2022 Symposium Speaker Spotlight: Liz Williams

This week we interview our Symposium co-host, Liz Williams! Like all of our speakers, we asked Liz to answer a few questions about her passion for history. We appreciate Liz partnering with us for the third year to put on a great program. Liz is the Director of Gadsby’s Tavern Museum in Alexandria, VA and has been with the Office of Historic Alexandria, part of the City of Alexandria, since 2004. She has a passion for history and having fun at work (as shown by her photo!).

Liz is a graduate of Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Virginia, where she earned her B.A. in Historic Preservation. She went on to receive her graduate degree at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where she earned an M.T.A. in Tourism Administration, concentrating on heritage tourism.

She is a Superfan of the musical “1776” and educates everyone she knows about the famous ride of Caesar Rodney, one of her home state’s epic Rev-War stories.

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?

It is all my Dad’s fault. Summer family vacations to historic sites embedded history deep into my soul at an early age. I think what attracted me then still attracts me now, just refined by time. I always connected with the people of the past and how they got from Point A to Point B. However, in my older age, I understand those decisions were not so cut and dry like I once thought they were.

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

So many of our traditions, things we celebrate as “America,” stem from this era. It helps us all understand how we got to 2022.

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

Other nations using our revolution as a model and inspiration for their own. Imitation is the highest form of flattery, right? Perhaps…

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

Envision Barbra Streisand singing “People…” People are complex. How the revolution began, ended, and everything in between is rooted in humanity—choices made for a variety of reasons. Recognizing this human dimension is essential to understanding both the past and the present.

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

We defeated the big bad British (with the help of France, but I digress). It was David vs. Goliath. Of course people across the globe wanted to stay up-to-date on all the ins and outs of this action packed tale – from start to finish to the next chapter. We tell that next chapter story at Gadsby’s. We won the Revolution – Yippie! What do we do now? Those across the globe watched as we made choices to build and create what we now know as the United States of America.

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

2022 Symposium Speaker Spotlight: Norman Desmarais

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

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

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

Catherine the Great Takes Notice of the American Revolution

Catherine the Great By Ivan Argunov (Wikimedia Commons)

Catherine II, aka Catherine the Great, was one of the most dynamic and substantive monarchs of the eighteenth century.  A wealth of contradictions characterized her reign.   A reformer who corresponded regularly with the likes of Voltaire and Diderot, she was also a dedicated imperialist who divvyed up Poland in league with her neighbors and waged offensive wars to the south while colonizing as much of Siberia and Central Asia as she could.  She seized power in a de facto coup, watched her rivals conveniently die, and embraced a Russian tradition of banishing unreliable or undesirable subjects, defined as those did not serve her interests, to Siberia.  At the same time, she explicitly located the sovereignty of the nation among its people, sought to expand the number and classes of subjects with a role in administrative decision-making, and sincerely desired be seen as a what might be called a “democratic autocrat.”[1]  So, one might expect Catherine’s Russia to have a mixed view of the American Revolution.  As always, she was sure not to disappoint.

The years prior to Lexington and Concord were exhausting for Russia.  In 1772, it completed the first partition of Poland in cooperation with Prussia and Austria.   In 1774, it finally brought a six-year war with the Ottoman Empire to a successful resolution in the Treaty of Kuchuk-Kainarji, which expanded Russian territory in the south, giving it greater access to the Black Sea.[2]  Throughout the period, Catherine dealt with a number of internal rebellions and uprisings built around phony claimants to her throne.   By far the most dangerous was a Cossack uprising led by Emil Pugachev, who claimed to be Catherine’s deposed husband Peter III.  He was caught at the end of 1774 and executed in 1775.  When Britain’s North American colonies rebelled, it rated notice, but little attention in the Russian capital, St. Petersburg.  Before too long Britain came calling, requesting 20,000 troops to suppress the rebellion.   Catherine declined, but wrote a correspondent that she expected America to become independent in her lifetime.[3]  Then her government turned toward its latest round of internal reform meant to improve the administration of its vast and growing territory.  That might have been the end of it, but European politics intervened.

