Thursday, December 18, 2014

Teaching -- Memories
 
Memories are an indication of a life well or ill spent.  Give your heart and soul to what you do and you will be rewarded.  Appreciative school children give back.
 
One morning just before lunch recess I found a twenty dollar bill lying next to a leg of one of the student desks.  One boy had not yet left.  He saw me pick up the bill.
 
“What are you going to do?” he asked.
 
“I’ll take it down to the office.  Maybe the person it belongs to will report losing it.”
 
The next day I asked the school secretary about the twenty dollar bill.
 
“Two boys came by this morning and got it.”  I asked their names.  One was the boy that had seen me pick up the bill.  The other, somebody I didn’t know, claimed to be the student that had lost the money.  The principal suspended them.  I said nothing about the incident to my student upon his return.  His parents had no doubt punished him.  He had been suspended.  Why pile on?
 
Several months later I asked for a couple of volunteers to score and time keep a girls B-team basketball game on one of the outdoor courts.  Because I was the coach of the A-team, which would be playing in the gym, I could not do it.  Nobody offered to help.  At the last minute my student that had been dishonest volunteered.  He did the job well.  I was touched. 
 
One incoming eighth grade group of students had the reputation of being difficult.  The girls, especially, were uncooperative.  Forewarned, many of the teachers chose to be stern disciplinarians.  “Here are the rules.  Woe unto you if you break one!”  I went the other way.  I was open to them.  I tried to recognize and respect their needs.  At the end of the year members of two of my classes contributed money to buy me a pair of jeans, a shirt, and nifty shoes.  I remember particularly one incident.  On consecutive days a girl notorious for not telling the truth lingered to talk to me after the end of class.  The final day she stayed too long and asked me to write a note to excuse her impending tardiness.  I wrote something like “Sarah left here at 10:46.”  She told me that the note wouldn’t do.  She’d get in trouble.  I told her that I couldn’t lie; I hadn’t detained her; she had decided to be late.
 
“What should I do?” she asked.
 
“Tell the truth.  Mr. B---- is one of the fairest teachers on the faculty.  Tell him.”
 
Mr. B---- spoke to me that afternoon.  He was surprised and pleased.  I was pleased also that she had told the truth and pleased that he now viewed her differently.
 
One year fairly late in my teaching career I was teaching two GATE (gifted and talented education) classes.  One was an English class, the other an American history class.  Students eligible to take such classes had to have scored 130 or above on a school-administered intelligence test.  School policy (or maybe the policy of the principal at that time) did not allow any student to take two GATE classes taught by the same teacher.  A mother of a very bright student insisted that her daughter be placed in both of my GATE classes.  The principal refused.  Not the least intimidated, the mother sat conspicuously outside his closed office door.  Time passed.  The principal relented.  The mother had been one of my prize students the second year I taught at the school.  (See my “teaching” post “Getting Better,” Sept, 2, 2014)  I was extremely flattered.
 
Half way through my teaching career I had a student handicapped by cerebral palsy.  He and I would spend lunch recess time “shooting baskets” in my room.  I would hurl a taped, wadded sheet or two of used ditto paper at my desk waste basket from the far reaches of the room.  He would shoot the “ball” five or six feet away.  We had competitive games, replete with hyperbolic, sports announcer-type commentary.    Four or five years later one of his older brothers came into my room during my preparation period.  He handed me a soft, stuffed, reddish-colored, cloth-covered “ball.”  Saying nothing to me, he left.  I realized that my lunch recess friend had died and that his brother had carried out a dying wish.
 
Fairly early during my career one of the boys in my class had been acting out too much.  I spoke with him privately.  He was very unhappy.  His parents were hollering at him constantly.  He was giving them considerable grief. 
 
“What is it they want?” I asked.
 
“A lot.  They want me to do this.  They want me to do that.  They’re so unfair.”
 
I told him rather forcefully that they had the right to expect certain things from him.  I suspected that he believed they didn’t love him.  I said, ”Do what they ask.  See how they react.”
 
A week later he was happy.  “Things are much better,” he told me.  He stayed that way most of the rest of the year.
 
Little things.  A girl, a C student, wrote in my yearbook: “You made me want to learn.”  A much picked-on seventh grade boy that I had tried to protect during the second year I had taught at the school appeared maybe twenty years later in my classroom during our school’s annual May open house. He was there with relatives.  A cousin of his -- or maybe his nephew – was one of my students.  He wanted to say hello.  Years after I retired, a sales clerk in a department store in Eugene, Oregon, looked at my wife’s credit card.  She remarked that she had had an English teacher once named Titus.
 
“Oh?  Where was that?"
 
“You wouldn’t know the place."
 
“Where?”
 
California.”
 
“What city?  My husband was an English teacher.”
 
“That couldn’t be.”
 
“What city?”
 
Orinda.”
 
“My husband was your teacher.  Why is it that you remember him?”
 
“He’d have waste paper shooting contests.  He played games with us.”
 
