“The Coalition That Made American Independence Possible”

Brothers in ArmsEducation and Culture: A Critical Review is running my review of Larrie Ferreiro’s Brothers in Arms: American Independence and the Men of France and Spain Who Saved It.

Education and Culture is John Wilson’s new venture.  For over two decades Wilson edited Books and Culture.

Here is a taste of my review:

The recent decision by President Donald Trump to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement was the impetus for an interesting Twitter exchange between Joyce Chaplin, the James Duncan Phillips Chair of Early American History at Harvard University, and Ted Cruz, the junior US Senator from Texas. Chaplin was not happy about Trump’s decision to pull the country out of the Paris Agreement and used the 140 characters allotted to her on Twitter to express her dissatisfaction. On June 1, 2017, she wrote, “The USA, created by int’l community in Treaty of Paris in 1783, betrays int’l community by withdrawing from #parisclimateagreement today.” Cruz, appalled by the suggestion that the “international community” created the United States, fired back: “Just sad. Tenured chair at Harvard, doesn’t seem to know how USA was created. Not a treaty. Declaration+Revolutionary War+Constitution=USA.” Later in the day, the Texas Senator continued on the offensive: “Lefty academics @ my alma mater think USA was “created by int’s community. No—USA created by force, the blood of patriots & We the People.” As might be expected, most academic historians rushed to defend Chaplin, while conservative websites viewed the exchange as another battle in their war against so-called liberal élites.

We should not make too much of this short Twitter exchange. Both Chaplin and Cruz used the social media platform to marshal historical evidence in support of their own political preferences. But the Chaplin-Cruz dust-up, and the reaction to it, does tell us a lot about how Americans understand and misunderstand, use and abuse, the past. Chaplin’s attempt to connect the Treaty of Paris to the Paris Climate Agreement was a stretch. On the other hand, her insistence that the United States was not forged in a vacuum is a point worth making. Cruz’s tweets reflect an older version of the American Revolution that serves the cause of American exceptionalism. Scholars sometimes describe this historiography of exceptionalism as “Whig history.” Cruz’s understanding of the nation’s founding—one that celebrates the “blood of the patriots” and “We the People”—ignores the fact that the colonies were part of a larger transatlantic world that influenced the course and success of their Revolution. Cruz’s brand of Whig history offers a usable past perfectly suited for today’s “America First” foreign policy and the Trump administration’s skepticism regarding globalization. It is also wrong.

Read the entire review here.

Why Did Nova Scotia Stay Loyal?

Nova ScotiaAlexandra Montgomery, a Ph.D candidate at Penn and an award-winning historian, asks this question here.

A taste:

As an American born kid growing up in Halifax, the question of why that chunk of land stayed British while the rest of the colonies to the south declared independence was something of a puzzle. I became even more confused when I learned that most of the people who lived there at the outbreak of the Revolution were New Englanders, a group of people who my trips to Boston and Connecticut to visit family had convinced me had been waiting to rebel practically since the Mayflower made landfall. As I got older and started to study the history of North America more seriously, my understandings grew much more nuanced. But I discovered that many historians puzzled over the same problem I had. It turned out that there were many theories for Nova Scotia’s loyalty: a supposed culture of neutrality, a lack of connections to the rest of the continent, a heavy British military presence, and Anglo Nova Scotia’s markedly different relationship to the imperial center have all been cited as possible explanations. Yet, in my own work I’ve become more and more interested in a slightly different question. What kinds of alternate futures did people imagine for the region? What did people—British, French, and Indigenous—think and hope was possible?

Read more.

HT: Boston 1775

Richard Bernstein Weighs-In on the Chaplin-Cruz Dust-Up

BernsteinLast night while scanning Facebook I ran across Richard Bernstein’s take on this whole Joyce Chaplin-Ted Cruz debate. He was gracious enough to let me share it here.

Bernstein is a historian who teaches law at New York Law School.  He is the author of several books, including The Founding Fathers: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2015); The Founding Fathers Reconsidered (Oxford, 2009); and Thomas Jefferson (Oxford, 2003).