Continue reading “Catherine the Great Takes Notice of the American Revolution”

Symposium Author Highlight: Dr. Lindsay Chervinksy

Dr. Lindsay M. Chervinsky is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University and a Professorial Lecturer at the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University. She received her B.A. with honors in history and political science from George Washington University, her masters and Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis, and her postdoctoral fellowship from Southern Methodist University. Previously Dr. Chervinsky worked as a historian at the White House Historical Association. Her writing has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Ms. Magazine, The Daily Beast, The Bulwark, Time Magazine, USA Today, CNN, NBC Think, and the Washington Post. Dr.Chervinsky is the author of the award-winning book, The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institutionrecently out in paperback, and the forthcoming book An Honest Man: The Inimitable Presidency of John Adams.

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’ve always been fascinated by trying to envision how people lived during other time periods. So many things are the same — they loved, grieved, nursed ambitions, fought, played, and worked — but so much was also radically different. What did it smell like? What was it like to live without electricity, running, water, or modern medicine? That juxtaposition continues to drive me. The early American period captured my attention for much of the same reason. It feels so distant and different, yet we can see so many parallels and origins that begin at this time. So much of our culture, politics, and government began in the Revolution and is still with us today.

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

There is much about our nation that is new and has evolved over time, but so much of our identity and how we operate can be traced back to the Revolutionary Period, whether it’s our government institutions, our national myths, our culture, or the divisions that still plague us. We cannot understand our current moment without understanding where we started.

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

I think the obvious answer is France’s decision to ally itself with the colonies. The money, arms, supplies, and naval support were integral to the final American victory. However, I’d add one layer that is less discussed and that’s the longstanding animosity between France and England. The history of war between these two nations forced Great Britain to think about the continental and global implications of the war. Once France entered the conflict, the war was no longer confined to North America, but extended to Europe, India, Asia, and the Caribbean. By forcing Britain to divide its attention and resources, France weakened Britain’s grasp on the colonies and fed on its biggest fears, including a French invasion of England. That fear cannot be overlooked.

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

The American Revolution offers so many important lessons, but here are the two most relevant takeaways.

First, the Revolution offers a really important military history lesson that apparently has to be learned by many nations again and again: it is nearly impossible to subdue a foreign nation by invasion unless you are willing to kill every last man, woman, and child. During the Revolution, George Washington knew that as long as the Continental Army survived, so too would the cause for independence. He didn’t need to win a decisive battle. He just needed to outlast the British army that was thousands of miles from home and dependent on a long, fragile supply chain. The longer the war dragged on, the more expensive the war would become for the British, the more unpopular it would be back at home, and the harder it would be for the British army to wage a huge offensive campaign. Additionally, as British forces antagonized Americans, it became much more difficult for them to acquire supplies locally or maintain emotional support for their efforts. Finally, Washington learned that an insurgency campaign required huge numbers to crush. It would have required hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of British troops to subdue the entire North American continent. The United States learned this same lesson the hard way during the Vietnam War, as did the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. And now Russia is learning it again in Ukraine. While history never repeats itself, it rhymes. Especially military history.

Second, the Revolution teaches us a very important lesson for our nation at home. The war required the colonies to work together. No one colony could take on the mighty British Empire alone. The only way to win was to coordinate actions, pool resources, communicate, and work together. While each colony had its own economic, cultural, and political traditions, they had more in common than they did differences. We were better together then and we are better together now, despite all of our nasty divisions at the moment. Even if we wanted to break up into multiple nations, there would be no way to do so. So we might as well try and make the best of it.

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

In 1776, the world was dominated by empires run by monarchies. From our perch in 2022, we see that colonies have waged successful revolutions and claimed their independence across the globe, but that reality was not a foregone conclusion. Indeed, the idea that colonies could throw off the shackles of monarchy and form a new nation was a radical, and sometimes terrifying, one. Kings and queens across the globe watched with mixed emotions, both hoping that the mighty British empire would be brought down a notch, but also fearing that the revolution would spread to their borders and challenge their rule. They were correct that the revolution would have global implications–for politics, for the economy, for the balance of powers, and for the spread of ideas that would indeed forge the age of revolutions.

Americana Corner

Been a bit since we checked in and shared what our good friend Tom Hand has been doing at Americana Corner. The blog, dedicated to sharing “informative stories of the great events, founding documents, and inspirational leaders” routinely has a new post up every Tuesday. Below is what was on the blog for the month of May. Click the title to read the entire post.

