Image courtesy of Colonial National Historical Park, Yorktown.

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Harry M. Ward Book Prize Winners!

The American Revolution Round Table of Richmond is very pleased to announce that the 2022 Harry M. Ward Book Prize honors two excellent but very different works on the War for Independence. Our winners are John Ferling’s, Winning Independence: The Decisive Years of the Revolutionary War, 1778-1781 (New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2021), and Steven D. Smith’s, Francis Marion and the Snow's Island Community: Myth, History, and Archaeology (Ashville, NC: United Writers Press, 2021).


John Ferling is (or certainly should be) a familiar name to anyone with more than a passing interest in the Founding Era. He is one of the true deans of the history of the Revolution and its related events. Winning Independence takes a fresh new look at the later years of the War for Independence, when after years of fighting, the course of the conflict continued to defy prediction. The French Alliance had kept the patriot war effort war going, but with the shift of major British operations to the South, there was seemingly no end of the conflict in sight. Ferling’s perspective on the southern war is provocative. He presents a new and positive re-evaluation of the strategic vision of Henry Clinton, and thus takes a critical view of Cornwallis. Ferling also suggests that time was not necessarily on the patriots’ side as the American economy went into virtual free-fall and army and popular morale tanked along with it. Clinton actually thought a British victory was within his grasp. How Washington, the French, and any number of other patriots responded to all of this, and how British miscalculations ultimately led to Yorktown, makes for thoughtful and often dramatic reading. The book is based on an extraordinary research effort and is beautifully written. Winning Independence is John Ferling at his best.

Historians have looked at Francis Marion, the famous Swamp Fox who so vexed the British campaign in South Carolina, from almost every conceivable angle. Now, however, in Francis Marion and the Snow's Island Community, Steve D. Smith has added a new dimension to the story. He has, so to speak, dug Marion up—by excavating the territory that served as the partisan leader’s home base. Smith is an archaeologist at the University of South Carolina’s Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology, and his book is based on an exhaustive study of Snow’s Island, a marshy and remote area north of Charleston. The people living on and near Snow’s Island were ardent rebels and were quick to join the rebellion against the Crown. Many of them had become partisans as early as 1775, and after the British capture of Charleston in 1780, they offered a haven to Marion when he arrived to launch guerilla operations. Smith has used extensive archaeological evidence to document the nature of the Snow’s Island community and how it served as a base and as a source of supplies and recruits for the Swamp Fox. Drawing deeply on the literature of partisan warfare, including the work of Mao Zedong, Smith describes the interactions of Marion and the civilian population and infrastructure that kept patriot resistance alive in South Carolina in the face of enemy occupation and anti-partisan efforts. The book is a fascinating read.

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Meeting Notes: January 18, 2023

1/18/2023 – Washington’s Tent

The January 18, 2023 members’ meeting was hosted by the University of Richmond in conjunction with Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Richmond via Zoom.

Mark Lender announced Harry M. Ward Book Prize committee’s winner of the 2022 competition: A TIE! Winning Independence: The Decisive Years of the Revolutionary War, 1778-1781 by John Ferling, and Francis Marion and the Snow's Island Community: Myth, History, and Archaeology by Steven D Smith. Congratulations to both.

Tyler Putnam, Ph.D., manager of gallery interpretation for the Museum of the American Revolution, in Philadelphia, presented an object biography following General George Washington’s Revolutionary War marquee and headquarters tents.

Marquee tents were tents of unusual size and elaborateness. These officer's field-tents were large tents erected for temporary purposes, such as to accommodate a special occasion, or as temporarily housing for a commanding officer and providing personal space for command activities. Marquees were hard to come by throughout the war. After taking command of the Continental Army, Washington ordered two marquees from Philadelphia upholsterer Plunkett Fleeson which were used during the Valley Forge encampment. A second set, comprised of a dining tent and an office tent with a built-in smaller sleeping chamber, was ordered from James Abeel which survives today. As described by Putnam, Washington’s elaborate marquees were a metaphor signaling the importance of Washington’s leadership position. Today, the marquee is described as “the first Oval Office.”

During George Washington's military career, he owned a series of marquees. At war’s end, the tents were taken to Mount Vernon. After Washington’s death, the marquees were passed by Martha Washington eventually to her grandson George Washington Parke Custis. He passed them on to his daughter, Mary Anna Custis Lee, and her husband, Robert E. Lee. Their enslaved housekeeper, Selina Norris Gray, kept the tent fabric safe when Union Army soldiers ransacked Arlington House during the American Civil War. The tents and other related objects (exterior of the office/sleeping tent, poles of the dining tent, and a storage trunk) are owned and exhibited at the new Museum of the American Revolution. A complete history of Washington's War Tents can be found on the museum’s web site. An internet search of “Washington’s marquee tent” results in many interpretations of this important object.