(Late during my career I had two principals that insisted that “time on task” was everything.  Not a minute of class time should be wasted.  My contention was that a little bit of play at the end of a period when necessary work had been completed raised student morale, which, in turn, heightened motivation to learn)
 
And one very serious thing. 
 
I coached boys and girls afterschool sports teams for a number of years.  I eventually limited my coaching to girls, mostly eighth grade, basketball.  Near the beginning of that stretch of time I had difficulty putting together a team.  Most of the athletic girls that year, displeased with their physical education teacher/coach in the seventh grade, decided not to play any afterschool sport.  I knew of three girls who did want to play basketball.  They were not socially connected with the boycotting group.  They were skilled players.  (All three would receive basketball scholarships from division one colleges)  There was also a fourth girl – I will call her Harriet – who was new to the school.  Early in the fall the three girls had befriended her.  She was athletic but not basketball skilled.  These four attended my first practice.  I told them after the practice that they would have to recruit other girls to play, that I would need at least three additional players.  Otherwise, I would coach the seventh grade team.  Three additional girls came to the next practice.  One was fairly athletic, the friend that accompanied her was not, and the third girl, lacking skills, just wanted to play sports.  We had a team.
 
The schools in our league played a short schedule of games – no more than ten.  The season ended with a championship tournament.  We won the tournament.  In the next-to-last game of the tournament Harriet chased after a ball that was going out-of-bounds.  She fell into the wooden bleachers and injured her leg.  That evening I visited her parents.  Her father, an FBI swat team leader, was irate that the host school had allowed the bleachers to be so close to the court.  I listened to him vent; eventually, his temper eased.  Several weeks passed.  The girls wanted to play more games.  Why not? I thought. I added two seventh grade players to our team and scheduled six games against teams outside our league area.  We won five of them.  Afterward, we were invited to play in a tournament hosted by a private school.  We won our first two tournament games.  The next morning a terrible event happened.
 
One of the three skilled girls, Debbie, whom I had as a student, told me that just before the school day had started a car had stopped at the curb in front of the school and an adult in the car had told Harriet to get in.  Debbie was afraid that something bad had happened to Harriet’s father.  About twenty minutes later I received a call from the school secretary.  Harriet’s father had died of a heart attack.  Harriet wanted to talk to me and would call the office during my preparation period.  I hung up the phone.  Debbie and a friend of hers were watching me intently.  I looked at them and nodded.  They burst into tears.  I gave them hall passes to go to the girls bathroom.
 
Harriet called.  She needed to talk.  She had always been afraid that her father might be killed in the line of duty.  She had witnessed at a previous school how a girl had been affected by her father’s unexpected death.  Harriet had noticed an immediate strangeness in how the girl affected and her friends related.  She didn’t want that to happen to her.  Her friends would surely treat her differently.  She did not want to be pitied; she did not want to be viewed as a victim.  Later that day I talked to several of her teammates.  I could see strain in their anticipation of how they would need to comport themselves.  That night we played in the championship game – without Harriet -- and lost.
 
The next day I arranged to take all of the players to Harriet’s house.  They joined her in her bedroom while I talked with her mother and aunt.  Harriet’s mother told me later in the year that this act had helped Harriet considerably.  I am certain that her teammates -- giving their loyalty, solace, and strength – gained as well.
 
I am thankful I chose not to work in a different profession.  Teaching brought out the best in me.  Although I made mistakes, I benefited people.  I was rewarded for it.  I am one of thousands of retired teachers able to say that.  I fear that today’s teachers twenty years later will not be able to.  Corporate leaders and complicit politicians seek to establish conformity in how and what public school children are taught.  “Efficiency,” they maintain, “enables high achievement.”  (Never mind that all the testing they require and the new curricular material they mandate reap substantial profit)  Eliminate the “bad” teachers and hire young teachers who will “get with the program,” they maintain, and the problem of American public education is solved.  I do not agree.               


Friday, December 12, 2014

Teaching -- The Dull Stuff
 
Last April a high school history teacher with 40 years of experience in public education unloaded on his Syracuse, New York, school district.  With much passion Gerald J. Conti declared: “I have truly attempted to live John Dewey’s famous quotation (now likely cliché with me, I’ve used it so very often) that ‘Education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.’ This type of total immersion is what I have always referred to as teaching ‘heavy,’ working hard, spending time, researching, attending to details and never feeling satisfied that I knew enough on any topic. I now find that this approach to my profession is not only devalued, but denigrated and perhaps, in some quarters despised.   … ‘data driven’ education seeks only conformity, standardization, testing and a zombie-like adherence to the shallow and generic Common Core, along with a lockstep of oversimplified so-called Essential Learnings. Creativity, academic freedom, teacher autonomy, experimentation and innovation are being stifled in a misguided effort to fix what is not broken in our system of public education …”
 
