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

Hindsight is 2020 (or 2021)

Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes guest historian Liz Williams, from Historic Alexandria, the host of the second annual symposium

When we planned our 2nd Annual Revolutionary War Symposium for 2020, our theme came easily – Hindsight is 2020. Little did we know that our cheeky title would take on a different meaning as we had to navigate a global pandemic. But I am excited that we can still offer our symposium (yes 6 months later) and virtual!  In this format, we can zoom our experts to computers and smartphones across the country. And this year we have a great variety of topics – from Drunken Hessians to African American Continentals. Learn about Loyalists, battles in the Southern Theatre, and along a creek in southeastern Pennsylvania.

As we move toward the 250th anniversary of the nation, it is critical for us all to look with fresh eyes at our founding. At Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, we engage with the complexity and challenges of early America, many of which were rooted in what transpired before and during the Revolutionary War. By understanding our past, we can continue the work of creating a better United States for all.

The Symposium costs $40 per person, $20 OHA Members & Students and reservations can be made at AlexandriaVa.gov/Shop. Looking forward to seeing everyone on May 22!

Women in the Revolutionary War: A List of Resources

This past Sunday’s Rev War Revelry was a great success! Thank you to all who watched live and watched the replay of ERW historians Vanessa Smiley and Kate Gruber and special guest Heidi Campbell-Shoaf, Executive Director of the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum in Washington D.C., discussing and interpreting women in Early American History.

A number of folks were interested in the resources that were shared during the program. We have compiled a list of those mentioned as well as additional resources to dive deeper into the stories of women during this pivotal time in American history.

“The women of ’76: “Molly Pitcher” the heroine of Monmouth”
by Currier & Ives. Library of Congress.

Books:

Revolutionary Backlash: Women and Politics in the Early Republic by Rosemarie Zagarri

The Diary of Elizabeth Drinker: The Life of an Eighteenth-Century Woman by Elaine Forman Crane (editor)

Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin by Jill Lepore

Betsy Ross and the Making of America by Marla Miller

The Needle’s Eye: Women and Work in the Age of Revolution by Marla Miller

Women of the Revolution by Robert Dunkerly

Women of the Republic by Linda Kerber

Articles:

Jane Bartram’s “Application”: Her Struggle for Survival, Stability, and Self-Determination in Revolutionary Pennsylvania by Wayne Bodie (article link courtesy of Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography)

Digital Resources

DAR Library – A wealth of American Revolution resources! “The DAR Library collection contains over 225,000 books, 10,000 research files, thousands of manuscript items, and special collections of African American, Native American, and women’s history, genealogy and culture.”

Library of Congress – always a good source if you know what you’re looking for.

Have a great resource on women in the American Revolution? Share in the comments!

The First American Civil War

Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes guest historian Sean Chick

On October 7, 1780, Britain’s attempt to regain at least part of the rebellious North American colonies was dealt a major blow at King’s Mountain. The rebels rejoiced, since it was their first major victory since 1777 and it came after the twin disasters at Charleston and Camden. Thomas Jefferson, then governor of Virginia, considered it the decisive battle of the war. Years later, Theodore Roosevelt echoed that sentiment. In 1930, when the site was set to become a national park, Herbert Hoover gave a speech. For the embattled president, it was an attempt to shore up his falling support and vindicate his strategy to peel southern states away from the Democratic Party. Hoover said “This is a place of inspiring memories. Here less than a thousand men, inspired by the urge of freedom, defeated a superior force entrenched in this strategic position. This small band of Patriots turned back a dangerous invasion well designed to separate and dismember the united Colonies.”

Hoover, understandably, never mentioned the atrocities committed. Many were executed after the battle. Nor did he mention that King’s Mountain was not a contest between redcoats and rebels, but brother against brother. The only British man present was Major Patrick Ferguson. His command was made up entirely of Loyalists. His second in command, Captain Abraham de Peyster, was from New York City.

Joseph Galloway
(courtesy of NYPL)

Few groups in American history are as forgotten as the Loyalists and few were as complex. They were a varied lot, often making up the highest in colonial society, including wealthy merchants and colonial officials. They often included the very lowest in the society, such as recent immigrants, slaves, indigenous, and subsistence farmers. Their ideology was in many ways not radically different from those who rebelled. They were generally not in favor of absolute monarchy or the supremacy of Parliament but simply favored union with Britain and slow reform. A few, such as Joseph Galloway, were part of early protests against British colonial policy, but were unwilling to jump into the chasm of revolution. Some, such as South Carolina merchant David Fanning, were merely aggrieved and sought to settle scores. Others were on the margins of society and saw the colonists, or at least the revolutionary colonial elite, as their real oppressors.

