11 Ordinary People Who Aided the Revolution

The men who declared American Independence in 1776 get their due respect in the history books. But often, many of the men and women who helped earn that independence are forgotten. Here are 11 of the unsung heroes who made huge contributions to the American Revolution.

1. William Dawes

Wikimedia Commons

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem only immortalized one of the two brave men who rode through the night on April 18, 1775, to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams of possible arrest. After learning that the British were preparing to march on Lexington, Dr. Joseph Warren sent Paul Revere to cross the river in a rowboat while Dawes was responsible for slipping past the British sentries who guarded the land bridge connecting Boston to the rest of Massachusetts. Ultimately, both men made it, with Revere beating Dawes to Lexington by half an hour, so Dawes’ act of equal bravery is often overlooked.

2. Dr. Joseph Warren

Wikimedia Commons

Warren did more than just dispatch Revere and Dawes—he was a steadfast supporter of the Revolution in his own right. After the passage of the Townsend Acts in 1767, Warren wrote a series of inflammatory articles for the Boston Gazette under the pseudonym “A True Patriot” that got him and his publishers accused of libel. He was responsible for raising the militia in Boston and was elected second general in command of the Massachusetts forces by the Provincial congress on June 14, 1775. Despite his position of command, he went into battle along with the rest of the militia and was killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill.

3. Crispus Attucks

National Archives

This escaped former slave is generally considered to be the first American to die in the Revolution. He was working as a merchant seaman in Boston when Samuel Adams called on colonists to demonstrate against the British troops guarding the customs commissioners. In what became known as the Boston Massacre, 40 to 50 patriots armed with clubs and sticks were fired on by British troops, with Attucks as the first casualty.

4. Nancy Hart

Wikimedia Commons

A comely, rough-around-the-edges frontierswoman, Hart did everything she could to help the patriot cause while tending to the household during the Revolutionary War. While her husband served in the militia, Hart would often disguise herself as a simpleminded man to infiltrate British camps to gather information. Once, she even shot and killed a British solider in her own home after plying a group of them with wine and stealing their weapons. She held the rest of the group at gunpoint until her husband returned home.

5. Pedro/Peter Francisco

Wikimedia Commons

The first few years of Francisco’s life are a mystery because he was abandoned on a dock on the coast of Virginia when he was just four years old. The young boy, thought to be Portuguese, was taken in and raised by local judge Anthony Winston. Francisco grew up while the Revolution was brewing and finally at 16, Winston let the already-towering boy enlist in the militia. Francisco, who at 6’6” was a good foot taller than most of the men of the era, was renowned during the war for his many feats of strength and bravery—one story credits him with carrying a 1,000-pound cannon off the battlefield after a defeat so it didn’t fall into enemy hands. George Washington himself was said to have called Francisco a “one-man army.”

6. Laodicea Langston

Known as “Dicey,” Langston was just a teenager when she started spying to protect her fellow patriots. Although her immediate family all supported the Revolution, with her brothers joining the Continental Army, many of their friends and neighbors remained loyal to King George. Langston used these connections to gather information about the enemy. In one particular instance, she got word that the Bloody Scouts band of Tories was headed towards her brothers' camp. To warn them, she traveled on foot all night, through the woods and icy waters of the Enoree River, arriving in time to save their lives. By the time she got home, the Bloody Scouts were threatening her father at gunpoint. She threw herself in front of him, so impressing the Tories that they spared both Langstons.

7. Betsy Hager

Orphaned at the age of nine, Hager became what was known as a “bound girl,” working as a servant for different families to earn her keep. In doing so, she picked up an array of skills atypical for women at the time. When the war broke out, she put those skills to use by working with blacksmith Samuel Leverett to refurbish old British guns and artillery for use by the Continental Army. She also cared for injured soldiers, picking up skills she would use after the war when she practiced medicine.

8. Hannah Arnett

Arnett herself didn’t participate in the action of the Revolutionary War quite as much as some of the others on this list, but with her words, she reached many of the men who did. In 1776, a group of men in Elizabethtown (where she lived) met to discuss abandoning the Revolutionary cause and pledge their loyalty to Great Britain to try to ensure their safety in the coming war. Barging in on the meeting, Arnett called the men cowards and traitors and even threatened to leave her husband if he sided with the King. The men were swayed by her words and remained loyal to the Revolution.

9. Roger Sherman

NYPL Library

Somehow, Sherman gets forgotten while his fellow Founding Fathers are lauded. He held a number of political positions in our fledging country, including associate justice on the Supreme Court of the colony and the first mayor of New Haven. In addition to his various day jobs, Sherman helped draft the Declaration of Independence and, in fact, is responsible for the nation’s bicameral congressional system. Although often overlooked, he was the only member of the Continental Congress who signed all four of the great state papers: the Association of 1774, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution.

10. Joseph Plumb Martin

Martin was a typical soldier in the Revolutionary War. He joined the Connecticut state militia at just 15 years old and went on to serve almost seven years in the Continental Army of General George Washington. What set Martin apart is that he kept a detailed diary during the War and many years later published an anonymous account based on that diary entitled A Narrative of Some of the Adventures, Dangers and Sufferings of a Revolutionary Soldier, Interspersed with Anecdotes of Incidents that Occurred Within His Own Observation. Although it sold poorly during his lifetime, the book was republished over 100 years later under the title Private Yankee Doodle and shed new light on the daily life of the men who made independence possible.