“My profession is being demeaned by a pervasive atmosphere of distrust, dictating that teachers cannot be permitted to develop and administer their own quizzes and tests … or grade their own students’ examinations. The development of plans, choice of lessons and the materials to be employed are increasingly expected to be common to all teachers in a given subject. This approach not only strangles creativity, it smothers the development of critical thinking in our students and assumes a one-size-fits-all mentality more appropriate to the assembly line than to the classroom. Teacher planning time has also now been so greatly eroded by a constant need to “prove up” our worth … that there is little time for us to carefully critique student work, engage in informal intellectual discussions with our students and colleagues, or conduct research and seek personal improvement through independent study. We have become increasingly evaluation and not knowledge driven” (Hannagan 1)”
 
In my school district (Orinda Union School District) at the time that I taught (1960-1991), veteran teachers were valued especially for how well they had learned to teach.  Like Mr. Conti, any teacher worth his salt pushes himself.  He learns by being innovative and by not being afraid to make mistakes.  Eighth grade English teachers have always had to teach the dull stuff: rules of capitalization and punctuation, parts of speech, standard word usage, and correct sentence structure.  The challenge has always been to make it palatable and useful.  Early in my teaching career my students scored well enough each year on the near school year-ending, California-mandated, standardized assessment test.  Their success seemed to me, however, artificial.  Teaching students when to capitalize “mother” and when not to, expecting them to identify adverbs that modify adverbs, and insisting that they know the difference between a direct object and an indirect object seemed like instructing dogs to “sit” and “lie.”  I wanted my students to utilize what I taught!  Motivating them to learn and put into practice all that I taught them indeed requires “creativity, academic freedom, teacher autonomy, experimentation and innovation.”  My school district did not stifle me.  It did not cause me to look over my shoulder.  It allowed me to stretch myself, benefit my students more, and experience great satisfaction.  I am very grateful.
 
I would like to tell you how I instructed.  Please imagine yourself to be a normal eighth grade student in my classroom in 1990, not excited about learning dull subject matter but having enough pride in yourself on most days to persevere.  At the end of the school year this is what you might recall.
 
###
 
Capitalization and Punctuation
 
Lots of drill.  Oh my!  Our teacher wanted us when we write dialogue to recognize spoken sentences within narrative sentences.  Don’t use a period before a “he said.” Ever!  Use a comma, question mark, or exclamation point, depending on what the spoken sentence requires.  Confused?  Here are some examples:
            “I saw your brother yesterday,” he said.
            “Did you see my brother yesterday?” he asked.
            “What a great game!” he shouted.
My teacher, Mr. Titus, never wants to see this:
            “I saw your brother yesterday.” he said.
Or this:
“I saw your brother.” he said.  “At the game.”
We have to understand that end punctuation marks (periods, question marks, and exclamation points) are used at the ends of sentences.  That includes spoken sentences!  If a “he said” interrupts a spoken sentence, I have to mark the interruption with commas, before and after.
            “I saw your brother yesterday,” he said, “at the game.”
            “Did you see my brother,” he asked, “at the game?”
Learning to punctuate dialogue was a bit challenging because it was new to me.  It was kind of interesting.  So also was knowing that commas are needed to isolate one-word responses like “yes” or “heck” that begin sentences.  You also have to separate anywhere in a sentence what our teacher calls nouns of direct address.  Figuring out where to put the commas was kind of like doing a puzzle.
“Don’t close that door, Mark.”
Dad, pass the butter.”
“Stop singing, stupid, if you know what’s good for you.” 
 
Mr. Titus put our names in the sentences we had to capitalize and punctuate.  What he had us say and do in the sentences was funny.  Shy, polite Kenny was a bully ready to kick butt.  Popular, bubbly Hazel was so shy she hardly spoke.  The class brain was stupid.  The class jock was a coward.  We all looked to find our names and read what he had us saying and doing before we started doing any of the sentences.  This is kind of like what the sentences looked like. 
 
            please don’t hit me you bully carl jenkins cringed if you do he said I’ll tell mr. carbunkle
            I’ll do whatever I want kenny jones growled see that you give me double your lunch money tomorrow he ordered
            unhand that little wimp it was the class hero jonathan turner unhand him this instant or I will smash thrash and render you unconscious
            yes please do samantha mason said I plan to invite him to my party which is this thursday and I don’t want him damaged I need him to bake cupcakes you can come too kenny if you promise to be nice
            hey baby how about you invite me the school lover jake johnson said get a load of this he flexed his right bicep
            wow I certainly will Samantha gushed be still my heart
 
After we got pretty good doing the sentences, Mr. Titus assigned us to write a brief short story scene that used a lot of dialogue.  We had to use at least once each of the following to show that we knew what he had taught us.
 
            Noun of direct address
            One word response at the beginning of a spoken sentence
            An appositive phrase
            A series of words or phrases
            A spoken sentence interrupted by a “he said”
            A spoken sentence that asks a question.
            A spoken sentence or expression that is an exclamation
 
Later in the year, Mr. Titus assigned us to write a three to four-page short story scene.  He also had us write about an autobiographical experience.  We had to use dialogue in both assignments.
 