Not familiar yet with the Chaplin-Cruz dust-up?  Get up to speed here and here.

There is a dust-up on Twitter between Harvard’s Joyce Chaplin and Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) about the consequences of President 45’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement. Prof. Chaplin argued that the US was created by the international community as a result of the Treaty of Paris of 1783, and Cruz fired back an angry and bitter retort insisting that the United States was entirely self-created by the following equation: “Declaration+Revolutionary War+Constitution=USA.”

Well, Prof. Chaplin is a bit off, but Senator Cruz is way off. Here’s one historian’s take on the matter, rooted in various books that I’ve written and in the research supporting them:

The United States was self-created on either 2 July (the adoption of the independence resolution) or 4 July (the adoption and promulgation of the Declaration of Independence) 1776. Its first form of government (omitted by Cruz from his equation) was the Articles of Confederation, framed in 1777 and ratified in 1781. Of the three resolutions introduced by Richard Henry Lee (VA) in the Second Continental Congress in June 1776, one pertained to declaring independence; a second pertained to framing articles of confederation; and a third pertained to securing foreign alliances, showing the importance that the founding guys placed on the international dimension of the struggle.

* The treaty between the US and France in 1778 was the first by which a foreign power recognized the United States; other treaties with other nations confirmed American independence in the eyes of those nations making the treaties.

* The Treaty of Paris of 1783 is the instrument by which Britain officially recognized American independence, though one could argue that, by entering into full negotiations with American diplomats, Britain recognized American independence earlier than 1783. The step of opening negotiations was the first step in a process culminating in the treaty, and thus in full recognition.

The creation of the United States is a process with domestic and international dimensions, as set forth above. It ended with the adoption of the U.S. Constitution in 1788 and its effectuation on 4 March 1789. On receiving news of the Constitution’s ratification, Benjamin Rush (a signer of the Declaration) said, “‘Tis done. We have become a nation.” One could argue that the United States first took shape as a confederation of states in 1776 and then reformulated itself into a federal republic, an independent nation, by 1789. Note, however, that the Constitution does not include the word “nation” — in fact, during the Convention, the delegates were so leery of that word that they specifically excised it from the document.

Apparently, Ted Cruz is an idiot. He seems not to realize that a formal treaty between Britain and the United States, under which Britain recognized American independence and nationhood, was an essential part of the creation of the United States. John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and John Jay did not make that mistake, nor did they miss the importance of the treaty they were appointed by Congress to negotiate. It is sad that a graduate with honors of the Harvard Law School is so stupid as to miss that essential point about the origins of the United States. Cruz insists on the Battle of Yorktown (1781), but he misses that the treaty negotiations were the direct consequence of the UH-French victory over Britain at Yorktown.

Indeed, regarding the use of the word “nation,” Abraham Lincoln was the critical figure in establishing the legitimacy and importance of defining the United States as a nation. His predecessor in that argument, of course, was Alexander Hamilton, who in THE FEDERALIST No. 85 wrote, “A nation without a national government is to my mind an awful spectacle.”

In sum, the creation of the United States as an independent nation was a long, arduous process, one with both domestic (national) and international elements – one that can’t be contained in a tweet.

Joyce Chaplin vs. Ted Cruz

Perhaps you have seen the Twitter battle taking place between Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Joyce Chaplin.   Cruz ran for POTUS In 20016.  Chaplin is an early American historian and chair of Harvard’s American Studies program

Chaplin’s claim that the United States was formed by an international community through the Treaty of Paris (1783) is true.  Having said that, to connect the Treaty of Paris with Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement seems to be a bit of a reach. I hope Chaplin will write a longer piece on this.  I am less interested in the connections between Paris 1783 and Paris 2017 and more interested in Chaplin’s understanding of the relationship between the past and the present on matters like this.

Cruz, of course, can’t stay away.  His tweets reveal his simplistic understanding of the American Revolution.  As Cruz proved during his presidential campaign, he is incapable of nuance, especially when history does not conform to his view of American exceptionalism.

I wonder what Cruz would say about me if he ever found out that I tell my students that the Americans would not have won the Revolutionary War without the help of France, Spain, and other European powers.

