Monday, April 11, 2016

The Right Joe for America Might Actually be William and Mary

By Bob Ferris

“Donald Trump, he’s got these Joe Six-Pack issues on his mind, and he’s got these Joe Six-Pack common sense solutions — he just happens to be an extremely successful and charismatic, with a very large platform, Joe Six-Pack,” she clarified.  Sarah Palin quoted in 2015 
Two election cycles ago there was an attempt by John McCain—with help from then Gov. Sarah Palin—to use “Joe the Plumber” as a campaign icon to justify policies that would likely harm people like Joe.  And more recently Ms. Palin has used “Joe Six-Pack” in her own efforts as well as in her cheer-leading for the political theater that is the Trump campaign.

"Spirit of '76"
Part of me wants to counter these “Joes” with another “Joe” in the form of Corporal Joe Munroe (1,2) (Munroe) the iconic gray-haired and Parson Weems-worthy ancient Lexington man rumored to be the inspiration for the man featured on drum in the “Spirit of ‘76” painting (above).  But dueling myths or partial truths no matter how worthy are really not what this county needs at this critical juncture when our core principles are so much under attack. That said Corporal Joe started me thinking about who might be appropriate in this context and then it hit me:  What about Joe’s parents?

"The Proscribed Royalist, 1651" painted by Everett Millais in 1853 depicting a young Puritan women hiding a Royalist in an oak tree after the Battle of Worcester.   Young William was not so fortunate.   
William Munroe or Munro was born in 1625 in the Scottish Highlands.  Little is known of his youth but in his mid-20s we know that he was a Royalist caught on the bad side of battle odds—16000 Royalist to 28,000 Parliamentarians—and as consequence the losing side of the English Civil War.  He and some of his brothers were eventually captured in the aftermath of the Battle of Worcester in 1651.  About two months later he ended up on a transport ship headed for Plymouth Colony as the bound servant of the very slice of English society that had just handed him a significant defeat.  He came to the colony and was released in some manner because he was soon buying land in the Cambridge Farms area and also being fined because his pigs did not have the required rings in their snouts.
"Experience tells us that such a rough thing as a New England Anabaptist is not to be handled over tenderly. It was toleration that made a world Antichristian" (Samuel Willard, Ne Sutor Ultra Crepidam)
For some reason it took William until he was about 40 to marry and then he wed Martha George the daughter of a prominent Baptist convert in 1665.  Martha’s father John George was fined, jailed and eventually chased out of Charleston, Massachusetts because of his religious beliefs and practices. Perhaps for William and Martha it was love at first site, but it just might have been a case of the daughter of a religious outlaw finding solace with a long-ostracized and lonely Scottish rebel.  They very well might have been each other’s only port in a very stormy sea of Puritanism.  Regardless of the underlying chemistry, in a few years they had four children.  But let’s leave William and Martha for just a bit.

To say that Mary Ball born in Waterford around 1650 had a troubled childhood in the early years of the Plymouth Colony is an understatement.  Her father John Ball was frequently abusive and her mother Elizabeth (Pierce) Ball was characterized as insane or deranged.  The family was in court frequently for one thing or another which is one of the reasons that we know so much about Mary’s early life.  Eventually around 1655 Mary went to live with her maternal grandparents—John and Elizabeth Pierce or Pearce.  Her mother Elizabeth died in 1660 and Grandfather John died in 1661.   When Grandmother Elizabeth died in 1667 Mary was put into “service” by the Selectmen with the prominent Bacon family in nearby Woburn.

But before you start thinking about the Daisy character in Downton Abbey understand that the master of the house, Michael Bacon, soon seduced Mary and had her in a family way by 1670.  This later condition caused Michael to put young Mary on a ferry to the more permissive Rhode Island as fornication in that time and place could have painful or even fatal consequences beyond those associated with childbirth.

Mary’s newly remarried father John Ball lodged a complaint and she was brought back to Watertown where she and her master went on trial.  That Mary was un-wed removed the chance of an adultery charge which was a capital offense so the court proceedings were more about responsibility and support for the soon-to-be-born.  Mary was asked to leave Watertown and found herself in Cambridge Farms where she gained food, shelter and employment in the home of William and Martha Monroe.  The Monroe home must have acted on some level as an island for outcasts.  Then sometime in 1671 or 1672 Martha died.