Proper Word Usage
 
After capitalization and punctuation we learned what Mr. Titus called standard usage.  Take this sentence.
 
            The boy (run, runs) fast.
 
Not even a dummy would choose “run.”  It doesn’t sound right.  How about this sentence?
 
            Each of the high-achieving students (expect, expects) a high grade.
 
Most kids would choose “expect” because it also sounds right, but the correct choice is “expects.”  Before we got into subject/verb agreement and learned why “expects” is correct, Mr. Titus gave us a 20 sentence quiz that looked much like these sentences.
 
1.     I haven’t (did, done) that.
2.     I have (laid, lain) here for three hours.
3.     That girl in the red dress speaks (good, well).
4.     None of the goats (was, were) raised by that farmer.
5.     Sally baked the cake.  I (brought, brung) it to class.
6.     That ugly kid is friends with Jack, Carl and (I, me).
 
When we were finished with the quiz, he told us to write in the upper corner of our papers the number of correct answers we thought we would have.  I wrote “18.”  Then he gave the correct answers.  Here are the answers for the example sentences above.
 
          1.     done; 2. lain; 3. well: 4. was; 5. brought; 6. me
 
I got 12 sentences right, not 18.  Nobody did as well as he or she thought.  The odd-numbered sentences had easy word choices.  The even-numbered ones weren’t so easy, even though we thought so.  Our teacher drew two circles on the blackboard.  They pretty much overlapped.  He labeled one of the circles “conversational.”  The other circle he labeled “standard.”  He said that where the two circles overlapped is where what sounds right and what rules determine to be correct give you the same answer.  He said that because most of our parents are college educated and we learn to use words by what we hear, the overlap between the two circles is fairly large.  It would not be with students in the Los Angeles school where he taught his first year of teaching.  He said that “conversational usage” is what you are accustomed to hearing and what you yourself use in normal situations.  “Standard usage” is determined by specific rules.  It is used by educated people whose profession or social status requires it.  It was his duty to teach us standard usage.  He didn’t mean that we shouldn’t use conversational usage when it was appropriate to do so.  But we needed to know the difference between the two usages and be able to use standard usage when it was needed (like on standardized tests, but, more importantly, when we needed to demonstrate in real life situations an educated command of the English language. 
 
Thereafter, we learned the rules of subject/verb agreement, personal pronoun usage, adjective and adverb usage, agreement of pronouns with their antecedents, irregular verb form usage, all that dull stuff.  He never let us forget what we learned.  Every test he gave us included stuff we had learned earlier.  He’d be testing us about using irregular verb usage (“went” or “gone”) and we’d also have sentences that needed punctuation and that had subject/verb and “I” or “me” choices.  We really learned that stuff.  I also had fun correcting my parents when they used “I” in sentences when they should have used “me.”
 
Grammatical Sentence Structure
 
At the beginning of the year I expected I’d have to learn more about parts of speech.  “Wait until you have to diagram sentences,” my mother warned me.  Well, Mr. Titus didn’t do that.  He didn’t even use the grammar textbook.  We did learn a lot about parts of speech when we covered standard usage.  Especially nouns, pronouns, verbs, and prepositions.  There was a real purpose in being able to recognize them.  (You have to be able to spot a preposition to recognize the object of that preposition and not get fooled thinking the verb that follows it must agree with it  -- One of the boys is [not ‘are”] here).  Near the end of the school year we got into sentence structure.  He really went into what he called adjective and adverb modifiers.  I’m talking about phrases and clauses, not just one word modifiers.  He started off by giving us what he called a fact sheet.  It listed all the kinds of modifiers.  It looked like this:
 
            Adjective Modifiers
 
Adjectives of various types – The tall boy thanked several girls for baking those cakes.
Prepositional (adjective) phrase – The boy in the kitchen is making too much noise.
Participial phrase – The boy sleeping on the sofa is late for school.  This novel, written by John           Steinbeck, is outstanding.
Appositive phrase – My friend, a good student, wants to write a short story.
Relative clause – Bill, who is a good student, reads many books.
 
            Adverb modifiers
 
Adverbs that indicate the manner, place, time, and frequency of an action
            Bill spoke slowly.   Jack studies here.  Tom took his test yesterday.  Max plays basketball often.
Prepositional (adverb) phrases that provide the same information that adverbs do
            Bill spoke with a drawl.  Jack studies in a quiet room.  Tom took his test before noon.  Max played basketball for a month.
Adverb clauses, indicating manner, place, time, frequency, and reason
            Bill spoke as if he were afraid.  Jack studies where it is quiet.  Tom took his test before the other students came into the classroom.
            Max plays basketball whenever his friends ask him.  Because he was tired, Phil took a nap.
 
He had us do practice exercises that looked like this:
 
            (adj. – number) (adj. – descrp.) girls (adj. phr.) sang (adj. – descr.) songs (part. phr.) (adv. cl.)
Three giddy girls from Chicago sang silly songs written by several friends because they were bored.
 