Here are the tweets:

Thomas Jefferson on the Run

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Check out Michael Kranish‘s piece at The Washington Post on the time Thomas Jefferson fled Monticello to avoid being captured by the British during the Revolutionary War. Kranish is the author of Flight from Monticello: Thomas Jefferson at War.

Here is a taste:

Jefferson’s flight made him a mockery. He was called a coward and worse. His political enemies began an investigation into his conduct and he faced the possibility of censure for leaving the state without leadership while looking out for his own interests. One legislator wrote that Jefferson’s flight left Virginia “in a most distressed condition from sea to the mountains.” Jefferson would later explain that he knew he was no military man; he was a planter and scientist and intellectual, not a warrior; it was best, he reasoned, to have a seasoned general take over. He knew his limitations. But he was tormented by the criticism.

“I had been suspected & suspended in the eyes of the world without the least hint then or afterwards made public which might restrain them from supposing that I stood arraigned for treasons of the heart and not merely weakness of the head,” Jefferson wrote. “I felt that these injuries … had inflicted a wound on my spirit which will only be cured by the all-healing grave.”

Jefferson rebutted his critics the way he knew best, with his writing. He was in the midst of composing chapters for his only full-length book, “Notes on the State of the Virginia,” which featured rhapsodic descriptions of the state’s natural beauty. He delivered his defense of his actions in a chapter about the Navy, which consisted of one paragraph. His point was that the state in effect didn’t have one and that it wasn’t his fault. Since the British invaded, he wrote, “I believe we are left with a single armed boat only.”

Read the rest here.

History is Good for Business

MorristownMorristown National Historical Park in New Jersey, the place where George Washington and the Continental Army spent part of the winter of 1777 and most of the winter of 1779-1780, makes a lot of money for Morristown and the surrounding Morris County region.

In 2016, 252,500 visitors came to the park.  They spent $15 million dollars in the region.

American history does not just help us become better citizens, but it is also good for the economy.

Read more here.

 

Nathaniel Philbrick Wins the 2017 George Washington Book Prize

PhilbrickHere is a taste of the press release from Washington College, one of the sponsors of the award.

Author Nathaniel Philbrick has won the coveted George Washington Prize, including an award of $50,000, for his book, Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution (Viking). One of the nation’s largest and most prestigious literary awards and now in its 12th year, the George Washington Prize honors its namesake by recognizing the year’s best new books on the nation’s founding era, especially those that engage a broad public audience. Conferred by George Washington’s Mount Vernon, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and Washington College, the award will be presented to Philbrick on May 25 at a black-tie gala at Mount Vernon.

“To have Valiant Ambition recognized in this way means a tremendous amount to me, especially given the extraordinary quality of the books produced by the other six finalists,” said Philbrick. “My heartfelt thanks to the jurors involved in the selection process and to the George Washington Prize’s sponsoring institutions.”

Valiant Ambition is a surprising account of the middle years of the American Revolution and the tragic relationship between George Washington and Benedict Arnold. Philbrick creates a complex, controversial, and dramatic portrait of a people in crisis and of the war that gave birth to a nation. He focuses on loyalty and personal integrity as he explores the relationship between Washington and Arnold—an impulsive but sympathetic hero whose misfortunes at the hands of self-serving politicians fatally destroy his faith in the legitimacy of the rebellion. As a country wary of tyrants suddenly must figure out how it should be led, Washington’s unmatched ability to rise above the petty politics of his time enables him to win the war that really matters.

“Philbrick brings both careful craftsmanship and propulsive energy to his storytelling—a hallmark of all his widely read and acclaimed books,” says Adam Goodheart, the Hodson Trust-Griswold Director of the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience at Washington College. “Moreover, Valiant Ambition is also an impressive feat of research: it offers dramatic episodes that have been largely forgotten, such as a naval battle fought by Arnold on Lake Champlain in 1776, which Philbrick turns into a heart-racing adventure story.”   

Established in 2005, the George Washington Prize has honored a dozen leading writers on the Revolutionary era including, Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the hit musical Hamilton. For this year’s prize, a distinguished jury comprised of notable historians David Preston, Kathleen DuVal, and Nick Bunker, selected the finalists from a field of nearly 60 books.

