December 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 on the National Register of Historic Places. Rochambeau’s French army defined the Revolutionary Road when they marched from Newport to Yorktown and back to Boston. The goal is to encourage creation of a National Historic Trail with the registration of the entire route that passes through Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, and to raise to a higher level the quality of heritage preservation all along the route.
Feel free to extract any information you may need when writing letters for support.
Who can doubt that Britain, France and America are peas from the same pod when it comes to the national ideals of liberty, independence, freedom of religion, fraternity, tolerance, and the social contract? Four of the British kings had chosen to be buried in France. But as is so often the case, family arguments often arise out of irreconcilable similarities that become battles of the will.
America was lucky to have such a fine, honorable, and like-minded enemy against whom she could lean and become strong. If only all our enemies could be like the British, then we would have no need for friends. And so it is no surprise that when British and American Rev war re-enactors clash, more often than not it is a draw and ends with a handshake. Americans who re-enact the British do so with the utmost respect and affection for our honorable opponents who gave their lives for very similar ideals.
The Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route -What it is about.
The Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route stretches across Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and on the return trip, Massachusetts. Much of the route is on the original colonial post roads. Therefore abandoned sections of the route are often also the oldest existing stagecoach routes in America. The route was used by the American Continental Army to deploy troops in more than five military engagements, including the successful battle to drive the Redcoats out of Rhode Island. That victory made it possible for the French to land an army at Newport, Rhode Island to join us in our fight for American independence. It took a year for the French army to purchase the necessary horses and forage for the military campaign in America. During that time George Washington waited anxiously as our Continental Army dwindled to less than 3,000 troops and America teetered on the brink of bankruptcy and defeat.
When General Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, Comte de Rochambeau’s French Army transported their artillery across the American states to Yorktown, not many people were aware that the hardships of the war and disease were taking their toll. There were French and American graves all along the route.
The route commemorates a Franco-American campaign to immobilize the Redcoats in New York City and lay siege to their main Southern army at Yorktown. A decisive intervention of the French navy, under Admiral de Grasse, drove the British Navy from Chesapeake Bay, and trapped the Redcoats at Yorktown, Virginia. Rochambeau joined forces with General Washington on a forced march to Yorktown. Additional French troops and heavy siege guns were landed near Yorktown to help lay siege to the British enclave. Total French army and navy forces grew to 19,000. As the fall harvest was completed and the news of the march of our French allies spread, the American Army swelled to almost 9,000.
Fifteen Redcoats were to perish for every one American soldier before the British surrendered in that final battle at Yorktown, ending the American Revolutionary War. The French casualties at Yorktown were 50% greater than those of the Americans. The French documents show that more than 2,000 French foot soldiers gave their lives in the fight for American liberty, and if sailors and other support are included, over 4,000 of the French perished at our side. And just as General Eisenhower allowed General DeGaulle to liberate Paris, General Rochambeau declined the sword of Cornwallis and allowed General Washington claim our liberty at Yorktown.
Let us also remember that the American Revolution had many allies, allies from every major European country, of every continent, and of every race. It was the French who coordinated with the Spanish and Dutch and lead that allied and very diverse army and navy under the French flag to help liberate the US. There is no question that we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the French, and it is time that we show our gratitude by honoring their sacrifices by making the entire Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route a national historic trail. Britain may have fathered America, but France was the midwife that brought America into life.
The Newburgh News
On December 16th approximately fifty delegates attended a meeting at George Washington’s Newburgh, N.Y.
headquarters hosted by Dr. Johnson and Dr. Bossière. Col. Dr. James Johnson is the former head of the military history program at West Point and consultant for the Hudson River Conservancy as the military historian of the Hudson River Valley. Dr. Jacques Bossière, is a former Yale professor active in Souvenir Français, and was one of the first to promote the vision of the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route (WRRR). Not many people know this Frenchman is not only a man of wonderful hope and possibilities but also wonderful contradictions. Reverend Jacques Bossière is also a Bishop in the Anglican Church.
