BENEDICT ARNOLD: MYTH AND REALITY
Our speaker for October, Arthur Lefkowitz, gave us a highly original introduction to his forthcoming book, Benedict Arnold In The Company of Heroes. The book deals with the horrific march of Arnold and his men through the wintry Maine woods to tragedy and disaster in their attack on Quebec on New Year’s Eve, 1775-6. This is only the prelude to the exploits of the survivors in the rest of the Revolutionary War, which they rejoined when they were exchanged in 1776. Using a projector, Art flashed paintings of Arnold and the best known of the survivors, Daniel Morgan, on the screen as they conferred during the battle of Saratoga. He had commissioned the artist to do the painting. Art proceeded to tell us the exhaustive research he had done to verify every detail, from the angle and size of Arnold’s nose to the depth of his deep-socketed eyes. He told us the difference between a tricorn and a bicorn hat and when and where they were worn along with every detail of the two men’s uniforms. He pointed out how the tall loose-limbed Morgan towered over the compact Arnold, and discussed the average size of soldiers in the Continental Army. When he turned to the march through the Maine woods, and the consequences of using green wood to build the bateaux, he explained why these craft were still far better than fragile canoes, which would not have survived a day in the turbulent, rock-filled rivers. He even told us how easily four men could lift a bateau to carry it around rapids and falls. All in all, it was a tour de force of what a dedicated historian must do to write a truly good book. The applause was enthusiastic and we all regretted that the publisher was unable to supply copies of the book for purchase. By now, we have no doubt most of Art’s listeners have read and enjoyed it.
BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS
Maria Dering led off the night’s reviews with Tales from a Revolution; Bacon’s Rebellion and the Transformation of Colonial America. The most intriguing thing about this book, Maria said, was its narrative framework. It starts with a hero, James Bacon, the ambitious son of an English gentleman – a man of slender build, dark, full of “ominous pensive melancholy.” His chief opponent was the wealthy bewigged colonial governor, Sir William Berkeley. It was a classic confrontation between a firebrand and a representative of the status quo. The author sets up the conflict, using letters, colonial records and first person accounts. His narrative has the ring of truth. The story revolves around attacks by local Indians and the governor’s response to them – building forts, funded by taxes, which no one on the frontier could pay. The western planters began to fume and Bacon became the leader they wanted. He was a flawed hero. He didn’t call for retaliation against guilty Indians. He favored killing all of the red men within reach. Soon a thousand armed frontiersmen were killing Indians and chasing Berkeley out of Jamestown and ultimately torching the capital. Then, with no warning, Bacon died of typhus. What then? Maria coyly urged us to read the book to find out. She recommended it highly.
Mike Harris next gave us his take on Whose American Revolution Was it? by Alfred F. Young and Gregory H. Nobles. The book leads off with Professor Young’s view of “Americans Confront The Transforming Hand of Revolution.” It is a classic academic approach – 133 pages and 279 footnotes. Young has no ax to grind. He presents a fine analysis of the various philosophies and points of view that made up the history of the Revolution. It is a mind-numbing procession of old and new progressives, old and new counter-progressives, old and new social historians and Mike’s favorite – a discussion of whether a synthesis of all these viewpoints is possible. The most telling footnote, he said with a straight face, belongs to Professor Bernard Bailyn, president of the American Historical Association: “We are all Marxists.” Next we reeled to Professor Noble’s essay, “Historians Extend the Reach of the American Revolution.” This effort has 120 pages and 287 footnotes. It contains an impassioned discourse on slavery, which Nobles blames not only on Americans but on Dutch, Spanish, French, Portuguese and English participants. Mike concluded by declaring the book was a fine review of the history of the telling of the stories of the Revolution – the equivalent of a survey course for undergrads. It could be subtitled Revolution 101.
Alice Negron now entranced us with her unorthodox review of Paul Lockhart’s The Whites of Their Eyes, about the battle of Bunker Hill. Mrs. Negron explained that she was not an historian but she has been a frequent guest of her daughter and son-in-law, Belén and Fred Cookinham, at our dinners, and decided to volunteer as a reviewer. Alice began by telling us how, on a visit to Paris, she noted that there was no mention of the battle of Waterloo on Napoleon’s tomb. She found herself equally puzzled by the Bunker Hill Monument, which is 221 feet high. Yet we didn’t even win the battle! She notes that the author claims even after Lexington and Concord, peace was still possible. But after Bunker Hill there was no turning back from all-out war. Though we didn’t win the battle, “the American spirit was writ large.” As for the two armies – the Americans didn’t really have one. It was closer to a disorganized mob. Most of them only obeyed orders if their officers came from the same county. The battle itself was a comedy of errors. The British opted to use Frederick the Great’s favorite ploy, THE TURNING MOVEMENT. General Howe, the British commander, almost failed because a farmer turned soldier named Stark built breastworks that protected his men. In the fort on the hill, the commander, Prescott, told his men not to fire until they could see the whites of the redcoats’ eyes. It took the British three tries to capture the fort, losing 40% of their men. One rebel officer remarked: “If we could only give the Brits two more hills like Bunker Hill, we could win the war here and now!”
