HISTORY FOR THE HEAD AND THE HEART
David W. Young, curator of Cliveden, told the Round Table in electrifying terms, bolstered by vivid images on the Coffee House screen, about the role of the historic mansion in the Battle of Germantown. Using maps, he gave us a breathcatching understanding of George Washington’s strategy – to attack the 7,000 British in Germantown and cut them off from their reinforcements inside Philadelphia. He was aiming at nothing less than a battle that would end the war. But everything imaginable went wrong. Fog engulfed the battlefield. Militia in two of the four attacking columns grew confused and fearful and at one point fired at each other. Meanwhile, a British regiment had turned Cliveden into a fortress in the rear of the American advance, firing from its numerous windows and inflicting unnerving casualties.
The infuriated Americans abandoned their general’s strategy and flung hundreds of men at the mansion – getting nowhere. They became so distracted, they made no attempt to prevent Charles Lord Cornwallis from marching the reserve regiments from Philadelphia into the battle. Soon the momentum had shifted so drastically, it was the Americans who were in danger of a ruinous defeat.
In concert with his strategy of protracting the war and refusing to risk his army in an all-out battle, General Washington regretfully retreated. Behind him, he left dozens of dead men on the ground around Cliveden, including seven officers. The story of this drama would have been more than enough to win enthusiastic applause from the Round Tablers.
But Mr. Young wanted to do more than that. He took us to present day Germantown, a struggling community that is 72% African American, with well over half below the poverty line. He told us Cliveden’s fascinating backstory. Its proprietor, Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Benjamin Chew was the biggest slave-owner in Pennsylvania, with hundreds of blacks toiling on no less than nine plantations. Mr. Young told how he had decided to use that side of Cliveden’s story to engage Germantown’s current citizens in America’s troubled racial history. It has been an inspiring, hopeful experience. By the time he finished this part of his presentation, Round Tablers’ hearts as well as their heads were involved in the story of Cliveden. It was, in short, a night to remember.
Jim English gave us a fascinating look at a controversial book, By The Hand of Providence. The author is Rod Gragg, adjunct history professor at Coastal Carolina University. Mr. Gragg makes the case for an all powerful deity in support of the patriot cause during the Revolution. He is “the righteous governor of the world,” “the Lord of Hosts,” “The God of Armies.” In the book, Gragg cites a quotation from President Obama, declaring that “providence is with us.” He follows it with a 1778 quote from George Washington, who declares “the hand of Providence has been so conspicuous” in America’s survival, only an infidel would refuse to recognize it. Backed by these quotes, Gragg challenges the deistic philosophy prevalent among many American leaders in 1776, in which we have a god who created the world but does not take an active role in it. The author replaces this belief with a Covenant theology, which sees the invisible hand of God shaping events. That is not an evangelical view. The name Jesus barely occurs in his book. Gragg’s theology is non-denominational. Anyone from Moravians to Catholics can accept it.
Jim admitted he learned a lot about religion in the age of the Revolution from the book. He was not aware that the Continental Congress, rather than religious leaders, proclaimed days of fasting, prayer and thanksgiving. A 1778 government proclamation called on patriots to recognize the “righteous dispensations of Divine Providence” and “confess their sins and transgressions.” Congress celebrated the third anniversary of the Declaration of Independence by attending three different church services, Episcopal, Presbyterian and Catholic. When the news of Yorktown reached them, the lawmakers marched in a procession to a Philadelphia church . In 1782, Congress endorsed the publication of an official American bible.
But Jim felt the book suffered from Mr. Gragg’s selectivity. We learn how George III denied Americans liberty but nothing is said about the liberty of 500,000 African slaves. There is talk of Americans “sharing Christianity” with American Indians but nothing of the way the Christians exploited their converts. We learn about the British massacring Americans at Waxhaws, but nothing of patriots murdering loyalists after Kings Mountain. Nor is anything said about the thousands of Americans who died on British prison ships. We come away thinking George Washington favored a Covenant theology but we hear nothing about the beliefs of other American leaders. For these and other reasons, Jim could not recommend this book. It belongs in the theology section of a college library, rather than the history stacks.