William Munroe and Mary Ball were married in 1672.  Mary provided William with a bouncing baby roughly every year and half for two decades including Joseph AKA Corporal Joe born in 1687 (1).  Mary died in 1692 at 42 more than likely in the act of trying to produce another Munroe.   William Munroe married again but fathered no more children.  He was buried next to Mary in 1717 and in the intervening three centuries it looks to the romantic mind as if their two gravestones are leaning into each other in embrace.

Illustration from Mary Rowlandson's narrative. 
William and Mary lived during tough times in a tough world.  Mary’s abusive and then neglectful father, for instance, did not go peacefully into the night, but he and his new family were wiped out during an Indian raid in Lancaster (1676); the same attack made infamous by Mary Rowlandson.  Yet William and Mary stood out during this era because their travails and challenges encompassed so many of the catalytic issues that led to the formation and ultimate formulation of this democratic experiment we call the United States.  William lost status and rights because of his political and spiritual beliefs and Mary was subjected to institutionalized religious and social bigotry that seemed to flow much more quickly and freely than kindness, charity or concern.  I suspect too that both of their attitudes were influenced by the less than enlightened treatment of Martha and her father. And like parents time immemorial they probably passed these lessons and sensitivities on to their off-spring and the generations beyond which became scattered like so much dry kindling around a certain town square in a place that had become known as Lexington.

We will never know for certain what, if any, role was played in the Revolutionary War by their son the legendary “Corporal Joe,” but William, Mary and Martha’s descendants were present in abundance at the Battle of Lexington and the subsequent actions on April 19, 1775.  In fact, Ensign Robert Munroe William’s grandson was one of the first of eight casualties on the Lexington Green. In reality, it was hard to avoid bumping into a Munroe on that fateful day around Lexington and Concord from the two Johns and Ebenezer Jr. to former Roger’s Ranger Lt. Edmund Munroe who served as a private in Captain Parker’s Company and his younger brother Orderly Sergeant William the owner of Munroe’s Tavern (above).

Marrett Munroe's house that faces out on the Village Green and was damaged during the Battle of Lexington. 
All in all Captain Parker’s 77-man company that stood on the Green that fateful day had at least seven Munroes as well as two other Munroe family descendants represented in Joseph Comee and Solomon Peirce.  Lt. William Tidd was also married to Ensign Robert Munroe’s daughter Ruth and Captain Parker’s sister Deliverance was married to Nathan Monroe’s father Marrett whose house still stands on the Lexington Green.  So when the British killed Robert Monroe as well as wounding Jedediah, Ebenezer Jr., Joseph and Solomon there were plenty in this company who personally and professionally wanted a “second bite of this apple.”

That second bite has become known as “Parker’s Revenge” and all that could gather including a wounded Jedediah headed to a strategic location and gave the British what-for on their return from Concord towards Boston and then skedaddled to the next attack point.  Jedediah died that afternoon, but Captain Parker—who was suffering from tuberculosis and died of the disease less than five months later—had made his point and set a standard that inspired soldiers for the rest of the War.  Who knows what would have happened to this rebellion and the still-unborn country had this company and others not responded as they did to the morning’s tragedy?

My best guest at this point is that more than two dozen descendants of William, Mary and Martha fought in the Revolutionary War some that were obvious such as General Lafayette’s comrade Captain Josiah Munroe and the not so obvious like great-grandsons Solomon Peirce, Joseph Comee or my direct ancestor Benjamin Williams who was at Bunker Hill.  Some survived the ordeal such as Nathan and William and others died like Robert or his cousins Edmund and George who were killed pretty gruesomely by a single cannon ball at the Battle of Monmouth in 1778.  But all carried the physical and intellectual DNA of these first Munroes forward into the new country they wrestled into existence.

I cannot help but think that the Munroes and those who stood with their descendants at Lexington would wince at the Joe Six-Pack and Tea Party imagery that is being used as a smokescreen by the super-rich and modern-day religious fanatics to take from citizens of this country what they earned at such a cost centuries before.  So as we listen to candidates this election cycle my sense is that we would be better served to embrace those candidates whose platforms would materially address the issues faced by the first Munroes rather than enabling social and religious intolerance or creating more pathways for the elite to hold others in check or for the zealots of any belief to force themselves on the rest of us.

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