To break the monotony of doing these exercises Mr. Titus occasionally had us play a relay game.  He divided the class into three teams, nine to a team.  Each team numbered its players.  He put three five by eight file cards on the blackboard tray.  Each card had nine numbers and after each number a specific adjective or adverb modifier.  The cards were identical.  This is how they would look.
 
1.     adjective phrase
2.     adverb-place
3.     adverbial clause –time
4.     participial phrase
5.     adverbial clause-reason
6.     appositive phrase
7.     relative clause
8.     adverb phrase-manner
9.     participial phrase
 
When Mr. Titus said, “Go!” the number one player of each team ran to the blackboard, looked at the modifier written after #1, and wrote an answer.  The next player of each team could not run to the blackboard until Mr. Titus said that the answer written on the board by the previous team member was correct.  This continued until all of the players on one of the teams were finished.  If somebody got stuck and couldn’t write a correct modifier, after about ten seconds Mr. Titus would say, “Help!” and the team captain would take over.  It was fun watching everyone getting excited urging his or her team on and laughing at how the kids at the blackboard acted.  (It didn’t hurt that Mr. Titus gave each winning team member a Brach candy)  I noticed when we played the game for the third time that we all had gotten a lot better writing correct answers.  
 
We got familiar with the different places in a sentence where these modifiers are used.  We learned, for instance, that adverbs and adverb clauses can begin a sentence as well as follow the verb or verb phrase that they modify.
 
            Cautiously, he drove through the fog.  Before the bell sounded, Jim headed for the door.
 
Mr. Titus really zeroed in on relative clauses. He showed us that if a relative clause has a certain form of be (is, are, was, were) as its verb, we can delete the relative pronoun (that, who, which) that begins the clause and the form of be that directly follows it and use what is left of the clause as an adjective modifier.
 
            The man who is smoking a cigar knows my brother.  Jack, who is my brother, enjoys football.
            The man smoking a cigar knows my brother.  Jack, my brother, enjoys football.
 
The resulting phrases will be either participial phrases (phrases that begin with a present or past participle) or appositive phrases.  If they modify the subject of the sentence, you can place them at the beginnings of sentences.
 
            Bill, who was smoking a cigar, waved to his friends.     Smoking a large cigar, Bill waved to his friends.
            Jack, who is a very good friend, invited me to his party.     A very good friend, Jack invited me to his party.
 
Mr. Titus gave us a lot of practice adding relative clauses and their deleted forms to simple sentence statements.
 
He also stressed the importance of parallel construction.  When you use “and” or “but,” you have to use the same kind of word, phrase, or clause in front and behind it.
 
            Jack likes big and tall girls.
The cat ran across the lawn and into the street.
The man who reads Steinbeck and whom my sisters think is funny was given an award.
After the clouds gathered but before the rain started, Mother brought her lawn chairs into the garage.
Published in 1967 and read by millions, the best-selling novel was made into a motion picture.
 
After all of this practice, we had to demonstrate that we could write complex, correctly constructed sentences on our own.  Mr. Titus gave us bunches of information about a made-up or real person.
 
Mr. Carbunkle
 
1.     is my seventh grade math teacher
2.     writes weird poetry
3.     is a veteran of the Vietnam War
4.     likes Italian food
5.     drove through a picket fence
 
We had to include all the information about the person in one correctly constructed sentence.  I kind of liked doing this because it was a challenge and because it wasn’t all that hard.  Here is how I would write a sentence about Mr. Carbunkle.
 
My seventh grade math teacher and a veteran of the Vietnam War, Mr. Carbunkle, who likes Italian food and who writes weird poetry, drove through a picket fence.
 
Mr. Titus told us that we shouldn’t always try to write long sentences.  Being clear is what is important.  However, there are times when long sentences are useful.  He also said that when he doesn’t like the sound of one of his long sentences, he looks to see how he constructed it.  Almost always he discovers an error in modifier placement or wrong parallel construction.  He said he likes beginning sentences with participial phrases and that we should try to use them.  He wants us to use everything of the dull stuff that he has taught us in our writing and, when we have to, in our speech.  The more we do this, the more our using it becomes natural.  But we will never get right everything we write on the first try.  Read out loud what you’ve written.  If it doesn’t sound right, you’ve probably used too many words or you might have misplaced or misused one or two modifiers or messed up your parallel construction.  Always go over what you write.  Don’t settle for something that is less than what you can write.
 
###
 
Teaching the dull stuff is essential.  The challenge is getting your students to recognize that it is useful and relevant.  Teaching it takes time and ingenuity, imperatives that teacher-bashing “reformers” refuse to recognize.  Teaching the dull stuff helped me considerably as a writer.  I could not have written the following passage from my novel “Crossing the River” without my knowledge of adjective and adverb modifiers, their placement in complex sentences, and parallel construction.
 
