Christmas In Seventeen Seventy-six





ANNE HOLLINGSWORTH WHARTON



"On Christmas day in Seventy-six,

Our gallant troops with bayonets fixed,

To Trenton marched away."





CHILDREN, have any of you ever thought of what little people like you

were doing in this country more than a hundred years ago, when the cruel

tide of war swept over its bosom? From many homes the fathers were

absent, fighting bravely for the liberty which we now enjoy, while the

mothers no less valiantly struggled against hardships and discomforts in

order to keep a home for their children, whom you only know as your

great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers, dignified gentlemen and

beautiful ladies, whose painted portraits hang upon the walls in some of

your homes. Merry, romping children they were in those far-off times,

yet their bright faces must have looked grave sometimes, when they heard

the grown people talk of the great things that were happening around

them. Some of these little people never forgot the wonderful events of

which they heard, and afterward related them to their children and

grandchildren, which accounts for some of the interesting stories which

you may still hear, if you are good children.



The Christmas story that I have to tell you is about a boy and girl who

lived in Bordentown, New Jersey. The father of these children was a

soldier in General Washington's army, which was encamped a few miles

north of Trenton, on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River.

Bordentown, as you can see by looking on your map, if you have not

hidden them all away for the holidays, is about seven miles south of

Trenton, where fifteen hundred Hessians and a troop of British light

horse were holding the town. Thus you see that the British, in force,

were between Washington's army and Bordentown, besides which there were

some British and Hessian troops in the very town. All this seriously

interfered with Captain Tracy's going home to eat his Christmas dinner

with his wife and children. Kitty and Harry Tracy, who had not lived

long enough to see many wars, could not imagine such a thing as

Christmas without their father, and had busied themselves for weeks in

making everything ready to have a merry time with him. Kitty, who loved

to play quite as much as any frolicsome Kitty of to-day, had spent all

her spare time in knitting a pair of thick woollen stockings, which

seems a wonderful feat for a little girl only eight years old to

perform! Can you not see her sitting by the great chimney-place, filled

with its roaring, crackling logs, in her quaint, short-waisted dress,

knitting away steadily, and puckering up her rosy, dimpled face over the

strange twists and turns of that old stocking? I can see her, and I can

also hear her sweet voice as she chatters away to her mother about "how

'sprised papa will be to find that his little girl can knit like a

grown-up woman," while Harry spreads out on the hearth a goodly store of

shellbarks that he has gathered and is keeping for his share of the

'sprise.



"What if he shouldn't come?" asks Harry, suddenly.



"Oh, he'll come! Papa never stays away on Christmas," says Kitty,

looking up into her mother's face for an echo to her words. Instead she

sees something very like tears in her mother's eyes.



"Oh, mamma, don't you think he'll come?"



"He will come if he possibly can," says Mrs. Tracy; "and if he cannot,

we will keep Christmas whenever dear papa does come home."



"It won't be half so nice," said Kitty, "nothing's so nice as really

Christmas, and how's Kriss Kringle going to know about it if we change

the day?"



"We'll let him come just the same, and if he brings anything for papa we

can put it away for him."



This plan, still, seemed a poor one to Miss Kitty, who went to her bed

in a sober mood that night, and was heard telling her dear dollie,

Martha Washington, that "wars were mis'able, and that when she married

she should have a man who kept a candy-shop for a husband, and not a

soldier--no, Martha, not even if he's as nice as papa!" As Martha made

no objection to this little arrangement, being an obedient child, they

were both soon fast asleep.



The days of that cold winter of 1776 wore on; so cold it was that the

sufferings of the soldiers were great, their bleeding feet often leaving

marks on the pure white snow over which they marched. As Christmas drew

near there was a feeling among the patriots that some blow was about to

be struck; but what it was, and from whence they knew not; and, better

than all, the British had no idea that any strong blow could come from

Washington's army, weak and out of heart, as they thought, after being

chased through Jersey by Cornwallis.



Mrs. Tracy looked anxiously each day for news of the husband and father

only a few miles away, yet so separated by the river and the enemy's

troops that they seemed like a hundred. Christmas Eve came, but brought

with it few rejoicings. The hearts of the people were too sad to be

taken up with merry-making, although the Hessian soldiers in the town,

good-natured Germans, who only fought the Americans because they were

paid for it, gave themselves up to the feasting and revelry.



"Shall we hang up our stockings?" asked Kitty, in rather a doleful

voice.



"Yes," said her mother, "Santa Claus won't forget you, I am sure,

although he has been kept pretty busy looking after the soldiers this

winter."



"Which side is he on?" asked Harry.



