11 Ordinary People Who Aided the Revolution

The men who declared American Independence in 1776 get their due respect in the history books. But often, many of the men and women who helped earn that independence are forgotten. Here are 11 of the unsung heroes who made huge contributions to the American Revolution.

1. William Dawes

Wikimedia Commons

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem only immortalized one of the two brave men who rode through the night on April 18, 1775, to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams of possible arrest. After learning that the British were preparing to march on Lexington, Dr. Joseph Warren sent Paul Revere to cross the river in a rowboat while Dawes was responsible for slipping past the British sentries who guarded the land bridge connecting Boston to the rest of Massachusetts. Ultimately, both men made it, with Revere beating Dawes to Lexington by half an hour, so Dawes’ act of equal bravery is often overlooked.

2. Dr. Joseph Warren

Wikimedia Commons

Warren did more than just dispatch Revere and Dawes—he was a steadfast supporter of the Revolution in his own right. After the passage of the Townsend Acts in 1767, Warren wrote a series of inflammatory articles for the Boston Gazette under the pseudonym “A True Patriot” that got him and his publishers accused of libel. He was responsible for raising the militia in Boston and was elected second general in command of the Massachusetts forces by the Provincial congress on June 14, 1775. Despite his position of command, he went into battle along with the rest of the militia and was killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill.

3. Crispus Attucks

National Archives

This escaped former slave is generally considered to be the first American to die in the Revolution. He was working as a merchant seaman in Boston when Samuel Adams called on colonists to demonstrate against the British troops guarding the customs commissioners. In what became known as the Boston Massacre, 40 to 50 patriots armed with clubs and sticks were fired on by British troops, with Attucks as the first casualty.

4. Nancy Hart

Wikimedia Commons

A comely, rough-around-the-edges frontierswoman, Hart did everything she could to help the patriot cause while tending to the household during the Revolutionary War. While her husband served in the militia, Hart would often disguise herself as a simpleminded man to infiltrate British camps to gather information. Once, she even shot and killed a British solider in her own home after plying a group of them with wine and stealing their weapons. She held the rest of the group at gunpoint until her husband returned home.

5. Pedro/Peter Francisco

Wikimedia Commons

The first few years of Francisco’s life are a mystery because he was abandoned on a dock on the coast of Virginia when he was just four years old. The young boy, thought to be Portuguese, was taken in and raised by local judge Anthony Winston. Francisco grew up while the Revolution was brewing and finally at 16, Winston let the already-towering boy enlist in the militia. Francisco, who at 6’6” was a good foot taller than most of the men of the era, was renowned during the war for his many feats of strength and bravery—one story credits him with carrying a 1,000-pound cannon off the battlefield after a defeat so it didn’t fall into enemy hands. George Washington himself was said to have called Francisco a “one-man army.”

6. Laodicea Langston

Known as “Dicey,” Langston was just a teenager when she started spying to protect her fellow patriots. Although her immediate family all supported the Revolution, with her brothers joining the Continental Army, many of their friends and neighbors remained loyal to King George. Langston used these connections to gather information about the enemy. In one particular instance, she got word that the Bloody Scouts band of Tories was headed towards her brothers' camp. To warn them, she traveled on foot all night, through the woods and icy waters of the Enoree River, arriving in time to save their lives. By the time she got home, the Bloody Scouts were threatening her father at gunpoint. She threw herself in front of him, so impressing the Tories that they spared both Langstons.

7. Betsy Hager

Orphaned at the age of nine, Hager became what was known as a “bound girl,” working as a servant for different families to earn her keep. In doing so, she picked up an array of skills atypical for women at the time. When the war broke out, she put those skills to use by working with blacksmith Samuel Leverett to refurbish old British guns and artillery for use by the Continental Army. She also cared for injured soldiers, picking up skills she would use after the war when she practiced medicine.

8. Hannah Arnett

Arnett herself didn’t participate in the action of the Revolutionary War quite as much as some of the others on this list, but with her words, she reached many of the men who did. In 1776, a group of men in Elizabethtown (where she lived) met to discuss abandoning the Revolutionary cause and pledge their loyalty to Great Britain to try to ensure their safety in the coming war. Barging in on the meeting, Arnett called the men cowards and traitors and even threatened to leave her husband if he sided with the King. The men were swayed by her words and remained loyal to the Revolution.

