Wednesday


15
May 24

Do you know what parados means?

Rainy again, today, and just barely into the 60s. And at least four or five more days of the same. It has been, on balance, a wonderful way to experience … let me just check the calendar here … May.

At this point it’s just funny, really. I’m not even sure, as I type these letters into the word box, what the ideal weather would be, or if it matters. I don’t have to wear a heavy coat or stay under a blanket or shovel anything, and there’s no dangerous storm bearing down on me, so any manner of weather is fine, I suppose.

We’ve got a sign on the front porch, and it says “Hello, Summer!” It is prepared for the somewhat plausible eventuality.

I went for a bike ride this evening. First one in weeks. First there was work, and then there was grading and then I spent all my time visiting with family. So, it was nice to get outside, and nice to have another restart to riding. (This is the way it always works: stops and starts.)

It was cool at first. Almost chilly, even. And then the rain started. I just rode around a few neighborhoods for an hour to wake up my legs and practice clearing the rain droplets from my glasses.

You don’t always appreciate the small skills in life. There’s an art to taking off your glasses, banging them against your person, shaking them at arm’s reach and then trying to put them back on your face. It’s nothing, really, but you must do it every so often because the things you do while riding a bike aren’t always just like riding a bike.

Here’s the thing. It’s the height of style to make sure the arms of your glasses are worn outside the straps of your helmet. This is easy when you have standard, rigid glasses. Place, then slide. But since it was late and gray and raining, I did not wear my usual glasses, but, instead, I was wearing a pair of clear lenses.

They’re actually safety glasses, just about the cheapest pair you can buy at a box store. I probably wouldn’t wear them when real eye safety was a concern, but I picked them up for working under a kitchen counter. If all you must do is keep rust and things from falling into your eyeballs, they were worth the six bucks. But I’d wear something a bit thicker if things were flying with more speed than gravity or had more heft than crumbs of ruined metal. They are terribly, wonderfully lightweight, which, when the repair job was done, made me think I could use them for bike rides. Sometimes you don’t want dark lenses, but you do want to keep bugs or rain out of your eyes. So clear lenses! And these, again, were cheap. And lightweight!

Also, the arms of the glasses are basically the cheapest, most flexible bits of rubber the 20th century ever devised. And they don’t easily go over the outside of the helmet straps. So, for a time, I was riding and breaking one of the important rules. Yes, it’s in the rules.

Rule 37 // The arms of the eyewear shall always be placed over the helmet straps. No exceptions.
This is for various reasons that may or may not matter; it’s just the way it is.

It doesn’t matter. None of this matters. We do it anyway.

Let us, one last time, return to California. This is my last video from our trip in March. If stretching things out two months seems excessive, it is!

I made this video for our friends’ daughter. She loves all the fish in my SCUBA diving videos, and she asked, specifically, if we found Nemo in the Gulf of Mexico when we were diving off Cozumel and Quintana Roo. I did not find Nemo there. I found Nemo, instead, in central California.

 

I’m hoping this video will make her smile.

I’ll let you know.

It’s time once more for We Learn Wednesdays, where we discover the county’s historical markers via bike rides. This is the 35th installment, and the 63rd and 64th markers in the We Learn Wednesdays series. I’m grouping them together because there’s not a lot to say about this particular set.

So, we’ll return to our tour of Fort Mott, where we have recently we saw the old gun batteries and then the observation towers that helped them in their work of defending the river and Philadelphia, beyond.

In its day, Fort Mott was a self-contained military community featuring more than 30 buildings here, including a hospital, a PX, a library, a school and more.

Here’s a not-bad map that’ll give you some idea of the layout. The river is on the left side of this drawing. You can see the pier jutting out into the water. Just above that you’ll see the long row of gun placements. Let’s look behind them. Note the blue bit in the map.

That’s the moat. The engineers had the idea that while the big weapons were defending against vessels sailing up the river, they needed to protect themselves from anyone sneaking up behind them.

