Comic History of the United States - Bill Nye

The Critical Period

Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold on the 10th of May led two small companies to Ticonderoga, a strong fortress tremendously fortified, and with its name also across the front door. Ethan Allen, a brave Vermonter born in Connecticut, entered the sally-port, and was shot at by a guard whose musket failed to report. Allen entered and demanded the surrender of the fortress.

"By whose authority?" asked the commandant.

"By the authority of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress," said Allen, brandishing his naked sword at a great rate.

"Very well," said the officer: "if you put it on those grounds, all right, if you will excuse the appearance of things. We were just cleaning up, and everything is by the heels here."

"Never mind," said Allen, who was the soul of politeness. "We put on no frills at home, and so we are ready to take things as we find them."

The Americans therefore got a large amount of munitions of war, both here and at Crown Point.

General Washington was now appointed commander-in-chief of all the troops at the second session of the Continental Congress. On his arrival at Boston there were only fourteen thousand men. He took command under the historic elm at Cambridge. He was dressed in a blue broadcloth coat with flaps and revers of same, trimmed with large beautiful buttons. He also wore buff small-clothes, with openings at the sides where pockets are now put in, but at that time given up to space. They were made in such a way as to prevent the naked eye from discovering at once whether he was in advance or retreat. He also wore silk stockings and a cocked hat.

The lines of Dryden starting off "Mark his majestic fabric" were suggested by his appearance and general style. He always dressed well and rode a good horse, but at Valley Forge frosted his feet severely, and could have drawn a pension, "but no," said he, "I can still work at light employment, like being President, and so I will not ask for a pension."

Each soldier had less than nine cartridges, but Washington managed to keep General Gage penned up in Boston, and, as Gage knew very few people there, it was a dull winter for him.

The boys of Boston had built snow hills on the Common, and used to slide down them to the ice below, but the British soldiers tore down their coasting-places and broke up the ice on the pond.

They stood it a long time, rebuilding their playground as often as it was torn down, until the spirit of American freedom could endure it no longer. They then organized a committee consisting of eight boys who were noted for their great philosophical research, and with Charles Sumner Muzzy, the eloquent savant from Milk Street, as chairman, the committee started for General Gage's head-quarters, to confer with him regarding the matter.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


In the picture Mr. Muzzy is seen addressing General Gage. The boy in the centre with the colored glasses is Marco Bozzaris Cobb, who discovered and first brought into use the idea of putting New Orleans molasses into Boston brown bread. To the left of Mr. Cobb is Mr. Jehoab Nye, who afterwards became the Rev. Jehoab Nye and worked with heart and voice for over eight of the best years of his life against the immorality of the codfish-ball, before he learned of its true relations towards society.

Above and between these two stands Whomsoever J. Opper, who wrote "How to make the Garden Pay" and "What Responsible Person will see that my Grave is kept green?" In the background we see the tall form of Wherewithal G. Lumpy, who introduced the Pompadour hair-cut into Massachusetts and grew up to be a great man with enlarged joints but restricted ideas.

Charles Sumner Muzzy addressed General Gage at some length, somewhat to the surprise of Gage, who admitted in a few well-chosen words that the committee was right, and that if he had his way about it there should be no more trouble.

Charles was followed by Marco Bozzaris Cobb, who spoke briefly of the boon of liberty, closing as follows: "We point with pride, sir, to the love of freedom, which is about the only excitement we have. We love our country, sir, whether we love anything else much or not. The distant wanderer of American birth, sir, pines for his country. 'Oh, give me back,' he goes on to say, 'my own fair land across the bright blue sea, the land of beauty and of worth, the bright land of the free, where tyrant foot hath never trod, nor bigot forged a chain. Oh, would that I were safely back in that bright land again!'"