EXCITING NEWS FROM THE MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION IN PHILADELPHIA
On October 9, 2014, the Museum of the American Revolution celebrated an official ground breaking ceremony at their site in Philadelphia. Over the years our former chairman, Tom Fleming, has kept the Round Table abreast of the Museum’s ups and downs since it was launched at Valley Forge a decade ago and collided with a hostile National Park Service. New leadership transferred the operation to Philadelphia where it has won wide acceptance. National and local dignitaries joined supporters and the Museum’s leadership to mark the groundbreaking occasion with the dedication of “America’s Liberty Tree.”
The liberty tree was a potent symbol in the era of the Revolution. Boston’s rebelling patriots often gathered under a mature elm to proclaim their determination to achieve their goals. The idea swiftly spread to other colonies. The Museum’s tree stands in soil enriched from numerous Revolutionary War campgrounds and battle sites. Eventually, the tree will grace the front of the Museum, bearing a plaque honoring its chairman, H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, who has remained a powerful and generous supporter during these many years.
You can find exciting highlights from the ceremony on the You Tube Channel. CEO Mike Quinn offers a virtual tour of the Museum’s exhibit plans and Cokie Roberts gives a stirring address about women’s contributions to the Revolution. Other speakers at the ceremony included Admiral Tom Lynch, Senators Pat Toomey and Bob Casey, and Pennsylvania’s governor, Tom Corbett.
The Philadelphia Inquirer, CBS Philly, and the Associated Press covered the “big huzzah”. The night after the groundbreaking MSNBC host Chris Matthews cheered the occasion on his nightly news show, Hardball. He called it a great tribute to our nation’s beginnings “and to the courage that made it happen.” The news coverage brought an encouraging surge of donations from all over the nation. You can see photographs of special moments during the event on the Museum’s Online Photo Album at amrevmusem.org.
THE LATEST FROM THE JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION
Things continue to prosper at this fascinating new online participant in the history of the Revolution. They now boast 360,000 readers. Westholme Press is publishing an annual edition of the best articles they feature in their daily flow. On September 20, 2014, founder Todd Andrlik spoke at Fort Ticonderoga about the JAR’s steady growth. New advertisers, such as Cornell University Press have come aboard. They are also accepting nominations for their annual book award.
Each month they publish the ten most popular articles of the previous 30 days. Our own Jack Kelly was on the September list with a vivid story on the burning of New York’s first capital, Kingston. (By the way, Jack’s book, Band of Giants, got a rave review in the Wall Street Journal on November 6) October’s ten best included a superb article on the heroism of a free black militiaman, Billy Flora, at the Battle of Great Bridge in 1775. Even more dazzling is Bob Rupert’s article on a topic which most people will read with amazement: “Bartholomew von Heer and the Marechaussee Corps.” We are fairly sure most Round Tablers will react to that title with a baffled “HUH?”
Captain von Heer was appointed at the same time that Baron von Steuben took charge of training the Continentals in close order drill and the use of the bayonet. Von Heer was placed in command of a troop of mounted military police, a job he had performed during his military service in Europe. Their business was to watch over the good order of the army in camp, in winter quarters or on the march, and to prevent riots, marauding, straggling and desertions. Congress authorized the corps existence on May 27, 1778. They numbered about 63 men, including four who were designated “executioners.” Washington informed the army of the existence of the corps on October 11, saying he hoped that the institution would “operate more in preventing than in punishing crimes.”
The General had hoped von Heer would recruit men from the army’s existing brigades, as Washington had created his Life Guards. But von Heer found most of his men in German communities in the vicinity of Valley Forge. Unfortunately, six of them were former Hessian prisoners of war. All in all, their nationality did not endear them to most of the Continentals. But they did their best to perform their assigned tasks, and Washington never wavered in his support of them. In today’s American army, the Order of the Marechaussee is one of the most prestigious honors bestowed on members of the Military Police Corps. Only men who have lengthy service records and have upheld the highest army traditions receive it.
THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION IN WESTCHESTER
Do you have a story about an episode in the American Revolution that happened in Bedford, Katonah, Mount Vernon, Rye, Sleepy Hollow, Tarrytown, White Plains or Yonkers? If so, get in touch with Dr. Peter Feinman, at the Institute of History, Archeology and Education in Purchase. He is compiling all the tales he can gather to emphasize Westchester’s importance in the struggle for independence. On Friday Nov. 14, he held the first of what will no doubt be many symposiums, in which local historians gathered to describes events that took place in their home towns. If you want to participate, contact Dr. Feinman at email@example.com.
WHEN NEW JERSEY SAID NO
Speaking of history and geography, Tom Fleming traveled to Princeton in late September to give a speech that helped celebrate New Jersey’s 350th Anniversary as a colony and state. His subject was the Garden State’s role in the Revolution. He stressed the importance of the British defeat at Princeton for its effect on the state’s morale. For the first time, the arrogant enforcers of George III’s policies had to run for their lives. George Washington reinforced this impression by joining in the chase, roaring: “It’s a fine fox hunt!” He was remembering the way the British had sounded a fox hunting call at the battle of Harlem Heights, suggesting that the Americans were no more than witless animals. Tom connected this to the very contemporary conflict that is currently roiling Princeton: the attempt by the Institute for Advanced Study to build housing on a third of the battlefield. The Princeton Battlefield Society, which has opposed this desecration in court and in the press, had asked Tom to speak. “The similarity of the Institute’s stance to the arrogance and condescension that the British repeatedly displayed during the Revolution should inspire anyone and everyone in New Jersey to rally to this cause with the same emphatic NO that won the Garden State the title of the cockpit of the Revolution,” Tom said.
DID RANDOLPH JEFFERSON HAVE A CHILD BY A SALLY HEMINGS SISTER?
Herbert Barger, founder of the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society and an outspoken critic of the claim that Jefferson fathered two, four or even six children by his mulatto slave, Sally Hemings, is urging everyone to read a new book that sheds light on the mores of life on Jefferson’s “little mountain” after sundown. The book offers convincing evidence that Jefferson’s younger brother, Randolph, fathered a child by Sally Hemings’s older sister, Betty Brown Hemings. Randolph often visited Monticello and stayed very late, playing his fiddle and enjoying midnight frolics that his brother Thomas apparently ignored in his nearby splendid mansion.
The new book is From Whence We Came by M. Marilynn Jefferson. She offers strong evidence that Randolph Jefferson fathered her ancestor, Edwin Jefferson, with Betty Brown Hemings. Barger praised the book for its “careful research.” The current managers of Monticello claim that records show only a few visits from Randolph, who lived about twenty miles away. But Mr. Barger argues he was such a fixture on the little mountain, there was no reason to write down every visit. In Barger’s view, this reinforces the possibility that Randolph may also have had an affair with Sally. Their mother, Elizabeth Hemings, had eight children by eight different men during her years at Monticello.
A DATE TO REMEMBER
On October 21, Crossroads of the Revolution invited people to join them in celebrating the Battle of Red Bank. That was the name of the plantation created by two Quakers, James and Ann Whital, on the shore of the Delaware River. In October 1777, American soldiers took over their house and built Fort Mercer, part of a plan to starve the British army out of Philadelphia. Along with Fort Mifflin, on the other side of the river, it prevented the British navy from reaching the city. On October 21, some 2,000 overconfident Hessians under the leadership of Colonel Emil von Donop, attacked the fort, which was commanded by Colonel Christopher Greene. A young American soldier had warned them of the coming assault, and they inflicted massive casualties. Von Donop went down with a leg wound that proved fatal. Almost 400 Hessians were killed or wounded. American losses were 37. The battle was a huge boost for American morale, after losing the battles of Brandywine and Germantown. It gave Washington the time he needed to establish camp for the winter at Valley Forge. The James and Ann Withal House is now part of Red Bank Battlefield. Crossroads is a federally funded National Heritage area encompassing 14 counties in New Jersey that were the scene of significant actions in the Revolutionary War. You can learn a lot more about the battle by paying it a visit. Check them out at www.RevolutionaryNJ.org.
AND A WORD FROM OUR CHAIRMAN
We will gather as usual at the Coffee House Club. 20 W 44th St. on the sixth floor at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, December 2 to continue the Round Table’s 55th year. As usual, we would like everyone’s reservation in advance. The stamp-deprived can call 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