A “Passion for Superiority,” The Continental Army Officer Corps, and Middle School “Mean Girls”

John Adams woke on the morning of May 21, 1777, feeling light of heart. A spell of bad weather had finally broken, and the bright spring dawn cheered his spirits. He took a few minutes before beginning his day to pen a letter to his “Dearest Friend,” his wife, Abigail.[1]

“The Charms of the Morning at this Hour, are irresistible,” he told her. “The Streakes of Glory dawning in the East: the freshness and Purity in the Air, the bright blue of the sky, the sweet Warblings of a great Variety of Birds intermingling with the martial Clarions of an hundred Cocks now within my Hearing, all conspire to chear the Spirits.” Adams’s letters are filled with such descriptions, which are one of the many reasons they’re a delight to read. But then he got down to business.

As the Second Continental Congress’s de facto Secretary of War, he had spent the previous evening, May 21, at the War Department meeting with General Benedict Arnold. Arnold had been embroiled in controversy with several lower-level officers, one of whom claimed “Money is this man’s God, and to get enough of it he would sacrifice his country.” (The charge was untrue at the time but proved ironically prophetic.)

Adams told Abigail that he’d heard Arnold “fought like Julius Caesar” and came to believe Arnold’s side of the tale. “He has been basely slandered and libeled,” Adams concluded.

His political perch gave Adams a view of the Continental Army that might surprise us today. In his usual candor, he told Abigail:

“I am wearied to Death with the Wrangles between military officers, high and low. They Quarrell like Cats and Dogs. They worry one another like Mastiffs. Scrambling for Rank and Pay like Apes for Nutts.”

As he continued, he made an observation that touched close to home. Adams was notoriously vain—a vice he recognized and continually struggled with—so he was deeply familiar with the human tendency to compare oneself with one’s peers. Particularly early in his legal career, Adams measured himself against other young lawyers and pined for the chance to distinguish himself. It was, he said to Abigail, a “Passion for Superiority”:

“I believe there is no one Principle, which predominates in human Nature so much in every stage of Life, from the Cradle to the Grave, in Males and females, old and young, black and white, rich and poor, high and low, as this Passion for Superiority …. Every human Being compares itself in its own Imagination, with every other round about it, and will find some Superiority over every other real or imaginary, or it will die of Grief and Vexation[. . . .] I never saw it operate with such Keenness, Ferocity and Fury, as among military Officers. They will go terrible Lengths, in their Emulations, their Envy and Revenge, in Consequence of it.”

Adams had seen that sort of cattiness “among Boys and Girls at school, among Lads at Colledge, among Practicers at the Bar, among the Clergy in their Associations, among Clubbs of Friends, among the People in Town Meetings, among the Members of an House of Reps. [Representatives], among the Grave Councillors, on the more solemn Bench of justice, and in that awfully August Body the Congress, and on many of its Committees — and among Ladies every Where. . . . .” No where was it worse than among the “Mean Girls” of the army’s officer corps.

“So much for Philosophy,” Adams decided, and then inquired about his children and Abigail’s asparagus. Then he concluded with a note that resonates with all of us here at Emerging Revolutionary War:

“I would give Three Guineas for a Barrell of your Cyder — not one drop is to be had here for Gold. And wine is not to be had under Six or Eight Dollars a Gallon and that very bad. I would give a Guinea for a Barrell of your Beer. The small beer here is wretchedly bad. In short I can get nothing that I can drink, and I believe I shall be sick from this Cause alone. Rum at forty shillings a Gallon and bad Water, will never do, in this hot Climate in summer where Acid Liquors are necessary against Putrefaction.”

Cheers!


[1] All quotes from: Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 22 May 1777 [electronic edition]. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society. http://www.masshist.org/digitaladams/

Rounding out the year with a round-up from our friends at Americana Corner

As 2022 winds down, Emerging Revolutionary War wanted to share one more round-up of what our good friends at Americana Corner were doing in this last month of the year. We hope to continue to partner with Americana Corner in the 2023 and bring new content and new enthusiasm for this critical period in American history to the forefront. To all our readers, thank you and we all at Emerging Revolutionary War hope you have a great ending to 2022 and a Happy New Year!

A few blog posts for light reading as you wind down December…

Washington Takes Command
December 27, 2022

When it came to finding the right man to command the new Continental Army assembled around Boston, George Washington was the logical choice. John Adams quickly nominated Washington and Congress unanimously approved. As Adams stated, “This appointment will have a great effect in cementing and securing the Union of these colonies.”

