In 1729, along the Susquehanna River in central Pennsylvania, Derry Township was formed. Populated by the numerous Scots-Irish people who had emigrated from Northern Ireland, in 1729 Derry Township, near present-day Hershey, was very much a frontier settlement; part of the gateway to the American West.
That same year, in a little grove, the Derry Presbyterian Church was officially established. Tradition has it that the Presbyterians were meeting for worship in the grove, near a fresh-water spring, as early as 1724. In 1732, the Congregation called its first pastor, the Scotsman, Reverend William Bertram, who would pastor the churches in both Derry and Paxtang (Paxton) Townships. At this time, the Derry congregation erected its first Session House. This building was a small affair, built of rough, hand-hewn logs. Its sole source of heat in the winter was a stone fireplace situated along one of the walls. The Session House was never used for worship, per se, but, among other things it would serve as a pastor’s study, a place for Sunday School classes, and other types of church meetings. Also, this small, unassuming log building was used as the first schoolhouse in this area of Pennsylvania where the main course of study was reading.
In 1741, the land on which the current Derry Presbyterian Church building stands was deeded to the church congregation by John, Thomas, and Richard Penn, who were the sons of William Penn, the founder of the Pennsylvania Colony.
In the 1740’s, a new pastor stepped into the pulpits at Derry and Paxton Church, the Reverend John Elder. Like his predecessor, Rev. Bertram, John Elder was likewise educated in Scotland at the University of Edinburgh. With the outbreak of what is known in America as the French and Indian War, and increased conflict between the Scots-Irish settlers and local Native Tribes, Rev. Elder organized a company of local militia from Paxton Township, known as the Paxton Boys. Like most men in the area at the time, it is remembered that Rev. Elder brought his rifle, powder horn, and shot pouch to church services and was known as the “Fighting Parson”. The end of the war brought a tenuous peace to the frontier, but it was fleeting. Tensions between the frontiersmen and Native tribesmen were renewed in earnest in 1763 when Pontiac’s Rebellion spread into Pennsylvania, leading to depredations on both sides. Frustrated by what they apparently felt was a lack of action taken by Pennsylvania’s Colonial Government, Rev. Elder’s company, the Paxton Boys, are best remembered as a vigilante force who murdered around 20 peaceful Susquehannock men, women, and children in attacks that are remembered collectively as the Conestoga Massacre.
A colonial-era cemetery stands on the property of modern Derry Presbyterian Church. According to the church records, the earliest grave here dates back to 1735. Within the stone wall surrounding this cemetery can be found the graves of at least forty American veterans; soldiers of the frontier and of the American Revolution. Their graves are marked with small American flags and metal plaques denoting their military service.
Over the centuries, other buildings have been erected on the property of Derry Presbyterian Church, but ever faithful, the original Session House, the small log building that played such a prominent role in the early days of the frontier congregation, built in the same year of George Washington’s birth, continues to stand watch. In the early 20th Century, the Session House was recognized as the oldest structure in Derry Township. In order to preserve the building, in 1929, chocolate magnate Milton Hershey had it enclosed in a glass structure that protects it to this day.
Not long after the American surrender of Charleston, SC in May 1780, British infantry and cavalry detachments began moving inland, deploying across South Carolina. Hoping to create a defensive perimeter, they occupied various towns such as Camden and Ninety-Six. After Charleston fell, Patriot hopes in South Carolina rested almost solely on a few partisan fighters.
Prior to the surrender, however, General George Washington yet had hopes of lifting the British siege and raising the spirits of the southern people. From his post in the North, he dispatched a force of Maryland and Delaware Continental brigades to South Carolina. Under the overall command of Major General Johann von Robais, Baron de Kalb, the regiments making up these brigades contained some of the toughest combat troops to ever see action in the Continental Army. And their commander, the German-born, 59-year-old de Kalb, was himself a seasoned veteran of many European battlefields.
By mid-July, and after a difficult march through Virginia, de Kalb’s regulars reached Buffalo Ford in North Carolina where they halted to await orders and much needed supplies. Joining them in camp a few days later was the newly appointed commander of the Southern American Army, Major General Horatio Gates. Sent by Congress, the “Hero of Saratoga” brought news that a large force of Virginia militia was on its way to join them.