Patriots, Loyalists and America’s First Civil War
With the Battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775, the actual fighting of the American Revolution was underway. As it turned out, this open warfare was not reserved just for the new Continental Army formed around Boston and the British Army trapped in the city. It soon spilled over into a fight between neighbors.

Americans Divide Over Independence
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a civil war is a war between opposing groups of citizens of the same state or country. By this definition or any objective measure, our nation experienced a civil war from about 1773 to 1783. It was much worse in its intensity and cost than anything from the Civil War, including Sherman’s infamous March to the Sea.

The Quasi-War and Its Aftermath
The only fighting in the Quasi-War occurred at sea, and mostly in the Caribbean. But with war at a fever pitch and French interests so close by in Louisiana, there was a very real concern in Congress about a possible French invasion of the United States from the west.

Escalating Tensions with France Lead to Quasi-War
The Quasi-War was an undeclared war between France and the United States, largely fought at sea in the Caribbean and along the southern coast of America, between 1798 and 1800. It developed because of a series of related events that soured the formerly strong relationship between the two nations.

2021 Symposium Highlight: John U. Rees

Over the next few months, we will be highlighting the speakers and topics for our 2021 Symposium, Hindsight is 2020: Revisiting Misconceptions of the Revolution, taking place on May 22nd. Due to the COVID 19 pandemic, the Symposium will be virtual. Today we highlight historian and author John U. Rees who will be covering a much overlooked and misunderstood part of the Revolution, the role of African American Continental soldiers during the war.

John Rees is an independent writer and researcher specializing in the common soldiers’ experience during the War for American Independence, and North American soldiers’ food, 1755 to the modern era. Since 1986 he has produced almost 200 monographs on these and associated subjects. His work has been published in a number of journals and books, including Military Collector & Historian, the Oxford Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, and the Thomson Gale edition of Boatner’s Encyclopedia of the American Revolution. His first book, “They Were Good Soldiers”: African Americans Serving in the Continental Army, 1775-1783 was published by Helion Books in 2019. 

A list of his publications, plus a number of complete works, may be viewed online at https://tinyurl.com/JohnURees-articles . He will be presenting his talk  “They Were Good Soldiers”: An Overview of African Americans in the Continental Army at the May symposium.


Do you believe the study of African American soldiers in the American Revolution has been overlooked and why?

To my mind the core cause for this lack of knowledge is American willingness to gloss over history, in this case American history. Add to that, many of our fellow citizens, past and present, through wilfulness, mis-education, or lack of caring, think of the American Revolution as a white man’s conflict, with little to no contribution by Americans of African descent. Artwork and films portraying the period have done little to disabuse us of that notion. 

I think, in the 1960s and 70s, many Americans knew of Crispus Attucks’ participation and death in the 1770 Boston Massacre; I know I learned of him as a child in the early 60s. Others may have seen the U.S. Postal Service stamp in the mid-70s featuring Massachusetts African American soldier Salem Poor, but other than those instances most people didn’t (and don’t) really consider black participation on either side of the American Revolution. It also seems that when Americans do become aware of their role as soldiers, they learn about the “black” 1st Rhode Island Regiment (which only existed for two and half years of an eight-year war), when the greatest number of African Americans fighting for the cause of American independence were in integrated units. And then, there were the black women and children, among the hundreds of women and children who accompanied the troops and contributed to their welfare, who no one is aware of.

What first attracted you to the study of early American history?

My parents, especially my mother, were avid readers, and I followed suit very early on. I read many of the Landmark history and biography books, and those likely guided my interest in stories of individual people in extraordinary circumstances. I loved military history early on, and in my pre-teens focused on the Second World War; I then moved on to the Napoleonic era and the American Civil War, all the while reading a great deal of fiction. In 1984 I got involved with Revolutionary War living history, and the fact I had a hard time getting answers about the unit we portrayed led me to begin researching that regiment.

