Independence – opportunity

As I ponder the Fourth of July celebrations, my first thought was independence, and how it led to opportunities for those from around the world to come to a place to worship as they choose, with an independent free will created by God Himself, freedom from government dictating how to live.  Government would be by the people, for the people – with the federal government being responsible for safety and security of its citizens, enabling them to prosper and pursue happiness. 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.Preamble to the Declaration of Independence (https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration)

I thought about how conflict arose, and the many lives lost between early settlers and the motherland – Great Britain.  Although there were struggles and loss of life throughout the early years, and each generation thereafter, life, liberty and pursuit of happiness were destined to prevail. 

The individual, independent states formed a republic with representation in the federal government.  The government provided a common defense, allowing the people to be creative – expanding the new nation, building for themselves a new home, wherever their adventures would take them.

With the expansion west, it became evident travelers and settlers needed an efficient, and safer, means of transportation.  The people were on the move to build a greater nation and accept those of all nations who yearn for freedom, although it also came at the demise of the Native American. 

With the great expansion out west, how could organization, peace and unity be established? 

In the 1850s Congress commissioned several topographical surveys across the Western U.S. to determine the best route for a railroad.  However, private corporations were reluctant to undertake the task without federal assistance. The Pacific Railroad Act designated the 32nd parallel as the initial transcontinental route and gave huge grants of land for rights-of-way. 

The act authorized two railroad companies, the Union Pacific and Central Pacific, to construct the lines. Beginning in 1863, the Union Pacific, employing more than 8,000 Irish, German, and Italian immigrants, built west from Omaha, NE.

The Central Pacific, whose workforce included more than 10,000 Chinese laborers, built eastward from Sacramento, CA. 

Photo of poster in Union Pacific Historic Depot Museum (Artist Art Kober, Thunder on the Plains)

“Each company faced unprecedented construction problems—mountains, severe weather, and the hostility of American Indians. On May 10, 1869, in a ceremony at Promontory, UT, the last rails were laid and the last spike driven. Congress eventually authorized four transcontinental railroads and granted 174 million acres of public lands for rights-of-way.” https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/pacific-railroad-act

Union Pacific Railroad Depot – national historic landmark, was built in 1886 and given to the community of Cheyenne, Wyoming in 1993 by the Union Pacific Railroad Company.

The railroad vastly improved development out west and state governments had to be formed. 

Cheyenne was born in 1867 in the path of the transcontinental railroad, when the Union Pacific crews arrived to lay tracks westward. Cheyenne soon laid claim to a higher status than older Wyoming settlements such as those at Fort Laramie, Fort Bridger, and the mining town of South Pass City, changing Cheyenne from a village to a city in a matter of months. The seat of the new territorial government was established in Cheyenne in 1869.

Women were instrumental in settling the west with their new freedoms and opportunity. They too had dreams and aspirations. No doubt they faced many obstacles and persevered, making way for Wyoming to be the first state to grant women the right to vote.

Wyoming began construction of the state capitol building before statehood (becoming a member of the United States), located north of downtown Cheyenne.

Although we didn’t see them during our visit while the renovation was being completed, the exterior approach to the front steps of the capitol features the State Seal in granite as well as two statues:

Esther Hobart Morris, who had a significant role in gaining women’s suffrage in the Wyoming Territory. The statue was sculpted by Avard Fairbanks. The act to grant women the right to vote was passed by the First Territorial Assembly and signed by Governor John Allen Campbell on December 10, 1869. Wyoming became the first government in the world to grant women the right to vote. Morris was also appointed as the first female Justice of the Peace in the territory during 1870. 

Chief Washakie of the Shoshone tribe. The statue was sculpted by Dave McGary. Chief Washakie earned a reputation that lives on today – a fierce warrior, skilled politician and diplomat, great leader of the Shoshone people, friend to white men. Washakie granted right-of-way through Shoshone land in western Wyoming to the Union Pacific Railroad, aiding the completion of the transcontinental railroad. The famed leader and warrior died at the age of 102 in 1900. He was buried with full military honors at Fort Washakie. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wyoming_State_Capitol

A replica of Esther Hobart Morris and Chief Washakie is in the National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol.