Major General Horatio Gates
At Buffalo Ford, Gates took stock of what he would term his “Grand Army”. The 1st Maryland Brigade was commanded by General William Smallwood. The 2nd Maryland, which included Colonel David Vaughn’s venerable Delaware Regiment, was under the command of General Mordecai Gist. There were three companies of Continental Artillery, with Lieutenant Colonel Charles Armand Tuffin, Marquis de la Rouerie’s Legion of approximately 120 infantry and cavalry troops on its way. Expecting militia troops from Virginia and North Carolina, Gates made the decision to focus his energies on Camden. To the dismay of his officers, he ordered his tired and hungry troops to prepare to march.
On August 13, 1780, by what some officers considered to have been an unnecessarily circuitous route, the Patriot army, which now included around 100 Virginia State troops under Lieutenant Colonel Charles Porterfield and the North Carolina militia commanded by General Richard Caswell, straggled into Rugeley’s Mills. Located around thirteen miles from Camden, the site was owned by loyalist, Colonel Henry Rugeley, and consisted of his home, barn, and mills. The next day, August 14, saw the arrival of the long-awaited Virginia militia, 700 strong, under General Edward Stevens.
At about this time, Horatio Gates made the dubious decision to detach around 300 regulars from the 5th Maryland Regiment, along with two field pieces, to join the partisan forces of General Thomas Sumter. Known as the Gamecock, Sumter was operating on the west side of the Wateree River and hoped to capture a British supply train heading to Camden from the post at Ninety-Six.
Almost immediately upon his arrival, General Gates made the determination that Rugeley’s Mills was not a secure and defensible position and sought information regarding sites closer to the British garrison which was now consolidated within the defenses at Camden. On August 15, he sent his capable engineering officer, the European Colonel John Christian Senf, along with Lieutenant Colonel Charles Porterfield, south along the Great Wagon Road towards Camden to reconnoiter. Returning from the scout, Senf recommended a defensible spot about halfway between Rugeley’s Mills and the town. In his later report to Congress regarding the affair, Gates indicated that, upon receiving the engineer’s report, he resolved to “…take post in an Advantageous Situation, with a deep creek in front, about seven miles from Camden.”
It was believed by some at the time that Gates’ intention, in moving the army closer to the British, was to use what he believed to be his numerical superiority to attack and overwhelm a smaller enemy force. In a communication to his acting deputy adjutant general, the Marylander, Colonel Otho Holland Williams, General Gates relayed to him “a rough estimate of the forces under his command, making them upwards of 7,000.” British strength was, at the time, estimated to be around 2,500, with several hundred ill and unfit for duty. Based on these troop figures, or what he believed them to be, an argument could reasonably be made that, at least initially, Gates was indeed contemplating a surprise attack on the British on the night of August 15, 1780. According to his Aide-de-Camp, Major Thomas Pinckney of South Carolina, a staunch supporter of the General, it was actually not Gates’ desire with this move to attack the enemy, however, “but for the purpose of occupying a strong position so near him as to confine his operations, to cut off his supplies of provisions, and to harass him.” Such a move, therefore, to confine and harass the British is more logical, as it would be reminiscent of the strategy that had worked so well for Gates against British General John Burgoyne, at Bemis Heights, during the fighting at Saratoga in 1777.
On the afternoon of the 15th, Gates called “all the general officers in the army, to a council, to be held in Rugeley’s Barn.” Gates presented his plan to march south, with no objections voiced by the officers in attendance. According to the engineer, Colonel. Senf, “It was unanimously agreed upon to march that night the army to that creek, by which means they could get a more secure encampment, come nearer Genl Sumter, occupy the road on the east side of Wateree River, and would be able to get nearer intelligence of the enemy.” Otho Holland Williams would later write that, while there were no dissenting votes by the officers present, there were a few who harbored misgivings on the possible success of an American army comprised of so many green, untested militiamen. Still, the orders were issued; the army would “march at 10 PM at Night.”
Upon learning of General Gates’ questionable estimate of his army’s troop strength, Colonel Williams had gone about the business of ascertaining a more reliable return from the field officers. In a lengthy description by Williams, he “busied himself in collecting these returns and forming an abstract for the general’s better information. This abstract was presented to the general just as the council broke up…He (Gates) cast his eyes upon the numbers of rank and file present fit for duty, which was exactly three thousand and fifty-two.” When learning that he commanded an army, not of 7,000 troops but, rather, an army of just over 3,000, placing them more on even terms with the British, the General seemed not to be deterred. He stated to Williams that “these are enough for our purposes.” But what exactly were those “purposes”?