On one side of the fort is the river. Since it sits, essentially, at a point on the shoreline, the river also shields another side. Still a third side looks protected by thick wooded terrain and narrow creeks. That one direction opposite the moat is about the only approach an enemy would have, though it is difficult to imagine how anyone could get there to begin with. So we need a moat, and a parados.

The workers dug, by hand, 200,000 tons of sand, soil, and rock. Apparently $1.25 in 1897 is worth less than 48 bucks in 2024 money.

That doesn’t strike me as a lot for moving 10,000 pounds of earth a day.

The parados (Spanish for rear door) is the earthen hill adjacent to the gun battery. It serve as a shield against gunfire from the rear. Construction of the moat and parados at Fort Mott began in 1897 and took over two years to complete.

The earth used to build the parados came from digging the moat; 44,500 cubic yards of earth, over 200,000 tons, was moved with grapples, wheelbarrows, and shovels. The work was grueling. Each man was expected to move nearly five tons of earth daily for a wage of $1.25.

The moat was constructed by hand using shovels and wheelbarrows. Mules were used to help move soil and shape the parados.

The parados originally reflected the “mirror image” of the moat. This feature provided a substantial obstacle to help thwart the advance of an enemy force attempting to capture the main gate line, as well as protect the gun crews from enemy artillery fire.

Here are some of the still standing and preserved barracks the soldiers lived in, just behind the gun emplacements.

I’m pretty sure this window unit was standard gear at the beginning of the 20th century.

An important part of their creature comforts …

Two latrines were built within the parados for soldiers assigned to the gun batteries. The bathrooms each had several toilets for enlisted men, a private stall for officers and a large cast-iron urinal.

Toilets were similar to our modern flush toilets, except that the plumbing took the waste directly to the moat and not to a septic system. Since the moat was tidal and controlled by a sluice gate, the sewage was flushed out into the Delaware River with each tidal change. In addition to the practical necessity of the latrines, this system also served as part of an overall defense strategy: any enemy who tried to cross the moat first had to get through the sewage.

First … eww.

Second … also ewwww.

Thirdly, what if this one engineering choice prevented any invasion plans anyone was considering in the early 20th century. Suppose some Spaniards or Canadians came down, saw that and realized they couldn’t get their men to sneak through a stinky sewer moat to capture a fort so their ships could sail up the river.

Also, the insects out there are pretty intense, too. Not only would you have to wade through that moat, you’d have all sorts of insect bites.

Finally, the state put these signs in. The state needs to update them.

Made obsolete when nearby Fort Salsbury opened just after World War I. The last soldiers were removed in 1922, the fort became a state park in 1951.

If you’ve missed any markers so far, you can find them all right here.

More tomorrow. Another bike ride! And maybe some other things, too!


8
May 24

Get the sand between your toes

After a morning at the house we set out for other locales. Because we have company, and because we are close to it, and because the weather was nice, and because it is still uncrowded as we’re still technically in their off-season, and because my mother likes the ocean, we went to the beach.

We walked on the boardwalk in Ocean City. We listened to the waves, felt the breeze, enjoyed the sun and a thoroughly pleasant afternoon.

When you go to the beach, you need an ice cream. This is my lovely bride’s tradition, and some traditions are definitely worth adopting.

We walked out on the rocks of the little jetties.

And we enjoyed the sand, looking for shells and feeling the still quite cold water as it sneaked up to our feet.

It was a delightful and low key afternoon on the beach. We had dinner at a busy local seafood joint, cleverly titled The Crab Trap. Try the tuna steak.


1
May 24

It’s gonna be performative evaluations

Grading will never end. This was my own doing. The way the semester’s calendar came together I had two classes that were a little heavy in the last three weeks. Not so much as to be daunting for students, but to give them a little challenge. It has, however, become a bit daunting for me.

I have final projects to grade in one class. In two other classes there are two large written assignments, two smaller assignments, and final exams.

So guess what I’m doing between now and kingdom come?

