THE BATTLE OF HUBBARDTON
“Huh? Hubbardton?” may well have been the reaction of most Round Tablers when they learned that this forgotten clash would be the subject of our February meeting. But five minutes with our ebullient speaker, Bruce Venter, soon changed our skepticism to full and fascinated attention. Bruce knows how to interest an audience.
Backed by a PhD from SUNY Albany, he spends most of his time displaying his expertise to patrons of his tour and conference company, American History LLC. As for Hubbardton, he at first said it was famous because it is the only battle of the war fought in Vermont. One of our more knowledgeable members promptly asked: “What about Bennington?” Bruce informed him that the town of Bennington was in Vermont but the battlefield of the same name was in New York.
Doubly impressed, we listened while he told us how General Arthur St. Clair, the commander of the Northern American army, had decided to evacuate Fort Ticonderoga when he found himself confronted by General John Burgoyne’s army, which outnumbered him four to one. Working frantically through the night, the Americans loaded women, the sick and six hundred fighting men, plus supplies and ammunition aboard several ships and set out for Skenesborough on the southern end of Lake Champlain. St. Clair and most of his fighting men retreated by land, heading down a crude military road that led to Hubbardton, twenty miles away. In close pursuit was Brigadier Simon Fraser with an 850 man brigade of light infantry and German General Friedrich von Riedesel with a thousand Germans. St. Clair paused at Hubbardton to give his weary men some rest, and appointed Colonels Ebenezer Francis of Massachusetts and Seth Warner of Vermont to command the rear guard. By this time Bruce had us mesmerized and what followed – the battle itself - was worthy of that word to the last shot. The Americans, especially Seth Warner’s men, stunned the British with their marksmanship and cool performance of commands that reduced British flank attacks to zero-minus. The Redcoats’ casualties were stunning – and the impact of these losses on the battles to come, culminating in Burgoyne’s surrender, more than justified Bruce’s description of the two hour battle as a turning point that rescued the Revolution. Applause was thunderous -- and books were signed and sold at a memorable rate. Hubbardton became a battle -- and a night – to remember.
BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS
Okay we’re traditionalists. We’re sticking with our title in spite of having only one review. Vic Miranda came through with an appraisal of a new book by an author with an historic name. War of Two, Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and the Duel that Stunned the Nation by John Sedgwick is so close to Tom Fleming’s 1999 Duel: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr and the Future of America that Tom ought to confer with a lawyer. But he won’t. You can’t copyright history. Vic calls War of Two a “dual biography” of the two principals which he compares to Gore Vidal’s novel, Burr. Maybe Vic was trying to ease Tom’s pain by omitting any mention of his book. At any rate, Vic tells us how the author excerpts revealing passages from the two men’s letters and otherwise goes into all the well known things about the rivals – the Maria Reynolds affair, their letters to each other, the duel etc.. The climax is the last letter Hamilton wrote on the night before the duel. It went to Theodore Sedgwick, a trusted friend of both men and the author’s ancestor. Vic’s conclusion: the book was “interesting.”
THE RUNAWAY SLAVE WHO RESISTED GEORGE WASHINGTON’S INVITATION TO RETURN TO MOUNT VERNON
Newspapers and magazines have been telling some but not all of the truth about Ona Judge, the slave who fled George Washington’s presidential mansion in Philadelphia in 1796. Ona was Martha Washington’s personal servant, and she was extremely fond of the young woman. Her flight troubled the Washington marriage for a long time. George had little enthusiasm for regaining her from New Hampshire, where she found refuge. By this time he was having severe doubts about the value of slavery for America. But Martha could not accept what she saw as Ona’s ingratitude. Under the complex laws of slavery, George did not own Ona. She was descended from one of the slaves Martha inherited from the estate of her first husband.
Ona plays a prominent part in an exhibit at Mount Vernon, which portrays the Washington slaves there. She is also the subject of a book, “Never Caught: the Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of their Runaway Slave Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar. The exhibit is the first time that slavery has been publicly discussed at Mount Vernon. Research has discovered a newspaper featuring Ona in 1796, offering 10 dollars for the return of “a light skinned girl, much freckled, with very black eyes and bushy hair” who has “absconded” from the president’s house. Ona was born around 1773. Her mother was a slave and her father was a white indentured servant at Mount Vernon. Ona was brought to live in the mansion house, eventually becoming Martha Washington’s favorite servant. When Washington became president, she followed the first couple to New York and then Philadelphia, home to a growing black community. Some local blacks aided Ona to escape. Her chief motive was learning that Martha was going to give her to her granddaughter, Eliza. This awoke the harsh reality of slavery in the young woman’s mind. Ona had no idea what Eliza might do with her and decided to risk freedom. Martha wanted her back and begged George to find her. His pursuit was hardly relentless. He made three attempts to retrieve Ona over the course of several years. He was obviously responding to Martha’s pleas. Ona remained intransigent and spent the rest of her life in New Hampshire. Only when Martha read George’s will did she discover that he had freed all the slaves he owned. But Ona and Martha’s other inherited slaves were not included in this bold gesture, which George hoped would inspire others to do the same thing and begin a movement to gradually abolish slavery in America.
