THE STAMP ACT IN NEW YORK -- DAY BY BREATHTAKING DAY
Jon Carriel, our esteemed secretary-treasurer, virtually hypnotized the Round Tablers who assembled in June to hear what he had to say about the infamous piece of Parliamentary aggression called the Stamp Act. By the time he finished his account of this largely forgotten drama, we could almost hear the drums of the Revolution beating somewhere in the Coffee House Club.
The clash began with Patrick Henry’s bombshell -- the Stamp Act was unjust and must not be obeyed. Soon the “Virginia resolves” were rumbling through the 13 colonies. What was the underlying cause of this explosion? Britain’s imperial war with France and Spain had doubled the national debt in seven years. Jon then detailed the incredible breadth of the Stamp Act’s reach. It covered all official and public uses of paper including newspapers, contracts, licenses. The act passed the House of Commons in February 1765 and the news arrived in America in late April.
As rage built in New York City, Gov. Cadwallader Colden requested help from the British Army. Three groups opposed the Act -- the Delanceys -- city–based commercial men; the Livingstons – land-based aristocrats, some of them lawyers -- and the Liberty faction – – the city’s so-called leather apron men, not born to wealth. Elsewhere riots were exploding -- in Boston, houses were burned and the government defied – – in Connecticut Stamp Agent Jared Ingersoll was nearly lynched by 500 angry men. Another riot almost destroyed Ben Franklin’s house in Philadelphia.
When the ship Edward carrying the hated stamps came into New York harbor, she was confronted by 2,000 armed colonials. Governor Colden remained intransigent; at his orders the stamps were brought ashore by night and placed in the fort on the Battery. The Liberty boys trashed and burned the house belonging to the fort’s commander. They also destroyed Colden’s expensive carriage and threatened his life. Four incredibly tense days followed, with New York in the hands of a wild mob. The commander of the fort had its cannon loaded with grapeshot and trained on the Bowling Green. If the mob had attacked the fort, the casualties would have been horrendous – – and the American Revolution might have begun in 1765.
Governor Colden decided to compromise. He persuaded General Thomas Gage, the British commander in America, to join him in moving the stamps from the fort to City Hall. The City Council agreed to sign a voucher for their face value and ask the government in London for advice. Calmer heads among the Livingstons and the Delanceys persuaded the Liberty boys to accept this arrangement. Also helpful was the arrival of a new royal governor, Henry Moore, who backed the compromise. In London Parliament was being bombarded by British merchants whose trade with America had fallen as much as 25%. On February 21, 1766, Parliament repealed the Stamp Act. When New York heard the news there was a berserk celebration. Leading New Yorkers commissioned a magnificent bronze statue of George III. It would gaze down on passersby for another 10 years – – until Americans, celebrating the Declaration of Independence pulled it to the ground and broke it up for bullets. Not a little of this suspense story is in Jon’s latest historical novel, Exquisite Folly. Round Tablers rushed to buy copies.
BOOKS WE SHOULD READ
Jim English got everyone’s attention with the opening paragraph of his review: “He was a hero of the American Revolution, a Virginian from the privileged class. He committed his life and his fortune to the cause of American independence….His most noteworthy adversary, Lord Cornwallis, said of him: “There could be no more formidable antagonist in a charge at the head of his cavalry.”
The author, Daniel Murphy, gave his book a 14 word title: William Washington: American Light Dragoon. A Continental Cavalry Leader in the War for Independence. It is primarily about Washington as a cavalry commander. Jim said it was “a very ambitious book.”
The author has little to say about William’s second cousin once removed, George Washington. He was 20 years William’s senior and not close to him. Comparing them, he calls George the “reserved old world patriarch” while William possessed “the rough confidence and casual traits of a landed country squire.”
Murphy swiftly tells how William Washington began his career as a captain in the 3rd Virginia Continental regiment. He distinguished himself as a daring leader at Harlem Heights and Trenton. This led to General Washington personally selecting William as a major in the 4th Light Dragoons. We learn the role of light horsemen in battle: essentially it was to break enemy formations and destroy discipline. Murphy does not flinch from the gruesome details of this hand to hand combat. Again, William’s strength and courage won him distinction and he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and commander of the 3rd Light Dragoons. Transferred to the South, William and his horsemen played crucial roles in four battles, which Murphy describes in dramatic detail: Cowpens, Guilford Court House, Hobkirk’s Hill and Eutaw Springs. In the latter brawl, he was wounded and captured. He was a prisoner of war when George won the climactic victory at Yorktown. While a prisoner, he fell in love with “the fetching Jane Elliott” of South Carolina, who helped nurse him back to health. She was one of the wealthiest heiresses in the South. Almost needless to say, the daring horseman lived happily ever after. Summing up, Jim admired Murphy’s energetic scholarship, which included horseback visits to all the battle sites he describes so vividly. “I recommend this book,” Jim concluded.
