Image courtesy of Colonial National Historical Park, Yorktown.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Meeting Notes: May 16, 2018

"Benedict Arnold: Guilty or Innocent?" by John Millar

While most Americans regard Benedict Arnold as a traitor, historian John Millar called him “a patriot” at the May 16, 2018 meeting of the American Revolution Round Table of Richmond.

“Arnold changed sides because he hated greedy real estate speculators and tobacco planters who wanted to rip off land from Native Americans for westward expansion,” said Millar. “Arnold thought Congress needed a kick in the pants. He was a patriot right to the end.”

According to Millar, the westward expansion was fueled by the need for tobacco planters to find fresh soil to grow their crops. When tobacco was grown on the same soil for a number of years, the soil became poisoned with a chemical which stripped the soil of its nutrients.

Millar also praised Arnold for his efforts after the American Revolution to restore trade between Great Britain and the new American nation. After Arnold moved to London he became friends with King George III, and convinced the king that it was in Britain’s best interests to trade with America rather than allow America to trade primarily with France. Not only did Great Britain resume trade with America but the British navy frequently protected American merchant ships against pirates. 

When King George III listened to Benedict Arnold, he was listening to a man with considerable trade experience. Prior to the American Revolution, Arnold was a merchant in New Haven, CT and “knew the whole East Coast and Canada”, according to Millar.

Arnold was also the founder of New Haven’s militia unit and served as its captain. When word reached New Haven on April 22, 1775 about the earlier fighting at Lexington and Concord, he immediately called out his troops with the intention of marching to Cambridge, MA where other American troops were stationed opposite the British army occupying Boston. 

However Arnold’s troops hadn’t marched more than 15 miles when they changed direction and headed toward Lake Champlain, NY. They arrived in time to participate in the American capture of the very strategic Fort Ticonderoga.  (Arnold sent a few sent to Fort Ti, but he actually went to Cambridge, got commissioned a colonel by Massachusetts and then went to Ti.) 

“Arnold had a mind like a steel trap,” said Millar. “He knew that Lake Champlain would be critical to the war effort, and he knew that Fort Ticonderoga had a heckuva lot of cannons that were needed by the American army outside Boston.”

After Henry Knox led an American force to move the cannons from the fort to the heights above Boston the British abandoned the city. 

Following the liberation of Boston, Arnold led one of the two American armies in a campaign to capture Quebec City, which according to Millar, had 25% of all the cannons in North America. Arnold led his army northward through modern-day Maine to Quebec while Richard Montgomery led another American army northward from Upstate New York to Montreal, and then eastward to Quebec. On New Year’s Eve 1775 the two armies unsuccessfully attacked the city’s very strong defenses. Arnold was wounded and Montgomery was killed.

After Arnold and Montgomery’s remaining troops gradually retreated out of Canada and back into New York, the British launched a Fall 1776 campaign against Upstate New York. Sir Guy Carleton’s troops got as far as Lake Champlain when they encountered a small American army under Arnold’s command which had built its own ships, and challenged the British navy on Lake Champlain near Valcour Island. Although the British prevailed, the tenacious fight from Arnold’s small fleet intimidated the British to the point of where Carleton called off his southward campaign before the arrival of winter. 

“George Washington owes the saving of his army at New York to Arnold’s fleet on Lake Champlain,” said Millar. 

In February, 1777, Arnold was passed over for promotion to major general, with five men junior to him being appointed.  He was promoted before Saratoga, but his seniority wasn’t restored until after Saratoga.  This was a big point on contention between Arnold and Congress.

In May 1777 General John Burgoyne replaced Carleton as the British northern army commander with the mission to capture Albany. His army marched southward from Canada while the British army under Colonel (Was a BG at this time) Barry St. Leger marched eastward from Lake Ontario. When St. Leger’s troops surrounded American troops at Fort Stanwix, Arnold led a small American army to relieve the siege.

“Arnold put out fake news that he had a much bigger army than he actually did,” said Millar. “When British informants told St. Leger the erroneous news, St. Leger’s army retreated.”

Following his rescue of Fort Stanwix, Arnold participated in the two pivotal battles of Saratoga, which historians often call “the turning point” of the American Revolution.

