245 years in 1,800 words, AND a glance at celestial mechanics

New license and car tag this morning. Printed out the forms and filled them out. Got to the local state office of collecting money for the privilege to drive your car and a nice woman at the door couldn’t seem to process that my forms were already filled out. These are the forms you need. Those are the forms I have. You need these… You can’t win a logical argument with a low level functionary, it saves everyone time if you just yield to the inability of a thoroughly trained person’s need to dispatch their narrow sliver of duties.

She told me where to fill these forms out. Over there. But not there. No, not there. There. She was most adamant, and that was a real concern for her. The voice rising, the hall monitor tone getting more adamant. You wonder what bad thing had previously happened at those other, empty, tables that made them off limits, especially when you can cram six or seven people around one table during cold and flu and Covid season.

With that first round of paperwork completed you had to visit another woman who looked at those forms and studied some flowchart for an awfully long time, considering this is her part of the job. Supporting documents are necessary here, and they were all produced. More staring and humming, which took place at approximately the same volume as her speaking voice. Finally, all of my supporting materials were passed back through the plexiglass, with some other surely crucial document. I was directed to have a seat in the waiting here, where I would eventually hear my number called.

The good news is that it was called almost right away. Don’t even get settled in that chair, right away. I had to go to window nine. The bad news is that window nine was staffed by a guy they’d pulled right off the street. Nice fellow. Hadn’t yet done the new license do-si-do, but he knew where most of the keys on the keyboard are located, and how to operate that DL camera — and I can confirm this is another state using glass procured from East Germany after the wall came down.

His supervisor came over, a smart, wise cracking woman, to make sure everything worked as it should. Between them, they got it all figured out. Eventually. A new tag, a temporary license — a piece of paper I have to carry in my wallet, but one, I was cautioned, that can’t be used for identification — and I rendered unto Caesar, which seemed a lot. All of this took more than an hour, which also seemed a lot.

But at least I didn’t have to wait aimlessly, and everyone was nice, despite whatever happens on a daily basis at an office like that.

Somehow I didn’t notice this yesterday. Or everything just happened between last night and this morning. This is the biggest, first, fastest quitter on our street.

Also, the comb-over really isn’t working for that tree. Maybe that’s merely a seasonally obvious observation. The street view is from the week before everything popped back to life in April. Once you allow for the horrible realization that the trees don’t bloom or bud until almost May … sigh … it’ll be a while before I stare at that tree to decide whether the green leaffure hides what’s now becoming obvious to all of us.

I have two windows in my office studio. I never open the blinds on this side, but maybe I should. The sun puts on a great show from here in my chair.

After that, I went for a little run, just shuffling through two miles in the neighborhood. The moon was up to keep me company, and at this particular moment, from this particular angle, the moon is nicely framed. Photographing the moon with your phone is a foolish endeavor, of course, but you still try, sometimes. And sometimes, you fire one off from the hip. I’m actually sort of jogging here.

Turns out that house’s beautiful porch is the best part of the picture. Go a bit farther up the street there are houses with Halloween lights. Someone else has cleverly installed solar lights in their trees. They sent their child to the University of Alabama this fall. They have a flag in their front yard. So we hung the Sailor Aubie flag in ours.

This is the 12th installment of We Learn Wednesdays. Basic premise: I ride my bike to find all of the local historical markers in the county. You learn new things, you see new stuff, by bike that you don’t discover at the speed of a car. The bike is the ideal way to undertake a project like this. Counting today’s discoveries I have listed … let’s call it 29 … of the 115 markers found in the Historical Marker Database.

I say 29 because two of the markers we’ll talk about today have been removed and another is damaged almost to the point of illegibility. But there’s still plenty to learn about at Hancock’s Bridge. This figures into what we learned two weeks ago. During the Revolutionary War, in the harsh winter of 1778, the British and the Americans were both foraging the local countryside. The king’s men had established a headquarters in a small town about five miles to the north. The good guys were foraging from the south, opposite the red coats, but we’re on their side of the little creek inlet.

On March 19th, the Brits laid a successful trap for the militia, but reinforcements came just in time to save the day. Determined to wipe them out, the British moved downstream, crossed the creek and fixed their bayonets. They came to this house.

