The Revolutionary War on Long Island Sound
Not a few Round Tablers have fond memories of Long Island Sound. They spent their youth and/or many of their adult years swimming in and sailing on this immense body of salt water between Long Island and Connecticut. After listening to Richard Radune tell them what he has written in his superb book, Sound Rising, this tributary of the Atlantic Ocean will never look the same again. A business man who went back to his love of history when he retired, Radune has explored dozens upon dozens of days and nights when the Sound rang with the boom of naval cannon and the bark of muskets. He described British squadrons surging up the rivers that flow into the Sound to burn dozens of American ships. He found the story of a fleet of 15 whaleboats that sailed from Guilford, CT to attack British outposts on Long Island. He has stories of rebel kidnappers coming ashore on Long Island to seize loyalists to exchange for captured Americans — and well armed loyalists doing the same thing in Connecticut. Along with the electrifying anecdotes, he gave us a brilliant overview of this war on the water and the rivers and beaches, with vivid charts that explained how the fighting evolved from year to year. After his talk, there was a rush to buy every copy of the dozen or so books he had brought with him. We're sure those who did not get a copy hastened back home to order one from Amazon.com.
Book Review (Catch-Up Dept.)
In October, 2013 One of our best reviewers, Eugene Zuk, gave us a report on Foreign Affairs and the Founding Fathers from Confederation to Constitution, by Norman A. Graebner, Richard Dean Burns and Joseph M. Siracusa. For various reasons his copy of the review only came into our editorial hands a few weeks ago. Eugene summed up the book in a succinct sentence: "It made me realize that after the Revolutionary War there was another struggle — for recognition as a nation and for reciprocity in trade. The founders identified weaknesses in the Articles of Confederation and that resulted in the greatest document in the world, The U.S. Constitution!"
The struggle began when Jefferson went to France as ambassador, replacing Ben Franklin. He got nowhere in his attempts to expand U.S. commerce with France, even when Lafayette did his utmost to help him. John Adams did not do much better in Britain, where he got involved in arguments about clauses in the 1783 treaty of peace. The two envoys also failed when they tried to negotiate peace with the Barbary Coast pirates in the Mediterranean. The well armed Moslems demanded tribute and the U.S. was bankrupt. Another diplomat, John Jay, became Secretary for Foreign Affairs. He ran into a similar stone wall when he tried to persuade the states to give Congress more authority to enforce trade agreements with foreign nations. The federal government remained bankrupt and powerless. It soon began to dawn on many people that they needed to reform the Articles of Confederation. This insight and the shock of Shays Rebellion in Massachusetts, which the federal government was powerless to prevent or confront, persuaded the states to send delegates to the Constitutional Convention. The result, to quote Gene again, was the document that put America on the road to greatness, the Constitution.
We're not talking about the investiture of Mayor Bill DeBlasio or other prominent personages. They've got their own publicity machines. We're announcing that Chairman David Jacobs and Secretary Treasurer Jon Carriel were reelected unanimously by the Board of Governors. The Broadside extends its congratulations. The other officers, Program Chair Tom Fleming and Book Review Chair Lynne Saginaw, were also re-ratified. Onward and upward! We welcomed no less than 5 new members in December.
Simone Streeter recently took New York Times readers on a clever tour of Manhattan with three stops that catapulted travellers back to Revolutionary days. She started with Alexander Hamilton's home, The Grange, which you can reach on the A Train to 145th St. The huge triple hung windows are Federal style classics. Inside you are suddenly in the 1800s, when Hamilton built The Grange to entertain distinguished visitors to New York and give his growing family of seven children a country estate. National Park Service guides take you through the interior, stopping for exhibits that emphasize Hamilton's contribution to creating the federal government in his six years as President Washington's Secretary of the Treasury.
If you head back to the 145th Street station and board the C Train, you'll be at 163rd Street in a flash, where at the end of cobblestoned Sylvan Terrace you'll find the Morris Jumel Mansion, the oldest house in Manhattan. Built in 1765 by wealthy Roger Morris, it served as General Washington's headquarters during his failed attempt to defend New York from the oncoming British army and fleet. It was bought by Eliza Jumel and her husband, Stephen, a prosperous wine merchant, in 1810. They decorated it in the French Empire style of that time. In 1833, fourteen months after her husband's death, Eliza married the notorious Aaron Burr in the front parlor. She was 77, Burr was the same age. He was as unfaithful to her as he had been to most of his previous inamorati. Their divorce was a newspaper sensation.
