Native Americans vs New Americans Along the Mohawk
On the screen at the rear of the Coffee House dining room flashed three fascinating faces. Richard Berleth, the author of Bloody Mohawk, the French and Indian War & American Revolution on New York’s Frontier identified them for us. The first was Joseph Brant, or Thayendanega, the Mohawk Indian war chief who had once been a devoted Anglican and peaceful farmer, but became a grimly determined enemy of American rebels when the Revolution erupted. The next was Red Jacket, the Seneca chief whom Brant contemptuously called “The Cow Killer” because after running for his life at the battle of Oriskany, he had plunged his hatchet into a cow and claimed it was a rebel’s blood. The third was Cornplanter, the fearsome war chief of the Seneca’s Wolf clan.
Around these three men Mr. Berleth wove a riveting story of the struggle for supremacy along the winding Mohawk River and the rest of the New York frontier during the eight years of the American Revolution. It was his way of telling us about one of the many treasures of his superb book. Along with the story of the war on this crucial frontier, it is a veritable cornucopia of information about the Indians who became the real losers at the close of the struggle. He pulled no punches with his characterizations. He obviously admired Brant and Cornplanter, who lived until the age of 94, and he called Red Jacket a coward in battle, but explained this flaw did not prevent him from becoming the leading orator of his nation and a diplomatist of the first rank as the tribes struggled to salvage something from the harsh peace terms the Americans inflicted. The author was also more than frank about some of the Americans. New York’s Governor George Clinton, for instance, was described as the “biggest crook of his era.” All in all, it was a unique evening and those who bought the book soon found additional riches. We just heard from Mr. Berleth that Bloody Mohawk will go into its fifth printing this spring.
The Books of the Evening
Jack Buchanan gave us an earful and then some on Pauline Maier’s latest book, Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788. Jack swiftly identified what makes this book unique: It is not about the debates at the Constitutional Convention, about which shelves of books have been written. It is about what a lot of hitherto unknown Americans thought and said about the great document over the next two years. Ms Maier calls this one of the two most important public debates in American history. The other one is the debate over slavery. A man in Massachusetts remarked at one point that newspapers, which overflowed with the give and take, were being read more than the Bible. In New York, where pro-ratifier Alexander Hamilton had a lot to say, a printer who was too critical got his shop wrecked. In Albany the anti-ratifiers publicly burned the document. Ms Maier praises the founders for doing three smart things: 1. They didn’t send the constitution to Congress. 2. They didn’t send it to the state legislatures. 3. They recommended state conventions of delegates elected by “the people” -- with a large proviso: It was take it or leave it. No changes, no amendments.
Thousands of people were flummoxed by the uncompromising way Article VI declared the constitution would be “the supreme law of the land.” They liked even less the power to “lay and collect taxes.” As we all know, the supporters won but Ms Maier points out that the opponents got a lot of what they wanted later, notably the Bill of Rights. In closing Jack said he hoped the book would cure readers of our current bias against politicians. These founders were seasoned and very savvy examples of that breed of the human species. In this description he included the man who had already proved himself a master political general, George Washington.
Tom Fleming offered another relevant book for us to ponder. Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? – A Historical Introduction by John Fea Few questions are more controversial—or more important -- today than the one Fea asks. In 2008 Presidential candidate John McCain announced that “The Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation.” Fea replies that the Constitution does not even mention religion. Mike Huckabee said that most of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence were clergymen: in fact, only one, John Witherspoon, the president of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton) was ordained.
This forthright opening sets the tone of the book. Fea insists that the answer is not a simple yes or no. A great deal depends on how you define “Christian”, “founding” and “nation.” His chief goal is to get readers to avoid “cherry picking” from the past to promote a contemporary political or religious agenda, To help them along, he has a fascinating chapter, “How to Think Historically.”
The book explores how the idea that America was a Christian nation evolved from the days of the founders to the Civil War. Next we follow the attempts to pass a postwar Constitutional amendment affirming the United States as a Christian nation and how it foundered thanks to the growing power of science to offer another explanation for the existence of the world. Next came the shift to Liberal Protestantism, led by men who questioned core doctrines of the traditional Christian faith. This upheaval led to a very different meaning of the term Christian nation.
Then came another complication, the immense growth of Roman Catholicism, fueled by a mass immigration, followed by Martin Luther King’s interpretation of the term Christian as a call to fight injustice. Fea analyzes the thought of contemporary Christian nationalists and boldly questions their assumptions in chapters on the role of religion in colonial and revolutionary America. When he considers the Declaration of Independence, he persuasively concludes it was not an overtly Christian document.
Similarly, the Constitution was “never meant to be a religious document, establishing a Christian nation.” But it is not hostile to religion. Fea points out that “a wall of separation between church and state” is not in the Constitution but in a letter President Jefferson wrote to Connecticut Baptists. Two days after he wrote the letter, Jefferson attended a religious service in the House of Representatives, to show the voters that he did not mean religion was irrelevant in the nation’s political life. Tom closed by describing the book as “a nuanced, convincing answer to its original question.”
Odds Bodkins! Abbott and Costello as Patriots?
The David Library of the Revolution at Washington Crossing, Pa, not only has books and archives that dazzle researching historians, it also has a lively extra-literary program. On Washington’s Birthday the library invited their supporters to a showing of “The Time of their Lives,” featuring Bud Abbott and Lou Costello as 1776 patriots who get branded as traitors. As ghosts, they return to the 20th Century to retrieve a letter from George Washington that will prove their innocence. The library calls it: “historical/hysterical fun.”If Netflix doesn’t have it, let’s deluge them with requests!
Hip-Hop Revolutionaries Help Founding Fathers Rap!
