Treacherous Beauty? Maybe Yes, Maybe Definitely Yes
The April meeting has to rank up near the top for the liveliest topic, the liveliest dialogue between the speakers -- and occasionally with their audience - and the most informative history the Round Table has enjoyed in a long time. Attorney Stephen Case and Chicago Tribune newsman Mark Jacob, author of the biography of Peggy Shippen, seducer of (or seduced by) Major General Benedict Arnold, discussed with refreshing frankness their two plus years of research on this remarkable young lady, much of it done with the help of our own Andrea Meyer. Arnold, hero of the capture of Fort Ticonderoga, the march to Quebec, the battle of Saratoga, and admiral of an impromptu fleet on Lake Champlain, which rescued the infant US from probable demolition in 1776, had another gift beside battle leadership - a rare talent for making enemies. In Philadelphia, where Washington appointed him military commander, after a year of British occupation, he collided with "Joe Reed" as Stephen Case called him, the political leader of the state, and a not so secret enemy of George Washington. Reed's mostly trumped up charges forced Washington to court martial Arnold, which turned out to be much ado about not very much - Washington's only punishment was a mild reprimand on one charge. But the result was a letter that Arnold wrote to Major John Andre, erstwhile devoted friend of his new wife, Ms Shippen, and the head of British intelligence. From there we heard a debate about whether Andre was gay -- the verdict was maybe -- whether Peggy was a consummate actress who pretended insanity after her husband fled to British protection - and an eye-opening claim that on her way back to Philadelphia, she stopped in New Jersey at the home of Theodosia Prevost, widow of a British colonel, who was or would soon be having an affair with Peggy's escort, Colonel Aaron Burr, and confessed the whole plot was her idea. We are not going to tell you more. We can only urge you to read the book, which is as lively as the speakers' discussion of it.
The applause was tumultuous, and when the Broadside staff left the Coffee House, there was a circle of Round Tablers continuing to interrogate and debate with the authors.
Books Books Books
Andrew Harris told us about Founding St. Louis, First City of the West, by J. Frederick Fauz. This review was a follow-up to Andrew's previous report on The World, The Flesh and the Devil, a "deliciously named" history of colonial St. Louis by Patricia Cleary, which he praised extravagantly. Alas, Founding St. Louis is a stark and discouraging opposite. It has so many faults Andrew struggled to find anything good to say about it. The scholarship is sloppy, the style combative and often petty. Mr. Fauz gets into a big argument about whether St. Genevieve, a charming French colonial hamlet south of St. Louis, is the first French settlement west of the Mississippi. He issues a sweeping assault against all previous scholarship on St. Louis. He turns out to be more interested in the Osage Indians than in the French in St. Louis. He brags about his role as consultant to Kevin Costner's 1990s Indian documentary, "500 Nations." He also stereotypes French settlers as enlightened while demonizing the Anglo-Americans. Andrew ends with an expression of sympathy for Professor Fauz's students, who will probably be forced to read this turkey.
Maria Dering, mistress of our website, reported on Unbecoming British: How Revolutionary America became a Postcolonial Nation, by Kariann Akemi Yokota. Maria confessed to being wary about the term "postcolonial" but was attracted by the author's promise to explore Thomas Jefferson's possessions, both objects and people (slaves) and the rationales he and his fellow Americans had in collecting them. The author argues that for most people becoming American involved unbecoming British. She focuses on several areas where Americans struggled to retain the old culture of England, with its international reputation. She spends a lot of time comparing post-independence maps with colonial maps, with their tilt toward London as the center of things. For Maria, the best chapter was the discussion of how in the 1790s, Americans imported so much porcelain, linen, silver etc that they became the world's major consumer of British goods. Thereafter the book loses its focus and wanders through a bewildering variety of topics, which seemed to belong in another book. Dr. Yokota never does get around to analyzing Thomas Jefferson. All in all Maria found the book "less than thrilling." Who can blame her?
Vic Miranda told us about George Washington's First War by David A. Clary. The author stresses how eager Washington was to win fame in the French and Indian War but was forced instead to learn from his mistakes. Nevertheless, the reader can see him grow as a leader as the frustrating years on the Virginia frontier continued. When George retired in 1758, 27 officers in the 1st Virginia Regiment signed a letter, praising him in every imaginable way. They closed by marveling to find so many "amiable qualifications blended together in one man." That says it all, in Vic's opinion.
A Book For All Buffs
Current Round Tablers, if they follow the bent of their predecessors, may recoil from Tom Fleming's new book, A Disease in the Public Mind. Its subtitle is: A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War. The Broadside hopes the mention of our rival conflict will not discourage RTers from laying hands on a copy. They will find themselves reading chapter after fascinating chapter about the events and main characters of their war.
