Stick with me here folks. The story I am going to tell you may give you the goosebumps. It may be too saccharine for others. Regardless, it is true. My 87 year old mother died today–the same day set aside to celebrate the U.S. flag–peacefully. She had a long, good life and, like anyone who lives a long time, overcame some daunting challenges. For example, as a young girl aged 10 to 13, my mom saw her Dad and two older sisters die from tuberculosis. She was raised by a single mother–a tough, funny lady who lived to see 101 years.
So what does this have to do with Flag Day. My mom was a Lyons and her fourth great uncle was a fellow named Charles Thomson. Charles hailed from Ireland and arrived in Delaware in 1739. He was only ten years old. He was accompanied by his father and two older brothers, which included seventeen year old brother, William, my mother’s fourth great grandfather.
With the coast of Delaware in sight, tragedy struck the Thomsons. Call it the ironic luck of the Irish. Their dear old dad–not that old actually, only 44–died. Cause unknown. So the Thomson boys arrived in America as orphans and were split up. William, the older brother, headed for Virginia to pursue his ambition of owning a farm. He succeeded in that venture and lived to the ripe old age of 93 (he is buried in Augusta, Virginia).
Charles was separated from his brothers and placed with the family of a local blacksmith. And here the story takes a twist that Hollywood might find implausible.
Charles was admitted to Francis Alison’s school in New London, Pennsylvania. Within a few years, he became friends with Benjamin Franklin, who became his benefactor. Charles was a ravenous student with an insatiable thirst to learn. He spoke French and Greek and became a tutor Philadelphia Academy (now known as the University of Pennsylvania). https://declaration.fas.harvard.edu/blog/november-thomson
Charles then established himself as a Philadelphia merchant and intellectual leader with good political connections. His business interests pulled him into the Revolutionary movement during the 1760s, and by 1774, when John Adams arrived for the First Continental Congress, Thomson was known as the Sam Adams of Philadelphia.
He was the first and only Secretary of the Continental Congress. His name is on the first printing of the Declaration of Independence. The manuscript Journals of the Continental Congress are in his hand. He created the final, approved design for the Great Seal of the United States, still in use today.
And here is where flag day come into the story:
[The] symbolism of the colors red, white, and blue is drawn from heraldry and was not originally intended to apply to the flag. Charles Thomson, Secretary of the Continental Congress, discussing the proposed U.S. seal, gave symbolic meanings for the colors in the seal, drawn from heraldry, with white signifying purity and innocence; red, hardiness and valor; and blue signifying vigilance, perseverance, and justice. Over time, that explanation came to be associated with the flag.
I do not know if Mom chose to die today. She had said her good-byes to children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great, great grandchildren. But I take inspiration from the fact that she passed on the day dedicated to celebrating the flag of the United States of America, whose meaning was defined by her great uncle. It is quintessential irony. A dark day made light when I reflect on family history. I think Uncle Charle had it right. America should stand for purity and innocence; hardiness and valor; and most importantly of all, perseverance and justice. I thank the international readers for indulging me on making this point. I still believe in what American is supposed to be and pray that this Republic find its way back to its revolutionary roots. A country genuinely committed to purity, valor and justice would be a blessing to the world.
NOTE–Charles Thomson’s vision of purity had nothing to do with racism. Purity of thought and action. In other words, a nation that lives by high morals.