KIDNAPPING: A NEW WAY TO WIN A WAR FOR INDEPENDENCE
Few of our guest speakers have had more mesmerizing first lines than Christian McBurney, our guest for October: “The topic of my talk is special operations to kidnap enemy generals during the Revolutionary War. These operations were not infrequent. George Washington himself applauded and supported such efforts undertaken by the American army. Referring to a plan to capture British commander-in-chief Henry Clinton in 1778, he wrote: “I think it one of the . . . most desirable and honorable things imaginable -- taking him prisoner.”
Mr. McBurney began with the story of a man he called “the most remarkable personality on either side” --- General Charles Lee. Big nosed and skeletonically thin, he had a nasty tongue to match his unappealing looks. But the reputation he had won fighting for the British in the Seven Years War and then for other nations as a soldier of fortune enabled him to talk his way into becoming second in command of the Continental army. In this role he was untrustworthy, to put it mildly. He refused to cooperate with Washington after the commander in chief was badly beaten trying to defend New York in the summer of 1776. Only after repeated requests did Lee march his men to join the retreating regulars under Washington. In Basking Ridge, NJ, Lee decided to spend the night at the Widow White’s tavern, a good 3 miles from where his men were camping. A detachment of British cavalry led by the not yet famous Banastre Tarleton galloped past the sleeping infantrymen and captured Lee at gunpoint. Not a few people on both sides thought the war was as good as over. In fact, it probably saved the Continental Army from a ruinous defeat. Hoping to become commander in chief, Lee was planning to attack a British outpost in New Jersey. He would have almost certainly been repulsed, leaving Washington without the men he needed to win his electrifying victories at Trenton and Princeton. With the Americans revived, some of them decided Lee must be rescued – by kidnapping a British general of equal rank. Lt. Colonel William Barton of Rhode Island decided the perfect candidate was Major General William Prescott, the British commander in Newport. Mr. McBurney gave us a riveting account of how Barton managed this feat, in spite of the presence of some 4,000 British and German troops occupying the smallest state. Prescott was soon exchanged for General Lee. He proved to be as uncooperative with Washington and everyone else and rapidly declined to total uselessness. He died, forgotten and ignored, in 1782. Round Tablers went home awed by Mr. McBurney’s skill as a dramatic story teller.
BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS
Vic Miranda gave us his take on American Spring, Lexington, Concord and the Road to Revolution by Walter Borneman. Vic said it was a detailed and opinionated account of the events in 1775 Massachusetts, ending two months after the battle of Bunker Hill, when George Washington took command of the largely New England army, Borneman gives us an almost minute by minute account of the skirmishes on Battle Road after the bloodshed at Lexington and Concord. All the familiar names - Adams, Hancock, Warren, Revere – are given their due. British general Thomas Gage is also a major figure. Vic praised the book as a quick and easy read.
Sybil Allen said reviewing Tim McGrath’s Give Me A Fast Ship, the Story of the Continental Navy, had been made easy by the superb talk the author gave the Round Table last year. She warned readers that the book is far more complex than the lecture’s “smooth sailing.” But she grew to love the plethora of details and the “new vocabulary” she acquired. She stressed that the Navy was a hard sell because so much more money could be made aboard privateers. But patriotism persuaded a respectable number of sailors to staff American men of war. Ms Allen enjoyed the numerous vivid battles, plus some harrowing bouts with Mother Nature, that crowded Tim McGrath’s pages. She recommended the book as a guaranteed enrichment of everyone’s understanding of the Revolution.
NO TAX! NO STAMPS! NO TAX! NO STAMPS!
Two hundred and fifty years ago, this cry rose from a mob of 2,000 Americans on Bowling Green in New York City. If you had wandered down that way at 4 pm on November 1, 2015, you would have heard a chorus of similar voices roaring the same defiant cry from the very same patch of green. Thanks to our muli-talented secretary treasurer, Jon Carriel, a contingent of Round Tablers and a supplement of passersby were repeating those memorable words. After mesmerizing the June Round Table with his account of the Stamp Act protest in New York City, Jon yielded to the urging of several Round Tablers, notably Lynne Saginaw, David Malinsky and Richard Melnick, and donated his talent to create this wild-eyed reenactment. He wrote a script for the event and recruited Tom Fleming to tell everyone what the people of New York City were like in those days. Tom described the medley of accents in the angry crowd – Dutch, German, Irish, Jewish and African American. They were members of no less than ten different religious faiths. This startling mix was what made New York’s protest so significant. It suggested that Americans new and old were resisting this cruel new tax. Tom startled some people by noting that the black population was more than twenty percent of the city’s 20,000 people. Most were slaves, but all joined in the protests when they learned that the anti-Stampers were calling themselves “Sons of Liberty.” Jon gave the 250th anniversarians a vivid account of how the protest played out. Next came Fred Cookinham, one of the city’s best tour guides. Clad in a red uniform and cocked hat, Fred told in amazing detail who lived in the mansions on lower Broadway, and what happened to them in later years. He added numerous other anecdotes about celebrities from Benedict Arnold to Robert R. Livingston, negotiator of the Louisiana Purchase. In between the narratives, protesters led by David Malinsky and Lynne Saginaw chanted slogans.
