Finally I am at my computer, having crawled out from books thick with facts and rich with wonder … my escape from a bone-deep writing inertia. So, first: a tribute to the highlight of my New England excursion, visiting the home sites of my ancestor Samuel Payne.
I saw the typical and less typical sites—traveled the road from Lexington to Concord where the American Revolution began; sat on the banks of Walden Pond with my new copy of Walden; walked the site of the Revolutionary War Battle of Hubbardton in Vermont; and wandered around the Mystic Seaport in Connecticut. (Haven’t been? Go … very tourista, but oh so interesting!)
The highlight of my trip, though, was meeting Jonah Spivak who honored me with an all-encompassing tour of the sites of the Battle of Bennington. The battle took place in New York just over the border from Vermont near Bennington.
First, I commend and thank Jonah for his generosity. He gave his time to someone he didn’t know who arrived from across the nation, California no less, claiming an interest in Bennington’s history. He and his friends were expert in the area’s history; I was a novice at best. He took a chance.
We met for lunch at the delicious Tap House at Catamount Glass where he answered my every question. He loves the human stories and he is an entertaining storyteller. The stories he told highlighted the local nuance of the Revolutionary War conflict—the animosity between “Yorkers” and settlers on the Grants (the New Hampshire Grants which would become Vermont); the brother against brother divide created by the conflict; the strategic importance of each actor and setting in the story.
And then there was the physical tour. My husband and I had already spent a lovely afternoon walking around the Bennington Battle Monument and its environs, so he drove me first to the Tory Redoubt, pointing out important places along the way. Next we climbed a little knoll to where the British opposition forces had (likely) first placed their three-pounder cannons. We walked the Hessian Hill, and he took time to orient me to north and south. The original map of the battle drawn Desmaretz Durnford places north not at the top of the page, but to the right side of the page. (include map here)
I got it! Then we traveled to the site of the second battle where he pointed out the rocky ledge mentioned in original accounts. The knowledge I gained, in combination with the physical sense of place, enhanced everything I knew and would learn about the battle and the times.
It was a good lesson for me—for all of us—in the importance of taking a chance on a stranger and sharing what we know. Besides, it was just plain fun meeting someone with a common enthusiasm. And because of it my understanding of this unique time in our Nation’s history increased exponentially.
Here is a list of books he recommended (or I discovered) that bring the important (and often overlooked) history of the New Hampshire Grants and their role in the Revolutionary War to life.
- War over Walloomscoick by Phillip Lord, Jr., New York State Museum Bulletin No. 473 (The University of the State of New York, State Education Department) This is an amazing book on many levels. It details the Durnford map and uses it to explain cultural details of the times as well as key aspects of the battle. I was fascinated! If you have an interest in the 1700’s in general the detail in it is worth the price. BUT, it isn’t easy to find. I finally entered the bulletin number and it popped up on Amazon through a used-book vendor.
- No Turning Point: The Saratoga Campaign in Perspective by Theodore Corbett (part of the Campaigns and Commanders Series through University of Oklahoma Press: Norman) Note: He calls it a “perspective” and it is definitely written from his perspective. His choice of adjectives and verbs carries editorial weight. Colonial militiamen are called “rebels” and the Green Mountain Boys, he says, instituted a “reign of terror.” Still, the viewpoint is a valuable juxtaposition to the usually localized populist bent of our histories. I particularly found the British efforts at “pacification” of the Vermonters interesting, as well as the conflicting loyalties found town by town, and the skirmishes within the region preceeding the Battle of Bennington.
- The Battle of Bennington: Soldiers and Civilians by Michael P. Gabriel (The History Press, Charleston, SC) I love this kind of book! Gabriel took artifacts of the period, including letters, pension applications, first-person accounts and interview, to paint a picture of the conflict—before, during, and after the battle. The accounts are laid out with short introductory narrative. The human reveals the confusion, assumptions, and excuses interwoven into the factual accounting. A great way to illuminate history.
- The Revolutionary War in Bennington County: A History and Guide by Richard B. Smith (The History Press, Charleston, SC) Based on the number of book tags, this book ranked high in usefulness. Smith divides the book into a history of the area during the revolution, an excellent overview for a novice like me, and a tour of the key landmarks. Again I found the commentary accompanying the “tours” insightful. But as a tourist in Bennington, driving its roads, I was pretty lost, and opportunities to turn out and really see the places he mentions was near to impossible. Luckily, he gives tours. Unluckily, I wasn’t able to attend one. (And, luckily, I met Jonah on line!)
- Honorable mentions and books still to be read: Chipman and Sparks Memoir of Colonel Seth Warner/The Life of Colonel Ethan Allen, Ethan Allen’s Reason, and Moses Robinson and The Founding of Vermont by Robert A Mello (hard to find). And Jonah says, “Richard Ketchum’s Saratoga is suggested reading … it covers the whole of the 1777 campaign, but contains a really excellent chapter on the Battle of Bennington and one of the best descriptions of the battle. I’d also be remiss to not mention the book by Phil Holland, The Battle of Bennington and the Bennington Battle Monument which is a very nice short book and included one gem of information regarding the existence of a cannon on the American side!”
IF you love history, and IF you are unfamiliar with the unique history of Vermont, the Canadian “invasion,” or the Battle of Bennington, I urge you to investigate. How little I knew about this fascinating period and place, and how thankful I am to Jonah Spivak for being my “boots on the ground.”