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13 posts categorized "American Revolution"

04 July 2017

Franklin and Jefferson – An Understanding that Crossed the Generations

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I was fortunate that April was the chosen month for my recent Fellowship at the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, because 13 April is the day when Mr Jefferson’s birthday is warmly celebrated at his home at Monticello. There are speeches, awards, a marching band and even a vast birthday cake.  Monticello is open every day of the year bar Christmas Day and runs a host of public events.  Two days though are particularly special: 13 April, known as Founder’s Day as it also marks Jefferson’s foundation of the University of Virginia; and, twelve weeks’ later, the Independence Day celebration of 4 July.  

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Marching band at Monticello celebrating Thomas Jefferson’s birthday, 13 April 2017

Jefferson has long been recognised as the chief and near total author of the Declaration of Independence. It was not always thus. The committee given responsibility for drafting the Declaration was one of five people: John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, Robert Livingston of New York, and Roger Sherman of Connecticut.  The resulting Declaration was deemed, at the time, to be a collaborative effort of the five men and Jefferson’s true role was not recognised until the 1790s. It was then revealed that the other four  had delegated the drafting to Jefferson and that Adams and Franklin had only seen his work at its final stage. As to their comments, Adams later wrote that ‘I do not now remember that I made or suggested a single alteration’[1] and  Franklin proposed the substitution of  just a few alternative words and phrases, although one of these was to prove extremely consequential.     

 

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The 1823 William Stone Facsimile version of the Declaration of Independence and the full-size statue of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello (photographed on Jefferson’s birthday)

The multi-talented Benjamin Franklin liked to describe himself as, first and foremost, a printer.  That description preceded all others in his last will and testament.[2]   Part of Franklin’s success as a printer was that he was his own, brilliant, writer and editor.  That brilliance was common  knowledge and thus, when Common Sense was first published, it was assumed – as Thomas Jefferson  later attested – that ‘Thomas Paine’ was a pseudonym for Benjamin Franklin. Some might therefore wonder why the authorial role for the Declaration was not given to the prestigious Dr Franklin, bearing in mind that he was then the most famous American in the world and a man of extraordinary intellectual ability.  It certainly was not because he was debarred from writing the Declaration because others feared he might include a joke!  That asinine schoolboy ‘myth’ was not ‘created’ until 1896 and was the result of a humorous article in Harper’s magazine. Franklin himself chose not to take the lead,  partly because Jefferson was a Virginian and Franklin believed that a representative from that colony should take charge, but also, more mundanely, because Franklin was not in the best of health. Most importantly, though, it was because Franklin had already seen the quality of Jefferson’s writing in publications such as A Summary View of the Rights of British America.

Like Franklin, Jefferson was not an orator but a master of the written word.  Franklin, recognising this, merely suggested a few deft editorial tweaks to the Declaration.  One of these small changes was, however, to prove exceptionally significant.  Franklin proposed  that ‘We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable’ should be replaced by ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident’, and with a remarkable sleight of hand he instantly created the Declaration’s most important and best-known element. This substitution neatly took God out of the equation and created the basis for a secular state based on rationalism rather than religious justification.[3]   It was a fundamental change with immediate consequence for America and with future ramifications for the entire world.

Jefferson did not hesitate to take up Franklin’s suggestion.   There was a great deal of respect between the two men who had much in common.  The age gap of thirty-seven years was easily bridged. Their written reflections of each other show that their mutual admiration was bolstered by affection.[4]   Each was an autodidact who had been fascinated from an early age by philosophy and science.  As well as being men who had a brilliant command of the written word, they were both inventors, with Franklin, in particular, renowned for the electrical experiments and invention of the lightning conductor that had led Immanuel Kant to describe him as ‘The Prometheus of Modern Times’.  Amongst the greatest influences on the young Franklin were Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton and John Locke and he took inspiration from them into his adult life.  Indeed, such was Franklin’s respect for Newton that the bust in David Martin’s 1766/7 portrait of Franklin (below) is of Newton.

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Benjamin Franklin by David Martin, 1766/7 (White House Art Collection)

Bacon, Newton and Locke  were also extremely important  influences on Jefferson.  The evidence for this can be seen in one glance in the parlour at Monticello.  There, in pride of place on one side of the door are portraits of these three great men.  They are balanced on the other side by another person who inspired Thomas Jefferson  and who deserved to be among  such exalted company -- that someone being, of course,  none other than Benjamin Franklin.