So, as we celebrate independence as a nation of all who dream to be free, let’s be mindful of the myriads from all nations and walks of life who contributed to this worthy cause, often having their own lives taken in pursuit of their dreams and freedoms. Let’s take these differences and unify them for life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. 

Blessings along the Way!

Ron

Missionaries and Military

As the new world project that would eventually become the United States of America continued to develop roots, much of the development of La Florida is attributed to the Spanish military and the missionaries.  Let’s take a look at the St. Francis Barracks in St. Augustine, Florida as an example.

In 1588, Franciscan missionaries settled in northeast Florida around St. Augustine.  For 175 years, the Convento de San Francisco served as headquarters for those who labored on behalf of the Spanish king to bring the Catholic faith to Native Americans who inhabited “la Florida.” 

Following Governor Moore’s siege of St. Augustine in 1702, the destroyed buildings of the mission were reconstructed using coquina taken from the king’s quarry on Anastasia Island. 

Coquina wall at St. Francis Barracks, St. Augustine
Artifacts found at the Franciscan friary location. Some of the original coquina walls still remain today as part of the museum in the St. Francis Barracks.

In 1763, the British took possession of Florida and designated St. Augustine as capital of the colony of East Florida.  A decision was made by military authorities to occupy the former Franciscan mission and convert the chapel originally constructed in the 1730s and 1740s into a barracks.  These barracks were supportive of operations at the Castillo de San Marcos (old fort) almost a mile to the north.    

The friary where the missionaries lived was also renovated, with fireplaces added to the enlarged living quarters. When the Spanish returned to St. Augustine in 1783, the Franciscans initially occupied the site but were soon replaced by soldiers of the Spanish garrison. 

In 1821, Florida was ceded to the United States and the U.S. Army took possession of the military post.  It remained a federal facility until 1907 when the Florida National Guard, and Florida Department of Military Affairs, moved its headquarters from Tallahassee to St. Francis Barracks.  (See https://dma.myflorida.com/st-francis-barracks-frontier-monastery-to-state-arsenal/)

Troops stand guard at the St. Francis Barracks military post, circa 1890.

Who could imagine that the United States military would eventually form with the efforts of the Spanish and British to protect the homeland it was discovering. 

Modern-day St. Francis Barracks

There remains ongoing debate between Florida and Massachusetts concerning when the “First Muster” of troops to protect the homeland began – which was before the federal, U.S. military was formed. 

Painting depicting the First Muster near St. Augustine in 1565. https://www.floridashistoriccoast.com/events/first-muster

Florida claims the first assembly of a military unit began in 1565 when Pedro Menendez formed a band of Spanish troops, along with area Native Americans, to fight against the French who had assembled around Jacksonville.  (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_assault_on_French_Florida; http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WMQC6D_First_Spanish_Muster_Site_in_Florida)

Massachusetts claims the first official muster of troops began on December 13, 1636 as the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony ordered that the colony’s militia be organized into three regiments: the North, South and East Regiments.  The regiments were needed for a growing threat from the Pequot Indians.  The military prepared with weekly drills and guard details.  In 1637, the East Regiment officially mustered for the first time on the Salem Common to mobilize in its defense.  This day is identified as the birth of the modern-day National Guard.  https://www.salem.com/veterans-services/pages/first-muster

I guess it depends on your each person’s perspective concerning who had the “First Muster.”  Regardless, our freedoms are won or lost by those who train, prepare, equip and respond to the needs of the citizenry, whether it is from local citizens, local law enforcement, state military and law enforcement or federal military and law enforcement.

I also reflect on the sacrifices of our Native Americans.  They lost so much as the new world was developed over the years.  The struggles for them to maintain their own freedom were met with much despair and loss as myriads began flowing into the territories.  We owe much to our Native Americans.  

Flags of the United States and Florida wave in sync at the St. Francis Barracks in St. Augustine.

May is military appreciation month and we in the United States are appreciative of those who rise to the occasion to obtain, keep and maintain that which we hold so dear.  

We who serve, and served, consider it a great honor to protect those who long to be free with certain unalienable rights – among them being life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  May we never fail nor falter.  We salute those who continue holding up the torch of freedom with their very lives on the line!

Blessings along the Way!

Ron

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