Hiking in the Face of History: A Historical Trek to Garfield
I will outright admit I am one of the ones who had not posted many TR's here lately. As a matter of fact, my postings on several sites has gone down because: 1. I only hike 3 seasons because of the distance and the majority of my trips back home to NH involve trail work, and 2. time, or lack thereof, as easy as computers make it. So, to get myself back in the routine, I wanted to post my fave TR from last year, since after all we are coming up on Patriots Day, and I think there is a wanting need to remember the sacrifices of our ancestors, so without further ado...(and this hike was also the last of the 48 for my wife, Klutzy Kat)
Hiking in the Face of History: A Historical Trek to Garfield
The movies of Hollywood are always trying to make an impression on us. This is especially true with historical pieces. Their goal is to get us to associate with a character. Are we like them? Would we have acted the same, or differently? Who do we relate to the most, or want to? Its no different with Historical Trekking. Even the most subtle of changes can denote decades of time. I, like many, thoroughly enjoyed Mann's Last of the Mohicans, 1992. Its main characters at the outset zipping through the woods, an epic soundtrack and cinematography along with them. Truth is they fail to show, hidden by camera angles, the graded path the stars were running along. No matter. (I am, by the way, a HUGE Cooper fan.) Historical? Maybe. Possible? Sure. History is both subjective and relative. I wasn't there 200-300 years ago, so one has to go with what is documented. This summer and fall I have decided to go with the oft-overlooked Provincial. Oh sure, if you look at a classic period painting, such as the Death of Wolfe, this most unique classification of men just may be pictured there. But they are usually way in the background, off to the side, or in a corner, if at all. Truth is, prior to "the Big One" the last of the F & I War, the Seven Years' War, Provincial forces played a huge part in the military history of the Colonies, hence, if you're family has a LONG history in New England, odds are you have descended from one of them.
The area many of us call, or have called home, or perhaps our favorite recreational area, was once nothing more than a tract of land stuck between struggling, antagonistic empires. Continental Europe had become a fruitless battleground, its fields seeped with blood, had spawned nothing more than a stalemated quagmire. In order to force the hand of the opponent and divert resources and manpower in this European draw, it became evident that the most vulnberable target was each other's North American colonies. While history is subjective, general trends do arise. New France, short on manpower, could rely on her acute Native American allies. Properly supplied, and with all the instincts the woodland life could provide, such warriors could roll back the frontier hundreds of miles with ease. The English, though numerically superior, were stuck in the morass of colonial government. Cooperation and unity did not come easily. Petty jealousy, rivalries, use of troops outside each colonies boundaries, and unreliable help from overseas, made bad situations even worse. Forced to fight reactionary campaigns to the hit and run tactics of the enemy, they were spread thin and could only mount an occasional campaign up the coast of Maine, or using the well traveled Champlain corridor. The solution from the viewpoint of the colonies was simple: New France must be reduced.
Thus steps into history, the Provincial. Born of the necessity of repeated distinct, monarchial indifference, and the need to do something, with very little training, and even worse discipline, they came from the common stock. Choosing their own unit leaders and carrying and providing, quite often, their own arms and supplies, they formed a defense for their towns and colonies. They could only usually react to the raids from the north even on their home territory. However, their British superiors saw another use for their numbers. To stop the raids, these men could supplement the lack of British Regulars. So, from among these common men of the New England colonies, as well as some from NY, PA, even VA, our forefathers went to the battlefields of Port Royal, Louisbourg, and Quebec, to name just a few.
And trek they did. In all weather and season, under threat, compulsion, and mere promises, without pay, without reserve, against delusions of ease and with dreams of plunder, through both storm and safety. In the end, their last moments could be a reverberating thud, an acrid puff of smoke, a rush of fear feigning itself as adrenaline. All to preserve for us lands that they knew they could never even hope to inherit personally.
So pause please, and think of these men. The 200 Provincials who, in 1690 during King William's War, died of smallpox as they retreated from the foiled invasion of Quebec.
Or, the multitude of unmarked graves of the Provincials from New England who died of disease and lack of supplies at a little place called Wood Creek, as they vainly awaited the British Regulars sent to reinforce them during Queen Anne's War.
And, the 193 Provincials who died as French cannons fired grapeshot at point blank range into their ranks as they futilely stormed the Island Battery at Louisbourg during King George's War. Their valor so intense that the French commander, Admiral du Chambon, felt the need to justify directly to his King, the medical treatment afforded the prisoners taken, usually provided only for Regulars, by stating " the Provincials were worthy foes, and I felt it only right to salute them." Louisbourg would eventually fall, its capture solely done by Provincial forces on both land and sea, only to have the fortress returned to the French as a provision of the peace treaty that ended the War.
In the years between the peace, and sometimes amidst the conflicts, some of these Provincial forces even ranged toward the Whites. They were people like us. They loved and lost. They fought for lands many would not even see with their own eyes, just hoping that somewhere, at sometime, their descendants might live there. They had wives, children, parents, brothers and sisters. Their graves are unknown, their names, many forgotten, their voices, unheard. In many cases they lie under parking lots, roads, developments, and so on, just as much as their worthy foes are. Though they are mute, and by many a footnote in history, they ask only to be remembered. To their superiors they were a rowdy lot, unruly, rabble-rousing, undisciplined, unreliable, prone to drunkeness and fighting, even rebellious. To me, they are my forefathers. Not one of us can claim or take credit for the sacrifices and accomplishments of our ancestors, be they great or small, but we can certainly honor what they did. They are the original Trekkers, and we can only follow their footsteps.
This hike dedicated to my grandfather, Henry Willard, a veteran of King Williams War, and his son, also named Henry Willard, a veteran of Queen Anne's War.
More pics here:
"LIVE FREE OR DIE...DEATH IS NOT THE WORST OF ALL EVILS." Gen. John Stark. "by reason of much foule weather and Extreme Bad Woods to travel in..." From the letter of my Great Uncle, Samuel Willard (accompanied by my grandfather Henry), to Governor Dummer on August 16, 1725, explaining the reason for his return, being instructed to "range all the country", of the Wawobadenik (White Mountains) July 19-August 16, 1725. I am a 13th generation New Englander and proud of it.