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George Washington Enters Politics
December 20, 2022

As befitting a wealthy landowner in colonial Virginia, George Washington became active in the colony’s politics in the 1750s. He first ran for a seat representing Frederick County in the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1755 but lost the election. Interestingly, it was the only political race he would ever lose. Washington ran for that same seat in 1758 and was victorious, and he held this seat for seven years.

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The Life of Martha Washington
December 13, 2022

Martha Washington was our nation’s first First Lady and lived in the shadow of her larger-than-life husband George. However, most Americans do not realize that she was a very capable woman and, when given the opportunity, managed her own affairs quite well.

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George Washington’s Life at Mount Vernon
December 6, 2022

When George Washington resigned as Colonel and Commander of the Virginia Regiment in 1758, he returned to Mount Vernon to begin his life as a gentleman planter. Although in less than twenty years Washington would be called away by his country, his time between the French and Indian War and the American Revolution was a significant portion of this great man’s life.

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The March in…on this date in 1777

Beginning on December 8, 1777, General George Washington and his Continental army left the environs of White Marsh to begin the movement toward their winter encampment. The rank-and-file crossed over the Schuylkill River and headed westward. Within three days the soldiers had trudged into an area called the Gulph on a December Thursday morning.

During this sojourn Washington wrote a a flurry of orders and letters, finally selecting Valley Forge. His reasoning was explained in the general orders for that day while also observing another delay in order to honor a day of fasting and thanksgiving decreed by the Continental Congress. Washington began that general order on December 17, 1777 by acknowledging the thousands of men that were braving the weather, lack of sustenance, and the rigors of the 1777 campaigning season.

“The Commander-in-Chief with the highest satisfaction expresses his thanks to the officers and soldiers for the fortitude and patience with which they have sustained the fatigues of the Campaign. Altho’ in some instances we unfortunately failed, yet upon the whole Heaven hath smiled on our Arms and crowned them with signal success; and we may upon the best grounds conclude, that by a spirited continuance of the measures necessary for our defence we shall finally obtain the end of our Warfare, Independence, Liberty and Peace.

The march resumed around 10 a.m. on December 19, a Friday, as the Continental army trudged out of the Gulph Mills area and on to their final destination for 1777; Valley Forge. The army would soon spread out to occupy over 7,800 acres of Pennsylvania countryside and spend the next six months resting, recuperating, surviving, and training.

To read more about the end of the 1777 campaign and the winter spent at Valley Forge, check out the book, by yours truly, Winter that Won the War, part of the Emerging Revolutionary War Series, published by Savas Beatie, LLC.

Elegant Dining with the Lees.

Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes this guest submission by historian Werther Young, aka Elmer Woodard

Not THAT Lee. And not at Stratford Hall,  Leesylvani, nor Shirley plantations. No rustle of silk, silver platters from the kitchen, obsequious servants bowing and scraping, no twitter of conversation, nor the tinkling of crystal.  Our repast was much less spectacular. In his Memoirs, Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee told of a dining experience during the Race to the Dan on or about February 11, 1781. We tried to recreate that meal.

Lee’s Legion had been assigned By Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene to Col. Otho William’s Light Division, which had in turn been tasked with luring the British away from Greene’s main army on its retreat to Boyd’s Ferry (now South Boston, Virginia). Williams apparently roused his men at 3 a.m. at Guilford Courthouse (modern Greensboro, N.C.), drew rations, and marched north to collect his Delaware company at an outpost near Brice’s Crossroads (now Summerfield, North Carolina). He then marched northeast on the road to Dix’s Ferry (now US Rt. 158 towards Reidsville, North Carolina and Danville, Virginia) as far as Rodes’ House, six miles almost due north of Guilford Courthouse, and four miles northeast of Brice’s Crossroads.  With Lee’s cavalry rearguard at Rodes’ House, Williams’ infantry was probably spread out along the present Scalesville Road northeast towards Troublesome Iron Works and modern Reidsville. A Lt. Harrington commanded cavalry patrols southeast towards Salem, North Carolina on the Scalesville Road, the direction of the last reported location of the British. In the cool and drizzly morning, everything was quiet, so quiet that Williams’ men had started the slow process of cooking their rations. 

The latest intelligence put the British somewhere towards Salem (present Winston-Salem, North Carolina), some twenty-four miles away. Unfortunately, that information was stale. The British had marched early, passing through Dobson’s Crossroads (present day Kernersville, North Carolina) and by early morning were near present Oak Ridge, North Carolina just nine miles away from Rodes’ House and coming on hard, while Williams and his men were enjoying a “comfortable meal.”  

