Renegade Revolutionary And Then Some
Our April speaker, Phillip Pappas of New Jersey's Union County College, mesmerized the Round Table with his in-depth discussion of one of the Revolution's most controversial figures, General Charles Lee. Drawing on impressive research, Dr. Pappas told us about Lee's early life. He was deeply devoted to his father, Colonel John Lee, commander of the 55th Regiment of Foot. But he loathed his well-born mother. She was a moody, temperamental woman with a violent temper. Lee inherited her personality and throughout his life he was plagued by depressions and bursts of wild activity. Today we would call him a manic depressive. But his emotional problems did not prevent Lee from becoming a very good soldier and thinker about war and politics. Dr. Pappas described his early career in the French and Indian War in America, where he served under the luckless General Braddock, and later in Portugal and Spain. There Lee repeatedly distinguished himself . In 1762, he led an assault that captured Villa Vella, a huge Spanish supply base. Retired on half pay, he served as an aide de camp and later a major general under King Stanislaus of Poland. The brutal style of war in eastern Europe influenced Lee — and awoke a hatred of kings and nobles. Back in England, he got unwelcome attention as a radical thinker, and soon decided to move to America, where he became an early advocate of Independence. Congress was so impressed with him, they appointed him a major general, second only to George Washington. The two men were soon uneasy allies. Lee wanted to fight a purely guerilla war. Washington saw a well trained "continental" army as crucial to unifying the 13 contentious colonies. The two men's relationship deteriorated to epithets when Lee retreated without orders at the battle of Monmouth. Lee wrote an insulting letter that led to his court martial. He left the army and the war a bitter disappointed man. The Round Tablers expressed their appreciation of these revelations by buying all but two copies of Dr. Pappas's superb book, Renegade Revolutionary.
Books Books Books — But Only One Reviewer
Andrew Harris told us about three mistakes he made when he offered to review The Battle for the Fourteenth Colony; America's War of Liberation in Canada, 1774-1776 by Mark R. Anderson. 1) He judged the book by its cover, which featured Benedict Arnold. 2) He read the author's dust jacket biography, which portrayed him as an amateur historian. 3) He read his preface, which claimed he was inspired to write the book by his experience in the Iraq War. Andrew expected an Arnold-centered story, which would be blatantly patriotic and full of dubious parallels to other American wars. He was pleasantly surprised to discover Arnold was not the center of the book, the research was deep and original and the result was a brilliant grass roots narrative. Unexpected characters emerge — such as James Livingston, commander of the 1st Canadian regiment. In fact there is a veritable gallery of Canadians who are portrayed as tangibly human actors in the drama. Much of the focus is on Canadian radicalization and loyalty. Anderson concludes that Canadian support for the Americans was not much different from the turnout in many parts of the 13 colonies. Andrew closed with praise for this new historian's clean, clear prose and cautiously tentative analysis of a much misunderstood chapter in the American Revolution.
Advice For Reviewers From Head Honcho Lynne Saginaw
The most important things are clarity and brevity. Mark Twain said it best: "Be Plain, Be Brief, Be Seated," he once told a novice speaker.
Make sure you emphasize the most important point the author is trying to convey. You needn't give too much detail. We encourage you to stick to a five minute limit, give or take a few dozen seconds in either direction. It might be a good idea to rehearse with a timer.
Don't be nervous. Everyone listening is on your side. We truly appreciate your generosity in taking the trouble to do a good job. Enjoy yourself! That's what the Round Table is all about!
Turn — What The Critics Are Saying
We assume that almost all Round Tablers and their families and friends have been watching Turn, the drama based on the Spy ring that began on April 6 on the AMC network. By coincidence, the Round Table has recently been treated to a penetrating estimate of the book on the same subject, Washington's Secret Six, that has been on the best seller list. Our reviewer, Andrea Meyer, found grave fault with the book. We fear that TV's reviewers are being equally tough on Turn. Slate's critic said it was "simultaneously bloody and toothless... in spite of its dramatic premise, Turn seems small and dull." The reviewer also wondered why no one ever says a word about what the Revolution is about. USA Today's reviewer wrote: "The problem is that for all its talk of Washington and Redcoats and all its shots of British warships in New York Harbor, nothing in Turn ever leaves you with any true feel for the period. And it never helps you shake that feeling that you've heard it all before, just told in another way and set in another place. You could rework this plot, complete with its revolutionary heroes and evil occupying army, as a Star Wars TV spinoff, and nothing much would change. And despite the historical roots, some of the history seems questionable at best. While there were no doubt atrocities on both sides, neither the British nor the Americans routinely butchered the wounded enemy — the impression you're left with after Sunday's opener." On the other hand, The Daily Beast was enthusiastic. Once the show gets going in episode 2, their reviewer declared, Turn offers "plenty of fascinating through-lines [in the plot], plus the exploration of early American torture, espionage/spycraft, politicking, homosexuality, and even a bit of a murder-mystery thrown in. And this is, of course, the network that airs The Walking Dead, so there are also plenty of riveting, ultraviolent battle sequences. The cast is aces all around."
