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

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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

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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

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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.

This Innovative Cutting Board Takes the Mess Out of Meal Prep

There's no way any of these ingredients will end up on the floor.
There's no way any of these ingredients will end up on the floor.
TidyBoard, Kickstarter

Transferring food from the cutting board to the bowl—or scraps to the compost bin—can get a little messy, especially if you’re dealing with something that has a tendency to roll off the board, spill juice everywhere, or both (looking at you, cherry tomatoes).

The TidyBoard, available on Kickstarter, is a cutting board with attached containers that you can sweep your ingredients right into, taking the mess out of meal prep and saving you some counter space in the process. The board itself is 15 inches by 20 inches, and the container that fits in its empty slot is 14 inches long, 5.75 inches wide, and more than 4 inches deep. Two smaller containers fit inside the large one, making it easy to separate your ingredients.

Though the 4-pound board hangs off the edge of your counter, good old-fashioned physics will keep it from tipping off—as long as whatever you’re piling into the containers doesn’t exceed 9 pounds. It also comes with a second set of containers that work as strainers, so you can position the TidyBoard over the edge of your sink and drain excess water or juice from your ingredients as you go.

You can store food in the smaller containers, which have matching lids; and since they’re all made of BPA-free silicone, feel free to pop them in the microwave. (Remove the small stopper on top of the lid first for a built-in steaming hole.)

tidyboard storage containers
They also come in gray, if teal isn't your thing.
TidyBoard

Not only does the bamboo-made TidyBoard repel bacteria, it also won’t dull your knives or let strong odors seep into it. In short, it’s an opportunity to make cutting, cleaning, storing, and eating all easier, neater, and more efficient. Prices start at $79, and it’s expected to ship by October 2020—you can find out more details and order yours on Kickstarter.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

The Racist Origins of Santa Cruz, California's Rock ‘n’ Roll Ban of 1956

The Santa Cruz town elders probably would've been alarmed by the audience's enthusiasm for Big Jay McNeely in 1953.
The Santa Cruz town elders probably would've been alarmed by the audience's enthusiasm for Big Jay McNeely in 1953.
Archive Photos/Getty Images

On June 2, 1956, approximately 200 teenagers rolled up to the civic auditorium in Santa Cruz, California, to revel in the early rock ‘n’ roll music of saxophonist Chuck Higgins and his Orchestra. Nobody resisted the temptation to hit the dance floor for “Pachuko Hop” and other lively Higgins tunes, and fun was had by all for the first three hours of that Saturday night event.

Then, shortly after midnight, the local police stopped by. Horrified by what he considered “highly suggestive, stimulating, and tantalizing motions” and music that he feared might make the crowd “uncontrollable,” Lieutenant Richard Overton promptly shut down the concert, about 40 minutes before its scheduled end at 1 a.m.

“It is quite obvious,” Overton wrote in his police report, “that this type of affair is detrimental to both the health and morals of our youth and community.”

By Monday morning, police chief Al Huntsman had instituted a city-wide ban on “rock ‘n’ roll and other frenzied forms of terpsichore,” according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

In the Lair of the Square

Almost immediately after the news broke, the police department received a barrage of phone calls from out-of-town reporters. A bunch of high school students even organized a protest at the district attorney’s office. The backlash prompted city manager Robert Klein to loosen the restrictions that very same week, clarifying that “there’s no ban on an orchestra coming in and having a rock ‘n’ roll dance,” and only obscene dancing itself would be prohibited.

“We encourage dancing by juvenile groups all summer long,” he said. “We frequently have dances in Civic Auditorium and as long as they’re properly conducted, they’re welcome.”

As Marlo Novo pointed out in a blog post for the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, Klein may have been motivated more by his worry about the ban’s commercial impact on the city than anything else. At the time, Santa Cruz—located on the Monterey Bay, about 70 miles south of San Francisco—was a sleepy, idyllic summer getaway with an economy built on tourism. If hip teens could no longer host their beloved dance parties, families might choose to vacation in a different coastal town. The tone of the nationwide coverage could be bad for business, too, with various newspapers poking fun at the authorities’ attempts to deny that Santa Cruz was “the lair of the square.”

Teenagers Talk Back

While Overton’s original ironclad embargo on rock ‘n’ roll dances didn’t last more than a few days, the fiasco highlighted the racial tension that existed around rock ‘n’ roll music in the 1950s.

The Santa Cruz Sentinel’s account of the Saturday night dance mentioned that Higgins and his “all-Negro band” were behind the “provocative rhythms,” and auditorium manager Ray Judah outright prohibited him from playing at the venue ever again.

“He’s through,” Judah said curtly. Soon after that, Higgins was turned away from an appearance at a nightclub on Los Angeles’s Sunset Strip. Judah also canceled a performance by rock ‘n’ roll trailblazer Fats Domino that had been scheduled in the auditorium for July 24, explaining that the musician attracted “a certain type of crowd that would not be compatible to this particular community.”

Some of Santa Cruz’s younger residents took issue with the discrimination. In a letter to the Santa Cruz Sentinel, for example, 16-year-old concertgoer Arlene Freitas criticized how the newspaper had covered Higgins’s performance and the problems it supposedly caused.

“The prejudice[d] statement, which implied that the dance was induced by the all-Negro band, was uncalled for and untrue; dancing of this sort occurred at the Halloween dance last year, where a white band played, but much less was made of that ... I disagree with you about the destruction of health and morals of our youth; if anything, it helps by eliminating prejudice between the two races. One last thing: Did the writer of the article use rubber ink? Because he sure did stretch the truth!”

A Prejudiced Policy

Unfortunately, the opinions of teenagers had little influence over town policy, and the city council reinforced Judah’s racist tendencies later that summer when they granted him the power to refuse “any and all proposals for auditorium use not consistent with the presentation of clean and acceptable stage and floor events, including dances of immoral and suggestive character.”

Though the Santa Cruz Sentinel made a point of mentioning that the ruling could apply to anything “from rock ‘n’ roll to stately waltz,” Judah’s previous decisions imply that he likely only intended to ban Black rock ‘n’ rollers.

Fortunately, the public sentiment toward rock ‘n’ roll changed as it became more mainstream in the following few years, and many people began to realize that the newly-celebrated genre wouldn’t have existed without Black musicians like Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard. And, of course, the teenagers eventually got old enough to be the policymakers themselves.