SURPRISES IN ALL DIRECTIONS
As Todd Braisted told the story of his remarkable book, Grand Forage 1778, the expressions on the faces of his Round Table listeners slowly changed from skepticism to amazement. An invasion of New Jersey and Westchester County by 10,000 British troops in 1778? And we’ve never heard of it before? How could this have happened?
Ironically, the Round Tablers were repeating the experience of George Washington and his army. In the fall of 1778, their spies had picked up information that made them think the British were about to evacuate New York. It seemed logical now that France was in the war. Hopes of a final victory rose in many heads and hearts. Then came the shocking invasion of New Jersey and Westchester by 10,000 of General Sir Henry Clinton’s best troops.
It slowly dawned on the Americans that the regulars were under orders to acquire tons of food for the army and hay for its horses. Here and there, they mauled some small detached American units. But Sir Henry was primarily concerned with feeding no less than forty percent of his army, which was being shipped to fight the French in the West Indies and the Americans in the South, and some unnamed enemy in Nova Scotia. No other book has seen this grand forage as one campaign, integrated by a very serious purpose. Round Tablers roared their approval of Todd Braisted’s brilliant insights and headed home to tell friends and family the latest news about the American Revolution.
THE BIG NEWS FOR 2017 (WE HOPE)
American Heritage, everyone’s favorite history magazine, is going to attempt another comeback. This time they’ve got an idea that will vastly reduce their costs: they’re going digital. An announcement is expected in early 2017. Edwin Grosvenor, publisher and driving force of the first comeback, which lasted five fruitful years, is still in charge and brimming with ideas for articles and ways to exploit the internet to build relationships with readers. They are eager to build up suspense and interest. Those who want the latest news of the grand opening, or maybe want to buy an early subscription, you can write to Grosvenor’s right hand man, David Kletzkin. He can be reached at email@example.com
RECOGNIZING A FOUNDING FATHER’S ACHIEVEMENTS
Few modern founders can match the scope and success of the Museum of American Finance. We cannot let 2016 pass without joining the salutes to John Herzog, the Museum’s founder (and NY ARRT member). There are now finance museums in 15 countries around the world. The Chinese alone have twenty-two. The International Federation of Finance Museums has given John a lifetime achievement award. Few contemporary kudos have been better deserved. Broadside joins in the global salute!
MORE WELL DESERVED PRAISE
Although it hasn’t been made public yet, one of Broadside’s espionage agents has learned that Tim McGrath’s superb book on the Revolutionary War at sea, Give me a Fast Ship, has won the coveted Samuel Eliot Morrison award. Tim has spoken to us about the book and its predecessor, his biography of John Barry. Congratulations! We also like it because it reminds everyone that we try to get the best speakers and the best books – and often succeed!
TOM FLEMING STARS AT THE BRYANT PARK READING ROOM
Have you ever heard of this clever addition to spreading the word about the best books and writers? The news is getting around that the Bryant Park Reading Room is the most entertaining history venue in summertime New York. Best of all, it’s free. The “Reading Room” consists of orderly rows of about 125 chairs on the north side of Bryant Park. If you and your beloved don’t get one of these relaxation machines, you can bring a folding version of your own, or a blanket. The equipment is first class. A microphone picks up almost every whisper, to the consternation of some speakers. In the rear is a large table with an ample supply of the speaker’s books, ready for him or her to sign. The staff of the Reading Room is ready and eager to make change, or accept credit cards. Tom spoke on his prize-winning book, The Great Divide, about the little understood clash between George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Cheering him on before and after and during a lively question and answer session were a heartening delegation of Round Tablers. Everyone had a good time. Paul Romero, boss of the Reading Room, remarked it was one of the most enthusiastic – and biggest – turnouts of the summer.
