Is There Any Place in the World Where a Loyalist Can Pursue Happiness?
Maya Jasanoff, Professor of History at Harvard’s Center for European Studies, answered this heartbreaking question with mesmerizing stories drawn from her superb new book, Liberty’s Exiles, American Loyalists in a Revolutionary World. She began with a succinct but still shocking account of the Loyalist exodus, and where they sought refuge. About 30,000 retreated to Canada’s Maritime Provinces, and 6,000 to Quebec. Another 13,000 sailed to England, including 5,000 free blacks; 2,500 whites went to the Bahamas and another 3,000 sought a new life in Jamaica. Elsewhere, clusters of loyalists turned up in East Florida, Central America, and distant India. A handful went as far as Botany Bay with Australia’s first pioneers. Add to these about 5,000 “unregistered” refugees, many of them black. The total number of loyalists Ms. Jasanoff estimates to be 60,000, a considerable reduction from earlier historians’ estimates of 100,000.
To dramatize these numbers, Ms. Jasonoff’s book focuses on a fascinating cast of characters, ranging from New York’s Robinsons, no doubt familiar to many members, to Joseph Brant, the Mohawk Indian chief, to a slave named George Liele. For the Round Table, she brought the drama alive with the poignant story of Elizabeth Johnston, the daughter of a Georgian who fought in a loyalist regiment. She married another fighting loyalist, Captain William Johnston. At the end of the war, they were evacuated from Charleston and sailed to Edinburgh, where her husband became a doctor. In 1786 they went to Jamaica, where the horrendous climate and tropical diseases decimated their growing family. A grief-stricken Elizabeth retreated to Edinburgh and then settled in Nova Scotia, where she waited for her husband to join her. But he died in Jamaica in 1807. Her final four decades were passed in Nova Scotia, with the four survivors of her ten children growing and prospering around her. Ms. Jasanoff helped all of us participate in this courageous woman’s long and difficult life with quotations from her letters and diaries. The applause was more than equal to our enthusiasm and there was a long line in the lounge to buy copies of the book from Mobile Libris, at a nice RT discount.
Book Talk – The Bad and the Good
Andrew Harris told us about Tories: Fighting for the King in America’s First Civil Warby Thomas B. Allen. Andrew was at first impressed by Mr. Allen’s lavish use of internet sources, such as The Online Institute for Advanced Loyalist Studies. Alas our reviewer soon found that Allen’s enthusiasm for the digital was not “tempered by a respect for its shortcomings and defects.” For instance, the description of the arrival of British troops in Boston in 1768 to repress rebel agitation is woefully inaccurate. Allen gets General Gage’s title wrong and wildly overestimates the number of troops (4,000 vs. an actual 2,000). He also gets the date of their arrival wrong. Allen describes “troops and their cannons” disembarking. They had no artillery, Andrew found Tories riddled with similar factual inaccuracies. Only 3 percent of the book cites archival sources. The rest comes from secondary accounts. He dolefully agrees with the December 10, 2010 review in the New York Times, which said Allen imposes “no coherence at all” on his narrative, and instead relies on entertaining anecdotes. The author doesn’t pursue large questions, such as what it meant to be a loyalist, or who they were. Above all he doesn’t ask whether Britain maximized the potential value of the loyalists, and if not, why? Andrew wryly concluded there is still ample room for new scholarship on the loyalists in the American Revolution.
Tom Fleming gave us his take on Improbable Patriot, the Secret History of Monsieur de Beaumarchais, the French Playwright Who Saved the American Revolutionby Harlow Giles Unger. Many people recognize the name Beaumarchais as the author of the plays, “The Barber of Seville” and “The Marriage of Figaro” which later became famous operas. Revolutionary War buffs know he played some sort of part in helping Americans survive the early years of their revolt against Britain. But almost no one has any idea of how to put these extraordinary details into a comprehensive narrative. Harlow Giles Unger, author of Lafayette, which won the Round Table’s annual award several years ago, has done a masterful job of telling the whole story. With wit and insight, he explores the question of whether Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais was a rogue or a hero by demonstrating he was more than a little of both. In fact at various times, he was, to quote the author “a brilliant inventor, musician, composer, lyricist, singer, actor, poet, publisher, man of fashion, courtier, swordsman, spy, diplomat, advisor to kings, arms dealer, canny investor, financier, shipping magnate, philanthropist, irresistible lover, devoted husband, doting father, loyal friend, champion of the poor and persecuted, advocate of individual liberty and equal rights, and staunch friend of the American Revolution.” Unger justifies all of these titles in the book’s lively narrative. Tom was enthralled and recommended Improbable Patriotwithout reservation to all and sundry.