On paper, Revolutionary War infantry regiments were made up of companies of fifty men each. Generally, cavalrymen counted each horse as a man, so their “company” was only about twenty-five men, and was called a “troop.”  For ration purposes, each company/troop was further divided into subgroups of five or six men each, called a “mess.” In practice, a company could be anywhere from fifteen to seventy men, but let us stay with a typical size of fifty.  By 1781 in North Carolina, with many, many exceptions, army rations were essentially a pound of protein and a pound of carbohydrate per day, roughly four Quarter Pounder hamburgers per day.

“Protein” in the 1781 south was meat, usually pork, fresh or salted. Carbohydrate was usually ground corn, and was packaged from the mill in barrels of about 200 pounds.  Rations were usually issued in three day lots to the company, although six day lots were not unheard of. Indeed, the British 1768 warrant specified that the men’s haversacks were to be large enough for six days’ rations.   Williams’ “Light” Division was ‘Light’ because it did not contain wagons, so the men had to carry everything, including rations, themselves. Stopping to distribute rations would certainly lose the Race to the Dan, so the men were probably issued six days rations (two pounds per man per day, or twelve pounds per man) beforehand.[1]  Our theoretical fifty-man company would receive about 600 pounds of food for six days; the horsemen about the same because they had to feed the horse.  One whole (500 man) regiment would receive about 3,000 pounds of food.  Williams had about a regiment and a half, so his six days’ ration weight would approach 5,000 pounds. 

Rations were issued raw, and it was the messes’ responsibility to cook them.  One of the most essential pieces of equipment was therefore something to cook them in.  This item was so important that four iron kettles were among of the few items specifically mentioned by the Williamsburg Public Store on the very day it opened, October 12, 1775.[2] Kettles were sometimes cast iron, like a witch’s cauldron, but most often were sheet iron with soldered joints, holding about four gallons. Many were made in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Each mess received one kettle, which someone in the mess had to carry where ever they went.[3]

Read more: Elegant Dining with the Lees.

By 11 a.m. or so, somewhat delayed by the difficulties of igniting wet wood, Williams’ Light Division was happily cooking their rations. Lee described the fare as “the meat was on the coals and the corn cakes in the ashes.”[4] Apparently, it also was pretty far along in the process, as Lee referred to having had (past tense) a “comfortable meal” at that time.  For one five-man infantry mess with six days’ rations, this meant that they were boiling thirty pounds of meat and making thirty pounds of corn cakes per man.  

Earlier this year my son Patrick and I decided to try some applied archaeology and figure out just how the corn and pork ration system in the 1781 south worked.  We had found a first-person account from an Overmountain man who went through the Smoky Mountains from Sycamore Shoals (now Elizabethton, Tennessee) to King’s Mountain, North Carolina in ten days on twenty pounds of “parched corn,” about two pounds per day. While we had heard of parched corn, no one really knew what it was, because no one eats it anymore. Additional research showed that it’s just corn meal that has been browned over heat. It was usually mixed half and half with a sweetener of some sort. So, we browned some corn and mixed it with table sugar.  It tastes like sweet cornmeal-flavored sand.  We tried to make parched corn molasses bars, but this degenerated into a sticky mess, and we were … requested … to absent ourselves from the kitchen, permanently ending that part of that experiment.

The next project would be to figure out how Colonel Lee and his men prepared their February repast.  Having thirty years’ experience as a Civil War reenactor with the 44th Virginia and 5th New York Zouaves, I knew that cooking meat on coals in a hurry results most of the time in semi-raw, inedible meat, and corn cakes made in the ashes are just gritty yellow discs that taste like burned dirt.  Given that Lee’s Legion moved about sixty miles in five days, they weren’t eating raw meat and burned dirt.  

Happily, I have a four-gallon mess kettle, and so the experiment began. As it turned out, a friend had recently killed his wife’s pet hog, and he generously donated ten pounds of frozen pork.  In 1781,  pork was either on the hoof or salted, the only way of preserving it at the time.  Since Mr. Hogg was no longer on the hoof, our friend salted it. Finding a watertight oak barrel difficult to come by, he dry-salted it in a food safe plastic bucket, with a layer of pickling salt, then a layer of meat, and so on until the bucket was full, with the top layer being salt.  It then sat for several months, during which time we turned to the carbohydrate issue.