“Arnold was given only so much authority at Saratoga because the overall army commander, Horatio Gates, didn’t like him. Although Arnold didn’t get the credit he deserved for helping to win the campaign, he probably did more than anyone else to win it,” said Millar. 

Arnold was badly wounded at Saratoga and nearly lost a leg. As a result of his severe wound, George Washington gave him an administrative assignment which would allow him to continue his recovery. He selected Arnold to serve as the military commander of Philadelphia after the British abandoned the city in June 1778. 

While serving in this position, Arnold fell in love with Peggy Shipman and married her. She and her family had loyalist sympathies and friendships with British officers such as Major John Andre. When Arnold decided to change allegiances, it was Andre who served as a liaison between Arnold’s confidants and Sir Henry Clinton, the British army commander in New York City.

After Arnold became the American commander at West Point he began a systematic plan to weaken the fort’s defenses. On September 21, 1780 he met with Andre near West Point, and soon afterward Andre got caught by American troops while in possession of documents revealing Arnold’s plot to allow the British to capture this strategic fort. Once the plot was uncovered, Arnold barely alluded capture by American troops and made his way to a British ship which took him to New York City.

The British made Arnold a brigadier general in their army, and later gave him the assignment to raid Virginia during the Winter of 1780-81. According to Millar, Arnold chose Portsmouth as his base of operations because the surrounding water was too shallow for the larger French ships to attack his supply base.

From Portsmouth Arnold’s raiding party sailed up the James River to Westover Plantation, and then marched virtually unopposed into Richmond where they destroyed warehouses and a foundry, and captured military supplies. Then they returned to Portsmouth.

During the Spring of 1781 Arnold served as the second-in-command to General William Phillips when the British once again raided Central Virginia. This time their primary targets were Petersburg and Manchester. Phillips became ill in Petersburg and died on May 12, 1781, leaving Arnold temporarily in command. 

Approximately one week later General Charles Cornwallis marched his army from the Carolinas into Central Virginia, and took overall command of British forces in that area. Arnold returned to New York City in June 1781.  

On September 4, 1781 Arnold led a British raid on New London, CT. Most of the town burned to the ground but according to Millar, a fire spread rapidly because a ship containing gunpowder exploded. 

“Arnold got blamed for burning the town but he didn’t mean to,” said Millar. “A ship blew up.”

During the Winter of 1781-82 Benedict Arnold left American soil for the last time, as a passenger sailing from New York City to London. One of his fellow passengers was Cornwallis, who had been paroled after his Yorktown surrender. The two of them developed a close friendship while on their voyage, and in fact Cornwallis would later introduce Arnold to King George III. 

Benedict Arnold died in London on June 14, 1801 at the age of 60. He was buried in a London churchyard and wearing his Continental army uniform. 

John Millar and his wife Cathy own and manage Newport House Bed and Breakfast, located in Williamsburg near the Historic District. He is a former museum director and a member of both the American Revolution Round Table of Richmond and the Williamsburg-Yorktown American Revolution Round Table. 

Millar is also the author or co-author of several books which include the following:

1. Ships of the American Revolution

2. Early American Ships

3. Country Dances of Colonial America

Prior to the speaker’s presentation the American Revolution Round Table of Richmond briefly discussed several topics, such as the need for members to submit nominations to President Bill Welsch concerning the 2018 Preservation Partner.

-----Bill Seward

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Next Meeting: July 18, 2018

"Brothers in Arms: American Independence and the Men of France and Spain Who Saved It," Larrie Ferrero

Meetings are held in the Westhampton Room, Heilman Dining Center (dining hall--building 34 on the campus map), University of Richmond, at 6:00 p.m. with dinner available for purchase beginning at 5:00 p.m.

Due to the University of Richmond being out of regular session, we will revert to our summer schedule: The meeting will begin at 6:00 p.m. with dinner still available for purchase in the Dining Center beginning at 5:00 p.m. Please plan on joining us!

University of Richmond campus map:

Friday, April 13, 2018

Call for Nominations for Our 2018 Preservation Partner

Please submit your nomination(s) for our 2018 Preservation Partner to Bill Welsch at or bring them with you to our May 16, 2018 meeting (the deadline).