The Loyalists were at first spurned by the British high command. Major General William had over 30,000 men under his command in 1776 and Loyalists would have added to the logistical strain. He also thought a soft war policy that he hoped would induce the colonies to return, and therefore it was reasonable to avoid civil war. Yet, by 1777 the British were using some Loyalist regiments. They would fight in John Burgoyne’s ill-fated drive on Albany and served as rangers at Brandywine.

Continue reading “The First American Civil War”
Lieutenant CFighting between soldiers from Tarleton's Legion (British) and Morgan's Army (American Continental).

Life Lessons from the Battle of Cowpens

Two hundred and forty years ago, January 17, 1781, Brigadier General Daniel Morgan strategically manuevered his Colonial forces to defeat the British, led by Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton, at the Battle of Cowpens.

What can we learn from the Battle of Cowpens? Military strategy, yes. Historical knowledge, absolutely. But as we near the 250th commemoration of the American Revolutionary War, how do we turn the battle into relevancy for today’s modern society?

As historians, we can find meaning and connection to places and events at their face value. It’s a natural ability we have ingrained in our knowledge-seeking souls. What about those that can’t and don’t? How do we make them relevant to them so that our history is not forgotten?

The answers lie in the stories we tell and how we tell them. Instead of rehashing the specific details of the Battle of Cowpens, I’m going to try something a little different: think of a time when you were able to not only prove that someone’s opinion of you was wrong, you used it to your advantage to achieve a goal. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Now recall that a key element of Morgan’s strategy was his use of the British underestimation of the Colonial militia forces. Before the Battle of Cowpens, Tarleton, like many British commanders, believed that the militia were mostly untrained or inexperienced civilians that would flee in face of a real battlefield. To be fair, this was witnessed at several battles (Battle of Camden on August 16, 1780 immediately comes to mind) so it’s a fair assessment.

Using this knowledge to his advantage, Morgan set a trap. Putting his militia front and center of his second battle line, he ordered them to fire off two volleys at the oncoming British before falling back. The perspective fueled the British assumption that the militia were fleeing the battlefield, and Tarleton drove his men forward… and right into Morgan’s trap.

Fighting between soldiers from Tarleton’s Legion (British) and Morgan’s Army (American Continental)
by Don Troiani. NPS Commissed Artwork.

Perhaps if Tarleton had not underestimated the militia, he would not have found himself in the only successful double envelopment in the American Revolution. But more to the point, Morgan took strategic advantage of the British perception of the militia’s capabilities.

While this battle’s lessons learned are easily applied to modern military education, how can we apply them to our everyday civilian life, particularly the lesson that comes from Tarlton’s mistake and Morgan’s strategy relating to the militia? The motto “never assume” comes to mind first. At the very least, it compels the message “Don’t let what other people may or may not think of you prevent you from achieving what matters most to you.” I personally like the potential of “If someone doesn’t see value in your abilities, prove them wrong.”

What life lesson do you pull from the battle’s story?

“Rev War Revelry” Emerging Revolutionary War Meets Sons of History

Join Emerging Revolutionary War this Sunday as we discuss the role of digital history in 2020 with another public history group: the Sons of History

The Sons of History describe their concept via their website as:

“Literally, we are just two guys who love history. We also understand the importance of knowing history and learning from it. But more important than knowing and learning history, we believe we should be teaching it to others.” (https://www.thesonsofhistory.com/)”

Through a website, podcast, and social media, the Sons of History teach numerous aspects of American history to the general public in a similar fashion that ERW does.

We’ll discuss more who they are, why they got into doing digital history, what time periods they cover, and the powerful stories of the past that both ERW and Sons of History tell the public. Also, how and why they matter today. 

So, set your schedule for Sunday evening and tune in at 7 pm ET on ERW’s Facebook page for the next historian happy hour.

