REVOLUTIONS ON LONG ISLAND
Dr. Joanne Grasso took the Round Tablers at the October meeting on an illuminating tour of her favorite piece of American geography –– Long Island. Simultaneously, she told us how and why she wrote her vivid book The American Revolution on Long Island. She noted the amazing complexity of this 118 mile long land mass, with its myriad cultures in three distinct counties, Kings, Queens, and Suffolk.
Dr. Grasso cited one of her many historical authorities, who wrote, “while the island would be occupied by the British for the rest of the war (after the battle of Long Island) its people would not be passive.” Another historian wrote that Long Island had a “unique topography” that was crucial to the “strategy and tactics of both sides [of the war.]”
Towns like Hempstead and North Hempstead were bitterly divided, a grim example of what was happening elsewhere in the 13 colonies. A large number of the people on Long Island were loyalists. There were loyalist associations and corps of loyalists everywhere. The patriots fought back by night. They stretched a rope across the road in areas like Lloyds Neck. As British officers returned to their camps, the riders were pulled off their horses. They were then seized and thrown into whaleboats and rowed over to the Continental Army in Connecticut. There were also numerous ambushes in which redcoats traveling alone were beaten or killed. As a result, the British found it hard to trust loyalists. They never knew when they were being deceived.
Oyster Bay was probably the most loyal town. The Queen's Rangers, a regiment recruited largely on Long Island, was stationed there, commanded by John Graves Simcoe. They soon acquired a reputation as the toughest fighters in the British Army. Along with this fascinating information, Dr. Grasso named numerous historic houses and urged us to visit them. She listed the battles of Sag Harbor, Fort St. George and Fort Salonga among the noteworthy clashes in Suffolk County during the war. She mentioned favorite characters such as garishly named Return Jonathan Meigs who was the leader of 170 men from Connecticut. They were key players in the “whaleboat warfare” that raged on Long Island Sound. Then there was the Culper Spy Ring, featured on the TV show Turn. It was an almost totally Long Island operation.
All in all, Dr. Grasso gave us a gripping tour of a vital part of the American Revolution, about which most New Yorkers know little. The applause was vigorous and there was a rush to buy copies of Dr. Grasso’s book, which she was happy to sign.
BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS
Jon Carriel led off our review session with a report on After Yorktown: the Final Struggle for American Independence by Don Glickstein. It tells us about the worldwide conflicts that took place between Cornwallis’s surrender in October 1781, and the final formal acknowledgment that it was all over 31 months later, in July 1784.
Although it’s essentially a catalog of hostile encounters the book is very engaging and is never overwhelmed by repetitiveness. By 1781, the American Revolution was an out of control worldwide war. Author Glickstein calls it a “quagmire.” There was the British war in the West Indies, which began with a surprise attack on the great Dutch trading island of Saint Eustatius. This was topped by the naval battle of the Saints in which Admiral Rodney clobbered the French fleet that had blockaded the British in Yorktown. Meanwhile, Gibraltar was besieged by the Spanish for over three years and was nearly forced to surrender on several occasions. Finally, the British alienated the powerful East Indian leader Haider Ali who joined with the French and almost wrested India back from the English. Jon especially liked the plethora of capsule biographies of individuals involved. He had hoped for more attention to the diplomatic efforts to achieve peace. Otherwise, if you want to learn how slowly the tensions of the war relaxed, pick up After Yorktown.
Jim English gave us a lively look at First Entrepreneur by Edward Lengel. It convinced him Washington was not only first in war, and first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen. He was also first in business. Jim came away convinced that the United States “was conceived in business, founded on business, and operated as a business –- all because of the entrepreneurial mind of the greatest American businessman of any generation –– George Washington. Through careful investment, calculated risk, technological innovation and the avoidance of substantial debt, Mt. Vernon’s business prospered. For instance, Washington made a daring changeover from tobacco, the staple crop of most Virginia farmers, to the production of wheat, even adding a new gristmill to produce flour. Not a little of Washington’s hostility to the British was economic. Americans were treated subserviently by the crown in trade matters. Washington fought a chiefly economic war. He tried to impose mounting debt and economic hardship on British resources so they would give up the struggle and allow independence. He saw no point in a fight to the finish that would have destroyed most of America’s towns and villages.
From the beginning, Washington saw the true threat to American independence was not military, but the possibility of internal collapse. He did his utmost to maintain a functioning civil society. When Washington began his term as president in 1789, he had to confront a total domestic debt of over 27 million and a foreign debt of ten millon– billions in today’s dollars. Yet Washington chose to play a “decisive role” in creating a positive economic climate. Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton’s astounding success was intimately connected to Washington’s vision. Summing up. Jim says Lengel’s book gives us another perspective on the greatness of George Washington. It is one more reason to honor the father of our country.