MORE SUMMER DOINGS
A few Round Tablers, such as Elizabeth Kahn Kaplan, played parts in one of the summer’s more complex ventures, a commemoration of the duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton on the west bank of the Hudson River, in what is now Weehawken. To widen the appeal for those who made the trip, festivities began with dinner in a fascinating old restaurant overlooking the mighty stream. The sponsors were the Alexander Hamilton Association, led by dynamic Rand Scholet. You can be certain that much of the dinner conversation revolved around the hit musical, Hamilton. Some with money to spare had seen it twice. Others were saving their nickels and dimes to pay the outrageous scalpers’ fees. After gnoshing for an hour, the enthusiasts swirled south to a point that overlooked the site of the actual duel, long since demolished to build the West Shore Railway. There they heard from members of other patriotic organizations, praising their presence. Then, with a nod from Rand Scholet, everyone marched in the opposite direction and found seats in a comfortable auditorium owned by the local Elks lodge. There they heard Tom Fleming explore how and why the duel happened, as experienced by Alexander Hamilton, who saw it as a crucial test of his honor. Tom cast a darker but more touching shadow over this conflicted man than the one visible in the musical, Hamilton. Everyone headed back to New York feeling that they had been in touch with greatness – and tragedy.
JON CARRIEL REPORTS ON ANOTHER TOUR DESTINATION,STATEN ISLAND’S CONFERENCE HOUSE
On September 9, 2016 — likely the hottest day the month will offer — two ARRT members, Sue Slack, and Gene Zuk, plus Manny, a friend of Gene’s, joined me aboard the ferry to the Staten Island Railway at Tottenville, the charming southernmost point of Staten Island, New York City, and New York State. Our aim was to visit the Conference House where, almost exactly two hundred forty years before, on September 11, 1776, Admiral Lord Richard Howe, in an earnest but doomed attempt to forestall the continuation of an already bloody Revolutionary War, coaxed the Continental Congress into sending three delegates to hear his pleas.
The house, a modest but handsome stone manor dating back at least to 1680, was owned by the Loyalist Billopp family, and a large contingent of British and Hessian troops were camped on its premises. It sits on a rise directly facing across the half mile wide Arthur Kill to (Patriot held) Perth Amboy, NJ, from which Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Edward Rutledge were rowed that day under a flag of truce.
The three-hour meeting was cordial—an elegant mid-day meal was served—but, as the three Americans had anticipated, unproductive. Howe may have been one of the British officers most sympathetic to American grievances, but he was unauthorized to offer anything other than amnesty and pardon for those who had taken up arms against Britain. As the Congressional delegates considered acceptance of their recently declared Independence essential, there was no chance that a truce could result.
The Conference House today is set in a New York City park, and is open to the public on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoons.
RESTORING A NEW JERSEY LIBERTY TAVERN
Tom Fleming’s 1976 novel, Liberty Tavern, helped bring the American Revolution in New Jersey alive. He revealed how crucial taverns were to maintaining the spirit of Revolutionary defiance. Now the owner of a real tavern where New Jersey’s first regiment of Minute Men gathered in 1775 wants to bring it back to life. Bonnell’s Tavern is in Hunterdon County, where interstate 78’s exit 15 meets Route 513. The tavern has been in the Bonnell family “forever,” Henry Bonnell says. His father spent 50 years maintaining it and now he’s undertaken the task. He’s put on a new roof and he mows the lawn around it. He’s talking to officials in Union Township and Clinton about moving it to a new site. Interstate 78 barged through the tavern’s property, leaving the tavern itself isolated, backed up against the highway. He wants to move the building from the highway’s shadow and turn it to face Clinton. That would give it 48 parking spaces. Meanwhile, he’s looking for a history-minded guy with money and enthusiasm to start a Revolutionary restaurant. Tom Fleming says when and if that happens, he’ll be there on opening night.
NEWS FROM THE OLD STONE HOUSE
Board member Polly Guerin has urged everyone who is ambulatory to visit the fabulous exhibit at The Old Stone House in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Titled “Witness to War,” it unflinchlingly tells the story of the resounding defeat the British inflicted on the Americans on August 27, 1776. Replicas of cannon balls and a diorama showing Americans going down in a blizzard of British bullets animate the first floor. Then comes the stories of slaves who slept in farmouse attics, and how they fled during the fighting. There is a reproduction of an ad by a loyalist named Cowenhoven, who advertised to find his runaway slave, Jaff, who adopted the name Jeffrey Johnston. There is also a portrait of General Washington with his valet, William Lee, sometimes called the commander in chief’s black shadow. Another exhibit shows graphic details from British prison ships and warehouses, in which captured Americans died by the hundreds. One Connecticut man described their rations as ”stinking meat and sea biscuit filled with living worm.”
HAMILTON MYTH DISPROVED!
