George Washington slept in my town. Okay, if you are familiar with the northeast you gotta figure that man slept everywhere! Seriously. I haven’t been back to that town since 1978. At that time, the house was still marked. Since that time, there has been a lot of research done, and I don’t know if the plaque (or the house) still stands. Of course, when you stop to think that the US at that time was a British colony, and Washington was a rebel (revolutionary if you prefer) then it’s clear he was a fugitive. And he slept where he could.
Therein lies the rub, and the tie to writing. Research. Our founding fathers lacked the Internet, cell phones, telephones, the telegraph, and even Morse code. Instead, it was one if by land, two if by sea and make the story the best it can be! Yes, Paul Revere’s famous ride did make use of the original one-two plan, but it was a backup plan. Boston was so overrun with British troops that it was feared the messenger would be captured before he could alert the colonists. So, the lanterns were hung in the steeple with care in hopes that if Revere didn’t make it, the leaders of the revolutionary forces would still see the lights burning and get the message. Early social media, perhaps.
The Paul Revere story, as told above, is true. And it’s the result of research. Same with Washington crossing the Delaware. All US school children learn that Washington crossed the Delaware River on Christmas Eve 1776. The crossing precipitated the Battle of Trenton in which Washington defeated a Hessian garrison in, where else, Trenton, NJ. The battle, together with the battle of Princeton a few days later was a turning point in the early years of the War. Our national perception of the battle is informed by the famous painting of Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze. Leutze was born 40 years after the event and the painting was made 75 years after the event. Why is this important. Research.
Washington was most certainly not standing in that boat. It would have capsized if he had been. And that flag displayed so proudly behind him. Well, that didn’t come about for a year after the battle. Do these little facts detract from the event? No way. It was a huge victory and Washington was on his way toward it. Would the painting have been better without the flag and a seated Washington. Probably not, but it would have been more historically accurate.
Then there’s those silver dollar and cherry tree stories. Accurate? Nah. Fun stories, sure. Oh yes, that story about Betsy Ross sewing the flag, probably not true either. So much for that part of history.
So, what’s important in fiction writing? Research or a great story? And if the research doesn’t make a great story, is a little bit of fictional license permitted? Yes! Why not! Would we have an instant recognition of these events without a bit of fictional license? We’ll never know.
Freedom isn’t free. Men, and women, have fought and died to secure this right since 1775. We owe them a debt we cannot repay. Thank you.
Have a happy, and safe 4th of July.
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