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.

Follow by Email


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

More Suggestions for Whom to Follow through the Revolution

On Monday, guest blogger Ray Raphael asked which eighteenth-century Americans you might follow to tell the story of the overall Revolution. I shared some of my ideas this morning.

Boston 1775 reader David Churchill Barrow braved the challenge and suggested:

  • Nathaniel Greene: Lapsed Quaker, so perhaps there was some struggle of conscience, or a rebellion against upbringing. Saw and influenced the war in both the north and the south. Washington would have wanted him as his own replacement, should he have gone down in the fight.
  • Benedict Arnold: Saw the war from both sides. Snubbed early hero. Very complex character, and again with a family background that may have inspired him for both good and bad. He and Peggy were an “it” couple, Like Brad Pitt and whoever today.
  • Daniel Morgan [shown here]: Coolest and most mysterious character of them all. Makes Davy Crockett look like a mere piker.
  • William Lee (Washington’s valet): Personal perspective from inside the inner circle. Also an African-American point of view.
  • Andrew Jackson (as a boy): How the hardships of the war had lasting effects.
Ooh—a young person’s experience! Intriguing. And good coverage of the crucial southern theater.

In addition, Bloomfield Bob commented:
I, for one, hope James Otis is a character! I'd love to learn more about this guy.
Otis is indeed a fascinating character, but his story really ends before the war begins. Though he lived to 1783, Otis was so mentally unstable after 1770 that the Boston Whigs had to worry about him more than the Crown. The best modern discussion of him appears in John J. Waters’s The Otis Family in Provincial and Revolutionary Massachusetts (1968).

More suggestions and comments welcome!


Rob Velella said...

I like the suggestions of both Billy Lee and Benedict Arnold here - the latter if only to better understand his complexity and the former to provide a truly unique perspective.

kfrancher said...

These are excellent selections as well. In fact, if I could substitute Dr. Joseph Warren for James Otis, I, too, would have my favorites.

Dr. Warren was certainly a leader who, along with Sam Adams, kept the revolutionary movement going in the early 70's. Of course, being killed in so early in the war (Bunker Hill) took away some of his likely glory.

Nathanael Greene? Perhaps more responsible for the eventual military victory than any other!

Vern said...

How about Glover or one of his "Marbleheaders" for the naval perspective? Yes, I have family there, so I'm biased, but they saved the army from capture more than once with those river crossings.

Another suggestion would be to cover one of the Green Mountain Men or similar units. We forget how much this was (or started as) a loose coming together of independent actors who were under no obligation, and often had their own local agenda. How the war impacted their view as independents to members of "these" united states and so on is worth exploration.

that one guy you know said...

Great list. Greene and Arnold are two of the most interesting players on the military side of the Revolution. Arnold, in particular, I feel is not really well known beyond his traitor status, and is probably about due for a fresh look.

Sean Kelleher said...

I have to say if the concept is to have a fiscally successful book - you could not beat Arnold. As the Historian in Saratoga, NY every program that mentions Benedict Arnold attracts a large crowd. Many people have their mind made up on him but his internal conflicts could either obscure the Revolution or provide deep insight as a metaphor to the conflict with Country.

Out of the list provided I do like Morgan - a hero of Saratoga but also involved in the early and late war. He can also illustrate the internal conflict and differences in the new nation and the evolution of technology.

To add a person to the list, how about Benjamin Lincoln. His efforts in 1775 were more political but in 1776 he becomes a military leader and participates/wounded in the Battles of Saratoga, goes South and surrenders an American army in Charleston. He is exchanged for British General Phillips (captured at Saratoga). He participates and accepts the sword of surrender at Yorktown and then ends the war as a politician as Secretary of War.

Neat Question, I think much of the answers deal with great white men, other than Washington's personal servant. A broader approach would include more common folks, some pots and pans history.

S. Kelleher