Michael Newton, author of a new book on Alexander Hamilton, has exploded one of the most popular myths that became attached to the founder during the years he worked as Washington’s aide. Newton has revealed there is no truth to the story that Martha Washington named the tomcat who frequented Washington’s headquarters at Morristown “Hamilton.” Newton thinks this half joking story has tarnished Hamilton’s memory for a long time. He discovered that until around 1927, “tomcat” was merely a male cat. Newton also tracked down the original documentation of it as a description of Hamilton in the private journal of a British officer. Some people have extended the myth to claim there were 13 stripes on the tail of Martha’s tomcat, and they inspired the 13 stripes in the flag! Dismissing this silliness, Newton adds that the myth has endured for two centuries because Martha’s name was attached to it.
THE WOMAN WHO DUELLED WITH AARON BURR – AND WON
Born in Rhode Island in 1775, Betsy Bowen rose from indentured servitude and grinding poverty to become one of the wealthiest women in New York. Her first great leap forward was marriage to the suave French merchant, Stephen Jumel. She was soon a visible member of the upper middle class, with her own coach and a membership in exclusive Trinity Church. She gradually acquired control of much of her husband’s estate, especially the American property, which included a parcel of prime downtown real estate at the corner of Broadway and Liberty Street. When Stephen Jumel died in 1832, she was more than ready to speak and act as her own woman. Then she met 77 year old Aaron Burr. In spite of some large blots on his reputation – killing Alexander Hamilton in their famous duel and attempting to detach the western states from the Union a few years later — he had been born into the America elite, and Eliza found this irresistible. They were soon married and seemingly happy – until Eliza discovered Burr was spending money at a reckless rate. Already $13,000 had vanished without a trace. That is almost $200,000 in modern money. Eliza’s response was divorce. She bribed a servant of Burr’s to testify to his chronic infidelity. Burr responded by accusing Jumel of infidelity with no less than eight men. Jumel’s liar was more convincing. She won her case and went on enjoying life for another twenty years. When she died in 1865 she was worth at least a million dollars and the New York Times gave her a 3,000 word obituary. Burr had died in poverty in a Staten Island rooming house, decades earlier. All this has been revealed in a fascinating new book by Margaret Oppenheimer, The Remarkable Rise of Eliza Jumel –The Story of Marriage and Money in the New Republic.
THE FIRST EMANCIPATOR
David Bruce Smith’s Grateful American Magazine is becoming a national treasure. In a recent issue, he told the story of the man who deserves to be called the great emancipator. His name was Robert Carter III and on November 5, 1791, this pillar of Virginia’s aristocracy wrote a “deed of gift” which freed all 500 of the men and women who had been his slaves. It is one of the most amazing stories of the Revolutionary era.
THE SPEAKER FOR OCTOBER
We have a virtual guarantee of a fascinating talk by our board member, Professor Joanne Grasso. She has just published a book, The Revolutionary War on Long Island. Join us and find out how much happened on our local semi-peninsula that had meaning for the outcome of the struggle for independence.
AN IMPORTANT MESSAGE FROM OUR CHAIRMAN
While the focus of the American Revolution Round Table will always be the era of the War for Independence, we are about to make the leap into the 21st Century. The current Broadside is the last one you will receive in the mail. Starting in December, we are going digital. This change will save us a good deal of money with each issue. It will also guarantee delivery. No longer do we have to worry about lost mail.
On your annual membership form, be sure to print with extra care the email address to which future Broadsides should be sent. This is crucial to the success of our experiment.
During the summer I met with Jon Carriel and Tom and Alice Fleming. Tom writes the Broadside and Alice handles the mailings, I also discussed the plan with members of the Board of Governors. Everyone agreed it was time to update our communications.
To make reservations for future meetings, you can email Jon Carriel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Pre-payments can still be mailed to him at 57 West 70th St. (#3-A) NYC 10023. These are appreciated to reduce inconvenience at the dinners. You can also reserve for guests and discuss menu problems and other matters by email or by telephone (212 874 5121). If you do not have access to a computer, let Jon know. We don’t want to lose any members as a result of this change, and we will arrange a mailing to you.
Don’t let this news distract you from an immediate response to this last of our paper Broadsides. Send your reservations to Jon in the enclosed envelope. We look forward to seeing you on Tuesday October 4, at the Coffee House Club.
Your most obdt svt,
David W. Jacobs