Return to the A Train's tracks and ride to 207th Street. Use shoe leather to get to 204th Street, where you'll find the lovely white farm house of William Dyckman, built in 1784. His grandson Jacob's portrait hangs in the parlor. He graduated from Columbia College and was friendly with Dr. David Hosack, who attended Hamilton after Burr shot him in their famous duel in 1804. The floor of the house is wide planks of American chestnut, a tree that is now almost extinct.
If you have any daylight hours left, you can dash back to the A Train and zoom to 181st Street, where a little more shoe leather will take you to Fort Washington, which contains the highest point in Manhattan (265.05 feet). This is the site of a 1776 battle that ended in a shattering American defeat, which a dismayed General Washington watched from the across the Hudson River. It convinced him to start retreating across New Jersey until he reached the Pennsylvania shore of another river, the Delaware. We all know what he did there to redeem the sinking Revolution a few months later.
Ben and George at the Smithsonian
Lynne Saginaw, our reviewer superintendent, tried about a year ago to persuade us to come up with 50 — or was it 100? — objects that would tell the story of the Revolution. We remained comatose. When last heard from, Lynne had received about 10 or 12 suggestions. Meanwhile, the British Museum came out with 100 Objects that Sum up the History of the World, Harold Holzer published a beautiful, fascinating book, 50 objects that sum up the Civil War, and now the Smithsonian has issued a book entitled History of America in 101 Objects. Do we lazy lugs owe Lynne a public apology? The editors of the Broadside are inclined to think so. Sorry Lynne!
Meanwhile, we're happy to report that two of our heroes have made it into the Smithsonian's book, which includes a fragment of Plymouth Rock and the fur coat Marian Anderson wore in 1939 when she sang to 70,000 people at the Lincoln Memorial. The Daughters of the American Revolution had refused to let her sing in Constitution Hall. Our two objects are: Ben Franklin's cane and George Washington's sword. Ben gave his crab-tree walking stick to George in his will. It had a gold head "curiously wrought in the form of a cap of liberty." George had left a sword to each of his five nephews. Samuel Washington, who had served in the Continental Army, chose the sword the had worn in battle. He also inherited Ben's walking stick. He left both to his son, Samuel T. Washington. In 1843, the son persuaded Virginia congressmen George Summers to help him donate both to the federal government. "Let the sword of the hero and the staff of the philosopher go together," Summers said to Congress. "Let them have a place among the proudest trophies and most honored memorials of our national achievements." It took a while, but they've finally achieved that place.
Good News from the Museum of the American Revolution
Michael Quinn, president and CEO of this vital enterprise, recently told Tom Fleming that he hopes the Museum will "break ground" in Philadelphia in 2014. He has been heartened by the response of many groups to whom he has spoken, both in Pennsylvania, and around the nation. "It is gratifying to discover people in every community who understand the urgent need for the Museum and are willing to lend their support to make it a reality," he wrote. "The Museum is proud to have active donors who hail from every one of the nation's 50 states. To date, we have received commitments of nearly $100 million toward our goal of $150 million to make the museum a reality."
For Round Tablers, the thing to do is not only send money, but also to subscribe to "Reading the Revolution," on the Museum's fascinating website, where all sorts of information about our favorite topic is imparted from the latest books. One of the more recent contributions is from Maureen Taylor's The Last Muster, about Revolutionary War veterans nearing the end of their lives. The Museum selected profiles of three of these veterans.
One was Nathaniel Ames, a Connecticut volunteer who served both on land and sea. He spent his last years in Wisconsin. At the age of 102, his relatives and neighbors gave him a party, at which he told of meeting General Washington and Baron von Steuben. At the close he began to cry. "I can never think of those good men without causing my heart to be stirred within me," he said.
Another profile was of Agrippa Hall, a black veteran from Stockbridge, Mass. When he first applied for a pension in 1818, he discovered he would have to send his discharge to the federal government to complete the application. He refused to part with it because it had George Washington's signature on it. In 1828 need and old age forced him to reapply. This time a local lawyer persuaded the bureaucrats to let him keep his discharge — and get his pension.
The third veteran was Dr. Ezra Green, who was 99 in 1845. That made him the oldest living Harvard graduate. He became a doctor and in 1776 volunteered to be the surgeon of the 2nd Continental Regiment. After serving with Benedict Arnold's troops on the Quebec front, he survived the retreat and was discharged in December. After a year of recuperation, he became ship's surgeon on John Paul Jones's eighteen gun ship of war, USS Ranger. After a voyage to France and exploits in European waters, in 1779 he went on a voyage in the Ranger under a new captain, during which they captured six and eight merchantmen at a time, and brought them back to Portsmouth or Boston. He died in 1847 at the age of 102.
