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Tara Ross
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Love the Constitution. Mother, wife, author, retired lawyer -- American!
Love the Constitution. Mother, wife, author, retired lawyer -- American!

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On this day in 1862, Edwin Stanton is confirmed as Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of War. He’d been nominated only two days earlier.

It’s hard to imagine such an easy confirmation process these days, isn’t it? ;)

Stanton would become one of Lincoln’s closest advisors, so perhaps it is unsurprising that he rushed to Lincoln’s side when the President was shot in April 1865. One witness later wrote of Stanton’s reaction as Lincoln lay dying.

“Stanton’s gaze was fixed intently on the countenance of his dying chief,” Corporal James Tanner reported. “[He had] been a man of steel throughout the night, but as I looked at his face across the corner of the bed and saw the twitching of the muscles, I knew that it was only by a powerful effort that he restrained himself.” When Lincoln passed away, Stanton spoke, although his exact words have been the subject of some dispute. (In fact, one recent biographer, William Marvel, doubts that Stanton said anything at all.)

Corporal Tanner reported the comment as: “He belongs to the ages now.” Others heard “He now belongs to the Ages” or “He now belongs to the Angels.”

After the President passed away, Stanton’s grief was “uncontrollable,” according to one soldier. But Marvel again adds a little more color to the traditional account. He notes that, as Lincoln lay dying, Stanton “showed none of the emotional collapse attributed to him when his first wife and his brother died.”

Either way, Stanton was in charge, at least for now. How did a Cabinet member find himself in such a situation? A second Stanton biography sums it up: “[Stanton was] in virtual control of the government. He had charge of the Army, Johnson was barely sworn in and vastly unsure of himself, and Congress was not in session.”

Stanton had already been at work throughout the evening, making sure witnesses were interviewed, sending telegrams to military officers, and giving orders to police. He seemed determined to find and punish the assassin and any accomplices. He was also already ready to conclude that a broader conspiracy was afoot, perhaps planned with the help of Confederate officials.

After all, Lincoln hadn’t been the only victim that night. Secretary of State William Seward had also been attacked with a knife.

Within days, investigators were making arrests. Several accused conspirators were taken into custody, but the actual assassin, John Wilkes Booth, was killed during the attempt to capture him.

Stanton was relentless, and he decided to try the captured conspirators in a military setting. His excuse for abandoning the civilian court system? He claimed that the conspiracy was part of the rebellion, thus giving him authority to use military tribunals. Much of the public was outraged. A trial in a civilian court would have provided more protection for the rights of the accused.

Nevertheless, a military commission met in early May and heard the case. Ultimately, all eight defendants were found guilty, and four were sentenced to death. Shockingly, one of the defendants to hang was Mary Surratt. She was the first female to be put to death by the federal government.

Stanton had apparently achieved his goal.

One interesting postscript? An issue later cropped up when Booth’s diary was discovered with 18 missing pages! People were suspicious. Did Stanton or someone else rip out pages that could incriminate them? Would the pages have shown that some of the defendants knew nothing about the murder plot? Possibly, though, the explanation is very simple: Booth ripped out his own diary pages, using them to write messages during the days when he was a fugitive.

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Medal of Honor Monday!

During this week in 1945, an Army staff sergeant is killed in an action that would ultimately earn him the Medal of Honor. Curtis F. Shoup was just days away from his 24th birthday at the time of his death.

Shoup died while serving with an old friend from high school.

“Although he hated war,” Lt. Robert J. Watson later wrote, “Curtis proved to be a fine soldier.” That day in 1945 made a deep impression on Watson. “Those who saw it all,” he concluded, “will never forget [Shoup’s] incredible, unselfish act.”

Indeed, Shoup’s bravery inspired the men with him to fight even harder.

Early January 1945 found Shoup with part of the 87th Infantry Division in Tillet, Belgium. It was really cold!! In fact, the ground was frozen so hard that Americans could not penetrate the ground in order to dig defenses. Thus, on January 7, Shoup’s company found itself in an exposed area with no good way to defend itself.