I am making some progress. I got through all of the smaller written assignments yesterday. Trying to build momentum and all of that. That took several hours.

Smaller assignments.

Today I got through the final projects in my New Media class and tallied grades. I’ll go over those again tomorrow to make sure all of the numbers are correct. (Update: The math works!)

And then the work continues all through the weekend, probably.

Yesterday evening I did get out for a brief bike ride. Better work and the weather that’s probably the last ride I’ll get for the next week or more. In that context, this sort of thing is frustrating, but that’s the way it works. At the end of the ride I set two Strava PRs on segments even though they didn’t feel like they were especially strong, so I almost had some form. That’s the way it works for me. A few ups, followed by a bunch of downs immediately thereafter.

I saw some great livestock on this ride, though.

Makes me want to go on another bike ride!

Instead, let’s revisit another bike-themed feature, We Learn Wednesdays, where we discover the county’s historical markers via bike rides. This is the 34th installment, and the 61st and 62nd markers in the We Learn Wednesdays series.

So let’s go back to Fort Mott, where last week we saw the old gun batteries that defended the Delaware River and Philadelphia, beyond.

Today, we’ll examine the observation towers that served those batteries. This is fascinating technology at the beginning of the 20th century.

Fifty-two feet above the ground, soldiers in this observational tower were able to identify an enemy vessel, calculate its speed and distance, note weather conditions and communicate this information to the main plotting room and the ten-inch guns at Battery Harker. Soldiers at the gun batterys used this information to compensate for weather, set the firing range and direction and potentially fire at an unsuspecting vessel.

This tower was completed in 1903. It has two levels: an observation room and meteorological station on the glass-topped upper level, and a target plotting room below, from critical data would be relayed to soldiers aiming the big guns.

We learned last week that when they tested the guns they blew out the windows on the fort, and at nearby farms. These were powerful guns, meant to do terrible damage, and they had to control for the recoil. What went into that is most impressive.

When the big guns were fired, vibrations similar to a small earthquake affected the delicate instrumentation contained with the observation towers. Soldiers had to continuously adjust their instruments to make accurate readings.

To solve this problem Army engineers designed a concrete-filled tube below the tower and attached it between the instrument platform and the ground. The tube was then encased in a steel jacket. It served as a basic vibration-dampening device to protect the instruments and a means of insulating power and phone wiring as well.

These were serious people doing serious work, and they didn’t just invent these techniques on the spot. But every new thing you learn should make you wonder how the once-upon-a-timers came up with the solutions that worked.

If you look across the moat toward the river, you will see the second tower. This fifty-five foot high tower has a single observation level for taking accurate sights on enemy targets. Its primary function was to obtain target information for the twelve-inch guns of Battery Arnold.

And here is that other, simpler tower.

Five gun batteries, two observation towers. And, remember, Fort Mott was just one of three forts protecting this stretch of the Delaware River.

In it’s day, Fort Mott was a self-contained military community. There were more than 30 buildings here, some of which we’ll take a glance at later. There was a hospital, a PX, a library, a school and more. Fort Mott was rendered obsolete when Fort Salsbury became operational just after World War I. The last soldiers were removed in 1922, the fort became a state park in 1951.

If you’ve missed any markers so far, you can find them all right here.

Tomorrow: more grading! And maybe some other stuff, who can say? You can! Try the comments below.


24
Apr 24

There’s a lot of forting here

Today has been fine, just fine. The mercury settled at 69 degrees this afternoon, which is just slightly above average. The low tonight will be in the 50s, which is an improvement over last night. The sky was full of clouds for most of the day, but cleared up late in the afternoon.

We went for a 90-minute bike ride this evening, because we had the chance and that was lovely. Except I got dropped early in the ride, not too long after I said, “I think you’re about to drop me.” Sometimes you know.

And there was no catching back on. Sometimes you know that, too.

Usually there’s a fable attached to a ride, a simple tale about the time in the saddle, a vital lesson from the vibrations in the cockpit, maybe a pun that comes from pedaling, but not today. It was just a ride, not an especially bad one, but my lovely bride was just faster than me today. Sometimes you know that, and sometimes right away.