I had the good fortune to live very close to the David Library of the American Revolution, and in 1986 I produced my first (never published) manuscript. As I pored through books and microfilmed manuscript collections, I came across tidbits of interesting information I then had no need of; I copied it and put it aside for possible future use. It was not until 1990 that my first article was published; since that year until now I’ve published almost 200 articles, mostly on the Revolutionary War, but a substantial number on military food and other miscellaneous subjects. At some point in the 1990s I realized that the Revolutionary period was a relatively wide-open field for anyone who wished to study and write about it.

What keeps you involved in the study of this history?

There remain so many stories to tell, too many “small things forgotten,” I still want to write about, I feel the era is still wide open for anyone who wishes to focus on it.

What is the biggest myth about African American soldiers in the Continental Army, and how did it come about?

Likely that the segregated 1st Rhode Island Regiment is the best example of African American soldiers’ participation in the war, when, in fact, the largest proportion of African Americans served in integrated units, in the Continental Army and state militias. Add to that, there were two other segregated regiments during the war, one in the French Army that served for four to five years, and one Loyalist regiment, that existed for only a year.

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?

My short list contains two things, one pertaining to Revolutionary ideals, the other to the military side. First is the contention by many people that it was a conservative Revolution, when in actuality the core concepts were quite radical, and significant portion of Revolutionaries retained that radical view, during and after the Revolutionary period.

Regarding the military aspects, I think the idea is still common that American militia forces won the War of the Revolution, which was not the case, and (okay a third item) that the American troops fought using innovative tactics (you know, fighting from behind walls and trees), and the Crown forces were militarily conservative. The facts are too long to go into, but on the last point I highly recommend Matthew Springs book With Zeal and With Bayonets Only.

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

At this point in our country’s history, it seems we, as a society, need go back and look at our beginning, to see how both leaders and other participants comported themselves and sacrificed attempting to gain not only independence from Britain, but in support of the high ideals of the 1776 Declaration.

On a lesser, but to me still important, note, we need to study the lives of ordinary people of every side – civilian and military; men, women, and children of all creeds and colors – in order to gain a truer understanding of our founding era, and, perhaps, ourselves.

Join us for our SECOND annual Emerging Revolutionary War Symposium, 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

Our registration fee is now only $40 per person and $20 for students. This will allow us to broaden our audience with the virtual program. We hope that 2022 will allow us to come together again in Alexandria for our third annual symposium. To register, visit: https://shop.alexandriava.gov/Events.aspx

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

2021 Symposium Highlight: Vanessa Smiley

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 .

Today we continue with historian Vanessa Smiley who will be covering the myths and misconceptions of the Southern Campaigns during the American Revolution.  

See Vanessa as she discusses an aspect of the Southern Campaign on March 7 at 7p.m. on Emerging Revolutionary War’s Facebook Live as part of the “Rev War Revelry” historian happy hour!

Vanessa Smiley is an historian and interpreter whose roots began at National Park Service Civil War and Rev War sites. Her Rev War park experience includes serving as the Chief of Interpretation at the Southern Campaign of the American Revolution Parks Group in South Carolina, an acting assignment as Superintendent at Guilford Courthouse NMP, and Chief of Interpretation at Morristown NHP. Vanessa is currently the Project Manager of Interpretive Media Development for the National Capital Area at Harpers Ferry Center. She received her undergraduate degree in Historic Preservation from the University of Mary Washington and her Master’s degree in Resource Interpretation from Stephen F. Austin State University.

Outside of her work with the NPS, Vanessa enjoys researching family histories, studying material and social culture of the 18th and 19th centuries, listening to podcasts, reading true crime, drinking craft beer, and attempting to make the perfect sangria. She and her husband live in Morgan County, West Virginia on their small farm where they run a nonprofit animal sanctuary.

She will be presenting her talk From the Bottom Up: Myths and Misconceptions of the Southern Theater at the May symposium.

 Why do you believe the Southern Campaigns were so significant to the outcome of the American Revolution?

The simplest way to describe why I believe the Southern Campaigns were so significant to the War’s outcome is: it was a grassroots effort. What I mean is that while the Continental Army shouldered plenty, it was the combination of local efforts of the militia and determined civilians who turned the tide of the war when the British looked to the southern colonies, especially in the second half of the war. All one has to do is to look at two key battles, Kings Mountain and Cowpens, to see the impact of militia integrity, courage, and resolve.

