As a kid growing up in Southern California, I loved driving by El Camino Real bell markers. I thought of Father Serra traveling the very same road only taking days instead of hours to get where he was going, which of course was to the next mission! I knew my California history because I could see it all around me.
That was what was so cool about this summer’s vacation. My fifth- and eighth-grade children had just studied the American Revolution. I molded our trip from the one I took in 1977, the year after our bicentennial (thanks mom and dad).
Thirty-five years ago Monticello seemed a lot bigger, Washington, D.C., was much easier to get around (albeit less secure), and New Hampshire still had its Old Man of the Mountain. But our American story is the same, so remarkably preserved and fabulously retold -- due in large part to our wonderful National Park Service rangers -- from Jamestown and Plymouth to Williamsburg, Philadelphia, Boston and Washington, D.C. We trod the paths of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, from inside their homes at Monticello and “Peace field,” the House of Burgesses and Old State House, and on to Independence Hall and the White House!
Inside Independence Hall we conjured George Washington being appointed commander of our continental army (1775), a room full of delegates voting for independence (July 2, 1776) and later signing the Declaration, and older yet wiser patriots drafting the Constitution (1787).
We followed Ben Franklin around Philadelphia and into the Hall where he sat during the signing of the Constitution. From his chair in the aisle the now elderly but still prophetic Dr. Franklin declared that the carved sun on the back of the President’s chair “is a rising, and not a setting sun.”
It’s hard to believe all that these men and women did to build our country. They were not only farmers and tradesmen but also attorneys and philosophers, scientists and ambassadors -- often one man was all of that and more! They were architects of their homes and of a new nation. They poured over books and devoured their contents. It’s even harder to fathom how profoundly knowledgeable they were.
Now Gilbert Stuart’s old portraits of presidents Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe look more like photographs of people we know. Reading their letters to each other helps cinch our connection:
“Yesterday the greatest question was decided which was ever debated in America; and a greater perhaps never was nor will be, decided upon men. A resolution was passed without one dissenting colony, that those United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states.”
John Adams to wife Abigail on July 3, 1776
I’m hopeful this Birth of America trip continues to be a family tradition. Carry on children!