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.

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“Rev War Roundtable with ERW” A Special Rev War Revelry: “HamiLive”

Unless you have been living under Plymouth Rock, the play Hamilton has come across your radar screen in one form or another. Late last month Disney+ announced they would begin hosting the play on their streaming channel. Over the Independence Day weekend many historic sites had programs, watch parties, etc about the production.

So, why is Emerging Revolutionary War doing something similar this Sunday, at 7p.m. on our Facebook page? We wanted to do our own take on it, by presenting a mix of historians and fans of the play for an hour long discussion. For those that have been our faithful followers and thank you for your commitment, you will know how excited one of our historians is for this particular Zoom history.

If you guessed, Mark Maloy, you are correct! In fact, he is the one that made sure our title followed the correct vernacular for a Hamilton-esque post.

Joining Mark on Sunday will be the triumvirate of great historians, two that have been a part of past “Rev War Revelry’s” and one making her inaugural appearance.

Felicia Abrams is the Manager for Onsite Education at the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation and a member of the Virginia Association of Museums. She will be joined by another great historian and co-worker, Kate Gruber, the Curator of Special Exhibits for the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation.

Liz Williams, Director of Gadsby’s Tavern in Historic Alexandria will also be returning to the revelry this Sunday evening.

ERW invites you to attend our historian happy hour on Hamilton this Sunday, on our Facebook page. If you have not seen it, now is the time to catch up do you can have your questions and comments ready for Sunday evening. Don’t forget your favorite brew too!

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“Rev War Roundtable with ERW” All Things Independence Day

As this posting goes live today, July 2, there is a link to the American Revolutionary War era. This was the day that John Adams, future president of the United States, believed would be the date Americans would celebrate as their independence day.

Yet, the day reserved for that celebration would fall two days later, on July 4, the date that John Hancock affixed his signature as president of the Continental Congress.

However, join Emerging Revolutionary War historians and three guest historians this Sunday, July 5, at 7 pm EST, on our Facebook page, as another date to talk “All Things Independence Day” including John Adams and Independence Hall.

Joining ERW to discuss John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, which will be the volume in the Emerging Revolutionary War Series, is Emerging Civil War co-founder and Stevenson Ridge historian-in-residence, Dr. Chris Mackowski.

Savannah Rose, a National Park Service ranger at Independence National Historical Park and the new layout coordinator for the Emerging Revolutionary War Series. You can see her work with the upcoming A Handsome Flogging, on the engagement at Monmouth Course House, which just shipped from the printer this week.

Rounding out the triumvirate of guest historians will be Dan Welch, who you may remember from his dramatic reading of “A Midnight Ride” the poem about Paul Revere’s Ride. Dan is also a seasonal historian with the National Park Service at Gettysburg National Military Park.

As you round out your holiday weekend, we hope that you include “Rev War Revelry” as one of the events you attend to commemorate Independence Day weekend. We look forward to toasting you as we enjoy our favorite brews and discuss “All Things Independence.”

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Captain James Willing’s Mississippi Raid, Part 2

Bernardo_de_Gálvez (Wikimedia Commons(

Bernardo De Galvez, Governor of Louisiana (Wikimedia Commons)

Willing’s next target was the town of Manchack upon which he descended “so rapidly that they reached the Settlements without being discovered.”[1]  On the 23rd, Willing’s advance parties captured the 250-ton British sloop Rebecca, with sixteen 4-pounders and six swivels.[2]  It was a coup worthy of Navy SEALS.  Rebecca was normally a merchant vessel, but had been armed and sent upriver to contest the Rattletrap’s advance by protecting Manchack.  Instead, her presence had strengthened Willing’s force.  Captured while lying against the levy opposite the town, she only had fifteen men aboard when an equal or superior force of Americans struck about 7 am.[3]  With Manchack captured and the Rebecca renamed the Morris, Willing turned his attention to the end game at New Orleans, where he hoped to dispose of his booty and obtain supplies useful for the American war effort.

At New Orleans, the Congressional Agent, Oliver Pollock, was aware of Rattletrap’s advance and began making preparations to dispose of the property Willing and his raiders had taken, a growing portion of which constituted slaves.  He organized a small force under his nephew, Thomas Pollock, to go up river and help Willing bring his vessels and cargo into port.  Instead, Pollock and his men proceeded down the river, where they captured an English brig, the Neptune, eventually bringing her into New Orleans as a prize.[4]  (The British would argue strenuously that Neptune and a private boat were not in fact legal prizes.)

