August 3, 2000

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 create a national historic trail, the WRRR. Rochambeau’s French army defined the route 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.

H.R. 4794, the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary

Route National Heritage Act of 2000 is now up to 38 co-sponsors in Congress. Still it will be difficult for Congressman John Larson to get the bill passed this short election year congressional session. The purpose of the bill is to do an economical feasibility study for a WRRR National Historic Trail. Representatives from Louisiana, New Hampshire, Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, Minnesota, and New York have been contacted by entire delegations thanks to the action of the SAR in those states.

Senator Joseph Lieberman’s office said they have indeed drafted a companion bill and expect to drop the bill when the Senate is back in Session – in September. The only change that is in the Senate version is to include/incorporate those studies that have been completed already in regards to the WRRR into the NPS study.

September is the last month for raising the bills in both the Senate and House and bringing it to a vote. It is of the highest priority since it is the first step. Within two years of the passage of the bill we will need to have stewardship committees set up in the nine states to provide the public support structure. Then comes the implementation stage.

Abraham Lincoln filled with care and hatred

By 1830 the British Empire had abolished slavery. At that point many Americans would have had more liberty had Washington been hanged for treason and Benedict Arnold appointed governor of the colonies. America was fast becoming a world pariah for continuing slavery. Abraham Lincoln cared passionately for the founding fathers principles of American liberty and democracy. “I hate… the monstrous injustice of slavery.” “I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its influence in the world – enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility to taunt us as hypocrites.” Lincoln is also attributed as saying, “You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong. You cannot help small men by tearing down big men. You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich. You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage-payer. You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatreds. You cannot build character and courage by taking away a man’s initiative and independence.”

The Patriot is well worth seeing.

Mel Gibson plays a South Carolina plantation owner conflicted by profound guilt from atrocities he committed during the French and Indian War, and the sense that God’s retribution would be personally visited upon his family. For those hidden reasons he hopes the colonists’ dispute with the British can be resolved peacefully. Slowly the demons that torment him reveal themselves in the ways he reacts to tyranny and becomes a patriot.

The combat scenes in The Patriot are quite good if not terrifying. The Patriot shows how rational men may go to extremes when sufficiently provoked. The producers take pride in having the Smithsonian Institute review the script to verify that the content is plausible fiction, consistent with the historical record. The loyalists are depicted as the ones who went over the line, unleashing a rebel backlash. It is a similar backlash to the one depicted in the National Park Service history of the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail.

Some Patriot scenes, such as one showing the custom of bundling, are amusing. That custom was somewhat different from Puritan bundling. The Patriot is excellent in the attention given to cultural and clothing details of the colonial period and will no doubt go down as one of the best Revolutionary War movies ever produced.

Intelligence, Secrecy, and Security On the WRRR

Benjamin Tallmadge is considered by some to be the father of the secret service in America. His agents gathered strategic information for Washington. Tallmadge attended Yale University at the age fifteen and became a teacher. He soon became a headmaster of a school in Wethersfield, CT. Tallmadge began his army career as 1st lieutenant in Colonel John Chester’s Regiment of Wadsworth’s Connecticut Brigade, and eventually advanced to captain of a troop in the 2nd Continental Light Dragoon Regiment. In the summer of 1778 at age 24, his dragoons were assigned to Brigadier General Charles Scott, who was then Washington’s intelligence chief. Tallmadge’s new job was to recruit intelligence sources throughout the Connecticut and New York area. Old friends from Long Island and New York City helped form the Culper ring. In the fall of 1778, Tallmadge was promoted to Washington’s intelligence chief.

Nathan Hale, of Coventry CT, also went to Yale and became a teacher. He responded to Washington’s call and became a spy in New York. He was caught with incriminating papers in his shoe and hanged the next day.

The British had methods for keeping secrets. A letter General Henry Clinton sent to General Burgoyne in August 10, 1777 was designed to be read through a mask. He cut sections out of blank pieces of paper, allowing the receiver to see only that text that conveyed the secret message. The letter had to make sense both with or without the mask. The advantage of this type of letter was that it not only protected the message, but also, if captured, it provided the enemy with erroneous information. This type of secret writing appears never to have been discovered buy Washington’s agents and is preserved in the Clinton manuscripts at the Clements Library. In the letter shown below, Clinton criticized Howe’s irresponsible failure to drive up the Hudson Valley as was originally planned. I have made it easy to see the secret message hidden in the letter presented below.

