Report on Reporting the Revolution
Todd Andrlik, a tall affable young Midwesterner who has made a hobby of collecting Revolutionary War newspapers, mesmerized everyone with the story of how he had put together his remarkable book, Reporting the Revolutionary War. Todd took us through the war, as it was reported not only in American newspapers, but also in British newspapers, as well as in Scottish papers and magazines. The story begins with the early years of agitation. We see what papers had to say about the Stamp Act, The Boston Massacre, The Boston Tea Party and the First Continental Congress.
Especially electrifying was a four line story in the London Chronicle for August 10, 1776: Advice is received that the Congress resolved upon Independence the 4th of July: and, it is said, have declared war against Great Britain, in form. Todd went on to tell us that in the August 17 issue, the entire text of the Declaration of Independence was printed. Next comes a snarky comment by a Scottish periodical: "In what are they created equal?"
Another good story from the Mother Country was a description of John Paul Jones as an "American Pirate" in the Birmingham Gazette. It was remarkable, the way Todd's talk — and his book — extended our awareness of the Revolution as an international event of huge importance. Particularly enjoyable was a story in the London Chronicle that excitedly reported George Washington had been killed in battle.
Another bonus were the almost 40 essays from leading historians. They commented on the newspaper stories, comparing facts and personalities and statistics of killed and wounded in battles as we know them now, and how they were reported at the time. American papers tended to minimize our casualties and expand British losses. Again and again, we saw that the papers, while telling the truth in a large sense of the word, were "political engines" aimed at maintaining morale and patriotism.
Seldom if ever have we explored a book with more power to carry us back to the days of 1776 with such compelling authenticity. Mr. Andrlik received a sustained ovation that lasted several minutes. A member who has accrued several decades of listening to our visiting historians told Tom Fleming: "That's the best talk I've heard in ten years!"
Jon Carriel, our treasurer and talented historical novelist in his own right, told us about Unnatural Rebellion: Loyalists in New York City During the Revolution by Ruma Chopra. Ms. Chopra is an assistant professor of history at San Jose State University. The book tells us the story of the war from the point of view of loyalists who in some cases spent seven long years in New York. They were a disparate group, from all economic classes and from all sections of the embryonic United States. They even included some former members of the Continental Congress, who balked at independence. In her early chapters, Ms. Chopra takes her readers through the agitation that produced the war. Most of the book focuses on the "ghastly vicissitudes" the loyalists endured when they became long term refugees. One of their chief woes was martial law - something they hoped from year to year would be replaced by civilian government. It never happened. This led to the widespread loyalist conviction that the British could never do anything right. But the loyalists were difficult to satisfy. If the British leaned toward leniency, hard liners among the loyalists condemned them. If the King's men were harsh, loyalist moderates accused them of prolonging the war. These outcasts clung to hopes of final victory until well into 1782. Jon called the book a "worthwhile history" of Gotham's "roller coaster status" in the seesaw struggle.
Did You Know?
We'll bet serious money that no one in the ARRT has ever heard of Sir Richard Pearson. In England, he was one of the most famous naval officers in the King's fleet. Who made him famous? John Paul Jones. Pearson was the commander of the Serapis when he tangled with Jones and the crew of the Bonhomme Richard off Flamborough Head in 1779. Although Pearson lost the battle, he enabled the hugely valuable convoy of merchant ships he was shepherding to the Baltic to escape unscathed. For this he was toasted as a hero from Edinburgh to London. There is a superb portrait of Pearson in the current issue of Cincinnati Fourteen, the magazine of the Society of the Cincinnati. On an opposite page, there is an amusing print of the "pirate" Jones. He wears a black hat with a skull and crossbones on it, and a Scottish kilt. His face is a vision of malign evil. The print maker claimed it was "a drawing from life" made by a crew member of the Serapis.
General Henry Knox Has Returned to Life!