The Germans were firing relentlessly. Shoup knew that their machine guns had to be taken out, and he decided to act.

“[C]ompletely disregarding his own safety,” his Medal of Honor citation relates, “[he] stood up and grimly strode ahead into the murderous stream of bullets, firing his low-held weapon as he went. He was hit several times and finally was knocked to the ground. But he struggled to his feet and staggered forward until close enough to hurl a grenade, wiping out the enemy machinegun nest with his dying action.”

But Shoup still didn’t stop! He’d taken out one machine gun nest, but there was still another. “Although mortally wounded,” Watson relates, “[Shoup] was actually attempting to destroy the second machine gun when a sniper took his life.”

The men in Shoup’s company were inspired by what they’d seen and they fought all the harder. They continued on, fighting house-to-house until they had finally taken Tillet.

Brave. Selfless. Heroic. What an AMERICAN thing to do.

P.S. Shoup’s birthday was just a few days ago, on January 11. The date of his Medal action, as mentioned, was January 7.

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On this day in 1982, a Boeing 737 crashes into the icy waters of the Potomac. Air Florida Flight 90 had stalled during takeoff, then plowed into Washington D.C.’s 14th Street Bridge before plunging into the river below.

It was a day of unnecessary tragedy—but also a day of astonishing heroism. Bystanders risked their lives for strangers. One passenger gave up his chance at survival, enabling others to live. For months, this individual was simply known as “the man in the water.”

He’d sacrificed his life, but no one even knew his name.

The root of that day’s troubles was the weather. A nasty winter storm persisted, forcing Washington National Airport to close for part of the afternoon. Meanwhile, the Air Florida flight sat at its gate, hoping for a departure window, however brief.

Everything was taking too long. The captain had the plane deiced, but then he ran into trouble backing out of the gate. By the time he taxied to a runway, other planes were waiting to depart. Too much time had passed since the deicing, but he never went back to be deiced again. He and his co-pilot also ignored anomalous readings during takeoff, missing an opportunity to abort when they should have.

Their decisions proved fatal.

The plane never gained sufficient speed or altitude. When it crashed, only six survivors would come to the surface, clinging to debris from the plane’s tail section.

It was mere minutes, really, but it must have felt like hours. Finally, a rescue helicopter arrived and dropped a line to one survivor, ferrying him across the ice to the shore. The helicopter pilot, Don Usher, was flying in impossible conditions, but he knew what he had to do. Back he went for another rescue. This time, the man who received the rescue line rejected it, passing it instead to Kelly Duncan, the only surviving flight attendant. She grabbed the line and was carried to safety.

Usher went back a third time, but the same man rejected the rescue line—again. The line instead went to passenger Joe Stiley, who tried to carry both himself and another passenger, Priscilla Tirado, across the ice. Stiley made it, but Tirado lost her grip and fell. She was flailing in the water and she seemed weak. For a minute, it seemed that she would drown.

Fortunately, a man by the name of Lenny Skutnik was watching nearby. He had no intention of letting anyone drown! He plunged into the freezing water, swimming straight toward Tirado. He saved her life.

In the meantime, the helicopter had gone back for a fifth survivor, Patricia Felch. She was too weak to grasp the rescue line. Usher hovered the helicopter so low that the skids went under water. His co-pilot reached over and grabbed Felch, leaning out to grab her despite the fact that he wasn’t wearing any kind of safety harness.

Five of six were safe. There was just one more trip to make. Where was the man who kept passing the rescue line to others? ‘‘We looked in the water, in the wreck, everywhere, but he was gone,’’ Usher later said. ‘‘That guy was amazing. All I can tell you is I’ve never seen that kind of guts.’’

