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Laurie Weinstein: To defeat division, channel our shared histories as Americans

2022-06-14-HANDELSMANTOONA9

The Jan. 6 Commission is positioned between Memorial Day and July 4th. What those two holidays have in common is the sacrifice that American servicemen and women have made for our country. They fought and died to defend us from dictators and tyrants who used evil and deception to undermine decency and compassion.

Today, our country faces an internal war unlike anything we have seen in modern times. Have we become so complacent and easily duped into believing that an arsenal of guns will protect us, and from whom? LCBTQ folks? Women? People of color? Immigrants? Jews? Muslims? It might be worth a look at American history to understand that all of these so-called “out-groups” have fought to defend our freedoms.

My own research (Weinstein, Hassan and Mauro, 2019) into Native, Black American and women’s contributions to our democracy indicates that over 6,000 people of color fought in the American Revolution. They enlisted; while some fought on the side of the British, many fought on the side of the patriots.

The Stockbridge Company, comprising mainly Mohican and Wappinger natives, fought in all of the major battles of the Revolutionary War. In the battle of Kingsbridge (located in the Bronx), the sachem Daniel Nimham and his men were lured into a trap by the British and massacred. Mohicans who survived the war returned home only to find that their lands had been sold out beneath them in Stockbridge and they were forced to move west. African descendants served at twice the proportion of their numbers in the population. Both the British and the patriots wanted them and offered them everything from freedom to land. The British created the “Ethiopian” regiment of escaped American slaves. Rhode Island recruited every “able-bodied negro, mulatto or Indian man slave” to come serve.

Most of these people of color never lived long enough to cash in on the promises of freedom and land.

LGBTQ people served in the Revolutionary War as well. One of the most notable fellows to serve was Baron Friedrich von Stueben, a Prussian military hero (and gay man) who was asked by General George Washington to create a real fighting army out of a rag-tag group of men. The marching grounds at Valley Forge were also von Stueben’s training grounds for the new American army. Modern camp design, military formation and battle were thanks to the Baron’s training. He won the war for us.

Women served in the Revolutionary War, too. They were camp followers who washed, cooked, nursed and carried. More than three percent of any regiment was made up of women. They also fought with the men, as indicated by a number of historical reports of women taking up the muskets of their dead husbands in battle.

And there’s also the story of Deborah Sampson, a Massachusetts woman who disguised herself as a man to lead raids on the British and Tory sympathizers.

Although the Jewish population of the colonies was few in number, Jewish people took up arms against the British. They were also blockade runners, doctors and financiers. Haym Solomon was one of the more famous Jewish patriots who raised money to support the Revolution.

African Muslims supported the patriot cause as well; names such as Bampett Muhamed, Yusuf ben Ali as well as other Muslim names can be found on the muster rolls. Thomas Jefferson even used the Quran for some of his early writings. He initially argued that the “neither Pagan nor Mahamedan [Muslim] nor Jew ought to be excluded from the civil rights of the Commonwealth [of Virginia] because of his religion.”

Unless you are a Native American, it’s worth noting that most of us are descended from immigrants. One set of my grandparents escaped persecution in Ukraine, and the other set left Scotland to find a better life for themselves here. My Jewish and gentile forebears came here to embrace the idea of America — a better place where they could prosper.

We have allowed ourselves to forget our shared histories. We must embrace each other as Americans and recognize that we all must work together not as red or blue, Republican or Democrat but as people who need to work together because we are facing unfathomable challenges.

Laurie Weinstein, Ph.D., is a professor emeritus of anthropology at Western Connecticut State University.

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