Mount Vernon’s event on May 25 will also honor the six finalists for the 2017 prize:

T.H. Breen, George Washington’s Journey: The President Forges a New Nation (Simon and Schuster)

Annette Gordon-Reed and Peter S. Onuf“Most Blessed of the Patriarchs”: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination (Liveright Publishing)

Jane Kamensky, A Revolution in Color: The World of John Singleton Copley (W.W. Norton)

Michael J. KlarmanThe Framers’ Coup: The Making of the United States Constitution (Oxford University Press)

Mark Edward Lender and Garry Wheeler StoneFatal Sunday: George Washington, the Monmouth Campaign, and the Politics of Battle (University of Oklahoma Press)

Alan Taylor, American Revolutions: A Continental History, 1750-1804 (W.W. Norton)

 

The American Revolution Museum at Yorktown

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This week the new Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia is getting all the press, but J.L. Bell reminds us that there is another museum of the American Revolution that recently opened at Yorktown.  Bell paid a visit to the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown and tells us what he saw in a recent post at Boston 1775.

Here is a taste:

Though this museum is at the site of a particular event—the Yorktown siege of 1781—it covers the entire Revolutionary conflict, starting with the imperial situation of the 1750s and running to the expansion of the U.S. of A. in the 1790s. The galleries have the themes of “The British Empire and America”; “The Changing Relationship—Britain and North America”; “Revolution,” meaning the war; “The New Nation”; and “The American People.”

The museum also uses a lot of interactive technology. I didn’t watch the introductory film, “Liberty Fever,” but I was impressed by many of the smaller video displays. One standout was the museum’s Liberty Tree, a metal sculpture draped with “20 electronic lanterns that display liberty messages from all over the world.” Visitors in person and online can type out short remarks (no more than 108 characters) about what liberty means to them, and those appear on the lanterns.

Beside the museum building there’s a feature I remember from Yorktown decades back, a recreation of the Continental Army camp during the siege of 1781. Alongside that is an eighteenth-century farm raising vegetables and herbs; it includes a tobacco barn, representing colonial Virginia’s main crop, but apparently no tobacco fields.

The American Revolution Museum is allied with the Jamestown Settlement, a recreation of the first lasting British settlement in North America—not to be confused with the actual site of that settlement, which is a different attraction. And of course they’re all within a moderate drive of Colonial Williamsburg. As I said, well worth a visit.

Read the entire post here.

The Author’s Corner with Spencer McBride

pulpitandnationSpencer W. McBride is a historian and documentary editor at the Joseph Smith Papers. This interview is based on his new book, Pulpit and Nation: Clergymen and the Politics of Revolutionary America (University of Virginia Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Pulpit and Nation?

SM: Pulpit and Nation grew out of my doctoral dissertation. In graduate school, I set out to discover the actual role of religion in the American Revolution and the process of state and national formation that followed. Through my research—which included reading numerous diaries of early American clergymen and the lay men and women who sat in their congregations—I became fascinated with the curious interrelationship that I encountered: the political utility of religion and the religious utility of politics. I wrote this book that enabled readers to understand the power, limitations, and lasting implications of early national leaders using religion as a tool for political mobilization.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Pulpit and Nation?

SM: In the founding of the United States of America, early national political leaders deliberately created an alliance with the country’s religious leaders, an alliance designed to forge a collective national identity among Americans. Accordingly, while religious expression was common in the political culture of the founding era, it was as much the calculated design of ambitious men seeking power as it was the natural outgrowth of a devoutly religious people.

JF: Why do we need to read Pulpit and Nation?