Tom Fleming reported on an “eye opening book about the early years of the American republic” -- Founding Friendships by Cassandra A. Good. An editor of the papers of James Monroe, Ms Good explores in vigorous prose a subject that has seldom been discussed: friendships between men and women during these formative years. Her topic remains highly relevant today, as she demonstrates by calling to our attention the 1989 film, “When Harry Met Sally.“ While sharing a drive from Chicago to New York, Harry remarks to Sally that friendship between a man and woman is impossible, because “the sex part always gets in the way.”
With startling success, Ms Good reveals numerous friendships in these first decades of the republic that flourished remarkably, without sex getting in the way. They range from the famous –Thomas Jefferson and Abigail Adams—to educators such as William Ellery Channing and Eloise Richard Payne. In remarkably frank letters, Eloise “confided every action and every thought” of her young life while William “rebuk’d and counsel’d and encourage’d” her .Their approach to friendship was based on the basic ideas of the new nation –virtue, freedom and equality.
Freedom was especially important. A woman usually needed her father’s permission to marry. Afterward, her personal wealth and most of her independence came under her husband’s control. But men and women could befriend each other and conduct their relationship without anyone’s approval.
Ms Good is not naïve. She has examples of how “the sex part” could lead to tragedy for a woman. In the middle chapters, we see the various ways in which these unorthodox friends dealt with this danger. It will surprise some readers to discover that George Washington was one of the most skillful practitioners of this new art. She also explores other ways in which men and women expressed their feelings for each other. Among the favorites were albums to which they contributed poems and aphorisms. Finally, there is a fascinating chapter on how such friendships often played a role in state and national politics. Tom described the book as “so rich in ideas and emotions…readers will keep it in their libraries” and return to it. “It reveals a side of America’s past that will make us pleased and proud of the spiritual pioneers among our founders.”
HERMIONE CONQUERS NEW YORK
On July 1, a beautiful black blue and gold replica of the French frigate, Hermione, sailed into New York Harbor. As she passed Governors Island, a series of blasts from her 34 cannon echoed off the buildings of Lower Manhattan. A band played “Down by the Riverside” while her brilliantly uniformed crew scrambled up the masts. Another blast from her cannon rattled windows as the ship glided to her dock at the South Street Seaport. The latter salute was a spontaneous reaction from the crew, most of whom had never seen New York before. The Hermione had crossed the Atlantic in 31 relatively calm days. Her goal was to bolster the somewhat frayed relations between France and America.
“There are two things the French and the Americans agree on totally,” Bruno Gravellier, the Hermione’s superintendent said: “D-Day and the Marquis de Lafayette.” When the ship departed from Rochfort, its home port, an array of French dignitaries, including President Francois Hollande, hailed the voyage as “an historical journey of friendship.”
As we reported in a previous Broadside, the original Hermione carried the Marquis de Lafayette back to America in 1780. He brought with him several million dollars in badly needed cash and the electrifying news that France was sending an army to support Washington’s Continentals.
The 21st Century Hermione was manned by a mostly volunteer crew of 74. Unlike the original, it included a modern navigation system and bathrooms. But the experience at sea was similar on both versions. The crew reported exhilarating climbs up the masts in a rolling sea, bouts of seasickness, and at least one minor mutiny. “We had to fight for the right to have Nutella at 3 a.m.,” reported Adam Hodges-LeClaire, 22, of Massachusetts, one of the few Americans among the crew. “People are very opinionated about food after a month at sea.”
Being French, the Hermione’s cuisine was not exactly spartan. On board were two large barrels of Cognac. One was raffled off during a stop at Mount Vernon and brought in $150,000. In Philadelphia, the captain, Louis-Rene de Latouche, ordered up a replica of the shipboard meal that the original Hermione shared with a delegation from the Continental Congress. Oysters, veal and crème brulee were featured.
On July 3, the Hermione was hailed by a parade of yachts that sailed from Gravesend Bay to the waters off the Intrepid Museum. After visiting additional American ports, the frigate headed back across the Atlantic to Rochfort on July 24. But Benedict Donnelly, an American who was one of the chief backers of the voyage, predicted she would return as an ambassador of friendship. “She has to sail again and again,” he said.
