30 Jul 2016 Bolivar, OH
Today the 237th anniversary of the siege of Fort Laurens was marked by a ceremony at the tomb of the unknown at Fort Laurens Historical site, Bolivar Ohio. Four members of the Virginia Society participated: PG Joe Dooley was the keynote speaker, Thad Hartman and Paul Chase presented the Col William Grayson Chapter wreath, and Bill Schwetke presented the Culpeper Minutemen Chapter wreath. Paul Chase and Bill Schwetke also marched in the color guard.
The Keynote Speech by past President General Joe Dooley
For those of you who have attended this event in past years, you may recognize that I’ve been here before, and three years ago, I was one of the speakers. You might think to yourself, ‘Oh, him again,’ and you might not be too excited to hear a speaker whom you’ve heard before. So, I apologize for any disappointment, and I promise you I will try to say something thoughtful and meaningful.
Meaningfulness is actually what I’d like to talk about today. Why are we here? What’s the meaning?
Before we talk about meaning here and now, let’s ask ourselves, what was the meaning of Fort Laurens during the Revolution? Wasn’t the Revolution merely a phenomenon on the east coast? Did it not involve only Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Virginia? No, of course not.
The Revolution was a continental affair, even a global affair, but for Americans, we understood it to be primarily continental. It’s not an accident that we called our legislature the Continental Congress and our army the Continental Army. Many Founding Fathers envisioned the new nation extending to the Pacific, even before we had achieved our independence.
One important meaning of Fort Laurens, and of the expedition of American forces from Fort Pitt into the Ohio Valley, is that here the new United States staked its claim to land west of the Appalachians. Even as we let Great Britain and the world know that we were now an independent nation, we also put them on notice that we would not be confined to the eastern seaboard – that’s a pretty cheeky presumption on our part. But we wanted the world to know that this new nation and this continent were part of the New World, and did not belong to Europe. The meaning of Fort Laurens was, in part, a statement of our seriousness in making a claim on the continent, especially in making a claim to land in the Ohio Valley. But we were not just claiming land – we were proclaiming liberty throughout the land.
This expedition, and the construction of Fort Laurens, also had meaning with regard to how the new United States would work out its own internal controversies. This land was claimed by both Pennsylvania and Virginia. How do we settle these competing claims? We send an expeditionary force comprised of both Pennsylvanians and Virginians, and we do so in the name of the United States.
So, we’ve discussed the meaning of Fort Laurens and the expedition into Ohio for the nascent United States, but what was its meaning to the men who were dispatched here, who built this Fort, and for some, who died here? The men who came here were already well aware of what Indians on the frontier were capable of. That winter was bitter cold. There was no fuel. No food. There was no supply line from Ft. Pitt. No other American forces were coming to help them or to relieve them. The men who were stationed here were scared, cold, hungry and alone.
So, why didn’t they just pack their bags, and head back east? What did it mean that they stayed here? I would hazard they stayed because they believed in the cause of the Revolution.
The men and women who supported the American cause in our Revolution may not have understood philosophy or the intricacies of politics in London and Philadelphia. But they knew that some folks in Britain – folks whom they had never voted for – wanted to tax them, and wanted to limit their civil liberty, and wanted to treat them as lesser people simply because they lived in the colonies.
The men who came to Ohio and built Fort Laurens may not have understood the soaring prose of the Declaration of Independence, but they had an idea what it meant to be free. So, they chose to enlist in the Army. They obeyed their orders to come here. They chose to stay here – because the meaning of this effort for them was the opportunity to be free, and to ensure their children would be free.
Having discussed the meaning of Fort Laurens for the United States during the Revolution, and its meaning for the men who lived, fought and died here, let’s turn what it means that we are here today?
At the dedication of the cemetery at Gettysburg, President Lincoln commented that “The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”
Think about that. Nobody will remember what is said here, and it’s not important. What is important – the meaning of our being here today – is to honor those brave men, those patriots, and to remember what they did here.
President Lincoln continued: “It is for us the living … to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is … for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.”
All of us who remember and commemorate the men and women who achieved American independence – those men and women who secured our liberty – all of us here today – in honoring the men who served at Fort Laurens, we re-dedicate ourselves to the causes and principles of the American Revolution – the cause of freedom, equality and civil liberty.
President Lincoln concluded: “[W]e here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
The graves of the patriots buried here are a memorial to their struggle and suffering. We here today remember them, and honor them for what they endured in their pursuit of liberty – liberty that we still enjoy to this day. We thank these patriots. Their achievement of liberty is a blessing to us. Our liberty – our freedom – is the legacy of their sacrifice.
As we gather here, let us pause and consider what the men who lived and died here endured – not just for land, not just for their quarrel with Britain. They endured the cold, and the hunger, and the constant danger of ambush and death so that they might be free.
The meaning of our being here today is to honor them who endured these hardships so that we might be free.