Major John Gaves Simcoe was commanding the queen’s rangers, a well-trained light infantry unit. In 1770, Simcoe entered the British Army as an ensign in the 35th Regiment of Foot and was soon shipped out to the colonies. He was at the siege of Boston. In July 1776, with the atmosphere crackling above everyone, he was promoted to captain in the 40th Regiment of Foot. He went to New York, marched on Philadelphia and commanded the 40th’s Grenadiers, opposite George Washington, at the Battle of Brandywine in September 1777, where he was wounded.

Which brings us to March 1778, Simcoe and his rangers got on flat bottom boats, crossed the creek, and marched two miles through soggy marshes at night until they reached dry land. They soon bumped into two sentries, stabbed them to death, and then attacked Hancock’s house. His guys forced open the front door.

Other British soldiers came in through the back door at the same time, and they almost ended up shooting at each other. But they figured it out, and then bayoneted the Americans. Simcoe reported:

The surprise was complete, and would have been so, had the whole of the enemy’s force been present, but, fortunately for them, they had quit it the evening before, leaving a detachment of twenty or thirty men, all of whom were killed.

The local accounts suggest that a few of them survived, but everywhere the numbers seem a little different.

The house was owned by Judge William Hancock Jr. His dad built it in 1734. Senior was a county judge, and member of the colonial legislature. Junior got the house, his dad’s seat in the legislature and his seat on the bench in 1762. He was a Loyalist, as you might imagine, and he was in the house on that dark, cold night in 1778. Simcoe:

Some very unfortunate circumstances happened here. Among the killed was a friend of the government… old Hancock, the owner of the house… events like these are the real miseries of war.

Above you’ll see the two stone markers. There’s another marker that’s supposed to be at this house, now a museum, which basically summarized what we’ve learned together here, but that sign is now gone. That marker mentioned the previous two days of skirmishes up and down the creek. Another thing to know is that this was effectively the end of combat operations in this part of the state.

Around the back of the Hancock house, you’ll see another beautiful example of the patterned brick style.

Beautiful, isn’t it? There’s a marker about the patterned brick, but the labels are blistered and peeling. It is barely readable, so I’ll quote it directly.

The exterior of the Hancock House is an outstanding example of the patterned brick houses that once dotted the landscape of Salem County, NJ. Modeled after the seventeenth-century building traditions of the Quakers’ English homeland, masons used variations in the color and placement of bricks to create designs, dates and initials in the walls of the house.

In the Hancock House, built in 1734, the masons alternated red bricks laid lengthwise, called stretchers, with blue glazed bricks laid on end, referred to as headers. The result was a checker-board design called Flemish Bond. They used a similar technique to create a unique herringbone pattern in the end walls.

Bricks were made from local clays. They were molded, air dried, then fired in a wood-burning kiln. Those bricks that were closest to the fire acquired a “vitrified” or blue-glazed surface. The irregular features, cracks, and bubbles within the glaze did not compromise the product since the glaze waterproofed the brick.

Salem County has the second largest concentration and variety of patterned brick houses, after Burlington County, in New Jersey and the nation. Often homes to the elite, brick houses comprised one tenth of the late eighteenth-century homes in the county.

And you’ll remember we saw one of the other surviving brick patterned houses a few weeks ago. Nearby … which is to say next door … which is to say in Hancock’s front yard … is the Swedish cabin.

The marker for this cabin has been removed. But the database knows what that sign used to say:

This single-room cabin is a rare remaining example of hand-hewn, white cedar plank construction and reflects a traditional Swedish cabin. This cabin, with its glazed windows, is more elaborate than those typically constructed in the seventeenth-century.

Known as stugas, which translates to “room inside.” These cabins were built in small clusters or stood alone, depending on the size of the farm. Swedish settlers established small communities throughout Salem, clearing only enough land to farm.

This cabin was rebuilt in 1913 using lumber that is over 400 years old. It was salvaged from the property of John J. Tyler in Salem. The cabin’s construction follows the traditional building techniques of the seventeenth-century, with four-inch thick side planks, dovetailed corners, a fireplace and wooden pins instead of nails.

If you hold your face up to the window and peer inside, you can see the cabin is, today, just used for some haphazard storage.

There’s much more to learn. For next week’s installment of We Learn Wednesdays we’ll talk even more about the Hancock lot and the nearby bridge. Miss some of the markers? You can see them all right here. Before that, Catober continues, and more!

Comments are closed.