There could hardly be any prettier place to die than the hilltop field on which the Battle of Hubbardton took place. The flowers of midsummer — red clover, and Queen Anne’s lace — were blooming there the day I visited, as they might have been the day of the battle. The rocky cliffs of Mount Zion rose a mile or so to the southwest, and farther off to the southeast, the blue Taconic Range shouldered into the summer sky.
As I walked the mown path around the hill, watching bright little butterflies flutter about amongst the grasses and wildflowers, it was hard to imagine that men had fought and bled and died here.
But it was here, two-hundred forty years ago, that American troops under the command of Col. Seth Warner fought a larger Army of red-coated British regulars to a standstill before being overrun. It was the first real opposition that the British had encountered in their seventeen seventy-seven campaign down the Champlain Valley from Canada.
General John Burgoyne had been told the Americans were afraid of regular British troops and would not fight. The sharp resistance they encountered at Hubbardton proved him wrong.
Today, the battlefield is quiet, but research continues as historians learn and understand more of what happened on that July morning. New facts keep turning up: new information, new stories.
One story that recently came to light is the subject of a special exhibit at the battlefield’s visitor center. There you can see the effects of Aaron Oliver, a New Hampshire farmer who enlisted and re-enlisted, fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill, and finally was captured at Hubbardton. Oliver was released in seventeen seventy-eight, but while in captivity, he had been starved, and he died not long afterwards.
And here’s the part of the story that might surprise you: Aaron Oliver, who fought so determinedly and died for his country, was black, an African-American. In fact, about 40 of the Americans who fought and labored that day on that hilltop were black men.
It’s all too easy to forget that our history, from the beginning, has been a tapestry of many races, many colors, never pure lily-white. We’re a rainbow, a motley crew of immigrants or the descendants of immigrants, and have been since our country began.
And that is our strength and our glory.