Mary Beth Writes


Procrastination. Or how the American Revolution was won. 

"You can lead a horse to water but you can't grant him the serenity to accept the things he cannot change.” (Tweet by Bob Golen) 

P is the next letter to write about in this project to write an essay for every letter of the alphabet. Someone suggested Procrastination.

Guess what? I’ve been putting it off.


When I was a little kid I believed myself to be a procrastinator. People criticized me for being pokey and doing the easy thing when I was supposed to do a hard thing. Now that I’m this old – isn’t this what kids do? Show me a purposeful little kid and I will show you a child to worry about.

Procrastination is pretty simple, actually. We are born with things in us we are here to do, but also, we have to figure out how to navigate our family situation. This is seldom easy and too often weird or unkind. By the time we are adults on our own, the force of our innate mission on earth versus requirements lobbed at us by our childhoods – have become an internal brawl. To make adulthood even more fun we generally aim for higher education, take on jobs, woo partners, have kids, and adopt animals that shed. Did I mention living inside homes that get dusty and oops, no one did the dishes last night? Or changed the sheets this year?  

Procrastination is a nonviolent way to survive the above.

I have two recommendations to manage procrastination: 1. Are your kids more or less okay? If they are, or if you are in the process of doing your best to care for and support them, then it’s not procrastination. It’s just priorities and you have them.

2. If the kids ARE okay but everything else is flying monkeys – go back to square one. What is the endeavor that when you do it awake and sober, you lose your sense of time? Go do that thing for at least twenty minutes and see what happens.

That’s my take on how to survive being a procrastinator in a check-list world.

William Howe (1729-1814) was a British General who helped the American Colonies win the Revolutionary War via procrastination.

You may have heard of the year 1776. There were British generals and soldiers all over the place, especially around Boston. One of the first proposed military plans of the Brits was a plan to take high ground and hills around Boston so that they could intimidate the Patriots into submission. General Howe was thinking about doing that with a lot of his co-Generals. He was also having an affair with the wife of a loyalist in town and was apparently distracted. While Howe was in charge and not doing much, George Washington with some smart problem-solver guys most of us have never heard of climbed Dorchester Heights one foggy night and set up hasty redoubts (little protective fort-like walls). The Brits saw this the next morning and were dismayed. They continued being dismayed for several days which gave the patriots more time to make those redoubts more secure. The Americans had stolen some cannons so they had time to haul those up to the overlook, too.  Now they had fa clear shot to pummel every British ship in Boston harbor.

So General William Howe and the British soldiers (there were thousands of them) left Boston and sailed down to NYC. To Howe it seemed uncomplicated in New York. There were way more British and they were far more supported with weapons and supplies than the ragtag Patriot soldiers. Everyone knew there would be a battle soon. Thinking he already had the Americans beaten simply with his manpower, Howe procrastinated and called off striking early. The American army knew they couldn’t win against all those Brits so they silently and completely evacuated New York on a foggy night.

Washington escaped across New Jersey to set up camp along the Delaware River in Pennsylvania. He had started in New York with 12,000 men, by December there were less than 3,000. General Howe and the British were sure the American rebellion was a lost cause. Despite indications that Washington was planning to attack some of the smaller British forts in New Jersey, Howe didn’t view this as a serious threat so he procrastinated doing anything in the nasty winter weather. Patriots attacked several garrisons in New Jersey, winning small but essential sites. Hearing about this, plus the previous Patriot wins at Saratoga, enticed the French to enter the war.

Howe and the Brits took Philadelphia in 1777. The Americans couldn’t take it back, but they camped close enough to make it difficult for British soldiers to leave the city.

General Howe, at several critical moments of choice and crisis in the American revolution, stayed home. Played footsie with his mistress. Hosted balls. Convened lots of meetings where important men in spiffy uniforms showed up and looked at maps and had discussions. Fought heated arguments with fellow leaders instead of going outside to fight the patriots with soldiers.

General William Howe’s procrastination was one of the most powerful building blocks of American freedom and liberty.


Cool Dorchester story at American Revolution Podcast: episode 85, Dorchester Heights.  



Leonard's picture

General Howe's affair with Elizabeth was known rather widely. Francis Hopkinson, who went on to sign the Declaration of Independence, published a poem, "The Battle of the Kegs," which we quote here: Sir William he, snug as a flea, Lay all this time a snoring, Nor dreamed of harm as he lay warm, In bed with Mrs. Loring.

I bet this could be a musical! Ha
Mary Beth's picture

What a cool idea!

I'd never heard about that. It piqued my interest as to whether there were repercussions to his procrastination and partying. Looking into it further - the blame for the loss at Saratoga was put directly on Howe. He was relieved of his duty as commander in chief in 1778.

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