The identity of this hero was confirmed many months later. Arland D. Williams Jr. would be posthumously awarded the Coast Guard’s Gold Lifesaving Medal for his bravery. Skutnik would also receive the Medal, as would Roger Olian, a Vietnam veteran who’d jumped in the water early in the rescue effort.

Too many people died that day. But thanks to a few brave heroes, five people would survive the unsurvivable.

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On this day in 1777, Brigadier General Hugh Mercer dies from the wounds that he received at the Battle of Princeton. Do you remember him from the January 3 history post? He was the American officer who refused to surrender, even when he was surrounded by British soldiers.

Mercer was born in Scotland. Much of his early life is lost to history, although it is known that he was a surgeon in Bonnie Prince Charlie’s army. When that uprising against the British was squashed at Culloden in 1746, Mercer fled to the American colonies.

The move changed his life! He fought in the French and Indian War, after which he settled in Fredericksburg, Virginia. He became friends with his fellow Virginian—none other than George Washington! He even bought Washington’s childhood home, Ferry Farm, with the intent of establishing his family there.

The American Revolution interrupted these plans. As tensions grew with Great Britain, Mercer was quick to join the Patriot cause. He was appointed Colonel of the 3rd Virginia Regiment, then a Brigadier General in the Continental Army. He fought with Washington at the Battle of White Plains, and he was with the army on its retreat through New Jersey. He participated in both the first and second battles of Trenton. (See December 26 and January 2 history posts.) Washington trusted him, once writing that Mercer’s “Judgement and Experience may be depended upon.”

Mercer lived up to this trust during his final battle.

On January 2, Washington’s army was cornered at Trenton, but it had snuck away from Cornwallis in the middle of the night. Washington was headed toward Princeton. Part of Cornwallis’s army had been left behind there, and Washington planned a surprise attack. As the army approached the city, Mercer was dispatched with a contingent of men to seize a bridge that lay on the route toward Trenton. He would be able to delay any British that were headed toward Cornwallis.

Early on January 3, Mercer’s men ran into the British. The two sides met in an orchard. The fighting was intense, and the British were fighting well. Mercer was surrounded by British soldiers. They saw the markings on his uniform, and they thought he was Washington! One yelled: “Call for Quarters, you damned rebel.” Mercer refused. Instead, he fought back, yelling: “I am no rebel.” Mercer was struck down by the butt of muskets, bayoneted multiple times and left for dead on the field.

Just at that moment, Washington arrived with reinforcements. In the end, Americans would win the day. But it was too late for Mercer. Legend has it that he refused to leave the field until the battle was concluded. As the story goes, his men propped him up against an oak tree (the “Mercer Oak”) so they could defend the man who would not leave them.

After the battle, Mercer was carried to a nearby house so he could be treated. Dr. Benjamin Rush was there, helping his treatment, but he finally succumbed to his wounds on January 12.

Yet another sacrifice made so that we might have freedom.

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On this day in 1755, Alexander Hamilton is born. “Few figures in American history,” one of his biographers observes, “have aroused such visceral love or loathing as Alexander Hamilton.”

Love him or hate him, but one aspect of his life is surely worth admiring: Hamilton resolutely pulled himself out of a childhood marred by scandal and disgrace, and he turned himself into one of our nation’s most influential Founding Fathers.

Maybe you could say that he lived the American dream before there was any such thing? ;)

The circumstances of Hamilton’s birth were not great. He was caught in the midst of an 18th-century soap opera! In later years, Hamilton wouldn’t want to talk about his beginnings too much, calling it a “subject of the most humiliating criticism.”

Hamilton’s father, James, was the younger son of a Scottish laird. He’d made his way to the West Indies, trying to make his fortune. Once there, he met Rachel Faucette Lavien.

Her story was a real doozy!

Rachel was the daughter of a woman who’d left her husband. Mother and daughter lived together in the West Indies until Rachel’s mother made an unfortunate decision. She married Rachel off to an older man, Johann Lavien, thinking that Lavien had money.

