- Cullman, Alabama

May 31, 2012

Retirement opens door for exploration

The Cullman Times

CULLMAN — Retirement is a wonderful thing! It offers you time to do things like explore your family history and if you're lucky like me, discover a whole world of interesting stuff to pass down to your kids and grandkids. Because my grandmother belonged to the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), I was able to join the Cullman Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR).

Then I Googled my heart out. Soon, I learned that my distant cousins were Minutemen on Lexington Green for the first battle of the Revolution. John and James Brown were killed by the first British shots. Solomon Brown rode with and been captured with Paul Revere the night before, fought at Lexington and later endured that brutal winter at Valley Forge. He went on to serve at a Fort Schyler in Rome, New York, where the Betsy Ross flag was first fired on by the British. His brother, Oliver, had years before witnessed the Boston Tea Party, and the battle at Lexington, became a captain in the continental artillery and distinguished himself in action at Bunker Hill and the famous Battle of Trenton, when Washington crossed the Deleware. Oliver was reprimanded by General Washington for tearing down a lead statue of King George in New York City's Battery Park, hauling it to the woods and melting it down to make musket balls. The general didn't think that was proper! Cousin Frances Brown was wounded at Lexington, where a piece of lead lodged behind his ear and he fought for several months at Bunker Hill and beyond, before having it removed.

My grandfather, several generations removed, was 17-year-old Jacob Brown from Springfield, Mass. He joined the Ninth Massachusetts Infantry Regiment of the Continental Line in the Spring of 1780 and walked from Springfield over to West Point and then down the Hudson River to help Washington keep the British bottled up in the city. Jacob's unit captured British Major John Andre, who was dressed as a civilian, and was trying to smuggle the defensive plans to the fortress at West Point from traitor, Benedict Arnold, to the British commander in New York. He was tried and hanged in front of a regimental assembly, that included Jacob Brown.

Well, there is much more, but you get the idea of how much fun I have had piecing all this together. Why, I even found out that my distant grandmother was a niece of Benjamin Franklin. My wife and I have searched for and found Jacob Brown's grave in an old abandoned cemetery in Stamford, Vt., after discovering that I can trace my ancestry back to the year 1330 in Stamford, England. I even discovered that Jacob's son, also Jacob Brown, a distant uncle, was a major in the Mexican War and was appointed by General (later President) Zachary Taylor to command a fort on the Rio Grande. He was killed in action there and Taylor named the fort for him. Today the site is the city of Brownsville, Texas.

I drove over to Corinth, Miss., a few years ago and had a uniform shop make me an exact replica of Jacob's uniform from 1780. Maybe you have seen me wear it around town. I do so with pride! I will wear it on Friday, May 11, when I open the Strawberry Festival to fife-and-drum music at the Festhalle. I will wear it at Veterans Park at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 26, when I speak at the Memorial Day program, and in Colony at 8 a.m. Memorial Day and at the Ellks Lodge Wednesday evening, June 13 at 7 p.m., when the SAR guys and my fellow VFW members conduct the Elks Flag Day program, which is open to the public.

I'm so glad I retired! It's so much more fun than working. If you would like to learn more about the SAR, explore your heritage and get the kids and grandkids interested in your history, contact Dan Henry at 256-796-6859.

Ken Brown