Broadside's TV critic says any resemblance between the real Culper spy ring and Turn is sporadic, almost accidental. The show should be viewed as if it were an historical novel, fact-based but depending for its success almost completely on invented plots and characters. That said, it's nice to see the Revolution getting all this attention.
Now Comes Alexander Hamilton On Stage!
"Hamilton" a much anticipated new musical by Lin-Manual Miranda, author of the 2007 hit, "In the Heights" sets the story of Washington's aide and treasury secretary to contemporary hip-hop. Reportedly based on Ron Chernow's biography, the show is being produced for The Public Theater. Mr. Miranda won the 2008 Tony Award for best score for "In the Heights," which was set in a bodega on Washington Heights.
To Begin The World Over Again
Another drama that may soon be coming our way is a life of Tom Paine, under the above title. Written and performed by Ian Ruskin, it was recently presented with great success at the opening night reception of this year's meeting of the Organization of American Historians. The show dramatizes Paine as a man who changed the world and then had this world turn its back on him. He went from hero in Philadelphia to prisoner in Paris, awaiting the guillotine. He was one of the world's greatest propagandists and worst politicians. Mr. Ruskin does a superb job of dramatizing the impact of this ordeal on Paine.
Another Kudo For Hamilton — From Mount Vernon
The new Fred W. Smith National Library at Mount Vernon has formally designated Alexander Hamilton George Washington's "Indispensable Partner."
The AHA — the Alexander Hamilton Association — is virtually dancing in the streets. They've been campaigning to reawaken American appreciation of Hamilton's role in the founding of the republic.
Round Table Explosion In Virginia
The Williamsburg-Yorktown American Revolution Round Table had its first meeting in March, with great success. Other Tables are already meeting in Richmond, Fredericksburg (founded by our former treasurer Jim Davis) and Ft. Myer, where the ARRT-Washington DC table meets.
Did You Know?
In 1752, the ship Myrtilla, owned by Jacob Franks and his uncle, David Levy, the first Jewish merchant partnership in Philadelphia, brought a copper and tin bell to the city of Brotherly Love to hang in the steeple of the Pennsylvania Statehouse. The bell weighed 2080 pounds and had a circumference of 12 feet. It cost 150 pounds, 13 shillings, 8 pence (roughly 20,000 pounds today.) On the bell is inscribed a verse from Leviticus, 25:10: "Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof." It was used to summon lawmakers to legislative sessions and alert the public to proclamations and civil meetings. Today it is known as The Liberty Bell.
An Anniversary To Remember
On April 30, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the 225th anniversary of George Washington's inauguration was celebrated at Federal Hall. It began at 10 a.m with a lecture by a Park Ranger on "The Critical Years: 1783-1789 . Promptly at 11, Washington re-enactor Mike Grillo did a "meet and greet session" for those who wanted to shake hands and talk about the memorable day. From noon to 12:45, the St. John's Lodge #1 of the Masons conducted a reenactment of the inauguration. From 1-3, a panel discussion explored "George Washington and Religious Freedom in the New Nation." Representatives from denominations that were present in New York in 1789 gave presentations aimed at recreating the political and religious climate in the city and nation. Among the most interesting panelist was a direct descendant of Rabbi Mendes Seixas, who read letters between Washington and Seixas, affirming religious freedom for all. Those in the mood were urged to pick up a copy of a self-guided walking tour, "Washington's New York," and end the day with visits to streets and sites that the first president saw during one of his frequent strolls around the nation's first federal capital.