Mrs. Negron said she enjoyed the book so much she read it twice.
THE ALEXANDER HAMILTON AWARENESS SOCIETY
The Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society was formed on Oct. 11, 2011. On Oct. 12, they produced a mission statement, as well as a 22 year plan with 18 “milestones”, including an Alexander Hamilton Memorial in Washington DC and a full length movie that reflects his greatness. In their first year, the Society produced two Power Point presentations communicating the essence of Alexander Hamilton’s greatness. The first is titled: “Alexander Hamilton Was George Washington’s Indispensable Partner in War & Peace for Over 22 Years.” The second is: “Alexander Hamilton Created the Vision & Foundations on which The United States of America Achieved Greatness.” They are now in the process of developing key relationships with the National Park Service, the Hamilton family, The Museum of American Finance and various sites that played instrumental roles in Hamilton’s life. The society has two websites: The-AHA-Society.com and AllThingsHamilton.com, which is dedicated to Hamilton information. Finally, there is a Facebook site –www.facebook.com/the AHA Society.
THE FIGHT FOR THE FISHKILL SUPPLY DEPOT
“The fight for the WHAT?” You are probably saying. Not many people have heard about Fishkill’s role in the American Revolution. Which means you will be even more surprised when you learn it was the Continental Army’s main supply base from 1776 to 1783. The National Register of Historic Places has had it on its list since 1973. In 2007, the 70 acre depot was formally confirmed by archaeological tests as the burial site of hundreds of America’s first veterans. They lie unacknowledged in unmarked anonymous, scarcely known graves.
Without a plan to preserve its treasures, the Depot’s extraordinary stories are slowly disappearing. Already a significant portion of the Depot has fallen to commercial development. It is critical to secure the remaining undeveloped acres for future generations.
Historian Richard Goring writes: “Large forces of men camped and suffered through northern winters in this desolate outpost. No quick merciful death greeted these brave men, no drums and fifes urged them into battle. Yet they persevered, enduring more than most could endure today.” The Friends of the Fishkill Depot are asking your help. They are a registered 501C3 not for profit organization. All donations are tax deductible. They hope to raise enough money to acquire all or at least part of the existing open land. You can find them on the web at Fishkillsupplydepot.org. They are also on Facebook. You can mail donations to Box 311, Fishkill, NY 12524.
THE HISTORY DETECTIVE HAS DONE IT AGAIN
Tom Lingenfelter, discoverer of numerous historic documents, has come up with an amazing find – a printed copy of the Resolve of Congress of September 28, 1787, sending the Constitution to the 13 state legislatures to start the ratification process. Only three copies of this document, which has become known as the “Birth Certificate” of the Constitution, are believed to exist. The resolve told the states that Congress, sitting in New York, had voted unanimously to transmit the document to state conventions for their rejection or approval. Sitting in that Congress, no doubt with a pleased expression on his face, was James Madison, the man who, in partnership with General George Washington, created the call for the historic convention to meet in Philadelphia. No one knew how the ratification vote at the state level would go. But historians agree that Congress’s resolution, with the appearance of total agreement, was a defining moment.
The moment did not come easily. From September 17 to September 28, a heated debate raged in Congress about what to do with the new constitution. There were plenty of delegates who wanted to reject it on the spot. They had authorized the convention only to revise the Articles of Confederation. Instead, the convention, under the leadership of Madison and Washington, had junked the old charter, and produced an entirely new government. In Congress, Madison led the fight for a compromise, repeatedly telling people how General Washington had signed the new Constitution with evident enthusiasm. With both sides weighing each word, the compromise was hammered out. The shy but oh-so-shrewd Madison immediately informed General Washington, who replied: “This apparent unanimity will have its effect.”
HOME TRUTHS FROM A PENNSYLVANIA POLITICIAN
Our favorite collector, Joseph Rubinfine, is selling a letter from George Clymer, one of the signers of the Constitution. It was written earlier in the year 1787, and is a good example of why people decided we had to have a new national government. The opening paragraph discussed the difficulty of Congress raising money by requisition from the states, under the Articles of Confederation. There had been an “insurrection” in York County the last time the state legislature voted for taxes. “It would risk everything to talk of new ones [taxes] ,” Clymer wrote. As for the Articles as a constitution, Clymer opined that “no one thinks that [such a] government can be kept up.” The letter can be yours for a mere $8500!