 

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© Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello.  Photograph by Bill Moretz

 

By George Goodwin, 2017 Eccles Centre Makin Fellow at the British Library

George Goodwin MA FRHistS FRSA, 2017 Eccles Centre Makin Fellow at the British Library, is a 2017 Peter Nicolaisen International Fellow at the Robert H. Smith Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello.  He is the author of  Benjamin Franklin in London: The British Life of America’s Founding Father  and  Author in Residence at Benjamin Franklin House in London   

Further Reading at the British Library

David Armitage, The Declaration of Independence: A Global History  (Cambridge, Mass. & London : Harvard University Press, c2007) [YC.2007.a.7862]

Lester J. Cappon, editor, The Adams-Jefferson Letters / the complete correspondence between Thomas Jefferson and Abigail and John Adams (Chapel Hill & London,  University of North Carolina Press, c1988) [YH.1989.b.258]

Jefferson Looney, editor , [et al],  The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. Retirement series / J. Jefferson Looney, editor  (Princeton & Oxford, Princeton University Press, 2014--) [YC.2005.a.1851 vol. 1 etc.]. See also 

Peter S. Onuf,  The Mind of Thomas Jefferson  (Charlottesville & London , University of Virginia Press, 2007) [YC.2007.a.10052]

Andrew O’Shaughnessy, The Men Who Lost America: British Command during the Revolutionary War and the preservation of the empire (London, One World, 2013) [YC.2013.a.14413]  

See also ‘Founders Online’ 

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[1].  “From John Adams to Timothy Pickering, 6 August 1822,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/99-02-02-7674. 

[2] The Writings of Benjamin Franklin, ed. Albert Henry Smyth, X: 493 (New York, Haskell House, 1970) [BL Document Supply A71/4290 vol. 10]

[3] See the 1823 William Stone Facsimile version here

[4]  e.g.  Jefferson’s amusement at the story of Abbé Raynal, Benjamin Franklin and Miss Polly Baker’.  See:  “The Speech of Miss Polly Baker, 15 April 1747,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-03-02-0057. [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 3, January 1, 1745, through June 30, 1750, ed. Leonard W. Labaree. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1961, pp. 120–125]   

14 June 2017

George Washington’s Legacy of Liberty 

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I recently had the great pleasure of spending time at the George Washington Library at Mount Vernon, where I both researched for my new book on Benjamin Franklin –  the subject of my Eccles Centre Makin Fellowship – and contributed some new material to the  George Washington Digital Encyclopaedia.  Another joy of Mount Vernon is the house tour.  This is not just because of the interest of the house itself and the glory of its position overlooking the Potomac, but also due to the warmth of the regard of the American visitors for Mount Vernon’s most distinguished owner. The Americans are proprietorial in the nicest possible way: not nationalistic, but personal.  Stories about Washington abound, as they talk of him as a greatly-admired ancestor.  That of course, as the “Father of his Country”, is what he is.

Washington is seen as part historic figure and part icon.  Emanuel Leutze’s painting ‘Washington Crossing the Delaware’ depicts a general truth above individual details. Certainly, the actual boats used in Washington’s famous river crossing were more steeply sided and higher in the water.  The ice in the river did not resemble arctic icebergs and even the men’s clothing was rather different.  However, the portrait was painted as a propaganda piece, three quarters of a century after the event, by a German American who hoped that the campaigners for reform in  the country of his birth would take inspiration from America’s own liberation.  Yet it is the iconic image of Washington that grabs the attention – and rightly so.

The image is iconic because the Washington characteristic that the Leutze portrait conveys so strongly is his leadership. Washington’s solid stance and foot thrust forward dramatically reflect his  ability to inspire. He is the still calm centre of the painting, anchoring the frenzied activity of all those moving urgently around him, while serving his and his new nation’s purpose in mounting a hazardous raid following a succession of defeats.  

The success of the crossing, and victory in the Battle of Trenton that followed, rekindled belief among the American patriot forces and provided a turning point in the War of Independence. The key to Washington’s success was that he was able to withstand  that run of defeats and to appear steadfast until the tide of the war turned, when Benjamin Franklin secured the support of the French and when the Battle of Yorktown was won.  The authority Washington  gained never left him.  It served him well as President of the Constitutional Convention:  he was crucial in reconciling the substantial differences between the States.  It perhaps latterly served him too well, as he was persuaded to serve a second term as President and reluctantly but dutifully did so. 