Profit necessitated subservience.  Having failed to achieve it first by use of intimidation and then by economic hardship, King and Parliament had resorted to heavy-handed subjugation.  This redcoat invasion of the country, this desist-or-die attempted confiscation of private property, had inspired armed insurgency. Disdained by Parliament, the aristocracy, and the British mercantile class, these compatriots, these commoners, these Massachusetts toilers this day had attacked militarily the master.    Yet they had cheered him [Dr. Joseph Warren].  It was true that he had instructed them, encouraged them, in the end incited them.  He, with others, had brought them to the river that could now be called revolution.  They, knowing full well the danger, had, of their own volition, crossed over (Titus 338-339)!
 
Works cited:
 
Hannagan, Charley.  Goodbye, Mr. Conti: a Westhill High Teacher's Retirement Letter Hits Home with Students, Parents.”  Syracuse.com.  April 2, 2013.  http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2013/04/goodbye_mr_conti_a_westhill_hi.html.  December 5, 2014.  Web.
 
Titus, Harold.  Crossing the River.  BookLocker.com, Inc.  2011.  Print.   


Saturday, December 6, 2014

Revolutionary War and War of 1812 Ancestor
 
Only if we conduct genealogical research of our family lineages are we apt to discover stories about ordinary Americans who in two-centuries old wars volunteered to fight for their ideals.  I am proud of my father’s ancestry.  It begins in 1635 with a man of compassion and extends through my father, who, when I was probably 12, refused to sign a petition that advocated efforts to keep African-Americans out of our Pasadena, California, neighborhood.  This post is about the most unique ancestor of my line, John Titus of Moriah, New York.  Before I tell his story, however, I need to write about that first Titus immigrant in America.
 
Robert Titus was born in 1600, probably in St. Catherine’s Parish, near Abbots, Hertfordshire, some 30 miles north of London, England.  He married Hannah Carter, the daughter of Robert Carter and Petronilla Curle, June 24, 1624, in Watford Parish.  Robert, Hannah, and their two children left England for America on the Hopewell April 3, 1635.  Robert was described on the Hopwell's passenger list as being a husbandman (farmer).  He was 35 years old, Hannah was 31, and their two sons John and Edmund were 8 and 5.  Robert was granted a plot of land in the present town of Brookline, Massachusetts. He and his family lived in Brookline for two or three years and then moved to the town of Weymouth.  They belonged to the Church of Weymouth where Rev. Samuel Newman was pastor from 1639 to 1643.  In 1643 Rev. Newman and most of his parishioners, including the Tituses, left Weymouth, moved south, and founded Rehoboth in Plymouth Colony, not far from present-day Providence, Rhode Island.  Each founder was required to provide the value of his estate.  The value of a man’s estate determined the size of land he would be granted.  Robert Titus reported his estate to be worth 156 pounds and 10 shillings.  He was granted 8 acres.  Each land owner had until April 20th of the following year to fence his lot or he would have to forfeit his land and leave the settlement.
 
Robert was a fairly important man in early Rehoboth.  In 1645 he was chosen by the town along with three others to inspect the quality of the fences of each lot and to levy fines on those whose fences did not meet town standards. That same year a levy was made on each estate to be paid in butter or wampum and Robert was chosen to be a collector of the revenue. In 1649 and 1650 Robert was chosen to be a Deputy of the Court along with a Stephen Paine.  In 1654, he fell out of favor with the town authorities.  “According to the town records Robert was called into court on June 6, 1654. At that meeting he was told to move his family out of the Plymouth Colony for allowing Abner Ordway and a woman with children, ‘persons of evil fame’ to live in his home” (Titus 6).  Genealogists believe that Ordway and the woman were Quakers.  Robert took his family to Long Island, where his younger son, Edmund, became a Quaker. Robert died in Huntington, Long Island, probably in 1679.  His older son John, a land holder, remained in Rehoboth.  It is through John that most New England Tituses today trace their ancestry to Robert.   
 
Robert’s Male Descendants leading to John Titus V:
 
John Titus, born 1627, St. Catherine’s Parish, England; died April 16, 1689, Rehoboth, Massachusetts Colony.  8 children by 2 wives.  Lived 61 years.  Fought in King Philip’s War
 
John Titus II, born December 18, 1650, Rehoboth; died December 2, 1697, Rehoboth.  9 children by 2 wives.  Lived 46 years.  Fought in King Philip’s War
 
John Titus III, born March 12, 1678, Rehoboth; died April 16, 1758, Rehoboth.  8 children by 3 wives.  Lived 80 years
 
Ebenezer Titus, born March 29, 1714, Rehoboth; died in 1794, probably in Voluntown, Connecticut.  6 children.  Lived 79 or 80 years
 
John Titus IV, born August 23, 1739, Rehoboth; died at an unknown date.  Perhaps 12 children.  He moved to Voluntown, Connecticut, in 1763 and to Rockingham, Vermont, in 1775.  He was living in Pittsford, Vermont, in 1790, according to the U.S. Census.
 
