J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

New Voices from the Arnold Expedition Brought to Light

Yesterday’s quotations from diaries of the American attack on Québec in late 1775 came from Voices from a Wilderness Expedition: The Journals and Men of Benedict Arnold’s Expedition to Quebec in 1775, a new book on Col. Benedict Arnold’s advance from Massachusetts through the Maine wilderness to Canada by Stephen Darley.

This book is not a narrative history of Arnold’s expedition, like Thomas A. Desjardin’s Through a Howling Wilderness or Arthur S. Lefkowitz’s Benedict Arnold’s Army. Rather, it’s a study of the diaries that survive from that expedition, and as such a necessary supplement to the third edition of Kenneth Roberts’s March to Quebec.

Darley self-published through AuthorHouse to make his research available. Voices from a Wilderness Expedition contains the first published transcriptions of several first-person accounts of the campaign, as well as research on the full careers of several notable officers, including Col. Roger Enos, Capt. William Goodrich, and Capt. Scott, first name usually left blank.

Darley found three of those first-person accounts in the University of Glasgow Library, catalogued as “Durben Journal.” He argues that the main document is a copy of Capt. Henry Dearborn’s original diary before it was expanded and edited into the version we know (now housed at the Boston Public Library), and hypothesizes about how that collection got to Glasgow.

The volume contains a transcription of the version of Dr. Isaac Senter’s journal at the Rhode Island Historical Society, which differs significantly from the published version, and first full appearances of journals by Pvt. Samuel Barney and Pvt. Moses Kimball.

As Darley notes, the Arnold expedition must have been one of the most minutely documented of the period, with thirty journals and detailed memoirs surviving and more known to have existed but lost. That might reflect how many of its participants came from New England, with its emphasis on literacy. But it also suggests that men understood they were trying something important that deserved to be recorded for their families and friends. Pvt. Barney, for example, bought his blank book (“for nine Coppers”) just a few days after agreeing to go on the expedition.

The prose in Voices from a Wilderness Expedition is somewhat old-fashioned, but that’s not inappropriate for discussions of document provenance and authenticity. This is not supposed to be an entertaining adventure tale. But it should be a necessary resource for anyone researching Arnold’s campaign.

I bought the book in ePub form through Barnes & Noble, partly for the convenience and partly to test that format. I’ve looked at the file now on three devices, including a Simple Touch Nook, an iPad, and my desktop computer. There are some oddities of typography and formatting, and I can’t tell whether those appear in the print edition or surfaced during the transition to ePub format; for self-publishing authors, multiple electronic formats are just one more thing to worry about.

Unfortunately, in all three formats I can’t read Appendix II, which consists of tables listing all the men on Arnold’s expedition. Evidently they were formatted for the printed page as images of a spreadsheet rather than as text, and the images don’t get any bigger on my screens. I don’t know if other electronic formats will work the same way, but if you’re interested in the complete record I recommend a print version.

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