THE EMERGENCE OF THE LOWER MANHATTAN HISTORICAL SOCIETY
A new organization, the Lower Manhattan Historical Society, played a large role in welcoming the Hermione. They invited Tom Fleming to be their speaker at a reception in May. Tom explained the ship’s historical significance, thanks to the cash and good news that her chief passenger, the Marquis de Lafayette brought with him. During the Hermione’s four day visit, the LMHS and allied groups coordinated a number of historical activities in lower Manhattan. There was an all night walking tour sponsored by Fraunces Tavern, followed by a 7 a.m. wreath laying ceremony on the graves of Horatio Gates, Alexander Hamilton and Marinus Willett in Trinity Churchyard. Another exciting moment was a 51 gun salute at Castle Clinton by the New York Veteran Corps of Artillery. After a July 3 parade from the South Street Seaport to Bowling Green, the LMHS presented a reproduction of the Evacuation Day Flag, which the Hermione had carried across the Atlantic. The flag was originally raised on Bowling Green on November 25, 1783, the day that the British Army departed from New York. On July 4, the flag was flown from the top of the new One World Trade Center. LMHS President James S. Kaplan and his co-founder, Arthur Piccolo, hoped that the flag at this pinnacle of lower Manhattan would represent a triumph in the fight against terrorism which we share with France and other democratic countries around the world.
BIG DOINGS ON BOWLING GREEN
Our secretary-treasurer, Jon Carriel, will play a major role in another LMHS activity. On Sunday evening, November 1, the Lower Manhattanites hope to commemorate the largest riot New York City has ever seen – and Jon will be their principal speaker. The historical memory they hope to revive is the Stamp Act Protest, a quarter of a millennium ago. The Round Table has a claim to be the godfather of all the excitement, thanks to the superb talk Jon gave us on the turbulent topic in June. Arthur Piccolo, who is chairman of the Bowling Green Association, heard about Jon’s speech – and book -- and has asked him to be the “pivotal speaker” at the anniversary. They want him to place the Stamp Act Riot in its “proper and powerful context.” Jon agreed to play that role and soon found himself making a video with Mr. Piccolo, who released it on You Tube on September 3. It is a well paced coherent forty minute interview on the subject. Would-be watchers can find it at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9gFsqq7NMhM. Piccolo liked the interview so much, he asked Jon to be his cochair for the celebration. Among other ideas being discussed for the anniversary are moments of “street theater” -– reenacting some of the original protests. All this additional excitement should do wonders for the American Revolution in New York. We urge all our members to put a November 1 trip to Bowling Green in their datebooks NOW. If you want to do more, contact Jon Carriel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHAT WAS OUR MOST INFLUENTIAL REVOLUTIONARY CITY?
One of our favorite websites, the Journal of the American Revolution, recently asked numerous historians to tell them which city was the most influential, after the Big Four, Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Charleston. Ray Raphael and several others – almost a majority, chose Newport RI. Jack Kelly chose Fishkill, where Washington created a major encampment and supply depot. John Ferling argued for Versailles, where so many crucial decisions on where and how to help the Americans were made. Tom Fleming went for Little Egg Harbor in New Jersey, a privateering center of large, seldom appreciated dimensions. Gary Shattuck chose Lebanon, CT known in its day as “the heartbeat of the Revolution.” Governor Jonathan Trumbull met there over 1100 times to discuss how best to support Washington’s army with men and supplies. Lebanon’s well stocked warehouses made Connecticut known as “The Provision State.” J. L. Bell opted for London. He argued that her merchants and politicians were sympathetic to the Americans in their early protests. When violence erupted into outright revolution, they backed the crown. But after Yorktown they put decisive pressure on Parliament to end the expensive and disruptive war.
MEMBERS AT WORK
Round Tablers have been active this summer in various admirable ways. Charles Sanchez gave a “dramatic reading” of the Declaration of Independence in the 18th Century style for the Greater Ridgewood (NJ) Historical Society. Rich Melnick sent Maria Dering, the keeper of our website and Facebook page, a letter urging us to focus in the coming months on what he calls “the biggest event to occur in the New York City area during the Revolution –the shattering American defeat at the Battle of Brooklyn. Fred Cookinham reported he has embarked on a new lecture/tour, “Revolution in the Streets.” Its topic: “Riots, spies and conspiracies on New York’s colonial waterfront.” The enjoyable – and educational -- journey begins at Fraunces Tavern on Saturdays and Sundays at 11 a.m. October 3 and 4. The bargain price is $20 a person, $15 for those over 65.
THE SPEAKER FOR OCTOBER: Christian McBurney
TOPIC: KIDNAPPING AS A TACTIC
McBurney entertained us a few years ago with a lively account of the role of his native state, Rhode Island, in the Revolution. This time he is focusing on the sensational tactic of kidnapping enemy generals – something Rhode Islanders learned to do with panache.
AND A WORD FROM OUR CHAIRMAN
We will gather as usual at the Coffee House Club, 20 W 44th St, Sixth Floor, at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, October, 6, 2015. Dinner will be served promptly at 7:00. We would like your reservation in advance. The stamp-deprived can call Treasurer Jon Carriel at 212 874 5121 or email him at email@example.com. If you have any questions about the menu, you can contact Jon either by phone or email.
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