Mr. Wherewithal G. Lumpy said he had hardly expected to be called upon, and so had not prepared himself, but this occasion forcibly brought to his mind the words also of the poet, "Our country stands," said he, "with outstretched hands appealing to her boys; from them must flow her weal or woe, her anguish or her joys. A ship she rides on human tides which rise and sink anon: each giant wave may prove her grave, or bear her nobly on. The friends of right, with armor bright, a valiant Christian band, through God her aid may yet be made, a blessing to our land."

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


General Gage was completely overcome, and asked for a moment to go apart and think it over, which he did, returning with an air which reminded one of "Ten Nights in a Bar-Room."

"You may go, my brave boys; and be assured that if my troops molest you in the future, or anywhere else, I will overpower them and strew the Common with their corses.

"Of corse he will," said the hairy boy to the right of Whomsoever J. Opper, who afterwards became the father of a lad who grew up to be editor of the Persiflage column of the Atlantic Monthly.

Thus the boys of America impressed General Gage with their courage and patriotism and grew up to be good men.

An expedition to Canada was fitted out the same winter, and an attack made on Quebec, in which General Montgomery was killed and Benedict Arnold showed that he was a brave soldier, no matter how the historian may have hopped on him afterwards.

The Americans should not have tried to take Canada. Canada was, as Henry Clay once said, a persimmon a trifle too high for the American pole, and it is the belief of the historian, whose tears have often wet the pages of this record, that in the future Canada will be what America is now, a free country with a national debt of her own, a flag of her own, an executive of her own, and a regular annual crisis of her own, like other nations.

In 1776 Boston was evacuated. Washington, in order to ascertain whether Lord Howe had a call to fish, cut bait, or go ashore, began to fortify Dorchester Heights, March 17, and on the following morning he was not a little surprised to note the change. As the weather was raw, and he had been in-doors a good deal during the winter, Lord Howe felt the cold very keenly. He went to the window and looked at the Americans, but he would come back chilly and ill-tempered to the fire each time. Finally he hitched up and went away to Halifax, where he had acquaintances.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


On June 28 an attack was made by the English on Fort Moultrie. It was built of palmetto logs, which are said to be the best thing in the world to shoot into if one wishes to recover the balls and use them again. Palmetto logs accept and retain balls for many years, and are therefore good for forts.

When the fleet got close enough to the fort so that the brave Charlestonians could see the expression on the admiral's face, they turned loose with everything they had, grape, canister, solid shot, chain-shot, bar-shot, stove-lids, muffin-irons, newspaper cuts, etc., etc., so that the decks were swept of every living thing except the admiral.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


General Clinton by land tried to draw the attention of the rear gunners of the fort, but he was a poor draughtsman, and so retired, and both the land and naval forces quit Charleston and went to New York, where board was not so high.

July 4 was deemed a good time to write a Declaration of Independence and have it read in the grove.

Richard Henry Lee, of Virginia, moved that "the United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and Independent states." John Adams, of Massachusetts, seconded the resolution. This was passed July 2, and the report of the committee appointed to draw up a Declaration of Independence was adopted July 4.

The Declaration was dictated by Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the most melodious English of any American of his time.

Jefferson had a vocabulary next to Noah Webster, with all the dramatic power of Dan. He composed the piece one evening after his other work. We give a facsimile of the opening lines.

Philadelphia was a scene of great excitement. The streets were thronged, and people sat down on the nice clean door-steps with perfect recklessness, although the steps had just been cleaned with ammonia and wiped off with a chamois-skin. It was a day long to be remembered, and one that made George III. wish that he had reconsidered his birth.

In the steeple of the old State-House was a bell which had fortunately upon it the line "Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof." It was rung by the old man in charge, though he had lacked faith up to that moment in Congress. He believed that Congress would not pass the resolution and adopt the Declaration till after election.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


Thus was the era of good feeling inaugurated both North and South. There was no North then, no South, no East, no West; just one common country, with Washington acting as father of same. Oh, how nice it must have been!

Washington was one of the sweetest men in the United States. He gave his hand in marriage to a widow woman who had two children and a dark red farm in Virginia.