In Praise of Our New Furry Coworkers

There’s a high probability that you’ve stumbled upon this blog post while trying to recon with a lot of changes to your daily routine. For many of us in the public history sector, a big change has been transitioning out of the office and into teleworking. If you’re anything like me, you’ve been trying to transpose your office setup and routine as much as possible somewhere in your home. For me, that means taking over the dining room table with a laptop, external monitor, calendars, to-do lists, Post-Its, and books, books, books. One thing that doesn’t translate so well to teleworking, though—our pets.

If there’s anything humorous to be gleaned from our great experiment in teleworking, it’s that for many of us, working from home and pets don’t mix well. The internet is (thankfully, I think) full of hilarious photos of our innocent pets loving the fact that we’re home, and eager to get into our new daily routines. From interrupting conference calls and showing up in our Zoom meetings, to walking all over our laptops and sending nonsensical emails, we love our pets but…maybe we don’t need to take them to work with us when this is all over.

Someone who might disagree, however, is revolutionary General Charles Lee. I think it’s safe to say that he’s one of the most controversial and polarizing figures of the American Revolution—you either love him for his enthusiasm or hate him for trying to finagle his way into the position of Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. Regardless of how scholars today nestle him into the annals of Revolutionary War history, Lee’s contemporaries were also a bit polarized about him and, largely, because of his deep (some say eccentric) attachment to his dogs.

In his excellent biography of Lee, Phillip Papas notes “the relationship between Lee and his dogs was more than a personal idiosyncrasy that charmed some people and shocked and made others feel uneasy.”[1] Lee was famous—then and now—for having his dogs with him everywhere. Military campaigns. The breakfast table. Anywhere General Charles Lee went, his dogs where sure to follow. While attending a dinner hosted by Thomas Mifflin, Lee nonchalantly brought his dogs along and they, apparently, sat down to dinner with the rest of the guests. Maybe we can give Charles a pass on that, if we’re accustomed in our own homes to let pets sit at our feet at the dinner table, but I’m not so sure that’s how the scene played out, given Lee’s penchant for ordering his dogs onto chairs to interact with guests.

Frontispiece, Facts Tending to Prove that General Lee, was Never Absent from this Country, for any Length of Time, During the Years 1767, 1768, 1769, 1770, 1771, 1772, and that he was the Author of Junius (London: Printed for P. Martin, 1813), Society of the Cincinnati/American Revolution Institute

Maybe I don’t agree with Lee’s table etiquette or his incessant insistence that to love him meant also loving his dogs, but we do agree on one thing—our furry companions give us comfort in troubling and uncertain times. When Lee found himself a British prisoner of war in December 1776, he wrote to Washington on February 9, “I am (likewise) extremely desirous that my Dogs should be brought as I never stood in greater need of their Company than at present.”[3]

Abigail Adams received some unwanted attention from Lee’s favorite companion, a Pomeranian named Spado. In a letter she later wrote to her husband, Abigail relayed that “the general was so determined that I should not only be acquainted with him, but with his companions too, and therefore placed a chair before me into which he ordered Mr. Sparder [Spado]  to mount and present his paw to me for a better acquaintance.”[2] One can only imagine the formidable Abigail Adams maintaining her composure and politely extending her hand to shake the paw of the small pup, which is exactly what she did.

So what does all this mean for our new daily routines in 2020? I think we can forgive our pets’ over-eagerness to become our new coworkers. If the warmth of a laptop provides an enticing place to nap, if an inappropriately-timed meow or bark (or worse) interrupts a conference call, or if it’s taken me twice as long to write this because my cat refuses to acknowledge that his food dish is, indeed, full, I’m OK with that. The comfort and unconditional love of our new, furry coworkers might be exactly what we need.

Maybe just don’t let them eat at the dinner table.

One of the author’s new furry coworkers. Yes, he’s sitting on the dinner table.

[1] Phillip Papas, Renegade Revolutionary: The Life of Charles Lee, New York University Press, 2014 (122).

[2] Papas, 124.

[3] Charles Lee to George Washington, February 9, 1777, as quoted in John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, Vol.7, January 13, 1777-April 30, 1777, United States Printing Office, 1932 (148).