Things are growing well in the greenhouse. Here are some of the tomatoes at one of today’s custom water spritzings.

If we can keep them going we could have a great many sandwiches and salads and sides this summer, and thus the chore of the many spritzings is a happy one. I am currently using a spray bottle on the many tomato, squash, cucumber, pepper, eggplant, onion and pea seedlings. There’s a sophisticated three stage process to the watering. Can to cup to sprayer.

I’m reminded of the elaborate irrigation system my high school’s greenhouse had. It was an overhead pipe arrangement with sprinklers spread out to cover the whole of the thing. It was terrific. I wonder if I could make one that would work in our 6 x 9 space.

I imagine the problem would be weight, and attachment points. Probably impractical. But it’s fun to consider while spritz spritz spritzing.

We now return to We Learn Wednesdays, where we discover the county’s historical markers via bike rides. This is the 33rd installment, and the longest. We’ll see seven markers below, making the count in the We Learn Wednesdays series hit 60 markers. There’s so many because there’s some repetition here. Believe me, I’ve tried to figure out a way to break these up and yet keep some continuity to it. There’s not really a way, so we’re doing these in bulk. It’ll make sense as we go along.

Anyway, welcome to Fort Mott.

The sign says:

Fort Mott is an Endicott-era fortification (ca. 1896) that was begun prior to the Spanish-American War. Construction of an earlier fortification, known as the Battery at Finns Point, was begun in 1872 but never completed. Components of the earlier fortification were incorporated in the 1896 construction plan and are visible today at the west end of the main batteries. The fort was officially named in 1897 in honor of Major General Gershom Mott of Burlington, New Jersey, who served with distinction in the Mexican and Civil Wars. Fort Mott has five batteries which originally mounted twelve guns: Battery Arnold (three 12-inch disappearing guns), Battery Harker (three 10-inch disappearing guns), Battery Gregg (two 5-inch rapid fire guns), Battery Krayenbuhl (two 5-inch rapid fire guns), and Battery Edwards (two 3-inch case mates rapid fire guns).

This place is part of a three-fort system. Mott, Fort Delaware on an island in the river and Fort DuPont on the shore, opposite, defended the Delaware River, and the route to Philadelphia, during Reconstruction and the Endicott program. Endicott was Secretary of War William Crowninshield Endicott, who ran things during a time when the government found the coastal defenses to be woefully inadequate. Some $127 million was spent on a series of new forts at 29 locations. Many of them featured breech-loading cannons, mortars, floating batteries, and submarine mines. The project ran from 1885 to 1910 or so, hence Endicott era.

We’ll spend the next few installments of We Learn Wednesdays on Fort Mott, but today, we’ll focus on the gun batteries.

But first, let’s meet Gershom Mott. Born in New Jersey in 1822, he became a general in the Union Army, and was a commander in the Eastern Theater of the American Civil War. The family history has it that Mott’s grandfather, a man named Captain John Mott, guided General George Washington’s army down the Delaware River to the Battle of Trenton. This may or may not be true.

Mott was a 2nd Lieutenant in the 10th U.S. Infantry during the Mexican–American War. He married, had one child, and worked as a civilian until the Civil War, during which he was appointed the lieutenant colonel, led men in the Peninsula Campaign and took command, as colonel, of the 6th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry. He fought at the Battle of Seven Pines and the Second Battle of Bull Run, where his arm was mangled. Promoted to brigadier general, he missed Antietam as he recovered, but led a brigade in the III Corps at the Battle of Chancellorsville. Wounded again, he missed the Gettysburg Campaign.

Later service found him at the Wilderness and Spotsylvania, the Siege of Petersburg and the Appomattox Campaign. He made major General at the Battle of the Crater and was wounded once more three days after the Confederate surrender at Appomattox. The next year he resigned his commission, worked on the railroad and as a banker, and in government. He was the state treasurer, warden of the state prison, a major general and commander of the National Guard.

