David K. Wilson flew in from Texas to give us a startling re-education on the so-called "southern strategy" that supposedly motivated the British in the last years of the Revolution, starting with the fall of Charleston in 1780. In fact, Mr. Wilson informed us, the southern strategy started in 1775. The southern royal governors convinced London that an army of 50,000 loyalists was waiting to welcome them if they sent a few regulars to rout the brazen rebels. This delusion remained a fixture of British thinking for the rest of the war. Mr. Wilson's book explores the forgotten conquest of Georgia in 1778, and the British victory at Savannah. The expedition that conquered Charleston was the culmination of this fantasy. But even this triumph did not turn out a loyalist host. The largest force the king's men mustered were the 1000 loyalists routed at King's Mountain. Loyalists remained hesitant to take up arms, while the patriots rebounded from numerous defeats, such as the little known battle of Briar Creek. Summing up, Mr. Wilson said there may have been 50,000 loyalist sympathizers in the South but they acted like a minority, while the patriots acted like a majority. The applause was thunderous and members rushed to buy his fascinating book, The Southern Strategy. A bargain price added to the enthusiasm. Treasurer Jim Davis had bought two dozen copies and donated them to the Round Table, so each $20 purchase went into our empty coffers.
As usual, thanks to our energetic book chair, Lynne Saginaw, we had a plethora of reviews. Sandy Sanford gave us the covert lowdown on Washington's Spies, the Story of America's First Spy Ring by Alexander Rose. It's about the Culpers (a code name) who operated in New York and on Long Island. The book goes into the genesis of this group, starting with the amateurish venture of Nathan Hale. The author credits Major Benjamin Tallmadge with the sophistication that marked the Culper operation. "The story has all the features you expect from a good spy novel: shady characters, secret codes, invisible ink," Sandy said. "It's the Revolution from a fresh perspective." He warmly recommended the book.
Arthur Lefkowitz reported on Tom McGuire's The Philadelphia Campaign. Art said it was the best account ever written of the struggle that reached a climax in the battle on Brandywine Creek. The book is not light reading but the research is impressive. The opening chapters, about General Howe's maneuvers in New Jersey, are especially brilliant. Art's only complaint was the author's failure to criticize Washington's generalship in the big battle. Otherwise, this is a book that will dazzle hard core Revolutionary war enthusiasts. That's us!
Maria Deering gave us her take on Craig Nelson's Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution and the Birth of Modern Nations. The book opens with a bizarre caper: William Cobbett's 1810 theft of Paine's body from his New Rochelle grave to give it a grander tomb in England. Not until the latter part of the book's 397 pages do we find out how this weird adventure played out. The rest of the book is a mixed bag of biography and political science, with copious quotes from Common Sense and other Paine works. Maria found herself wishing she could read more about Paine and less about the general history of the period.
Sibyl Allen reported on Alan Taylor's The Divided Ground. This book about the American borderland has two major characters, the Mohawk leader, Joseph Brant and Joseph Kirkland, the missionary/businessman who wielded vast influence over the Indians. Also in the picture is Sir William Johnson and his consort, Molly Brant, Joseph's sister. The book contrasts the "extensive" Indian use of the land with the "intensive" cultivation of the colonists. It was a clash of civilizations in which the outnumbered Indians inevitably lost. Their decline was accelerated by the disastrous decision to support the British during the Revolution. The hunger for Indian land was another large factor; it even seduced Joseph Kirkland. Sibyl recommended the book for a picture of what the Revolution meant to other Americans, besides the ones who occupy central roles in the standard narrative of the war.
The scandalous 1796 book composed of British forgeries inserted into George Washington's correspondence was raffled off at our meeting, with lots of dollars changing hands for tickets at Treasurer Jim Davis's desk. The first winner was Tom Fleming but he good humoredly insisted on another drawing, claiming that his wife Alice would shoot him if he brought home another book. A second drawing produced Lee Wittenberg as the lucky winner. Everyone had a good time speculating on who would win. If you have any rare books in your library that you'd like to donate, we're sure everyone is ready for another raffle. The game put everyone in such a good humor, our resident auctioneer, Mike Harris, raised almost as much money as the raffle from the sale of contemporary history books. Added to the money made from David Wilson's book, the night's take was close to $1,000.