Continue reading

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“Rev War Roundtable with ERW” Epic Moments of the American Revolution

This Sunday, at 7 pm, EST on our Facebook page, join Emerging Revolutionary War historians as they discuss “Epic Moments of the American Revolution.”

What is an epic moment? This umbrella term will be discussed by using examples from the eight-year conflict that spawned American independence. As ERW historian Mark Maloy relates, one such moment came in early 1777 at Princeton, New Jersey, as explained by a participant in that engagement:

“I saw [Washington] brave all the dangers of the field and his important life
hanging as if it were by a single hair with a thousand deaths flying around him.” –
Pennsylvania officer at Princeton”

Moments of bravery, of personal sacrifice, be it in a battle, skirmish, raid, siege, political moment or on a mission of importance, the American Revolution has a multitude of them. During the hour-ish long historian happy hour, the panel will describe the ones that they deem as important or noteworthy. Bring your own as well, as we encourage comments, opinions, and dialogue via the comments section of our Facebook live.

Looking forward to sharing a brew and an epic moment from the War of Independence with you, this Sunday, on Emerging Revolutionary War‘s “Rev War Revelry.”

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Captain James Willing’s Mississippi Raid, Part 1

 

Willing's Mississippi Raid

Willing’s Marine Expedition, The Marines in the Revolution: A Pictorial History, (Washington, DC: United States Marine Corps/Government Printing Office, 1975)

In 1778, Captain James Willing and his crew sailed and rowed the bateaux Rattletrap down the Ohio River to the Mississippi.   A “left” turn of sorts then took them down the Mississippi all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.  Willing’s purpose was straightforward: secure the neutrality of residents along the Mississippi, obtain supplies from New Orleans, and return them to the new United States.  It was as tall an order as the Ohio and Mississippi were dangerous.   British rangers and their Native American allies closely watched both shores and would readily attack vulnerable river traffic.  Willing’s only refuge lay in a string of forts the Americans had established on the Ohio, but they did not extend very far.  He would have to make due with his crew and the two swivel guns that armed Rattletrap. Continue reading

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African American Experiences in the Siege of Ninety-Six

There are important stories often hidden in the threads of our American history. It won’t be a surprise to many that these stories desperately need to come to light. But sometimes research is scarce, with limited or hard-to-find resources to fully tell these stories to their fullest. One such example are the stories of the enslaved and free African-American people who helped build the nation, starting back even before the colonies fought for independence. America’s fight for freedom from Britain is oxymoronic considering an entire population of blacks were still kept in chains after the war. But their contributions to that fight should not go unnoticed.

The history of the construction of the British defense fortifications, including the Star Fort, at Ninety Six, South Carolina, has many layers of these diverse stories that make up the fabric of the site’s history. Lt. Colonel Nisbet Balfour set up an outpost at Ninety Six after the fall of Charleston in early 1780. In terms of fortifications – specifically the stockades and protections around the town and the jail – during this initial occupation, Balfour wrote to Cornwallis on June 24, 1780, “As to this post, it is so situated, that three small redoubts, well Abbattis [sic], I think, can easily defend it…”

Balfour also encouraged using slave labor, stating that “we have carpenters enough, and ammunition.” Balfour’s plan to construct fortifications was similar to a more extensive defense system suggested by Patrick Ferguson in his “Plan for Securing the Province of So. Carolina, &c.” dated May 16, 1780. Ferguson also recommended using slaves to construct the fortifications.

In fact, in that same June 24 letter to Cornwallis, Balfour writes that most of the labor that was used to construct the Ninety Six fortifications was from roughly 200 enslaved blacks that the British took from area plantations. Who were these 200 men? Were they promised freedom in exchange for their labor? We may never know. While research is underway to uncover the stories of these 200 individuals, very little primary resources remain. But we can still acknowledge that the British defense of Ninety Six relied heavily on the forced labor of these black men.

Work continued into the fall and winter of 1780 on the defense structures at Ninety Six, this time under Lt. Colonel John Harris Curger, including several field fortifications called abatis: defensive obstacles formed by felled trees with sharpened branches facing the enemy. The trunks are put deep into the ground, usually 4-5 feet, and is typically hard manual labor in the hard red clay of South Carolina. In a letter on December 29, 1780, Lt. Colonel Isaac Allen wrote to Cornwallis’s aide, Lt. Henry Haldane, of the hard work of the men constructing the abatis. And yes, those men were enslaved men. “I… have orderd [sic] the Abattiss [sic] cut, but Kings work like Church work goes on slow. The Poor naked Blacks can do but little this cold weather.”