HAMILTON SELLS BIG OFF BROADWAY TOO
Sotheby’s, the Manhattan auction house, is the latest to profit from the rage for things Hamilton since the opening curtain of Lin Manuel Miranda’s musical. On Wednesday, Jan 18, 2017, enthusiasts coughed up almost $2.6 million for samples of his writing, featuring numerous letters to loved ones. All the documents came from one unidentified Hamilton descendant, the auction house told us before the feverish bidding began. A 1795 letter to sister-in-law Angelica Schuyler Church, with whom many think Hamilton had an affair, went for $62,500. That was seven times more than Sotheby’s had predicted. Several people must have read the longing letters Angelica exchanged with Hamilton – and taken a good look at her uninspiring British husband. A tender letter to Hamilton’s wife, Elizabeth, emptied another set of pockets to the tune of $40,000, Another letter relied on its news value more than its personal significance. In it Hamilton told Elizabeth that they had caught General Benedict Arnold trying to sell West Point to the British. A headline hunter paid $81,250 for that one. But the evening ended in a disappointment. Sotheby’s offered an original essay by Hamilton under the pen name Pacificus. It was part of the debate he had with James Madison about whether the United States should stay neutral in the looming war between Britain and France. Sotheby’s had predicted it would sell for $500,000 dollars. But they had to settle for $262,500. Apparently the buyers were more interested in the personal letters and were not as enthusiastic about Hamilton’s political activities. All things considered, the owners of the letters had little to complain about.
ONCE UPON A TIME, HAMILTON WAS NOBODY’S FAVORITE, ESPECIALLY FDR’S
Recently, C-SPAN featured a talk by Stephen Knott. His book, Alexander Hamilton and the Persistence of Myth, published in 2002, has been enjoying a resurrection. Knott notes the way Thomas Jefferson and his followers and later Andrew Jackson and his adherents saw Hamilton and his principles as un-American. His policies generated distress in the South and the West, where he is still seen as the founding plutocrat. Hamilton’s status reached its nadir during the New Deal when Franklin Roosevelt portrayed him as the personification of coldhearted greed. When FDR erected the Tidal Basin monument to Jefferson in 1943, he elevated the sage of Monticello to the American pantheon and Hamilton fell into almost total disrepute. He came to epitomize the forces of reaction, contemptuous of “the great beast,” the American people. Knott’s book has been reissued as a paperback.
A VISIT TO THE ROUND TABLE’S HISTORIC HOME
On January eighteenth, Tom Fleming journeyed to the bottom of Manhattan to speak to the New York State Society of the Cincinnati at Fraunces Tavern about his new book, The Strategy of Victory. He told his listeners that he felt very much at home at this venerable emporium. For almost 30 years, the New York Round Table met here. Five times a year Tom talked history with the founders of our conclave in this historic setting, with the ghost of Sam Fraunces looking on. Sam went on to become President Washington’s first steward.
Tom found much that was familiar in the old Tavern. Even though it was Saturday night, the bar was jammed. A guitarist was playing familiar tunes. On the second floor, there were changes: the spacious room in which the RT pioneers met was destroyed when Puerto Rican terrorists bombed the Tavern. The Cincinnati gathered for dinner in the Washington Room, a small but nicely decorated space where two waiters served endless drinks and a delicious meal. Tom found the food better than the old Tavern’s fare. He told the descendants of Washington’s officers about his new book, which portrays George as a thinking general. Surprise, surprise, they liked it. He doubles as their Washington scholar. The Round Table will hear more about it when the book comes out in September or October.
THE FIRST OVAL OFFICE
A few weeks ago, the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia celebrated a large step toward their opening day. They were cheering the first display of the centerpiece of their Museum, a fragile 10 feet tall elliptical tent. The linen marquee was the office and living quarters for George Washington during much of the Revolutionary War. R. Scott Stephenson, the museum’s vice president of collections, calls it, ” The first Oval Office.”
Conservators, engineers and Museum officials had spent years working toward this moment, the realization of a dream that began in 1909, when an Episcopal minister, hoping to build a museum at Valley Forge, bought the tent from a daughter of Robert E. Lee. At the $120,000,000 Museum, designed by Robert A. M. Stern, the tent will occupy a climate and light controlled space behind shatter-resistant glass. “Having any George Washington artifact is important, and having one as tangible as this is quite extraordinary,” says David Redden, former vice chairman of Sotheby’s. He declined to value the tent, but added: “ I can’t think of any other Revolutionary War tents that survive.”