John Titus V, born October 28, 1763, Rehoboth; died March 4, 1858, Moriah, New York.  8 children.  Fought in both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.  Lived 94 years
 
The National Archives in Washington, D.C., in response to an inquiry made by Mrs. Erma Titus of Salt Lake City Feb. 11, 1932, stated that John V and his family moved from Rehoboth to Voluntown, Windham County, Connecticut, when he was approximately a year old.   He remained there until the late spring of 1775 when he and his parents and siblings moved to Rockingham, Vermont. 
 
According to the supplemental statement that he made many years later to obtain a Revolutionary War pension, John fixed the date of 1775 “from the fact that he well remembers that on the way to Vermont he heard the battle at Bunker Hill had taken place.  … he resided with his father in Rockingham until the seventeenth year of age when in 1780” he joined Captain Jesse Safford’s Vermont company under Major Ebenezer Allen and served for perhaps nine months a part of which was at and about Bethel, where he helped build a small fort called Fort Fortitude.
 
On October 16, 1780, nearby Royalton, Vermont, was raided.  “The Raid was conducted by a war party of 265 Mohawks and Abenakis, commanded by a British officer, Lieutenant Richard Houghton, who was operating under orders from the British high command in Canada, Lieutenant General Frederick Haldemand. It was all part of the British War effort.

"Royalton at that time was a collection of a couple dozen log cabins scattered along the Second Branch of the White River. The Raid would provide valuable captives, and would spread fear and disorder along the northern frontier - all desirable benefits for the British military - which by 1780 was all too certain it was losing the war.

"And so, early on October 16th, the British-led Indians attacked, burning cabins, capturing hostages [24 of them], and killing four residents of the White River Valley” (Slyton 1).  The raid was carried out in conjunction with other raids conducted along the shores of Lake Champlain and Lake George and in the Mohawk River Valley.  John Titus’s company arrived at Royalton too late to be of assistance.  Houghton’s attackers and their captives were on their way back to Canada.  John’s company stayed at Royalton 2 weeks. 
 
A year later John joined Captain Nehemiah Lovell’s company in Colonel Benjamin Wait’s Vermont regiment and served another 9 months, part of it about Bernard, also near Royalton.  During his stay at both Bethel and Barnard, each of his companies was divided into several scouting parties.  In his original statement made years later to obtain a pension he remembered “several incidents of skirmishes and hair-breath escapes and of fire and murder and pillage by the Indians.”  (I wish I knew the details)
 
In the spring of 1782 John visited his grandfather, Ebenezer Titus, in Voluntown, Connecticut, with the intention of remaining there for a time and then going to sea.  On the advice of his friends he was induced to enlist for a year in Captain Daniel Allen’s Company, Colonel Samuel Canfield’s Connecticut Regiment.  He received a small bounty for enlisting.  He served most of his 12 months in the Long Island Sound and about Horse Neck (Grennwich), Connecticut).  He was discharged in 1783 after his regiment had learned that peace between England and the United States had been declared.
 
John returned to Voluntown, Connecticut.  He signed up as a crew member on the whaling ship Rising Sun out of Providence, Rhode Island, Paul Giles of Nantucket commanding.  The ship worked along the coastline of South America and, later, about the West Indies.  John returned to Rehoboth, Massachusetts, during the winter of 1785 and married there on June 15 of the following year Mehitable Fuller.  For the next 6 or 7 years he rode the seas, principally as a whaler, returning to Voluntown long enough periodically to sire three children, born in 1787, 1789, and 1791.  Later in life he often remarked that he had eaten bread on the four quarters of the globe.
 
John and his growing family moved about considerably after he quit the sea.  His fourth child was born in Voluntown in 1793.  Thereafter, he lived in several towns in Vermont.  His obituary, printed by the Burlington, Vermont, Weekly Sentinel, mentioned Pitfall, Cornwall, Orwell, Hinesburg, and Addison.  A shoemaker by trade, he stayed for awhile in Shoreham.  His fifth child, Russell Lloyd Titus, was born in 1800 in Elizabethtown, New York.  His last child, Alanson Titus, was born in Hinesburg, Vermont, in 1810.
 
Living in Hinesburg in 1813, he enlisted as a private in Captain J. B. Murdock’s Company, Colonel George McFeeley’s 25th Regiment U.S. Infantry.  He was 50 years old.  His son Russell Titus commented years later that his father’s age “was such as would exclude him and his manly vigor was such that he was accepted.  When asked his age, he answered, ‘I am old enough to be a good soldier.’”  John’s oldest son, John Jr. – called Jack – also enlisted.  John was stationed in northern New York.  He was wounded in the right arm and was ruptured in the groin near Ogdensburgh, New York, along the St. Lawrence River during the Battle of Cryslers Farm November 11, 1813.  The battle marked the end of American’s ambition to capture Montreal.  Major General James Wilkinson’s defeated forces withdrew from the St. Lawrence area to spend the winter at Plattsburg, New York.  102 Americans had been killed and 237 had been wounded.  120 had been taken prisoners.  John’s son Jack was killed July 5, 1814, in the Battle of Chippawa, along the Niagara River in Ontario, Canada.  60 Americans were killed; 249 were wounded; 19 were reported missing.  John was discharged September 19, 1814.  His discharge paper described him as being 40 years old, the color of his hair light, his eyes blue, his complexion light, and his height 5 feet 7 inches.  Until his death in 1858 he received a disability pension, annually.
 