The Star Fort at Ninety Six, South Carolina. Photo: NPS/Ninety Six NHS

Next up in the defense plan was the Star Fort itself, a large earthen redoubt whose remains are still the best-preserved earthen fort from the American Revolution. Once again, those approximately 200 enslaved men were used in its construction. Upon the completion of the fort, additional work included a network of ditches and trenches both for communication and transport of supplies.

By spring of 1781, the defenses were ready. Lt Colonel Cruger’s military force was nearly 600 but this was supplemented by a large number of Loyalist civilians in the town as well as several hundred enslaved African Americans from the surrounding country. Most likely, though it’s not known for sure, these were the roughly 200 men who helped build those very physical defenses.

But the hidden story of the enslaved at Ninety Six does not stop there, nor is their story solely on the shoulders of the British. During the Siege of Ninety Six in May and June of 1781, there are several instances that beg for more research. The first is from the morning of May 23, when Patriot forces had been digging trenches towards the Star Fort throughout the night. An attack by Loyalist militia from the fort pushed the Patriots back and they managed to capture not only the tools the Patriots were using, but “several Negro laborers abandoned by the Americans.” (Greene, 128)

It should come as no surprise that the Patriots were also using slave labor. James Mayson, a wealthy Patriot supporter living just a few miles from Ninety Six, described later how foraging parties were dispatched to the countryside to get food and supplies for Greene’s army, which included slaves “not earlier recruited by the British.”

As the Siege dragged on into June, there is one more hidden story that deserves additional research to discover the identities of the enslaved men who risked their lives for the British military garrisoned at the Star Fort. As the heat of the early Carolina summer sapped water supplies, Lt Colonel Cruger needed to get water from a nearby stream, Spring Branch, to keep their supply up. But Patriot marksmen were at the ready to prevent this from happening. Turning to the enslaved in their midst, a handful of them were ordered to strip out of their clothing and go at night to the stream to file buckets. They apparently succeeded. A British lieutenant by the name of Hatton would later recall that their naked bodies were indistinguishable “in the night from the fallen trees, with which the place abounded.”

These are just snippets of hidden stories at just one site of the American Revolution. And that’s only during one specific time in Ninety Six’s history; additional stories exist for both before and after the war, during the French and Indian War, and during the Regulator movement, as well as stories of enslaved Natives from the time of early settlement in the region.

How many stories are yet untold? Who were these men and women who currently remain nameless? For these stories aren’t just tidbits of historical facts – they represent real people who experienced real emotions and a real existence at the time when our nation was first figuring out what it wanted to be. The stories of black Loyalists and Patriots deserve to be told and in doing so, will add a new layer of complexity and understanding to the story of America during the Revolutionary War and beyond.

Bibliography

Government Documents
Greene, Jerome A. Historic Resource Study and Historic Structure Report, Ninety Six: A Historical Narrative. National Park Service: Denver Service Branch of Historic Preservation, 1978.

Manuscripts & Papers
Ann Arbor. University of Michigan. William L. Clements Library. Patrick Ferguson, “Plan for Securing the Province of So, Carolina, &c,” May 16, 1780.

Ann Arbor. University of Michigan. William L. Clements Library. Nathanael Greene Papers. James Mayson to Greene, May 29, 1781.

Washington. Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress. British Public Record Office. Cornwallis Papers. Balfour to Comwallis, June 24, 1780. BPRO 30/11/2 (1)

Washington. Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress. British Public Record Office. Amherst Papers. Thomas Anderson. “Journal of Thomas Anderson’s” 1st Delaware regiment [May 6, 1780-April 7, 1782].”

Books and Pamphlets
Haiman, Miecislaus. Kosciuszko in the American Revolution. New York: Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences in America, 1943. Reprint; Boston: Gregg Press, 1972.

Mackenzie, Roderick. Strictures on Lt. Col. Tarleton’s “History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781, in the Southern Provinces of North America.” London: Printed for the Author, 1787.

Stedman, Charles. The History of the Origin, Progress, and Termination of the American War, Volume 2. London: Printed for the Author, 1794.

Ward, Christopher. The War of the Revolution, Volume 2. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1952.