It is partly that sense of Washington’s authority that accounts for some of the appreciation of him by those visitors to Mount Vernon, but there is more to it than that. Like the Roman general Cincinnatus, he gave up retirement on his farm to take up arms and return to public service once more.  Unlike Cincinnatus he was unable to return to private life after a season, but had to wait for more than quarter of a century before he could finally, and gratefully, do so.  He thus astounded the   European monarchs who expected him to be like them and to die in kingly state.    The Cincinnatus story was well-known at the time, hence the foundation of the Society of the Cincinnati, an organization for officers who served in the Revolutionary War, with Washington as its first President.  But that was in 1783, well before Washington became President of his nation.     

It is perhaps the fact that Washington was determined to limit his power as President that is responsible for his reputation today. This was made clear by his actions, but the key to his approach is outlined in the most precious book in the George Washington Library -- one acquired by the Library at vast cost and added to their already extensive collection of George Washington’s books.   It is Washington’s own copy of The Acts of Congress including the United States constitution, marked up with his own notes on what he was empowered and not empowered to do.  It is evidence of a very happy conjunction of man and measures and why, both in America and around the world, there are so many statues to Washington and constitutions based on the American model.    It is also, of course, an important ongoing guide to executive action for his successors as President.   

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George Washington’s  personal copy of The Acts of Congress containing the US Constitution and his own annotations on the extent and limits of presidential power

 

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The Rare Books Vault at the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon with The Acts of Congress in pride of place. The Library, opened in 2013, is centred around the books and legacy of George Washington, every bit as much as the British Library has the Library of George III, Washington’s great opponent, at its centre. 

 

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George Goodwin sharing George Washington’s view from the porch at Mount Vernon 

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George Washington’s annotated version of The Acts of Congress  is available online

George Goodwin is the author of Benjamin Franklin in London: The British Life of America’s Founding Father (see British Library catalogue) and 2017 Eccles Centre Makin Fellow at the British Library

Further Reading at the British Library:

Douglas Bradburn, The Citizenship Revolution: Politics and the creation of the American Union, 1774-1804  (Charlottesville & London, University of Virginia Press, 2009) [m09/.28708]

Ron Chernow, Washington:  A Life (New York, Penguin, 2011;  London, Allen Lane, 2010) [YC.2011.a.12554]

Joseph J. Ellis, His Excellency, George Washington (New York, Vintage; London, Faber 2005) [YC.2008.a.3908]

Flora Fraser: George & Martha Washington:  a Revolutionary Marriage  (New York, Knopf; London, Bloomsbury, 2015) [DRT ELD.DS.72252]

John Rhodehamel, George Washington:  The Wonder of the Age (New Haven & London, Yale: 2017)  (Soon available from Explore.bl.uk )

27 January 2017

Founding Mothers (I): Postage Stamps depicting women’s contributions towards the formation of the United States of America

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As state sponsored government art, stamps offer an incredibly rich visual resource for gender studies, a fact most apparent when looking at how women have been commemorated on postage stamps issued by the United States of America. This first article will illustrate some of the stamps depicting women from the earliest British colonial settlements up until the American Revolutionary War. What immediately becomes apparent is that during the course of the twentieth century, the American Postal Authority recognised and honoured the central role women played in the nation’s formative history.

From the very first waves of British migration to the New World during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, women accompanied their husbands and families to form settlements. Some settlements were successful, others less so. The first English child born in the United States was a girl named Virginia Dare, born in August 1587 at the ill-fated “lost” colony of Roanoke in modern Dare County, North Carolina.  Since the colony mysteriously vanished soon after her birth, Virginia’s fate is unknown.  However, she subsequently became an icon in American folklore and politics being referred to in poems, books, comics and films. Although little is known about Virginia besides her historic birth, she has become famous enough to warrant her own commemorative postage stamp, depicted in Image 1. The stamp portrays Virginia as a baby being cradled by her mother Eleanor with her father Ananias standing close by.