There are actors impersonating Ben Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Philip Freneau — we had a recent visit from the latter, thanks to RT member Joe Smith. And George came to our 40th Anniversary dinner. But none of these, or all of them together, talented though they are, can compare in appeal to the cheerful but oh so shrewd fat man who commanded the Continental Army's artillery, Henry Knox. He went on to become President Washington's Secretary of War. We're delighted to report that Henry is being brought to vivid life by Bob Heffner, a talented actor and one of the founders of the Philadelphia American Revolution Round Table. Bob is a cast member of the Philadelphia Historical Theater and has portrayed the General there on many occasions.
The American Revolution in China
If and when you go to Mount Vernon, you will get a look at exquisite Chinese export porcelain blue and white bordered dinner and tea services owned by General Washington and his wife Martha. At the center of each piece you will see a remarkable reproduction of the eagle of the Society of the Cincinnati. Therein lies an amazing little-told story. The man behind it is Samuel Shaw, the Massachusetts soldier who was aide de camp to General Henry Knox.
Shaw joined William Heath's regiment in May 1775 and remained in the army for eight long years. He served as secretary of the committee of officers who formed the Society of the Cincinnati in 1783. Like other officers who were supposed to receive half pay for life, he found himself bankrupt when he returned to civilian life. The politicians had welshed on their solemn promise to provide this reward, made in 1778, during the Valley Forge winter.
To repay his looming debts, Shaw volunteered to sail aboard the Empress of China, the first American ship to open trade with that mysterious nation on the far side of the Pacific Ocean. He was representing merchants Robert Morris of Philadelphia and Daniel Parker of New York. The ship departed on a suitably symbolic date, Feb. 22, 1784. Congress had just ratified the Treaty of Paris, confirming America's independence. The mood was euphoric.
Six months later, the Empress reached Canton, the only Chinese port at which foreigners were permitted to trade. Shaw had with him an original sketch of the Cincinnati eagle by its designer, Pierre L'Enfant. Shaw returned to New York with sixty tons of porcelain in the Empress's hold — an indication of how popular the dishes already were in America, thanks to imports from England. None of this first shipment was the Cincinnati china. That arrived in a second ship, several months later. With the help of Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee, a delegate to the Confederation Congress, which met in New York, Washington purchased his set of dinner and tea sets for $150.
That shipment was the first of many sets of Cincinnati dishes, with all sorts of interesting decorative variations that arrived in America in the next few years. Perhaps the most unusual were punch bowls bought by Ebenezer Stevens and Richard Varick of New York. Sixteen inches in diameter, each is decorated with facsimiles of the Society's original membership certificate, signed by Henry Knox and George Washington. The Varick bowl is in the collections of Morristown National Historic Park, the Stevens is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Along with the words and signatures, there is a striking illustration of Britannia cowering before the American Cincinnatus, while allegorical figures of fame trumpet the victory of Liberty from the clouds. For a final touch, the Chinese artist who created this masterpiece has signed his name on the bottom of the bowl: "Synchong."
Are They Trying to Tell Us Something?
An acquaintance of Alice Fleming's, Henry Ford (his real name), ordered a Christmas gift from Great Britain for a friend — a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. It arrived with the following address:
435 East 79th Street
New York NY 10075
Dr. Bigmouth at Work
Joe Rubinfine, our favorite autograph collector and salesman, has a gem for someone's wall — a letter from Dr. Benjamin Rush. The doctor was undoubtedly a gifted man, but unfortunately these gifts came with an oversized mouth. He was always ready to pass on the latest rumor — or slander — to one of his eager friends. He was, among his many gaffes, an ardent backer of Horatio Gates to replace George Washington in 1778. In this item, dated April 14, 1777, he is exhibiting another unfortunate trait, a tendency to panic. Everyone knew that General Howe was going to attack Philadelphia. But no one knew when. Rush retails the rumor that "9 [British] men of war [are] in the [Delaware] river...Major General Benjamin Lincoln taken prisoner..." A few lines further, he writes: "We expect every moment to hear of our bay [Delaware Bay] being crowded with transports filled with British and Hessian soldiers. I know not how soon General Howe's progress up the Delaware may make it necessary to fly with you to Maryland..." When Rush wrote this, Howe had not stirred from New York. Irked loyalists were writing:
Awake, Awake, Sir Billy
There's forage in the plain
Leave your little filly
And open the campaign.