SM: Religion mattered in the founding of the United States, but not in the way many Americans think that it did. There is certainly no shortage of controversy surrounding the role of religion in politics, particularly where the founding era is concerned. Talk of America’s founding as either a “Christian” or “secular” nation remains a common theme among politicians, pundits, and certain segments of the general public despite scholars’ warnings against such overly-simplistic constructs (warnings that include your own timely Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?). I present Pulpit and Nation as an example of how the history of religion in early American politics appears when viewed in all of its complexity, an elucidation of how its relationship to power structures looks when we delve into the motives behind the religious utterances of men seeking to mobilize the public to one cause or another. My book demonstrates that by eschewing the “Christian Nation” question altogether and engaging broader themes and narrower questions, religion’s significant in the politics of the Revolutionary era is more apparent, albeit more complex.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

SM: I actually decided that I wanted to be a historian at age 13. My father majored in history in college and, as a result, our house was filled with history books and historical discussion for as long as I can remember. This means that I was exposed to the study of the past from a young age. Then, in 8th grade, I had a phenomenal United States history teacher named Ron Benovitz who taught the subject in such an engaging way that I was absolutely hooked from that point on. I knew that I wanted to be a historian, although I had no clue what such a career would actually look like. As I progressed in my education and the details and options of working as a historian became increasingly clear, my passion for the discipline continued to grow. I consider myself quite fortunate to be doing as an adult what I dreamed of doing as a teenager.

JF: What is your next project?

SM: I am currently working on two projects that I am particularly excited about. The first is a documentary history of New York’s Burned-over District. The book will feature primary source documents that illuminate the cultural and social transformation of western New York amid the waves of religious revivals that swept through the region during the Second Great Awakening. The second project is a book about Joseph Smith’s 1844 presidential campaign, and how the controversial Mormon leader’s little-known run for the White House illustrates the political obstacles to universal religious liberty in nineteenth-century America.

JF: Thanks, Spencer!

The Author’s Corner with Jennifer Goloboy

CharlestonandtheEmergenceofMiddleClassCultureintheRevolutionaryAmerica.jpgJennifer Goloboy is an independent scholar based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This interview is based on her new book, Charleston and the Emergence of Middle-Class Culture in the Revolutionary Era (University of Georgia Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write Charleston and the Emergence of Middle-Class Culture in the Revolutionary Era?

JG: The project originally started because of a graduate school class I took with David Hancock, in which we read the Henry Laurens papers.  I was fascinated by Laurens as an exemplar of the eighteenth-century middle class.   He had a rigidly hierarchical view of the world.  He demonstrated a weird blend of public sanctimony and private willingness to betray his own principles, especially when engaged in the slave trade. 

When Prof. Hancock told the class there weren’t any other collections of letters from Charleston’s merchants that were as interesting as the Henry Laurens papers, I took it as a personal challenge.  

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Charleston and the Emergence of Middle-Class Culture in the Revolutionary Era?

JG: My book is designed to help us clarify what we mean by “middle-class” in Early America.  Focusing on merchants in Charleston, South Carolina, it shows how the economic impact of the post-Revolutionary transition shaped middle-class culture.

JF: Why do we need to read Charleston and the Emergence of Middle-Class Culture in the Revolutionary Era?

JG: For readers interested in class in early America, my book is unusual in that it focuses on work rather than the home as a cradle of middle-class culture.  Charleston’s merchants used shared cultural assumptions to connect with their business partners.  These assumptions changed over time.  Before the Revolution, the ideal merchant was deferential and polite; the post-Revolutionary merchant was a rowdy sport willing to do anything to serve a client; and the cotton-port merchant was a professional and an institution-builder.                  

Readers interested in Charleston will remember that historians have rarely written about the city between the end of the Revolution and the late 1810s.  So there’s been a mysterious and unexplained transition in local behavior: before the Revolution, a happy participant in British mercantilism, but after the gap, disdainful of trade.  This book argues that Charlestonians distrusted merchants because of a forgotten post-Revolutionary bubble, based partly on the slave trade and neutral trading with the Caribbean, which ended disastrously because of the War of 1812.  This is important because antebellum Charleston was so central to Southern intellectual history; we need to know that resentment of mercantile outsiders was not a natural product of the cotton empire.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

JG: I really became interested in history when I realized that the point was not to eulogize heroes of the past, but to explain the distinct internal worlds of our ancestors.  I was a big fan of the “If You Lived In” series as a kid— and now I torment my poor children by telling them what “If You Lived In Colonial Times” left out.