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Image 1: United States of America, 18 August 1937 Anniversary of Birth of Virginia Dare, 5c stamp

 

Women also played a key role in the debates and military campaigns surrounding the American Revolutionary Wars (1775-1783) which resulted in the independence of Britain’s thirteen American settlements from colonial rule and the birth of the United States of America.  The founding mother of the United States, Abigail Adams (1744-1818) depicted on the United States Postage stamp in Image 2 was the wife and closest advisor of John Adams (1735-1826), a founding father and Second President of the United States. Her son John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) became the Sixth President of the United States.  A member of one of America’s first political dynasties, Abigail was also politically active corresponding on a variety of issues including women’s rights and the abolition of slavery.

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Image 2: United States of America, 14 June 1985 Abigail Adams Commemorative, 22c stamp

 

The first American flag, one of the most iconic symbols of America’s independence and national identity, is also credited to having been made by a woman named Elizabeth Griscom “Betsy” Ross (1752-1836), who presented it to General George Washington in 1776. The presentation of Betsy’s flag to George Washington has been depicted on the United States Postage Stamp issued for the bicentenary of her birth depicted in Image 3

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Image 3: United States of America, 2 January 1952, Birth Bicentenary of Betsy Ross (maker of the first American flag), and 3c stamp

 

Women’s contribution to the supply and production of essential military equipment during the American Revolutionary Wars has also been commemorated on the United States Postage stamp. Image 4 depicts a female seamstress producing military uniforms for Washington’s Continental Army.

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Image 4: United States of America, 4 July 1977 American Revolution Bicentennial “Skilled Hands for Independence” issue, 13c stamp

 

Finally the United States Postage Stamp overprinted “MOLLY PITCHER” depicted in Image 5 was issued in 1928 to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the 1778 Battle of Monmouth. The overprint “Molly Pitcher” refers to a nickname given to Mary Ludwig Hays (1754-1832), she was purported to have provided much needed supplies of water to help keep American cannon from overheating, in addition to loading cannon herself during the battle’s height under heavy enemy fire. Now regarded more as folklore than history, the nom-de-guerre is widely regarded as a symbol representing the brave and selfless acts of heroism and patriotism conducted by countless women during the American Revolutionary War.

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Image 5: United States of America, 20 October 1928 2c., carmine stamp overprinted “MOLLY PITCHER.”

 

Richard Scott Morel

Curator, Philatelic Collections

 

Source: Images from the British Library, Philatelic Collections UPU Collection

16 November 2016

American Studies Training Day in Boston Spa

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Have you visited the British Library in Boston Spa yet? Did you know that you can access millions of books, journals and newspapers from the Boston Spa Reading Room? If you live in the north of England, the British Library at Boston Spa may be the most convenient way to view our collections.

Last Friday the Americas Team and the Eccles Centre for American Studies joined forces for a special training session on resources for American Studies at the British Library at Boston Spa.

50 students from the universities of Leeds, Chester, Birmingham, York, Northumbria, Sunderland, Central Lancashire, Sheffield and Dundee, among others, joined us on a misty autumnal morning in North Yorkshire to explore the British Library’s North American holdings.

Aerial shot of Boston Spa site

The British Library at Boston Spa from the sky (we went by train)

The day began with an introduction to the British Library holdings and the history of the American collections within the Library. We had a look at the different catalogues for printed items, manuscripts, and the sound archive, as well as our collection of e-resources. This was followed by a virtual show and tell of highlights in our American collections (take a look at our American Revolution and American Literature in Europe sites to see a few of the items we discussed).

Our day continued with a fascinating presentation about the Boston Spa site and the UK newspaper collections by our colleagues Joanne Cox and David Clayforth, where we heard about how the Library’s different sites and collections have been reconfigured over time. The Eccles Centre’s Fran Fuentes illustrated how the newspaper collections holds vast potential for researchers working in the Americas, and guided students through a case study focussing on holdings of regional US newspapers. This was followed by two parallel sessions: one on resources for the study of American literature, where we looked at the research potential of comparing UK and US editions as well as our wonderful collection of fine press books, and one on US official publications, where Jennie Grimshaw helped students navigate our immense and sometimes challenging collection.

We are hoping to organise a similar training day in 2017 and we will advertise it widely on the blog and our twitter accounts @_Americas and @BL_EcclesCentre. Do let us know if there are any areas in the collections about which you would like to learn more!