John lived for several years in Addison County (perhaps in the town of Addison) before moving across Lake Champlain to settle in Moriah, New York.  He may have been living in Moriah as early as 1825 because his daughter Mehitable died and was buried there that same year.  The 1830 U.S. Census confirmed Moriah to be his place of residence.  He and his wife were living there with their blind son, Russell.   “On moving to Moriah,” his obituary stated, “he found a wide region where he could indulge in his favorite sport of hunting, it then being an almost unbroken wilderness from the Adirondack mountains to the St. Lawrence River and abounding in game of various kinds.  Through all this region he pursued his game until he was familiar with every path of it.”
 
I have a copy of a statement Russell dictated to his daughter-in-law, Lucy Maria Eaton Titus, many years later.  In it Russell explained that due to his brother Jack’s service in the War of 1812, their father was entitled to the land warrant that Jack would have received had he lived.  John signed the warrant over to Russell “to Illinois in 1821 where I took an inflammation in my eyes which ended in total blindness in the year of 1824, since which time I have had no more vision from either eye than from my hand.  I returned from the west to Ohio with a team and from there to Vermont on horseback having just enough sense of vision to guide me, and went immediately to New York eye infirmary and there learned that I must live in blackness the rest of my days, my sight gone, my parents poor, and my pocket empty.  I commenced peddling with $9.00 worth of tinware.  I followed peddling six years and had made enough money and with my father’s pension (as I had a home with him) I bought a small stock of Yankee notions and tinware and settled in Moriah Centre where I got together enough to build me a house and buy land.  Afterwards I built a store and two other dwellings and have so prospered as to make a good deal of money and to lose a good deal with others in business.”  Russell married Mary Parmenter, daughter of Oliver Parmenter and Nancy McIntire, in Moriah probably in 1830 because their first child, Amanda, was born there in August 1831.
 
After Congress had passed the June 7, 1832, act that authorized Revolutionary War soldiers still alive to received annual pension payments, John inquired if he were eligible, given that he was receiving a disability pension for service in the War of 1812.  He was told erroneously by a cashier of the Bank of Vergennes (in Vermont), where he drew his disability pension, that he could not draw two pensions at the same time.  He made no further inquiries for several years.  Eventually, he consulted in Moriah a young lawyer who told him that for other reasons – inaccuracies of records of his dates of service – that he could not receive a Revolutionary War pension.  It wasn’t until nearly 1850 that he was told he might be eligible.  His subsequent efforts to convince federal authorities of his actual years of service were ultimately successful.  On June 7, 1854, he was authorized to receive $69.66 annually and be paid in arrears from March 4, 1831.
 
John Titus died in Moriah March 4, 1858, at the age of 94.  His obituary stated: “At the last presidential election [1856] Mr. Titus came to the poll and after depositing his vote [for John C. Fremont], remarked that he voted for George Washington, the first President of the United States, that he had voted for president and for freedom and was now ready for the ‘Call of Roll,’ meaning thereby that his mission on earth was finished and that he was ready to leave this world.”
 
I am proud that John Titus is one of my ancestors.  He and Deliverance and Oliver Parmenter (read my December 1, 2014, post)) have much to do with my particular interest in the Revolutionary War. 
 
For what it is worth, here is how John’s line of descent reaches me.
 
Russell L. Titus, born February 16, 1800, Elizabethtown, New York; died October 23, 1884, Moriah, New York.  6 children.  Lived 84 years
 
Edwin Bristol Titus, born October 21, 1832, Moriah; died March 11, 1876, Moriah.  5 children.  Lived 43 years
 
Joel Columbus Titus, born January 31, 1869, Moriah; died April 29, 1943, Ridgefield Park, New Jersey.  3 children.  Lived 74 years
 
Homer Eaton Titus, born November 23, 1898, Mt. Vernon, New York; died December 20, 1963, Los Angeles, California.  2 children.  Lived 65 years
 
Harold Wesley Titus (me), born August 17, 1934, Mt. Kisco, New York.  3 children
 
Works Cited:
 
Slayton, Tom.  “Slayton: The Royalton Raid.”  VPR.net Home Commentary Series.  Vermont Public Radio.  December 2, 2010, 7:55 a.m.  http://www.vpr.net/episode/50008/slayton-royalton-raid/.  December 5, 2014.  Web. 
 
Titus, Leo J., Jr.  Titus: A North American Family History.  Baltimore, Gateway Press, Inc., 2004.  Print.