Setting up a defensive position on the opposite bank above “a deep creek” made good sense. Based on Senf’s recommendation then, it was Gates’ apparent intension to march his army south along the Great Wagon Road to the ford at Sanders Creek where he would prepare a defensive line in hopes of luring the British into an attack. The location was well chosen as it was the only fordable spot along the creek for several miles.
The American Army began to prepare for the night’s march. According to General Gates, he ordered all heavy and excess baggage north, along with all remaining camp followers, to the safety of the Waxhaws. Ammunition wagons and other necessary baggage would make the march to Camden. The army, tired, hungry, and constantly without adequate supplies, needed to be fed. Before the march, Gates made another dubious decision: he would feed his hungry and depleted troops a full meal out of the hospital stores. This would include a gill (4 ounces) of molasses in place of rum, of which the Army had none. Otho Holland Williams would write: “As there were no spirits yet arrived in camp; and as, until lately, it was unusual for troops to make a forced march, or prepare to meet an enemy without some extraordinary allowance, it was unluckily conceived that molasses, would, for once, be an acceptable substitute.” The effect on the men’s digestive systems was almost immediate. According to Williams: “The troops of General Gates’ army, had frequently felt the bad consequences of eating bad provisions; but, at this time, a hasty meal of quick baked bread and fresh beef, with a desert of molasses, mixed with mush, or dumplings, operated so cathartically, as to disorder very many of the men, who were breaking the ranks all night, and were certainly much debilitated before the action commenced in the morning.” Sergeant William Seymour of the Delaware Regiment would likewise write: “You must observe that instead of rum we had a gill of molasses per man served out to us, which instead of enlivening our spirits, served to purge us as well as if we had taken jallap.”
Thus, Horatio Gates, after a series of questionable decisions, put his weak, exhausted, and ill army on the road to Camden around 10 PM on August 15, 1780. The stage, as it would turn out, was set for disaster; 242 years ago today.
Mark Wilcox is the co-author (along with Rob Orrison) of a forthcoming book on the Battle of Camden titled “All That Can Be Expected” The Battle of Camden, August 16, 1780; published by Savas Beatie Publishing. The book is due out summer 2023.
“Colonel Armand’s dragoons and militia displayed a good countenance, but were soon borne down by the rapid charge of the legion. The chase again commenced…” So wrote British Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton in his work, “A History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781, in the Southern Provinces of North America” regarding his pursuit of retreating American militiamen from the disastrous battlefield at Camden, SC in August 1780, and the gallant effort of one Patriot cavalry commander, a foreign officer, who sought desperately to reform the panicked militia and make a stand. He was Lieutenant Colonel Charles Armand Tuffin, Marquis de la Rouerie.
Lieutenant Colonel Charles Armand
French by birth, Armand was one of many European soldiers to come to America in the 1770’s with hopes of obtaining high ranking commissions in the fledgling Continental Army during the Revolution. Arriving in 1776, Armand’s service in the war would generally become overshadowed by that of his more famous countryman, the younger Marquis de Lafayette, who would arrive a year later.
It’s nearly 25 years ago now. I was driving through western North Carolina, on my way south to Cowpens National Battlefield located in Gaffney, SC, scene of the January 17, 1781, battle.
These were the days before the internet or GPS. Travelers of the day, such as I, depended solely on our wits and a good old-fashioned state map. I had recently finished reading a wonderful biography on the life of American frontiersman, Daniel Boone by John Mack Faragher. So, when I crossed a bridge over the Yadkin River, I knew I was in Boone country.
The Boone family had migrated south from Exeter Township, in Berks County, PA in 1750. The father of Daniel, Squire Boone, Sr, had purchased land in the Yadkin Valley. It’s where young Daniel Boone took his bride, Rebecca Bryan, and where the couple would be domiciled longer than anywhere else they would live during their long marriage. This is where they would start a family of their own.
After consulting my map and the copy of Faragher’s book, I knew I was near the small community of Mocksville, south of Winston-Salem, not far off I-40. There in the old Joppa Burial Ground, can still be found the graves of Squire and Sarah Morgan Boone; the parents of the famous frontiersman.
It’s almost 25 years now since I first pulled up to this ancient cemetery; I parked in a small strip mall adjacent to it. Souvenir hunters had chipped off pieces of the grave stones over the years, so they were later encased in a small masonry wall for protection. I had almost forgotten this impromptu stop; that is until quite recently when I found myself heading south again, this time on my way to visit the Guildford Courthouse battlefield in Greensboro. Remembering the area, I decided to stop off again to pay my respects to the Boones.