A BIG DAY FOR GENERAL GATES—AND JAMES KAPLAN
Readers of the New York Times and other papers discovered that an historical event of some importance took place in lower Manhattan on Sunday, October 21. Some 150 people, mostly Daughters of the American Revolution, joined James Kaplan in Trinity Churchyard to place a plaque on the grave of Major General Horatio Gates. The victor at Saratoga was buried there in 1806, without any mark of distinction, not even his identity. The plaque was the result of a long campaign by Jim Kaplan, which won the support of the DAR. After honoring Gates, the Daughters also laid a wreath on the grave of Alexander Hamilton. Another floral tribute was placed on the huge monument to the unknown dead of the American Revolution at the front corner of the churchyard. The monument commemorates the 11,000 captives who died in the infamous prison ships in the harbor and the uncounted numbers of other men who died in the Provost Jail and other crowded prisons in Manhattan. They were interred at night without ceremony or a record of their names. The vestry of Trinity Church erected this monument in 1852. After these dedications, Jim led the participants on a walking tour of lower Manhattan that included the new 1776 foot high Freedom Tower, St. Paul’s Chapel, the Museum of the American Indian, and other sites, ending at Fraunces Tavern, where they had dinner.
THE BATTLE OF PRINCETON BATTLEFIELD CONTINUES
In October, we told you the good news that the National Trust for Historic Preservation had chosen the section of the Princeton battlefield where General Washington launched a crucial counterattack as one of America’s 11 most endangered sites. The danger was emanating from The Institute for Advanced Study, supposedly the ultimate center of academic knowledge in America. They want to build faculty housing there. The Institute has plenty of places where this housing can be built on its ample acres. But they have arrogantly refused to alter their decision, in spite of repeated reproaches from the Princeton Battlefield Society. As further proof of their hubris, they sent representatives to Washington DC to try to persuade the National Trust that they had made a mistake in listing the battlefield. They were told in polite but firm language to go away. But the Institute continues to marshal pseudo experts and lawyers, determined to get their way in the courts. The Battlefield Society needs to raise $50,000 to stay in the fight. Tom Fleming is one of their most vocal supporters. He has published letters in a half dozen New Jersey newspapers, opposing the Institute. You can send a donation with your credit card via their website, the princetonbattlefieldsociety.com. If you prefer to send a check, mark it “defense fund” on the memo line and send it to PO Box 7645, Princeton, NJ 08543.
BATTLE AT MONTICELLO
The Thomas Jefferson Foundation – formerly the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation – has received a $367,200 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support the new visitor center, currently under construction. Protesting the grant is the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society, composed of Jefferson descendants and others who accuse Monticello of desecrating Jefferson’s memory by continuing to support – and retail to visitors – the story that the third president fathered children by his mulatto slave, Sally Hemings. The Broadside is not taking sides in this argument. But we thought our members should know that this large question is by no means settled in the minds of many people. On October 27, the Heritage Society held a daylong seminar at the University of Virginia, with a galaxy of speakers arguing for Jefferson’s innocence.
THE SPEAKER FOR DECEMBER: TODD ANDRLIK THE TOPIC: REPORTING THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR
Todd Andrlik is among America’s leading Revolutionary War newspaper archivists. He has built one of the most significant collections of American Revolution newspapers, from which he has created a remarkable book, Reporting the Revolutionary War. It tells the history of the war as it was told in the papers of the day. Mr. Andrlik has also invited nearly 40 noted historians to contribute parallel essays, commenting on the battle or campaign as we now understand it. Tom Fleming, who is among the contributors, promptly invited Mr. Andrlik to tell us all about it in December. We often urge our readers not to miss a forthcoming speaker. This time we can quote Tom: “DON’T MISS THIS ONE!”
AND A WORD FROM OUR CHAIRMAN
We will meet at our new home away from home, The Coffee House Club, on the sixth floor at 20 West 44th Street, on Tuesday, December 4, at 6 p.m. We would like your reservations in advance. Those without a handy stamp can call Jon Carriel at 212-874-5121 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Those with food allergies or vegetarian preferences should make their needs known before we meet. Welcome to another great evening of Revolutionary deeds and ideas!
THERE WILL BE A MEETING OFTHE BOARD OF GOVERNORS AT 5 P.M.
Your most obt servant, David Jacobs, Chairman