Since I became old enough to comprehend our nation’s heritage, my mother would proudly declare that her great-great grandfather John Baird was a surgeon from Pennsylvania who served in the Revolutionary War. Frequently through my teen years she would drop little suggestions that maybe the time had come for someone else to go to medical school. Little did she realize that I had neither the aptitude nor strong passionate desire to become a surgeon. Even the sight of blood made me woozy. I couldn’t contemplate a scalpel in my hand let alone a surgeon’s saw!
For several decades, well after her death, I always wondered where my mom had gleaned this claim to family history. Then I discovered the truth.
Recently I wrote a book about the three weeks Winston Churchill lived in the White House from Christmas 1941 to early New Year 1942. I dedicated Churchill and Roosevelt: The Big Sleepover at the White House to my father and uncles who were members of the “greatest generation.” While preparing a series of presentations on the book for a college, church, and other organizations I decided to Google some of those uncles’ obituaries.
In a small line that I had missed in my Uncle Jim’s obituary, a Captain in the U.S. Navy, I noticed that he was a Son of the American Revolution. My curious nature took me down the path of calling the National Headquarters of the Sons of the American Revolution to see if they could possibly provide me a copy of Uncle Jim’s application. The answer to my long quest was finally at hand.
There, on the application he submitted in 1950, was a reference to our Revolutionary Ancestor. Yes a surgeon. But wait! Even though he had been approved as a Son, the files show that in 1980, as a result of further genealogical research, Uncle Jim had amended his records to reveal that he had identified the wrong John Baird.
The real John Baird in our family tree did fight in the Revolutionary War on three occasions. But he was the son of a farmer, born in Pennsylvania, not a famous surgeon. In 1776, at age 16 “our” John Baird participated in several scrimmages. Then he returned to the land before being recalled to march on Long Island in 1778. After returning to the farm again to help feed his family and a hungry nation, he was recalled in 1781 to track the affairs of North American Indians friendly with the British.
Am I disappointed to see the record set straight? Perhaps my mother might have been but I don’t think she ever knew the true story. My heritage helps explain why I would much rather garden than spend any time around a hospital.
In reality, I am proud of this pioneering, revolutionary farmer/warrior. After the war, he picked up stakes and moved his family to eastern Ohio to start farm life anew…part of the early wave of western migration. His son, my great-great grandfather, continued the westward evolution of American farming by taming and plowing the unfettered soil to plant seed in Iowa and raise livestock.
I am proud that these “sodbusters” were ready to become warriors when necessary. My great grandfather fought in the Civil War, engaging enemy troops in Little Rock, Arkansas and elsewhere in the south central states.
The story of farmer/warriors progressed. My father, who was raised on farm in Cherokee, Iowa, joined John Deere in the early 1930’s. Eventually Uncle Sam called him to serve in WW2. His brother in law, my uncle survived Pearl Harbor only to lose the USS Helena, his beloved ship, at the famous naval engagement in the Kula Gulf.
Never straying too far from the rich earth, my turn came when I joined Caterpillar Tractor. Shortly, I got called up to serve in Viet Nam.
Most recently, my niece completed a long and illustrative military career, retiring as an Air Force Colonel. She left the farm at age18 to attend college and participate in its ROTC program…thus extending the line of warrior/farmers.
I don’t pretend that my family story is unusual. We have all lost sight of some of our ancestors and the sacrifices, struggles, and compromises they made for future generations. The story typifies what one might call the American fabric. It’s strong but not perfect. The story proves to be durable, flexible, and often stubbornly idealistic.
Along the seams, it is bound by a sense of the greater good worth living for, and if necessary, dying for. Yet today this remains true even if we sometimes question our future in the shadows of the current acrimonious political climate.
When one looks back in history, the transition from the Presidency of George Washington to Jefferson was the first time a political party changed hands. Some thought the young nation might fracture and dissolve. But, it weathered the stormy ideologies that included issues of state’s rights and the role of the newly created Supreme Court.
After discovering that my uncle was a Son of a patriotic Revolutionary Warrior/Farmer, I have just submitted my own application to the National Sons of the American Revolution. Hopefully it will help remind my offspring of their roots in the land and their ties to the birth of this nation. Perhaps they too will be proud to so the same.