Image courtesy of Colonial National Historical Park, Yorktown.

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.