Except he didn’t. Neither did Rachel have as much money as Lavien thought. What a mess. Rachel was miserable, and she ran away. When she was caught, Lavien had her thrown in jail. He seemed to think that jail time would make her more compliant. Instead, she became more willful and more determined to leave.

When she got out of jail, she fled. That’s when she met James Hamilton.

The two could not get married because she was still married to Lavien, but they lived together and presented themselves as husband and wife. They had two sons together, including Alexander.

When Hamilton was still young, Lavien finally obtained a divorce from Rachel. The terms of the divorce decree were harsh, and the Hamiltons would continue to avoid Lavien’s home in St. Croix for several years.

That all changed in 1765. James was called there for business reasons, and the Hamiltons had to move. Rachel’s notoriety in St. Croix surely made their lives harder, and James ended up leaving his family. Perhaps the public humiliation was too much to bear? It is hard to tell why he finally left, though.

Rachel found herself alone, running her own store and taking care of her boys. Unfortunately, she fell sick in 1768 and passed away. A cousin took the brothers in—but then he died, too. He’d committed suicide.

Yikes. Alexander and his brother had truly lost everything. They were on their own.

The brother became apprenticed to a carpenter, but Alexander was taken in by a local merchant. Some have speculated that this merchant was Alexander’s REAL father. Either way, Alexander soon caught an even bigger break: In 1772, he penned an account of a hurricane that had hit St. Croix. His writing was impressive, and people could tell that he had literary talent. Several local families decided to contribute toward Alexander’s formal education in America.

Alexander grabbed the opportunity! He attended King’s College in New York, but never formally graduated because war intervened. When the Revolution against Great Britain began, he instead volunteered for a New York artillery unit.

It was the first step on a path that would lead him to great places: trusted aide to George Washington during the war, driving force behind the Constitutional Convention, and America’s first Secretary of the Treasury.

He’d certainly come a long way from his humble roots.

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On this day in 1851, folk hero Anna Warner “Mother” Bailey passes away. She is known for two acts of bravery and patriotism, the first of which occurred when she was almost 23 years old.

She was living with her grandmother and her uncle at the time. The uncle, Edward Mills, was a corporal in the local militia. He got called to action when the traitor Benedict Arnold invaded the area near New London, Connecticut in September 1781.

Arnold’s raid began on the morning of September 6. The alarm was sounded and local militia, including Mills, rushed to the defense of the city. Unfortunately, the British made rapid progress, finally torching the city. They headed toward Fort Griswold, where Anna’s uncle was among those defending the fort. Americans were badly outnumbered, yet they twice refused a demand of surrender!

If only their bravery had been rewarded. But it wasn’t.

The British stormed the fort and were easily overwhelming the militia. The American commander, Col. William Ledyard, realized he would need to surrender after all, but the British refused! Reportedly, as Ledyard lowered his sword in surrender, the British instead cut him down. The events that followed have been described as a massacre.

In the meantime, Anna was with her uncle’s wife. They wondered where he was. As with many folk tales, the details can get murky, but Anna apparently decided to walk three miles toward Fort Griswold to look for her uncle. She finally found him in a makeshift hospital. He was badly wounded and begged Anna to get his wife and children so he could see them one last time. She promptly turned around and did as he’d asked. In the end, her uncle died from that wound. But, because of Anna, he was able to say one last goodbye to his family.

The episode apparently left Anna an even more fervent Patriot than she’d been before.

Now fast forward to the War of 1812. By then, Anna had gotten married to an innkeeper, and she was known as Mother Bailey. Once again, a British fleet appeared near the harbor at New London. An attack seemed imminent, but Fort Griswold was low on supplies. It especially needed flannel to make cartridge wadding. A search was made of the town, but most inhabitants had sent their personal belongings (including bedding and clothes) away in case of an attack. Mother Bailey heard that the fort was in need. She wanted to help, so she promptly ripped off the flannel petticoat that she was wearing and handed it to one of the officers. She may have added some choice language, urging him to take out an Englishman.

