UNIQUE VOICES OF THE REVOLUTION IN THE FLESH
Our June meeting was mesmerized by the subject matter of Maureen Taylor’s book, The Last Muster: Images of the Revolutionary War Generation. An expert on photo identification, photo preservation and family history, Ms Taylor showed us vivid photograph after photograph of the surviving participants of the Revolution taken during the earliest years of photography in the 1840s. Moreover, she has rooted out the life stories of these venerable veterans – a mind-bending task when one stops to realize such photographs often emerge from family attics without so much as a name attached to them. Her subjects were patriot and loyalist, white and black, all with haunting faces, still vividly alive. All had in some way been directly affected by the conflict half a century earlier. Round Tablers were thrilled to confront our common subject material in such a direct and unexpected fashion. This is an ongoing project for Ms Taylor. She has already published two marvelous books. As everyone in the room rose to applaud her, one member was heard to exclaim: “I really envy her for her job!”
Dr. Joanne Grasso did some mesmerizing of her own with a review of Richard R. Beeman’s Our Lives, Our Fortunes and Our Sacred Honor: The Forging of American Independence. “We who study history would love to step into the pages of a history book and wrap ourselves in that time period,” Joanne began. “Such is the case with this book.” Beeman tells his story like a mystery novel, with character development, twists and turns. One would be tempted to describe the unfolding events as unbelievable if they were not carefully documented with voluminous endnotes. Inner Continental Congress feuds and difficult personalities come alive and with them the understanding that this was not a social gathering but a political enterprise of supreme importance. As the story progresses, political figures and drama are stirred into the plot like ingredients in a supremely delicious cake. Crucial questions are raised by reading - living – this story. Which of us would risk our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor for the sake of generations to come? Would today’s congressmen and women flee a war on our soil five times as the Continental Congress had to do? Summing up, Joanne says: “reading this book will give people a rare chance to experience the world of 1774-1776.”
HOLLYWOOD DISCOVERS GEORGE WASHINGTON
After ignoring our favorite subject for almost 100 years (in that time barely a dozen films about the Revolution have emerged from the nation’s movie studios) the executives of a new film company, Red Granite Pictures, are avidly discussing a film about the central figure they have “studiously” ignored: (sorry we couldn’t resist it) --- General George Washington. Co-owners of Red Granite, Christopher McFarland and Riza Shahriz call Washington a “very visceral, very gritty” character. “He’s a very conflicted guy,” adds Mr. Shahriz. They hope to begin shooting the picture in the summer of 2015, and are trying to persuade Martin Scorsese, who directed one of their biggest hits, The Wolf of Wall Street to direct. They hope Leonardo DiCaprio, who played the crooked financer in Wolf, will be the star of “The General.” Red Granite Pictures is backed by an Abu Dhabi based businessman, Mohamed Ahmed Badawy Al Husseiny. Mr. Aziz, who met Mr. Al Husseiny while working in a London bank, is confident he will muster a consortium of private investors to back the film. The company spent $100 million on The Wolf of Wall Street. Earlier films have done almost as well. They are about to release a comedy, Dumb and Dumber To, a sequel to the 1994 film Dumb and Dumber for which they have high hopes. The script of “The General” has been written by two veteran screen writers, Bill Collage and Adam Cooper. So far, they decline to talk about it beyond saying: “It’s about the most perilous moment in American history and the moment that made the man.” Rumor has it that Mr. DiCaprio is so enthusiastic, he may not only direct, but also play George Washington.
ANOTHER KUDO FOR TOM FLEMING
In mid-June, the Army Historical Foundation added another star to Tom Fleming’s long list of prizes. They gave him their award for the best article of 2013 – “Escape From Brooklyn,” in the summer issue of MHQ, The Quarterly Journal of Military History. The article dramatizes the key figures on both sides of the Battle of Long Island and closes with the impact of the defeat on General Washington. He was soon writing to the Continental Congress, changing the strategy of the war. Congress had imagined, with very little basis for the fantasy, that the war would be won in one “general action,” in which swarms of raw militia and a relative handful of regulars would overwhelm a small British army. In Common Sense, Tom Paine had assured Americans the bankrupt Parliament could not afford to send a larger army to America. Instead, Britain sent the largest army they ever shipped overseas, and they handed the American mix of regulars and militia a brutal defeat. “Henceforth,” Washington informed Congress, after extricating his shaken army from the British grip, “We shall never risk a general action, Instead, we shall protract the war.” It proved to be the formula for victory, five long harrowing years later. To celebrate Tom’s achievement, MHQ is providing a PDF of the fully illustrated story on MHQmag.com.