Corn meal is a much more complex article than one would imagine.  Back then in the South it was not just a staple, but THE staple. Farmers planted corn, which generated about twenty-six bushels (approximately 1500 pounds) per acre.  When harvested in the fall, the stalk was cut and then a dozen or so stalks tied together and set upright into a “shock” to dry.  Once dried, the ears went into the corn crib and the stalks fed the animals. Periodically the farmer removed the kernels from the cobs, placed them in a log bucket or a cloth bag, and took them to the mill to be ground.  The miller ground the corn, taking a percentage, and returned the rest to the farmer.  This would last a family of four for about two months before it became musty, at which time the farmer would shuck more corn and go back to the miller.  

The mill was water powered and contained two mill stones which ground the corn kernels into meal.  Nowadays, most “corn meal” is for baked corn bread, and is superfine, almost like powdered sugar.  Back then, this was almost unheard of.  The finer the grind, the higher the miller’s toll (grinding fee), so the grinds were usually much coarser.  Fine meal, meal, and grits were what humans generally ate.  One coarseness level below grits was “Indian grind,” which only Indians would buy, because it was the cheapest grind but still fit for humans, rather than animals.  Soldiers received it, too.  We managed to find a local mill that was happy to make us some Indian grind but we had to buy fifty pounds of it.  Ten bucks later, we had a about eight gallons of Indian grind.

We were not too thrilled about eating burned, dirt flavored disks, so we decided not to make ash cakes.  A bit of research revealed that non-ash corn cakes were often made on a flat rock, or even a shovel blade. We decided to use a spade blade with the edges bent up.  Spades these days are surprisingly expensive, but a case of beer delivered to a pal at the local machine shop soon had us a brand-new steel spade blade with turned up edges and an integral handle, just as shown in the Collectors Encyclopedia.[5]  

Rummaging through the pile of rarely-used reenacting gear produced a foot long “flesh” fork for manipulating the chunks of pork, a small kettle to mix in, a ladle, and a spatula for flipping, although these items could technically be considered cheating. Ten pounds of salt pork has its own unique needs, so we scrubbed out a cooler, put Mr. Hogg’s remains on ice, and set forth. 

As members of the re-created 7th Virginia Regiment, we attended their annual living history event at the Gloucester Museum of History in Gloucester Courthouse, Virginia, where the 7th was initially mustered in April 1776.  Since fires were not allowed, one of the members brought a charcoal brazier.  Not exactly wet wood from February 1781, but it would do. Once the coals were going, the first task was to put the pork on.  This was pretty simple, in that you put the pork in the kettle, fill it with water, and put it on the fire. The point of this is to remove the salt and cook the meat.  Ten pounds of salt pork half-filled the kettle. With the pork simmering, we reviewed the next phase of the plan.  When lard formed on the top of the water, we’d skim it off. When the pork was done, we’d use the salty pork water (the “liquor”) to make batter for the corn cakes, and then fry them in the lard on the spade.

Of course, the plan went awry almost from the beginning.  Despite a lot of boiling, there was not much lard, and nothing was going to get fried without any lard.  One of the kind folks at the museum had to run and errand and agreed to pick up a pound of lard for us.  Of course, as soon as she left, the kettle hit critical lard mass, and we were up to our smallclothes in it. We needed a way to get rid of the lard, so my son Patrick used the small kettle to go ahead and mix water with the Indian grind, and I greased up the shovel. In the meantime, we were fighting a lard tsunami that threatened to boil over into the fire.  We took turns using the spatula to skim, but had no place to put it, except my drinking cup. Hot lard is much like sand at the beach—it gets into everything. The cup was too hot to handle, so we had to use a rag.  Which was soon hot and slippery, because it was full of lard.  Soon our hands were covered with a layer of lard, which at least made everything else slippery.  

We must have gotten the triple expansion Indian grind, because soon we had half a gallon of batter and a hot shovel, so we started frying. The soupy batter just ran all over the shovel and over and out the sides in a giant boondoggle, but over time the water soaked into the grind, stiffening it up.  A three-inch portion, one-half inch thick, was enough to fry in place and we soon learned to flip it just as the visible top side began to tan, not brown, about five minutes for the first side, and four for the second. 

We soon had it going like gangbusters, cranking out five shovelcakes every ten minutes.  Surprisingly, the only thing that Indian grind likes to absorb more than water is – lard.  All of the lard we had skimmed was soon gone, but we avoided disaster by fishing nice fatty chunks of pork out of the kettle and greasing the shovel with that. In no time, we had gone through two pounds of Indian grind and had a plate of thirty to forty shovel cakes to go with our salt pork. The moment of truth had arrived.  Someone had to try it.  This whole thing being my idea, this duty fell to me. 