A New Look at Washington Crossing You Know What
On Dec. 26. 2011, the 235th anniversary, in the auditorium of the refurbished New York Historical Society, Mort Kunstler, the well-known history painter, revealed on a large screen on the stage a whole new look at one of the most famous events in American history. George Washington and his Life Guard cross the Delaware, with ice all around them, not in floes, but in a continuous whitish sheet. Their craft is a wide flat ferry, which is being hauled on a cable. Washington stands beside a lone cannon, looking grimly determined, while the men cluster around him. The painting is, to put it mildly, drastically different from the 1851 Emmanuel Leutze version, which was restored and rehung with great ceremony at the Metropolitan Museum of Arton January 16. Backing up Mr. Kunstler was David Hackett Fischer of Brandeis University, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning book, Washington’s Crossing. He confirmed all the details of the Kunstler painting. There were “ferrymen” involved in the crossing, possibly the same ones who operated a peacetime ferry at the site. The Delaware was only 300 feet wide, making a cable more than possible. Ferries had to be large enough to carry carriages and horses in 1776. Did Washington’s whole army use this craft, which looks remarkably fragile? No, Mr. Fischer said. Most of the troops used the big ore barges, called Durham boats. He pointed to several dark shadows in the background of Washington’s ferry, as these backup craft. Will Mr. Kunstler’s painting replace Leutze? Harold Holzer, the noted Civil War historian and Senior Vice President for External Affairs at the Metropolitan, who participated in the NYHS program, declined to make a prediction. But he dwelt on the fact that the Leutze has become “iconic.” It will take time for Mr. Kunstler’s version to reach that status. But everyone agrees it is a superb and fascinating work of art. For those who want a look at the painting, go to the NY Times websiteand type in Dec. 23, Crossing the Delaware, Accurately, by Corey Kilgannon.
Were We Founded as a Religious Nation?
Recently Congress voted to confirm that the national motto of the United States is “In God We Trust.” They were following the lead of Randy Forbes, a Republican Congressman from Virginia, who criticized President Obama for saying it was “E Pluribus Unum” in a recent speech. This is on the Great Seal of the United States. Who is right?
History is on the president’s side. In 1776, with the ink barely dry on the Declaration of Independence, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were asked to create a seal for the new nation. Adams proposed “The Choice of Hercules” – a famous Italian painting. Franklin proposed “Moses lifting up his wand, and dividing the Red Sea, and Pharaoh, in his chariot, overwhelmed with the Waters.” Jefferson preferred a painting of “The Children of Israel in the Wilderness, led by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.” On the other side was Hengist and Horsa, the Saxon chiefs, from whom Anglo Saxons claim the honor of being descended.
The artist, Eugene Pierre du Simitiere, who was commissioned to paint the seal, rejected all three ideas. The seal project was put on hold and years passed, with various committees arguing with each other and with Congress. Finally, in 1782, everyone agreed on an American bald eagle clutching thirteen arrows in one talon and an olive branch in the other. Beneath it was the motto, E pluribus Unum. That had been chosen as the iconic words by the Adams, Jefferson Franklin committee. The words, In God We Trust, was used on coins during the Civil War, which caused an enormous religious upheaval in the nation. It was made the official motto in 1956, during the height of the Cold War against communism.
Suddenly It’s Open Season on Washington and Jefferson?