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3 Responses to In Praise of Our New Furry Coworkers

  1. Kenneth Molzahn says:

    Dear Kate, My wife, Sue and I LOVE your posts and thought we would share our passion with the American Revolution with some information about our American Revolutionary War-Era Flagway. Background: My wife, Sue and I have begun an ambitious flag project to Celebrate the American Revolutionary War Era with plans to erect 280+ 16 foot flagpoles down our 1/8th of a mile driveway. In 2018, we had a mere 28 flags; in 2019, we had 163 flags flying (see pictures attached) in the ‘breeze’. Our Flagway for 2020 is on track to have nearly 300 flags! • Our flagway is chronologically: beginning in 1764 with the Kings Colours, the 1760s to 1770s colonial protest flags to Lexington and Concord and, finally, ending at Yorktown. We are buying or Sue is sewing/painting various militia, regimental colors, fortification flags, artillery unit, ranger companies, dragoon unit, marine and naval ensigns, and US 13-star national flag variations. • Along with the latter listed American flags, we are also honoring the regimental flags and naval ensigns of France; who’s participation was so instrumental in shifting the balance of power after 1778 and, especially, at the Siege of Yorktown in our War of Independence. • Our flagway is unique in that we also including the ‘forgotten allies’, namely the Native American tribes which participated and fought along side American ‘rebel’ or Spanish units. NOTE: We use the modern tribal sovereignty or band flags, as 18th century Native Americans never had tribal flags but there use in our project educates the public on the vast number of tribes which bleed and died beside American and Spanish forces. • Because we live in Spanish territory (Missouri) we have included Spain’s battles against the British in Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Alabama and Florida and honor their decisive aid in money, war munitions and strategic campaigns which prevented British counter measures especially during the 1780 and 1781 British southern campaign ending at Yorktown. • We have also attempted to include another whole category of ‘forgotten’ ethnic participation by including the African-American and African-Caribbean units that fought for the Americans – Bucks of America and the 1st Rhode Island; for the Spanish – The Free Black Volunteers of Havana, The Free Browns of Havana, The Colored Militia of New Orleans; and, the French Haitian unit – The Casseurs Volontaires de Saint-Domingue regiment. • For 2020, we have decided to attempt to add British Regiment of Foot, Hessian Regimental and Loyalist Regimental flags which American and Spanish forces captured throughout our War of Independence both to help, through the medium of flags, explain the horrific and tragic events which occurred between 1775-1783. NOTE: Only Captured or Defeated “enemy” flags are included; e.g., British loses or surrenders at Trenton, Bennington, Saratoga, Stony Point, King’s Mountain and, of course, Yorktown. • Finally, our “11th  and 12th Commandments” are: To ONLY USE a Flag ONCE and Exclude flags KNOWN to be outside the 1775-1783 time period, a quick example is the Bennington 76er US flag that dates to the War of 1812. As an aside, we do include the Betsy Ross  and Cowpens/5th Maryland US flags due to the PURE Tradition of their existence.

    Flagway Published and Website Links: The June 2019 Rural Missouri article also helped educate the local/general public reaching all of rural Missouri. https://1drv.ms/b/s!AnWIarXMltC9vCdp4aU-D4RWdttF

    We are also on the Missouri Department of Tourism – Things to Do web site:    https://www.visitmo.com/things-to-do/american-revolutionary-war-era-flagway

    We are also on the travel site Roadside America: https://www.roadsideamerica.com/tip/latest         Link to the recent article in Vexillum magazine Dec/2019 No. 8 on our Flagway:        https://nava.org/digital-library/vexillum/recent-vexillums/Vexillum_008_2019.pdf

    Stay Safe and Know You and All Americans are in our DAILY PRAYERS! Sincerely, Ken and Sue Molzahn

    Sent from Mail for Windows 10

    Like

  2. Theresa Cullen says:

    well done and amusing Kate!

    Like

  3. Enjoyed this post! I don’t have the source readily available, but during the American Civil War, an officer who visited the headquarters of General Alexander Asboth wrote of seeing General Asboth feed his dogs from the same table where the men ate. Your story of General Charles Lee asking for his dogs while he was a POW reminds me of Daniel Sickles awaiting trial for the murder of his wife’s lover. His Italian greyhound, Dandy, was allowed to stay with him in jail. Dandy is pictured with Sickles in jail in an illustration from the March 26, 1859, issue of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, which you can see here at the Library of Congress:
    http://www.loc.gov/item/2002706389

    Like

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