The meeting was well run under the able and dynamic leadership of Dr. Johnson. Attending were historians, educators, representatives of the National Park Service, re-enactors, SAR, DAR, Cincinnati, Souvenir Français and other Societies from states along the route. Discussion ranged: Tourism is one of the largest industries of these states and heritage tourism is the fastest growing segment. The WRRR would need to be properly marked with turn offs at historic tourist sites. Tourist maps would show detail of the route with linkage to related nearby sites.
While states work to accurately define the local route for the National Register of Historic Places, the states along the route need to begin to request funding for the NPS to bring the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route into reality. The goal for completion is the 225th anniversary in 2006. France will send a tall ship at that time commemorating the voluntary and spirited service of Lafayette in our revolution.
Dr. Johnson formed a steering committee. Immediate goals were defined. The approximate route and location of each campsite are to be defined within the first year. A template of actions will be defined post haste based on the Connecticut experience. Governors, Senators, and Congressmen representing districts along the route will be asked for support for the state site and historical documentation work and for the funding of NPS work. Historian David McCullough will be contacted.
Lunch was compliments of Souvenir Français and after the meeting the participants were given an interesting tour of the headquarters.
The Crossing-Jan 10
For better or worse, this made for TV movie is bound to shape the view of the American Revolution and the patriots.
The Newport Candles
Some communities are returning to the early custom of putting a small light in each window of the home to celebrate the holiday season and share the candle’s warmth and glow with the passing world. Some say it originated in Newport RI and is a tradition that is worth spreading along the Revolutionary Road. The light event was repeated the week of March 6, 1781 when Washington reviewed the French troops in Newport. Then they also had a precession with candles. But the story goes back further to the arrival of the French fleet.
The town of Newport was at first stunned by the size of the French fleet and some were afraid they were about to be invaded. The story goes that revolutionary Committee of Safety knew otherwise and offered free candles so that every house would have a candle in every window that night to welcome the French. Rich and poor gathered up the free candles. When everyone had been served, it was announced that the candles were no longer free but that the display of lights had become mandatory. Those who had wanted to boycott this warm display of gratitude to our allies then had to buy their candles.
Is it up to snuff?
Why is something sub-standard said to be “not up to snuff”? Aristocrats in the 18th century often carried a snuffbox. They would take a pinch of snuff and practically stick it up their noses. Snuff was a powdered form of tobacco. It was very important to the self-indulgent aristocracy. Commercial brands took over and soon came the dandies who, like some of today’s wine experts, lorded it over everyone else because they knew the good from the so-so. Anyone who didn’t just wasn’t up to snuff.
American Religion, In the Words of Rochambeau
In the last newsletter I quoted the prayer that General Washington was supposed to have given at Newburgh. Is it possible that someone dared to alter the prayer and yet quoted it as Washington’s? So far one person says it is in fact a raging controversy in Virginia. Perhaps someone from the Newburgh Headquarters could confirm the correct prayer. Historically religious groups seemed to side with the powers that be. The Quakers were powerful in Pennsylvania until the revolution when due to their reluctance to fight they lost influence. Rochambeau points out some of the problems of the church ministers. He leaves no doubt that while our forefathers were devout, Christian, and simple or fundamental in their beliefs, they would have no part in forcing their beliefs on others.
“Every kind of religion was equally tolerated, the most numerous sects being those of the church of England, the presbyterians and the quakers; the former, on account of the supremacy of the head of their church, whom they recognize in the person of the sovereign of Great Britain, were most dangerous. The first act of Congress was to exclude from political as well as civil assemblies all ecclesiastics without exception.
The ministers were forced in many Communes to abandon their churches, and it was not until peace that several of them, having got themselves consecrated by the Lutheran bishop of Denmark and Sweden, were reinstated in their livings; by these precautions, religion was prevented from taking a part in political deliberation; every one professed his own religion with exactitude; the sanctity of the Lord’s day was scrupulously observed. At all public feasts the minister of religion held the first place; he blessed the repast; but his prerogatives in society extended no further. Such preamble must naturally lead to pure and simple manners.”
Happy New Year!