How can you top this for drama? You can become a regular on Read the Revolution by emailing: email@example.com.
Heard Around the Table: The Tooth About George Washington
Lynne Saginaw applauded this proposed feature and told tablemates how she was chatting with a friend named Lee on their Brooklyn stoop. Lynne remarked that she had heard on NPR that we would soon celebrate the anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. This led to a discussion of other great Americans. Lee informed Lynne that the reason George Washington never smiled in any of his portraits was that he had wooden teeth, which hurt him constantly. "She was so proud of this knowledge," Lynne told us. "It almost broke my heart to tell her that George's molars were made of hippo teeth, walrus, ivory or human teeth."
Moreover, Lynne continued, George's teeth fit pretty well. He could afford to have them adjusted if they caused trouble. The reason George didn't smile in his paintings was because no one did. It wasn't dignified. "Poor Lee! Her cherished notion was shattered," Lynne said. "But we're still friends."
Who Was Where in Revolutionary New York
The Huffington Post recently caught our eye with a report on a map found in the United Kingdom that offers a unique look at British-occupied New York during the crucial years of the Revolutionary War. The discoverer was Andrew Adamson, founder of Heritage Charts. The company probes various archives for documents that they sell in high-quality reproductions. Adamson found this map in the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office. It was very brown and dusty but it clearly showed British troop dispositions in the city and on Long Island, including General Howe's headquarters in Newtown. Adamson concluded it was drawn in the summer of 1776, between the Battle of Brooklyn and the Battle of Harlem Heights. A smaller piece of paper at the center of the map shows Manhattan in amazing detail. Adamson thinks it was drawn by Bernard Ratzer, a famous cartographer of the period. " If I am correct," Adamson says, "This is the near equivalent of finding Leonardo's sketch for the Mona Lisa."
A Sam Adams Write-Alike in Not So Merrie England
One of the pleasures of editing the Broadside is the chance to read Cincinnati Fourteen, the quarterly magazine of the Society of the Cincinnati. In a recent issue they featured a visit from a young Frenchman, a member of the French Chapter of the Society (Whence comes the "Fourteen") who toured the country while a young American from the Maryland chapter did likewise in France. What was startling about the French visitor was his name: Constantin de Vergennes. He is a descendant of the man who negotiated the 1778 Treaty of Alliance that saved American necks in the Revolution!
In their annual report, the Cincinnati always note rare and fascinating books that have arrived in their library. One of the best was a 92 issue run of The Crisis, a weekly that appeared in London from January 20, 1775 to October 12, 1776. Its tone is visible in this excerpt from its report on the Battle of Bunker Hill:
Notwithstanding the Royal lying Gazette has given us an Account, signed by the Bloody Monster in human shape, General Gage, of another massacre in America on the 17th of June last, wherein this modern Kirk extols his officers and mercenary soldiers, stimulated by liquor and promises of plunder, to slaughter their fellow subjects for the Valour and Bravery [of it], and boasts he has gained something of a victory over the brave and virtuous Americans, fighting for Liberty, whom the wretch calls REBELS...it will soon be proved from unquestionable authority, that he has lost some hundreds of his men....It will likewise appear that General Gage's army with all the advantage of Artillery and the assistance of several Ships of War, and armed vessels, was obliged to retreat to their barracks..and sneaking holes in Boston, under the protection of the Men of War....
The daring publisher of The Crisis seems to have been a man named William Moore, about whom little is known. One of its early issues was publicly burned by order of Parliament. On August 24, 1776, the paper published the full text of the Declaration of Independence. But it abruptly ceased publication in October with the editor's announcement that he was emigrating to America, "the only Asylum for Freemen."
The Speaker for February: Andrew Jackson O'Shaughnessy The Topic: British Leadership in the American Revolution
Mr. O'Shaughnessy is the Saunders Director for the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies and Professor of History at the University of Virginia. A graduate of Oxford University, he is the author of An Empire Divided: The American Revolution and the British Caribbean. He will tell us about his new highly praised book, The Men Who Lost America.
The Word from Our Reelected Chairman
We will launch the Round Table's 54th year on Tuesday, Feb 4, 2014, at 6 pm at The Coffee House Club, at 20 West 44th Street, on the sixth floor. As usual, we would like everyone's reservation in advance. The stamp-deprived can email our treasurer, Jon Carriel, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your most obdt svt,
David W. Jacobs