Tomorrow is Full of Promise

Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

Robert F. Kennedy, 1966

front page Cornwalli surrender

Even though there wasn’t just one single moment when the collective people of the United States realized they had won the American Revolution, like the turning of a page from one chapter of life to another, I still like to consider that breath of awareness as it dawned person by person. Awestruck silence / Audible relief / A slow smile / A victory whoop – how did each new citizen respond in his heart of hearts after winning such an improbable victory? In those years, news travelled slowly on horseback, yet it took less than one week for General Washington’s aide-de-camp to get the news of Cornwallis’ surrender on October 18, 1781, to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. It was front page news in The Freeman’s Journal on Wednesday, October 24, and detailed reports of the correspondences between Lord Cornwallis and General Washington appeared in the newspapers The Pennsylvania Gazette and The Pennsylvania Packet by the end of October. In Philadelphia, the people celebrated immediately and joyfully for several days, but surely the news of victory was slower to reach the farms and smaller towns in more distant states, where there were skirmishes and altercations for months to come. According to NCPedia, English Loyalists created havoc in North Carolina for a full year after the war was ended.

Home. Sanctuary. Community. Security. Posterity.

During the war years, Thomas Smith lived in Granville County, North Carolina. On June 10, 1776, after travelling 150 miles to Wilmington, North Carolina, Thomas enlisted for a three-year term in the 1st Regiment of the Continental Army. He worked as an Assistant Armourer for 14 months, until he was outmustered in September, 1777, having suffered a casualty. Once home, Thomas furnished supplies to the militia of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia from 1780 – 1782. He was first a soldier and then a Patriot. It is this man’s thoughts about the promise of the days to come that I wish I could know.

Thomas Smith was my 4th great-grandfather. He lived his whole life 163 years before I started mine. So far, his birth date is uncertain (1736 – 1750?), and his parents are unknown. It is probable that Thomas was born in Edgecombe County, North Carolina, and like many others he most likely had roots in Virginia. Thomas married Elizabeth Hight in Granville County in 1769. By the time he went to war in 1776, Thomas and Elizabeth had four children. After Thomas’ release from the Army, four more children were born.

The time after the Revolutionary War was one of great fervor, excitement, and turmoil. The states were united politically under the Articles of Confederation as of 1777, but each state operated under its own constitution. There was much to be decided in those years about how North Carolina would govern herself and create the basics of community life: Roads, post offices, schools, churches, laws – and a jail. Ten years later, the US Constitution was written during the summer of 1787 and signed on September 17th. George Washington was inaugurated as the first president in April, 1789. The Bill of Rights was proposed on September 29, 1789, nine days after Thomas Smith wrote his Last Will and Testament. Thomas died before February, 1790. His life spanned a pivotal time in history, as North Carolina grew and changed, envisioning and redefining herself throughout his life. Thomas was born during the frontier years of North Carolina settlement, was able to be a part of the fight for freedom as an adult, and lived to experience the first taste of Democracy.

Those of us who study the lives of our forebears yearn to know them, but of course we can’t. We may gather some ideas about who they were from their writings or what other people remember about them, but most of what we know comes from a of time line of their actions. I will never know how Thomas liked his coffee or which of his horses was the favorite, but I do know he had a front row seat as the United States became a nation. What part of that experience filtered through to his children we can only imagine.

There is a difference between people who are content to just let things be and others who feel compelled to create change, to be a part of what comes next. I am proud of Thomas for his service during the Revolutionary War, and one thing is certain: I owe him a debt.

Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present Generation to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it. – John Adams