Those poor fellows," sighed Aunt Sally who, it seems, cannot bear the thought of anyone suffering, friend or foe. "There they were in their red parade uniforms, an easy target, and wearing the wrong shoes for our muddy swamps — don't their commanders know anything?" Uncle Richard remains silent. He, like me, is an Englishman, after all. He arrived here only a few years ago. I have already observed that he is very careful not to offend Grandfather.
As for Grandfather, he is glum this morning. He took me on a tour of the house and while I was recognizing the furniture, curtains, rugs, dishes, and glasses that had been chosen by Mrs. Stevenson and sent from London, he grumbled that everything looked shopworn already, faded and soiled. What does he expect, my dear grandfather, after ten years and two little children have used the new things he sent? Luckily there soon is such a flow of visitors that they absorb all his attention.
Me? I'm struck that this battle took place on April 19, the very day that I finally learned who I was, who I am. The day that marks perhaps — who knows? — the birth of an independent America and the birth of William Temple Franklin, formerly known as Billy the Bastard.
I go for a walk in the afternoon. There is no doubt that Philadelphia feels like a city at war. The residents heard about Lexington five days after it happened and rushed by the thousands to the State House where they adopted a resolution to defend their property, liberty, and lives against all attempts to deprive them of those rights. So the cobbler who lives down our street tells me. Everywhere I turn, I see men drilling with more enthusiasm than discipline. They wear a great variety of outfits, some carry firearms, some just exercise. But still, my feeling is that, ardent as they may be, they are no match for the British Army, if it should get here in full force.
Eavesdropping as best I can on their conversations (they have a funny pronunciation in Philadelphia), I hear some of them complain that Britain is strangling them economically with all her demands and restrictions. Others talk loftily of freedom and don't seem to worry about their pocketbooks. Others still are irritated by all the agitation, arguing that things should remain as they were, that differences should be quietly talked out and that all Englishmen are brothers. Others look as if they couldn't be bothered at all.
I who felt so elated last night feel sad tonight. I think of those 70-odd English lads barely older than myself, who will never play cricket again, or go to a pub for a pint of beer. I wonder if some day I shall bear arms against England in defense of my new family. I don't know where I stand. I just don't know.