Image courtesy of Colonial National Historical Park, Yorktown.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Road to Revolution Heritage Trail

The Road to Revolution Heritage Trail has added several new sites and features them on a new website. The sites are scattered all over the state but several are right here in Richmond. For more information:

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Why It's Still "Washington's Birthday"

The following was sent by Durf McJoynt of the DC ARRT. It is very appropriate this month. 

Why Today is Not “Presidents’ Day” *

By James C. Rees, Executive Director, Historic Mount Vernon

Every February, thousands of shopping malls and car dealerships should be accused of false advertising during their massive “Presidents’ Day” sales.  This annual holiday is not “Presidents’ Day.”  Officially, it is the national tribute to only one president – George Washington.

Declared a legal holiday by the federal government in 1885, George Washington’s Birthday has culturally morphed into “Presidents’ Day.”  Even the so-called authority on American holidays, The American Book of Days, has it wrong.  In 1968, the “Monday Holiday Law” was enacted by the United States Congress to provide for uniform annual observances of public holidays.  George Washington’s Birthday was slated to be recognized on the third Monday in February.  The law was enacted in 1971, yet popular culture has perpetuated the myth that the holiday was designated to honor presidential officeholders in general.  Officially, however, the holiday has never changed.  Nor should it.

To lump Washington together with the 42 other men who have been elected president in this country does not assign him the significance he deserves.  The only president to be elected unanimously – and it happened to him twice – Washington essentially shaped the office of the president.  With tremendous foresight, he knew that his actions would set important precedents, and he conscientiously labored over many of his decisions.  Unlike modern presidents, Washington did not conduct polls to determine what steps to take.  Instead, he asked the same question, over and over again:  “What is the best course for America?”  His instincts were seldom wrong, and his patriotism never faltered.  Washington once said, “I can never resist the call of my country,” and he responded to his country’s needs time and time again. 

Washington’s critical role as commander in chief during the Revolutionary War, his refusal to become king when others called for it, his chairmanship of the Constitutional Convention, his ability to hold the nation together and remain neutral during European conflicts, and his wise and steady influence during the nascent development of the new republic – these are just some of the reasons why Washington, The Father of His Country, should be given singular attention.

George Washington was said to be “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”  Unfortunately, that oft-repeated quote, originally proclaimed by Henry Lee at one of the hundreds of memorial services to George Washington, is not as ubiquitous as it once was.  Schools no longer feature portraits of Washington in their classrooms, and children grow up with the vague notion that Washington was a great man, but they are unable to articulate why.

Many Americans may take seriously their love of country, yet evidence suggests we are caring less and less about the people and events that played key roles in the history of the United States.  As author and historian David McCullough so eloquently said, “Indifference to history isn’t just ignorant; it’s a form of ingratitude.”

We have a long road to travel to reverse this disturbing trend.  A good place to start is by returning “Presidents’ Day” to its rightful name and purpose.  On this day that is set aside to honor George Washington, Americans should re-discover why he was so crucial to the founding of this nation.  They should talk to their children about his renowned character and virtues.  Families should plan trips to Mount Vernon and other historic places where Washington lived and worked.  And most of all, Americans should shed their indifference and be grateful for the man who led this remarkable nation to freedom. 

And wouldn’t it be refreshing if families postponed their trips to the mall to gather around the dinner table to talk about George Washington and the other Founding Fathers.  That linen sale will still be there tomorrow, so don’t be bashful – have that second slice of cherry pie.

 * This article was downloaded from the current webpage at . The article was written in February 2007 by Jim Reese, as the then Executive Director/CEO and President of Mount Vernon Estates. [He retired from that position, which he held for 18 years, in June 2012.] Some of our older members might recall that, at the time this article was written, our ARRT had a number of members who wanted to ‘man the barricades’ on this issue in defense of maintaining the 22nd of February as ‘The Day’. However, in a telecon with Jim, he maintained his continued sympathy with the views expressed in this article, but he also had to recognize that the political and business interests were too entrenched, and any overt contest/challenge would only be disruptive. So even Mount Vernon – most reluctantly – went along with the ‘Presidents’ Day’ as a practical compromise to associate with a political-commercial ‘holiday’ weekend. Today, Mount Vernon’s calendar has 22 February as Washington’s birthday (based upon the ‘new style 1732' calendar). The 18th of February is described as “Washington’s Birthday (observed).”

"Wedded to My Sword: The Life and Times of Henry 'Light Horse Harry' Lee," April 26-28, 2013

Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution with the Sons of the Revolution in the State of North Carolina presents their dynamic, fun, and scholarly symposium on the Life and Times of Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee.  The importance of the cavalry and light troops in the Southern Revolutionary War led General Nathanael Greene to put Lee’s Legion “upon as good a footing as possible.”  Now you can walk the grounds where Lee rode, fought and sealed his reputation on the battlefield.  Hear and interact with presentations by prominent scholars and authors to include Lee’s controversial life and contributions to American Liberty as a soldier, politician and early Southern Campaigns historian, and his roles in family and business.

April 26, 2013 – Friday – our Lee sites bus tour will feature the posturing of the Southern Department armies commanded by Lord Charles Cornwallis and Gen. Nathanael Greene in early March 1781 leading up to their final clash at Guilford Courthouse.  Included are Harry Lee’s battle sites in the Burlington, NC area: the skirmishes at Clapp’s Mill, the Rocky Ford at Weitzel’s Mill, and the latest scholarship on Pyle’s Hacking Match.  Tour by preregistration only.