Should we just cut and run?’ Never this mother’s son! What cost one now costs three What new coat will we see?
In a mass response, everyone chanted: “NO TAX! NO STAMPS! NO TAX! NO STAMPS!”
The head of the Bowling Green Association, Arthur Piccolo, was there cheering everyone on. Watching with warm approval was Jim Kaplan, head of the Lower Manhattan Historical Association. A wonderful time was had by everyone – and numerous passersby learned about an important day in American history.
MOUNT VERNON MAGAZINE
A new publication with that attractive title made its appearance earlier in the fall. It has a strikingly handsome cover, gleaming roseate white, featuring the porch of Mount Vernon, with color photography and fascinating articles. Perhaps most interesting for Round Tablers was the lead article, “Divided They Stood,” which is a lively account of President George Washington’s conflicts with his Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson. The author, you may not be too surprised to hear, is Tom Fleming, Much of it is drawn from his book, The Great Divide, about which he spoke to us in April. Ron Chernow has a briefer but lively discussion with one of the editors about Alexander Hamilton’s role as Washington’s military aide and cabinet minister. There are other interesting articles , notably a discussion of how “peeling back history” has told us a great deal about Mount Vernon’s wallpaper – and George Washington’s good taste as an interior decorator. Another article recounts the excitement when the 2015 version of the French frigate, Hermione, docked at Mount Vernon on June 9. That night more than 300 lucky guests dined on the lawn of the mansion, enjoying a feast hosted by Moet Hennessy. (Guess what they drank?) After the visit came a June 12-14 symposium in Mount Vernon’s Washington Library that discussed various aspects of our alliance with France. Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy, the Sons of the Revolution Distinguished Scholar (and winner of our 2014 annual award) led the discussion, which included explorations of other alliances -- with the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal -- that enabled the 13 rebellious colonies to become a nation. A volume on the various topics, written by the scholars, will be published soon by the University of Virginia Press. For those who want to subscribe, the magazine is a bonus being given to those who become members of Mount Vernon for $50.00. They hope to begin marketing it at a separate price, eventually. Meanwhile, they will be glad to send complimentary copies to any Round Tabler who asks for one at PO Box 110, Mount Vernon, VA, 22121.
THE FIRST AMERICAN REVOLUTION? 1625?
Harriet Moulton is a charming woman who lives in the same apartment building as Tom Fleming. She is fascinated by American history, thanks to her marriage to her late husband, a direct descendant of the “first comers” who founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Recently she gave Tom a photograph of a startling plaque which she found in her husband’s papers. It commemorates the founding of the colony in 1623. It then informs readers that in 1625, Governor Roger Conant ( a Moulton ancestor) “averted bloodshed between contending factions, one led by Myles Standish of Plymouth, the other by Captain Hewes.” This was called “a notable exemplification of arbitration in the annals of New England.” It was also an example of how ready some of these new Americans were to reach for their guns. Mrs. Moulton grandly admitted that Standish was always “a bit difficult.” There is a more than a hint here of the antagonism between the Pilgrims and the Puritans, which persisted for well over a century.
DISCOVERING A BURIED FORT
Some people get lucky when they dig, and discover gold or oil. Archeologist David Starbuck has done something even more amazing. With the help of four dozen volunteers, he has dug up a buried fort. Working in the state-owned Lake George battlefield park, he has uncoverd large sections of stone walls that are part of a British fortification never completed more than 250 years ago. In 1759, Jeffrey Amherst, the British commander in North America, ordered a large fort built on rising ground at the southern end of Lake George, the site of two previous battles. The new fort was to be called Fort George. Now we can see just how ambitious Amherst’s plans for Fort George were. Professor Starbuck thinks the newly discovered wall was part of a casemate which could serve as a barracks or a place to store supplies such as gunpowder. Amherst changed his mind when the British captured French-held Fort Ticonderoga. He decided that fortress would become the Gibraltar of America. So it did, until Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold took it by surprise in 1775.
