We are happy to welcome Norman Desmarais to our Third Annual Symposium on the American Revolution, co-hosted with Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, The Lyceum and Emerging Revolutionary War. This year’s theme is “The World Turned Upside: The American Revolution’s Impact on a Global Scale. We asked Norm to answer a few questions about their talk and their passion for history.
Mr. Desmarais is the author of The Guide to the American Revolutionary War series (six volumes about the war on land and seven volumes about the war at sea and overseas), as well as America’s First Ally: France in the American Revolutionary War and Washington’s Engineer: Louis Duportail and the Creation of an Army Corps. He is the former editor-in-chief of The Brigade Dispatch, the Journal of the Brigade of the American Revolution.
Norm translated the Gazette Françoise, the French newspaper published in Newport, Rhode Island by the French fleet that brought the Comte de Rochambeau and 5,800 French troops to America in July 1780. He also translated and annotated Louis-François-Bertrand du Pont d’Aubevoye, comte de Lauberdière’s journal, published as The Road to Yorktown: The French Campaigns in the American Revolution, 1780-1783 (Savas Beatie 2021). He has also completed the translation and annotation of Journal of a French Quartermaster on the March to Yorktown June 16—October 6, 1781 which hopefully will find a publisher before the conference.
Norm was inducted into the American French Genealogical Society French-Canadian Hall of Fame in 2015 and received the Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019 and 2020.
What first attracted you to the study of early American history?
Watching the Walt Disney television miniseries The Swamp Fox and Davy Crockett with Fess Parker and Buddy Ebsen as a youngster captured my interest. Later, during the nation’s bicentennial, I attended some reenactments and my interest blossomed in a different direction.
When I was going through a period of writer’s block and looking for a project for my first sabbatical, I was speaking with one of my friends who suggested I consider following one of my interests and that brought me into the Revolutionary Era.
What keeps you involved in the study of this history?
Continually learning about our nation’s history. The best way to learn is by doing, so I’m involved with reenacting which feeds my research and gives me opportunities to share my knowledge with the public and other historians. It’s an educational experience like no other.
Do you find these things are the same or different?
I think they’re different, but they are related. They use the same sources in different ways for different objectives—sort of a repurposing of information.
Why do you think it is important for us to study the Revolutionary Era?
People today go to great effort to do their family genealogy to discover their roots. Going back to the Revolutionary Era is sort of like doing our national genealogy and going back to our national roots. If we don’t know where we come from, we can’t understand where we’re going as family members or as a nation.
What do you think was the most significant foreign impact on the American Revolution?
The entry of France in the war. France began providing covert aid to support the war effort right from the beginning. However, once she officially entered the war, she could provide military assistance along with a lot of materiel the Continental Army needed so badly. French artillery helped win the battle of Saratoga which was key to France joining the war. Without French involvement, we could not have won at Yorktown. Three quarters of the allied force at Yorktown was French (army and navy).
What are some of the important lessons of the American Revolution do you think are still relevant today?
Logistics: Supplying and maintaining an army across an ocean is extremely difficult. Consider our experience in Vietnam, Syria and Afghanistan among others.
Morale: An army that has a will to fight for its independence, homeland or whatever can sometimes defeat a better supplied and trained army that has a lesser will to fight.
National support: Think of this as morale on the home front. If the populace of a nation doesn’t support the war effort, it’s going to be very difficult to win. Consider our experience in Vietnam and what Russia is experiencing in the Ukraine.
What was it about the American Revolution that elicited such global interest?
First of all, it was inspired by the ideological principles of the Enlightenment which introduced some novel ideas and ways of thinking that inspired Europeans.
Second, there was great resentment about the increasing expansion of the British empire and its dominance in world politics and economy.
Third, Britain pretty much controlled the trade routes between Europe and the West and East Indies, in other words, the lucrative sugar trade and the tea and spice trade. The rest of Europe wanted to minimize Britain’s power and to obtain a share of that trade. Then there were the lucrative fishing rights off the coast of North America.
Fourth, People began to realize that the power of the monarchy resided in the willingness of the people to be governed by the monarchy. As they realized this and acted upon it, there arose a series of revolutions for independence and changes of government.
Join us for our Third annual Emerging Revolutionary War Symposium on September 24, 2022. Emerging Revolutionary War is excited to continue our partnership with Gadsby’s Tavern Museum and The Lyceum of Alexandria, VA to bring to you a day-long Symposium focusing on the American Revolution.
Registration fee is now only $60 per person and $50 for OHA members and students. If you feel more comfortable attending virtually, the fee is $30. To register visit: https://shop.alexandriava.gov/EventPurchase.aspx