29 July 2015

Loyalist Lawyers: Exiles from the American Revolution

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Above: A Copy of Paul Revere's engraving of the Boston Massacre, The Massachusetts Calender, for...1772...By Philomathes [from our 'American revolution' web resource]

[This year the British Library Americas Blog and U.S. Studies Online will be publishing a series of posts as part of the Eccles Centre’s Summer Scholars 2015 series of talks. The articles are based on talks given by a range of writers and scholars conducting research at the British Library thanks to generous research fellowships and grants awarded by the Eccles Centre. This first post it by Sally E. Hadden, Western Michigan University, on part of her research into lawyers living in 18th century Boston. A schedule for the remaining Scholars talks can be found here]

For my current book project, I’m investigating lawyers who lived in 18th century Boston, Philadelphia, and Charleston. Towards the end of the century, these individuals took a leading role in conducting the American Revolution, and also in the creation of the legal structures that became new state governments and the national government of the United States. As lawyers, they were also a bit of a closed community, speaking an arcane language filled with terms that others could not understand unless they shared the same training: words like fee tail male, executrix, intestacy, writs of attachment, or tripartite bonds were their stock in trade, plus Latin tags for every occasion. Being part of this community of men trained in the same field held them apart from all others, as well as holding them together in a sort of invisible association.

This invisible association of men traveled together for weeks at a time, four times per year. Colonial lawyers who wanted to earn their livings could not stay in their offices and expect clients to always find them—they needed to travel on circuit, going from town to town as the judges did, visiting the far-flung parts of a county to bring justice with them. Imagine this cluster of men, traveling as they did on horseback for a grimy day or two, then setting up camp in the taverns and inns of a new place. It was a sort of traveling circus, and within the circus, the men who were judges and lawyers formed a tight-knit group, with friendships formed there that often lasted a lifetime. Even after the Revolution, John Adams still spoke with fondness about Jonathan Sewall, a man he shared a bed with while traveling on circuit, his friend of many years—who became a loyalist.

It was the friendships within this group that first drew my attention to loyalist lawyers. I began to turn up the names of individuals who had been part of this tight-knit invisible association, but whose politics led them to part from their friends, their profession (as they knew it), and take refuge during the American Revolution. As part of the exodus of (we estimate) over 50,000 individuals from the colonies, these men have sometimes been lumped in and studied with other loyalists—but they were a breed apart. Unlike the shoemaker or blacksmith, they could not readily find work in just any old town: they needed one with a courthouse, and enough people, to sustain their legal practices.

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Above: drawing lines after the war, Mitchell The Red Lined Map, 1775, K.Top [from our 'American Revolution' web resource]

My work at the British Library involves tracking Boston men like Andrew Cazneau, Samuel Fitch, Benjamin Gridley, James Putnam, Ward Chipman, Daniel Leonard, Rufus Chandler, Abel Willard, Daniel Bliss, and even law student Jeremiah Dummer Rogers. Of the 47 lawyers working in Boston at the time of the Revolution, they split roughly down the middle in terms of their choices: about 20 stayed and took up the patriot cause, while about 20 left with the British and went overseas seeking to remain loyal. From Philadelphia, the sons of Chief Justice William Allen in Philadelphia, Andrew and James, trained in the law and wanted to continue practicing, but not under the new American regime. James Allen wrote in his diary June 6, 1777 that the laws of Pennsylvania were disregarded, the assembly was ridiculous, and the courts were not open. All of this made “a mockery of Justice.” He and others in his family took refuge with the British, and then eventually left America for good. Still, it was a smaller number of loyalist lawyers who left Philadelphia than in Boston. And in Charleston, the number of departing men was smaller still. Only eight or nine of the most prominent lawyers of the city chose to depart, most of whom were middle-aged, and inclined to conservatism, like their fellow loyalists. James Simpson, the attorney general, William Burroughs, the head of chancery, and Egerton Leigh all had large practices and departed, Charles Pinckney took protection under the British while they occupied Charleston—but the remainder of the men with the most numerous clients remained behind as patriots. One big question my study will eventually address is, why did so many more Boston lawyers leave for England than men in those same professions in Philadelphia or Charleston?