11. Jeremiah O’Brien

O’Brien was responsible for the first naval victory in the Revolutionary War. Just as tensions between the British and colonists were coming to a head in 1775, the Unity and Polly ships arrived in Machias, Maine with much needed supplies from Boston. When they arrived, however, residents were outraged to find that the ships were accompanied by the British armed schooner Margaretta, which had been sent to retrieve lumber to build British barracks. When attempts to capture the Margaretta’s captain and lieutenant on land failed, O’Brien led a group of 40 men armed with guns, swords, axes, and pitchforks aboard the Unity to engage Margaretta at sea. After the British captain was killed, the colonists claimed weaponry from the ship and the first naval victory of the war.

Why Do We Eat Pumpkin Pie at Thanksgiving?

gjohnstonphoto/iStock via Getty Images
gjohnstonphoto/iStock via Getty Images

While it’s possible—even probable—that pumpkins were served at the 1621 harvest festival that’s now considered the predecessor to Thanksgiving, attendees definitely didn’t dine on pumpkin pie (there was no butter or wheat flour to make crust).

The earliest known recipes for pumpkin pie actually come from 17th-century Europe. Pumpkins, like potatoes and tomatoes, were first introduced to Europe in the Columbian Exchange, but Europeans were more comfortable cooking with pumpkins because they were similar to their native gourds.

By the 18th century, however, Europeans on the whole lost interest in pumpkin pie. According to HowStuffWorks, Europeans began to prefer apple, pear, and quince pies, which they perceived as more sophisticated. But at the same time pumpkin pie was losing favor in Europe, it was gaining true staple status in America.

In 1796, Amelia Simmons published American Cookery, the first cookbook written and published in the New World colonies. Simmons included two recipes for “pompkin pudding” cooked in pastry crust. Simmons’s recipes call for “stewed and strained” pumpkin, combined with a mixture of nutmeg, allspice, and ginger (yes, it seems our pumpkin spice obsession dates back to at least the 1500s).

But how did pumpkin pie become so irrevocably tied with the Thanksgiving holiday? That has everything to do with Sarah Josepha Hale, a New Hampshire-born writer and editor who is often called the “Godmother of Thanksgiving.” In her 1827 abolitionist novel Northwood, Hale described a Thanksgiving meal complete with “fried chicken floating in gravy,” broiled ham, wheat bread, cranberry sauce, and—of course—pumpkin pie. For more than 30 years, Hale advocated for Thanksgiving to become a national holiday, writing regular editorials and sending letters to five American presidents. Thanksgiving was a symbol for unity in an increasingly divided country, she argued [PDF].

Abraham Lincoln eventually declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863 (to near-immediate outcry from Southerners, who viewed the holiday as an attempt to enforce Yankee values). Southern governors reluctantly complied with the presidential proclamation, but cooks in the South developed their own unique regional traditions. In the South, sweet potato pie quickly became more popular than New England’s pumpkin pie (mostly because sweet potatoes were easier to come by than pumpkins). Now, pumpkin pie reigns supreme as the most popular holiday pie across most of the United States, although the Northeast prefers apple and the South is split between apple and pecan, another Southern staple.

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Anthony Blunt: The Art Historian/Russian Spy Who Worked at Buckingham Palace

Samuel West portrays Anthony Blunt in The Crown.
Samuel West portrays Anthony Blunt in The Crown.
Des Willie, Netflix

*Mild spoilers for season 3 of The Crown on Netflix ahead.

Viewers of the third season of The Crown on Netflix will likely have their curiosity piqued by Anthony Blunt, the art historian who is revealed to be a spy for the Russians during his 19 years of service to the Queen at Buckingham Palace. Instead of getting the boot once he was discovered, however, Blunt went on to remain under Her Majesty's employ for eight more years—until his official retirement. While treason never looks good on a resume, the royal class had good reason to keep him on.

Blunt, who was born and raised in England, visited the Soviet Union in 1933 and was indoctrinated as a spy after being convinced of the benefits of Communism in fighting fascism. He began recruiting his university classmates at Cambridge before serving during World War II and leaking information about the Germans to the KGB. Blunt was one of five Cambridge graduates under Soviet direction. Two of them, diplomats Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess, relocated to the Soviet Union in 1951. Another, Kim Philby, went undetected until 1961. John Cairncross escaped notice, too, but was eventually outed.

However, it was Blunt who had a post at Buckingham Palace. After being tipped off by American intelligence, MI5 interrogated Blunt. He confessed to his treachery in 1964 and was granted immunity from prosecution. Why was he able to remain employed? One theory has it that British intelligence was so embarrassed by Blunt's ability to circulate in the upper levels of the monarchy that firing him would have raised too many questions. Another thought has Blunt having knowledge of some bizarrely congenial wartime correspondence between Adolf Hitler and the Duke of Windsor (a.k.a. King Edward VIII, whose abdication led to Elizabeth's eventual ascension to the throne).

Whatever the case, the Queen was advised by MI5 to keep Blunt around. In his role as art curator, he had no access to classified information. Blunt was at the Palace through 1972 and spent another seven years roaming London giving lectures. His actions remained a tightly guarded secret until Margaret Thatcher disclosed his treason in 1979.

As for that speech seen in The Crown, where Olivia Colman's Queen Elizabeth makes some not-so-subtle digs at Blunt at the opening of a new exhibition, there's no record of such a takedown ever happening. While the two reportedly kept their distance from each other in private, according to Miranda Carter's Anthony Blunt: His Lives:

“Blunt continued to meet the Queen at official events. She came to the opening of the Courtauld’s new galleries in 1968, and in 1972 she personally congratulated Blunt on his retirement, when the Lord Chamberlain, knowing nothing of his disgrace, offered him the honorary post of Adviser on the Queen’s pictures—inadvertently continuing his association with the Palace for another six years.”

Stripped of his knighthood as a result of the truth about his actions being made known, Blunt became a recluse and died of a heart attack in 1983. His memoirs, which were made public by the British Library in 2009, indicated his regret, calling his spy work "the biggest mistake of my life."

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