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Reader comments on “We paid in blood”

Rarely have I touched as many emotional nerves as with last Sunday’s post “We paid in blood.”

In that post, I was trying to work through the intensity of my own reaction to the episode of Who Do You Think You Are where Rob Lowe discovered that his 5th great grandfather was a Hessian soldier at the Battle of Trenton on Christmas Day 1776 … the same battle where my 4th great granduncle Richard Baker was killed.

I couldn’t believe the intensity of my own reaction to something that had happened, what, 236 years ago. And then I was bowled over by the reader response. Since many folks subscribe by e-mail and haven’t seen the comments, please let me share a few with you. And if you have a moment, stop back by the blog later and read them all here. The comments are that good.

The one who really got it

First, let me highlight one, because this reader got it — really got it — with what I was struggling to convey:

From Skeeter:

(W)hat I’ve found most fascinating … is … your emotional journey watching the Rob Lowe episode of WDYTYA and how i(t) brought up emotions for you regarding your ancestor. … It was amazing that you had emotions as if your ancestor was sitting on the couch right beside you watching that particular story together. And you felt every emotion that that ancestor’s crumbs of a legacy left behind for you to get to know their story with your heart, mind, and soul of what those experiences must have felt like. … I was moved by the fact that right now you would stand up for your ancestor and emotionally defend their value for their important life. Those that do genealogy care very deeply for our ancestors (good, bad, indifferent, or whatever description you want to tag to them).

Other real patriots

Others took the time to share their own stories of their patriot ancestors. Among my favorites were these:

From Jill Groce:

Female patriots are particularly amazing. My grandmother’s 1896 proof doesn’t quite stand up to today’s DAR standards, I dunno why, but my 6th great-grandmother, Kerenhappuch Norman Turner, was a heroine and even has a statue in her honor. (My blog at tells some of her story) She nursed soldiers after the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, including saving the life of her grandson. It took him a year to heal, and his children were born after that. I’m sure there were a lot of brave women nursing the wounded, whether their stories have come down to us or not.

From Patricia Adkins:

(M)y 4x great grandfather, Col. William Montgomery, was a member of the 6th Virginia Regiment. His pension application states, “He was in engagements at Trenton and Princeton, was at Saratoga at the taking of Burgoyne, and had a hard engagement at the White Marsh”. Another 4x great grandfather, Abraham Estes, was also a soldier in the Revolutionary War. I am so proud of my ancestors, and in doing family research, I’ve been surprised to realize a new love and respect for my family members from so long ago. It’s a connection I can’t explain, but it is oh so real.

The DAR-SAR Patriot requirements

Some readers generously took the time to educate us all on the eligibility requirements to be considered a Patriot for purposes of a descendant’s membership in the Daughters or Sons of the American Revolution, including those from foreign forces that supported the American side such as Lafayette’s troops.

From Michael E. Pollock:

Actually, the DAR does recognize the “allies” as qualifying ancestors for membership and the Society actually has a chapter in Paris that consists of both French nationals and Americans living overseas.

Cathi Desmarais, 29 April:

My understanding is that for the DAR you only need to prove direct lineal descent from a person who supported the Revolution – e.g. was sympathetic to the cause. That doesn’t imply that a person who supported the cause financially was equal to one who fought as a soldier, just that descendants of both were on the “right side” of the conflict.

The disquiet over the Hessian as a Patriot

More than a few people shared my disquiet over the decision to recognize Lowe’s ancestor John Chrisopher East — the former Johann Christoph Oeste — as a Patriot by DAR and SAR.

From Susan Clark:

I have long struggled with DAR membership because one of my ancestors who demonstrated Loyalist beliefs and abruptly left South Carolina is enrolled in the DAR based on possible participation in the Chickamauga Wars. I am, to say the least, not comfortable claiming him as a Revolutionary War Patriot. It does seem that those who literally bore, raised and fired arms against Washington’s army ought not be considered Patriots. At least not to the United States.

From Patricia Adkins:

I was left wondering how on earth this Hessian soldier could so easily be “transformed” into an American patriot. The explanation was vague and I am offended by the ending. My ancestor fought in the revolution. … I do not belong to the DAR, and after seeing this story, I’m not sure I would want to.