JF: What is your next project?

JG: As I was researching this project, I realized how much we still have to learn about American trade in the years before the War of 1812.  They’re exciting years in economic history: lots of smuggling, lots of semi-licit trade between Europe and the Caribbean.  Stephen Girard, as one of the most important merchants of his era, kept track of the goings-on in all the ports touched by his business— I intend to use his papers to clarify this confusing era.

JF: Thanks, Jennifer!

The Author’s Corner with Alan Taylor

american-revolutionsAlan Taylor is Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation Professor of History at the University of Virginia. This interview is based on his new book, American Revolutions: A Continental History, 1750-1804 (W. W. Norton & Company, 2016).

JF: What led you to write American Revolutions?

AT: I have been teaching the field for many years and developed an approach that tried to combine social and political history as well as incorporating the broad reach of the North American continent in the story.  I had taken a similar approach in my book American Colonies and wanted to write a sequel that carried the continental story forward through the American Revolution into the early nineteenth century.

JF: What is the argument of American Revolutions?

AT: The book emphasizes the role of western expansion, native resistance, and British attempts to regulate the west in the constitutional crisis that disrupted the empire and led to the revolution.  In the West, I also locate the fulfillment of that revolution as Jeffersonian Republicans ultimately facilitated and hastened that expansion.  American Revolutions also asserts the multiple dimensions of revolution as experienced by native peoples, the enslaved, Canadians, Spanish Americans, and French imperialists.  Competing definitions of the revolution also divided Jeffersonians from Hamiltonians in the politics of the early republic.  And our own political divisions persist along fault lines inherited from that still contested revolution.

JF: Why do we need to read American Revolutions?

AT: The American Revolution transformed the continent, unleashing the movement of peoples, diseases, and ideas that would shape not only the United States but Canada and the colonies of Spanish America, which would host their own revolutionary movements during the next generation.  In addition, we cannot well understand our political disputes and dilemmas today without grasping the creation of our republican institutions during the late eighteenth century.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

AT: I loved to read history books of all sorts as a child and had the encouragement of my parents and teachers.  Access to local public libraries was also essential to sustaining my interest.  And I benefited from generous undergraduate mentors who taught me the skills and gave me the confidence to pursue graduate study in American history.

JF: What is your next project?

AT: I am researching Thomas Jefferson’s college education in late colonial Virginia and how he and other graduates of the College of William and Mary came to design a radically different sort of university meant to fulfill and consolidate the American Revolution.

JF: Thanks, Alan. Sounds like some good stuff.

Who Was Molly Pitcher?

Molly_Pitcher_engravingLast week I received my copy of Mark Lender and Gary Wheeler Stone’s Fatal Sunday: George Washington, the Monmouth Campaign, and the Politics of the Battle.  I look forward to reading it and processing it as part of my current work on the American Revolution in New Jersey.

If Americans know anything about the Battle of Monmouth it is probably related to Molly Pitcher, the name given to a woman who supposedly fought for Washington’s army.  So who was Molly Pitcher? If you want a nice primer check out the following series of posts by J.L. Bell at Boston 1775.

The Legend of Molly Pitcher–A New Source

The Original Molly Pitcher

The Fleeting Facts of Molly Pitcher’s Life

“Seeking a Clear Image of Moll Pitcher

Here is a taste of Bell’s “The Legend of Molly Pitcher–A New Source:”

As Ray Raphael wrote inFounding Myths and this article for the Journal of the American Revolution, there’s solid evidence of awoman helping her husband in the Continentalartillery at that battle. In his memoir, first published in 1830, army veteran Joseph Plumb Martin wrote:

A woman whose husband belonged to the artillery and who was then attached to a piece in the engagement, attended with her husband at the piece the whole time. While in the act of reaching a cartridge and having one of her feet as far before the other as she could step, a cannon shot from the enemy passed directly between her legs without doing any other damage than carrying away all the lower part of her petticoat. Looking at it with apparent unconcern, she observed that it was lucky it did not pass a little higher, for in that case it might have carried away something else, and continued her occupation.