And all of that’s enough to get a fort named after you — and a school and a street, but let’s stick with the fort. He died in 1884, aged 62.

So today we’ll concentrate on where the guns were placed. Just over this hill and these structures, you’d see the river. Between us, and on into the background for several hundred yards, are the gun batteries of Fort Mott. First, there’s Battery Gregg.

Battery Gregg is named in honor of Captain John C. Gregg, who served as Captain in the 4th Infantry and was killed in action near Mariquana, Philippine Islands, on March 31, 1899. Completed in December 1900, Battery Gregg was the fourth of Fort Mott’s five batteries to be constructed. This battery contained emplacements for two 5-inch rapid fire guns (model 1900) mounted on pedestal mounts with shields. Both guns were not mounted at the battery until 1906. In 1913, they were removed and later shipped to Benica Arsenal, California. Several years after the guns were removed a Battery Commander’s Station was built on emplacement No. 1 for the 10-inch guns of Battery Harker.

Lt. John Caldwell Gregg, was from Pennsylvania, and an 1887 graduate of West Point, he was promoted to Captain in 1899. It seems he was a quartermaster, and aide de camp to General R.H. Hall. He was killed 125 years ago, almost to the day, in the Philippines. You can see a photo of him here.

When they tested the guns in the Gregg battery in 1907, they shattered windows on the fort, and at neighboring farms.

And then the Edwards battery.

Named in honor of Captain Robert Edwards, who was killed in action near Frenchtown, Michigan in 1813. Battery Edwards has two casemates for 3-inch rapid fire guns, and was partially constructed using two magazines from the 1872 fortification. The magazines were converted into casemates by removing the fronts and replacing them with embrasures arranged to allow the guns to sweep the mine field in the river. The earth cover over the old batteries was cut down to render them less conspicuous and to make the slope in front of the parapet as uniform as possible.

Edwards was killed at the Battle of Frenchtown or, if you like, the Raisin River Massacre. It was a small conflict in the War of 1812. The Americans versus the British and their indigenous allies. Wikipedia:

On January 18, 1813, the Americans forced the retreat of the British and their Native American allies from Frenchtown, which they had earlier occupied, in a relatively minor skirmish. The movement was part of a larger United States plan to advance north and retake Fort Detroit, following its loss in the Siege of Detroit the previous summer. Despite this initial success, the British and Native Americans rallied and launched a surprise counterattack four days later on January 22. Ill-prepared, the Americans lost 397 soldiers in this second battle, while 547 were taken prisoner. Dozens of wounded prisoners were murdered the next day in a massacre by the Native Americans. More prisoners were killed if they could not keep up on the forced march to Fort Malden. This was the deadliest conflict recorded on Michigan soil, and the casualties included the highest number of Americans killed in a single battle during the War of 1812.

Down at the other end of the fortifications you’ll find Battery Krayenbuhl. And, boy, do these markers need refreshing.

Named in honor of Captain Maurice Krayenbuhl, who was killed in action near Meycausyan, Philippine Islands in March 1899. Battery Krayenbuhl’s two 5-inch rapid fire guns on the right flank of the heavy caliber battery, in conjunction with the rapid fire guns at Battery Gregg on the left flank, were an important component to the defensive scheme at Fort Mott. These guns were positioned to protect a minefield in the river from small fast moving vessels that could potentially evade the large weapons. In addition to sweeping the minefield, the guns were designed to protect the channel below and above the fort. An interior magazine was built below the gun platforms and an electric chain hoist was used to deliver ammunition.

I wonder if Krayenbuhl knew Gregg well.

Krayenbuhl was from Minnesota, went to West Point, and became a 2nd Lieutenant in 1890. He was an artilleryman, and he was killed on March 26, 1899, just before Gregg, again, 125 years ago, almost to the day. He’s buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

(As an aside, Krayenbuhl had a son Col Craigie Krayenbuhl, who served in both World War I and World War 2. He was also an artilleryman, was a candidate of OCS, and spent time in the Pacific. He died in 1978. The man this battery was named after, his father, died 1899, and there are still people with us who knew his son. His grandson also served, as a captain in the Air Force. I wonder if anyone else visiting Battery Krayenbuhl knows that.)