The attack never came, but the militia was inspired by Mother Bailey’s selflessness. According to legend, the flannel petticoat was never made into wadding, but it was instead raised up on a mast above the fort to inspire its defenders. Following the war, people spoke of the “martial petticoat” and travelers would come to the Bailey’s inn just to hear the story straight from Mother Bailey.

P.S. I had trouble finding a picture for this post, thus this one is only semi-related. It’s entitled “Narrow escape of Benedict Arnold, when burning New London, Connecticut.” The woman pointing a gun at him is not Mother Bailey, but at least she appears to be another Revolutionary War heroine? ;)

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On this day in 1793, the first successful balloon flight is made from American soil. Did you know that President George Washington was in the audience for the occasion?

Washington had been interested in hot air balloons for years. “I have only news paper Accts of the Air Balloons,” he wrote a friend in 1784, “to which I do not know what credence to give; as the tales related of them are marvelous, & lead us to expect that our friends at Paris, in a little time, will come flying thro’ the air, instead of ploughing the Ocean to get to America.”

Unsurprisingly, then, he was ready to help when French balloonist and aviation pioneer Jean-Pierre Blanchard came to America late in 1792. It was time Americans saw such feats for themselves.

Blanchard planned to depart January 9 from the Walnut Street Prison, as “the most suitable place, on account of its spaciousness.” He’d even sold tickets for the event—at $5 a person! Most people couldn’t afford such a splurge, so most of the crowd instead watched events unfold from rooftops and streets outside the prison walls.

Cannons began firing at dawn, counting down the moments until Blanchard’s anticipated departure. The balloon was inflated, and a band played. Washington soon arrived, too, handing Blanchard a piece of paper: It was a pass, which would help Blanchard explain his presence to anyone he might meet on the other side of his trip.

Blanchard didn’t speak a word of English, so the pass was pretty important!

Finally, Blanchard’s balloon rose into the air. “[T]he the majestic sight was truly awful and interesting,” a reporter wrote, “the slow movement of the band added solemnity to the scene. Indeed the attention of the multitude was so absorbed, that it was a considerable time e’er silence was broke . . . .”

“[F]or a long time could I hear the cries of joy which rent the air,” Blanchard later wrote. A few men tried to keep up with him on horseback, but Blanchard’s balloon was moving too fast.

While Blanchard was in the air, he performed experiments for Americans such as Dr. Benjamin Rush, who wanted Blanchard to measure his pulse at various altitudes.

Finally, Blanchard brought his balloon down in a small New Jersey clearing. The farmers there were surely surprised to see any type of vehicle dropping out of the sky?! One man dropped his gun, astonished, and “lifted up his hands towards heaven.” Another could not be convinced to approach until Blanchard offered him a bottle of wine. The Frenchman later explained that the “exhilarating juice of the grape was always amongst mankind the happiest sign of friendship and conciliation.”

Spoken like a true Frenchman? ;)

Finally, the farmers accepted Blanchard when they saw the pass from Washington. “How dear the name of Washington is to this people,” Blanchard observed, “with what eagerness they gave me all possible assistance, in consequence of his recommendation!”

Blanchard and his balloon were back in Philadelphia by the end of the day. Blanchard’s first act was to visit Washington and “inform him of the happy effects of the passport he had been pleased to grant me.”

George Washington: Father of the Country, President of the United States, Commander-in-Chief of the Army—and patron of aviation pioneers! Who knew?! :)

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On this day in 1815, Americans defeat British forces at the Battle of New Orleans. Did you know that we used to celebrate January 8 as a national holiday, with fireworks and celebrations, just like we do the Fourth of July?

Several weeks ago, I made a similar statement about “Evacuation Day,” the once-celebrated (now forgotten) New York holiday. What are all these “forgotten” anniversaries doing to our national identity? How are they undermining pride in our heritage?

