April 29, 1999
Editor: Hans DePold, Bolton Town Historian
This newsletter is to provide a means for keeping historians, re-enactors, and other interested people aware of the activity to list the Revolutionary Road in the National Register of Historic Places. The Revolutionary Road was the choice of Rochambeau’s French army when they marched from Newport to Yorktown and back to Boston. The goal is also to encourage registration not only the Connecticut portion, but also the Revolutionary Road that passes through Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.
A Connecticut rifleman once counseled his son that if he wanted to live a long life, the secret was to sprinkle a little gunpowder on his wheat mash every morning.
The son did this religiously, and he lived to the ripe old age of 98. When he died, he left 14 children, 29 grandchildren, 38 great-grandchildren, and a 15 foot crater where they cremated him.
The Revolutionary Road… a Trip Back To The Future
I gave this speech at the CTSAR annual meeting last month. My sister who taught American history at Hunter High in NYC told me the economic theories of history years ago. I based this on those theories and letters of the patriots.
Today we think that books written about great corporations running the entire world are just imagination. But we have been there before. The names have changed as have some of the tactics, but the basic principals of international business are the same. The movie nightmares of a cold tyrannical future pale compare to the reality our founding fathers faced. Let me take you along the Revolutionary Road, back to our future.
The monarchy from which America fought for independence acted very much as a powerful type of corporation controlling other specialized companies that monopolized their economic sectors. The chief executive officer was the king. In the British Empire there was the Hudson Bay Company to explore for new routes and resources and to stake claims. The Massachusetts Bay Company was one of many used to establish colonies. There was an East India Company that specialized in trade and tea, spices, and other finer goods. There was the Royal African Company that controlled the world slave market, and on and on. The colonies themselves were economic adventures. People could sell their future labor and commit themselves as bondsmen to a colonial adventure, or for a life as a merchant marine. Murder and plundering were not even considered piracy. Under the CEO’s orders piracy was a respectable practice called privateering.
In the King’s corporate empire, the army was outsourced as highly trained special forces, just as was most of the skilled labor. The soldiers were for hire and were called mercenaries because they had no loyalty to anyone but their employer who usually was a king. Their high skill compensated for lack of skill of the military leaders who were selected from the ranks of the aristocracy, the CEOs. When Napoleon introduced the concept of competency as a requirement for military leadership, the balance of power shifted away from the aristocrats.
The American colonies were a vital source of raw materials for the economic empire of Great Britain. To control the colonies, the British encouraged ports along the coast fed by trade on roads and rivers radiating inland. If the empire could keep each colony isolated from the others, then all trade would go though the ports where it could be regulated and taxed for the King. It was dependence on the empire not just the raising of taxes that was important. And to keep each colony dependent on the empire the empire tried to prevent competition. The corporate empire went so far as to make it unlawful at one point to even manufacture hats in the colonies.
Against the best wishes of the king, the colonies had developed arteries of trade, land routes running parallel to the coast. These routes were inland because the rivers inland were narrower and were easier to bridge or ford. Also since the limited British forces were concentrated in the port cities, smuggling thrived along one such road, the road which we now call the Revolutionary Road. It is this Revolutionary Road that we seek to put on the National Register of Historic Places. The road was a long march from the ports where the troops were kept. The Revolutionary Road connected the main cities and capitals of the colonies, and famous Connecticut patriots like Nathan Hale, Samuel Huntington, Silas Deane, and Jonathan Trumbull all lived close to this road.
This road was a main artery though which the colony’s commercial life blood and the revolutionary ideas of independence pulsed in an embryo which would soon be born as the United States of America.
With the advent of the Intolerable Acts, human dignity in America was mocked, and on Bunker Hill freedom was murdered. America had to declare independence from the empire that with its tentacles had regulated everything from gunpowder and tea, to sugar, rum, and slave trade.
The Netherlands, France, and Spain as well as other small states in Europe, supported American Independence very early with arms smuggled in through the Spanish ports in the Caribbean. The Marquis de Lafayette, at the age of 19, arrived at the side of Washington, and became a key intelligence officer and a general for Washington. Prior to July of 1778, Lafayette crossed Connecticut several times. But on July 26, 1778, in his letters we see he raced General James Mitchell Varnum across Connecticut in a challenge to see who would arrive in Rhode Island first. General Varnum an experienced American officer took his brigade plus Col. Henry Jackson’s regiment on the northern route, the Revolutionary Road to join the battle of Rhode Island. Lafayette, on horseback, took the southern route that required many ferries. Lafayette never admitted he lost, but from that time forward Lafayette and the French army usually took the Revolutionary Road when crossing Connecticut.