9. Roger Sherman

NYPL Library

Somehow, Sherman gets forgotten while his fellow Founding Fathers are lauded. He held a number of political positions in our fledging country, including associate justice on the Supreme Court of the colony and the first mayor of New Haven. In addition to his various day jobs, Sherman helped draft the Declaration of Independence and, in fact, is responsible for the nation’s bicameral congressional system. Although often overlooked, he was the only member of the Continental Congress who signed all four of the great state papers: the Association of 1774, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution.

10. Joseph Plumb Martin

Martin was a typical soldier in the Revolutionary War. He joined the Connecticut state militia at just 15 years old and went on to serve almost seven years in the Continental Army of General George Washington. What set Martin apart is that he kept a detailed diary during the War and many years later published an anonymous account based on that diary entitled A Narrative of Some of the Adventures, Dangers and Sufferings of a Revolutionary Soldier, Interspersed with Anecdotes of Incidents that Occurred Within His Own Observation. Although it sold poorly during his lifetime, the book was republished over 100 years later under the title Private Yankee Doodle and shed new light on the daily life of the men who made independence possible.

11. Jeremiah O’Brien

O’Brien was responsible for the first naval victory in the Revolutionary War. Just as tensions between the British and colonists were coming to a head in 1775, the Unity and Polly ships arrived in Machias, Maine with much needed supplies from Boston. When they arrived, however, residents were outraged to find that the ships were accompanied by the British armed schooner Margaretta, which had been sent to retrieve lumber to build British barracks. When attempts to capture the Margaretta’s captain and lieutenant on land failed, O’Brien led a group of 40 men armed with guns, swords, axes, and pitchforks aboard the Unity to engage Margaretta at sea. After the British captain was killed, the colonists claimed weaponry from the ship and the first naval victory of the war.

16 Soothing Facts About Muzak

Keith Brofsky/iStock via Getty Images
Keith Brofsky/iStock via Getty Images

Whether you know it as background music, elevator music, or, as Ted Nugent once called it, an “evil force causing people to collapse into uncontrollable fits of blandness,” Muzak has ruled speakers for the better part of a century. Press play on your favorite easy-listening album and scroll on for some unforgettable facts about the most forgettable genre of music.

1. Muzak is a brand name.

Much like Chapstick, Popsicle, and a certain type of vacuum-sealing plastic food container, Muzak is a registered trademark. It began as the name of the company that first produced the easy-listening instrumental tunes that played in factories, elevators, and department stores. As its popularity grew, people started to use Muzak as a generic term for all background music.

2. Muzak was invented by a U.S. army general.

Major General George Owen Squier
Library of Congress // Public Domain

During World War I, Major General George Owen Squier used electrical power lines to transmit phonograph music over long distances without interference. He patented this invention in 1922 and founded Wired Radio, Inc. to profit from the technology. The company first devised a subscription service that included three channels of music and news and marketed it to Cleveland residents for $1.50 per month. When Squier and his associates realized their product was a little too close to regular (free) radio, they started pitching it to hotel and restaurant owners, who were more willing to pay for a steady broadcast of background music without interruptions from radio hosts or advertisements.

3. The name is a portmanteau of music and Kodak.

In 1934, Squier changed the name of his business from Wired Radio to Muzak, combining the first syllable of music with the last syllable of Kodak, which had already proven to be an extremely catchy, successful name for a company.

4. Muzak has been releasing instrumental covers of pop songs since its inception.

The first-ever original Muzak recording was an instrumental medley of three songs performed by the Sam Lanin Orchestra: “Whispering,” by John and Malvin Shonberger, “Do You Ever Think of Me?” which was covered by Bing Crosby, and “Here in My Arms,” by Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers from the 1925 Broadway musical Dearest Enemy.

5. Muzak was briefly owned by Warner Bros.

The sound of Muzak was wafting across the country by the end of the 1930s, which caught the ears of Warner Bros. The company bought Muzak in 1938, fostered it for about a year, and then sold it to three businessmen: Waddill Catchings, Allen Miller, and William Benton (Benton would later publish the Encyclopaedia Britannica and serve as a U.S. senator for Connecticut).

