Saturday, October 4, 2014

Valcour Island, The Philadelphia, and the Artifacts of History

I previously posted on the Battle of Valcour Island.  This past week I had to be in Washington, DC for a meeting at 11, a few minutes from the Smithsonian American History Museum.  I dropped in and found the recovered Philadelphia, one of the gondolas that was part of the Patriot "fleet" opposing the British under Guy Carleton.  Here is a front view:

In Benedict Arnold's Navy, James L. Nelson described these gondolas "essentially large, open boats, sharp at the bow and stern, farmed and planed with white oak," and "propelled by oars or by a square mainsail and topsail set on a single mast." John R. Bratten, in The Gondola Philadelphia and the Battle of Lake Champlain, notes they were called by various names: gundaloes, gundalows, gun'low, gondela, gundalow, gundaloa gundeloe and gunlo.

Captain Benjamin Rue and sixteen of his crew saved themselves and reached Fort Ticonderoga in safety. 

The Philadelphia was recovered in the 1930s and you can see the cannonball that finally sank it on the bottom left square of the photograph, according to the sign.  Nelson notes that The Philadelphia "was the only American vessel lost, though all the fleet had been severely mauled." 

It is extraordinary that we can look at this vessel, with so much of it intact, and be just one step removed from that momentous event.

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