Rev War Revelry This Sunday: William Faden’s 1778 & 1784 Maps of the Battle of Brandywine with Andrew Outten

British cartographer William Faden is well known for his maps depicting major battles of the Revolutionary War. Unusually, he produced two maps of the Battle of Brandywine, one in 1778 and the other in 1784. Each map shows troop movements and positions along with other aspects of the overall battlefield landscape, but each conveys significantly different information.

Join us this Sunday night at 7p.m. on our Facebook page as we chat with Andrew Outten, historical programs manager for the American Revolution Institute of the Society of the Cincinnati. Andrew will discuss the Battle of Brandywine, key differences between the two maps, and recent discoveries pertaining to those differences. Should be a great night sharing new research so grab a drink and join us for our January 8th Rev War Revelry!

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.”

Read More

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). 

Review: Rebels at Sea, Privateering in the American Revolution by Eric Jay Doulin

“Many believed then and have believed since that privateering was a sideshow in the war” Furthermore, “privateering has long been given short shrift in general histories of the conflict, where privateers are treated as a minor theme if they are mentioned at all” [pg. xviii].

Best-selling maritime historian Erica Jay Dolin penned the two lines above in his introduction to his latest publication, Rebels at Sea, Privateering in the American Revolution. Building on previous works that covered specific aspects of “do succeed in showing how it [privateering] contributed to the American victory. But none of these books offers a comprehensive picture of the full extent of privateering” [xviii].

A bold statement to make, crafting a comprehensive picture “of the full extent of privateering” but that is exactly what Dolin does in his work. Starting with how individual colonies then states moved to outfitting vessels to begin preying on British maritime trade and on occasion Royal British Navy ships. The best tabulation of how much British maritime trade was affected during the American Revolution comes from John Bennett Jr. first secretary of Lloyd’s of London, the largest insurance marketplace at that time. He concluded that 3,386 British vessels were captured, only a 1,002 were recaptured or ransomed, which leaves a net gain of 2,384 that remained in enemy or American hands [pgs. 161-162].

Impactful.

The ensuing chapters after the introduction pivot the reader through the life of a privateersman, including the travails faced. He circles back to this in another chapter detailing the British response, including what imprisonment looked like; either in a British land jail or on the infamous Jersey prison ship in Wallabout Bay, New York. Keeping the narrative flowing, Doulin gives snippets on some of the greatest triumphs of American privateersman and some of the greatest tragedies to befall these sailors on the high seas. Tidbits of interesting information, for example, did you know that the future dentist of George Washington cut his teeth as a privateer? (Okay, pun intended).

Sandwiched in between is the role of the French, America’s steady ally, after 1777, and how that country and its ports helped American vessels. Lastly one of the other admirable additions to this text is the plethora of pictures Doulin was able to find and include. Having the visuals certainly enhances the public history side of this publication.

Overall, this is a great read on a lesser viewed subject of the American Revolution. However, what the privateers did enabled eventual American independence. As John Lehman, the secretary of the navy under President Ronald Reagan once wrote.

               “From the beginning of the American Revolution until the end of the War of
1812, America’s real naval advantage lay in its privateers. It has been said that
the battles of the American Revolution were fought on land, and independence
was won at sea. For this we have the enormous success of American privateers
to thank even more than the Continental Navy” [pg. xviii].

Individuals come to life in this narrative. The cat-and-mouse of life on the high seas comes to life in this book. Join Doulin in an adventure on the high seas and understand the role of privateers in securing American independence in the process. Enjoy!

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 September.

Heading to Kentucky on the Wilderness Road
September 6, 2022

The Wilderness Road, running from northeast Tennessee through the Cumberland Gap, was the main thoroughfare for Americans heading west into the new promised land of Kentucky from 1775 to about 1820. The pathway, blazed by Daniel Boone, was our nation’s first migration highway, but the trip was not for the faint of heart. Read More

The Early Life of Daniel Boone
September 13, 2022

One of the greatest American explorers from our founding era was Daniel Boone. A legendary woodsman, Boone helped to make America’s dream of westward expansion in the late 1700s a reality. Read More

The Legacy of Daniel Boone
September 20, 2022

Soon after the American Revolution began in 1775, Daniel Boone joined the Virginia militia of Kentucky County (later Fayette County) and was named a captain due to his leadership ability and knowledge of the area. Over the next several years, Boone would participate in numerous engagements. Read More

The Continental Army’s Largely Forgotten Invasion of Quebec
September 27, 2022

The first significant offensive operation of the American Revolution was the largely forgotten invasion of the Province of Quebec by American troops in 1775. It was the opening act of the greater Northern Campaign of 1775-1776 in which the American colonies tried to wrest control of Canada from England. Although it did not end well, there were moments of incredible bravery and perseverance that demonstrated the resolve of our founding generation. Read More

Furthermore, Tom Hand and Americana Corner are providing t-shirts to participants on the Second Annual Emerging Revolutionary War Bus Tour, this November 11-13, 2022. A few tickets remain, so click the link above titled “2022 Bus Tour” to secure your ticket and one of these shirts! Thank you Tom for you support.

“Rev War Revelry” Battle of North Point

On September 12, 1814, approximately 4,700 soldiers, a mix of British infantry and marines, were landed on the North Point peninsula, a jut of land between the Back and Patapsco River and on a direct line of march toward Baltimore. While the infantry and marines advanced toward the city, the British Navy’s task was to subdue the American fortifications in Baltimore harbor. The latter was foiled by the stout defense of Fort McHenry which served as the backdrop for the future national anthem, the Star-Spangled Banner.

Less is known about the accompanying land engagement, fought at North Point between the British and American militia. That battle, which cost the life of Major General Robert Ross, the British commander, saw the American militia retreat, but in order, and stymied the initial approach of the British toward Baltimore. Furthermore, the battle gave the Americans more time to add to their defenses.

To shed light on this aspect of the Battle of Baltimore, Emerging Revolutionary War will be joined by two historians, both of who have worked on volunteered at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine.

Jim Bailey is now the Chief of Visitor Services and Education at Manassas National Battlefield Park but is a former park ranger at Fort McHenry. The other guest historian is Chris Boyle who has been a National Park Service volunteer at Fort McHenry National Monument & Historical Shrine since 2005 in both the Fort McHenry Guard living history program and as an historical interpreter focusing on the Fort’s history from the War of 1812 through the Civil War. While not a native Baltimorean, he has called the city home for the last 20 years.

We hope you can join us on Sunday at 7 p.m EDT on our Facebook page for this historian happy hour.

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

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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