Early morning before the sun is even awake and not a breath of a breeze bestirs the blackness of the water, little red blinking bow lights wink through the darkness, the whooshing throb of matched oars and creaking oarlocks the only whisper that an amphibious monster has passed.
Now a sport, crew once won independence.
Likewise, it was an impassioned crew on the exceedingly early morning (2 A.M.) of May 20, 1775 who are said to have declared their independence.
“Lords of the Sea” by John R. Hale, is subtitled “The Epic Story of the Athenian Navy and the Birth of Democracy.”
The trireme was a ship that could maintain the “phenomenal speed of ten knots over a full day of rowing” accomplished by three tiers of rowers, all 170 rowing in unison and responding in chant to the stroke call of the coxswain, “the siren song of the Athenian navy” striking fear in the heart of her enemies.
Fleet like an eagle and a fleet of hundreds, the trireme brought prosperity to Athens from conquered navies ushering in a century-and-a-half of golden age renaissance-like tranquility.
And who were these rowers?
Many were freemen, as opposed to slaves.
Not “emaciated, half-naked galley salves chained to their oars”, but citizens who took pride in their country, rich, poor and middle class , aristocrats and common laborers who “at times of supreme crisis would all board the triremes and row to save their city.”
And who comprised the crew who penned the words – some in blood – “our lives, our fortunes, and our most sacred honor”, as pledged in the July 4, 1776 Declaration of Independence?
Preachers and patriots to hear George Will tell it.
In his syndicated column of July 4, 2008, Pulitzer Price-winning columnist for the Washington Post and Newsday, George Will wrote concerning the birth of our nation, specifically of those in Mecklenburg County, N.C. it was the incensed Presbyterian ministers of Mecklenburg – fined for conducting marriages – and fellow citizens who esteemed the impending sacrifice worthy of the intentions of their words.
To be free.
To be free, wrote William J. Bennett in his compilation entitled “Our Sacred Honor,” many of the signers of the Declaration and other Americans “had to flee their homes; some lost their property and their fortunes, which they and their families never recovered.”
But to be free, they signed.
And to save their city and country, they rowed.
Pick up the pen, man the oars.