Washington’s step-grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, gave the tent to his daughter, Mary, who had married Robert E. Lee, long before he became commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. The tent was seized by federal troops in 1862, and it wound up in storage at the Smithsonian Institute. There it remained until 1901, when after petitions by the Lee family, President McKinley returned it. In 1909, Mary Lee sold it for $5,000 to raise money for Confederate veterans. The purchaser was Reverend W. Herbert Burke, founder of the Valley Forge Historical Society, whose collection was given to the new museum in 2003. The date is a signpost that also tells us how long the museum has been waiting to be born.
Visitors can view the tent beginning on April nineteenth -- the 242nd anniversary of “the shot heard round the world” that set off the Revolution. The museum is in the center of historic Philadelphia just a short walk from Carpenters Hall, meeting place of the First Continental Congress. Inside the museum’s walls, visitors will walk through 16,000 square feet of permanent exhibition galleries that tell the war’s story through immersive experiences of re-created historical moments – as when General Washington stopped a fight between several dozen Virginia and Massachusetts soldiers in 1775.
Among the museum’s other treasures are a 13 Star commander-in-chief standard that marked Washington’s presence on the battlefield, the first newspaper printing of the Declaration of Independence and dozens of guns and uniforms. The museum takes pains to include the roles played by women and slaves, such as Washington’s fearless black valet William Lee, who was freed in Washington’s will. There are Native Americans and later immigrants in the tale. R. Scott Stephenson notes that the story does not end with American independence. It is a story that continues to this day. “We are still in the midst of this exhibition,” Stephenson said.
HISTORY PLUS CULTURE EQUALS EDUCATION
Polly Guerin worries that along with the Revolution’s thousands of facts we won’t have room for anything else in our crowded craniums. That explains the brilliant essay she sent us about this year’s Winter Antiques Show at the Park Avenue Armory (on 67th and Park.) The major exhibit is called Revolution And Evolution, which pays homage to the Folk Art collection of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Art Museum, one of the museums that populate Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. Perhaps its most popular painting is by the Massachusetts folk artist Ruben Law Reed, painted in the mid-19th century. It depicts commander-in-chief George Washington and his favorite French general, Gilbert du Motier Marquis de Lafayette on horseback surveying the land segment of one of the decisive engagements of the American Revolution – Yorktown. Family members claim that the image was painted from a description of the battle by eyewitnesses. Reed had ancestors who had fought in the battles of Lexington and Bunker Hill and he maintained a lifelong interest in the war. Polly noted every painting, wall paneling and piece of furniture in the show is vetted by a committee of 160 experts from America and Europe. So you can be sure you’re looking at the real thing.
COURTESY AND HONOR IN THE AFTERMATH OF THE BATTLE OF PRINCETON
If you visit the Morristown cemetery on Veteran’s Day, you will see small American flags fluttering over the graves of American soldiers. But over one grave flutters a Union Jack. Therein lies a touching story. Newly promoted British Captain Willie Leslie was killed in the early fighting at Princeton. In his pocket was a letter from Dr. Benjamin Rush, asking if he were captured, all courtesy should be shown him. Rush had lived with Leslie’s father, when he studied medicine in Scotland before the war. Rush was notified of Captain Leslie’s death and the doctor, who had been attending the wounded in the American camp, prevailed on General Washington to bury the young man with full military honors. Washington invited Generals Sullivan, Greene and Colonel Knox along with staff officers and an honor guard of Delaware soldiers. After the service the army marched into nearby Moristown for their first winter encampment. Rush wrote Leslie’s father a letter, telling him of the honors his son had received. After the war Rush paid for a stone for Leslie’s grave. All in all it is a touching example of the way the men who fought the Revolution remained civilized admirers of their redcoated foes.
THE SPEAKER FOR APRIL AND HIS TOPIC
George C. Daughan has a doctorate in American History from Harvard. He has taught at the US Air Force Academy, the University of Colorado and the University of New Hampshire. His book on the American Navy in the Revolution won the Samuel Eliot Morrison Award in 2008, His topic in April will be his new book, Revolution on the Hudson, which tells the story of the war in a new and surprising way.
AND A WORD FROM OUR CHAIRMAN
We will continue the Round Table’s 57th year on Tuesday, April 5, 2017, at 6 pm at The Coffee House Club, at 20 West 44th Street, on the sixth floor. As usual, we would like everyone’s reservation in advance. If you are having trouble receiving your digital copy, or would prefer a print copy, tell our secretary-treasurer Jon Carriel, at email@example.com.
Your most obdt svt,
David W. Jacobs