1925 Lexington-Concord and Norse-American Issues

1925 Lexington-Concord and Norse-American Issues 2020-07-15T19:53:50+00:00

1925 COMMEMORATIVE ISSUES

In 1925, the U.S. Post Office Department distributed two separate and unrelated commemorative stamp issues.

Lexington-Concord Issue

The three postage stamps were issued April 4, 1925, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the battles of Lexington and Concord (fought April 19, 1775), the first conflicts of the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783). These skirmishes immortalized the Minutemen, the voluntary militia that confronted the British and inspired Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem “Concord Hymn” which includes the phrase “the shot heard round the world”.

The 1¢ stamp depicts General George Washington assuming command of the American troops at Cambridge, two months after the battles of Lexington and Concord. The 2¢ and 5¢ stamps show images of the actual battle at Lexington and a Minuteman statue at Concord, respectively.

The Lexington-Concord Backstory

Ready to fight at a moment’s notice, “Minutemen” were civilian Colonists who organized well-prepared militia companies, self-trained in weaponry, tactics and military strategies during the Revolutionary War.  Their efforts at Lexington and Concord inspired many patriots to take up arms against Great Britain. Lexington was the first battle of the American Revolution. And, though Lexington and Concord were considered British military victories, they gave a morale boost to the American Colonists.

General Gage of Britain had a secret plan. During the wee hours of April 19, 1775, he would send out regiments of British soldiers billeted in Boston. Their destinations were first Lexington, where they would capture Colonial patriots Samuel Adams and John Hancock, then Concord, where they would seize the Colonists’ gunpowder. But spies and friends of the Americans leaked word of Gage’s plan.

Two lanterns hanging from Boston’s North Church informed the countryside that the British were going to attack by sea. (“One if by land and two if by sea.”) A series of horseback riders including Paul Revere galloped off for Lexington to warn the countryside that the “regulars” (British troops) were coming. It is a myth that Revere and other riders shouted, “The British are coming!” This cry would have confused the population living in the countryside who still considered themselves British.

Word spread from town to town as militias prepared to confront the British and help their neighbors in Lexington and Concord. These Colonial militias had originally been organized to defend settlers from civil unrest and attacks by the French or Native Americans, but engaged in a mighty defense against the British.

When the advance guard of nearly 240 English soldiers arrived in Lexington, they encountered about 70 Minutemen in formation on the Lexington Green awaiting them. Each side eyed the other warily, not knowing what to expect. Suddenly, the first bullet tore through the morning air. This was “the shot heard round the world”. It is unknown whether the first shot came from the British or the Colonists.

The superior British army killed seven Americans on Lexington Green and marched off to Concord with new regiments who had joined them. But American militias arriving at Concord thwarted the British advance. As the “regulars” retreated toward Boston, new waves of Colonial militia intercepted them. Shooting from behind fences and trees, the militias inflicted more than 125 casualties, including several officers. The ferocious nature of the encounter surprised both sides.

The first blood shed at Lexington and Concord marked the crossing of a threshold and the momentum from these events separated the two armies even more markedly. Following these battles, neither the British nor the Americans knew what to expect next.

Resentment against the British ran high in the Colonies for the “regulars” had shed American blood on American soil. Radicals such as Samuel Adams took advantage of the bloodshed to increase tension through propaganda and rumor-spreading. The Americans surrounded the town of Boston and the rebel army started to gain many new recruits.

During the battles of Lexington and Concord, 73 British soldiers were killed and 174 wounded; 26 were missing. Lord Percy, who led the British back into Boston after the defeat suffered at Concord, wrote back to London, “Whoever looks upon them (the rebels) as an irregular mob will be much mistaken.” Three British major generals – Howe, Clinton and Burgoyne – were brought to Boston to lend their expertise and experience to the situation.

Shortly after the battles of Lexington and Concord, an express rider carried the news to New Haven, Connecticut, where a local militia commander and wealthy shopkeeper named Benedict Arnold demanded the keys to a local powder house. After arming and paying from his own pocket to outfit a group of militia from Massachusetts, Arnold and his men set off for upstate New York. He was searching for artillery that was badly needed for the Colonial effort and reckoned that he could commandeer some cannon by capturing Fort Ticonderoga, a rotting relic from the French and Indian War.

North, in the Hampshire Grants (part of modern-day Vermont), Ethan Allen, who led a group called the Green Mountain Boys, also had the idea to capture Fort Ticonderoga. Arnold and Allen grudgingly worked together and surprised the poorly manned British fort before dawn on May 10, 1775. The fort’s commander had been asleep and surrendered in his pajamas!

 

Norse-American Issue

The United States Post Office issued two commemorative stamps in conjunction with the Norse-American Centennial. The illustration on the 2¢ stamp was an artist’s rendition of what the ship Restauration probably looked like based on a drawing of its sister ship. The design on the 5¢ stamp was from a photograph of the Viking, a ship that sailed from Norway to Chicago in time for the Columbian Exposition of 1893.

