The evening begged for an end-of-holiday walk in Rhinebeck, New York, an American Revolutionary village in the Hudson Valley with tree-lined streets and sidewalks cracked by gnarled roots. A fat tabby caught our attention. With a lion's confidence, the cat eyed the two pedestrians who stood at the end of his driveway, decided we weren't worth the effort, and turned to the adjacent cemetery, as if to say hello. My husband and I exchanged smiles, then stepped into the open cemetery to meet his friends.
Two headstones, each leaning against the other, as if in time's embrace, beckoned us closer. A bronze marker identified two of the tabby's friends as Eva Burger Schryver (1730-1817) and Martinus Schryver (1753-1836). Martinus Schryver had fought in the American Revolutionary War, also called the War for Independence (1775-1783). We bowed our heads in silent prayer and thanksgiving.
Martinus Schryver was courageous beyond what war involves. At the time of the American Revolution, historians say one-third of the population wanted to remain a British colony, one-third didn't care either way, and one-third wanted independence from Great Britain. Belief in a deeper cause meant resisting hostile or lackadaisical peer pressure.
Upon our return home, I decided to learn more about Martinus Schryver. I can't say exactly why, except that on this Memorial Day Weekend, when we honor those who have served -- and are serving -- our country, I felt a sense a gratitude and wanted to feel our country's birth.
I learned that Martinus and Eva Schryver had eleven children. A couple of sources said he was a colonel in the American Revolution. (His graveside plaque hadn't identified his rank.) Various sites listed him as either a fisherman from nearby Kingston, New York, or owning a tavern. Perhaps he was both as it appears he was a man of some wealth for the times.
Links to Martinus Schryver broadened my curiosity. In 1806, John Neeley bought a flock of sheep that included a slave, Isabella Baumfree, from Colonel Charles Hardenbeigh for $100.00. Isabella was about nine years old. Her parents were from Ghana.
In 1808, John Neeley sold Isabella Baumfree to Martinus Schryver for $108.00.
In 1810, Martinus Schryver sold Isabella to John Dumont for $175.00. According to Wikipedia and other sources, this owner was "more kindly disposed" to Isabella and the beatings she had suffered lessened, even if Mrs. Dumont taunted Isabella for falling in love with a slave on another farm.
In 1826, Isabella, along with her infant daughter, gained their freedom through a law New York state had passed in 1799 that gradually abolished slavery. (However, Isabella had to leave behind older children who were mandated to work as indentured servants until their twenties.) She changed her name to Sojourner Truth and became an abolitionist who achieved significant firsts, one of which was a successful lawsuit against a white man. In 1850, supporters published her book, The Narrative of Sojouiner Truth: A Northern Slave. Of her many speeches, "Ain't I a Woman?" is among our history's greats.
In April, 2009, First Lady Michelle Obama unveiled a statue of Sojourner Truth in the United States Capitol, the first African-American woman to be honored so.
This Memorial Day, as with others, I am deeply grateful for the sacrifices made and being made by so many to ensure, preserve, and protect our democracy. I am also deeply grateful our Constitution has the flexibility to realize a wrong too many considered right at the time, that numbers don't make what's wrong right, and recognizes that an individual's freedom does not include the freedom to own another human being, that all of us embrace each other and that we have a sober responsibility to separate the good-that-was from the bad-that-was and move forward with the ". . . Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness . . . "so eloquently stated in our Declaration of Independence.
I pray that the polarization destroying us internally -- doing what no enemy could ever do -- will be relegated to the-era-that-was.