The two founders have become the target of dubious criticism. The first is the subject of “George Washington’s Moral Metamorphosis” by Woody Holton in American History Magazine’s February 2012 issue. The University of Richmond historian portrays George as a greedy, double-talking double-dealer in his colonial youth. The charge is based on Washington’s conduct in selecting lots on western land that had been given to him and his men for their service during the French and Indian War. Based on a single letter from an officer whom Washington counter-accused of being a chronic drunk, the Colonel supposedly grabbed all the best sites along the rivers for himself, and left second rate plots for the others. Mr. Holton omits all mention of the fact that it was Washington who proposed the land grant, and when Virginia did nothing about it for several years, virtually browbeat the royal governor into making good on his original promise. Finally, George went west and worked out the choices. Surely there is some justification for his feeling that he deserved good sites. Read the article and let us know what you think.
Jefferson is the target of a new exhibit at the Smithsonian, which opened Jan. 27, “Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello, Paradox of Liberty.” Rex Ellis, who mounted the exhibit says “He was a very brilliant man who, I think, examined slavery more than most but his moral character did not support him thinking about abolition during his lifetime.” For sheer historical ignorance, this statement has few peers. Jefferson repeatedly condemned the morality of slavery, starting in his first draft of the Declaration of Independence. His inability to think of abolition had nothing to do with morality. Neither he, nor anyone else among the founding generation, could see how abolition might be attempted without rupturing the federal union and quite possibly starting a race war. If Mr. Ellis ever bothers to read George Washington’s Farewell Address, he might discover that the Union was the prime value that Washington bequeathed to the nation. The exhibit reveals that Jefferson’s slaves grew poultry and vegetables which they sold to the whites on the plantation. This is presented as a unique discovery. It was a common practice on every plantation in the South.
Call For a Volunteer
The 15 Round Tables, which had a meeting in Richmond last spring, as reported in the December Broadside, are planning another conclave this April. Is there a member who would be willing to represent us at this new gathering? When last we heard, Wilmington was discussed as a probable destination. As the oldest ARRT, New York should have a voice. Anyone interested can contact Chairman Dave Jacobs at email@example.com.
Maria Dering Takes on the NYHS -- And Wins!
The home away from home for some researchers, the New York Historical Society, has been boasting about spending $70,000,000 to upgrade its facilities and exhibits. When RT member Maria Dering went there the other day, the guard at the coat check room told her that she could not take books or paper notes into the library. Paper and a “writing instrument” would be provided only if she needed it. Otherwise she should rely on a laptop. “I can’t even bring a single sheet of paper with me?” Maria asked. It was a “new policy,” the guard informed her, as if it were a verdict cosigned by all the Gods on Olympus. Maria protested on her blog, pointing out that not everyone can afford a laptop or cares to work on one in a library. The West Side Rag, a lively weekly, read Maria’s blog and backed her emphatically. A few days later, the NYHS issued an alteration in the policy. Henceforth, researchers would be permitted to bring “five (5) sheets of research notes which will be stamped by the library staff.” Way to go, Maria!
A Heartbreaking Letter on the Eve of War
Thanks to Round Table member Joe Rubinfine, the noted collector of rare manuscripts, a remarkable letter has recently surfaced, written by Dr. Joseph Warren, on April 3, 1775. It is addressed to Arthur Lee, who was in England, and it was given to lawyer Francis Dana to deliver. Dana was being sent to England to try to negotiate a peaceful resolution of the looming conflict. The letter describes the organization of the Continental Congress and told how the British had recently marched out of Boston and had been confronted by a huge number of armed men. The King’s men returned to Boston without a shot being fired. But the next time they did this, Warren was not sure what would happen. “We mean not to make [an] appeal [to violence] until we can be justified in doing it in the sight of God and man,” he wrote. Until the very last moment, Warren was hoping for peace. If you want to own this rarity, it’s yours for a mere $75,000.
How Many Lifetime Achievement Awards Can One Guy Win?
In December, Tom Fleming journeyed to New Jersey to speak to the annual joint meeting of the combined North Jersey Civil War and Revolutionary War Round Tables. He talked about leadership in the Revolution and elsewhere. The members gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award. Hearing this news, one RT member said: “Isn’t this the third or fourth one of these he’s gotten? How many lives has this guy got?”
To which Tom replied: “MEEEEOW!”