As a reminder, five dollars of each membership goes towards our preservation effort.

Next Meeting: May 16, 2018

"Benedict Arnold: Guilty or Innocent? by John Millar

For this meeting only, we will meet in the Tyler Haynes Commons (number 4 on the linked campus map; just down the hill from the dining hall where we usually meet). The dining hall will be closed so dinner will not be available and the meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. 

The meeting will be held in the Haynes Room on the first floor of the Tyler Haynes Commons.

University of Richmond campus map:

Meeting Notes: March 28, 2018

"Mary Ball Washington, the Mother of George Washington," Michelle L. Hamilton

During an age when most young widows either remarried or moved into a home with family members, the mother of George Washington chose a much more independent lifestyle of living on her own for approximately 46 years until her death.

“Mary Ball Washington decides not to remarry at age 35 in order to protect her assets,” said historian Michelle L. Hamilton at the March 28, 2018 meeting of the American Revolution Round Table of Richmond. “She becomes the head of household and collects the rent for her children on the property that they inherit from their father.”

Hamilton is the author of the recently published book entitled Mary Ball Washington: The Mother of George Washington. Hamilton also serves as the manager of the Mary Washington House Museum in Fredericksburg, VA.

When Augustine Washington (Mary’s husband) died on April 12, 1743, he left her with five children under the age of 12. In addition she lost approximately 60% of her income upon Augustine’s death when his two sons from a previous marriage inherited their father’s two largest properties.

By not remarrying, Mary prevented her family assets and those of her five children (including George) from coming under the control of a future husband. Instead of remarrying she acted as trustee for all of her young children until they became old enough to inherit property.

Mary Ball Washington had a history of independent living long before the death of her husband Augustine. She was the only child of Joseph Ball and Mary Johnson Ball, a widow with two children from a previous marriage. Mary was born in 1708 and just three years later her father died, leaving her an inheritance of slaves, cattle and 400 acres.

Mary’s mother remarried shortly thereafter and then her stepfather died, leaving 600 acres to Mary’s half-brother John Johnson and a plantation in Northumberland County called Cherry Point to her half-sister Elizabeth Johnson. When Mary was 13 years old, both her mother and her half-brother died, leaving the 600 acres to Mary. She then went to live with her half-sister Elizabeth at Cherry Point. Thus as a young teenage orphan, Mary Ball owned slaves, cattle and a total of 1,000 acres from two inheritances.

George Eskridge, a lawyer and close friend of the family, served as Mary’s legal guardian and managed her land holdings. In a few years he would also introduce Mary to his good friend named Augustine Washington, who had recently become a widower. The two of them married on March 6, 1731. She was age 23 and he was 36 years old.

Augustine and Mary made their home on his plantation at Pope’s Creek in Westmoreland County. On February 22, 1732 Mary gave birth to their first child named George. One year later she gave birth to a daughter named Betty, and the following year to a son named Samuel.

In 1735 Augustine and Mary moved their growing family to his plantation at Little Hunting Creek, which would later be renamed Mount Vernon. The family lived there for three years, where Mary gave birth in 1736 to a son named John Augustine and in 1738 to a son named Charles. Later in 1738 the family moved once again to a plantation called Ferry Farm, across from Fredericksburg.

In 1739 Mary gave birth to her last child named Mildred who died from a childhood disease 16 months later. Tragedy continued for Mary at Ferry Farm when in 1743 her husband Augustine died from a stomach disease after a very short illness.

“When her husband died, Mary got back the 1,000 acres of her property that she brought into the marriage,” said Hamilton. “Her sons and daughters got everything else.”

Mary and her young children continued to live at Ferry Farm. She struggled financially to rear her children and as a result, she couldn’t afford to send George and his younger brothers to school in England as Augustine had done for his two sons from his first marriage. Instead George and his younger brothers were tutored by the Reverend James Marye in Fredericksburg.

After all of her children reached adulthood and moved away, Mary continued to exercise her dower rights and remained at Ferry Farm. In fact she continued to live on the plantation until the early 1770s when she was in her 60s. However during the Winter of 1771 she became very ill with influenza during horrible weather,  and became virtually isolated from her family, doctors and close friends who lived across the Rappahannock River in Fredericksburg.