There’s also contemporaneous documentation of the state of Pennsylvania awarding a pension to Margaret Corbin, who took her husband’s place at a cannon during the defense of Fort Washington in 1776.

But the specific legendary figure we’ve come to know as Molly Pitcher first showed up in the second volume of Freeman Hunt’s 1830 collectionAmerican Anecdotes:

Before the two armies, American and English, had begun the general action of Monmouth, two of the advanced batteries commenced a very severe fire against each other. As the warmth was excessive, the wife of a cannonier constantly ran to bring him water from a neighbouring spring. At the moment when she started from the spring, to pass to the post of her husband, she saw him fall, and hastened to assist him; but he was dead. At the same moment she heard an officer order the cannon to be removed from its place, complaining he could not fill his post by as brave a man as had been killed. ‘No,’ said the intrepid Molly, fixing her eyes upon the officer, ‘the cannon shall not be removed for the want of some one to serve it; since my brave husband is no more, I will use my utmost exertions to avenge his death.’ The activity and courage with which she performed the office of cannonier during the action, attracted the attention of all who witnessed it, finally of Gen. Washington himself, who afterwards gave her the rank of Lieutenant, and granted her half pay during life. She wore an epaulette, and every body called her Captain Molly.

 

Mount Vernon During the American Revolution

Mount VernonOne of the highlights of my sabbatical was the month I spent at the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington in Mount Vernon. Virginia.  You can read about my experience here.

Mary Thompson is Research Historian at the Washington Library. Some of you may know her for her excellent book In the Good Hand of Providence”: Religion in the Life of George Washington. I am also thankful for her blurb on my book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?”: A Historical Introduction.

Over at The Journal of the American Revolution, Thompson has a very informative article on Mount Vernon during the American Revolution.  Here is a taste:

Early in the war, there were concerns that both Martha Washington and Mount Vernon might be targeted by the British.  Throughout the late summer and early fall of 1775, Mrs. Washington’s safety was the subject of much of the surviving family correspondence.  General Washington wrote in late August that he could “hardly think that Lord Dunmore [John Murray, fourth Earl of Dunmore and royal governor of Virginia] can act so low, so unmanly a part, as to think of seizing Mrs. Washington by way of revenge upon me.”  He was comforted by the thought that for the next couple of months she would be visiting away from home and so would “be out of his [Dunmore’s] reach for 2 or 3 months to come,” after which he hoped events would play out in such a way “as to render her removal either absolutely necessary, or quite useless.”  He asked that, should Lund believe there was “any sort of reason to suspect” that she was in imminent danger, to “provide a Kitchen for her in Alexandria, or some other place of safety elsewhere for her and my Papers.”[11]

Martha Washington does not appear to have been worried for herself until she received several letters from her husband mentioning that Dunmore might try to capture and imprison her.[12]  It probably added to the couple’s anxiety that about this same time, George Washington’s younger brother, John Augustine, tried to persuade his sister-in-law to leave Mount Vernon for her own safety.[13]  Early in October, Lund sought to calm Washington’s fears about the safety of his wife:

Tis true many people have made a Stir about Mrs Washingtons Continuing at Mt Vernon but I cannot think her in any Sort of danger—the thought I believe first originated in Alexandria—from thence it got to Loudon [Loudoun County, Virginia], I am told the people of Loudon talkd of sendg a Guard to Conduct her up into Berkeley with some of their principle men to persuade her to leave this & accept their offer—Mr John Agst. Washington wrote to her pressg her to leave Mt Vernon—she does not believe herself in danger, nor do I. without they attempt to take her in the dead of Night they woud fail, for 10 minutes notice woud be Sufficient for her to get out of the way … I have never Advise’d her to stay nor Indeed to go … you may depend I will be watchfull, & upon the least Alarm persuade her to move.[14]

Before going south to visit her family, Martha Washington put many valuables, especially her husband’s papers, into trunks that could be easily moved if that became necessary, and Lund made plans to send the trunk containing papers to a neighbor for safekeeping.[15]  Lund had asked, presumably upon the General’s orders, that Mrs. Washington carefully tie the papers in bundles, so that “they might not be in any great confusion hereafter when they come to be open’d.”  She insisted on packing the trunk herself, although when she set off to visit her relatives in New Kent County she left the key to Washington’s study with Lund, who assured his cousin that he would not “look into any part of [the desk], or in any other part of the Studdy, without her being present.”  He also stated quite strongly that the General had nothing to worry about while the estate was in Lund’s hands, because “I will do every thing in my powr to, not only secure your papers, but every other Valuable thing that can be save’d even at the risque of my Life, if necessary.”[16]

Read the entire article here.