The air was stifling on the morning of August 16, 1780. It was made worse by the acrid smoke from the musket and artillery fire that hung low under the canopy of tall, Long Leaf pines that grew on either side of the Great Wagon Road leading to the small town of Camden, South Carolina. The battle fought on that morning between the forces of American Major General Horatio Gates and British Lieutenant General Charles, Earl Cornwallis was short; less than an hour.
Most of the militia troops on the American left flank fled from the field shortly after the first shots were fired but the hard-bitten Continentals on the right, men from Maryland and Delaware, stood fast and paid a severe price, holding against the British regular and loyalist infantry until cavalry forces under the dreaded Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton swept in on their rear. Then, for the American regulars, it became a game of escape and survival.
For the American commander, Horatio Gates, the loss at Camden would be a nightmare. Having been swept from the field early in the battle with the retreating militia, he would ultimately leave his Continental troops to fend for themselves as he made his escape. Thus, the reputation of the former “Hero of Saratoga” would be marred forever. One officer who would not make his escape from this field, however, was the commander of the American right wing, Major General Baron Johann de Kalb.
Baron de Kalb
He was a seasoned veteran of many European battlefields. Commanding the Maryland and Delaware Continental troops at Camden, the German-born 59 year-old de Kalb would continue leading his troops, fighting valiantly throughout the battle until wounds brought him down, forcing him out of action. He would be later found on the battlefield by the British, having suffered 11 wounds in the engagement. According to his Aide-De-Camp, le Chevalier de Buysson, the Baron “having had his horse killed under him, fell into the hands of the enemy, pierced with eight wounds of bayonets and three musket balls.” The two officers were taken to Camden where de Kalb was treated by Lord Cornwallis’ own surgeon; he died on August 19. Of their captivity, de Buysson would write: “Lord Cornwallis and Rawdon treated us with the greatest civility. The baron, dying of his wounds two days after the action, was buried with all the honors of war, and his funeral attended by all the officers of the British army.”
Reportedly buried alongside British officers likewise killed in the battle, Baron de Kalb’s original grave site was located in a field near Meeting Street, between Broad and Church Streets “in the southwestern part of the town.” On his tour of the southern states in 1791, President George Washington visited the grave of the gallant Baron de Kalb. Over time though, the exact location of this site was forgotten. In the early 1820’s, an extensive search was begun to locate the grave. Leading the way in the search were the Masons of South Carolina who were intent upon finding the original resting place of this brother in freemasonry.
Baron de Kalb had come to America from France in 1777 to help in the fight for independence. Having fought with the French Army in the War of Austrian Succession and the Seven Years War, he’d had a distinguished military career in Europe. He traveled to America with the wealthy young French aristocrat, the 20-year-old Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette. These two men couldn’t have come from more different backgrounds. Lafayette was genteel and extremely well educated, having been born into a family known for their vast wealth. Johann de Kalb was a farmer’s son. But, along with his military accomplishments, he’d married well and amassed a fortune of his own. By all accounts, these two very different men had a mutual respect for one another and at least one thing in common; they were both Freemasons.
With the rediscovery of Baron de Kalb’s grave site in the early 1820’s, it was decided that his remains would be carefully removed to the yard of Bethesda Presbyterian Church in the center of Camden where a proper monument would be erected. The people of South Carolina contributed handsomely to the design of the monument and the accompanying dedication ceremony. The monument was designed by artist Robert Mills, who had likewise designed the church where it would be erected along with the United States Treasury Building and the Washington Monument in Washington City. The ceremony was planned and the cornerstone for the new monument to Baron de Kalb would be laid in March 1825. Laying the cornerstone would be none other than his brother Freemason, the Marquis de Lafayette.
Now in his late 60’s, the aged hero had made a triumphant return to the United States in August 1824 and begun a grand tour of the country. As part of his tour, the Marquis and his party arrived in Camden on March 8, 1825. On behalf of the Baron de Kalb Monument Committee, General Lafayette was invited to lay the cornerstone of the new monument to which he readily agreed. He was escorted into Camden with military honors; banquets and speeches would follow. On March 9, a procession bearing the remains of Baron de Kalb formed and marched to the monument site, in the yard of Bethesda Presbyterian Church. After an invocation, the remains were laid to rest in a vault. With members of the Kershaw Lodge offering appropriate Masonic honors, the Marquis de Lafayette laid the cornerstone. The final work on the marble monument that would be erected over the vault was completed in 1827. Inscribed on the monument are these words: “Here lie the remains of Baron De Kalb, German by birth, but in principle, citizen of the world”.