Lafayette returned to France and appealed to King Louis XVI to send an army to counter the professional British and Hessian armies that had been sent to crush the rebellion. There was French hesitation to the idea because of the cost, but Benjamin Franklin suggested an alternative that would appeal to any CEO. Why send an army 3000 miles across an ocean when the industrial heart of the British Empire could be taken with as few as 800 men per city? Yes, peaceful and lovable Benjamin Franklin suggested in his letters that a direct attack on Great Britain could possibly pay for itself. This was a solid business case that no shrewd French CEO could resist. In his letter of March 22, 1779, Benjamin Franklin enumerates the ransoms that could be demanded after taking British cities hostage.
He says, “I should suppose, for example, that two Millions Serling, or 48 Millions of Livre might be demanded of Bristol for the Town and Shipping; …” and on and on Franklin goes enumerating this type of business case for the French King in an era when robbery, murder, and hostage taking were the ways civilized countries did business.
King Louis XVI accepted this business proposal, not realizing he was going to begin an adventure that would eventually drive him to bankruptcy and cost him and his family their heads. Certainly it was a business decision, for why would a monarch encourage an American government that had no need or respect for tyranny? Perhaps it was expected that General Washington would succumb to personal ambition and establish himself as an emperor.
For the invasion of England, Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, Comte de Rochambeau was to have at his disposal sufficient ships for about 10,000 men at Brest in northern France. An allied force of French and other Europeans prepared to launch the direct assault on Britain. After several months preparations, Spain had second thoughts and did not provide the promised ships. But as in so many businesses,. . . and tyranny was the biggest business in the 1700s, once the business case was accepted and the project was launched the project had a life of its own and moved forward. But it had to be scaled back and it was redirected to the American colonies. Rochambeau was given only enough ships for about 400 fully equipped dragoons and he was provided about 5000 troops, including the 400 dragoons (Hussars) lead by Armand-Louis Gontaut, Duc de Lauzun. It was necessary to treat horses humanely for them to survive. That was not the case for the men. Fourteen men could be packed into the quarters of a single horse, so the horses were left behind and the men were packed into the ships.
It took almost a month for the French led allied army to sail to Newport RI, and by that time the men were sick and several had died. They disembarked in July of 1780, and before they could march into battle, they had to make the battle plans, buy several hundred horses, and lay out the plans for the march so that they could feed the entire army. Not one apple would be stolen from their American hosts. Winter was coming, so the first priority was to build shelters and nurse the sick troops back to health. To raise the spirits of the French, the American revolutionary government in Newport saw that every home in Newport had lighted candles placed in their windows the first night.
After the main army settled in, Lauzun’s legion was sent ahead to camp that winter in Lebanon, where CT Governor Jonathan Trumbull had set up the CT War office. There, Lauzun’s legion, the equivalent of what today we would call the French Foreign Legion, built large ovens to bake the bread for the march. This legion included troops of several races, religions, and nationalities. From there they sent out dragoons and planned each campsite and how they would purchase food for the army and hay for their horses.
The Marquis de Lafayette visited Rochambeau when he arrived. Lafayette was Washington’s eyes and ears. Today Lafayette would be described as an intelligence officer. A meeting of the generals was arranged in Wethersfield and Sheldon’s Horse, the 2nd dragoons, assisted the French dragoons as they planned the route and camp sites. Then, in February 1781, before the great march, Lafeyette inspected the Revolutionary Road. Washington followed the Revolutionary Road in March to visit Newport and inspect the French troops.
But this history involves the French, so where is the passion? Well when in July of 1781 it came time to march, nobody envied the Marquis Du Bouchet who had to stay behind as the chief of staff in Newport. The Comte de Lauberdière, who was the youngest aide to Rochambeau, did not realize the sensitivity of the situation. Bouchet was insulted when the young Lauberdière offered to buy Bouchet’s horses saying he would have no need for them. A sword fight ensued with Lauberdière being seriously wounded and Bouchet required assistance to pull out the sword Lauberdière imbedded between the bones of his shoulder. If such was the passion of the French for American horses, what was to become of American women? Of the four French regiments, it was said that the Soissonnais suffered the greatest casualties of love. Several French troops eloped and were cited for desertion.