Some point to the politics of Boston and New York as a driving force behind the start of the war. But the taverns and town halls of Charleston and Savannah were no less significant in adding fuel to the revolutionary fire. There is also the added dichotomy of our first true American civil war that played out in the backcountry of the Carolinas. Here were literal neighbors, brothers, cousins, and friends taking up arms to serve their respective causes and finding themselves on opposite sides. These dynamics were one driving force behind the militias that had such an impact during the Southern Campaigns.

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 give credit to my love of history to my high school history teacher, who embodied the archetype of the quintessential eccentric and genius history connoisseur striving to bring history alive. He immersed us in the history of the 18th and 19th century through first person accounts, visits to historical sites, and the dramatics of storytelling. He also armed me with the intellectual tool of piecing out the relevancy of events and people of the past, and that’s what has kept me interested in studying history for the past two decades.

While my work at historic sites for the National Park Service provided an easy outlet for my historian brain, I sought those historical connections and resources even outside of work because of that drive to understand the past. It’s a little bit different now than before though. I don’t get to be as immersed as I once was (no traipsing through cemeteries at night to feel the chill and terror of the Underground Railroad) and instead my mind goes to educating the public on the importance of our history. That’s why I’m so appreciative for Emerging Revolutionary War!

What is the biggest myth about the war in the South? How do you think it came about?

That the war was won in the north and not the south! I’ll go into more detail on this one during my presentation, but I’ll tease a little bit here. One part of the answer to the second question might lie with our public education system. In studying the state education curriculums of various states, I found that there is a stronger emphasis on the beginnings of the war than the war’s end. And so the Southern theater gets very little, if any, attention when kids study the war in school. The exception used to be in certain states like South Carolina, where the battles of Cowpens and Kings Mountain were directly referenced in the state standards. Since the standards updated in 2020, this no longer seems to be the case.

You’ll have to wait for my presentation to dive a little deeper into this myth with me!

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 certainly are, and the ones that have affected my work the most center around that idea of the often-overlooked Southern Campaigns for most Americans. Ask any random person to name a Revolutionary War battle or event and the majority will name something from the northern colonies. Every now and then you get a Charleston, and if you consider Virginia part of the south, then a Yorktown for sure. But as I’m sure has become obvious already, I strive to educate about the rich history of the Rev War in the south.

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

No matter which political, social, or economic side you’re on nowadays, we can all agree we are living in our own revolutionary time. And we find ourselves looking back to our nation’s founding for understanding and guidance, namely things like our national ideals and governmental processes. But we are a different people and a different nation than what we were then. We should not take everything from 240 years ago at face value. By studying and investigating the past, we can understand how and why decisions were made at the time. And perhaps we can extract an element, or life lesson, that can be applied to our modern times.

I believe that while history does not repeat itself, it does rhyme. By understanding the past, we may know our future.

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.

UPDATE: The 2021 Symposium will now be virtual. Though conditions with the pandemic are improving, we do not believe we will be able to have the event in person by May, so we have decided to be virtual. Due to this shift, we are also dropping the price! Now the full day symposium is $40 per person and $20 for students. This allows for guests from all across the country to learn about African American soldiers, Loyalists, and Drunken Hessians. Buy your ticket today!

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

Symposium Change – New Date, May 22, 2021

Due to concerns related to the COVID pandemic, Emerging Revolutionary War and Historic Alexandria/Gadsby’s Tavern have decided to delay the 2nd Annual Emerging Revolutionary War Symposium until May 22. 2021.

Yet, don’t fret! Everything else will remain the same, including the subject of the one-day conference and the full-slate of historians scheduled to speak. To refresh the memory, here is the slate of historians and their topics.

Michael Harris – Misconceptions of the Battle of Brandywine

Vanessa Smiley – Myths of the Southern Campaign

Travis Shaw – American Loyalists

John U. Rees – African-American Continental Soldiers

Mark Maloy – Myths of the Battle of Trenton

Stay tuned as we continue to highlight the speakers and topics in the upcoming months. Besides circling May 22, 2021, please remember August 1, 2020, as that is the date tickets will go on sale for Hindsight is 2020: Revisiting Misconceptions of the Revolution.

We hope you all stay safe and healthy and we look forward to seeing you in person next May!