Honestly, it was pretty good.  The boiled salt pork tasted exactly like boiled pork, now known as “pork loin.”  We had accidentally used water in the Indian Grind instead of the kettle liquor from the pork, so the shovel cakes needed salt, but they were still really good, being essentially a crunchy corn pancake. Everyone was eating them like potato chips.  We purloined some honey from the surgeon, and the shovelcakes became REALLY good. Shovelcakes differ from potato chips in that the former, like the parched corn, are immensely filling.  After three or four each, everyone was stuffed, and we still had plenty of them, so we tossed them in a haversack, and turned to stopping car traffic to interrogate the drivers as to whether they were a friend of American Liberty or vile traitors in league with the pernicious Lord Dunmore.  Most of the drivers had clearly never heard of Lord Dunmore, but they got it when we used somc…historical license… and changed the vile traitor to the pernicious Benedict Arnold.  To our great surprise, the shovelcakes survived the trip home largely without crumbling, and we munched on shovelcakes while scrubbing out the kettles. We rustproofed the inside with lard.  We cleaned the guns and oiled them with lard. And we still have a great deal of lard.  

In summation, we had duplicated how Lee and his men fed themselves on the Race to the Dan.  Each mess had cooked its six days ration of thirty pounds of meat and made dozens of ash/shovelcakes out of their thirty pounds of Indian grind for their “comfortable meal” on that cold drizzly day in February.  What they didn’t eat hot went into their haversacks, and though we haven’t quite yet confirmed this, probably turned that item into a lard-soaked corny gritty pork mess.  Since it was already fully cooked, they could reach in and munch at any time, and all they needed to do for the next meal was to reheat it over the fire.

Recipe for stovetop Gateaux de la Pelle (shovel cakes):

1 cup water

½ cup Indian grind

¾ teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons butter

Boil water and add salt.  When hot, add butter.  Once the butter has melted, combine this mixture with the Indian grind, adding small amounts of grind until the batter is stiff.  Spoon onto well lard/bacon greased griddle/frying pan. Turn when the top side is just tan, just about to brown.  Condiments include honey, butter, molasses, more butter, powdered sugar, and/or more butter.

Regular store-bought corn meal probably won’t work, as it is too fine.  Uncooked yellow or white grits might work, but we haven’t tried that.  Yet.   

Returning to 1781, while “the meat was on the coals and the corn cakes in the ashes,” a citizen galloped into Williams’ camp at Rodes’ House.  The man had found one of Lt. Harrington’s patrols and had been rushed to headquarters in the emergency.  The British had evaded detection and were now only four miles away, approaching Brice’s Crossroads.  It was all mess kettles and elbows.  No doubt shocked that he had been so badly surprised, Williams ordered his men to stop cooking, fall in, and escape northeast.  Lee and his men rode south to fight – and delay – Banastre Tarleton and his Legion.


[1] The British accounts reveal that they had to forage during the Race, and were nevertheless starving.  In contrast, the American account mention extreme fatigue, but little hunger.

[2] Gregory B. Sandor, Journal of the Public Store at Williamsburg (privately published, 2015), 1.  See also 9, 10.

[3] Linen Bags for Camp Kettles (revwar75.com)

[4] Henry Lee, Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department of the United States (Miami, FL: Hardpress, 2017), ebook location 4523-4542.  No mention is made of any campfire grates, fire irons, dining flies, etc.

[5] Spade converted into a frying pan by soldiers, from the collections of Morristown National Historical Park. Pictured in George C. Neumann and Frank J. Kravic, Collector’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of the American Revolution, (Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 1975), 94.

Wether Young  is a graduate of Norfolk Academy, Washington and Lee University, and Campbell University School of Law.  He has practiced law in Virginia for 35 years.  . Beginning in 1987, he has been a member or the 44th Virginia, Coppens’ Zouaves, Brian Pohanka’s 5the New York Duryees’ Zouaves (First Sergeant), the Life Guard, King Charles I, 151er Regiment de l’Armee de France, His Majesty’s Marines, and the 7th Virginia Regiment.  Publications include “Evolutions of the Color Guard in the Cam Chase Gazette,” and  “Johnson & Dow Waterproof and Combustible Cartridges” in the magazine of the Company of Military Historians. He is also the author of “A Bloody Day at Gaines’ Mill “  (McFarland, 2019). 

