The Devil’s Disciple (1959) George Bernard Shaw’s take on the American Revolution, with the wit to prove there’s no difference between a Puritan minister (Burt Lancaster) and a revolutionary apostate (Kirk Douglas). Pity the poor wife (Janette Scott) who must choose between them. “Martyrdom,” quips “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne (Laurence Olivier), “it is where one achieves fame without ability,” adding later, “History, sir, will tell lies, as usual.”
So much for the cherry tree. New historicists
Have documented a divided colony, with some,
Such as John Singleton Copley, whose portrait
Of revolutionary Paul Revere enshrines Boston,
Remaining loyal to King and British heritage,
Fleeing with family to England during the war.
The nation was always divided, except on race,
As Ben Franklin’s press excluded Native Americans
And African-Americans from patriotic citizenship,
The better to unite squabbling states in common cause —
Thirteen clocks striking at once, as John Adams claimed,
Against British Hessian troops and ethnic “strangers.”
Of course there were spies. One African-American
Posed as a runaway slave among British forces
Providing LaFayette with tactical information
That helped Patriots win the Battle of Yorktown,
Then took on the name of his French General
Becoming James Armistead Lafayette.
To recover from defeat, Washington used
The Culper Spy Ring in New York,
And even today no one knows the true identity
Of Agent 355, a woman who exposed traitors
Matthew Arnold and Major John André,
A pop icon today in scifi’s Y: The Last Man.
Revolution’s good business. America’s greatest con-man,
P. T. Barnum, author of The Art of Money Getting,
Exhibited the 161-year old black Joice Heth
Claiming she was George Washington’s wet nurse,
Then changing his story, that she was an automaton,
And sold tickets to her autopsy in a New York saloon.
[Disposable Poem January 18, 2017]