July 4

He decides. Today, 250 years ago in 1772.

Freedom for me. I’m breaking away from the doctor. Sure, he bought me. Sure, a signed document sealed the deal. Sure, my freedom is gone in exchange for being here in a strange land. None of it matters, he tells himself. Now is the time. He makes his own personal declaration of independence in the shadow of the Pennsylvania State House on Walnut Street in Philadelphia.

Patrick Hamilton sneaks quietly along the cobblestone streets. Every step takes him further from the doctor. Hamilton heads toward the docks, toward a ship called Jupiter, the same vessel that carried him three weeks ago over to the New World from the Old World, in his case, Scotland. He rubs his swollen and painful left arm, having injured himself the day before when a horse bucked him out of the saddle. The injury and the incident symbolized his experience here.

He calls himself McConnel as a way to avoid capture. He’s hoping to blend in with many people who speak and sound Irish or Scottish in these streets. Still, it’s hard to go unnoticed because he’s wearing shoes with shiny brass buckles and, for a 17-year old, a rather expensive hat. In the manner of thinking often common to teenagers, he tells himself maybe he won’t be recognized because his long, scraggly hair hangs down over his eyes, half-covering the front of his face. He doesn’t realize that his hair is part of the description that will be written by his “owner”, Dr. Samuel Kennedy, in seeking the young man’s recapture. The doctor will pay a reward.

Hamilton, or McConnel, believes his escape, his freedom, waits at the docks along the Delaware River.


Hamilton/McConnel seeks to leave one of the most influential cities in the British colonies. In 1772 and stretching back decades, Philadelphia has a record of prosperity, innovation, creativity, achievement, and tolerance. The city has a bustling, yet charming and connective spirit. Hundreds of people arrive at Philadelphia, season after season, from across the continental edges of the Atlantic Ocean. They seek, and bring, hope. The “owner” of Scottish teenager, the good doctor Kennedy, could attest to that in his own life, but it’s clear such an outlook does not at all extend to the 17-year old.

Each of the thirteen British colonies has a capital, serving as a kind of center as Philadelphia does for Pennsylvania. Both capital and countryside in each colony have a culture, customs, style, and structure (sometimes more than one). Each capital and countryside of a colony has various ties back to England as well as to other places from where significant numbers of the colony’s people have come.

The teenaged Scot skulking toward the docks on July 4 embodies an important tie or bond among all thirteen colonies. A set of laws and habits surrounds a person’s provision of life and living, the way he or she secures food, clothes, shelter, and every other aspect of living. For the vast majority of people—including young Patrick—such facts of life involve a power of work exerted or enforced upon them, whether as indentured or apprenticed held by written contract to provide labor for a specific period of time, or the enslaved bought, sold, and traded with no option for release and…freedom.

Patrick seeks to break the bond and claim his freedom.

You Now

To me, freedom is a word and idea with a bond of its own. The bond emerges in the things that follow the word—the freedom to (blank), the freedom from (blank), the freedom of (blank), and yes the freedom with (blank). On the day that Patrick Hamilton/McConnel decided to declare independence, he faced the formula I’ve listed above: freedom + the prepositional word + the word chosen to fill-in-the-blank. Let’s you and I call it Freedomw2.

Dr. Kennedy speculated that Hamilton/McConnel was heading back to the ship “in order to meet with some of his connections.” It’s not known for certain but he might have made a further choice—to go alone west or south and seize land, or to go with other Scots to another place in the New World, or unlikeliest of all, return to the British Isles. I’m intrigued with the doctor’s assumption, that in escape, the newly freed would prefer the familiar over the unfamiliar. We’ll never know how that preference affected his future.


As an individual, how do you use the formula of “freedom + prepositional word + word that fills-the-blank?” And in thinking of using the same formulation for people beyond yourself, what begins to come to mind?