Americana Corner

Emerging Revolutionary War checks in with Tom Hand and Americana Corner. Here is what has has been published on that blog for the month of October.

Benedict Arnold and the Perilous March to Quebec
October 4, 2022

Benedict Arnold’s expedition to the gates of Quebec City in the fall and winter of 1775 is widely regarded as one of the greatest military marches in history. Arnold, despite his sullied reputation due to his traitorous behavior later in the war, was one of America’s most gifted field commanders, and his tremendous leadership skills were put to the test on this perilous journey.
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Arnold’s Army Marches into Trouble
October 11, 2022

When Colonel Benedict Arnold’s army reached the Great Carrying Place on October 11, 1775, they had been moving north on the Kennebec River for almost three weeks and had advanced eighty-four miles. The American militiamen were on their way to assault Quebec City, the crown jewel of British Canada. The time originally estimated for the entire journey to Quebec was about twenty days, and the anticipated distance was 180 miles. Neither Arnold nor the men were aware they had another 300 miles to go.
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Benedict Arnold’s Army Reaches Quebec
October 18, 2022

After clearing the Height of Land, Colonel Benedict Arnold’s army on its way to capture Quebec City believed they were on the downhill slope to their destination, but their hardships were not finished. The area which they just entered was poorly mapped, and Arnold’s regiments paid the price for this lack of knowledge.
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Americans Commence Siege of Quebec
October 25, 2022

With the capture of Montreal by General Richard Montgomery and the presence of Colonel Benedict Arnold’s force of 600 men on the Plains of Abraham, Britain’s foothold in Canada had dwindled to about one square mile, the area within the mighty walls of Quebec City. Now the defenses of that fortress would be tested by a band of determined Americans.
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Emerging Revolutionary War checks in with Tom Hand and Americana Corner. Here is what has has been published on that blog for the month of August.

America Looks Westward
August 30, 2022

Americans have always had a yearning to move west and discover new lands. Along the way, our ancestors had to overcome many daunting natural barriers, the first of which was the Appalachian Mountains. The Wilderness Road through the Cumberland Gap was our nation’s first pathway through this formidable range.
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The Legacy of Ben Franklin
August 23, 2022

The Constitutional Convention adjourned on September 17, 1787, and would be Benjamin Franklin’s last moment in the spotlight of American history. It was a fitting finale for this man who had done so much to shape the nation in which he lived. Franklin was 81 years old, in poor health, and hoped for a well-deserved rest.
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Ben Franklin’s Sage Advice Influences Constitutional Convention
August 16, 2022

In 1785, Franklin, his work done in France, was recalled to America by Congress. He arrived in Philadelphia that September, revered as one of our nation’s greatest patriots. Despite his need for a well-deserved rest, he was kept continually busy receiving dignitaries, wrapping up loose ends from his eight-year diplomatic mission, and with what would prove to be one final opportunity to help his country.
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Ben Franklin Becomes America’s Top Diplomat
August 9, 2022

Congress declared America’s independence from England on July 4, 1776, but the most crucial step still lay ahead and that was to secure what we had declared. Delegates knew that to have a real chance at success, the United States needed the assistance of one or more European powers.
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Ben Franklin Works Toward Independence
August 2, 2022

Partly due to Benjamin Franklin’s testimony before the House of Commons, the Stamp Act, which taxed items such as newspapers and legal documents, was repealed by Parliament on March 18, 1766. Unfortunately, this conciliatory measure was immediately undone when Parliament enacted the Declaratory Act which reasserted that all laws passed by that legislative body were binding on the colonies, including those related to taxes.
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2022 Symposium Speaker Spotlight: Eric Sterner

We are happy to welcome Eric Sterner 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 Eric to answer a few questions about their talk and their passion for history.

Eric Sterner is a writer focusing on American history, particularly the Revolutionary War and Civil War.  He writes frequently for the Journal of the American Revolution (http://allthingsliberty.com)  and blogs regularly at the Emerging Revolutionary War Era (http://emergingrevolutionarywar.org) in addition to contributing to other publications over the years.  Westholme Publishing released his book: Anatomy of a Massacre: The Destruction of Gnadenhutten, 1782 in 2020.  He is currently working on a micro history of the Crawford Campaign (1782) and a survey of George Rogers Clark’s Illinois Campaign (1778-1779).