In June of 1781, 5000 French troops marched west from Newport across Connecticut on the Revolutionary Road. They brought the light artillery but not the heavy siege guns. The heavy guns were sent to the south by ship. The main army was protected by Lauzun’s legion, that formed a flank about 15 miles to the south. Additionally, scouts were dispatched along the shore. The main army continued on the Revolutionary Road to Washington’s headquarters in White Plains.
Today, some historians still say that General Washington was not a good tactician and was obsessed with a desire to attack New York City. Perhaps the historians like the British mistakenly believed General Washington was serious about attacking the heavily fortified and reinforced city of New York with a tiny army outnumbered three to one. For if Washington was so foolish, why did he have Lafayette shadowing General Cornwallis in the south for the entire year preceding the final battle?
And why did Lafayette say in several of his letters the year before that the French army would engage Cornwallis?
Why did Washington send Lafayette to the south instead of to White Plains just before the great march?
And why did Lafayette have American spies like James Armestead infiltrate Cornwallis’ Yorktown camp when the great march began, instead of General Clinton’s NY City camp?
Why if Washington wanted to march on New York City, why did he have them ship the French siege guns to the south with no place from which to strike at NY City? Why wouldn’t they transport them across Connecticut and fire from the heights as they came down from White Plains?
And why did the French report that General Washington could hardly contain his happiness when news arrived that the French navy had cut off Cornwallis from the sea at Yorktown?
Why does it seem impossible to some historians that General Washington, who had won his greatest battles when he used stealth to surprise the enemy, would also pretend to the last moment to be obsessed with attacking New York City? Don’t these historians know that Washington always struck at the enemy’s weakest points and retreated in every case when he was out gunned and outnumbered?
General Washington had been confronted with Tory assassins, rebellion in his ranks, and the treachery of Benedict Arnold. Why do some historians think Washington could never tell a lie?
The Continental and French Armies quickly passed around New York City leaving the campfires burning in New Jersey to deceive the British. The American army grew rapidly to about 9000 men as they marched south. It was now October, the harvest was in and armed farmers joined the ranks. The allied army attacked Cornwallis at Yorktown before the British knew what was happening. In this final battle of the American Revolution, fifteen British and Hessian soldiers fell for every one American lost. Our French allies suffered twice as many casualties as we did. There are historians today who claim the American victory was due to British incompetence, not to Washington’s skills. But why should we believe these historians who criticize the British when to this day these same historians cannot accept the fact that General Washington was capable of deception?
George Washington was a new type of warrior, a guerrilla warrior fighting with stealth, hiding in forests. Washington was a warrior general whose artillery was illusion, whose army was paid with dreams spun with hope and embroidered with daring ideas like liberty, equality, and individual rights.
General Rochambeau joined Washington in the conclusive battle at Yorktown. But to get there he marched his four regiments on the Revolutionary Road through a strange land with daring ideas which no modern nation had ever attempted to implement. He stopped at Samuel Huntington’s house, the CT Patriot who would become the president under the Articles of Confederation. While encamped in the area of Bolton, CT, he was within two miles of the home of Nathan Hale, who, when facing the gallows said, “I regret that I have but one life to give for my country.”
Here in America, Rochambeau found the words of Rousseau and Montesquieu were not just the hot coals that were used as bed warmers for forbidden but interesting bedtime reading illuminated by lantern light. Here in America these ideas themselves illuminated, had even caught fire, and provided heat and light for discussions in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. By night their words lit the camps of this warrior general, Washington, and by day it fired the cannons.
Rochambeau brought to the field of battle the artillery, the gunpowder, the hard currency to pay Washington’s troops, and one of the world’s most disciplined armies.
