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Category Archives: Vermont

A Bennington, Vermont Thank You

 

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Jonah Spivak, happy promoter of Bennington and its history, standing at the Tory Redoubt.

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.

 

Bennington Monument

Colonel Seth Warner’s Statue at the Bennington Battle Monument in Bennington, VT

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)

Dunford Battle of Bennington

Position of the Detachment under Lieut. Col. Baum and attacks of the Enemy on the 16th August at Walmscock near Bennington courtesy of Library of Congress, Map Division (with north oriented to the right on the map)

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!)
  5. 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.”

 

On Research, Vermont, and a Vacation Announcement

 

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Find the details of people’s lives, including specific ancestors, in records of the time.

 

Pinch time! After this posting, I retire for one month to work on the upcoming publication of The Scattering of Stone. Taking a book to publication takes time, and the time is near (exact date not yet known). I just received the completed edits for Scattering, my multi-period American historical fiction novel set in Pennsylvania and Ohio at the end of the eighteenth century. Editing takes careful, line-by-line, word-by-word attention, so I’ll be (happily) busy for a while.

Included in the month hiatus is a trip to New England to research my third book set in 1775-1778, Bennington, Vermont. (And, yes, it’s a pleasure trip, too.) I’ll write about my adventures when I return.

But, for now, let’s talk research! Namely, out-of-print books on line! Genealogy, history, or historical fiction researchers alike, this is an amazing tool. If you’ve read my blog, you’ve heard it me say it before, but REALLY—.

Here’s one more example: the details of the ill will, distrust, fear, and chaos in the midst of war. The document? The Records of the Council of Safety and Governor and Council of the State of Vermont, Vol. I edited by E.P. Walton, Montpelier: Steam Press, 1873. (The bold in these quotes is mine.)

Ill will? Or what do you do with a strong-willed woman?

Arlington, 28 May 1778 “Whereas it has been represented to this Council that the wife of Jeremiah French late of Manchester (now in armes with the Enemy) is very turbulent & Troublesome where she now is, & refuses to obey orders…You are hereby Commanded to Take said Woman and her children…& Transport them to Head-quarters at Rutland & there diliver them to the commanding officer who will order a party of the men…[so] she can go to the enemy in order to git to her husband…” Records, pg. 260

Distrust? September 1777 (after the Battle of Bennington) through early 1778 the council recorded entry after entry dealing with local “enemies” who sided with England, imposing deportations to enemy lines, fines, confiscation of property, passes of travel, or oaths of allegiance. These matters so encumbered the docket that a March 1778 council resolution gave the majority of these duties to the captains guarding Tory jails. An example:

Vermont Council of Safety, 3d September 1777 “Francis Breakenridge is permitted to Return home, & Remain on his father’s home farm, and if found off to expect 39 Lashes of the Beach Seal, until further orders from this Council.” Records, pg. 155

Fear and chaos?

Vermont Council of Safety, Bennington, 28 July 1777 “Whereas the inhabitants of the northwesterly part of this State have been necessitated to remove their families by the encroachment of the enemy, and some are removed to the states of Massachusetts Bay and Connecticut:…request such men to return and assist in defending this and the United States of America from the ravages of the enemy…” Records, pg. 138

Oh! And an ancestor in the mix!

Bennington, 6 October 1777 “We are informed that Mr. S. Payne of Sunderland has in his Custody one yoke of oxen the Property of this State which we desire youd Take into Custody immediately.” Addressed to Commissioners of Sequestration Records, pg. 186

Go deep! It’s worth the dig!

And look for great blogs like A Writer of History by MK Todd. (Okay, you can include my blog, as well.) I remember reading the Bernard Cornwell quote she used in her most recent post (found here), and I thank her for reminding me of it. I love Bernard Cornwell’s rousing stories! No matter your research, in fiction, the story’s the thing.

“The most important thing, the all important thing, is to get the story right. Write, rewrite, rewrite again, and do not worry about anything except story. It is story, story, story. That is your business. Your job is not to educate readers on the finer points of Elizabethan diplomacy or Napoleonic warfare, your job is to divert and amuse people who have had a hard day at work. What will get you published? Not style, not research, but story. Once the story is right, everything else will follow.” B. Cornwell