The first time I heard of powder monkeys, we lived north of Boston. We were on one of our historical trips into the city. That day we visited the USS Constitution.
The USS Constitution (Old Ironsides) is the oldest commissioned warship. It was first launched in 1797. Active Naval personal still sail this ship for special occasions. The rest of the time it is available to board. The sailors we talked to said they were very privileged to receive USS Constitution duty. This picture is from americanheritage.com
In their talks, the sailors shared concerning the powder monkeys. Powder monkeys were the boys who were part of the crew. These boys were teen and preteen boys some as young as ten. Their job during battle was to run gunpowder and supplies from the powder magazine (storage) to the guns. Young boys were sought because of their agility and small stature. Being shorter helped them stay below the gunwale. Powder monkeys were a target for sharp shooters. If a shooter could kill or immobilize the powder monkeys, it would greatly hinder the gunner.
This is a powder monkey from the civil war. When the powder monkeys were not in war, they worked in the galley, for the captain or doing odd jobs for the crew. This life was extremely hard for these boys and many were abused. This picture comes from americanchildhoodhist.com
How did Paul Revere get all the credit? Sure he was a prominent businessman and all, but what Sybil Ludington did was much more amazing. She was the oldest of twelve children, her father was a colonel in the colonial army. One night a soldier stumbled into their home telling of the British invading. As the soldier was exhausted and the father had to prepare for battle, the daughter, just sixteen, was sent to rally the troops.
She mounted her horse, Star, and took off in the rain around 9:00 pm. During this grueling ride, she was attacked by a highwayman, who she fought off with the stick she was using to prod her horse. She rode by herself, all night, covering forty miles. Paul Revere traveled less than half that amount in about two hours.
She arrived home at dawn with the troops all preparing for battle. After the battle was over, George Washington came to her home to thank her.
In 1975 a stamp was issued to honor her.
Other reading on this subject:
Sybil Ludington: The Call To Arms by Vincent Dacquino
Ride For Freedom: The Story Of Sybil Ludington by Judy Hominick & Jeanne Spreier
Can you even fathom that many children needing homes? I first heard about the orphan train riders when I was taking a creative writing course. I started researching and found over 30,000 children lived on the streets of New York in 1850. This was due to the explosion of population in the 1800s . In 1790 the census of New York was 33,131, in 1890 close to one and a half million people crowded into the city. Other cities were also overcrowded.
In 1848, a young minister, Charles Loring Brace, came to study theology and was horrified by the number of children abandoned and starving on the streets. He started classes to teach them trades, opened a home for the newspaper boys and tried to provide meals. This picture from the Children’s Aid Society (which he founded) gives a glimpse of the magnitude of the job.
Rev. Brace had spent time in Europe and witnessed the placing out of children to farms. In 1854, his first train with orphans headed out of the city. Notices were sent to cities and towns, telling of the children coming on the train. Committees were set up to screen applicants. Children were to be treated like members of the family and had the right to refuse an offer. Over the 70 years, Children’s Aid Society, Catholic Charity and others sent over 200,000 children on trains to receive a chance for a better life.
This is one of the trains with the children standing in front and on top. Picture is from Children’s Aid Society.
I was so moved by these children, I used their background for my first two books. The Promise and Oklahoma Bound. These books are Christian historical fiction for ages 9 to 12. You can purchase them at Amazon.com or if you would like an autographed copy send a check or money order in the amount of $14.95 ($11.95 + $3.00 shipping) to Carolyn Johnson, PO Box 311, Arapaho, OK 73620. If you want it personalized please include name.
Other reading on this subject:
We Rode The Orphan Trains by Andrea Warren
Orphan Trains: The Story Of Charles Loring Brace And the Children He Saved And Failed by Stephen O’Connor