Washington brought America’s dreams into battle born along by a rag-tag, outnumbered army with bandaged and bloody feet. Washington showed that those ideas could work, but most of all he showed that it was possible for a leader to resist the temptation of becoming an emperor. Those republican dreams eventually ignited all of Europe and cost our benefactor Louis XIV his head. It almost cost Rochambeau his head too. Yet without Rochambeau, the British could not have been defeated, and the bankrupt American colonies may have submitted, just as all the other uprisings against colonialism had been crushed in the past and were to be crushed for many years after. When one studies the accomplishments of King George III of England one finds that the American Revolution was the only significant defeat he faced in his lifetime.
Rochambeau chose the same Revolutionary Road for his return to New England after the surrender of Cornwallis. His only exception has made the route even more historic and interesting. Instead of traveling to Newport, Rochambeau took the French Army to Boston for the winter of 1782. The American economy was then bankrupt and Rochambeau’s troops infused America with hard silver. British troops still held New York City and often staged raids into the countryside. Rochambeau’s massive intact army helped keep the British in check during the years of negotiations for withdrawal of their troops. Therefore, the return route of Rochambeau and his encampments were just as important to the infant American democracy’s survival as was his going to Yorktown to help deliver the newborn republic.
Today, re-enactors bring new life to the ideas and ideals of the patriots, and in doing so they transport us to the age of reason where liberty was incubated. There is where an exhausted, war-torn and divided people gave birth to a new kind of government. It was in the pains of the American Revolution that the French heard our cries, stood by us as our midwife, and delivered the first true democratic republic into the world.
Each of us is in some way a steward of our heritage. Each of our groups within each of our states struggles with its own problems. We learned just two months ago that Connecticut’s commitment to heritage preservation has dropped 60% over the last 10 years to a level not seen since 1976.
Connecticut’s heritage and our National heritage are too great a burden to be placed on the backs of citizen’s groups like our historical societies, the SAR, and the DAR alone. Many people believe the health and wholeness of our culture are dependent on those core cultural values and principles of liberty, reason, inclusiveness, human rights, and freedom of religion that are embodied in our heritage. Clearly many of us are willing to knock ourselves senseless trying to preserve our heritage for the future. But why do we have to work so hard to preserve something that most people realize is so important? Not everyone can be passionately committed to preservation, yet most people realize that our economy and environment are intrinsically linked to heritage preservation.
It is far better that we learn to work smarter than to just work harder. One way to work smarter is to form partnerships. We need joint actions that bring together all the groups involved in heritage preservation… including the tourism districts, a $5 billion industry. We need to partner with every group that shares our concerns, and our vision of what our community can be.
The Revolutionary Road is just one of many possible themes that restore our heritage along the natural paths where it was first established. A visitor from another state or country wants to plan an enjoyable trip with things to stop and see along the way. With theme paths of heritage, we encourage people to learn about their heritage while they visit. We are just discovering something that Europeans discovered in the middle ages, that people enjoy making pilgrimages on certain routes to certain regions of significant cultural value. We are discovering that heritage preservation based tourism can be a living heritage. In Europe it not only pays for itself, it generates beauty and provides an occasion to pause and savor life.
Concord MA is an example of at community that has preserved its heritage, environment, and economy. Lebanon CT is another. Most of Europe realizes that their economies and environment are inextricably linked to their heritage preservation. Americans are just beginning to see the linkage.
We need to partner to expand the conservation of heritage. We need to begin a process that reverses the decline in the state government’s interest in heritage preservation.
But to grow in numbers as well, we need to open our doors and grow by being more inclusive.
To know how to grow our groups, we need only read the words on the base of the Statue of Liberty.
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the teaming refuse of your crowded shores. Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
There are many golden doors in America. The historical societies and heritage groups are the doormen because we have the records that show who gave their time, their hearts, and their lives for liberty, for human dignity, for freedom of religion, and for representative government. We need to share that information to be more inclusive so that all Americans know of their contribution and realize the stake they have in heritage conservation.
We need only to lift our lamps, and people will come to share in America’s heritage. If we want the world to be different, to be better, we have to be different,< to be better. Our lamps are a beacon of light, a light of truth, the light of our central ideas that form the soul of America. Ideas have always been our secret weapon. Every tyranny that has opposed us knew that it had to keep out our ideas.
The Revolutionary Road was sanctified with the blood from the bandaged feet of the Continental Army whose members often marched without shoes. Today you are the remnants of that Army who still live in our thoughts and in our hearts. You, the AR, are the stewards of our American heritage. Thank you.