We are happy to welcome Kate Egner Gruber to our Third Annual Symposium on the American Revolution, co-hosted with Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, The Lyceum and Emerging Revolutionary War. This year’s theme is “The World Turned Upside: The American Revolution’s Impact on a Global Scale. We asked Kate to answer a few questions about their talk and their passion for history.
Kate Egner Gruber is the acting director of curatorial services for the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, where she works with a team to grow the collection and broaden the interpretation of early American history at Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. Kate is a graduate of the University of Mary Washington’s Historic Preservation program, where she focused on archaeology and material culture, and holds her masters degree in early American history from the College of William and Mary.
What first attracted you to the study of early American history? What keeps you involved in the study of this history? Do you find these things are the same or different?
I never know how to answer this question. The past has always been a presence in my life—whether I was digging up holes in my mom’s backyard looking for buried treasure (sorry, Mom), enthralled with the stories behind the old things in my grandmother’s upstairs room, or lost in my imagination about the landscape I called home.
I like to say that history doesn’t change—but our relationship to it does. This is what keeps me involved in the study of history of today. There’s always something new to learn, new perspectives to consider, new lenses through which to view the past. This is what keeps me motivated and eager to keep diving in.
Why do you think it is important for us to study the Revolutionary Era?
What we learn about the past helps us better understand our present and create a more perfect union for the future.
What do you think was the most significant foreign impact on the American Revolution?
As someone who studies both 17th and 18th century history, my perspective on this question is flipped—I think the most significant impact on the American Revolution was the colonies’ shared 17th history in the growing English and (later) British empire.
What are some of the important lessons of the American Revolution do you think are still relevant today?
From England’s Glorious Revolution to America’s Glorious Cause, we’re still negotiating our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—or in the words of John Locke, life, liberty, and property!
What was it about the American Revolution that elicited such global interest?
Some of the founders saw their American Revolution through the lens of the English Civil Wars and Glorious Revolution, all of which had global consequences. The American Revolution isn’t just American history—it’s world history!
Join us for our Third annual Emerging Revolutionary War Symposium on September 24, 2022. Emerging Revolutionary War is excited to continue our partnership with Gadsby’s Tavern Museum and The Lyceum of Alexandria, VA to bring to you a day-long Symposium focusing on the American Revolution.
Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes back guest historian Karl G. Elsea
It is common for artists to use “artistic license” when painting historic events including American Revolutionary War art. The problem is this practice also
aids inaccuracies persisting. Here is one case study of one picture involving an historic event that is presented by the National Park Service (NPS) at Yorktown. Please note the staff is helpful and the grounds are beautiful. As for the severity of the problem, the reader can decide after reading the information.
The following picture is from the field at Yorktown where the French Artillery Park was located. The picture illustrates the idea of what an artillery park was.
The problem is this picture contains a number of images that are wrong. For example, the carriages, wagons, carts, and limbers should be painted light blue. The French Army artillery had been painted light blue prior to 1750. There is a lot of confusion to this day concerning gun and limber carriage colors. This confusion may have been generated by a current belief there was one French artillery color. The French used the color of the items to assist which department owned the material. The French Navy department [Ministry of Marine] was responsible for the colonies, including North America, and their cannon were on red carriages with, in all most all cases, iron barrels. The French Quartermaster’s department had their wagons were painted a brighter red. The French Army artillery was painted light blue with bronze barrels. Thus, the French Army barrels shown should appear to be “brass.”
Writing over thirty years after the fact, Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee summed up the events of February 14, 1780 with the line, “Thus ended, on the night of the 14th of February, this long, arduous, and eventful retreat” (190). Upon hearing of General Nathanael Greene’s exploits in this movement, General George Washington wrote, “You may be assured that your Retreat before Lord Cornwallis is highly applauded by all Ranks and reflects much honor on your military Abilities.” (198).
What Lee would remember as “eventful” and Washington and fellow military ranks “highly applauded” is remembered today as the “Race to the Dan.” This retrograde movement, undertaken by Greene’s forces from South Carolina to the Dan River in southern Virginia, is sandwiched between the engagements at the Battle of Cowpens in January 1781 and the British pyrrhic victory at Guilford Court House in March 1781. Yet, this retreat may be on the turning points in the southern theater that led the British, under Lord Charles Cornwallis to his eventual demise at Yorktown in October 1781.
