Contributed research and wrote the following monologue on James Chew for the historical performance project “Whispers in the Wind”
I grew up hearin’ stories ‘bout how bad life in England was and that’s why we lived out here in the colonies. And even though things were hard, they could be worse and I should be happy to be alive and livin’ in the land my fathers toiled over. Even when my father lost a lot of that land, I was always told not to mind the troubles of the life here on the frontier(“Chew”). So come the time to raise arms for the life I ought to be proud of, it was no surprise that I found myself in the midst of a revolution.
The war was terrible – bloody and sure tragic. I have fought with good men, honest men, loyal men – much like Zackquill Morgan, wrongly accused of murder in a time where killing men is the only choice, save from dyin’ (Thwaites). Young men, too young to leave seeds for their own legacy, slaughtered on battlefields. Or worse, men taken before seeing their legacy born. Women and children living on promises never to be fulfilled of husbands and fathers coming home. But still we fought because the freedom to live is worth much more than death.
And in that fight, not all men were found on the battlefield. There were many men, like myself, found doing what they could to make life easier for those brave souls. I, as Major James Chew, provided provisions and led militias under the order of the honorable General Hand, who crossed the Delaware with General Washington and served in the Battle of Yorktown, to defend our land, our women, and our children (Thwaites). Often I’d travel place to place, relieving my fellows and burying their men (Thwaites). It’s one thing to bury the dead, it’s another to bury a fighter, and seeing their empty eyes, seeing that even though these were the eyes of a man of honor, these eyes were empty of the fight, empty of the devotion, I discovered that death holds no honor, no absolution… I’d start to doubt the cause. After all, I had boys of my own. Did I want them to join me when they grew of age?
But then I would meet the women and children of the men I buried, and I would see that the brave men who had died were fighting not for their solitary freedom or even the freedom of our people, but the freedom of their children, their legacy. In these widows and their children I found that fire again. I recall the first time I was plagued with doubt.
I was sent to inform the wife of one of the youngest men of her loss. Unsure of what to say or do, I met her eyes and she knew. She was young, too, and beautiful. Had her husband lived long enough, their children would have been handsome, but just as soon as they married, he was off to fight. I asked her of the young man and what sort of man he had been, and she spoke lovingly of his memory, proudly of his cause. Her resolve reminded me of my Mary back home (“Chew”), and I longed for her tenderness for the first time in months.
I promised the girl that her husband’s death would not be in vain, sharing her grief and reaching out to her, provided her comfort she’d not had since her husband’s departure. After that night, I returned to my duty with a revitalized fire, one I thought had been extinguished in the stress of the war. I heard news of the young woman only once more, and that she had been with child within the year after we’d moved on. I know not if she gave birth, but the father’s legacy was sure to have been handsome and bright like the fire of his parents.
Life was tougher than nails, and though them lobsters may’ve seen rough times, they knew nothin’ ‘bout life in the colonies. We deserved our freedom, and we sought to fight for it. I seen families lose children too young to tell the difference between the sun and the moon and not bat an eye simply ‘cause they couldn’t. When life loses its value, you know you’ve seen hard times. That’s why we fought – so that life could be valued again. So that my work for this land would match the hard work of the fathers before me. So that my children and my children’s children could see a life worth living.
“Chew Family Genealogy.” Web. 10 Apr. 2012. <http://poslfit.homeip.net/cgi-bin/genea2.pl?id=11693>.
Thwaites, Reuben Gold and Louise Phelps Kellogg. Frontier Defense on the Upper Ohio, 1777-1778 : Compiled from the Draper Manuscripts in the Library of the Wisconsin Historical Society and Pub. at the Charge of the Wisconsin Society of the Sons of the American Revolution”” Internet Archive: Digital Library of Free Books, Movies, Music & Wayback Machine. Madison : Wisconsin Historical Society. Web. 11 Apr. 2012. <http://archive.org/stream/frontierdefenseo00thwa/frontierdefenseo00thwa_djvu.txt>.
(c) Morgan Lea Davis, 2012