A distant and perhaps irrelevant aunt for whom I never seemed to generate affection (she always brought me a crumpled paper sack of stale store-bought cookies) took a notion one time that she would like to be a Daughter of the American Revolution. Several of her friends had lately joined this prestigious group, and to gain more standing my dubious aunt decided she, too, would become a Daughter.
There was only one thing in the way of this laudable ambition. Namely, nobody even remotely connected with our family had ever been associated in any way with the Revolution. We did have a forebear who had married a granddaughter, or something, of Elder Brewster, so getting into the Mayflower Society was a cinch. But when it came to the nitty-gritty of Bunker Hill and Concord Bridge, our granddaddies were all out on The Bank, or up-country stealing timber, or Out East on a barge.
It was understood among us that we were steadfast Loyalists, and that we kept our noses clean and kept out of trouble. We detached odd ones weren't mad at the dirty British and hadn't been exposed to the goings-on that fomented unrest in the Colonies.
I guess down Castine way, and at Machias, folks were nursing grudges. But I'd guess, too, that our folks were isolated enough so news was seldom. My own grandfather, who was a Civil War veteran, always called an American 25-cent piece a shilling. His grandfather had been to Louisburg and Quebec with Boscawen and Wolfe, and he had an authentic "Queen's Arm" over his mantel. Not Bunker Hill; Plains of Abraham! Keep things in focus.
So this bemused and possible aunt was frustrated in her big desire, and she fretted that her ancestors had been so callous as to ignore the Revolutionary War. Not only did she not become a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, but she was constantly ashamed if the subject came up and she had to explain. I guess the poor thing moved within a most selective circle where everybody save her was an authentic Daughter. Alas.
This presumptive aunt was married to a man named Melvin Hotchkiss Poindexter, a name I have just this minute made up. He was a cow-trader of note, bought and sold fresh eggs for the Boston market, owned several fox hounds, and repaired bicycles. He also owned several winnowers, which he rented during blueberry season. That is, he was a gentleman somewhat like us, for he had no great reason to belong to the DAR and seldom mentioned the society. Furthermore, he was unaware that his wife wanted to belong. It was a great surprise, after many years, when he found out.
Then he said, as I reduce his spicier remarks to a genteel flow, "What's the problem? I had an ancestor who was wounded at Bunker Hill. Hunt him up, and we're in!"
This resulted in a search of militia records of the period. Nothing was found about a Melvin, a Hotchkiss, or a Poindexter that could satisfy the DAR. Passing this information to her husband, my unsubstantiated aunt received his reply, which went about like this:
"Them Army records is no good. Of course my old geezer-grampy was there! Family history. He got a broken leg when the Patriots rolled a barrel of rocks downhill onto him! Look some more; you'll find him!"
And so they did. He was a Redcoat, and he fought at Bunker Hill. He was rendered hors de combat after the Colonials had exhausted their powder and resorted to improvisation. This struggling aunt never joined.
This sort of mix-up has happened to others. I have made up a couple more names: David Hiram Jardine was an honored soldier resting in the Bleaker Bend Community Cemetery, town of East Short Falls, and every year a small flag was placed in a cast-iron holder on his grave as part of the community observance of Decoration Day. This was done by the Grand Army of the Republic as long as the Boys in Blue were active, and then it was taken over by the American Legion. The town would appropriate funds to pay for flags, potted plants, a band, and often a speaker.
So every Decoration Day, veteran David Hiram Jardine got a new flag, and a woman whose maiden name had been Jardine went along supposing that David Hiram Jardine was her ancestor. She was proud of that.
THEN one day, for some reason unconnected with Jardine, somebody was looking up facts in the state adjutant general's office, and came up with the sad information that David Hiram Jardine was not in the rosters of Maine regiments in the Civil War. He just warn't there! This was embarrassing to the town, to the GAR, and to the American Legion, but it was disappointing to the woman who had been proud of what she thought was an ancestor in the Civil War. The evidence, she found, was adequate. David Hiram Jardine was not a Union veteran, and the flag over him all these years was no more than an awkward mistake. She felt terrible about this.
And she went to work on her own, to find out just who David Hiram Jardine had been. She found that he had been a British soldier, sent to the Colonies about Tea Party time, and along there somewhere he had deserted and sneaked up into Maine where he got a grant of 80 acres of farmland as his military bonus. We assume he never stated on which side he fit. The lady whose maiden name had been Jardine now resumed placing the annual flag and said nothing about her degrading discovery. I think it might be fun to tell you Jardine got a Civil War pension. Don't you think?