These men fled to a variety of destinations, including modern-day Canada, the Caribbean, and France. Most went to London. Clubs sprang up to provide these London exiles with conversation, a network of information, and recreation. By the summer of 1776, they had formed the “Brompton-Row Tory Club” or “Loyalist Club” which met for dinner, conversation, and backgammon on a weekly basis, in homes that lined the current day Brompton Road. They made claims to the Parliament loyalist commission, seeking compensation for their lost homes, libraries, and incomes. Thomas Hutchinson, whose diary and correspondence from this period are housed in the manuscript collections of the British Library, provides insight into the changing prospects of these men. Many of them had less and less hope that their former lives would be restored, as the war dragged on. They moved out of London for less expensive towns like Bristol, Sidmouth, Exeter, Bath, even South Wales.

A very few, like Daniel Leonard, chose to take up the practice of law again in London, though for Leonard it required undergoing the various meals and moots associated with student life at the advanced age of 37 to join the Middle Temple before he could do so. Most colonial lawyers—aside from those in Charleston—had not completed their legal training in London. Leonard became a barrister and in 1781 was appointed Chief Justice of Bermuda, where he lived for several years, prior to retirement and death in London.

Recapturing what happened to these men as they scattered to smaller cities, or spread out to other parts of the British Empire, forms an important part of my larger project. The riches at the British Library will undoubtedly reveal more about their choices, once the Revolution had turned in favour of the Americans in 1778.

[SH. More on Summer Scholars here]

04 April 2014

Old bits of Trees by Andrea Wulf

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As a historian I get very excited about old letters, diaries, account books and inventories – but once in a while there are other ‘records’ that trump almost everything else.

I had one of those moments this week when I returned to George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Over the past six years I have been many times to Washington’s estate in Virginia (just south of Washington DC) – first to research my book  Founding Gardeners and then to give talks about the book. By now I go there to see the changes in the gardens (of which there are many, such as the fabulous restoration of the Upper Garden) and to meet my friend Dean Norton who is the Director of Horticulture there. Dean always makes a huge effort to entertain me – for example, by taking me out on the Potomac in a boat or letting me drive around the estate with a gator [A John Deere utility vehicle, not a reptile - ed.].

Last Wednesday’s visit, however, was one of the most memorable. Within a little more than a month, three very old and important trees had come down. The most visible loss is the majestic Pecan tree next to the house. It was a shock to see Mount Vernon without the beautiful tree (145 feet high). It all looked a bit naked.

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Mount Vernon’s Pecan before it was taken down (photo by Dean Norton)

Dean explained to me that they had finally decided to take down the tree because it threatened the house. One big storm and the Pecan might have crashed onto Washington’s house. No matter how old the tree (from the 1850s), the mansion and its content was of course more important.

It took four days to take the giant down – with a crane. They did a fabulous time–lapse film of it.

Click here to see the film.

At the same time they felled a white oak that had been killed by lightening a while ago. The white oak was in a less prominent spot but it was even older – pre–1770 and most likely planted by the great man himself. Another painful loss. At least the wood is now invaluable for restoration projects at the house.

And then, on 31 March, the next tree came down – crumbling under its own weight. This was a big swamp chestnut oak which grew at the ha-ha wall on the slope towards the river. Planted in the 1760s or 1770s it was probably also placed there by Washington. It was completely rotten from the inside and just needed that last bit of wind to crash down. It's so sad to see these giants lying broken on the ground.

When I scrambled around to pick up a bit of bark to take home as a memento, Dean got a chainsaw and sliced off a bit for me. Now I have my own Washington tree in my office. That’s the kind of history that gets under my skin.

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Andrea Wulf is a Eccles Centre Writer-in-Residence emeritus.

22 May 2013

The early US Navy in the Gulf

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Thanks to the British Library’s Qatar Foundation Partnership, a large collection of India Office Records are currently being digitised and researched.  One of the Qatar team, Francis Owtram, recently came across some documents that reveal British concerns about  America's expanding naval presence in the region at the time of the War of Independence.  Here he shares some of his notes.

Correspondence of the English East India Company in 1778 discusses the impending outbreak of hostilities between Great Britain and France in connection with the American Revolutionary War.

