Friday, July 04, 2008

Independence Day: Consider The Lawn Jockey

While this story has no definitive provenance other than its place in America's oral history, consider today that it could be based in truth...

The black "lawn jockey". Today considered a sign of poor lawn decoration at best, and overt racism at worst, the lawn jockey was an important signal on the road to freedom on the Underground Railroad.

The name, and the manner of dress, has been corrupted over the years: the first statue of its type was commissioned and owned by George Washington.

The story goes that at the time of Washington's crossing of the Delaware, a 12 year old African American Joque Graves was at camp, a groomsman for Washington. He wanted to make the crossing with the army; however, Washington, aware of the danger, ordered him to stay on the Pennsylvania shore, and shine a light, so upon return the company would know where to come to retrieve their horses. After the surprise attack on the Trenton barracks, Washington returned to find Joque had frozen to death, guarding the horses, the lantern still ablaze and frozen in his hand.Moved by the boys devotion, Washington commissioned a statue, 'The Faithful Groomsman', to stand in honor of Graves at the General's estate at Mount Vernon.

It is ironic that this statue, commissioned and made popular by slave owning Washington, would eventually become a beacon for freedom for runaway slaves.

With spies and bounty hunters everywhere, even safe houses were not always safe. It became necessary to be able to convey, in a low-key fashion, what condition any Underground Railroad stop was in at any given time. The answer was the 'lawn jockey', painted to wear a red cap.

If a safe house was 'safe', and prepared to accept visitors, a lantern or an American flag would be placed in the forward reaching hand. If the house was under scrutiny or compromised, the lantern or flag would be removed, signaling the travelers to move to another house down the line. Further south, along the Mississippi, green and red ribbons tied to the statues arm - whether clandestinely or with the owner's knowledge - attested to the status of the owners of the house: red ribbons alerting danger, green ribbon announcing safety.

Whether it's true, somewhat true, or fabricated after the fact, this "groomsman with the lantern" tale is part of our George Washington mythos.

And today is the perfect day to celebrate George Washington... cherry tree, wooden teeth, groomsman with a lantern, and everything else.

I know what you're thinking: Independence Day should be reserved for the Declaration people; however, Independence Day didn't become a holiday until 1783...

And General Washington had already begun to observe it --years before-- by doubling the troops' rum ration.

Number of days since Donna Brazile promised to leave the party if superdelegates decided the Dem nominee:

Donna has known for a long time now that superdelegates would be necessary for any Dem candidate to win the nomination this year. Ask Donna when she intends to keep her promise.
Don't hold your breath awaiting a reply.

"For the great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances, as though they were realities, and are often more influenced by the things that seem than by those that are."
-Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527)

Best bar bet in the world: Delilah didn't do it.
Judges 16:19-- and and


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