Sunday, August 31, 2014

Valcour Island and the Lessons of History

It is easy to see Valcour Island from the boat launch at Peru, New York, and from the campus of Clinton County Community College at Bluff's Point, but not from the vicinity of the New York State Marker along Route 9 that purports to identify the area of the action.  There is a conference center there (private property).  One wold think that such an important battle would not only not be so generally ignored in discussions of the war for the lay person, but would also have a small dedicated parking and viewing area by the roadside.

Anyway, here's a view of the strait near the sign that shows the vicinity of the battle.

There are those who credit Benedict Arnold with creating and commanding America's first navy.  It was here, in the straight between the New York mainland (shown in foreground) and Valcour Island (showing the island to its southern tip) that, on October 11, 1776, Arnold stopped the pursuit of Guy Carleton, commander-in-chief of the British forces in Canada, following Arnold's withdrawal from the siege of Quebec in spring 1776.

The only other plaque I found apart from the one by Route 9 was at Bluff's Point.  We should always recall the words of George Santayana that "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," although Edmund Burke far more contemporaneous to the Revolution, also reportedly said, “Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it.” The war might well have been crushed before it began but for Arnold's determined and heroic stand in these waters, yet you could not tell it from the minimal coverage here. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Revolution and Canada I

Among the histories of the Revolutionary War I have read, discussion of Canada is limited generally to the attacks on Montreal and Quebec, and the subsequent battles during the withdrawal of the Americans.  What may not be readily understood is the more global impact of the war on other regions in Canada--such as distant Newfoundland.

Here is the site of Fort Townshend in St. John's.

We can see in the middle distance the Southern Hills that forms part of the Narrows leading into the harbor.  Fort Townshend was built between 1773 and 1779 and headquartered the British garrison in Newfoundland during the Revolution.  

The Heritage Website of Newfoundland and Labrador notes the deleterious effect on the Newfoundland economy as trade was disrupted through political acts and the sea routes subjected to the effect of the war, privateers and naval action.  When Spain joined the American-French side, Newfoundland lost another market.  Nonetheless, Newfoundlanders did not sympathize with or join the American cause.  

IN 1778 the Newfoundland Volunteers was organized and constructed Fort Townshend; two years later, the Newfoundland Regiment was formed with 300 men to defend Newfoundland, under command of Captain Robert Pringle.

Today, Newfoundland is a 2 1/3 hour flight from Newark, New Jersey.  Despite that remoteness from the epicenter of the American Revolution, the economic and political effects of the war reverberated to the furthest reaches of colonized North America.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Noddle's Island Revisited

The plaque at this forlorn site tells us that on May 27, 1775 nearby was fought the Battle of Chelsea Creek.  It is also known as the Battle of Noddle's Island, on which now sits Logan Airport.  Colonel John Stark, who later proved pivotal at Bunker Hill and Bennington, according to the sign, "successfully engaged the British regulars in driving livestock from Hog and Noddle Islands."

We see Chelsea Creek (shown on certain maps as Chelsea River).  The plaque, at the far right of the image, tells us we are in the area of the engagement by Stark, and calls this "the Colonies' first victory of the American Revolution," including affording it the status of the first naval engagement of the war.

 A minor escapade involving foraging and the successful downing of one vessel continues in the public imagination as a military victory.