CARIBBEAN NATIONS SEEK REPARATIONS FOR SLAVERY
Fifteen nations in the Caribbean have banded together to seek billions of dollars in reparations for slavery from the colonial powers of the 18th Century, Britain, France and the Netherlands. They’ve taken their case to the UN and are consulting a British law firm. The islands cite rising unemployment, high crime and an unending health crisis to justify their case -- all caused, they say, by slavery’s legacy. Ralph Gonsalves, prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, is one of the leaders of the movement. “It’s an historic wrong that has to be righted,” he says. “The Germans paid the Jews and the United States paid Japanese who were forced into camps during World War II. New Zealand has given reparations to its Maori people.” Another outspoken advocate is Hilary Beckles, who has published a book arguing that Britain built its economic empire on slave labor.
The UN is on their side. Last year they unveiled the winning design of a memorial for the victims of slavery. Mr. Gonsalves is at work on creating “links” in Africa. The president of Ghana, the prime minister of Ethiopia and the President of South Africa have all expressed interest. Thus far, the European response has been an icy NO. But Verene Shepherd, another historian of slavery, refuses to be discouraged. “Slavery lasted 400 years. In the scheme of things, we have not been fighting a long time,” she says.
FISHKILL, LAST RESTING PLACE OF SO MANY BRAVE MEN
As part of its second annual Memorial Day services at Fishkill Supply Depot’s Soldiers’ Cemetery, the Friends of the Depot announced the identity of another soldier buried in an unmarked grave on the site. His story is especially heartbreaking. Captain Zachariah Beal of the 3rd New Hampshire Regiment died on November 7, 1777, while trying to put down a mutiny. Beal’s company was passing through Fishkill on their way to winter quarters. The men were unhappy because they had not been paid for eight months. At the Supply Depot, supplies were limited or nonexistent and the rum they received did not please them either. They decided the best thing for them was to go home. When Captain Beal tried to stop them, they killed him.
Beal is the 85th man to be identified in the 300 bodies discovered in 2007 through the use of ground radar. Their resting place was rescued from commercial development by the Friends of the Depot. Beal was one of a long list of New Hampshire men who perished at Fishkill. Other soldiers came from Massachusetts, Virginia, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey, as well as from the Canadian Regiment that Congress recruited during their imprudent invasion of Canada in 1775-6. On September 20th and 21st, the Friends of the Depot hosted their annual Revolutionary War weekend. Among the features were reenactments, colonial demonstrations by period artisans and musicians, and walking tours to the burial ground. For more information, see their website at www.fishkillsupplydepot.org
THE SALT WATER SIDE OF THE STORY
We recently received an email from a former speaker, Michael J. Crawford, the senior historian at the Naval History and Heritage Command. Mr. Crawford spoke to the Round Table in 2004, giving a vivid talk about the documents the Navy planned to publish, detailing the salt water side of the Revolution. Since that time, no less than twelve thick volumes have been published – more than enough to keep buffs reading for the next year or more. For those with an interest in this relatively neglected topic, any or all the volumes can be ordered from the Government Printing Office at www.bookstore.gpo.gov/products/sku/oou-046-00289-4
MONSIEUR VERGENNES – THAT’S RIGHT –VERGENNES VISITS AMERICA!
Our headline is correct down to its exclamation point. Young Monsieur Constantin de Vergennes, a descendant of the French foreign minister, Charles Gravier, Comte de Vergennes, who in 1776 decided to secretly support the American Revolution, recently came to America to see the results of this daring decision. In Cincinnati Fourteen, the magazine of the Society of the Cincinnati, Constantin is smiling from a half dozen pictures, as he tells the story of his five weeks in the United States. He was invited as part of a program created by the Society in conjunction with French descendants of the officers who served under Major General Jean Baptiste Donatien Rochambeau in America. They are all members of the 14th Chapter of the Society.
His American hosts made sure Constantin saw a great deal of the immense country that had grown from the 13 thinly populated colonies along the Atlantic seaboard. After touring Washington DC, he went to Virginia, where he visited Montpelier, James Madison’s mansion, and inevitably, the house of the foremost American proponent of France, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. From there he flew to California, where he toured movie studios and met name actors and actresses. He confessed to being a passionate admirer of “American cinema.” >From there he headed for Texas, where he rode the range for a day, then to Mobile, Alabama and New Orleans, where he enjoyed his first po’ boy, the famous local sandwich. He also strolled down Roffignac Street, named after another ancestor, who was mayor of the Queen City from 1820-1828. Finally he spent five days in New York City, climaxing his visit with a trip to the Statue of Liberty, the gift from France that commemorates the spiritual treasure both nations gave the world – freedom. Everywhere he was hosted and toasted by American Cincinnatians. He went home saying “Two hundred and thirty years after the founding of the Society of the Cincinnati, the spirit of fraternity is truly alive.” As a kind of post script Constantin added: “I’m already looking toward the west. I know that I’ll be back.”