Great historians, such as John Buchanan is his monumental work The Road to Guilford Court House have covered with broad strokes this period of time but a dedicated study was much needed in the historiography of the American Revolution. Insert Andrew Waters, writer, editor, and conservationist, whose name may be familiar from previous works such as The Quaker and the Gamecock: Nathanael Greene, Thomas Sumter, and the War for the Soul of the South. His latest book, To The End of the World, Nathanael Greene, Charles Cornwallis, and the Race to the Dan, captures this important military movement while providing an expose on the leadership of Greene woven in. The title of the book is pulled from a quote by Brigadier General Charles O’Hara, Cornwallis’s second-in-command during this campaign. With a background in land conservation with a focus on river corridors and watersheds, Waters found a connection with Greene, who studied the various waterways—or ordered subordinates—to study the various rivers, to better understand the topography for military campaigns.
After a stint in Salisbury, North Carolina, Waters became fascinated with the Race to the Dan story and decided to plunge in to understanding this period of the American Revolution. He found that “the Race to the Dan is a remarkable tale, fit for cinema or an epic novel, and not only for its accounts of four narrow escapes across its four rivers” (xv). He was drawn “to its story” (xx) and any reader of the book is the beneficiary of that discovery.
Along with weaving in the innate leadership qualities of Greene, Waters brings to light the importance of military leaders not as well-known such as William Lee Davidson, William R. Davie, and Edward Carrington with more household names of Lee, Daniel Morgan, and Otho Holland Williams. Throw in the names of Cornwallis, O’Hara, and Banastre Tarleton, and the pantheon of American Revolutionary personas is complete.
In this approximate month-long retreat, Greene saved the American Revolution in the southern theater and set in motion the events that led to the climactic victory at Yorktown. Waters, with his 2020 publication, has now helped save the story of the Race to the Dan from its unintended lapse into obscurity.
Published: 2020 (Westholme Publishing)
264 pages, including index, footnotes, images, and maps
Mention the following words to any casual student or enthusiast of the American Revolutionary War and we can almost guarantee what the first word(s) or topic out of their mouths will be.
If you are thinking, Yorktown, or Siege of Yorktown or Surrender of Yorktown, then our rhetorical question above is correct.
Most people know about the Siege and Surrender at Yorktown, but Virginia was a hot spot of activity the summer leading up to Yorktown. With British troops, led by the likes of Benedict Arnold, William Phillips, Alexander Leslie, and lastly by Lord Charles Cornwallis in the Old Dominion throughout the year and American leaders like the Marquis de Lafayette and Baron von Steuben, Virginia saw very active campaigning ranging through most of the central and eastern parts of the colony.
That is why you need to tune in and Join Emerging Revolutionary War this Sunday, on our Facebook page, at 7p.m EST for the next “Rev War Revelry” as we discuss the events leading up to Yorktown in October 1781.
We will cover actions such as Spencer’s Ordinary, Green Spring, Gloucester Point and of course Yorktown.
ERW will be joined by historians J. Michael Moore, Kirby Smith and Drew Gruber. All three live and work in the “Historic Triangle” of Virginia. The three gentlemen all have researched, led tours and have written published works about this important period of the American Revolution.
This will be a precursor to ERW’s annual fall trip, when we will visit Gloucester Point, Spencer’s Ordinary, Green Sping and Yorktown (which we invite you to follow along with on our Facebook page).
Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes guest historian Kevin Pawlak
New York state has a rich American Revolution history. Battlefields at Saratoga, Oriskany, Fort Ticonderoga, Long Island, and more dot the state’s connection to our nation’s founding. But growing up in the western part of the state, those sites were at least a few hours’ drive.
Recently, I discovered a neat story related to the American Revolution that was in my own home county—Orleans County. It is not a battlefield, though it is about a man who stood on those battlefields with George Washington’s Continental Army. Lemuel Cook, who died at the age of 107, spent the last thirty years of his life in the next town over from my hometown and died there. While he was not the last surviving veteran of the war for America’s independence, he was the last to claim a pension for his service.
Ninety-one years prior to his death in 1866, the sixteen-year-old Connecticut native enlisted with the 2nd Continental Light Dragoons. He saw service with the dragoons at Brandywine and Yorktown.
Cook moved frequently after his service expired until he settled in Clarendon, New York in 1832. Cook’s devotion to the nation he helped create never waned until his dying days. He regularly attended town hall meetings and elections until a few years before his death. Souvenir seekers continually asked for the old veteran’s autograph, which he obliged. In 1861, a photographer captured this national treasure in a photograph.
Unfortunately, even Cook could not defeat Father Time. As he aged, his speech became “very fragmentary,” according to one newspaper. “He recalls the past slowly, and with difficulty, but when he has his mind fixed upon it, all seems to come up clear.” Despite his weariness, Cook’s spunk occasionally showed, “the old determination still manifesting itself in his look and words.” Specifically, during an interview in the midst of the American Civil War, Cook pounded his cane on the floor and proclaimed, “It is terrible, but terrible as it is the rebellion must be put down.” Incredibly, he lived to see the rebellion “put down” and died on May 20, 1866.