A front page story in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Feb. 14 reported that the American Revolution Center at Valley Forge, which had seemed to be kaput less than a year ago, after a nasty quarrel with the U.S. Park Service over the size of the projected building and fund raising restrictions, has come back to life and then some. With a new chairman, billionaire H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, the center has acquired 125 acres along the Schuylkill River, adjacent to the Park and is about to launch a new fund drive to build a dramatic structure designed by noted architect Robert A.M. Stern. The Lenfest Foundation and grants from the state and county are contributing most of the $7.1 million purchase price for the land. The goal remains the same -- to become the only place in the country where the whole story of the Revolution is told in its amazing variety. The Park Service is also pleased with this development. "We believe the American Revolution is a huge story and there is much to be told," said Mike Caldwell, current Park superintendent. The center will house more than 15,000 rare documents, artifacts, weapons and other materials. Much of this collection has never been publicly displayed. Pennsylvania's Governor Rendell believes the museum will combine with Independence Mall and the National Constitution Center to make Pennsylvania a premier destination for heritage tourism. "Not even Massachusetts can come close," he said. The Round Table's Tom Fleming has been the "senior scholar" advising the center on how to tell the Revolutionary story.
If you still have any doubts about the way the fates are suddenly favoring the American Revolution Center, they should be dispelled by the tale of George Washington's tent which recently appeared in the science section of the New York Times on President's Day. The oval shaped linen tent is the crown jewel of the Center's collection. It was in bad shape when they acquired it from the Valley Forge Historical Society in 2002. They hired Loreen Finklestein, a noted textile conservator, to restore it. When she began work, she noticed the tent had a gaping hole in its roof. It was probably made by shears or a knife wielded by a souvenir-hungry tourist. While she was vacuuming and washing the 200 year old fabric, Mrs. F was also working at Mount Vernon on another conservation project. She mentioned the hole to one of the senior curators there. "We have several fragments in our collection that are supposed to be connected to Washington's tents," the curator said. After the fragments were produced, Mrs. F. picked up one and said: "this looks like the missing piece!" Testing soon proved that the piece had the same weave, the same thread count -- and the same faint blue lines of the general's tent. It has since been sewn into the erstwhile hole. Mrs. Finklestein summed up this coincidence with one word: "Extraordinary!"
That same President's Day, the New York Times also featured a picture of President Bush shaking hands with a uniformed George Washington at Mount Vernon. George was impersonated by Dean Malissa, who has replaced the retired Bill Summerfield in this demanding job. Dean's physique is an almost perfect match for the original George. He towered over the current President G. who shook his hand and cracked: "He doesn't look a day over 275 years old."
The New York American Revolution Round Table used to be rather snooty about being the only one in the country. Then it was joined by RTs in Washington D.C. and Bergen County, NJ. Lately the field has started getting crowded. The number has leaped to ten, with the appearance of enthusiasts in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington's Crossing, N.J., Savannah, Richmond, Central Delmarva, Del, and the latest, Camden S.C. But we've still got seniority!
It sounded like a nice idea at first. An Arkansas politician rose in their legislature to propose a day commemorating the memory of Thomas Paine. Democrat Lindsley Smith said there were nine other states celebrating Thomas Paine Day. She claimed that Thomas Jefferson and James Madison would approve the idea. Up rose Republican Sid Rosenbaum, who quizzed Smith about Paine and read passages from The Age of Reason in which Tom hurled verbal brickbats at organized religion. "He was anti-Christian and anti-Jewish," Rosenbaum said. The proposal was put to a vote and fell five yeas short of the 51 needed to pass. "I was surprised," said flummoxed Democrat Smith, who obviously knew nothing about how unpopular The Age of Reason and Paine's (later) vicious attack on President George Washington made the agitator in 1790s America.