Grave of Baron de Kalb
After laying the cornerstone, nearly 50 years after the two men had first arrived together in America, Lafayette offered a few noble remarks about his friend. “His able conduct, undaunted valor, and glorious fall in the first battle of Camden, form one of the remarkable traits of our struggle for independence and freedom. He was cordially devoted to our American cause, and while his public and private qualities have endeared him to his contemporaries, here I remain to pay to his merits on this tomb, the tribute of an admiring witness, of an intimate companion, of a mourning friend.” It was certainly a fitting tribute.
In modern times, Baron de Kalb’s legacy continues. After nearly 200 years, a new statue bearing his likeness was unveiled in October 2021. Created by sculptor Maria J. Kirby-Smith, the new statue stands on the grounds of the Revolutionary War Visitor Center in Camden, SC. This will be one of the many stops along The Liberty Trail, a “unified path of preservation and interpretation across South Carolina” that will tell the story of the Revolutionary War in the South. The Liberty Trail is currently under development through a partnership between the American Battlefield Trust and the South Carolina Battleground Preservation Trust.
Westover Plantation, the beautiful Georgian-style colonial home once owned by Virginia’s Byrd family, sits atop a high bank, overlooking the James River. Located in Charles City County, Westover is a mere 25 miles from the Virginia state capital of Richmond. It was here, on January 4, 1781, that a visitor would arrive who ultimately would set Richmond “on its ear”; he was the infamous traitor, Benedict Arnold.
Throughout January 2021, Richmond National Battlefield Park, in partnership with Historic St. John’s Church Foundation, will commemorate what has come to be remembered as Arnold’s Raid through a series of three virtual presentations that will premiere on the Facebook channels of both organizations as well as on YouTube. The presentations will air on January 5, 10, and 17, all at 1:00PM.
In his first assignment as a general officer in His Majesty’s service, the newly minted Brigadier General, Benedict Arnold, sailed south from New York in late December 1780, heading to the Chesapeake Bay. The force he commanded numbered around 1,600 and was quite impressive, being comprised of both regular and loyalist troops. Upon reaching the Chesapeake, Arnold seized smaller craft that would take his strike force up the James River. Ultimately, his target would be Richmond, the new state capital of Virginia. Thus far in the Revolution, Virginia had played a critical role in the war effort in terms of supplying men and material. Knocking Virginia out of the war, therefore, could greatly aid Britain in ending the conflict. The destruction of its capital city could hasten that end. On January 4, 1781, Arnold would land his troops at Westover Plantation and begin the 25-mile march to Richmond.
Back in the 21st Century, Rangers of Richmond National Battlefield Park came to the site of beautiful Westover Plantation on the frigidly cold morning of December 26 to begin filming the presentation called “The Raid”, which will air on January 10. This video will center on Arnold’s activities before, during, and after his visit to Richmond and feature several sites around the city that figured prominently in the story. Joining the Rangers at Westover, in the icy wind from off the river, was professional living historian, Beau Robbins, who would be portraying an officer of the 60th Regiment, Royal American Legion. As Robbins, joined by his wife, walked through the main gate of Westover, his scarlet cape fluttered about him in the wind like a comic book superhero. A few visitors roamed the site as well, at a distance; the sight of an officer in scarlet certainly turned a few heads.
Other sites involved in “The Raid” include Chimborazo Park, where around 200 or so local militia fired a volley and fled before Arnold’s troops on January 5, 1781, St. John’s Church, where a good portion of Arnold’s command bedded down that evening in the churchyard, and the corner of 19th and Main Streets, where once stood the prosperous City Tavern and where Arnold himself would quarter. Other living historians would likewise join us, representing the local militia, British infantry, and the German (Hessian) Jaeger Corps. Social distancing was certainly the order of the day for this specific filming.
It goes without saying that 2020 was an incredibly different and challenging year due to the appearance of the COVID-19 pandemic. Individuals and businesses alike have been hard-pressed to re-think how lives should be lived, and business conducted amid the ever-tightening restrictions on social gatherings and the importance of social distancing. The history/museum world is no different. What has changed, though, for many history-based organizations is a new dependence on virtual programming in order to meet the needs and interests of our audience. This comes as somewhat of a contrast with other years as, in the past, there seemed to be an aversion by some to utilizing virtual programs. For many, the idea persisted that visitors would choose to not visit a site in person if they had already seen that site virtually. “That’s hogwash.” Beau Robbins said as we discussed this topic at Westover. “Seeing a video of an historic site only whets my appetite to go there; to see that site for myself.” As a life-long student of American history, I tend to agree.