In his prior life, Eric worked in the fields of national security and aerospace, holding senior staff positions for two different Congressional committees and serving at the Department of Defense and NASA.  In the private sector, he worked in the fields of national security policy analysis and telecommunications and then held fellowships at the George C. Marshall Institute and the American Foreign Policy Council.  At both places, his work focused on national security, cyber-power, and space policy and appeared in the academic, trade, and popular media.  He also taught graduate courses in cyber power at Missouri State University, Georgetown, and George Washington University.  He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Soviet and International Studies and

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?  

I was born in the Land of Lincoln, but as a kid, we often visited our grandparents outside Philadelphia, touring the local sites.  My great-grandfather sometimes took us on walks through Valley Forge and the memories stuck.  History became a hobby after that, but stories about real people and events always held more fascination than fiction.  So, when the opportunity came later in life to pursue that interest with intensity, it was only natural to take it.  

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

We still wrestle with many of the same questions as the founding generation: what conditions warrant rebellion, how to prevent the abuse of power, how to secure individual liberty, how to determine and enact the majority’s will, etc.  Despite their limitations, that generation’s answers to those questions are still relevant and illuminating.  

What do you think was the most significant foreign impact on the American Revolution? 

France’s declaration of war and alliance with the United States, followed by Spain’s declaration of War on Great Britain, transformed the Revolution into a global struggle.  The stakes grew exponentially from an imperial and philosophical perspective and Britain immediately had to change its strategy.  

What are some of the important lessons of the American Revolution do you think are still relevant today?

Warfare always exacerbates a tendency towards extremism, dehumanization, and excess, often reducing people to the most base instincts.  Somehow, the Revolutionary War generation managed to overcome—in the main—the disastrous effects of these tendencies.  While they failed to adhere to their ideals in many ways, principally by in leaving the institution of slavery in tact, the the fact that they managed to bridge differences, compromise, and create a republic in the aftermath of a war with so many facets is remarkable.  Understanding how they did that and what it might require of us would serve the United States well 250 years later.

What was it about the American Revolution that elicited such global interest? 

It is easy to focus on the effects of a colonial rebellion on European states with colonies all over the world.  Clearly, a successful rebellion had implications for those colonies.  But, Enlightenment ideas also popular in Europe ranged from the rationalization and efficiency of government institutions to more well-known and celebrated concepts of human individuality and the sources of sovereign authority.  In many ways, the American Revolutionary Era was the first real-world test of those ideas.  Thus, whether one opposed the Revolution for imperial reasons or supported it for philosophical ones, it could not help but fascinate the world.  

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

“Rev War Revelry” Nathanael Greene, Quartermaster

In March 1778, Major General Nathanael Greene finally consented to become the quartermaster for the Continental army then encamped at Valley Forge. He was loathe to give up his position as a line commander in charge of a division of infantry but with reassurances from General George Washington that he would retain his place and that his expertise was absolutely needed to revitalize the quartermaster department the Rhode Islander agreed.

His work over the next two plus years paid huge dividends. On Sunday, August 21, at 7p.m. EDT join Emerging Revolutionary War on our Facebook page for the next “Rev War Revelry.” Joining ERW will be the American Battlefield Trust’s Senior Education Manager, historian and author Dan Davis.

In reference to Greene’s role as quartermaster general at Valley Forge, Davis said, “Primarily remembered for his actions during the Southern Campaign, Nathanael Greene’s efforts at Valley Forge were critical in sustaining the Continental Army during a crucial period of its history.”

We look forward to a great discussion and hope you can join us for this historian happy hour!

One artist’s depiction of what the encampment at Valley Forge looked like

2022 Symposium Speaker Spotlight: Kate Egner Gruber

We are happy to welcome Kate Egner Gruber 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 Kate to answer a few questions about their talk and their passion for history.

Kate Egner Gruber is the acting director of curatorial services for the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, where she works with a team to grow the collection and broaden the interpretation of early American history at Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. Kate is a graduate of the University of Mary Washington’s Historic Preservation program, where she focused on archaeology and material culture, and holds her masters degree in early American history from the College of William and Mary.

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?   

I never know how to answer this question. The past has always been a presence in my life—whether I was digging up holes in my mom’s backyard looking for buried treasure (sorry, Mom), enthralled with the stories behind the old things in my grandmother’s upstairs room, or lost in my imagination about the landscape I called home.

I like to say that history doesn’t change—but our relationship to it does. This is what keeps me involved in the study of history of today. There’s always something new to learn, new perspectives to consider, new lenses through which to view the past. This is what keeps me motivated and eager to keep diving in.

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

What we learn about the past helps us better understand our present and create a more perfect union for the future.