Meeting Notes: November 16, 2022

 11/16/2022 – “Forting Up”

Held at University of Richmond

Due to unforeseen events, there was a last-minute change in the evenings’ program speaker. Again, another ARRT-Richmond member was called on, at the last minute, as speaker for the evening’s program presentation. Dr. Bruce M. Venter is CEO of America’s History, LLC , an experienced tour leader, and has written for Blue & Gray, Civil War and the Washington Times. He has previously led tours entitled Rogers Rangers and the French and Indian War and Defending the Highlands: The Revolutionary War in the Hudson River Valley.

After general announcements, Bruce spoke on “Forting Up: Defending the Mohawk Valley through the Artwork of Rufus Grider.” Rufus Grider’s artistic endeavors relating to New York State history began in 1886. At that time, he came up with the idea of making a “collection of pictures of old” buildings of the Mohawk Valley. He decided he could draw these buildings that “formerly existed” if he could find individuals who could describe them and recognize them when drawn. Initially he drew views of buildings and landscapes then Indian relics and finally ”any object suited for illustration,“ including documents, which he copied by tracing the original. From 1886 to about 1900, Grider traveled up and down the Mohawk Valley, with occasional excursions to the Cherry and Schohoarie valleys and Lake George and Lake Champlain, in search of historic buildings, battlefields, the sites of forts the relics of Indians. All of which he drew or copied with explanatory notes. Bruce presented images of Grider’s works and provided architectural details about the buildings’ construction, function and Revolutionary War historical significance.

The New York State Library holds a large collection of Grider’s works

At meeting’s end, Bill Welsch offered the Board’s recommendations for leadership positions of ARRT-Richmond for the next two years and changes to the by-laws. A vote was taken and the Board’s recommendations were unanimously accepted.

Meeting Notes: September 21, 2022

9/21/2022 – Washington’s Lieutenants

Held at University of Richmond

Due to unforeseen events, there was a last-minute change in the evenings’ program speaker. Luckily, Bill Welsch stepped in and presented a program on the Continental generals under George Washington. Bill is a frequent speaker on and experienced tour leader of New Jersey Revolutionary War sites. He is a founding member and president of the American Revolution Round Table of Richmond, Virginia.

After general announcements, Bill began his presentation with a collective perspective about the 78 Continental Army’s leaders who were promoted or commissioned as major generals and brigadier generals and took part in the American Revolutionary War.

Summary level demographic information about the generals included: origins by state, pre-war military and political experiences, ethnic origins, professions, Masonic affiliations, and European origins. Bill also spoke about their relations with Congress, Washington, and each other; and offered bits of trivia about a number of the generals, as well as Washington’s opinions about his subordinates.  He concluded with a slide show of generals’ portraits.

Bill offered Washington's Revolutionary War Generals (Campaigns and Commanders Series Book 68) by Stephen R. Taaffe as a good source for further information.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Next Meeting: March 15, 2023

At our next meeting on March 15, 2023, Larry Kidder will speak on "That Unhappy Affair at Trenton."

We will be returning to the Westhampton Room in the Heilman Dining Center. Regular dining service will be available beginning at 5:30 p.m. and the meeting will follow at 6:30 p.m.

University of Richmond campus map:


Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Next Meeting: January 18. 2023


Our next meeting on January 18, 2023 will feature Tyler Putnam speaking on "Washington's Tent."

Join Tyler Putman of the Museum of the American Revolution for an historic and virtual exploration of George Washington's life on campaign during the Revolutionary War. This program will include an exploration of the Museum's virtual tour of Washington's wartime headquarters and explore the history of Washington's sleeping marquee (which is in the Museum's collection) and the surprising stories of the diverse people who made, maintained, and preserved it over three centuries.

Dr.Tyler Rudd Putman is the Senior Manager of Gallery Interpretation at the Museum of the American Revolution, where he manages talks, tours, theatrical programs, and living history.

Note that this is a ZOOM meeting and not an in person meeting. We will be joined by the University of Richmond's Osher students and, hopefully, friends around the country.  Sign on details will be included in Bill Welsch's January newsletter.

2023 Dues

Because our January meeting will be via ZOOM, we will begin collecting 2023 membership dues in-person at our March 15 meeting. If you wish to pay by mail before then, simply go to the "Dues" tab above, print the membership information form, complete it and mail with your check for $20.00 to the address on the bottom of the form.