Rush's letter is yours for a mere $16,500.
Here Comes Lafayette
The French haven't forgotten their 1778 alliance with the American rebels. The word from Paree is a decision has been made to rebuild the good ship Hermione, on which the Marquis de Lafayette sailed to America in 1777. Aboard this historic vessel were 15 or 16 other officers, all recruited by Silas Deane. Perhaps the most important was the Baron de Kalb. He and Lafayette became close friends on the long voyage. It was not a peaceful trip. British men of war cruised the coast, looking for the Hermione. The ship's jittery captain avoided New York and Philadelphia and landed his passengers in Charleston. From there, they travelled overland to Philadelphia, a long exhausting trip. We'll keep you in touch with the latest news of when and where the Hermione of 2013 will make landfall.
The Largest Revolutionary War Festival in the Country
This big affair took place just over New York's horizon, in Trenton in the last week of December. It was sponsored by Crossroads of the American Revolution National Heritage Area. There were no less than 30 activities for adults and children, including historic site tours, lectures, and the always popular reenactment of the battle of Trenton. The festival was a kind of summary of the way more and more people are remembering the Revolution in the Garden State. Earlier in December, children and parents were invited to Morven, the Revolutionary War home of the Stockton family, to put a Christmas letter in Santa's mailbox on the porch and enjoy milk and cookies in one of the most historic houses in New Jersey. Elsewhere there was music and merriment at the Allen House, an historic 18th Century tavern in Shrewsbury. People felt like they were stepping into the pages of Tom Fleming's novel, Liberty Tavern (recently republished in an ebook edition).
Our Emigrant (and eminent) Treasurer at Work in Virginia
As most members know, our former treasurer, Jim Davis, has moved to Virginia. He barely unpacked his trunks before getting to work on his favorite topic. He has organized the American Revolution Round Table of Fredericksburg. They had their first meeting on October 22. National Park Service Historian Bert Dunkerly spoke on a very pertinent topic, "Benedict Arnold in Virginia." As we well versed students of our favorite war know, this Arnold was a Brigadier in the British Army. He sent Governor Thomas Jefferson and his family fleeing headlong from Richmond, and proceeded to burn several million dollars worth of tobacco in undefended warehouses.
Jim reports they had 50 people in the audience. He is keeping things simple, as local F'burgers advised him to do. There are no dues, no dinner, no newsletter. He notifies members by email. The town has even provided an auditorium, free of charge. Jim contributes a few dollars from his ever generous pocket for coffee and cookies. "Would you believe it," he chortled in a recent email, "the local newspaper has a history reporter and they regularly list history events." There is a lot of history all around the town. Last month was the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Fredericksburg. "I am booking great speakers from the National Park Service," Jim adds. "They don't get to talk much about the American Revolution in the tours they conduct here."
The Speaker for February: Christian McBurney
The Topic: His new book, The Rhode Island Campaign
Mr. McBurney is a Washington, DC lawyer who has written several books and articles on Rhode Island's history, This highly praised book tells the dramatic story of the first French and American operation of the Revolutionary war. It opens with a huge French fleet off the Rhode Island coast and an American army swarming ashore, hoping to trap the British army in Newport, repeat the triumph of Saratoga, and perhaps end the war. The cast of characters includes the Marquis de Lafayette, Nathanael Greene, Paul Revere and George Washington. Don't miss this vivid retelling of a story that reads like the script for a suspense-filled movie.
And a Word from Our Chairman
We will gather at our new home, The Coffee House Club, at 20 West 44th Street, on the sixth floor, on Tuesday, February 5, 2011, at 6 p.m. to begin the Round Table's 54th year. As usual, we would like everyone's reservation in advance. The stamp-deprived can email our treasurer, Jon Carriel at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your most obdt svt,
David W. Jacobs