Poet in a Patriot Prison

CONFINEMENT hail! in honour's justest cause.
True to our King, our Country, and our Laws;
Opposing anarchy, sedition, strife,
And every other bane of social life.
These Colonies of British freedom tir'd,
Are by the frenzy of distraction fir'd;
Rushing to arms, they madly urge their fate,
And levy war against their parent state.
Surrounding nations, in amazement, view
The strange infatuation they pursue.
Virtue, in tears, deplores their fate in vain; 
And Satan smiles to see disorder reign;
The days of Cromwell, puritanic rage,
Return'd to curse our more unhappy age.
We friends to freedom, government and laws; 
Are deem'd inimical unto their cause:
In vaults, with bard and iron doors confin'd,
They hold our persons, but can't rule the mind.
Act now we cannot, else we gladly wou'd;
Resign'd we suffer for the public good.
Success on earth sometimes to ill is given,
To brave misfortunes is the gift of Heaven.
What men could do we did, our cause to serve,
We can't command success, but we'll deserve. 

--- Dr. John Smyth

The American frontier west of the Appalachian mountains was a fluid place in 1775.  Settlers, officials, and Native Americans were all struggling to decide where their loyalties and interests lay, with the British government in London, colonial governments, or the rebelling Americans organizing themselves to determine their own fates.  Individuals often switched sides as the war unfolded

One man who was a constant in his loyalty to the crown was Dr. John Connolly of Pittsburgh.  Before the Revolution, he had led Virginia’s efforts as Lord Dunmore’s agent to seize control over the Forks of the Ohio and assert its claims westward, even receiving a promise of land in far-off Kentucky.  When the fighting started in Massachusetts, he developed a plan to mobilize Native Americans and Britain’s far-flung military forces on the frontier to attack Pittsburgh and then march on Virginia.  Dunmore and General Gage both approved.  So, Connolly and two loyalists, Allen Cameron of South Carolina and Dr. John Smyth of Maryland, plus Connolly’s enslaved servant travelled surreptitiously through Maryland, hoping to reach Detroit via Pittsburgh, the Ohio River, the Wabash River, and then anther overland trek.  Local patriots recognized them outside Hagerstown, Maryland and the trio was promptly arrested on the night of November 19.  A quick hearing by the local Committee of Safety decided to ship them off to Frederick, where a more thorough investigation revealed Connolly’s plan. Continue reading “Poet in a Patriot Prison”

Stumbling Upon Daniel Boone

Recently I had the chance to travel through Lexington, Kentucky en route to western Kentucky and to see the sites associated with the Fort Donelson campaign in the American Civil War.

In Frankfurt, Kentucky, Simon Bolivar Buckner, the Confederate general who surrendered the Tennessee fort, is buried.

Little did I know that a stone’s throw away, literally, is the grave of Daniel Boone. A fascinating find, if I would have researched a little more, I probably would have realized who all was buried in that cemetery in the state capital of Kentucky.

There, on a bluff, above the Kentucky River, lies Daniel and his wife Rebecca. The great frontiersman and pioneer who took settlers through the Cumberland Gap. One of the first folk heroes of American history.

Never know what you may stumble upon, when on a history excursion!

Pictures are below.

Washington Redskins…a team rooted in Revolutionary War History?

Fenway Park, ca. 1930’s

There is much debate today about names of streets, buildings, and sports teams. One team that has been in the headlines for several years about their name is the Washington Redskins. Now, I have to be upfront…I have been a Redskins fan since I was a young child. I remember most of the glory years of John Riggins, Joe Gibbs and many other Hall of Famers. In the years of the 1980’s, not much was said about the name as a racist connotation. I am sure there were protests, but they were not mainstream and everyone in Virginia, Maryland and DC in those years followed the team. The name Redskins was not a racial connotation that their racially “challenged” owner George Preston Marshall (who had many issues with his own racism) came up with degrade Native Americans. It was a name that harked to a historical theme.

What we know today as the Washington Redskins began in 1932 as the Boston Braves. Now this new professional football team was not the only team in Boston named the Braves. At that time, the oldest baseball team in Boston were also called the Braves. This team began as the Boston Red Stockings and then the Boston Beaneaters, changing their name to the Boston Braves in 1912. Here is where the history gets murky. The owner of the Boston Braves, James Gaffney was a product of Tammany Hall, a powerful political machine out of New York City. Tammany Hall used as their moniker an American Indian Chief, with other Native American symbols in their imagery and media. With his connection to Tammany Hall, many believed Gaffney used the same imagery to rebrand his baseball team. Others in Boston believed Gaffney was playing to the local historical ties of the Boston Tea Party. During the Boston Tea Party, colonists dressed up as “Indians” (Mohawks to be more precise) to raid three tea ships at Griffin’s Wharf, destroying over 300 chests of East India Company tea. Most of them covered their skin in burnt ochre, which gave a dark reddish tint. We will never know if Gaffney chose the name “Braves” for Tammany Hall or the Boston Tea Party, but both were fitting historical ties.