Is the Gadsden Flag Racist?

Gadsden

This flag was designed in 1775 by Christopher Gadsden, South Carolina planter and delegate to the First and Second Continental Congress.  The rattlesnake, as best as I can tell, was used as a symbol for the British colonies as early as 1754 when Benjamin Franklin published his famous cartoon “Join or Die.”

Join or Die.php

The Gadsden flag is an iconic symbol of the American Revolution.  As a historian of 18th-century America I have had one hanging in my home office for years. (Although it is now partially covered by books and Springsteen memorabilia).

Dont Tread

A couple of additional facts about the flag are necessary.  First, Gadsden was a South Carolina slave holder.  Second, this flag has recently been used by libertarian and Tea Party groups to protest what they see as government overreach into the lives of ordinary Americans.

And now there are some claiming that because Gadsden was a slave holder the flag is racist and thus offensive.  According to this Washington Post article by Eugene Volokh, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has receive a complaint from a person who felt that “the Agency subjected him to discrimination on the basis of race (African American) and in reprisal for prior EEOC activity when, starting in the fall of 2013, a coworker repeatedly wore a cap to work with an insignia of the Gadsden Flag, which depicts a coiled rattlesnake and the phrase ‘Don’t Tread on Me.'”

Read the entire complaint in Volokh’s piece.

I think it is time for some historical perspective here.

Enter J.L. Bell at Boston 1775.

Here is a taste of his post, “Investigating the Meaning of the Gadsden Flag“:

…some people commenting on those stories assume that a federal authority has ruled that the Gadsden Flag and associated “Don’t Tread on Me” slogan are racist because of their roots in the slave society of Revolutionary America. That shows they didn’t read the ruling or Volokh’s column.

The anonymous employee who filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission did make that claim:

Complainant stated that he found the cap to be racially offensive to African Americans because the flag was designed by Christopher Gadsden, a “slave trader & owner of slaves.”

The historic claims are correct. In 1774 more than ninety men, women, and children were enslaved on Gadsden’s two rice plantations. He paid Customs duties on the cargo of at least two slave ships, in 1755 and 1762.

Furthermore, Gadsden’s South Carolina was a society built on slavery. At the time of the Revolution, historians estimate that more than half of its human population was enslaved. Because the British military freed and evacuated so many people, that fraction went down by the 1790 census, but South Carolina still had a larger percentage of its population in bondage than any other state. By the early 1800s through the Civil War, the state’s population was once again mostly enslaved.

However, the E.E.O.C. rejected the claim that the Gadsden Flag is offensive because of its historical origin:

After a thorough review of the record, it is clear that the Gadsden Flag originated in the Revolutionary War in a non-racial context. Moreover, it is clear that the flag and its slogan have been used to express various non-racial sentiments, such as when it is used in the modern Tea Party political movement, guns rights activism, patriotic displays, and by the military.

In doing so, the E.E.O.C. also confirmed that “the modern Tea Party political movement” expresses “various non-racial sentiments” through the flag, which looks like a tacit rejection of the complaint’s suggestion that the Tea Party is an expression of “white resentment against blacks.”

The potential problem with the Gadsden flag, the E.E.O.C. ruling said, lies not in its past but in the way it’s being used today:

However, whatever the historic origins and meaning of the symbol, it also has since been sometimes interpreted to convey racially-tinged messages in some contexts. For example, in June 2014, assailants with connections to white supremacist groups draped the bodies of two murdered police officers with the Gadsden flag during their Las Vegas, Nevada shooting spree.

One hopes that fans of the Gadsden Flag loudly decried how those terrorists used it.

Read the entire post here.