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Meet a hero of U.S. history. By the way, you’ve never heard of him.

A Maine writer shines a light on the man who saved the words that built America

PORTLAND, Maine — – You may know your early U.S. history with its dramatic stories of America’s founders, the heroes of 1776, the brave souls of Bunker Hill and Valley Forge and Yorktown, the men who argued and fought and compromised and wrote the documents that would provide the foundation of a new democracy, the line of giants who gave birth to it all—Washington, Adams, Franklin, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison and more. But have you ever heard of Stephen Pleasonton?

Didn’t think so. There are no statues of Pleasonton in Washington, D.C., no portraits of him hanging in the White House. He was, in fact, a clerk, a man who “lived and breathed paper,” and the unlikely hero brought to life in “Rescuing the Declaration of Independence: How We Almost Lost the Words That Built America,” a new children’s book by Maine writer Anna Crowley Redding.

During the War of 1812, as British soldiers marched toward Washington (they would soon torch the White House, then called the Executive Mansion), Secretary of State James Monroe gave Pleasonton an order: “Remove the records.” As Redding writes, “Stephen knew exactly which records his boss was talking about: the words that built America.” In a matter of hours, Pleasonton had to figure out a way to pack up the country’s most precious documents, including the Declaration of Independence—which, amazingly, hung on the wall of his office--and the Constitution, and whisk them out of the city and beyond the reach of the invading army. How he did it makes for a page-turning read.

The inspiration for this book struck Redding as she was poking around in a museum in Maine. To hear that story and learn more about a stirring chapter of American history she has now pulled from obscurity, watch our interview.

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