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The Winner

July 2024
1min read

What Stephen Vincent Benét called the American muse is still alive and remarkably vigorous. When in our April, 1974, issue we solicited poems in the manner of Longfellow celebrating the forgotten exploits of Jonas Cattell, we expected no more than a few entries. Instead dozens of patriot-poets sent in ballads detailing Cattell’s run from Deptford to Fort Mercer to warn Colonel Christopher Greene of the approach of Von Donop’s Hessians. We were heartened to find so many people still capable of working in Longfellow’s verse form, but the number and quality of the entries made choosing a winner difficult. The poems varied greatly in length, and some were extremely scholarly. (Hunter Nicholson of Brandenburg, Kentucky, illuminated his poem with no fewer than thirteen footnotes.) Ron Wilson of Goffstown, New Hampshire, told the story in a majestic progression of thirteen limericks, while Robert Nicklas of Chicago stuck to Long-fellow’s clanging meter. Mr. Nicklas prefaced his submission with the statement, perhaps justified, that ”… you brought it on yourselves and should know better than to encourage the worst in people with a prize of silver.” The prize of silver, along with The American Heritage Book of the Revolution and Hansard’s House of Lords Debates for the year 1955, goes to Mrs. Milburn O. Truitt of Laotto, Indiana. Here is her tribute to Jonas Cattell—we feel that the rhyme “upon us / Kiwanis” alone should place her in the pantheon of the immortals. Our thanks to Mrs. Truitt and all her worthy runners-up.

Cattell’s Run Here’s a splendid story, so mark it well , Of a sturdy forefather, J. Cattell . So fleet of foot was the youthful Jonas That his exploits add an exciting bonus To the annals of Deptford, County of Gloucester ,
Where Cattell emblazes the heroes’ roster . When asked by his peers what he did for fun ,

Young Jonas panted, “I like to run.” And run he did while his hunting cronies Pursued the hounds on their lathered ponies .

Through brush and bramble, o’er stump and stile ,

Cattell followed Reynard mile on mile; And fifty per cent of his sprinting tries Found him a witness to the fox’s demise . (When he missed the kill was the runner sad?

No! He reasoned that one out of two ain’t bad.)

In 1777 it was : Events behooved him to run because It fell to his lot to become precursor Of a Hessian attack on our own Fort Mercer .

Well nigh ten miles he raced betimes , A feat undistinguished ‘til now by rhymes . The warning given to Colonel Greene , Cattell remained on the battle scene ; And not ‘til the Hessians were put to rout Did the sometime smithy turn round about For the journey homeward sans horse and bridle

To Haddonfield and his tools left idle . Cattell earned nary a Bartlett’s quote , But the folk of Deptford would have us note

That the mem’ry of him is fresh upon us , Revived each year by the town’s Kiwanis , A club aware of the nation’s need To follow a well worn path and heed The call of history, the call of sport By streaking from Haddonfield to Fort .

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