In between the batteries Gregg and Edwards and, on the far end, battery Krayenbuhl, there’s the sign telling us about two batteries in one.

Battery Harker and Battery Arnold share the continuous 750 foot long parapet wall. Battery Harker (right) contains three 10-inch gun emplacements and Battery Arnold (left) has three 12-inch gun emplacements.

So let’s take a quick look at Harker and Arnold.

Harker had three 10-inch gun emplacements, each with their own individual powder and shell magazines. Electric hoists lifted ammunition and charges in place. At first, they used speaking tubes to talk between the guns and the magazines below. Later, they put in telephones.

Down this way is Battery Arnold.

Arnold housed a 12-inch gun, which was 36 feet long and weighted 58 tons. It could put a 1,000 pound shell down range out to 9.8 miles. Remember, that’s just the one gun, at just this one fort. Remember, there are three forts protecting the river entry.

Lewis Golding Arnold was a Union general, graduating from West Point in 1837, in a class that had four other Civil War generals among his classmates. As a young man he fought in the Seminole War in Florida and manned posts along the Canadian border. He also fought, and was badly wounded in the Mexican War. After that, in the 1850s, he fought the Seminole in Florida again, before manning Fort Pickens, off Pensacola, Florida. (I’ve been there!) He refused to surrender the outpost during three different Confederate artillery bombardments and in 1862 he was promoted to brigadier general, before eventually taking command of New Orleans. In November of 1862 he suffered a stroke, and left the army in 1864. He died, at 54, in 1871 in Boston.

And here’s the sign for Battery Arnold. I show you this so we can zoom in on two of the photos that show the gun itself.

If the gun weighed a bit more than 58 tons, I wonder how much of that was the barrel. No small task of engineering was this.

Here it is, archaic 19th century weapons technology. Looks quite nifty, doesn’t it?

And here’s another view of a gun emplacement today.

From behind the weapons embankment. The river is over that little hill, the guns would be pointing away from us.

Today it is a nature trail. Enjoy getting bitten by every insect in the western hemisphere.

Which brings us back around to Battery Harker, named after Brigadier General Charles G. Harker. He’s from nearby, and his fate was sealed as a kid. He worked in a store owned by a congressman, who helped him get admitted to West Point.

He graduated in 1858 and was garrisoned in New York and later served in Oregon and Washington. When the war came, he was sent to Ohio to train new troops. He went from 1st lieutenant to captain to colonel from May to November of 1861. He was at the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee, the Siege of Corinth, Mississippi, the Battle of Perryville in Kentucky and the Battle of Stones River in Tennessee.

In 1863, after Chickamauga, he was promoted to brigadier general. Then he led men at Chattanooga and the Siege of Knoxville. He was killed at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, Georgia, on June 27, 1864. He was 26.

Not just this weapon installation, there’s an elementary school in his hometown named after him. They’re nicknamed the Comets.

Here’s a slightly closer look at where the guns would have waited.

From that same spot, you can see how much of the river this installation could command. Sail left to head to sea, sail to the left to go up toward Philadelphia. It’s a panorama, so feel free to click to make it larger.

All told, there were three 12-inch guns, three 10-inch guns on disappearing carriages, four 5-inch and two 3-inch mine defense guns here. They were never fired in anger.

And to the far right of the panorama, there’s this little command and observation hut. Here, we’re standing directly behind it.

But we’ll learn more about how the soldiers protected the river with their observation technologies next week, and that’s going to be fascinating.

Fort Mott was rendered obsolete when another nearby fort, Fort Salsbury was ready for business after World War I. Soldiers served there from 1897 to 1922. It became a state park in 1951.

