2021 Symposium Highlight: Mark Maloy: “Drunk Hessians and Other Myths of the Ten Crucial Days”

Over the next few months, we will be highlighting the speakers and topic for our 2021 Symposium, Hindsight is 2020: Revisiting Misconceptions of the Revolution, taking place on May 22nd at The Lyceum in the City of Alexandria, VA. Today we start with historian and author Mark Maloy who will be covering the myths and misconceptions from the Battle of Trenton, 1776.

Historian Mark Maloy at Mount Vernon

Mark Maloy is a historian currently working for the National Park Service in Virginia. He holds an undergraduate degree in History from the College of William and Mary and a graduate degree in History from George Mason University. He has worked at numerous public historic sites and archaeological digs for the past ten years. He is an avid Revolutionary War reenactor and resides in Alexandria, Virginia with his wife, Lauren, and son, Samuel. He is a regular contributor to the blog Emerging Revolutionary War.

Mark’s first book, Victory or Death” The Battles of Trenton and Princeton, was released by Savas Beatie in 2018. His next book will be about Charleston, SC during the American Revolution and will be released late this year or early 2022. Both are part of Savas Beatie’s Emerging Revolutionary War series.

He will be presenting his talk: “Drunk Hessians and Other Myths of the Ten Crucial Days” at the May symposium.

Why do you believe the Battle of Trenton was a significant event in the American Revolution?

 The Battle of Trenton was not just A significant event in the American Revolution, it was THE significant event of the American Revolution.  This was because of the crisis the recently declared independent country was facing in December of 1776.  The Americans had lost nearly every battle up until this point, confidence in General George Washington (and the United States) was at an all-time low, and the remnants of the Continental Army were evaporating.  Thomas Paine declared “These are the times that try men’s souls.”  The events at Trenton (and the following week at Assunpink Creek and Princeton) changed the entire course of the war and the new nation.  This military campaign saved the Revolution.  As one British historian aptly summed up the campaign: “it may be doubted whether so small a number of men ever employed so short a space of time with greater or more lasting results upon the history of the world.”

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?

Historic sites first attracted me to the study of history, and they continue to keep me involved.  As a child growing up in northern Virginia, I first learned of early American history by visiting sites such as Mount Vernon and Gunston Hall.  The power of visiting the places where history occurred was incredibly moving.  It moved me to pursue a career in archaeology and public history, and I currently work for the National Park Service.  Surprised at the lack of national recognition for the Trenton and Princeton battlefields, I worked to publish a book about the significant campaign in 2018 that offers readers a self-guided tour of the places where the history occurred.

What is the biggest myth about the Battle of Trenton, and how did it come about?

I think the biggest myth of the Battle of Trenton is the story that the Hessian soldiers were drunk and helpless when the patriots attacked on December 26, 1776.  This is actually a very old myth that probably dates to the time period.  Shortly after the embarrassing defeat, British officers began pedaling this story to denigrate the Hessian soldiers and the stories grew from there.  While the story is fun to recount, it actually ends up belittling the actions of Washington and his soldiers.  While the Hessians were surprised, they put up a tough fight, and the actual battle is often overlooked by the general public who probably think it was more an assault on a band of drunkards than the stand up fight it turned out to be.

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?

There are plenty of misconceptions of the Revolution.  Some would argue too many.  The whole period is often awash in romantic hagiography.  Stories of wooden teeth, cherry trees, and Betsy Ross flags surround the stories of the founding of the country.  While these myths can make it difficult to learn what actually occurred, they serve as important touchstones to access the real history.  While the image of Washington Crossing the Delaware is full of historical inaccuracies, it is an image many Americans have seen or can relate to, and the essence of the painting still displays the important themes of the event.  So, while they can be burdensome, they can also play important roles in learning about the past.

Why do you think it is important for us to study the Revolutionary Era? 

Our nation was born during the Revolution.  It was during this time period we laid our highest ideals of self-government and liberty; ideals we still hold dear 250 years later.  To better understand our country (the people, the institutions, the principles) we must study the Revolution.  But in order for this nation to be born, a war had to be fought.  Often times the military history of the Revolution is overlooked as the causes, ideals, and effects are studied more deeply.  I think the military story of the war needs to be studied more, as there would be no country without the military victory, which was one of the most improbable triumphs in history. 

Join us for our SECOND annual Emerging Revolutionary War Symposium. Due to the COVID 19 pandemic, we postponed the 2020 Symposium to May 22, 2021 with the same topics and speakers. Co hosted by Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, speakers and topics include:

Michael Harris on Misconceptions of Battle of Brandywine
Vanessa Smiley on Myths of the Southern Campaigns
Travis Shaw on American Loyalists
John U Rees on African American Continental Soldiers
Mark Maloy on myths of the Battle of Trenton

Stay tuned as we highlight our speakers and their topics in future blog posts.

Registration is $60 per person, $50 for Office of Historic Alexandria members and students.

To register visit: https://shop.alexandriava.gov/Events.aspx

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