An Anniversary To Look Forward To Enjoying
Veteran tour guide Jim Kaplan, the Sons of the Revolution, the staff of Fraunces Tavern and a lot of other groups are joining forces to have a July 4th celebration to remember this year in lower Manhattan. It will begin with an all night walking tour led by Kaplan, ending in a wreath laying ceremony at the graves of Horatio Gates, Alexander Hamilton and Marinus Willett in Trinity Churchyard. Next will come a reading of the Declaration of Independence at Federal Hall, and a 21 gun salute at Castle Clinton by New York's Veteran Corps of Artillery. Meanwhile, on the hour, tours led by Wall Street Walks will describe the founding of the stock exchange and the rest of the nation's financial system. Another high point will be a reading of President Washington's letter to the Touro Synagogue in Newport, R.I. stating that the United States shall "give to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance," establishing tolerance for Jews and other minorities as fundamental to the success of the American republic.
A delegation is trying to persuade Mayor de Blasio to join the celebration at some point and there are fervent hopes that Macy's will decorate the night sky with fireworks, as they have in the past.
Central Park's Guns Are Coming Back
Good news for those who have been fretting about the disappearance of Central Park's big guns. The historic cannons were aboard HMS Hussar when the ship sank in the treacherous currents of the East River in 1780. Hussar was carrying a lot of gold to pay the British army and over the next decades many searches were conducted to find her. They never retrieved the gold but around 1840 divers recovered the two guns. They were originally displayed at the Arsenal in Central Park. In 1905, history minded New Yorkers engineered a transfer to the bluff overlooking Fifth Avenue at 106th Street, the site of Fort Clinton, built during the War of 1812. In the 1970s, the guns fell victims to vandalism and neglect. They were restored by the Central Park Conservancy, which removed two centuries of rust and discovered one of them contained a cannonball and live ammunition. (Broadside reported on this startling story a while ago.) Now they will be installed where British soldiers may have stood, watching the Hussar sink in the East River. Sara Cedar Miller, a Conservancy historian, thinks they have finally found a happy home.
Journal Of The American Revolution Keeps Growing
April 2014 was another super traffic month at this red hot website, with 72,000 page views. Since their launch in January 2013, 59 writers have joined the JAR team. The site also generated some buzz by announcing that this year they will give their first book awards. They also got people excited when Norman Fuss proved that the colonists/revolutionaries never shouted "Huzzah!" They said "Huzzay!". Among the most read articles were: "AMC's Turn: Everything Historians Need to Know" by Michael Schellhammer, "Who Shot First? The Americans!" (on April 19) by Derek W. Beck, and J.L. Bell's "Did Paul Revere's Ride Really Matter?" You can find these and more at allthingsliberty.com.
George Washington's Sweet Tooth
In the 18th Century, "Ice creem" was a delicacy favored by the elite. Thomas Jefferson loved it and so did George Washington. A family needed enough money to devote a lot of milk to the product, plus quantities of imported sugar. Also needed was ice, which had to be cut on a river or pond during the winter and kept in an ice house for use during the summer. The final preparations took a lot of time that families without servants could not spare. By the time George became our first president, he was a devotee. His records reveal the purchase of an ice cream serving spoon and two "dble tin Ice Cream moulds." Next came twelve "ice plates" and thirty -six "ice pots." The latter were small cups used for holding the ice cream, which was more liquid than our 2014 version. One writer compares George's version to "a runny ice cream cone on a hot day." The number of ice cream pots suggests that the President must have served the taste-treat at his formal dinner parties, where there were often two dozen or more guests. No wonder he was a popular president!
The Speaker For October
We have a special treat in store for us. David W. Young, the executive director and curator of Cliveden, the mansion that played such a dramatic role in the battle of Germantown, will visit us on Tuesday, October 7. He will be fresh from a reenactment of the battle on Saturday, Oct. 4. He will tell us about this too often neglected clash, so full of near disaster for the British and heartbreak for the Americans. Put it on your calendars, now!
And A Word From Our Chairman
Calling all board members! Don't forget our semi-annual meeting at 5 pm June 3rd at the Coffee House!
The other NY Round Tablers will muster as usual at 6 pm on Tuesday, June 3, in our home camp, The Coffee House Club at 20 West 44th Street, on the sixth floor, to continue 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 email@example.com.
Your most obdt svt,
David W. Jacobs