"The right side, of course," said Mrs. Tracy, which was the most

sensible answer she could possibly have given. So:



"The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there."



Two little rosy faces lay fast asleep upon the pillow when the good old

soul came dashing over the roof about one o'clock, and after filling

each stocking with red apples, and leaving a cornucopia of sugar-plums

for each child, he turned for a moment to look at the sleeping faces,

for St. Nicholas has a tender spot in his great big heart for a

soldier's children. Then, remembering many other small folks waiting for

him all over the land, he sprang up the chimney and was away in a trice.



Santa Claus, in the form of Mrs. Tracy's farmer brother, brought her a

splendid turkey; but because the Hessians were uncommonly fond of

turkey, it came hidden under a load of wood. Harry was very fond of

turkey, too, as well as of all other good things; but when his mother

said, "It's such a fine bird, it seems too bad to eat it without

father," Harry cried out, "Yes, keep it for papa!" and Kitty, joining in

the chorus, the vote was unanimous, and the turkey was hung away to

await the return of the good soldier, although it seemed strange, as

Kitty told Martha Washington, "to have no papa and no turkey on

Christmas Day."



The day passed and night came, cold with a steady fall of rain and

sleet. Kitty prayed that her "dear papa might not be out in the storm,

and that he might come home and wear his beautiful blue stockings"; "And

eat his turkey," said Harry's sleepy voice; after which they were soon

in the land of dreams. Toward morning the good people in Bordentown were

suddenly aroused by firing in the distance, which became more and more

distinct as the day wore on. There was great excitement in the town; men

and women gathered together in little groups in the streets to wonder

what it was all about, and neighbours came dropping into Mrs. Tracy's

parlour, all day long, one after the other, to say what they thought of

the firing. In the evening there came a body of Hessians flying into the

town, to say that General Washington had surprised the British at

Trenton, early that morning, and completely routed them, which so

frightened the Hessians in Bordentown that they left without the

slightest ceremony. It was a joyful hour to the good town people when

the red-jackets turned their backs on them, thinking every moment that

the patriot army would be after them. Indeed, it seemed as if wonders

would never cease that day, for while rejoicings were still loud, over

the departure of the enemy, there came a knock at Mrs. Tracy's door, and

while she was wondering whether she dared open it, it was pushed ajar,

and a tall soldier entered. What a scream of delight greeted that

soldier, and how Kitty and Harry danced about him and clung to his

knees, while Mrs. Tracy drew him toward the warm blaze, and helped him

off with his damp cloak! Cold and tired Captain Tracy was, after a

night's march in the streets and a day's fighting; but he was not too

weary to smile at the dear faces around him, or to pat Kitty's head when

she brought his warm stockings and would put them on the tired feet,

herself.



Suddenly there was a sharp, quick bark outside the door. "What's that?"

cried Harry.



"Oh, I forgot. Open the door. Here, Fido, Fido!"



Into the room there sprang a beautiful little King Charles spaniel,

white, with tan spots, and ears of the longest, softest, and silkiest.



"What a little dear!" exclaimed Kitty; "where did it come from?"



"From the battle of Trenton," said her father. "His poor master was

shot. After the red-coats had turned their backs, and I was hurrying

along one of the streets where the fight had been the fiercest, I heard

a low groan, and, turning, saw a British officer lying among a number of

slain. I raised his head; he begged for some water, which I brought him,

and bending down my ear I heard him whisper, 'Dying--last battle--say a

prayer.' He tried to follow me in the words of a prayer, and then,

taking my hand, laid it on something soft and warm, nestling close up to

his breast--it was this little dog. The gentleman--for he was a real

gentleman--gasped out, 'Take care of my poor Fido; good-night,' and was

gone. It was as much as I could do to get the little creature away from

his dead master; he clung to him as if he loved him better than life.

You'll take care of him, won't you, children? I brought him home to you,

for a Christmas present."



"Pretty little Fido," said Kitty, taking the soft, curly creature in her

arms; "I think it's the best present in the world, and to-morrow is to

be real Christmas, because you are home, papa."



"And we'll eat the turkey," said Harry, "and shellbarks, lots of them,

that I saved for you. What a good time we'll have! And oh, papa, don't

go to war any more, but stay at home, with mother and Kitty and Fido and

me."



"What would become of our country if we should all do that, my little

man? It was a good day's work that we did this Christmas, getting the

army all across the river so quickly and quietly that we surprised the

enemy, and gained a victory, with the loss of few men."



Thus it was that some of the good people of 1776 spent their Christmas,

that their children and grandchildren might spend many of them as

citizens of a free nation.





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