What do you think was the most significant foreign impact on the American Revolution? 

As someone who studies both 17th and 18th century history, my perspective on this question is flipped—I think the most significant impact on the American Revolution was the colonies’ shared 17th history in the growing English and (later) British empire.

What are some of the important lessons of the American Revolution do you think are still relevant today?

From England’s Glorious Revolution to America’s Glorious Cause, we’re still negotiating our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—or in the words of John Locke, life, liberty, and property!

What was it about the American Revolution that elicited such global interest

Some of the founders saw their American Revolution through the lens of the English Civil Wars and Glorious Revolution, all of which had global consequences. The American Revolution isn’t just American history—it’s world history! 

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

Monmouth Monday: Lee Starts a War of Letters with Washington

Major General Charles Lee’s role in the battle of Monmouth Courthouse and his subsequent court-martial is perhaps one of the Revolutionary War’s most controversial subjects. His conduct during the battle on June 28, 1778 can be both ridiculed and praised. Although he failed to pin the enemy rearguard into place before Washington could arrive with the rest of the American army, he successfully organized a delaying force at the Hedgerow that temporarily slowed the British pursuit and provided time for the army to form a strong defensive line atop Perrine Ridge. When the guns fell silent and the British retired from the field, Lee, then four miles away at Englishtown, immediately began to grow angry and slighted by the famous confrontation that occurred between himself and the commander-in-chief when the latter arrived on the field earlier that afternoon. It is possible that Lee’s performance would have avoided severe scrutiny—after all, Monmouth had been a tactical victory for the Continental Army. However, the eccentric and egotistical Lee could not bite his tongue. In a series of incredible letters addressed to Washington, he sealed his ultimate fate. Choosing honor above all else, Lee criticized and downright offended his superior. By the end of the exchange Lee demanded, “that on the first halt, I may be brought to trial.” Washington obliged him.

Washington Arrives on the Monmouth Battlefield

Below is the first letter written by Lee in the correspondence that would eventually lead to his removal from the army:

Camp English Town [30 June 1778]

Sir

From the knowledge I have of your Excys character—I must conclude that nothing but the misinformation of some very stupid, or misrepresentation of some very wicked person coud have occasioned your making use of so very singular expressions as you did on my coming up to the ground where you had taken post2—They implyed that I was guilty either of disobedience of orders, of want of conduct, or want of courage. Your Excellency will therefore infinitely oblige me by letting me know on which of these three articles you ground your charge—that I may prepare for my justification which I have the happiness to be confident I can do to the army, to the Congress, to America, and to the world in general. Your excellency must give me leave to observe that neither yourself nor those about your person, could from your situation be in the least judges of the merits or demerits of our measures—And to speak with a becoming pride, I can assert that to these manouvers the success of the day was entirely owing—I can boldly say, that had we remained on the first ground, or had we advanced, or had the retreat been conducted in a manner different from what it was, this whole army and the interests of America would have risked being sacrificed. I ever had (and hope ever shall have the greatest respect and veneration for General Washington) I think him endowed with many great and good qualities, but in this instance I must pronounce that he has been guilty of an act of cruel injustice towards a man who certainly has some pretensions to the regard of every servant of this country—And I think Sir, I have a right to demand some reparation for the injury committed—and unless I can obtain it, I must in justice to myself, when this campaign is closed, [(]which I believe will close the war) retire from a service at the head of which is placed a man capable of offering such injuries. But at the same time in justice to you I must repeat that I from my soul believe, that it was not a motion of your own breast, but instigaged by some of those dirty earwigs who will for ever insinuate themselves near persons in high office—for I really am convinced that when General Washington acts from himself no man in his army will have reason to complain of injustice or indecorum. I am, Sir, and hope I ever shall have reason to continue your most sincerely devoted humble servt

Charles Lee1

To hear more stories like Charles Lee’s and to walk the ground in which he fought, join Emerging Revolutionary War historians Billy Griffith and Phillip S. Greenwalt this November on a bus tour covering the winter encampment at Valley Forge and the Monmouth campaign. More in formation can be found on our website, www.emergingrevolutionarywar.org, or on our Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/events/632831987720200/?acontext=%7B%22event_action_history%22%3A[%7B%22surface%22%3A%22page%22%7D]%7D

[1] “To George Washington from Major General Charles Lee, 30 June 1778,” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-15-02-0651. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, vol. 15, May–June 1778, ed. Edward G. Lengel. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2006, pp. 594–595.]