"The First Emancipation Proclamation" is about John Laurens's attempt to persuade the South Carolina legislature to free 3000 slaves to form a brigade in the Continental Army. The Continental Congress endorsed the plan, and offered to put up the money. One delegate, William Whipple of New Hampshire, exclaimed that if the plan were carried into effect, it would "lay the foundation for the abolition of slavery in America." This has inspired some historians to call the measure "the first emancipation proclamation." Laurens died tragically, hoping his courage in battle would persuade the legislature to approve the idea.
That is only a taste of what follows in succeeding chapters, whose mere titles are enough to intrigue an RTer. "The Forgotten Emancipator" (George Washington and Lafayette's role in awakening his conscience about slavery), "Thomas Jefferson's Nightmare" (Jefferson's role in triggering a terrible race war in Haiti). "Another Thomas Jefferson Urges Virginia to Abolish Slavery." (That's Thomas Jefferson Randolph, the Founder's grandson.)
Finally, the book's ending will, quite simply, mesmerize R Tablers. It tells of the arrival of the Marquis de Lafayette's grandson, the Marquis de Chambrun, as an official envoy from Paris in 1865. Like his affable grandfather, he charmed everyone, especially Mary Lincoln, and became a constant White House visitor. The Lincolns invited him to accompany them when they visited captured Richmond. They walked the wrecked streets, while freed blacks cried out their gratitude to the president.
"When I wrote that scene," Tom told us, "My eyes were full of tears. I felt that the forgotten emancipator, George Washington, was beside them in spirit, rejoicing in the achievement of his vision of a nation unstained by slavery."
New Rochelle Attacks: The Gadsden Flag
Like those other great examples of metropolitan journalism, the New York Post and Daily News, the Broadside keeps readers reading by going from the sublime to the ridiculous. Our next story concerns one of the venerable city of New Rochelle's prize possessions, the Gadsden Flag, which appeared in 1775 aboard American warships even before we declared independence. It is still flown on U.S. Navy ships. The U.S. Marines also fly it over many of their installations. It contains the image of a rattlesnake and the inscription: "Don't Tread On Me."
Recently a local armory owned by the city flew this historic banner below the Stars and Stripes. The New Rochelle city council exploded into a rage and confiscated the flag. From remarks made during the stormy council session, the members seemed to think the flag had something to do with advertising the Boston Tea Party, which has been used as a symbol by right wing anti-tax politicians. Although various officials tried to explain that the flag had nothing to do with contemporary politics, the bright lights on the city council confiscated it anyway. A local Democratic leader said it was just another political symbol "like the Nazi Swastika." The United Veterans Memorial and Patriotic Association has decided to take the city to court. They are receiving assistance from the Thomas More Law Center. Not a few people think the incident is alarmingly symptomatic of a rejection of the American Revolution's ideals and symbols on a broader scale. One commentator cited a school textbook which calls the Tea Party a "terrorist act."
Mount Vernon's New Library Update
The president of Mount Vernon, Curt Viebranz, recently issued an update on their progress with the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington. At the annual birthday dinner, philanthropist David Rubenstein pledged ten million dollars to guarantee its early completion. If you'd like to see a film of its progress, check out: http://www.youtube.com/HistoricMountVernon.
Meanwhile, the library has already named the first seven fellows (scholars) who will undertake Washington projects at the library. Another initiative is a bicoastal partnership with the University of Southern California, which will sponsor a lecture program.
Journal of the American Revolution
For Round Tablers, the above title is the hottest thing on the internet. Each day, for 83 days now, the JAR has featured an article on some little known or surprising or revealing aspect of the Revolution. Each month they send subscribers a report on what they published. One of their best touches is a list of the favorite articles at the end of each month. Here is the list for April.
- "Dreaming of Revolution" by Lars D. H. Hedbor
- "The Loser's Account: A Story of Two Carolina Loyalists" by Scott Syfert
- "12 Questions with Boston's No. 1 Private Tour Guide" by Todd Andrlik
- "Society of the Cincinnati TV" by Todd Andrlik
- "The 10 Commandments of American Victory" by Michael Schellhammer
- "The Federalist (Papers): Then and Now" by Ray Raphael
- "Young People at War" by Thomas Fleming
- "Captain McCall and Andrew Cameron in the Cherokee War" by Wayne Lynch
- "Tarleton and the British Legion at Tarrant's Tavern" by Wayne Lynch
- "Warriors for the Republic" by Thomas Fleming
If you want to stay in touch on a day-to-day basis, just go to allthingsliberty.com.
