In 1778, two armies slugged it out in sweltering heat in these east-central New Jersey fields. Though technically a draw, the Continental Army showed it could finally stand toe-to-toe with the best soldiers in the British Army.
After France’s entry into the war on the American side, British Lt. Gen. Sir Henry Clinton withdrew his army from Philadelphia and retreated toward New York City, which was under British control. He sent several thousand Tory volunteers and most of his supplies down the Delaware River, while his remaining 10,000-man army marched overland. General Washington’s 12,000-man army caught up with them at Monmouth Court House.
Washington sent Maj. Gen. Charles Lee and Marquis de Lafayette forward with 5,000 men to attack Clinton’s 1,500-man rearguard. When Clinton turned Maj. Gen. Cornwallis’ forces around to strike Lee’s left flank, the Americans broke and withdrew in confusion. Just then, General Washington arrived ahead of the rest of his army and sharply rebuked Lee. He cobbled together a defensive line, but that also broke under relentless British attacks. Washington’s third line held.
Ed Moser led us on a trip into Alexandria’s complicated and exciting past.
Sunday night, a small group of history enthusiasts gathered at the Lyceum in downtown Alexandria, Virginia for a tour of that storied city’s Civil War sites. It began in the shadow of Alexandria’s Appomattox statue, a statue which epitomizes the city’s complicated place in America’s bloodiest conflict.
As a thriving trade and manufacturing city at Washington, DC’s doorstep, Alexandria was a prized possession for both North and South. The Union controlled it for almost the entire war, but it teemed with Confederate sympathizers and spies. It was also the site of the first Union casualty of the Civil War.
Our tour guide, Ed Moser, an author and former writer for the Tonight Show and speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush, highlighted many contradictions that characterized Alexandria’s role in the Civil War. This included the story of an enslaved woman who had a common law marriage with a Confederate officer. She escaped during the war and founded a school for other escaped slaves.
In early September 1755, Sir William Johnson marched north from Fort Edward intending to capture the French Fort St. Frédéric at Crown Point on the western shore of Lake Champlain. Around the same time, Baron Dieskau took 222 French regulars, 600 French-Canadian militia, and 700 Mohawk allies and moved south with the aim of destroying Johnson’s base of supplies at Fort Edward. While camped on Lake George’s southern shore, Johnson learned of the French movement and sent 1,000 Colonial militia and 200 Mohawk allies to reinforce the fort.
In what became known as the “Bloody Morning Scout,” Baron Dieskau ambushed the British relief column and inflicted heavy casualties, however, the British and Mohawk warriors were able to inflict equally heavy losses on the French during their fighting retreat back to camp. Both sides lost experienced officers in the engagement. When French forces reached Johnson’s camp, the militia and their Indian allies refused to attack because the British had erected makeshift fortifications.
This small historic site and museum in New York’s Finger Lakes region commemorates the birthplace of American feminism.
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In 1848, a large group of Quaker women gathered at the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Seneca Falls, New York for a three day convention aimed at discussing women’s rights. Abolitionist Frederick Douglass was also in attendance and spoke at the convention. Only women were invited on the first day, but both men and women could attend the following days.
What resulted was the Declaration of Sentiments, a document advancing the cause of greater social, political, and religious rights for women. It was signed by 68 women and 32 men in attendance. It was considered quite radical at the time, and called for women’s suffrage as well as legal reforms making wives more independent from their husbands (in English common law, the practice of coverture meant a woman’s legal rights were subsumed by her husband).
This was the first of several early women’s rights conventions, and it is considered a landmark of First Wave Feminism, which focused on winning legal equality with men, particularly the right to vote. Today, the site is commemorated as Women’s Rights National Historical Park. The Wesleyan Methodist Chapel has been rebuilt on the foundation of the old, which had deteriorated over the past 160 years. A small but informative museum exploring the history of women’s activism in the United States is also on site.
Women’s Rights National Historical Park, at 136 Fall Street in Seneca Falls, New York, was established in 1980. It is open daily from 9:00 am to 5:00pm, but closed on New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day. Entrance to the museum is free. There is a small parking lot behind the visitor’s center, as well as street parking. Call (315) 568-2991 for more information.
During the Great Depression, “Father Divine” urged his followers to transcend race and poverty through the power of positive thinking and a shared banquet table.
In American culture, ideals of health and prosperity have long been intertwined with food. At the dawn of the twentieth century, it was the ability to eat what one wanted and when that defined an American family’s assent into the growing middle class. It was no accident that during the 1930s a man appeared offering salvation through the act of eating.
George Baker, Jr., or “Father Divine”, professed himself to be God incarnate. He urged his followers to transcend race and poverty through the power of positive thinking. His message successfully crossed racial barriers because he appealed to cultural traditions common to all Americans, traditions like conspicuous consumption, Charismatic Christianity, and the Protestant work ethic.
As historian Jill Watts eloquently put it, he “provided a theology that promised a better life and a brighter future to anyone, regardless of economic status. Father Divine personified the Horatio Alger myth, and his success proved that even for blacks, America was a land of opportunity.” Food, a symbol of prosperity, was the unifying commodity he used to actualize that myth.
The ready availability of food, dolled out by his hands, literally demonstrated that he could give his followers a piece of the American pie. He consciously used the act of sharing food between peoples―a long tradition in American history―to realize his dream of racial harmony. “I have a-plenty to eat, to drink and to wear, and I have plenty of automobiles to ride in; comfort and convenience for you and ME!” was a common boast, and promise, from Father Divine.