A MAP THAT TELLS THE BRITISH SIDE OF THE BATTLE OF LONG ISLAND
Barnet Schecter, perhaps the premier historian on the Revolution in and around New York City, recently informed us that the Brooklyn Historical Society and Green-Wood Cemetery have jointly purchased a unique Revolutionary War map belonging to the British General Lord Percy, which he carried in his holster or saddlebag when he rode to the Battle of Long Island. The map was on display on August 25, when the battle was commemorated at Green-Wood. Barnet, author of The Battle for New York, The City at the Heart of the American Revolution, gave the keynote address at the ceremony. He called the map “a unique artifact of the battle.” Three feet long and two feet high, it is marked with numbers in dark red ink to identify the “rebel” positions and gun batteries—evidence of how much British or loyalist spies had discovered about American plans. It is half of the famous survey of the New York area by Bernard Ratzer, which extends as far north as Turtle Bay, where the United Nations now stands. General Percy’s copy runs southward from Wallabout Bay in Brooklyn. He or his aides folded it four times to enable him to carry it.
The map shows a Brooklyn whose contours are foreign; forests and clearings, steep bluffs and narrow passes. On Battle Hill inside Green-Wood cemetery, you can see the harbor including the future site of the Statue of Liberty. The numbers on General Percy’s map have never been deciphered. Their meaning may have been written on a separate piece of paper, or remained in General Percy’s head. But historians have been able to figure out one site, numbered 19 on the map. It is now the corner of Court Street and Atlantic Avenue and is the home of one of New York’s most popular grocery stores, Trader Joe’s. Inside there is a bas relief of General Washington, proof that some people remember the wild scenes that once swirled about that now peaceful corner.
LOOKING FORWARD TO L’HERMIONE
As 2014 winds down, it might be a good idea to anticipate one of the big historical events of 2015. It’s called L’Hermione – a name which will leave most buffs and historians scratching their heads. A quick google takes us back to 1780, when a French Concorde class frigate with this name brought the Marquis de Lafayette back to America with exciting news of renewed French aid for the faltering American Revolution. Fast forward to 1997 when a group of Frenchmen decided to build an exact reproduction of the original frigate, and sail her to America to commemorate the historic alliance between the United States and France. None of them realized they were undertaking a project that would consume the next seventeen years. But these men were not easily discouraged. They found allies in America who helped them raise the money. In April 2015, the completed Hermione will sail across the Atlantic to begin visiting ports along the east coast.
If you want to visit her visually, go to www.hermione2015.com The website has spectacular pictures of the ship, in its glorious original colors. We guarantee it will blow you away.
David Lincoln Ross, who is in charge of publicity here in America, has been interviewing various historians to get their opinions of the importance of this unique visit. Two recent interviews have been with Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy, who recently won our annual prize for the best book on the American Revolution, and Tom Fleming, who needs no introduction. Tom may have summed up what L’Hermione means. He declared that without Lafayette, there probably would not have been a French alliance, and without a French alliance, America would have lost her war for independence. That makes one think the Round Table’s motto for 2015 should be: Vive L’Hermione!
OUR SPEAKER FOR OCTOBER: DAVID W. YOUNG
HIS SUBJECT: CLIVEDEN AND THE BATTLE OF GERMANTOWN
David Young is the executive director of Cliveden, the magnificent mansion that became the centerpiece of the Battle of Germantown. The job has made him an expert on both subjects. He will tell us about lovely Peggy Chew, whose family owned Cliveden. Major John Andre fell wildly in love with her and wrote wry longing poems about her beauty. Then will come the chaotic battle, in which the British converted Cliveden into a fortress. In it and around it brave men died and victory eluded the Americans.
AND A WORD FROM OUR CHAIRMAN
We will gather as usual at the Coffee House Club, 20 W. 44th St., Sixth Floor, at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, October 7, 2014. Dinner will be served promptly at 7:00. We would like your reservation in advance. The stamp-deprived can call Treasurer Jon Carriel at 212-874-5121 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have any questions about the menu, you can contact Jon either by phone or email.
Your most obdt svt, David W. Jacobs Chairman