Boston Tea Party, December 16, 1773

So, how does this tie into the football team? As George Preston Marshall brought professional football to Boston, he wanted to tie into the local sports lexicon of the region. Picking the name “Braves” for his team fit well as it matched the popular baseball team in town and also the football team played in the same stadium as the baseball franchise. Also, the previous team that played professional football in Boston was a traveling franchise named the Cleveland Indians. Though not sure, I believe Marshall had all of these in his mind in naming the team the Braves. Native American imagery and mascots were well known in Boston at this time, it seems that Marshall was trying to set his new team up for success. That first season the Braves finished .500 and Marshall moved the team to play their games at Fenway Park. Fenway was a state-of-the-art stadium at the time, built in 1934 and was the home to Boston’s other professional baseball team, the Boston Red Sox (which, also claimed their lineage to the same team the Boston Braves did, the Boston Red Stockings).

Boston Redskins vs. New York Giants

In moving the team, Marshall tried to distance himself from the Braves baseball team and changed the name to Redskins. There were no other professional teams called the Redskins, though some minor league and local teams used the name. This move was more marketing than anything else, trying to establish their own professional sports team identity. Also, Marshall was known for being economical, and by using the name Redskins he wouldn’t have to change uniforms. The Boston Redskins would go on to play in Boston until 1936, moving to Washington, D.C. in 1937. Marshall, for all his faults, was a smart businessman and believed there was money to be made in bringing professional football to the south. By moving the Redskins to Washington, they were the first NFL team in the south (how many of us would consider Washington, D.C. the south today?). Even the original song “Hail to the Redskins” had the lines “fight for old Dixie” which have been changed to “fight for old D.C.”

Part of me believes the name is more contentious today mostly because the team on the field has not been very good since the 1990’s. If this was a perennial winner like they were in the 1980’s, would this be a hot topic? Maybe it would as we look at all of our names and mascots, but I think it is highlighted by the losing and the current unpopular owner, making the current pressure unbearable. We know the name will change (though I have my own personal opinions of why they should not change the name), but the original name is rooted in American history and is more complex than you see on ESPN or other news outlets. Through this brief synopsis of the team’s name, I hope the basis for the name is clearer. I know we all won’t agree on what is offensive and not offensive and we will never know if Gaffney and Marshall named their teams to honor the colonists at the Boston Tea Party. But for one young kid who grew up in Virginia who loved history and the Redskins, its was a great match of history and sports.

“Rev War Roundtable with ERW” Tavern Talk

When the idea was formulated, back in April, to do a Sunday evening Zoom/Facebook live type history hour, the emphasis behind this “happy hour” was to style it as a more informal chat. Our goal was to create a virtual adaptation of what would occur if the same historians met at a tavern/bar/pub to casually chat about American history.

Speed up to this Sunday, June 7th, Emerging Revolutionary War will welcome three guest historians, who all have a connection to a historic tavern to join co-founder Rob Orrison on a talk about 18th century taverns. Yes, a “tavern talk about taverns.”

Joining Orrison on the hour-long happy hour chat will be:

Liz Williams, Executive Director of Gadsby’s Tavern in Alexandria, Virginia, part of The Office of Historic Alexandria, in which she has been employed with since 2004. She is a graduate of Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Virginia with a degree in Historic Preservation and a graduate degree in Tourism Administration from George Washington University. She has also worked at various historic sites in the Virginia and Washington D.C. area.

An ERW favorite and returning to the “Rev War Revelry” is Stacey Fraser, the Collections and Outreach Manager with Lexington (MA) Historical Society. One of the sites she oversees the collection of is Buckman Tavern, which played a role in the April 19, 1775 engagements that rolled through Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts.

The third guest historian is Sarah Kneeshaw, the Education and Public Programs Coordinator at Fraunces Tavern Museum. The tavern was built in 1719 in New York City by the De Lancey family. She joined the staff at the downtown New York City site (which is directly across from Federal Hall where George Washington was inaugurated president in April 1789) in 2016. Sarah holds a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from Fordham University and also attained a graduate degree in Museum Studies from John Hopkins University. She is a native of Staten Island.

Thus, this Sunday, set a side an hour-ish, starting at 7pm EST, to hear these four historians discuss taverns, their importance, and roles in the 18th century social, military, and political history of the burgeoning United States. With your preferred drink, be it an 18th century tavern concoction or not, in hand, we look forward to your questions, comments and insights.

Rediscovery number 27587