Cook’s grave, located in the Cook Cemetery on Munger Road in Clarendon, suffered damage in a windstorm in 2017 but was quickly fixed. In the same year, descendants and local historians unveiled a state historic marker alerting passersby to this unique niche of Revolutionary War history in a place far from the famous battlefields that achieved our nation’s independence.
Sebastien Le Prestre de Vauban, Seigneur de Vauban, and finally Marquis de Vauban, as one of his biographies begins, is probably not a household name to many enthusiasts of American history. Especially since he died on March 30, 1707 and never set foot in the Western Hemisphere. However, he did have a nephew, Jacques Anne Joseph Le Prestre de Vauban who served as General Jean-Baptiste Rochambeau’s aide-de-camp during the war. So, there is a family connection.
Yet, he left his mark on places like Yorktown, Virginia, fought 74 years after his death and half-a-world away. French engineers, critical to eventual American victory in the American Revolutionary War, plied de Vauban’s craft and studied his text and learned from his exploits. Continue reading “Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban”→
Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes back guest historian Michael Aubrecht
John Trumbull’s paintings represent some of the most familiar depictions from the time of the American Revolution. Trumbull was a graduate of Harvard University and the gifted son of the Governor of Connecticut. As a child, Trumbull showed a remarkable talent for an attention to detail. This aptitude set his drawings apart from his contemporaries. Trumbull traveled to London in 1784 to study painting under the master Benjamin West. It was then that he started painting some of his most notable pieces. There he honed his expertise for realistic painting. A year later later Trumbull traveled to the City of Paris to do commissioned artworks. He later did portraits of George Washington, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. In 1816, he was selected as the president of the American Academy of the Fine Arts where he would serve for 20 years. Emphasizing classic traditions Trumbull attempted to teach the skills he had acquired while overseas. Following his death in 1843 at the age of 87, Trumbull was buried beneath the Art Gallery at Yale University which he had designed. In 1867, his collection of artworks were displayed at the Street Hall building on the same grounds. He and his wife’s remains were later re-interred and buried on the grounds of that building. Trumbull’s approach to painting has been studied by art students around the world. Today Trumbull’s paintings remain some of the most cherished ever to be painted by an American artist. Continue reading “The Brush of John Trumbull”→
While reading background on the siege and victory at Yorktown, Virginia in October 1781, I came across the following passage written by historian Jerome Greene.
“The officer was then quickly escorted to Washington’s headquarters in a nearby house, where he delivered Cornwallis’s message: “I propose a Cessation of Hostilities for 24 hours, & that two Officers may be appointed by each side, to meet at Mr. Moore’s house to settle terms for the Surrender of the Posts of York & Gloucester.” One can only imagine the emotions coursing through Washington’s body as he read these words.”
That last line is what really struck me.
Every image we have of George Washington depicts a stoic expression staring back out of us. Historians have a few instances from a long life of the Washington behind the marble, behind the self-imposed restraint, that he crafted for posterity.
However, he was human, he did have a fiery temper and he was a passionate person. One of the reasons he strove so hard to mask those emotions, to keep them in check, to keep perspective, and to persevere.
Those competing inclinations would have been bubbling at the surface on October 17, 1781, when that written communication was handed to him outside Yorktown, Virginia. What that moment must have been like, for Washington, for the French and American forces, and for all those fighting in favor of American independence.
Jerome Greene wondered about it. I am curious about it. Are you?
With British soldiers pouring into the fort, Colonel Ledyard ordered a ceasefire, and prepared to surrender Fort Griswold to the victorious British. However, the British disregarded the ceasefire and continuing pouring fire into the American garrison, killing or wounding nearly all of the fort’s defenders. “I believe there was not less than five or six hundred men of the enemy on the parade in the fort,” claimed American soldier Rufus Avery. “They killed and wounded nearly every man in the fort as quick as they could.”
Maj. Stephen Bromfield, the ranking British officer after Montgomery fell, called out, “Who commands this fort?” Ledyard stepped forward and responded, “I did, sir, but you do now.” Another American, Jonathan Rathbun, watched Bromfield run Ledyard through the heart and lungs with Ledyard’s own sword:
“…the wretch who murdered him [Ledyard], exclaimed, as he came near, “Who commands this fort?” Ledyard handsomely replied, “I did, but you do now,” at the same
moment handing him his sword, which the unfeeling villain buried in his breast! Oh, the
hellish spite and madness of a man that will murder a reasonable and noble-hearted officer, in the act of submitting and surrendering!”
Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes back guest historian Malanna Henderson
“It is not for their own land they fought, not even for a land which had adopted them, but for a land which had enslaved them, and whose laws, even in freedom, oftener oppressed than protected. Bravery, under such circumstances, has a peculiar beauty and merit.” – Harriet Beecher Stowe.
The words spoken by “the little woman who wrote the book that started this Great War,” so said Abraham Lincoln, according to legend, upon meeting Mrs. Stowe sometime in 1862, rang true for black patriots in the Civil War as well as those in the Revolutionary War.
The Smithsonian tome, The American Revolutionary War: A Visual History quotes a Hessian officer in 1777, as saying, “No regiment is to be seen in which there are not Negroes in abundance and among them are able-bodied and strong fellows.”
In every battle of the Revolutionary War from Lexington to Yorktown; black men, slave and free, picked up the musket and defended America; and yet, many historians as well as visual artists have omitted their contributions in the history books and their images on canvases depicting historic battles. The need for white historians to “overlook,” “underestimate,” and or “erase,” these sacrifices is a gross negligence that distorts and misrepresents American history; and furthermore, it continues to disenfranchise the patriotic heroes of the past and malign the self-image of millions of Americans today simply because of the color of their skin.
Black soldiers have always fought two wars simultaneously; wars declared by their government and the unspoken wars at home for liberty, equality and before the Civil War, for citizenship.
What kind of men fight for the liberty of others when their own liberty isn’t guaranteed?
True patriots: James Armistead Lafayette was one such person.
Slaves serving in the rebel military was a question that manifested itself early amongst the colonial government agencies. Their presence rankled many, while others welcomed them and praised their bravery. Some men of color had fought gallantly and with distinction as they stood alongside their white compatriots, defenders of liberty on the Lexington Green in April of 1775.
For instance, in the Battle of Bunker Hill, Peter Salem, a slave, served with courage under fire, as varying accounts reported. Salem was introduced to George Washington as “the man who shot Pitcairn,” the British Royal Marine Major who shouted to his men before Salem shot him down, “The day is ours.” Despite the competence and bravery of such men on the battlefield their exploits didn’t convert the wide-spread reluctance of most colonists to accept black men as soldiers.
General George Washington, Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, harbored the same common prejudices of the southern-planter ruling class of which he was a member. In July, he instructed recruiters “not to enlist any stroller, negro, or vagabond, or person suspected of being an enemy to the liberty of America.” Commanders in each colony and regiment made up their own minds. Some ignored his command. Their decision was based on need and experience. Those who had already served successfully with black militia and minutemen may have seen no cause to alter their regiments.
By December of 1776, Washington back-pedaled on his decision, allowing for black veterans of Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill to serve; but of the slave, he maintained his objection. However, some junior officers appreciated the contributions of blacks. Col. John Thomas wrote John Adams on October 24, 1775, “We have negroes, but I look upon them as equally serviceable with other men, for fatigue (labor); and, in action many of them have proven themselves brave.”
As the war raged on, the necessity for able-bodied men settled the question. White soldiers, who usually served for only a few months to a year, mustered out, died or were wounded; while others deserted. Black soldiers who expected to receive their freedom if they served were in the war for the duration. This was a positive factor for the commanding officers who had to re-train all new recruits. Around five-thousand blacks served in the Revolutionary War as soldiers. However, a vast unknown number provided a myriad of support services.
Another reason the colonials reconsidered enlisting blacks was the bold military tactic that occurred in November of 1775. Lord Dunmore, the last royal governor of Virginia, ratified a proclamation freeing all indentured servants and slaves of rebels if they would fight for the British. Thousands of people fled the plantations to gain their freedom. This single act struck a devastating blow on two fronts, it threaten their economic stability and increased the tension between master and slave, with the master fearing slave revolts and the permanent loss of their property. Moreover, it upset the social order. Enslaved men serving alongside whites put them on an equal footing in the battlefield, which violated the white supremacy dogma that governed current thought and practice.
Born into slavery on December 10, 1748, in New Kent, Virginia to owner William Armistead, James enlisted in the Revolutionary War under General Marquis de Lafayette in 1781. His owner was a patriot and most likely received the bonus James would have gotten for enlisting had he been free or white. Enlistment bonuses comprised of money, land or slaves.
By the time Armistead entered the war, the efforts of Benjamin Franklin and other colonial agents had secured a military and economic alliance with the French. A long-time imperial rival of British expansion, the French provided naval ships, money and personnel.
