Re-searching Shunk, continued

September 16, 2014

Issachar Bates (1758-1837) lamented the hypocrisy of elected leaders who in the name of God, raved about freedom yet allowed slavery to continue, and wicked priests who allowed denominational pride to get in the way of fighting for right. Bates walked several thousand miles through the Midwest preaching his concept of the Rights of Consciousness:

RIGHTS of conscience in these days,

   Now demand our solemn praise;

Here we see what God has done

   By his servant Washington,

Who with wisdom was endow’d

   By and angel, through the cloud,

And led forth, in Wisdom’s plan

   To secure the rights of man.

Fortuna introduces each nation to her own ethos. The British, outraged by American attacks upon Canadian forces in border towns deemed to be outside civilized laws of warfare issued orders to destroy and lay waste to vulnerable targets. Baltimore, Washington, and Philadelphia looked to be the most promising. The British capture of Washington, D.C. in the autumn of 1814 was the only occasion since the Revolutionary War when a foreign power captured and occupied the young nation’s capital. British forces, though inferior in numbers, in a spectacular ten-day campaign won victory over inexperienced and undisciplined American forces. Federal government leaders who made the most of Washington’s legacy after his death made the decision not to defend the Capital – his namesake. At dawn on August 24, the British marched via the Bladensburg Road towards Washington. American forces proved insufficient as Ross’s forces easily broke trough their positions before the British approached Washington. The British could find no American official to negotiate surrender of the city. Officers dined at the abandoned presidential mansion before ransacking and burning it.

Francis Rawn Shunk (1788-1848), a humble and benevolent fortune hunter saw the United States as a land abounding in inexhaustible resources. He began to study law with Thomas Elder in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and soon hired Francis to write practical documents before volunteering to serve at the Battle for Baltimore. Shunk scribbled this poem (excerpted from page 50 of his journal):

It sheds upon my soul a melancholy hue

   Its short-lived influence shall my bosom fill

And teach the lesson of departing time

   When fine delights fill my soul with

Thoughts serene on things above

   Where time & chance & misery all shall yield

To heavenly peace & everlasting love.


This must fond inducements like pure zest

   Yield up their joy to cruel unrelenting fate

Thus kink endearments mild celestial brand

   That in its wove in covers of peace & live by love

So rudely torn fate’s rough iron hand

   Is torn asunder by fate’s unrelenting hand.

And kindred spirits doomed – apart to rove.


The Weeping Willow

The Weeping Willow

Shunk borrowed a copy of William Wirt’s The Old Bachelor to read on his off-duty hours. Still green to the ways of the world, he quipped: “The knowledge of men is an important acquisition yet it is not always a source of Satisfaction.” He scribed thoughts on the dichotomy of dependence: “Dependence is that relation which subsists between master and servant, and in which, the wile of the latter is absorbed in the former and is subject to his commands – without resistance – he is a mere machine.” Shunk concluded, “The degrees of this relation are various and extensive; its existence is almost universal, it is not confined to Slaves, properly speaking, that finds its way into all ranks and Conditions of life.”

Shunk felt that worldly knowledge of men causes regret and mortification that outweighs the virtues discovered. He leveraged his self-education to rise in rank. He, a poor schoolteacher, garnered surveying experience. Francis felt that if Americans did not confront the countries that bullied them, their newfound independence would have little meaning. However his view of the conflict evolved as he experienced the hardship of war. He wrote in his journal, “Did kings & conquerors in the hours of serious affliction weigh their glory and their fame against the wretchedness they have produced?”

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