Honestly speaking, nothing can replace the personal touch and connection with visitors that in-person history programs provide. For those who are able to visit a battlefield, an historic building or home, walking along with a guide and hearing the stories of that site is certainly a wonderful form of education and, hopefully, an experience to be remembered. But, what about those people on the other side of the country perhaps; people who may long to see those sites but who, realistically, will never be able to make the trip? There, I think, lies the true niche of the virtual program. It allows an historic site to share its storytelling with all who are interested. In some cases, as well, virtual programming may mean the difference between reaching hundreds vs. perhaps thousands. It’s certainly something to think about as we move forward into whatever our new “normal” will be.
By late April of 1777, nerves were on edge for the fifteen or so families taking refuge in the stockade at Boonesborough, including a few enslaved people and a handful of rifleman. Since early March, settlers there had been forced to venture out from the safety of the fort in small groups in order to ready their fields for the spring planting. Armed guards accompanied the farmers as they were under constant threat of Indian attack.
Chief Blackfish and roughly 200 Shawnee warriors had crossed south of the Ohio that spring, establishing a base camp near the Licking River from which they could launch sustained attacks on the Kentucky strongholds of Harrodsburg, Logan’s Station, and Boonesborough. Conditions in the American stockades were cramped. A couple of young hunters were scouting for the three settlements, carrying messages back and forth, and providing meat. One was a tall young man from Virginia known as Simon Butler. He had been in Kentucky since serving in Lord Dunmore’s war in 1774 but in April 1777 he was fairly new to Boonesborough. He was hard and tough; a man “with the bark on.” He happened to be at the fort on the morning of Thursday, April 24th. Continue reading “Simon Kenton: Frontiersman, Soldier, Spy”→
On the night of September 20, 1777, while encamped in Chester County, PA just outside Philadelphia, a division of American soldiers was defeated in a swift surprise attack by a slightly smaller British force. American propagandists, in an effort to galvanize Patriot support, would make the most of this encounter to show the British Army as overly brutal and bloodthirsty. On the foggy morning of December 9, 2019, members of the ERW paid a call on this battle site; Paoli Battlefield Historical Park.
A reflection on the previous month’s exploration in South Carolina.
August 16, 1780 would prove to be a devastating day for the American Army in the south, known as the “Grand Army” by its commander, Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates, the Hero of Saratoga. The battle between this army and that of Lt. Gen. Charles, Earl Cornwallis, in the Pine Barrens near the South Carolina town of Camden, would end in the total rout of the Americans and the destruction of the reputation of its commander. It would also temporarily leave the southern colonies without a central army to oppose the British.
On November 1, members of the Emerging Revolutionary War Era staff took a road trip to Camden, SC to research the battle, walk the battlefield and meet with local historians in preparation for an upcoming addition to our book series, on the Battle of Camden. On the way down, we took the opportunity of visiting other sites of combat, actions that occurred prior to and after the fight at Camden. Continue reading “Visiting the Scene of Action: Battle of Camden”→
So, vacation time rolls around again and this year my family and I had an opportunity to travel to Paris, France for a few days. Riding into the city from Charles de Gaulle Airport, our taxi driver, by chance, took us past an old, green-corroded bronze statue, set in the middle of a little flowered square. From my vantage, I could only see the bottom portion of the statue; what appeared to be the lower portion of a man in buckled shoes, seated in a wooden chair, atop a marble pedestal. My wife happened to be in the right spot in the vehicle as we quickly drove by. “Looks like Benjamin Franklin, I think.” she said, and with those words, she sent me on a journey to find that statue again and, hopefully, other sites in Paris associated with Mr. Franklin.
Unlike his colleague from New England, John Adams, who was from good, plain Puritan stock, the pulse of a city like Paris, with its decadence, opulence and social intrigue, fit Benjamin Franklin like a glove. As ambassador to France after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Franklin was instrumental in helping to obtain for our fledging nation the financial and military support necessary for bringing our war for independence to a happy conclusion. To the people of Paris, he was somewhat of a celebrity, due to his experiments with electricity. He spoke French and endeared himself to the people by displaying, in his dress and speech, what they considered his “rustic” demeanor. In a word, they were charmed by Benjamin Franklin. The fur cap he was fond of wearing only added to his disguise of “homespun rusticity”. So, finding a monument to him in this city was not much of a surprise. Continue reading “Another American in Paris”→