If you’ve missed any markers so far, you can find them all right here.

That’s enough for now. Tomorrow … who knows what we’ll have here, but it’ll be delightful. See you then!


17
Apr 24

This gives me an idea, two of them, and one of them may be fun

I went for a neighborhood run. Of my own accord. Let me regale you with the details for 700 words.

No. It wasn’t that long of a run. Here is a 350 word passage.

I need to run more, but it is possible I like running less than I have in a long time. I blame time. Time is going to get a lot of blame in the near future. So, I put on the running apparel and the running shoes, and I went outside. Normally, for whatever reason, I turn right out of the driveway and run around the neighborhood in a clockwise fashion. But today, I turned left. This put me on an immediate uphill, which is probably the reason I normally turn right. When I got near the top of that very tiny hill I turned right again, so that I might turn right one more time and run down a cul-de-sac I’d never seen. Just adding a few extra hundred yards on a nice road, and then back to my main route, continuing the loop around the neighborhood. This was a mile-and-a-quarter, a good distance for a sprinting horse, or a jogging me. Let all of them see my athleticism! I go back and forth, when I run, thinking I should do this more so I can get marginally faster at it, just in case something marginally slower than me ever chases me in the most comical sequence nature has ever devised. But then I think, things sometimes hurt too much for that, anyway. Again, I blame time. Also, I have a bike. And a car. And locks on the house. And what’s going to chase me? But, maybe, if I ran a bit more, I wouldn’t notice an ankle ache because of a knee pain. That could be an upgrade? Also, sometimes we go for runs, and wouldn’t it be nice for that to be a pleasant experience, or something approaching almost, you know, acceptable, rather than something you gut out? And that’s my goal now, right now, to run enough to make it not something you have to grit your teeth through. And, also, to recover all of the speed, such as it was, that I enjoyed in my teens. Who do I see about making those arrangements?

Just wait until you see my next run.

I know you’re as invested in the fig tree’s progress as I am. Behold, today’s view of the fig tree!

We’ll be googling Fig Newton recipes in no time.

The hydrangea really work well here. These things will just show off for months.

I had to bring the aloe plant back inside. Being a succulent, it does not tolerate chilly temperatures and, being stupid, we’ve had temperatures in the 40s and 50s the last several nights, the plant was turning a tiny bit yellow. Fortunately I noticed it early. It should be fine.

Considering we are now well in the middle of April, it should be warm enough for everything to be outside by now, but what can you do? I mean, aside from lighting up the atmosphere and hoping for no abnormal frosts as May draws near?

Let us turn, once more, to We Learn Wednesdays, where we learn all about this county via it’s historical markers and bike rides. You see a lot more at the speed of two pedals, and today’s marker is the perfect example. This is the 32nd installment and the 53rd marker in the effort. I learned, a month or two ago, that this one was out there somewhere. But in my mind it was elsewhere on this same road. So imagine my surprise when I saw it yesterday.

I’ve passed it several times in my automobile — OK, usually at night — and had no idea. I’ve also passed it several times on my bicycle. Some things you just have to be looking for, even if you aren’t aware of it at the time. And I was only aware of this because of a nearby town crier. (We have a town crier nearby, how great is that?)

Jim Cook Jr, the crier, tells us that Christian Piercy was trying to flee the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793. He got out of Philadelphia, hoping to find some refuge for his family, but he started showing symptoms on the stagecoach. So they kicked him off. He turned to the strangers around him for help, but everyone was terrified of the illness. One man took him in. He put him in a barn — or a humble log cabin, depending on the version you hear, and Piercy died soon after.

Piercy had risen to the rank of major in the Philadelphia militia. The militia in that state was an organizational mess:

Pennsylvania had two major shifts in government during the war, and also major changes in the types of militia forces that defended the home front.[1] The shifts in government were actually instigated by the militia, and so they also dramatically impacted the militia system, besides profoundly upsetting the population.