6. Muzak was designed to make factory workers more productive.

Muzak manufactured soundtracks, based on a theory called “stimulus progression,” that consisted of 15-minute segments of background music that gradually ascended in peppiness. The method was meant to tacitly encourage workers to increase their pace, especially during the productivity lulls that often occurred during the late morning and mid-afternoon.

7. Muzak helped calm anxious elevator passengers.

Since more advanced electric elevators diminished the need for elevator operators in the mid-20th century, passengers were often left alone with an unsettling silence that made them all too aware that they were hurtling upward or downward in a steel box. Soft, calming Muzak played through speakers offered the perfect distraction.

8. There’s a reason Muzak's tempo is slower in supermarkets.

Just like factory workers might move faster while listening to fast-paced tracks, you might slow down while shopping to slower-tempo Muzak—which is exactly what supermarket owners want you to do. The more time you spend in a store, the more likely you are to toss a few extra snacks in your cart. (It's unclear whether the slower music might inhibit the productivity of supermarket workers.)

9. More than one U.S. president endorsed Muzak.

Muzak was installed in the White House during Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration, but he was arguably only the second biggest presidential fan of the genre. Lyndon B. Johnson actually owned Muzak franchises in Austin while serving as a U.S. Senator from Texas.

10. Andy Warhol was also a fan of Muzak.

Andy Warhol
Graham Wood/Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Pop culture aficionado Andy Warhol supposedly said, “I like anything on Muzak—it’s so listenable. They should have it on MTV.”

11. Ted Nugent offered to buy Muzak for $10 million to “shelve it for good.”

In 1986, the Whackmaster put in a bid to purchase Muzak from parent company Westinghouse just to shut it down. According to the Ottawa Citizen, he called it an “evil force” that was “responsible for ruining some of the best minds of our generation.” Westinghouse rejected the bid.

12. Muzak didn’t formally introduce vocals until 1987.

As part of a rebranding campaign to modernize Muzak, the company started adding voice-accompanied tunes in 1987. Before that, Muzak broadcasts had only featured voices twice. The first was an announcement that Iran had freed American hostages in 1981, and the second was as part of a worldwide radio broadcast of “We Are the World” in 1985.

13. 7-Elevens blared Muzak in parking lots to chase off loiterers.

7-Eleven storefront at night
Mike841125, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1991, 7-Eleven parking lots in Southern California became well-trafficked watering holes for youth who evidently had no place else to go. To deter them from loitering with skateboards, beer, and lots of teen angst, the stores blared Muzak—and it worked. “It will keep us away,” one young loafer told the Los Angeles Times. “But they’re torturing themselves more than us because they have to sit inside and listen to it.”

14. Seattle is the capital of Muzak.

Though it's well known as the birthplace of grunge, Seattle also had a thriving elevator music scene. Muzak based its corporate headquarters there in the 1980s, and three other leading background (and foreground) music corporations opened in the city over the years: Yesco Foreground Music, Audio Environments Inc., and Environmental Music Service Inc.

15. Kurt Cobain wanted Muzak to cover Nirvana songs.

When an interviewer told the Seattle-based rock star that Muzak didn’t recreate Nirvana tracks because it found them too aggressive for its purposes, an amused Cobain said, “Oh, well, we have some pretty songs, too. God, that’s really a bummer. That upsets me.”

16. It’s no longer called Muzak.

In 2013, an Ontario-based sensory marketing company called Mood Media acquired Muzak. The company, which provides music, smells, signs, lights, and interactive displays to businesses to achieve a certain mood, consolidated all of its services under the Mood brand, effectively killing the Muzak name (at least officially).

The History Behind 7 New York City Street Names

deberarr/istock via getty images
deberarr/istock via getty images

Modern life means constantly rushing to get places, especially in New York. Whether it’s the daily grind to get to work or the rush to hit happy hour, residents are probably concentrating more on getting somewhere than carefully considering the details of their surroundings.

But next time you're in New York—or if you're a resident already—try looking up from your phone to take a peek at the street names above you. Along with your more common numbered designations and things like "Park Avenue," you’ll notice the city has some pretty strange denominations. Here are seven of the more eye-catching, and the brief history behind their names.

