Clinton middle schooler wins DAR essay contest
CLINTON It is easiest to remember history as series of inspiring moments: the Marines planting a flag at Iwo Jima or Lincoln's speech at Gettysburg.
But history is messy—both Iwo Jima and Gettysburg were bloodbaths—and to pretend otherwise is a disservice to the mostly ordinary men and women who were a part of it.
Mara Morouney, 14, an eighth-grade student at Clinton Middle School, understands this. That understanding—and her writing skills—helped her win the national Daughters of the American Revolution essay contest.
Morouney wrote about her ancestor, Thomas Francisco, who fought in the War of 1812. The essay is in the form of a journal entry by Frederick Moore, one of Francisco's shipmates. In her essay, the men are part of the 3rd Regiment of the New York Militia but are stationed on Lake Erie with Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry.
Morouney said she loves to write but generally prefers fiction. It was her background as a fiction writer that helped her create the battle scenes.
"It really helped me describe what I saw in my mind's eye," Morouney said. "I tried to picture what it would really have been like for the soldiers."
She wrote about the evening before the battle: "The shadowy skeletons of our ships are silhouetted against the dark sky. The stars now creep out like little eyes."
The next day, the men go into battle, and Morouney describes the ships maneuvers. Of course, the essay also recounts the story of famous line, "Don't give up the ship"—the inspiration that helped Perry continue his fight.
She also writes about the horror of battle, how the deck was "slick with blood" and its sobering reality.
She notes, too, that Perry originally was reluctant to take the freed black seaman sent to him by Commodore Isaac Chauncey.
That was all part of seeing the whole situation "in her mind's eye," she said.
In June, Morouney will go to Washington, D.C., to accept her award at the Daughters of the American Revolution's Continental Congress.
"I love Washington, D.C.," Morouney said. "We went for our eighth-grade class trip, and it's going to be fun to go back again.
Although she likes history, she is more interested in writing. After high school, she hopes to go to the UW-Madison and pursue an English major.
This is the essay Clinton Middle School eighth-grader Mara Morouney, 14, wrote to win the national Daughters of the American Revolution essay contest:
"Young America Takes a Stand: The War of 1812"
Frederick Moore's Journal
It is September 9, 1813. I am currently stationed on Lake Erie in the hopes of seeing some action. Our men have been training since August and I'm beginning to tire of the whole ordeal. Commodore Perry is trying to convince us that we must ensure American control of Lake Erie if we are to win the war. He thinks that we can somehow recapture Detroit. I am doubtful to this idea, but I long for something to finally happen.
My good friend, Thomas Francisco, tells me that I shouldn't wish for such things. He believes that it is very possible that the British will defeat us if we come in contact with them. I have no desire to train for another month. Thomas says that I need to cease griping. I think that complaining is the only thing that keeps me sane.
We have nine ships in all, which is not quite so bad. Five of the ships had been built over the spring and summer. The other four had been brought up Lake Erie. Two of our ships are huge, 20-gunners. The seven other ships were smaller, but would still serve us well in a battle. That is, if we ever see the British and their captain, Robert Barclay.
I am in the 3rd Regiment of the New York Militia. Thomas is also. We were not originally trained for naval fighting, but Perry was so low on troops he had taken many soldiers unaccustomed to fighting at sea. He had been forced to ask for reinforcements from Commodore Chauncey who was defending Lake Ontario. Chauncey sent several free black seamen. Perry complained, but Chauncey had so much praise for his own black seamen that Perry reluctantly agreed to take them. They have performed well, so far. Yet I think that the true test will be in battle.
Night has now fallen and the light is gone from the surface of the lake. The shadowy skeletons of our ships are silhouetted against the dark sky. The stars now creep out like little eyes and they dance across the placid, glass top of the waters. They make me feel lonely and strangely insignificant. Perhaps all of our ships will be lost and the world will not even feel a slight tremor of imbalance.
It is now September 10, 1813. I am awoken in a flustered, confused state when I hear shouts of both distress and jubilation. I sit up and I hear Thomas yell that we have caught sight of the British fleet. I quickly scramble to my feet and prepare for the fight that is to come.
I race out the door and peer through the morning fog. I count only four ships and I tell that to my comrades with glee. They shout out in happiness of the numbers until one of the crew counts two more. Then they fall silent. There is one big 21-gunner and another 18-gunner. Thankfully we still have the 20-gun flagship Lawrence and another 20-gun ship Niagara.
Now we are almost within range of the British fleet. The deck is slippery from the mist and I trip over my own feet. Thomas pulls me up and says, "Well, you finally got what you were wishing for. I guess there's no hope for you. You can barely live through the friendly fire of our own decks!"
Suddenly, a huge boom erupted through the still air. Thomas dropped me to the floor in shock. The enormous noise has somehow sucked all of our voices out of us. For a moment, the whole world seems to be void of life. Then, a retaliating blast echoes throughout the sky. It gives us our wits back to us and we quickly jump into our battle positions. Finally all of our training would pay off.
Our ship slowly, yet purposefully, swung over in the direction of one of the smaller British ships. I see Commodore Perry's ship, the Lawrence, pull up to a huge battleship. Surprisingly, the Niagara, is hanging back. I suppose they are using their long guns like the rest of us. I'm not sure why they don't approach since they're such a powerful ship.
We fire our long guns steadily at the ships in an effort to protect the flagship that Perry is on. I see a strip of blue fabric on the Lawrence. When I ask Thomas about it he says that it is a banner bearing the words "Don't give up the ship". Those were the last reported words of Captain James Lawrence of the USS Chesapeake.
I notice that the Lawrence had been battered beyond repair. I fear that maybe we have lost until I see a small rowboat steadily progressing towards the Niagara. Before I realize what is going on, a sudden blast from a British ship flies towards us and hits one of the men beside me. I haven't noticed anyone be hit before. Silently, I turn and gasp in horror.
So many people are dead in front of me. The deck is literally slick with blood. It was a chilling reminder of how I had slipped on mere mist just hours before. I look up as if I expect the sky to be raining blood instead of water, but the sky is clear. My own words on wishing for action haunt me.
While my mind is numb from shock, Thomas shoots a long gun at one of the smaller ships nearby. Suddenly, he reaches out and helps me up. He tells me that Commodore Perry survived the bombardment of the Lawrence and had rowed over to the Niagara where he had helped finish the battle. The British had surrendered to our fleet. His words barely register with me.
If anyone can be called a patriot, it's Thomas Francisco. The true heroes of this war, and any war I think, are those people who served. They don't need to be a famous general to love their country.