And, what’s more, not everyone wanted to serve, and we don’t just mean the Quakers, Mennonites and other pacifists. That same article tells us that substitutes made up about 42 percent of the total militia force between 1777 and 1780. But Piercy answered the call in the summer of 1777, just after the Pennsylvania’s first-ever Militia Law required mandatory enrollment of all white men between the ages of 18 and 53. Two of his brothers also mustered.

He was apparently wounded, says a modern descendant in an ancestry forum, in a rearguard action about 20 miles outside of the capitol, in a September 1777 rout of the American forces. Our man served and suffered at Valley Forge that next winter, and stayed in the militia after the war, until 1789. It is difficult to tell, from here, what else he did during his time in uniform. Some of the Pennsylvania militia were serving as home guard, others were ordered to battle.

In 2020 Piercy got a brief mention in The Atlantic, which notes that he died alone in that cabin, almost immediately after he arrived. He showed up that same year in a Washington Post story. (Ahh, 2020, when everyone was drawing parallels.)

Piercy was of German descent, and he and his family were part of a proud and longstanding Philadelphia tradition of cutting edge pottery. He lived right on the river, and his shop was nearby, as well. Just a few years ago, local businesses were still discovering some of his works hidden in their collections.

In July 1788, he helped led a group of potters in the Grand Federal Procession in Philadelphia.

Three hours long and a mile-and-a-half in length, the Grand Federal Procession was an ambitious act of political street theater, scripted by federalist supporters of the newly ratified U.S. Constitution and performed in the streets of Philadelphia on the Fourth of July 1788. From its commencement at Third and South Streets to its conclusion on Bush Hill north of the city center, the procession involved an estimated 22,000 Philadelphians: 5,000 men in the parade, with a vastly more diverse crowd of 17,000 men, women, and children watching from streets and windows, fences and roofs. Organized by rank and occupation, the marchers were roughly divided between federalist gentlemen (bankers, merchants, members of the Marine and Manufacturing Associations) and thousands of artisan-mechanics who, as the city’s producing class, were central to the ideology of federalism.

That’s a big parade.

There was a brilliant description of the entire order of march in the 1930s.

A flag, on which was neatly painted a kiln burning, and several men at work in the different branches of the business — Motto — “The Potter hath Power over his Clay.”

A four wheel’d carriage drawn by two horses, on which was a Potter’s wheel and men at work, a number of cups,- bowls, mugs, & c. were made during the procession; the carriage was followed by twenty potters, headed by Mess. Christian Piercy and Michael Gilbert, wearing linen aprons of American manufacture.

In the line just in front of Piercy and the potters were the Whip and Cane Manufacturers, “Let us encourage our own manufactures,” the Black-smiths, White-smiths and Nailers, “By Hammer in hand, all Arts do stand,” and the coach-makers, “The Clouds dispell’d, we shine forth.” All of these people were working on the floats as they came by for spectators to see. Behind the men making their pottery on the move came the Wheel-wrights, with five men working on a plow and wheel ahead of 22 of their colleagues, a dozen tin-plate workers, and then the skinners, breeches makers and glovers, 61 strong, under a flag that said “May our Manufacture be equal in its Consumption to its usefulness.” Then came the tallow chandlers, with the mottos “Let your light so shine,”
“The Stars of America a light to the World,” and “United in One.” Twenty of them came through, each with an olive branch in hand.

Street theater is a good name for it.

That was 1788. He died in 1793. Hopefully it was a life of peace and clay in between.

They buried him right away, presumably as a contagion or logistical concern. His wife survived him, and she had the marker put in place. It’s on private farmland, and I didn’t feel it was proper to walk up there, but if you just look in the distance, on the left side of this photo, there’s a flag fluttering in the breeze. That’s where Piercy was buried.

He was just 49 years old.

We’ll see another great marker next week, I’m sure. I just have to go hunt them out between now and then. If you’ve missed any markers so far, you can find them all right here.

That’s enough for now. Tomorrow, we’ll check back in on the happenings in the greenhouse, see another cool video and maybe more! See you then!