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The American Scholar
Vol. 15 - Winter 1945-1946 No. 1
A Day of War
DECEMBER 21, 1778 was a day of war, one day out of the several thousand days during which America fought for her independence. Nothing of great import happened: no major battles were fought, no great decisions rendered. For Mr. Draper and Mr. Folsom, who published The Independent Ledger and the American Advertiser, at the corner of Winter Street in Boston, it was another routine day, and as such, it lost itself in the maw of history.
Philadelphia, Nov. 26.
Naturally, such small matters elude history; but you may be sure that the loyal citizens of Boston smacked their lips as they read this over their coffee. They had dealt with their own quislings sometime back, when they retook their city; now, for a quisling schooner to be cut out of an enemy convoy, under the noses of battleships, tickled their Yankee fancy in precisely the right place. In column three of page two, they found another dispatch that made them nod with satisfaction:
Fish-kill, December 10.
The Fishkill correspondent was exact but uninspired; he gave you the facts and let you work the rest out for yourself. Today, no doubt, military security would forbid this kind of information, the more so since the General and the Marquis were moving through country nominally held by the British. On the other hand, the Bostonians could take pleasure in the ineffectiveness of British occupation.
Fish-kill, December 10.
How the art of journalism has fallen! It's true that some of the facts seem uncertain (for instance, the leeway left in describing the number of houses burned), but there is no doubting which side this correspondent is on. Twenty British ships deploy up the Hudson, but our Fishkill man will grant them no more booty than one barrel of stinking fish. More power to him! And that line: "They went off with precipitation." There is, indeed, classic understatement, "wanton and cowardly...." Today, that would draw a sharp word from the editor: leave opinions out and report the facts. I take my hat off to the unknown correspondent; I'm all for his opinions. And speaking of opinion, Draper and Folsom sneak in this item entirely hearsay, I'm afraid, and without even a dateline:
A correspondent says, the inhabitants of New York are heartily sick of their protectors, and wish the time may speedily come when they may be left to themselves; the greater part would rather leave themselves to Whig mercy than British clemency and protection any longer.
Well, one can see the need for this sort of thing. New York has been occupied by the enemy for over two years, and the citizens of Boston would like to think that a bona fide underground was in operation. Unfortunately, too many citizens of New York have turned traitor, and when the enemy leaves, several thousand of them will go with him, rather than take their chances with the angry revolutionists. Nor is any revolt within the city brewing. Though one is led to suspect that Draper and Folsom cooked up this item themselves, one can forgive them. They're fighting a war.
Enquire of the Printers.
a good Breast of MILK,
either in Town or Country,
For further Particulars enquire of the printers.
A people's war being concerned with culture and the arts, as well as with the main business of defeating the enemy, we find on page three a good-sized advertisement for a book:
And in about three weeks will be completed,
THE PUBLICATION OF
Hubbard's History of the
But the final touch, which clinches the argument that the histories have lost everything but the dates and the barest facts, occurs in the lower left hand corner of page three. It is an unostentatious dispatch, concerning British troops of occupation in Queens Village, on Long Island:
A few nights ago a drove of one of the neighbour's hogs got out of their enclosure, when finding themselves released from confinement, they kicked up their heels, grunted, and ran directly toward the enemy's quarters, upon approaching which, the advanced sentries hearing an unusual noise, concluded they were going to be attacked, gave the alarm to the rear guards, who immediately communicated it to the main body, when they all in one universal consternation fled, leaving most of their arms behind them, and ran helter skelter down to their boats, launched them, and embarked before they discovered their mistake. Thus were 150 brave Veterans employed in the fruitless attempt to conquer America, completely routed by a herd of swine, even without the Devil's having entered into them.
HOWARD FAST is the author of several historical novels, including Citizen Tom Paine and Freedom Road. Mr. Fast is now working on a book on John Altgeld.