You will have heard, Dr Sir I doubt not long before this can have reached you that Sir W. Howe is gone from hence. The Rebels imagine that he is gone to the Eastward. By this time however he has filledChesapeak bay with surprize and terror. Washington marched the greater part of the Rebels to Philadelphia in order to oppose Sir Wm’s. army. I hear he is now returned upon finding none of our troops landed but am not sure of this. A great part of his troops are returned for certain. I am sure this countermarching must be ruin to them. I am left to command here, half of my force may I am sure defend everything here with much safety. I shall therefore send Sir W. 4 or 5 Batalions.. I have too small a forceto invade the New England provinces; they are too weak to make any effectual efforts against me and you do not want any diversion in your favour. I can, therefore very well spare him 1500 men. I shall try some thing certainly towards the close of the year, not till then at any rate. It may be of use to inform you that report says all yields to you. I own to you I think the business will quickly be over now.Sr. W’s move just at this time has been capital. Washingtons have been the worst he could take in every respect. Sincerely give you much joy on your success and am with great Sincerity your [ ] HC

The defeat of Burgoyne at Stillwater and his entrapment at Schuylerville triggered the removal of General Howe and a parliamentary investigation of Burgoyne. The farm where I grew up was on the Hudson River, half in Stillwater and half in Schuylerville. When Burgoyne was checked at Bemis Heights in Stillwater he tried to retreat to the north along the Hudson. American sharpshooters crossed the Hudson, got ahead of Burgoyne, and prevented his crossing at Schuylerville. It was just past the peak foliage season and the blood red maple leaves mingled with the royal golden oak leaves that fell to the ground. When American cannon arrived at the heights overlooking Schuylerville, Burgoyne surrendered on October 16, 1777. Upon Burgoyne’s capture, Clinton’s letter was read to the American troops the way the British wanted it read. It sounded like British bravado not the auspicious warning that it actually was. The Americans never properly understood how the bravado of the British letters cleverly concealed their precise communications. The parliamentary inquiry into Burgoyne’s responsibility for the Saratoga defeat was inconclusive in 1779, but Burgoyne was stripped of his responsibilities. In April 1779, when Clinton replaced Howe as the British commander-in-chief, Clinton made John André, age 29, head of British intelligence. André’s greatest success was the treason of Benedict Arnold. Yet Benedict Arnold was also André’s downfall. André was captured in civilian clothes with an incriminating letter from Clinton to Arnold in his shoe. André was then hanged as a spy in Tappan, New York on October 2, 1780. It was said that Lafayette attended and was seen with tears in his eyes.

There is a portrait owned by the Yorktown Victory Center that shows Lafayette with his black aide James Armistead Lafayette, whose intelligence services in the American Revolution gained him his freedom. James Armistead Lafayette was the black American double agent who infiltrated the British intelligence system of General Cornwallis and whose information helped General Washington trap the British army for the final battle at Yorktown VA.

James Armistead, the slave of William Armistead of New Kent County was born around 1760. The young black man approached Lafayette in early 1781. Armistead had gained permission from his master to serve with the marquis as a servant. But Lafayette instead employed him as a double agent. The British headquarters was infiltrated the first week of July, when Cornwallis hired James Armistead to spy on the Americans. But getting access to British plans was not easy for Armistead. On July 31, 1781, Lafayette had to inform Washington that “His lordship is So Shy of His papers that My Honest friend (Armistead) Says He Cannot get at them,” But on August 25, 1781 Lafayette could report that Cornwallis had begun to fortify Yorktown. James Armistead slipped out of Yorktown and returned to Lafayette before the siege began on September 28th. After his defeat, Cornwallis paid a courtesy call on the marquis and was surprised to see Armistead there, whom he had considered to be his own spy.

In October 1784, Lafayette wrote that James Armistead had done “Essential Service” in collecting “Intelligence from the Enemy’s Camp” and was therefore “Entitled to Every Reward His Situation can admit of.” James Armistead was emancipated on January 9, 1787. In 1816, Armistead bought 40 acres of land in New Kent County, where he raised his family. In 1819, Virginia gave him a pension of $40 a year. He had changed his name to James Lafayette. During Lafayette’s triumphant tour of the United States in 1824, he and James Lafayette met in Richmond VA.