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IOR/R/15/1/4, Letter No. 14, 15 April, 1778, from P. Michell, Secretary East India Houseto William Digges Latouche and George Abraham, Bussora [Basra]

... The present critical situation of public affairs and particularly the great warlike preparations which are making in this Kingdom and in France together with the late declaration made by His Majesty’s Command respecting a convention which has taken place between the French and the Americans and concerning it probable that an event so extraordinary may be productive of the most serious consequences and even of a rupture between Great Britain and France, the Court of Directors have ordered me to communicate this interesting intelligence in order to put you well on your guard in case of extremities in order, that you may exercise the greatest caution and prudence for the security of their property and concerns depending on your management...

The French and Americans concluded a Treaty of Alliance in Paris on 6 February 1778; Britain then declared war on France.

In August 1778, the Lieutenant Governor of St Helena forwarded some intelligence on American shipping in the Atlantic Ocean:

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IOR/R/15/1/4, 24 August, 1778, Letter from P. Michell, Secretary East India House to the Worshipful the Agent and Council, for all the affairs of the English Nation at Bussora [Basra]
... Having received intelligence from Captain Moutray that in his outward bound Voyage to this Island he received information at the Island of Palma that there had been two American privateers lately there, the one a two decked Ship and the other a Frigate and on his arrival at St Jago he was further  informed that the said two Privateers had also been there and had left that Island fourteen days before his arrival giving out that they were bound to the Southwards. This intelligence we thought necessary to communicate to Captain Traver,  Commander of the Earl of Mansfield by Letter...

It can be recalled that in April 1778 the nascent US Navy was involved in action closer to Britain. John Paul Jones and the 'Ranger' attacked Whitehaven in a ship given to the Americans by the French.  The India Office Records also reveal US movements in the Gulf: by 1790 the Boston brig “Rambler” had docked in Muscat, and in 1802 the English East India Company’s Resident in  Bushire, Persia, even used an American ship ‘The Two Sons’ to transport packets to Bussora.

[F.O.]

02 October 2012

Sheila Rowbotham: Helen Tufts Bailie and the Daughters of the American Revolution

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The Daughters of the American Revolution, (DAR) are a group of American women who can claim descent from people who took part in the American Revolution against British rule. When the DAR prevented the singer Marian Anderson from performing in Constitution Hall in Washington, Eleanor Roosevelt resigned in protest.  And the DAR gained a reputation for racism.

Of course black Americans too can lay claim to revolutionary forebears. And at last, this year the New York Times announced that a black American, Olivia Cousins had become the president of a DAR chapter in Jamaica, Queens.  (New York Times July 4 2012)

A friend from the US sent me the cutting because she  knew I was writing about Helen Tufts Bailie who  in 1928,  bravely locked horns with the DAR leadership.  Tufts upbraided them for blacklisting, not simply anarchists, socialists and Communists, but a great swathe of liberal speakers, including an assortment of bishops and rabbis.  Among the organisations branded as ‘unAmerican’ were the Women’s League for Peace and Freedom and the American Association of American Women. The Red Scare of the late 1920s evinced some of the absurdities which would recur during the later McCarthy trials. Tufts Bailie pointed out that Mrs Lucia Ames Mead, a supporter of the League of Nations had got onto the blacklist simply because the clergy man organising her meeting hailed from Moscow, Idaho.

Tufts Baillie was exceedingly proud of her revolutionary ancestors and had become a keen family historian before the term was invented but she loathed what she described as the complacent patriotism of 'My country always right' declaring that if that was patriotism she wanted none of it.

She had been appalled to discover a man was distributing the DAR blacklists and somehow got a living from doing so. She notified the DAR because she assumed it was illicit. By April she was coming to realise that the policy had support from within the leadership.

Suffrage leader Carrie Chapman Catt and the social settlement pioneer, Jane Addams, put their weight  behind her  protests. But to no avail. The evidence Tufts Bailie presented for the existence of blacklists was swept aside  and the blacklists denied.  By June 1928 she had been expelled from the DAR. A powerful anti-suffrage and militaristic lobby had assumed control in the DAR and Helen Tufts Baillie and her allies were defeated.

In the late nineteenth century Helen Tufts Baillie had been able to regard herself as an American patriot  taking pride in its revolutionary traditions while being active on the left. By the 1920s a shift had occurred and patriotism had been redefined by the right.

You can read some of the historical reasons for this in Kirsten Marie Delegard’s, Battling Miss Bolsheviki: The Origins of Female Conservatism in the United States (2012) - in the British Library.

[S.R.]