We are catching up herewith to a very good June review by Vic Miranda of Michael Greenberg’s The Court-martial of Paul Revere – a Son of Liberty, and America’s Forgotten Military Disaster. The book explores Revere’s service in the French and Indian war, and in prerevolutionary Boston, including his role in the Boston massacre and other local events. Revere’s reputation as a talented artisan and political operator far transcended his role as a bearer of dark warnings on the night of April 18 – 19. Greenberg then moves swiftly to the book’s main event, Revere’s role as commander of the largely forgotten expedition to drive the British from Maine. The venture ended in a demoralizing and much criticized defeat. Revere was court-martialed for “disobedience of orders and unsoldierlike behavior, tending to cowardice.” All in all, it is a graphic account of an attack that badly underestimated British strength and determination.
AARON BURR HEATS UP GREENWICH VILLAGE
Although he’s been pilloried by history, and not treated favorably in the smash Broadway hit Hamilton, Aaron Burr is still a hot name in Manhattan. The historic West Village property he owned reportedly went on the market for $5.7 million, $1.28 million more than it sold for in 2013. The owner says he is more than ready to make a killing on Burr’s renewed fame. History buffs who love the play will fall in love with the house, he predicts. There is no proof that Burr actually lived in the residence at 17 Commerce Street, but the original home was built on land that he owned, just north of his country estate Richmond Hill, which stood around Bedford and Downing Streets. Burr first bought the property in 1794, and a historic plaque on the front of the current stately house reads, “Aaron Burr House 1802.” At that time Commerce Street was known as Cherry Lane. Property in Weehawken, New Jersey, near the site where Burr exchanged fatal shots with Hamilton, recently sold for $6.2 million two years ago. The house on Commerce Street features original iron railings and pineapple decor – a long-ago symbol of hospitality, along with pine wood floors. The 2 to 3 bedroom home with a study also features a private garden. It is located on a street that is already steeped in history. At 11 Commerce Street, Washington Irving wrote The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Burr also owned a carriage house at 17 Barrow Street, where the popular restaurant One If By Land Two If By Sea is now located. It is supposedly haunted by his ghost.
EMERGING REVOLUTIONARY WAR
You may be confused by this title. Surely the Revolution has been around for a long time. There is no need for it to emerge in 2016. If you stay calm you will find this is the title for a new series of books, to be published by Savas Beatie. It will feature overviews of battles, politics and biographies aimed at general audiences. “These books are modeled after our highly popular emerging Civil War series.” explains publisher Theodore P. Savas. “The books are reader friendly, and offer the perfect introductory level chance to explore some great stories.” The first books of the series will focus on the battles of Lexington and Concord and the battles of Trenton and Princeton,” editor-in-chief Phillip S, Greenwalt says. “Then we wanted to look at the vital turning point at the very end of 1776, as winter set in after a long dismal summer and fall.” The first books are slated for a spring 2017 release.
HAMILTON JUNKIES TAKE NOTE
Possibly the most original book –– or at least the most unusual –– that has crossed our desk recently is Where Was the Room Where it Happened? The Unofficial Hamilton: An American Musical Location Guide. Author Bryan Barreras has turned his love for the Broadway hit Hamilton into a collection of facts, anecdotes and trivia related to the Tony award-winning musical and the life of Alexander Hamilton. It is presented through the locations where it all happened. The guide explains how Hamilton's life is connected to the songs in the musical and provides historical information about each place, with suggested itineraries, maps and public transit directions. The book makes it fun and easy for fans to learn about or see the rooms where it all happened. It’s available in paperback and e-book versions.
PRESIDENTS AND THE HARD STUFF
A writer named Mark Will-Weber has just published a pioneering book, Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt: The Complete History of Presidential Drinking. The Broadside’s editors read it with a natural focus on the Founding Fathers. Ben Franklin assured his readers in his 1737 Drinker’s Dictionary that there were 200 ways to say (and perhaps stay?) drunk, among them “pidgeon-eyed, pungey and priddy.” He also maintained “There can be no good living without good drinking.” Ben had a fondness for Port. At a dinner with a British politician, each finished off two bottles.
George Washington named three of his favorite foxhounds ”Tipsy, Tippler and Drunkard.” He also made very satisfying profits from Mount Vernon’s distillery. His favorite drink was Porter, a dark beer, especially a brand made by a Philadelphian named Robert Hare. He mixed it with molasses to give it more thickness and sweetness. He also had a recipe for “small beer,” a drink he distributed to his troops when he defended Virginia’s frontier during the Seven Years War. When Long Island’s Blue Point Brewery was put in charge of the beer for Hofstra’s 2016 Presidential Debate, they found a recipe for small beer in a GW notebook in the New York Public Library. They played around with his formula but they ended with essentially the same historic potion, which they named Colonial Ale, a low alcohol beer with a malty, nutty flavor. Author Will-Weber says alcohol, especially champagne, made Washington better company at dinner.
