“The detailed—to a fault, at times—story of an ordinary clerk that saved America’s extraordinary documents. ”
It’s 1814, and Stephen Pleasanton serves as a clerk for Secretary of State James Monroe, which primarily means “Stephen lived and breathed paper.” When, on a scouting expedition during the War of 1812, Secretary Monroe discovers the British plan to march on America’s newly established capital, Washington, D.C., he sends urgent news to Pleasanton to “Remove the records.” Thus begins Pleasanton’s urgent task of transporting the founding documents of the young nation, including the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, to a safe location outside the capital. This undertaking requires securing any wagons available and carting load after load of linen sacks stuffed full of rolled parchment. It also requires defying the most powerful military leader in the country, Secretary of War John Armstrong, who is convinced the British won’t attack the capital. As Pleasonton recovers in a tavern room once all the documents are safely hidden, Washington can be seen out the window, alight in orange and yellow flames. Some commentary by Redding and the inclusion of details bordering on minutiae make this story about an unknown but interesting piece of history about America’s founding documents a little long, but overall Redding’s storytelling is engaging and easy to read. Fotheringham’s (A Home for Mr. Emerson) busy illustrations match the urgency of Pleasonton’s rescue mission and even include instances of hand lettering that add a historic, substantive feel to the story otherwise cheapened by his cartoonish caricatures with their oversized heads and exaggerated features.
He saved the words that built America! Emmy Award–winning journalist Anna Crowley Redding and Sibert Honor illustrator Edwin Fotheringham bring to life the riveting true story about the lowly clerk who saved the Declaration of Independence from being destroyed by the British army in the War of 1812.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
These are the words that helped found our nation. Today the Declaration of Independence is one of the United States’ most heavily guarded treasures, but during the War of 1812 it would have been destroyed if not for one man whose story has nearly been forgotten by time. Come along on this historic adventure and learn how one ordinary clerk did a truly extraordinary thing.
As a clerk for the State Department, Stephen Pleasonton spent his days quietly immersed in paperwork. He never expected to receive an urgent message telling him that the British army was on its way to the capital. And that the documents that Stephen was entrusted with—such as the original Declaration of Independence and the original Constitution—were all in danger!
It fell on Stephen to get our nation’s most cherished and priceless artifacts safely out of Washington!
To save the Declaration of Independence and other important documents, Stephen had to stand up to leaders. Have you ever had someone question what you believed or said? How did you respond?
The first place where the documents were hidden, the gristmill, was not a safe place. Stephen made the difficult but important decision to move them again. Have you ever had to redo a project, even when it seemed very hard to do it again?
Anna Crowley Redding is an Emmy Award–winning investigative reporter and author of the young adult nonfiction titles Google It: A History of Google and Elon Musk: A Mission to Save the World. Her stealthy research skills are attributed to a lifelong tendency to never mind her own business, and Anna loves nothing more than discovering a forgotten tale of history and heroism. She lives with her family outside Portland, ME. You can visit her at www.annacrowleyredding.com.
Edwin Fotheringham is the award-winning illustrator of numerous books for kids, including What to Do About Alice?, recipient of both a Sibert Honor and a Boston Globe–Horn Book Award Honor; The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Susy); Those Rebels, John & Tom; and Thomas Paine and the Dangerous Word. He lives with his family in Seattle, WA. You can visit him at www.edfotheringham.com.
To Quinn and Crowley
For my family