HISTORY DAY COMPETITION
In their October magazine, the Grateful American Foundation, led by philanthropist David Bruce Smith, is featuring National History Day, which attracted a staggering 600,000 middle and high school students from around the world. They prepared exhibits, documentaries, papers, performances and websites. Some 3,000 finalists competed for medals and prizes (some as much as $5,000) at the University of Maryland. This year’s subject was “Leadership and Legacy in History.” The executive director of the event, Dr. Cathy Gorn, discussed what makes students passionate about history in an interview with David Bruce Smith and his executive producer, Hope Katz Gibbs. “The students become historians, which is what makes history come alive,” Dr. Gorn said. “It’s the antithesis of learning history by memorization. They conduct research in archives and libraries; they do oral history interviews. Then they compile their research into a project related to our annual theme.“ You can watch Dr. Gorn’s remarks on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zFDVHDIPqYA.
THE ONGOING WAR ON THE PRINCETON BATTLEFIELD
So you think the American Revolution ended in 1783? You’ll change your mind if you visit the Princeton battlefield and perchance meet Jerry Hurwitz or one of his dedicated assistants, who are still fighting the vastly wealthy Institute for Advanced Studies to prevent this smug collection of doubledomes from building faculty housing on a crucial part of the battlefield, which they claim to own. Recently, the PBS (Princeton Battlefield Society) discovered bulldozers at work on this section of the battlefield, which includes the site on which George Washington led a charge that swept the defending British into humiliating retreat. This is one of the great moments in American history. But do the intellectual snobs at the Institute care about that large fact? Of course not. The PBS sent their attorneys charging to the local Superior Court, which soon issued a Temporary Restraining Order that forced the bulldozers to cease and desist while the case is still being argued before several judges and commissions. The Civil War Trust has joined the struggle on the PBS ‘s side. They have already helped preserve 40,000 acres of battlefields from the Civil War and are now trying to do the same thing for the Revolution and War of 1812. They have donated $25,000 to the fight and have issued a vigorous statement backing the PBS. If you want to help, send a check to Princeton Battlefield Society, PO Box 7645, Princeton, NJ 08543.
FOR READERS WITH A SENSE OF HUMOR
Have you ever heard of “Biff” Washington? Don’t be embarrassed. Neither has anyone else -- until famed cartoonist Arnold Roth revealed his existence in a series of drawings which he delivered to The Magna Magnet, a (very) local newspaper that Tom Fleming sponsors at his summer home on Magna Lane in Westbrook CT. The Magnet’s motto is: We Print All The News We Can Get Our Hands On. Biff is a fat, arrogant loudmouth, whose existence Roth maintains the Master of Mount Vernon did everything in his power to deny. Several ARRT members prevailed on Tom to bring one of these sacrileges to the October meeting for a passaround. It shows Biff with a flagon of booze in his hand, lying back in one of the boats crossing the Delaware River. His arm is around a grinning doxy almost as fat as he is. George, standing in the prow with his sword raised, is gritting his teeth while Biff bellows: “YO, BRO! HEY GEORGE! SIDDOWN, WONTCHA? WE POOPDECKERS CAN’T EVEN SEE THE JERSEY SHORE!” Above this shocking image, Roth explains that George’s mother made him take Biff along. For those who are tempted to cancel their ARRT membership, we can only inform them that Roth has won the Hall of Fame Award from the Society of Illustrators and his work hangs in the Treasures Gallery in the Billy Ireland Cartoon Museum & Library at Ohio State University. Biff’s existence may be explained by another award. Roth is one of only four Americans who have been permitted to carve their names in the Punch Table – a rare tribute from the famous BRITISH humor magazine. Can we detect a whiff of treason here?
I WISH I WAS THERE
This is a new feature, similar to “Did You Know?” We hope members will send in places or events that are surprising or interesting or both. Our current candidate is something that took place this year in Ben Franklin’s home on Craven Street in London on Halloween Night. A sold-out audience of children were entertained by a woman playing one of Ben’s favorite people, beautiful Polly Hewson. She told them scary 18th Century stories (Halloween was a favorite British holiday) and joined them in playing ghastly games such as Pin the Spider on the Web.
OUR SPEAKER FOR DECEMBER: KATHLEEN DUVAL HER TOPIC: LIVES ON THE EDGE OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION
To quote the NY Times, “If you think the war for Independence was all about redcoats battling minutemen and continentals, Kathleen DuVal’s book will knock your socks off. “ It’s about the American Revolution on the Gulf Coast, told through the lives of eight men and women who participated – often heroically -- in the struggle but did not win the freedom achieved by the citizens of the thirteen colonies.
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, December, 1, 2015. 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.
The Board of Governors will meet at 5 pm to discuss future meetings and plans.
Your most obdt svt.
David W. Jacobs