As July 4 approaches, I always find myself listening to the Hamilton Broadway musical soundtrack. One particular moment never fails to make me shed some tears.
On the eve of the Battle of Yorktown, George Washington tells Alexander Hamilton that “history has its eyes on you.”
I think about that lyric often. I think back to our forefathers and I wonder, “did they know what they were doing would alter history?”
Did they know their rebellion would lead to independence? Did they know what doors they would open?
What’s even more impressive is when I look back at our Revolutionary War heroes, I realize how young they truly were.
Some of the heroic names we remember from our history books were younger than I am now when they took up their arms to defend this land.
Marquis de Lafayette was 18 when he traveled from France to fight with the colonists against the British. James Monroe, the fifth president of the United States, dropped out of college at age 18 in 1776 to join the Continental Army. Aaron Burr was 20. Alexander Hamilton and John Laurens were 21.
Nathan Hale was a 21-year-old school teacher who volunteered for a dangerous spy mission. He was captured by the British and hanged Sept. 22, 1776. He is remembered for saying “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”
And for the unsung heroes whose names were never learned in our U.S. History classes:
- Major Thomas Young was only 12 when war broke out. He joined the militia when he was 16.
- Deborah Sampson was 15 at the start of the war. She disguised herself as a man so she could enlist. For two years she fought with Patriot forces, leading dangerous expeditions, digging trenches and capturing 15 Loyalists. Once her identity was discovered by a doctor, she was honorably discharged.
- Sybil Ludington, also 15, rode her horse for 40 miles to warn the Patriots of a British attack.
- Born a slave, James Armistead, worked as a spy under Marquis de Lafayette as a teenager. His intel from General Cornwallis and Benedict Arnold led to the victory at the Battle of Yorktown.
- Another slave, Peter Salem, was 16 when he was freed to serve in a local militia in Massachusetts. He then enlisted in the Continental Army under George Washington. He was even named a hero in the Battle of Bunker Hill.
Even our seventh president, Andrew Jackson, who was only nine years old when the war began, played a role in the Revolution. Though he was only 13-years-old when he served as a patriot courier, he was captured by British soldiers and was hit across the face because he refused to shine his captors’ shoes.
It’s remarkable to me that these young heroes were so willing to fight and lay down their lives for an ideal that all men are created equal. Though we have war heroes of all ages and backgrounds, the American Revolution shows many of our heroes were teenagers, were schoolteachers, were farmers, were everyday people. Many of them weren’t trained soldiers. They fought because they believed in something with every fiber of their being, pushing down their fears and persevering onwards to victory.
I wish I could go back in time to tell them their unyielding courage in the face of certain death and their passion to create a better world for their families and the families not yet born was not in vain. I wish I could tell them thank you, but the only way I know how to give my thanks is to follow in their footsteps – standing up for what I feel is right, exercising the privileges their sacrifices have afforded me and not letting their importance be forgotten.