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The mystery of history

In his book West Chester to 1865, That Elegant and Notorious Place, Douglas Harper uses an original source to describe the reaction of children caught near the Battle of the Brandywine. (We posted on the battle, which came close to ending the American Revolution yesterday.) Harper writes -

The morning (of September 11, 1777) was wretchedly hot, with some clouds that brought little relief. Persifor Frazer’s three young children were at school in Thornbury. The oldest was Sally, age eight. Many years later, she remembered hearing the gunfire and cannonading: “The teachers went out, and listened some time, and returned, saying, ‘There is a battle not far off, children, you may go home.’ As we returned we met our mother on horseback, going over towards the place of action, knowing that. . .our father must be in the midst of the affray.” Strong-willed Mary Taylor Frazer knew her husband well.

Reading between the lines, there are interesting insights into British life in Pennsylvania in the 18th century. First there is the fact that children went to school, and the school was large enough to have more than one teacher. Second, girls were taught as well as boys. (Education would help make America prosperous.) Third, the battle put a crimp in lessons, but the teachers apparently thought nothing of sending children across country, perhaps straight toward two armies. Fourth, women rode horses, and were used to taking care of themselves. Fifth, if they really loved a man, or wanted him home, they rode into battle to find him.

Some of these comments may apply only to the Frazers, but we know from other sources that boys and girls were taught to read and write and ride and to be self-reliant.

If only we knew what Mary Taylor Frazer felt about her husband, and whether she found him, and what she said to him. . .

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