1. Asser Levy Place

Tucked between the generically named 23rd and 25th streets, Asser Levy Place stands out like a sore thumb. Located not far from Stuyvesant Town, this unassuming street bears the name for a pretty prominent historical figure.

Said to have been born in what is now Poland and Lithuania, Asser Levy was one of the first Jewish settlers to land in the predominantly Dutch New Amsterdam. The governor at the time, Peter Stuyvesant, was “violently opposed” to the freshly emigrated Jewish community, unhappy at the fact that they were now allowed to trade and reside within the area [PDF]. Levy was not only the first kosher butcher in the land but also the first Jew to gain rights of citizenship in the country. Additionally, Levy donated funds to help New York fight the British Crown, and eventually took up arms against the British himself.

2. Maiden Lane

The history behind Maiden Lane’s designation is just as picturesque as it sounds. Known to Dutch settlers as Maagde Paatje (or “maiden path”), this portion of land once ran alongside a brook where women and girls would wash clothing. There are darker associations with the area too, though: Maiden Lane also saw a brutal slave revolt in 1712.

Today the street is one of many centers of commerce for the city, although the concrete still holds remnants of the city’s more ornate past. Passersby can take a look at the Barthman Clock, a 19th-century timepiece embedded into the intersection of Maiden Lane and Broadway.

3. Mott Street

Located primarily in the heart of Chinatown, Mott Street’s modern associations aren’t the most flattering. Once the site of multiple crime scenes and illegal activities, the street has garnered a somewhat seedy reputation over time.

But before it became affiliated with the seedy underbelly, Mott Street had patriotic associations. Joseph Mott, the street’s namesake, owned a tavern used as headquarters for General George Washington in 1775. His descendants proved dedicated to equally worthy causes, with Dr. Valentine Mott rising to prominence as one of America’s most influential surgeons.

4. Pearl Street

Before the concrete jungle fully took over, the streets of New York were dominated by oysters. Due to their bountiful number, the shells of shucked clams would pile up into what archaeologists call middens—large piles of domestic waste that have survived the centuries. One particularly large heap was located on the modern-day Pearl Street, giving rise to the mollusk-related moniker. Oddly, however, these oysters were not the pearl-producing kind—although they dominated a good portion of the New York market for quite some time.

5. Minetta Lane

Speaking of water-related items, did you know a once-babbling creek was paved over by one of the city’s more famous streets? That’s right: Known to the Dutch as Mintje Kill or “small stream,” Minetta Brook was “[a] brisk little brook full of trout,” according to one 19th century source, that was covered by the city’s expansion around the 1820s. It was also where a community of “half free” African Americans resided in the 17th century—former enslaved people that were allowed to live on the land by paying annual fees.

6. MacDougal Street

MacDougal Street is known for its vibrant nightlife and for hosting the early days of Bob Dylan’s career. But it also holds claim to a not-so-well-known spelling error.

The street was named for one Alexander Mcdougall, a Scotsman who emigrated to what would become the United States as a child in 1740 and settled in New York. Mcdougall made a name for himself in the mercantile trade and shipping business and was an early defender of American independence. He openly voiced his opinions against British rule, and was even imprisoned for passing out revolutionary pamphlets. His colorful life saw him commissioned as a colonel in the First New York Infantry during the Revolutionary War, become a member of the Continental Congress, and rise as the first president of the Bank of New York. However, how or why the second L in his name was dropped in the naming of the street remains a mystery.

7. Margaret Corbin Drive

Located at the city’s far northern tip, Margaret Corbin Drive is named for a young Pennsylvanian woman whose tough life molded her into a tougher lady. Her childhood saw the death of her father by Native Americans and her mother’s capture soon after; years later, the British killed her husband during the Battle of Fort Washington. Margaret, who was standing by his side at the time, quickly took his place in the conflict by handling his cannon—receiving several bullets as a result.

The U.S. government recognized her bravery by providing her disability compensation (as well as rum and whiskey rations) for many years. Although sometimes remembered as a “haughty and disagreeable eccentric,” the affectionately called “Captain Molly” is forever memorialized by the street running along the site where her brave acts took place.

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