Ridgefield student wins southwest Washington essay competition; moves up to state

The Sons of The American Revolution give out award each year

RIDGEFIELD — Weeks of unrest due to political strife. Protesting citizens clash with authorities. Riotous moments occur in the city. People are shot and killed in the confusion.

These might sound like recent events, but in reality, they occurred over 250 years ago. The Boston Massacre in March of 1770 happened a mere five years before the American Revolution would begin in earnest.

Elizabeth Swift of Ridgefield (center) is seen here with her parents Evangeline and David. Photo courtesy of The Fort Vancouver SAR Chapter
Elizabeth Swift of Ridgefield (center) is seen here with her parents Evangeline and David. Photo courtesy of The Fort Vancouver SAR Chapter

This was the subject high school freshman Elizabeth Swift of Ridgefield, chose to delve into and learn about in her essay for The Sons of The American Revolution (SAR) George S. and Stella M. Knight Essay competition.

As it turns out, she won first place and $100 for the southwest Washington region with her essay, and has now moved up to state. 

“I realized the prompt was very student driven,” Elizabeth said. “It just had to be about the Revolutionary War, or one of the documents, but there was so much freedom that I could choose, like any battle I want to. It kind of gave me this opportunity to do research, and to explore the revolution in its entirety and different aspects of it.”

Elizabeth and her parents Evangeline and David first heard of the competition from Elizabeth’s grandmother, who is a member of The Daughters of The American Revolution. They are a home education family and Evalgenline says they are always looking for ways to spark an interest in learning.

In her essay, Elizabeth discussed the events that lead up to the massacre and how they shaped the coming war. The assignment took many hours of focused research and reading to complete, and was then submitted to SAR for review.

“They told her by giving her this prize that, ‘You’re a good writer, we care about your thoughts, we care about what you’re interested in,’” Evangeline said. “She went to one of their meetings, and they said, ‘We care about you.’ They were encouraging. I didn’t expect it to be a big deal, but it really was. I think their goal was to empower. It gave her a confidence boost in the middle of a time when young people are not getting one.” 

Elizabeth says one of the first steps she took was simply picking up a book. It was her brother’s, but he wasn’t going to read it, she said laughing. Between it’s pagers she learned that the typical narrative of the revolution beginning in 1775 was not the whole story. 

Elizabeth was awarded $100 for her essay’s regional win, and could win as much as $5,000 on the national level. Photo courtesy of The Fort Vancouver SAR Chapter
Elizabeth was awarded $100 for her essay’s regional win, and could win as much as $5,000 on the national level. Photo courtesy of The Fort Vancouver SAR Chapter

Elizabeth says she was most struck by how regular people in history often are the ones to make the biggest decisions; teenage boys lead, women take charge and peasants march to war. This, she says, was what sparked all the thoughts that would collect in her essay.

“Normal people making normal decisions, but later on, they were decisions that changed the course of the history of our country,” Elizabeth said. “I mean, these decisions were hard, and they were just regular people like me making decisions through their everyday life. I started to do more research and I found more stories of ordinary people like me, and that was really cool and I could relate to them.”

Her essay has now advanced to the Washington state level to compete against other students for additional scholarship awards, and possibly nationally where scholarships can amount to $5,000.

Each year, SAR invites all high school students to submit essays dealing with people or events related to the American Revolution, the Declaration of Independence or Bill of Rights.

“Elizabeth’s winning essay didn’t simply look at the Boston Massacre itself,” Jeff Lightburn, the president of the Fort Vancouver SAR Chapter, said in a release. “She explored incidents that caused the situation in Boston to deteriorate over time and bring about bloodshed. Moreover, it put into focus the mindset of Colonists at the time and the perilous conditions they were faced with. As Elizabeth emphasized in her essay, Boston was a powder keg waiting to explode. We’re very proud of the work she put into her essay.”

Elizabeth is a member of the Ridgefield High School girls’ basketball team and enjoys singing as a soloist in her church choir. She is also preparing to attend the Running Start Program at Clark College as she completes her high school education.

Evangeline said she hopes more publicity will be given to programs like the Knight Essay competition. She said the value and encouragement it has given her daughter, especially in a time with fewer extra curriculars, has been immense. 

Elizabeth said the greatest take-away for her was understanding the impact of our decisions. 

“Realizing that people have gone through struggles and had to make decisions like we are making now, our little decisions do affect things,” she said. “In their time they felt like they were just making menial decisions of like, where to buy things or who to hang out with, but those decisions affected everything, and they were very hard choices. We’re having to make those decisions now.”

The Sons of the American Revolution is the largest male lineage organization in the United States and consists of men who can provide lineal bloodline descent from people who served during the Revolutionary War, or who contributed to establishing the independence of the United States. The society is dedicated to assisting its members, schools, teachers, veterans and the general public in their efforts to sustain and preserve our history and constitutional principles. It consists of 50 societies with more than 500 local chapters, several international societies and over 36,000 members.

Some information provided by the Fort Vancouver Chapter of The Sons of The American Revolution