The Story Behind “Patriot Dreams”

They say that extraordinary events in history are marked by the lives of ordinary men and women who “stayed the course”. Such an event was the American Revolution; and like every war, it brought out the best, and the worst in individuals.  It was a time for choosing where one stands.

Such was the case when Johannes Bellinger married Maria Magdalena Klock in 1744.   As American frontier pioneers, they were people of great courage and began a family under harsh conditions.  By 1775, they had 10 children to their credit and this new Revolution was changing their community in Montgomery  County, New York.  Johannes knew it was his time to choose.

At age 56, he was a successful farmer and a powerful man who held both the esteem and companionship of his married children, especially John(age 30) and Frederick (age 28).

The three of them volunteered with the militia and fought as Patriots. With a group of 87 men, they captured Fort Ticonderoga from the British without firing a single shot. However, the heat of the Revolution reached New York in 1777 and they were called into ‘active duty.’ By this time, Maria was expecting their 11th child.

And so it happened that on August 6, 1777, one of the bloodiest battles of the Revolution was fought at Oriskany. Beginning with a British ambush, coming out of a thick forest, 800 militia on their way to relieve Fort Stanwick defended themselves against 2000 British Regulars. When the fighting ceased and the smoke cleared, one-third of both armies lay dead. It had been a slaughter in which the Colonial Militia was victorious…..but at such a price. (Oriskany turned out to be the turning point of the war ) Soon, Maria would learn that not only her husband, but both of her sons lay among the dead.

Upon hearing the news, the entire family was stunned, with the exception of 13-year old Henry. His first thoughts were to avenge his family and he knew he could enlist at age 14 if he had a rifle. He was to turn 14 soon and was determined to go, as his friends had already done.

But Henry wasn’t thinking at this time of the 8 other mouths to feed and running the family farm or of the fact that he had 5 older sisters and he was needed as ‘the man of the house’.

After explaining the gravity of the situation to him, Maria asked him to consider prayerfully his decision. But, should he choose to stay, he must promise her that he would not enlist until his 18th birthday. By then his younger brother would be able to assume the responsibilities of family and farm.

Through the night, Henry struggled with this decision…to prove his manhood and help with the cause, or stay and fight the battles on the homefront.

To me, he is the real hero of this story, not at all detracting from the ultimate sacrifice made by his father and brothers. But, sometimes…… heroes stay home.

Therefore, the painting is called “Patriot Dreams”. For although his heart was willing, the ammunition pouch he shoulders lies empty, and he sits indoors….capturing his moment of decision for all time. For with all the work to be done on a farm, there wasn’t much time for ‘waiting’ or brooding about the way life was treating him. His choice to stay at home was about duty and about being more than he was. He accepted his decision and his jaw is resolute. There is a certain determination in his eyes…as well as sadness. I’m sure that over the years his boyish heart fabricated many heroic adventures concerning his imagined role in the War. But, as descendants, my family will always be grateful for the principles this young man possessed to make him obedient to his mother’s wishes.

He was the ordinary boy during this extraordinary time who ‘stayed the course.’

British General Charles Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown on October 19, 1781---just six months prior to Henry’s 18th birthday.