Today, our sixth and final installment of the September 28th, 2019 symposium Before They Were Americans highlights William Griffith.
William Griffith is a native of Branchburg, New Jersey and currently resides in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He received his BA in History from Shepherd University in 2014, and MA in Military History from Norwich University in 2018. His passion for history can be traced back to his first trip with his father to Fort William Henry along the southern shore of Lake George when he was five-years-old.
While completing his undergraduate studies at Shepherd, he spent his time as a volunteer with the Gettysburg Foundation and the George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War, and also worked as an intern and substitute librarian at the David Library of the American Revolution. He has previously served as a historical interpreter at Fort Frederick State Park in Big Pool, Maryland, and was employed by the Gettysburg Foundation from 2017-2019. He currently serves as a full-time Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide. When not indulging himself in military history, he can be found closely following his second passion – the New York Yankees.
William’s first book, The Battle of Lake George: England’s First Triumph in the French and Indian War, was released by The History Press on September 5, 2016. His next book, A Handsome Flogging: The Battle of Monmouth, June 28, 1778, will be released later this year as part of Savas Beatie’s Emerging Revolutionary War series.
He will be presenting his talk “A proud, indolent, ignorant self-sufficient set: The Colonists’ Emergence as a Fighting Force in the French and Indian War” at the September symposium.
What do you believe was a significant event in the American Revolution era that not many Americans may know about or recognize?
The French and Indian War. Definitely. To American Revolution era historians this is a well-known event, but to the general public it is widely misunderstood or ignored. The name, itself, causes a lot of that confusion. People do not recognize that the British colonists played a major role in the conflict. It was war between two of history’s greatest superpowers (the British and French Empires), all for this piece of land that we journey over every day of our lives. The consequences of the war directly influenced the creation of the Republic. It was an “American” war just as much as it was British and French.
What first attracted you to the study of early American history? What keeps you involved in the study of this history? Do you find these things are the same or different?
The first ever historic site I visited as a child was Fort William Henry, along the southern shore of Lake George in New York, and I was hooked. When I was younger, and even to this day, history was an escape. It transported me to a different time and place, much like reading a novel, through real stories of real struggle and sacrifice. That fascination developed into a passion, and I felt that a life surrounding history would be the most fulfilling, and it has been. I love telling the stories of the men and women who forged our nation and the world surrounding it. There is no point in studying history and retaining any of this information if you cannot share it with others, whether that is in verbal or written form. Hopefully it will affect them in the same way it affected us.
Do you believe the impact of the American Revolution is visible on our current society? In what ways?
Yes. We live their victory every day. Our forefathers and foremothers put the first foot forward in creating this great experiment of government and liberty. It is up to us to continue the march. The foundation stone of everything we know and love today in our country was laid by the patriots of the Revolution. Generations since have continued to build upon what was left behind. The definition of liberty changes from generation to generation, and I think America is still a shining example of progress and the ability to admit our flaws and correct them.
How has your study of early American history impacted how you perceive our current nation and its relations with other countries? Would you say this impact is beneficial or hindersome?
This is a tough one. I will say, however, that we would not be a country without France’s assistance during the Revolutionary War. I usually keep my own and present politics out of history in order to remain as objective as possible. Too many people view history through their own eyes and not through those who actually lived it.
With any violent conflict, there are opposing sides. How important do you believe the Loyalist side was to the American Revolution? Do you believe the existence of this group of colonists has been diminished through romanticization of the American Revolution?
The Loyalists of the Revolution are probably the most forgotten group to many today. Their role was crucial in turning the conflict into a true civil war, and also helped prolong the war after France’s entry in 1778. London and the British high command always overestimated the amount of loyalist support in the colonies, more specifically in the south. The massive loyalist uprising that His Majesty’s Forces had banked on never transpired. One thing I always think about is what exactly were the loyalists? Were they traitors? To the patriots, yes. But in reality they were just fighting for the status quo and to preserve Britain’s dominion in America. To them, those fighting to break away from the mother country were the true traitors. It was a brutal civil war and no “Americans” were spared from it. The Revolutionary War certainly has been romanticized over the past two centuries. To many, it has become much more simplified than it was: Patriot versus Redcoat; liberty versus tyranny. The loyalists and their plight have certainly been placed on the backburner.
Do you think there are common misconceptions of the era of the American Revolution among the American people? If so, what are they and have they ever affected your work?
I think the greatest misconception among the American people today is the correlation between the Revolution (political) and Revolutionary War (military). Many know the names Lexington, Concord, Bunker Hill, Saratoga, and Yorktown, but few can actually explain what these great battles meant within the context of the overall struggle for change. Working at some 18th century sites, I realized that the majority of people think America was formed on July 4, 1776 and that was the end of it. The British happily sailed back home after that and here we are today. In all reality, our freedom was not secured until 1783 when the Treaty of Paris was signed. Our founding fathers could have signed as many Declarations of Independence as they wanted to, but if not for the service and sacrifice of Americans at home and on so many battlefields during the war, that dream could have never been made true. Our independence was declared by the scratch of a pen, but it was secured through the blood and sacrifice of resilient men and women.