My name is John Hosbrook, and I died 216 years ago. I was a Revolutionary War soldier and a frontiersman - but I'll tell you my story later. I first want you to help me spell out "liberty."
L is for laws, as our tour begins in New Jersey. We are a nation of laws, not men, so let me introduce you to Judge Joseph Kitchel, born 1710, and, thus, not to be confused with those more modern magistrates, Judge Joe or Judge Judy. Judge Kitchel keeps a careful watch over the legal system here in Newark, a city founded by his ancestors, persecuted Puritans who fled England for religious freedom in America.
I is for initiative, the juice that energizes and powers our American system and its can-do philosophy. There go the judge's two granddaughters, the Kitchel sisters, setting out for the frontier with their families. Such a bold move by young mothers takes ambition and courage because they're trading settled security for raw and risky wilderness. One of the sisters, Lydia Kitchel Hosbrook, is my wife. We're headed to Ohio.
B is for burden, and James and Elizabeth, part of my extended family, have a heavy burden of heartache to bear here in Pennsylvania. Soon after James wrote home about "Jane, a fine garrel, age three, and Alexander, a fine boy born June last," both children fell victim to a frontier fever. Many families bore the burden of grief; James and Elizabeth moved on to Ohio for a fresh start.
E is for education, another pillar of pioneer America. Elizabeth's family minister back in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, was the Rev. William Tennent. His little backwoods cabin school was ridiculed as the "Log College." But he turned that dig into dignity, his humble school offering a classical education that became the blueprint, for some 60 colleges, including Princeton.
R is for resilience. When we got to Ohio, my wife's sister, Mary Kitchel, soon died, leaving four children. Four families, including mine, each took in one of the children. One of Mary's boys, Hervey Bates, went on to become a founding father of Indianapolis and built Bates House, the hotel where Lincoln stayed on his way to Washington to be inaugurated.
James F. Burns
is a guest columnist and retired University of Florida professor.
T is for tragedy, and I'll ask you to walk with me on this one. It's now 1798, and we're in the midst of a brutal winter in Ohio. We've run out of salt for preserving our dwindling food supplies of deer and bear meat. I told Lydia and the children I'd hike to the fort for a peck of salt, knowing that piercing cold would be my constant companion on the long trek to the fort.
But, alas, I didn't bargain for this blinding blizzard on the return trip, a terrible and relentless foe. I'm fighting for my life, each step carrying me closer to home but also closer to collapse.
Sadly, John Hosbrook's knees buckled beneath him, and he collapsed, soon freezing to death just a quarter-mile from his family cabin. But you've helped him spell out liberty - all except the final letter.
That's where You come in. Many caring and courageous families helped build this nation, transforming it from hardscrabble poverty to eventual prosperity, turning frontier wilderness into farms and communities.
These people of our pioneer past are passing the torch of liberty onto you and your generation. Guard it well and guide it wisely as we honor our nation's precious liberty on this Flag Day.