Weigley, Russell F. The Partisan War: The South Carolina Campaign of 1780-1782. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1970.

Posted in African-American, Battlefields & Historic Places, Emerging Revolutionary War, National Park Service, Revolutionary War, Slavery, Southern Theater | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

ERW Statement

With the recent events facing our nation, American Revolutionary War monuments and memorials have an important role in demonstrating pride in our shared past and the highest ideals we value.  Statues and monuments to the leaders and participants of the struggle for American independence today stand on battlefields, in courthouse squares and on historic sites all across this nation.  While these statues depict very flawed and imperfect human beings, they memorialize the deeds and character that contributed to the creation of the nation we now live in. 

These statues and monuments not only tell an important part of the nation’s founding, they are also artifacts of the eras in which they were constructed and how we have remembered our Revolutionary struggle, and how the ideals of the Revolution continue to live to this very day. Part of what we do at Emerging Revolutionary War is connect the past to the places today. Over the past few weeks we have seen localities remove or plan to remove statues honoring Caesar Rodney in Delaware and Philip Schuyler in New York.  We have also seen statues of Marquis de Lafayette, Baron von Steuben, and Thaddeus Kosciusko vandalized in Washington, DC, a statue of George Washington vandalized in Boston, statues vandalized in Philadelphia of Washington and Benjamin Franklin, and the Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War in Philadelphia desecrated. 

We feel it is important that all of the United States’ Revolutionary War statues and monuments are protected so they can continue to demonstrate our highest values and ideals and the tell the story of the important figures who shaped our nation. Without these monuments, we lose vital resources to tell the important stories of our past and help unite us in moving forward as a country. As the 250th anniversary of the American Revolution draws near, rather than the removal of monuments, we hope more monuments and memorials will be erected, especially for overlooked populations that also played a role in the founding of our nation. With this more comprehensive view of history in mind, a broader and more accurate story can be told to the American public.  Emerging Revolutionary War will continue to trace the stories of the past and tie them to the places through these challenging times and we look forward to a better tomorrow.

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“Rev War Roundtable with ERW” Father’s Day, Father of the Country

This Sunday, Father’s Day in the United States, join Emerging Revolutionary War for the next historian happy hour on the proverbial “Father of the Country” George Washington.

As our historians discuss, converse, and share their knowledge, the “Rev War Revelry” will not just be dedicated to one man, George Washington. But, also, to the “Fathers’ of the Father of the Country.” The generations prior to Washington who are buried in eastern Virginia, on the historic Northern Neck of Virginia, and within the boundary of George Washington Birthplace National Monument, a part of the National Park Service.

Joining the ERW crew this week will be guest historian Scott S. Hill, who is the Chief of Interpretation and Education at George Washington Birthplace National Monument and Thomas Stone National Historic Site.

So, if you are a father, we wish you a great Father’s Day. We also encourage you to share an hour and a brew, with your father, if able, and tune into our Facebook page at 7 p.m. EST to catch the discussion that ensues.

Burial Ground, George Washington Birthplace NM (courtesy of Project Gutenberg)
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Return to Command

Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes back guest historian Dan Davis

Like my last post at Emerging Revolutionary War on the “Race to the Dan”, the origins of this post lie in a conversation with blog co-founder, Phill Greenwalt. The topic of our discussion revolved around the aftermath of the British victory at the Battle of Camden. The engagement ultimately brought two American officers to the Southern Theater: Nathanael Greene and Daniel Morgan. Greene accepted the position as the new head of the Southern Department’s co two months to the day after the battle while commanding the post at West Point, New York. Morgan’s story, however, is much more fascinating.

In the spring of 1779, George Washington created a light infantry corps within the Continental Army. Such a command fit Morgan’s skillset. He previously commanded the army’s provisional rifle corps. Additionally, Morgan, then a colonel, had compiled a record that arguably warranted elevation to brigadier general. After fighting broke out at Lexington and Concord, Morgan led a rifle company to the aid to the American army besieging Boston. Morgan participated in Col. Benedict Arnold’s Canadian Expedition and was captured during the assault on Quebec. He also played a critical role in the Battles of Saratoga. Morgan’s home state of Virginia, however, had met its quota for general officers and a vacancy was not available.

On June 30, 1779, Morgan learned Brig. Gen. Anthony Wayne received command of the new corps. With his pride devastated, Morgan traveled to Philadelphia. There, on July 19, Congress read his resignation.

Continue reading
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