The Norse-American Backstory

The Norse-American Centennial celebration was held at the Minnesota State Fair from June 6 – 9, 1925. The event served to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the arrival in 1825 of the Norwegian immigrant ship Restauration. The arrival of this ship is considered the first organized emigration of Norwegian-Americans to the United States.

On July 5, 1825, the sloop Restauration sailed from Stavanger, Norway with 52 passengers aboard. Norway had been under Danish rule and was a dependency under the Danish king. The King of Denmark was a proponent of Napoleon Bonaparte in the Peninsular War (1807 – 1814). This resulted in the capture of many Norwegians by Napoleon’s enemies. Some captured Norwegians were imprisoned by the British and, in prison, came into contact with new religious groups, such as the Quakers. One of the prisoners was Lars Larsen Geilane who would later be a passenger on the Restauration.

When the Norwegian prisoners were released, some carried their new religious beliefs back to Norway and founded new faith-based communities there. Lars Larsen Geilane and three other released prisoners returned to live in the area of Stavanger. The Norwegian authorities did not approve of any religion other than Lutheranism. The dissenters were persecuted and threatened by the government. The former prisoners had maintained contact with Quaker communities elsewhere in the world including the English Quakers Shillitoe and Allen. It is likely through this contact that the “sloopers” (the emigres who sailed on the Restauration) heard about the new possibilities in America.

In 1821, the Quaker community in the Stavanger area sent two representatives to America to study the feasibility of resettling the sect in the U.S. The two ambassadors were Cleng Peerson and Knud Olsen Eide (who died after arriving in America). In 1824, Peerson returned to Norway and spoke of the good prospects he had seen in America. It was decided that a group would form to emigrate and Peerson returned to the United States to prepare for their arrival. Only a small number of the eventual sloopers were Quakers. The majority were probably Haugeans, sympathizers of the Quakers.

The Restauration was a small sloop or, as it is called in Norway, a “Hardanger Jakt”. She was built in Hardanger in 1801 as the Emanuel but was renamed Haabet (Hope) around 1815. The vessel was used for freighting herring and corn. In 1820, she was rebuilt and christened Restauration. The sloop was only 54 feet long and 16 feet wide.

Sailing from Stavanger in 1825, the Restauration was carrying a load of iron and 52 passengers including the ship’s crew. The ship crossed the North Sea and passed through the British Channel. It is not known why this route was taken, but it was far from a shortcut. Restauration entered the small harbor of Lisett in England and the travel party immediately began to sell liquor, unaware that this was illegal. When they learned of the difficult situation they were in, they sailed away immediately. They traveled as far south as Madeira, Portugal, finding a barrel of Madeira wine floating in the sea. The ship’s crew quickly became intoxicated and the ship floated into the harbor as a “pestulenship”, with no one in command or showing her flag. The cannons in the fort onshore were already aimed at Restauration when a Bremen ship’s crew alerted the sloopers to show their colors immediately. One of the passengers was able to raise the flag in the last minute.

The sloopers stayed at the island of Funchal for about a week and were well-treated there. On August 7th, Restauration sailed away from Funchal, entering the New York harbor on October 9, 1825, now with 53 aboard. In New York, the ship, cargo and captain were confiscated under arrest for violation of the 1819 Passenger Act. The Act set restrictions on the number of passengers allowed on a ship, based on the ship’s gross tonnage. The small ship drew unwelcome attention in New York harbor because of its large passenger load. Restauration was the smallest ship known to have crossed the Atlantic with emigrants.

In New York, the sloopers were met by Cleng Peerson and it is likely that Peerson’s connection with the Quaker community in New York aided in getting the Passenger Act charges dropped with only a fine as the penalty. When the ship and cargo were sold, the group got about half of what those had cost them in Norway. On November 15, 1825, the sloopers were pardoned for the Passenger Act violation by President John Quincy Adams personally. By this time most of the sloopers had settled in Orleans County, New York. Theirs was the first Norwegian colony in America since Leif Eriksson’s settlement sometime around the year 1,000.

During his appearance at the Norse-American Centennial, President Calvin Coolidge gave recognition to the contributions of Scandinavian-Americans and noted Leif Eriksson as the discoverer of America. Music for the event was provided by the musical groups from a number of Norwegian Lutheran colleges. A pageant at the Centennial centered around the life of war hero Colonel Hans Christian Heg. Colonel Heg, a Norwegian immigrant, served as brigade commander in the 15th Wisconsin Volunteer Regiment during the American Civil War. The celebration also featured works by a number of prominent Norwegian artists.

The Centennial celebration helped provide the impetus for a memorial church that resulted in the building of The Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church of Minneapolis, better known as Mindekirken. This Norwegian-language Lutheran church was dedicated on May 4, 1930.

1925 THE BACKSTORY

The 1920s were an age of dramatic social and political change. For the first time, more Americans lived in cities than on farms. The nation’s total wealth more than doubled between 1920 and 1929;  this economic growth swept many Americans into an affluent but unfamiliar “consumer society”. People from coast to coast bought the same goods (thanks to nationwide advertising and the spread of chain stores), listened to the same music, did the same dances and even used the same slang! Many Americans were uncomfortable with this new, urban, sometimes racy “mass culture”; in fact, for many – maybe even most – Americans, the 1920s brought more conflict than celebration. However, for a small handful of people in the nation’s big cities, the 1920s were roaring, indeed.