George Washington's Oval Office
George Washington's home for much of the Revolutionary War was a large oval shaped tent that was his bedroom and office. This national treasure will be displayed at the Museum of the American Revolution when it opens in Philadelphia in 2016. This summer, it will be reproduced by Historic Trades tailors in Colonial Williamsburg as the result of a new partnership between the two organizations. The original tent was inherited by George Washington Parke Custis, the founder's step grandson, who displayed it occasionally at his home, Arlington, just across the river from Washington DC. All the historic trade shops in Colonial Williamsburg will participate in making the tent. The only exception will be the hand-woven Irish linen fabric, which will come from the firm Linenblue in Northern Ireland. Scott Stephenson, the museum's director of artifacts and interpretation, will join Mark Hutter, Williamsburg's journeyman tailor, for a trip to the Emerald Isle to accept the finished product. Back in America, tailors and seamsters will get to work on creating an exact reproduction of America's most famous tent. It should be ready for viewing at Williamsburg this summer.
Alexander Hamilton Heads For The Met
In 1791, five New York merchants representing the Chamber of Commerce hired John Trumbull to paint a full length portrait of Alexander Hamilton. By this time Hamilton was locked in combat with Jefferson and Madison about his financial program. He told Trumbull, a close friend, that he did not want the painting to have even a trace of his role as secretary of the treasury. Maybe he felt it might become a target for rotten fruit. Trumbull solved the problem by painting his subject standing with a hand on a table which is empty except for an ink bottle. Hamilton's warm expression reflects Trumbull's affection for him. Everyone agreed the painting was a triumph. In 1983, Wall Streeter Richard Jenrette bought the painting from the Chamber of Commerce for his firm's offices. In 2000 it passed to the banking firm, Credit Suisse, who loaned it to a new venture, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, in Bentonville, AK. Perhaps feeling guilty about depriving New Yorkers of this treasure, Credit Suisse recently announced it is giving the portrait to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with the proviso that it will periodically travel to Arkansas to widen its viewership. The Met meanwhile is ecstatic. Elizabeth Kornhauser, senior curator of American paintings, says Hamilton's importance in NYC's history makes them especially happy to honor him. The painting will hang in the Faces of the Young Republic Gallery in the Met's American wing.
It is only a coincidence, of course, but this surge of attention seems to fit nicely into a resolution by a group of Hamilton's 2013 admirers to push his reputation among the history public. They are determined to make him as popular as Jefferson. David Cowen, president of the Museum of American Finance, on Wall Street, likes to tell how President Jefferson ordered his secretary of the treasury, Albert Gallatin, to examine the treasury's books and prove AH was a crook and his financial system was a fraud. After months of scrutiny, Gallatin told the president that there was not a trace of chicanery - and the system was "perfect."
Love In 1776
Marriage in the Revolutionary era was a serious matter. Divorce was difficult and rare. But there was a surprising number of so-called "disorderly marriages" -- couples who lived together without benefit of clergy. This was especially common when a man survived his wife and hired a young woman as a servant. She soon became his mistress. One reprobate named Rogers scandalized his neighbors with such a union until he was outfoxed by a local magistrate.
Meeting the couple on the street, the judge asked: "John Rogers, do you persist in calling this woman, a servant so much younger than yourself, your wife?"
"Yes I do," Rogers defiantly replied.
The Judge turned to the woman. "Do you, Mary, wish such an old man to be your husband?" he asked.
Mary caught on to what was happening and replied: "Indeed I do."
"Then by the laws of God and this commonwealth," the Judge said. "I now pronounce you man and wife."
The flabbergasted Rogers could only mutter: "Thee is a cunning fellow."
Our Speaker(s) For June: Kevin Phillips The Subject: 1775: A Good Year for Revolution
The Round Table is delighted to announce this speaker. Mr. Phillips is the author of many distinguished books on the nation's politics, as well as its history. His new book on the year 1775 has been praised by a small army of reviewers. He calls the year's literary and political achievements a unique combination of ballots and bullets. Mr. Phillips's four previous books were bestsellers. We plan to give Mr. Phillips our Award of Merit for his distinguished contributions to our understanding of the nation's political past and present.
And A Word From Our Chairman
Calling all board members! Don't forget our semi-annual meeting at 5 pm at the Coffee House!
The other Round Tablers will muster as usual at 6 pm on Tuesday, June 4, in our new home, The Coffee House Club at 20 West 44th Street, on the sixth floor, to continue the Round Table's 53rd year. As usual, we would like everyone's reservation in advance. The stamp-deprived can email our treasurer, Jon Carriel, at email@example.com.
There will be a meeting of the Board of Governors at 5 pm.
Your most obt servant,
David Jacobs, Chairman