The Battle of New Orleans occurred at the end of the War of 1812. That war with Britain resolved issues that remained outstanding after the American Revolution. Interestingly, the Battle of New Orleans was fought even after a treaty of peace had been signed with Britain. Unfortunately, that treaty was still on its way across the Atlantic Ocean. No one in America knew about it.

By late 1814, the British had turned their focus to the South. If the Port of New Orleans were captured, then it could help cut off supplies to the states. Major General Andrew Jackson was in New Orleans, preparing to defend the city when the British arrived in the area. On December 23, the British captured a plantation just outside of New Orleans. Unfortunately for them, one man got away. He ran to New Orleans and reported the British position to Jackson.

Jackson made an unexpected decision: He decided to march out of the city and meet the British. That night, he launched a surprise attack. The battle lasted most of the night and ended with no clear winner. The real battle was yet to come. In the meantime, the two sides sat on opposite sides of a plain, building their defenses and occasionally firing at each other.

The main attack came on January 8. “It was a daunting sight," one historian writes of that attack, "thousands of redcoats filling the plain, sixty or seventy men deep in a broad front, moving inexorably toward the American lines.”

Jackson ordered his troops to fire—and they fired relentlessly! Rows of British soldiers fell, but they were replaced with more. At one point, they even seized an American redoubt, but the Americans soon took it back.

Perhaps the worst moment for the British came when several of their officers were killed. One eyewitness later noted: “All was now confusion and dismay. Without leaders, ignorant of what was to be done, the troops first halted and then began to retire, till finally the retreat was changed into a flight . . . .”

Soon, it was over. One American soldier later described the scene: “When the smoke had cleared away and we could obtain a fair view of the field, it looked, at the first glance, like a sea of blood. It was not blood itself which gave it this appearance but the red coats in which the British soldiers were dressed. Straight out before our position, for about the width of space which we supposed had been occupied by the British column, the field was entirely covered with prostrate bodies.”

The British weren’t entirely done. They attempted a siege of a nearby fort and stayed in the area for a few more weeks. But the impressive victory outside New Orleans on January 8 had pretty much decided it.

The Treaty of Ghent would soon arrive on American shores, bringing an end to the War of 1812. In some ways, the outcome in New Orleans was irrelevant. But it was important for the nation’s morale. We felt that we'd won the war that was, effectively, our second war of independence. The outcome of the Revolution had been more than just a fluke!

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Medal of Honor Monday!

During this week in 1968, a United States Army helicopter pilot engages in an action that would ultimately earn him the Medal of Honor.

Patrick Henry Brady was an unlikely candidate for the Medal. Surely no one would have expected it? Brady had participated in ROTC during college, but only because he was required to do so. In fact, when he first heard about the ROTC requirement, he thought it sounded a bit like “communism.”

Fortunately for Brady, he ended up in flight school. He volunteered for Vietnam, and he learned to evacuate wounded soldiers in helicopter ambulance operations known as “Dust Off.”

“The missions that we flew were the most dangerous kind of flying,” Brady later described, “because we were required to land on the battlefield.” Maybe so, but Brady become quite good at it. And he had the benefit of serving under a legendary rescue pilot, Major Charles Kelly.

When Kelly was killed in action, Brady took over. Mere days later, he was asked if the unit would stop flying so aggressively now that Kelly was gone. “We are going to keep flying exactly the way Kelly taught us to fly,” he reportedly declared, “without hesitation, anytime, anywhere.”

And that is exactly what Brady was doing on January 6, 1968, during his second tour of duty in Vietnam. On that day, he undertook four dangerous rescue missions. He went through three helicopters in a single day. Four hundred bullet holes were found in those helicopters. But he’d rescued 51 seriously wounded men.

The first rescue required him to descend into enemy territory in the midst of heavy fog and smoke. He turned his helicopter sideways so the backwash from his rotor blades would blow away the fog. He found the wounded and got them out.