Marquis de Lafayette (born Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier) was a descendant of ancient French nobility. His father, a colonel in the French Grenadiers had died in the Seven Year’s War (known as the French and Indian War in America) when the young nobleman was only two years old. The political ideals of liberty and equality espoused by the colonials matched his beliefs and fired his military ambitions. Perchance, his yearning to play a role in America’s fight for independence from British rule may have been spawned by a desire to avenge his father’s death.
Since Lord Dunmore’s Proclamation, it was easy for Armistead to gain access in the enemy camps as a runaway slave seeking his freedom. While providing varied services to the British, he gained the confidence of Brigadier General Benedict Arnold, who by now had defected to the British. He charged Armistead with scouting, foraging and spying. Armistead was able to comfortably go between both camps, in essence becoming a double spy. He carried false and misleading information to the British but provided accurate intelligence on the movement of British forces and details of their military strategies to General Lafayette.
When Arnold left Virginia, Armistead was able to deceive General Charles Cornwallis as well, who rampaged through parts of Virginia and burned Richmond, the capital. He sent Colonel Banastre Tarleton to capture the entire legislative assembly, which included Daniel Boone, Patrick Henry and the governor. The plan was thwarted by an astute young man named Jack Jouett. Although, a few were apprehended, among them Daniel Boone; Jouett’s actions prevented the British from arresting the biggest prize: Governor Thomas Jefferson.
By early August, Cornwallis had made plans to establish fortifications in Yorktown, expecting reinforcements to increase his troops of approximately nine-thousand.
General Washington, in the meantime, had joined forces with Comte de Rochambeau to recapture New York. With intelligence supplied by James Armistead, they learned that Cornwallis was in Yorktown waiting for military support. French Admiral de Grasse, with a fleet of about twenty-eight naval ships, was on his way to the Chesapeake from St. Dominick (present-day Haiti). A plan to surround Cornwallis by land and sea appeared possible. The French naval fleet, along with the Washington’s Continental and Rochambeau’s French forces, headed to the enemy’s headquarters. Once Washington reached Yorktown, General Lafayette’s regiment joined him. Thus, Armistead’s accurate and meticulous reports were vital to the American victory that culminated in Yorktown on October 19, 1781.
Later Cornwallis met the Marquis at his headquarters and was flabbergasted to find his spy James Armistead present.
The Treaty of Paris in 1783 severed ties from Britain, the mother country, and established America as an independent nation. That same year, the Act of 1783 was passed freeing slaves who had fought in the Revolutionary War on their masters’ behalf. However, it excluded slave-spies. Ergo, James Armistead, who risked his life by providing information to help win the freedom of many, was himself denied freedom. Was his life in less danger operating under subterfuge as a spy amongst the British than it would have been, had he served as a soldier on the battlefield? I think not. Had his espionage been discovered, he surely would have had to forfeit his life.
After the war, Armistead was returned to slavery. Even his own master didn’t have the legal right to free him because of the Act of 1783, omitting slave-spies from emancipation.
When learning of his compatriot’s status, the Marquis penned a certificate to the Virginia legislator in October of 1784 imploring them to grant Armistead his freedom, declaring:
“This is to Certify that the Bearer By the Name of James Armistead Has done Essential Services to me While I had the Honour to Command in this State. His Intelligences from the Ennemy’s Camp were Industriously Collected and More faithfully deliver’d. He properly Acquitted Himself with Some Important Commissions I Gave Him and Appears to me Entitled to Every Reward his Situation Can Admit of. Done Under my Hand,” Richmond, November 21st 1784.
The legislator didn’t act upon the request straightaway. However, again in 1786, James Armistead applied for his freedom and it was duly granted on January 9, 1787, with a fair compensation to his master, William.
In honor of his benefactor, James Armistead added Lafayette to his surname. After emancipation, he moved a short distance south of New Kent, near Richmond, Virginia and acquired forty acres of less than suitable farmland. He married and had a family. He even owned slaves. History doesn’t tell us if he bought enslaved relatives to free them or if they were bought to farm his land as field hands.
It wasn’t until 1819 that he applied to the state legislature for financial assistance to ease his poverty. This time, the response was immediate; he received $60 and an annual pension of $40 for his service during the Revolutionary War.
Unlike James Armistead Lafayette, many blacks who worked as laborers, guides, messengers and spies were not as fortunate. Whether they were pressed into service or willingly answered the call, most neither received their freedom nor wages for their behind-the-scene contributions to the war.
In 1824, the Marquis de Lafayette visited the United States and was lauded as a hero of the American Revolutionary War in Richmond with festivities and a parade. Spying Armistead in the crowd, it is said he halted the procession, dismounted from his horse and embraced his old comrade.