Thomas Jefferson scorned plebian drinks like small beer. For him, only French wine was worth drinking. In spite of being perpetually on the brink of bankruptcy, he made sure he had an adequate supply at Monticello and in the White House. In 1801 when he became president, he ordered several pipes (a pipe is 126 gallons) of Madeira and 360 bottles of French Sauterne. A year later he bought 100 bottles of champagne.
For John Adams, Madeira was a favorite. When he dined at the Chew mansion in the Philadelphia suburb of Germantown he downed it without stopping and was amazed that he had no “inconvenience” the next morning. At home, “Honest John,” as he liked to call himself, always began the day with a flagon of hard cider. It was, one 2016 commentator says “strong enough to make the modern drinker woozy for a week.” John maintained it was medicine, which dissolved the “bile” in his stomach. There is no record of him veering into excess but two of his sons died of alcoholism.
GETTING OUR NAME AROUND
Richard Melnick got an August brainwave. Thinking of the superb talk we recently enjoyed about Washington's Immortals, he wrote a letter to the Baltimore Sun, telling them how much our members appreciated Maryland’s contribution to the Battle of Brooklyn. To his delight, the Sun published the letter (really an article with a good summary of the battle) as a memory of Maryland’s past greatness and courage. This is something all our members might do, on other subjects and speakers.
ADVICE FROM AN EYEWITNESS EXPERT
Lynne Saginaw, our book review editor, also devotes not a little time to keeping her knowledgeable eyes alert for exhibits and shows. She has given enthusiastic endorsement to the NY Historical Society’s The Battle of Brooklyn. Any Round Tabler who doesn’t see it is “quite remiss.” In another part of the building is a second noteworthy exhibit, “The First Jewish Americans.” It’s about the Spanish and Portuguese Jews who came to New York in the 17th and 18th centuries.
WAS GEORGE WASHINGTON THE STEP–GRANDFATHER OF SLAVES?
In June 2016, The National Park Service reenacted the 1826 wedding of Maria Carter and Charles Cyfax at Arlington House, the hilltop mansion overlooking the capital that Washington’s step-grandson George Washington Parke Custis built and his son-in-law Robert E. Lee later managed. Maria worked as a slave maid and Charles, another house slave, oversaw the dining room at Arlington. Maria’s mother, Arianna, had been a maid to Martha Washington and came to Arlington when Martha died. Under the terms of her first husband’s will, all the slaves Martha inherited from him were passed on to her Custis children at her death. George freed all the slaves he owned at his death in 1799. Not far away at Mount Vernon an exhibition opened this year, acknowledging that Parke Custis also likely fathered a girl named Lucy with a slave named Caroline Branham. Matthew Penrod, the National Park Service manager of Arlington House, admits there is no new definitive evidence to prove Parke Custis fathered these girls. Rather, the recognition reflects a growing sense that African-American history cannot be disregarded and Arlington House represents a more complicated legacy than most people imagine. After Maria’s wedding, Parke Custis freed her and her husband and gave them seventeen acres on the Arlington plantation. There have been discussions among the Syphax family about comparing their DNA to the descendants of Robert E. Lee, who married Parke Custis’s daughter. But calls to the Lees from the Associated Press, which covered the reenactment of the wedding, were not returned.
POKEMON GO – A NEW HISTORIC ENEMY
Fort Phoenix, in Fairhaven, near the Rhode Island border with Massachusetts, is under attack again. It was destroyed by the British in 1778 and later rebuilt. A volunteer caretaker says the grounds are being littered with trash and are being vandalized. A stone wall was recently taken apart with a crowbar and other parts of the grounds “look like a minefield” after being repeatedly dug up. The intruders, many of whom come by night, are Pokemon Go fanatics who have been told a rare Pokemon can be found there. Most of them are ignorant of the fort’s history.
THE SPEAKER FOR DECEMBER
Our speaker will be John Oller, a New York City lawyer. His topic will be Francis Marion, the famed Swamp Fox and how he saved the American Revolution. It is the first book on Marion in forty years, and contains startling new insights.
A DIGITAL MESSAGE FROM OUR CHAIRMAN
I thought it would do no harm to go over our new routine. After reading this Broadside, we hope you will email your reservation for the meeting on Tuesday, December 6th, to our Secretary Treasurer at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will meet at our usual home away from home, The Coffee House Club at 20 W 44th Street at six pm. If you are bringing a guest or guests, give their names to Jon in the same or another email. You can also tell him about special dietary needs. If you want to pay in advance, send your check or money order to Jon at 57 West 70th Street—Apt. 3A, NYC 10023. You can also telephone Jon at 212-874-5121. We look forward to seeing you!
Your most obdt svt,
David W. Jacobs