It was just the beginning of Brady’s long day.

His next task was to find some Americans who were wounded, lying in a valley under more of the heavy fog and smoke. “They weren’t going to let me go in initially,” Brady later remembered, “I had to land on the fire support base and talk the brigade commander into letting me go in. He actually went to my co-pilot and said to my co-pilot: ‘Can he do that?’ My co-pilot said, ‘We’ve been doing it; we just did it this morning.”

Brady went into this dangerous zone and conducted rescues not once, but four times!

During a third mission, Brady attempted to retrieve some wounded, but the Americans on the ground hadn’t been able to secure a landing area. Brady took fire and his controls were shot out, but it didn’t stop him from coming back around to get the wounded on another attempt.

Brady’s fourth rescue of the day was made in a minefield. He located one spot that he thought was reasonably certain to be free of mines. He landed, but then he faced a problem. No one in the minefield wanted to move! How could he get the patients? Two of his crew jumped out and ran for the wounded.

“These were the great heroes in that mission,” Brady later said. Unfortunately, the crew set off a mine as they tried to get the last of the patients. Shrapnel hit the helicopter, but everyone still managed to get on the aircraft. Brady had no idea if the helicopter was flyable at that point, but he took off anyway—and he made it back with his patients.

Wouldn’t you know that he found a new, undamaged helicopter and kept working?!

“For me, it was a matter of my faith,” Brady later said. “My faith was a substitute for fear. And I just knew that if I died doing what I was doing, what better way to die? I mean, what better way for a soldier to die than to be saving the lives of his fellow soldiers?”

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On this day in 1759, George Washington marries Martha Dandridge Custis. They had known each other for less than 10 months, and Martha had been widowed for less than 18 months. They were married at her home. Can you believe her home was called “the White House”?

Martha’s first husband was Daniel Parke Custis, a wealthy Virginia planter who was nearly 20 years older than she was. Martha and Daniel were married for about 7 years and had two young children when he died. Daniel left a huge estate to Martha, making her the wealthiest widow in Virginia. Yet Daniel had died without a will. Thus, Martha was the executor of his estate and had many of the same legal rights as men. Her financial status left her free to marry a man of her own choosing.

She chose George.

Although the 18-month turnaround seems fast by modern standards, it was not so fast in the 1750s. Life expectancies were shorter then. Childbearing was more dangerous. In short, it was less unusual for a person to be widowed—and to remarry in relatively short order. Indeed, Martha had other suitors and could have chosen someone else.

Not only did she choose George, but it appears that she trusted him. Mt. Vernon’s website notes: “Martha must have believed that in George she had found someone she could trust as well as love. Although some widows wrote legally binding premarital contracts that protected the assets they had from their previous marriage, Martha did not.”

The feeling was mutual. You are used to seeing pictures of Martha as an older woman. Don’t forget that Washington married a younger woman, in her prime. One of the editors at the Papers of George Washington notes: “We always see Martha with a withered face in her old age. But she was quite a beautiful woman in her younger years, and Washington loved her deeply.”

For their wedding, Martha chose a beautiful pair of purple slippers. The shoes may have been a bit “over the top” for their time, according to the late James Rees, who was Mount Vernon’s executive director. Historian Patricia Brady has described the shoes as the “Manolo Blahniks of her time.”

Some have speculated that the shoes are an indicator that the bride was excited about her wedding day!

Having said all this, at the end of the day, it is impossible to know what either of them REALLY thought about their courtship or their marriage. We have mostly circumstantial evidence because Martha had all their correspondence burned after George’s death, apparently to protect his privacy. But the two clearly had a good and long-lasting partnership. She mourned him when he passed away in 1799, just before their 41st wedding anniversary. And she told people, at the time, that she wished she could join him in death.

“I shall soon follow him,” she reportedly said, “and rejoice when that moment arrives.”

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