She recovered but the isolation during her serious illness convinced her to accept her family’s pleas to move across the river into Fredericksburg. In 1772 her son George sold Ferry Farm and used some of the proceeds to purchase a 1 1/2-story cottage for Mary which was adjacent to the Kenmore plantation where Mary’s daughter Betty and her son-in-law Fielding Lewis lived.

After the American Revolution began in April 1775, Mary’s son George became the commander of the Continental Army and left Virginia. Mary and George didn’t see each other between 1775-1784, and exchanged very few letters.

“Communication between George Washington and his family in Fredericksburg was very difficult during the war,” said Hamilton.

The war created hardships for Mary and the rest of her Fredericksburg family. A smallpox epidemic resulted in a very poor harvest in 1778, which caused both a food and cash shortage for Mary. This forced her to write the man serving as George’s overseer at Mount Vernon for assistance. In 1780 the government requisitioned a large quantity of Mary’s bacon in order to feed Continental soldiers.

During April 1781, the Marquis de Lafayette visited Mary in Fredericksburg while he was passing through for military purposes. They had a very pleasant visit, and for years afterward Lafayette made it a point in letters he wrote to Washington to extend his best wishes to Mary.

When General Charles Cornwallis moved his British army into Central Virginia and fairly close to Fredericksburg, the local militia commander ordered Mary and the rest of the Washington family to evacuate to a safer locality. Mary, her daughter Betty and son-in-law Fielding Lewis moved to the Lewis’ home in Frederick County, VA (near Winchester).

Fielding Lewis was terminally ill with a lung disease, and the family’s financial conditions sharply worsened. As a result, Mary attempted to receive additional income by applying to the Virginia legislature for a military pension because her late husband Augustine had served in the Virginia militia.

“Mary’s pension application didn’t sit well with her son George,” said Hamilton. “It looked as if her son couldn’t take care of his mother.”

Washington responded by writing a lengthy letter to legislator Benjamin Harrison, asking the General Assembly to stop or to deny Mary’s request for a pension.

When Washington and his army marched through Fredericksburg in September 1781 on their way to Yorktown, Mary was still living in the Winchester area and therefore missed seeing her oldest son. In 1782 Mary returned to her cottage in Fredericksburg. Washington returned to Mount Vernon in 1784, and the two of them saw each other for several years on a regular basis.

However by the late 1780s Mary’s health steadily declined as a result of breast cancer. On March 8, 1789 Washington visited his mother for the last time. In a few weeks he would travel to New York City to become the first president of the United States.

On August 25, 1789 Mary Ball Washington lost her battle with breast cancer and died at her cottage in Fredericksburg.

Michelle L. Hamilton is the author or editor of three books in addition to Mary Ball Washington: The Mother of George Washington. They are as follows:

1. I Would Still Be Drowned In Tears: Spiritualism In Abraham Lincoln’s White House

2. My Heart Is In The Cause: The Civil War Diary Of James Meyers---Hospital Steward 45th Pennsylvania 1863-1865

3. Manners During The Civil War: American Etiquette Or Customs Adopted By The Polite Society Throughout The United States

Prior to the speaker’s presentation ARRT-Richmond President Bill Welsch asked the audience to start thinking about nominations for ARRT-Richmond’s 2018 Preservation Partner. Each member may submit nominations via email to President Welsch or may do so in person at the May 16 membership meeting.

--Bill Seward

Friday, April 6, 2018

2017 Harry M. Ward Book Prize Presentation

The 2017 Harry M. Ward Book Prize was presented to Nathaniel Philbrick for his book Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution. The presentation was made at the Seventh Annual Symposium on the American Revolution in Williamsburg, VA on March 24, 2018.

(l. to r.) Mark Lender, Chairman of the ARRT-Richmond Book Prize Committee, Nathaniel Philbrick, and Bill Welsch, President of ARRT-Richmond

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

March 21 Meeting Postponed

Tomorrow night's meeting is postponed until next Wednesday, March 28, 2018.

Everything else will remain the same – speaker, time, and place. Michelle Hamilton will be speaking on Mary Ball Washington.