From Wendy G Walter:

I understand that Rob Lowe’s ancestor came to fight in a land he probably knew close to nothing about out of economic necessity (as a landless youngest son) and chose to stay because there was nothing for him economically back in Germany. Here, there was land available to almost anyone. He probably made a decision based at least partly on economics, and also probably became a proud American at some point. However, I think there were a few years between those points, and going from Hessian mercenary to paying a tax within a few years, does not make one a Patriot (with a capital ‘P’).

The debate over the DAR-SAR rules

A lot of people took issues with the DAR-SAR rules.

From Laura C. Lorenzana:

I AM a member of the DAR. I chose to become a member mainly because it was a dream of my Mom’s to be a member, and I felt it was something valuable we could do together. … What’s more, currently, the DAR does so much good work to support our troops, and for that alone I’m happy to be a member. However, … (i)t seems unconscionable that someone would even attempt to imply that paying a tax equals blood shed for our liberties. I certainly can’t change the manner in which members were accepted prior to my joining the DAR. Do I wish their membership criteria were different? Indeed I do.

From Shirley:

I may have paid my last dues to DAR as a result of that insulting move on their part to equate fighting against our revolution and then paying taxes with the six years of sacrifice made by my grandfather who served with Washington.

From Ken MacCallum:

I was also struck by the apparent ease with which the DAR, and then the SAR, would have accepted Mr. Lowe’s ancestor as qualifying him for membership – and without an application or apparent sponsor, no less. Payment of ‘taxes,’ in an area and at a time where non-payment owuld likely have severe consequences, seems a rather thin basis on which to base member and demeans the servies of those with ‘real’ military service.

From Michael E. Pollock:

I would also like to comment about the “donating of supplies” (as a qualifying action). Those supplies were frequently collected by ARMED men. How many people would have refused to “give” supplies under those circumstances? I understand the rational of including serving as a juror, justice and in other civil offices, as well as providing supplies, as there is an implicit acknowledgment of the legitimacy of the “revolting” government, but it also bothers me when no effort is apparently made to dig a little deeper to determine if there was a larger “truth”.

And from Cathi Desmarais, a thought that hadn’t occurred to me:

If only military support qualified, then that would pretty much exclude a descendant qualifying on the basis of a female patriot. What seems more inappropriate to me is that you cannot qualify for DAR based on the blood with which your family paid – the service of your uncle who gave his dear young life for the cause. If one of your grandfathers/grandmothers hadn’t also provided military or patriotic service, you couldn’t join, despite the payment in blood. Yet, Rob Lowe could. Assuming that your uncle had no children, he can’t be a qualified DAR patriot. In my (humble?) opinion, that’s where the real problem lies. You should be able to honor your uncle’s and your family’s sacrifice by qualifying for membership through him.

Others defended the DAR-SAR, even if not the position taken on Lowe’s ancestor.

From Tim:

I am a recently inducted member in the Sons of the American Revolution. … I wanted to join because it was a source of pride for my family. Not because I had joined but because I had a family member who championed all the ideals I feel so strongly about. … For me, it serves as a reminder of the sacrifices made by my ancestor. It also serves as a reminder for my kids and their kids that they ought to be respectful of the past achievements and hard work of their ancestors. Likewise, it promotes the continuance of some of the greatest ideals ever conceived by one nation.

From Harold Henderson:

What we know as the American Revolution was a very unpleasant, very personal civil war. Up-close accounts like 1776 show how improbable the actual outcome was. The “smart money” was on the British Empire. If that much is accurate, then I can understand how a lineage society might choose to honor anyone who took any kind of stance in favor of such an underdog cause.

And from Caroline Pointer — who has both Patriot and Loyalist ancestors — came a more nuanced point of view:

This country’s forefathers saw revolt as a last resort solution. They were deeply conflicted by the decision as well as they should’ve been as evidenced in their letters to each other on the matter.

Many fought and died for what they believed in, but there are others who had other reasons to fight just as there are today in modern wars. Without some firsthand evidence of how our ancestors felt and believed, we’re left with making conclusions based on evidence and circumstantial evidence.

(So) why (join DAR) in the first place? Just a personal preference. My family tree is what it is regardless of a lineage society membership.

Oh, and to be contrary, I’m going to do my DAR application at the same time I do my United Empire Loyalists application. It’s who I am. Literally.

Wow. As I said, I was bowled over. Completely bowled over.

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