The New York Round Table's Board of Governors has chosen Sons of Providence by Charles Rappleye as the best book on the Revolution in 2006. We were startled -- and pleased -- to learn that the Philadelphia Round Table has made the same choice for their annual Thomas Fleming Award! The book is a fascinating study of the two brothers who founded (or better, funded) Brown University. One, Moses, hated slavery and became an abolitionist. The other, John, made a fortune in the slave trade. He was also one of the most daring revolutionists in New England, the man behind the seizure and burning of the British revenue cutter Gaspee in 1772. Mr. Rappleye is the first to tell John's remarkable story. He will accept his prize and tell us about his book in June.
Some people never get the message -- or if they get it, they don't buy it. This somewhat altered adage surely applies to the Breed family of Massachusetts. For the past two hundred and thirty two years, they have been trying to change the name of the Battle of Bunker Hill to the Battle of Breed's Hill. They call it "the greatest misnomer in American history" and fire off letters and emails to columnists and reporters who call the famous clash Bunker Hill. When the 200th anniversary of the battle was reenacted in 1975, a member of the family stalked to the reviewing stand in Charlestown and said: "The Breeds are here too." The mayor invited him and his son onto the stand. But no one volunteered to change the name. True, many history books now mention that most of the fighting took place on Breed's Hill, but it's usually in a footnote or parenthesis. There are 39 towns named Bunker Hill around the country and not one named Breed's Hill. Only a handful of historians, such as Benson J. Lossing, in his Pictorial Field Book of the Revolution have given the Breeds a break. Lossing flatly stated that the battle should be called Breed's Hill. That book was published in 1850. But some Breeds refuse to give up. The Boston Globe carried a jeremiad from one as recently as June of 2006. He told of calling Gil Bunker, the head of the Bunker family, and asking him if he wasn't ashamed of his ill-gotten fame. Gil just laughed.
Hamilton vs Burr Feud in the 21st Century? You Can Bank On It!!During the last few months, New Yorkers have seen the latest TV campaign of the Bank of New York. It is promoting itself as a "private bank." And herein lies a tale!!
Founded in 1784 by Alexander Hamilton, the Bank of New York (BNY) is America's oldest bank, the first company to have a listing on the New York Stock Exchange, and for most of its history has been known as a bank for corporations and well heeled individuals (as opposed to a "consumer bank" which has highly visible branches dealing in checking and saving for the average person). This changed in 1988, when BNY acquired Irving Bank with all of it's branches. But now, in a deal finalized in 2006, BNY sold it's branches to another bank, and has now returned to private banking. That bank is JPMorganChase. By now, Roundtablers in the know are rolling their eyes.
You see, JPMorganChase's earliest corporate entity was the Manhattan Company, a water servicing operation begun in 1799. It's founder, one Aaron Burr, then decided to follow Mr. Hamilton, and expanded his company into banking as the Bank of Manhattan (BM). Hamilton and Burr were now not only political rivals, but economic ones as well, and which rivalry had the greater impact on the dueling field, I leave to you. Through the years, BM merged first with Chase Bank and then JP Morgan, and with their new branches now has become an even larger operation than the Bank of New York.
It would seem that Mr. Burr once again has bested Mr. Hamilton: literally adding insult to injury. But the first Secretary of the Treasury has the last laugh!!! A few months ago, BNY announced that it was acquiring Mellon Bank of Pittsburgh, and the new Bank of New York Mellon will be the largest global securities and asset management operation in the world. And where did Mr. Hamilton's BNY get the money to buy Mellon? Why, from Mr. Burr's JPMorgan Chase, of course.
In a conversation Hamilton named the individual he considered the greatest person in history. The listener was not pleased.
A free dinner to all who answer correctly by phone, email or snail mail.