April 27-28, 2013 – Saturday & Sunday – “Wedded to my Sword” The Life and Times of Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee will include presentations of the latest scholarly research on the interesting and sometimes controversial life of Harry Lee with boots-on-the-ground tours of Lee’s battle sites at Guilford Courthouse.  Dynamic presentations on Lee’s life, contributions to the Revolutionary War, as a Virginia politician, Southern Campaigns historian, and his controversies will be made by world-class scholars including Jim Piecuch, Dennis Conrad, Ben Huggins, Mike Cecere, John Hutchins, Ben Rubin, John Beakes, Steve Rauch, and others. On Sunday’s included battlefield tour, we will see the New Garden Meeting House – site of Harry Lee’s initial battles with the British prior to the general engagement at Guilford Courthouse – and walk the Guilford Courthouse Battlefield.  Lee’s climatic clash at Guilford did not happen within the federal battlefield park; we will go to the site.

Call (803) 549-6710 to register for the Symposium or email Charles B. Baxley at or David P. Reuwer at for other event details.  Please preregister as it helps us plan for catering and handouts and gives you a discount. 

Revolutionary War Historians Group on LinkedIn

Bruce Venter has alerted us to the Revolutionary  War Historians discussion group on LinkedIn, moderated by Sean Heuvel, who will be our September speaker.  Details are at

"Jamestown's Legacy to the American Revolution" Links 17th-Century Virginia Capital to the Revolutionary Period

WILLIAMSBURG, Va., February 11, 2013 – More than 60 objects destined for exhibit at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown will be on display in “Jamestown’s Legacy to the American Revolution,” opening March 1 at Jamestown Settlement, a museum of 17th-century Virginia. The special exhibition, which continues through January 20, 2014, examines the lives of Revolutionary War-era descendants of people associated with 17th-century Jamestown, the first capital of colonial Virginia.

Work is under way on the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, which will replace the Yorktown Victory Center by late 2016. The artifacts featured in “Jamestown’s Legacy to the American Revolution” – a sampling of those to be exhibited in the new museum – include furnishings, weapons, nautical items, documents and commemorative objects. Among them are an American-made saber engraved with the owner’s name and the year 1776, a trunk owned by a Continental Navy shipbuilder, and examples of 18th-century Virginia currency.

The exhibition opens with “King George III’s Virginia,” illustrated with an eight-foot-tall portrait of the king in coronation robes, one of several done by the studio of Allan Ramsay between 1762 and 1784. From the time he ascended to the British throne in 1760, George III worked to strengthen British administration in the American colonies, with his American subjects ultimately rising in opposition.

In pre-Revolutionary Virginia, agriculture and trade drove the economy. A section titled “Merchants, Planters and Farmers” profiles Mary Cary Ambler, widow of Edward Ambler, a wealthy Yorktown merchant and planter, and John Ambler II, their son, and Azel Benthall, a small planter and church vestry clerk on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. The Ambler family suffered serious financial reverses during the Revolution, while farmers like Benthall were better able to cope with wartime shortages.

Colonel Richard Taylor, who served with the First Virginia Regiment of the Continental Army, and Captain Edward Travis IV, who served in the Virginia navy, are featured in “Soldiers and Sailors.” Most Virginians who fought in the war were either militiamen or soldiers of the Continental Line. Virginia’s small naval force operated chiefly to keep the state’s rivers and the Chesapeake Bay safe from the British navy and to assist in the transport of supplies for the Continental Army.

“Statesmen and Diplomats” highlights individuals who supported the Patriot cause and the new nation as public officials. Arthur Lee served on diplomatic missions to Europe during the Revolution and later as a member of Congress. Richard Bland II was actively involved in events leading up to the Revolution, as a member of the Virginia committees of Correspondence and Public Safety and the Continental Congress. During and following the Revolution, General Joseph Martin served as Virginia’s agent for Indian Affairs, acting as a diplomat between the Cherokee and settlers who encroached on Indian lands.

The exhibition concludes with an overview of the career of George Washington, whose ancestor John Washington arrived in Virginia in 1656 and later sat in the House of Burgesses at Jamestown. Less than a decade after leading the United States to victory as commander of the Continental Army, George Washington reluctantly accepted the office of the first president of the United States. A life-size statue, made in the 19th century by William James Hubard after an 18th-century work by Jean-Antoine Houdon, portrays Washington as a modern Cincinnatus, the Roman farmer who left his land to fight for his country and, after victory as a general, returned to his farm as a man of simplicity and peace.

“Jamestown’s Legacy to the American Revolution” is supported with grants from James City County, Altria Group and Dominion Resources.

Jamestown Settlement, open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, is located southwest of Williamsburg on Route 31 at the Colonial Parkway, next to Historic Jamestowne, site of America’s first permanent English colony, founded in 1607. Jamestown Settlement general admission of $16.00 for adults and $7.50 for children ages 6 through 12 includes admission to the special exhibition. A combination ticket is available with the Yorktown Victory Center. The two state-operated living-history museums tell the story of America’s beginnings through gallery exhibits and in outdoor re-created settings – Powhatan Indian village, three English ships and 1610-14 colonial fort at Jamestown Settlement, and Revolutionary War encampment and 1780s farm at the Yorktown Victory Center.

For more information, call (888) 593-4682 toll-free or (757) 253-4838 or visit

Todd Andrik's "Reporting the Revolution"

At our last meeting, Todd Andrik’s Reporting the Revolution was the raffle book. For all of those who coveted the book but didn’t win, Art Ritter reports that it has now appeared in local Barnes and Noble stores at a 50% discount. There were signed copies in the Williamsburg B&N. Now’s your chance to pick up this excellent new tome.

Revolutionary War-Era Naval Weapon Found in Delaware River

Overview of the British Campaign to Capture Philadelphia

The Friends of Valley Forge Park website has an overview of the 1777 British campaign to capture Philadephia, including some nice animated maps.