The most familiar symbol of the “Roaring Twenties” is probably the flapper: A young woman with bobbed hair and short skirts who drank, smoked and said what might be considered “unladylike” things, in addition to being more sexually “free” than previous generations. In reality, most young women in the 1920s did none of these things (though many did adopt a fashionable flapper wardrobe), but even those women who were not flappers gained some unprecedented freedoms. They could vote at last: the 19th Amendment to the Constitution had guaranteed that right in 1920. Millions of women worked in white-collar jobs (as stenographers, for example) and could afford to participate in the burgeoning consumer economy. The increased availability of birth-control devices such as the diaphragm made it possible for women to have fewer children. And new machines and technologies like the washing machine and vacuum cleaner eliminated some of the drudgery of housekeeping.

During the ‘20s, many Americans had extra discretionary money to spend. They spent it on consumer goods such as ready-to-wear clothing and home appliances like electric refrigerators. The first commercial radio station in the U.S., Philadelphia’s KDKA, hit the airwaves in 1920; three years later there were more than 500 stations in the nation. By the end of the 1920s, there were radios in more than 12 million households. People also went to the movies: historians estimate that by the end of the decade, 75% of the population visited a movie theater every week.

But , by far, the most important consumer product of the 1920s was the automobile. Low prices – the Ford Model T cost just $260 in 1924 – and generous credit made cars affordable luxuries at the beginning of the decade; by the end of the decade, cars were practically necessities. In 1929 there was one car on the road for every five Americans. Meantime, an automobile economy was born: businesses like service stations and motels sprang up to meet drivers’ needs.

Cars also gave young people the freedom to go where they pleased and do what they wanted. Some pundits called autos “bedrooms on wheels”. What many young people wanted to do was dance – the Charleston, the cake walk, the black bottom, the flea hop. Jazz bands played at dance halls like the Savoy in New York City and the Aragon in Chicago; radio stations and phonograph records (100 million were sold in 1927 alone) carried their tunes to listeners across the nation. Some older people objected to jazz music’s “vulgarity” and “depravity” (and the “moral disasters” it supposedly inspired) but many in the younger generation loved the freedom they felt on the dance floor.

During the 1920s, some freedoms were expanded while others were curtailed. The 18th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1919, banned the manufacture and sale of “intoxicating liquors”, and on January 16, 1920, the federal Volstead Act closed every tavern, bar and saloon in the United States. This drove the liquor trade underground – now people simply went to nominally illegal speakeasies where the flow of alcohol was controlled by bootleggers, racketeers and other organized-crime figures such as Chicago gangster Al Capone. Capone supposedly had 1,000 gunmen and half of Chicago’s police force on his payroll.

To many middle-class white Americans, Prohibition was a way to assert some control over the unruly immigrant masses who crowded the nation’s cities. For instance, those who supported a “dry” country called beer “Kaiser brew”. Drinking was a symbol of all they disliked about the modern city and they believed eliminating alcohol would turn back the clock to an earlier and more comfortable time.

Prohibition was not the only source of social tension during the 1920s. The Great Migration of African Americans from the south to northern cities and the increasing visibility of black culture – jazz and blues music, for example, and the literary movement known as the Harlem Renaissance – discomfited some white Americans. Millions of people in places like Indiana and Illinois joined the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. To them, the Klan represented a return to all the “values” that the fast-paced, city-slicker the Roaring Twenties were trampling.

An anti-Communist “Red Scare” in 1919 and 1920 encouraged a widespread nativist, or anti-immigrant, hysteria. This led to the passage of an extremely restrictive immigration measure, the National Origins Act of 1924, which set immigration quotas that excluded some people (Eastern Europeans and Asians) in favor of others (Northern Europeans and British people, for example).

These conflicts – what one historian has called a “cultural civil war” between city-dwellers and small-town residents, Protestants and Catholics, blacks and whites, “new women” and advocates of old-fashioned family values – are perhaps the most important part of the story of the Roaring Twenties.

1925 NOTABLE EVENTS

  • The first “motel” (motorists hotel) opens in San Luis Obispo, California. It charged $1.25 per night. This motel opening was an early indicator of the car culture that would take over the American way of life.
  • Scott Fitzgerald published his iconic novel “The Great Gatsby” in April, 1925. The novel featured themes of class struggle, excess wealth and the breakdown of the American dream in the Jazz Age of the 1920s.
  • In October, 1925, the site for the Mount Rushmore National Monument was dedicated. Carving of the mountain began in October, 1927, and finished in October, 1941.
  • After operating the Sears catalog for almost 40 years, Sears Roebuck opens its first retail store in Chicago.
  • Nellie Tayloe Ross takes office in Wyoming as the first female governor elected in the U.S.
  • In Nashville, Tennessee, the Grand Ole Opry begins broadcasting.