I’m not throwin’ away my shot
Hey yo, I’m just like my country
I’m young, scrappy and hungry
Those words are the opening lines of The Hamilton Mixtape, delivered by Manuel Miranda in his sensational performance as Alexander Hamilton that opened a new season of Lincoln Center’s American Songbook series. Mr. Miranda was inspired by Ron Chernow’s biography of Hamilton. In 12 songs he quarrels furiously with Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Aaron Burr and others in debates moderated by George Washington. The New York Times called it a “seamless marriage of hip-hop argot and raw American history, made startlingly alive.” The show depicts Hamilton as a volatile genius whose hopes for the presidency are dashed by an extra-marital affair. At one point, a haughty George III, sporting a cardboard crown and the musical language of the Beatles, warbles: “I will kill your friends and family to remind you of my love.”
Millions to Mend Those Ominous Cracks in George’s Monument
David Rubenstein, a founder of the Carlyle Group, big time private equity players, has donated $7.5 million to complete the $15 million needed to repair the cracks near the top of the Washington Monument caused by last summer’s earthquake. Congress started the ball rolling by voting $7.5 million if private donations would match that amount. The National Park Service also wants to fix some water damage and add reinforcements to strengthen the obelisk against future earthquakes. But fixing the cracks comes first. On the day of the Big Shake last August 23, panicked visitors fled down flights of stairs. Happily, there were no deaths or serious injuries there or anywhere else in Washington DC. Mr. Rubenstein reveres George Washington, and also owns a copy of the Magna Carta. The monument was the world’s tallest manmade structure when it was completed in 1884. Although later eclipsed by the Eiffel Tower, it is still the tallest structure in Washington.
UFO Patriots Who Helped Win Our War?
Bill Fleming, spotter of interesting revolutionary gravestones in upstate New York, pictures of which we sometimes pass around, has sent us a clipping which momentarily caused us to gasp. On the website Book-of-Thoth.com, a Scottish researcher named Quentin Burde claims that the Indians who came to Valley Forge to help Washington and his starving soldiers were actually green-skinned extra-terrestrials. According to notes supposedly kept by one of Washington’s military secretaries, the Greenskins lived in a glowing globe in the woods and provided the general with valuable military intelligence. Burde says Washington had no idea he was dealing with creatures from another planet. Instead, the general thought he was talking to Indians with medicine men proficient in the ways of magic and their skin color was produced by the herbs they were taking.
And we thought they were Oneidas?
Tom Fleming Becomes an E-Bookie
In March, e-book publisher New Word City issued a Kindle/Nook/iPad edition of Tom’s bestselling 1976 novel, Liberty Tavern. Set on the King’s Highway in Monmouth County, NJ, it features Jonathan Gifford, ex-captain in the Kings Own Regiment, his beautiful impulsive step-daughter, Kate, who loves a loyalist, and his radical revolutionary stepson, Kemble, who is eager to hang his almost brother-in-law and everyone else not heart and soul for the Revolution. When Caroline Skinner, an extraordinary woman who happens to be married to another loyalist, says “I am for independence,” Captain Gifford changes the name of his hostlery from Strangers Resort to Liberty Tavern. Need we say more?
New Word City has recently published other Fleming oldies-but-goodies – One Small Candle, the Pilgrim’s First Year In America, and First In their Hearts, about (who else?) George Washington. Kindle (or Nook) up and take a look! The prices are amazingly low.
The Earliest George Washington Document Discovered by a History Detective!
Tom Lingenfelter, a lifetime historian and collector, who learned his trade as a special agent for US Counter Intelligence, has announced the discovery of a childhood drawing by 10 year old George Washington. It made headlines on History.com and in numerous publications across the country. The artwork is a drawing of a two masted sailing vessel, along with the date of its completion, March 12, 1742. Measuring five by seven inches, the drawing shows young Washington’s keen sense of detail. Mr. Lingenfelter has had the document examined by physical and chemical experts and confirmed its authenticity.
And a Taste (Ugh!) of What an Older Washington Drank
Tom Bostwick is a home brewer who came across the following entry in one of George Washington’s journals: Take a large sifter full of bran, add hops, boil to your taste, mix in three gallons of molasses and let it work [ferment] for a week. Bostwick did more research and found Mount Vernon field hands were given a bottle of the house beer each day. He called research historian Mary Thompson at Mount Vernon and asked if she had tasted the recipe. “I’m not a beer drinker,” she said. “It takes two or three sips to get past the shock.” Dennis Pogue, who runs Mount Vernon’s restored rye whiskey distillery, was more frank. “The molasses give it a real…different flavor. It didn’t taste very good.”
Undiscouraged, Bostwick decided that the problem was the molasses. Barley would have been far better, but it didn’t grow well in Virginia. He decided to keep the molasses but added chunks of roasted pumpkins, ginger, cinnamon and licorice – common beer ingredients in the 18th Century. The result was far short of the kind of beer we drink today. It was sweet, almost cloying, like melted fruitcake. Mr. Bostwick still enjoyed the experiment. It was fun to get an idea of what George and his friends drank on a day to day basis. He urges other home brewers to add their own twists and touches, brace themselves, and take a GULP!
Crossing the Delaware the New Way Is For Sale
The New York Times is advertising Mort Kunstler's painting of Washington crossing the historic river on a large flatboat ferry. We told you all about its introduction at the New York Historical Society in our February edition. It now has a title: "Washington's Crossing, McKonkey's Ferry." It is being sold by the New York Times Store in a signed limited edition of 500 copies. The price is $495 unframed, $995 framed. You can check it out on Facebook at nystore.com. Put it on your wish list and hope your birthday or Christmas fairy sees it!