“A Morning Scene in a Hut” by James McHenry

I have mentioned before how some of the most useful sources in terms of historical fiction are primary sources, that is written accounts from the actual time period of your piece. There are many letters and memoirs from the American Revolution which help to paint a picture of the army, battles and even civilian life of the time. Personalities of individuals involved can be murkier. We may have a lot of what a person wrote, whom they wrote to or what about. But this may not give us a clear picture of what the person themselves was like.

One lovely primary source text which gives us tiny tid-bits of personalty and behavior is a poem written by James McHenry in 1779 called, "A Morning Scene in a Hut." This poem accounts the morning awakening of the aides-de-camp to General Washington:

Now through the camp the morning gun resounds:

Now, noisy Gibbs the nightly watch relieves

Up, up my sons! Grave Harrison exclaims,

( a learned clerk and not unknown to fame)

and forth displays large packets unexplored.

Tilghman, accustom’d to the well known voice,

Pulls up his stockings smiling and preludes

His daily labor with some mirthful stroke

But falls, like, down without inflicting pain.

Kidder of gentle soul, and courage true,

And dearly lov’d by all for worth most rare,

Such as in times of yore fill’d Bayard’s breast,

Uprose, to plead for others longer sleep.

But not might smooth the ancients care-worn brow

He restless would pace the hut & still

On Ham, and Henry call; congenial pair

Who in rough blankets wrapped snor’d loud defiance

To packets huge, to morning gun & Gibbs!

Fort oft in gamesome mood these twain combin’d

To tease Sctarius through him they pris’d

Next to the chief who holds the reins of War

We get wonderful snippets of information in this short piece. Harrison acting as the father and calling them sons and 'not unknown to fame' which is interesting; Tilghman described as "mirthful" immediately followed with being clumsy and falling down getting dressed like a sitcom; Meade acting sweet trying to help the others, called 'dearly loved' and a gentle soul; Gibbs is noisy, in a 'gamesome' mood; while Hamilton and McHenry snore louder to try and sleep in even more. (Laurens, at this time, had joined the southern campaign and is thus absent from this morning recount.)

These may all be small aspects but it is enough to paint a picture much like the 'family' General Washington calls them all, full of humor and quirks and a feeling of real life that is sometimes absent from history text books and even formal primary source letters. This poem is something a writer such as myself craves.

So thanks McHenry!

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