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Sunday, May 31, 2015

The American Revolution and Latin America

Elizabeth, New Jersey was a significant place during the American Revolutionary War.   Among other things, it was the opening salvo in the ill-fated attempt by the British in 1780 to reengage Washington's army in the northern theater.  But it also features busts of two Latin American revolutionary heroes--Jose Artigas, who liberated Uruguay, and Jose Marti, who helped liberate Cuba.

Here is the bust of Artigas in the park opposite the city hall in Elizabeth:



Jay Sexton, in an on-line piece titled The US and Spanish American Revolutions, notes that while there is sufficient evidence to find influence of the American and French revolutions on those in the early nineteenth century in South America, that should not be confused with causation.  The same philosophical principles underlying the Age of Enlightenment affected both North and South American revolutionaries, but there were other factors that delayed action in South American. Seeing this bust in Elizabeth, New Jersey, a center of the American Revolution, helps remind us that our revolution (or, more accurately, civil war) may have been the first to succeed, but we were by no means alone.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Nathan Hale's Last Words

On Vanderbilt Avenue across from Grand Central Station at the corner of East 44th Street, a block from the Yale Club, is this plaque, that tells us "At the British Artillery Park near this site Nathan Hale captain in the U.S. Army, Yale graduate of 1773, apprehended within enemy lines while seeking information, was executed on the morning of September 22, 1776.  His last words were 'I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.'"


Another plaque on 3rd Avenue and 65th Street tells us that he was hanged "probably within 100 yards" of that spot.

The first plaque that I have pictured was put up by the Mary Washington Colonial Chapter, D.A.R., and the Yale Club of New York.  The second one was erected by the New York Historical Society.

Not only is the actual place of his hanging disputed, but the actual utterance (if any) of what he said is also disputed and quoted differently.

I am less interested in running to ground the various arguments, but rather, like Plymouth Rock, suggest that the iconography, at least in this case, is important.  Whether at this spot or 65th Street, we know the location was within these 20-30 blocks of Manhattan.  And whether he said certain specific words or not, the story has emerged that he did make a rather heroic statement in extreme (and final) circumstances.  We build a national culture on such things, and some things remain valuable as leaps of faith.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Fort Nonsense and Alarm Beacons

I previously posted about Fort Nonsense.  On a recent visit I noted two plaques either previously not there or that I'd never read.  It was intriguing: they explored the use of beacons as communications and warning devices used in the Revolution.


Fort Nonsense was built to provide a safe area for retreat of those troops guarding Morristown, New Jersey, in the event of a British attack (which never came).  Morristown is below the hill and to the left as we look out.  The plaque on the right tells us that "[i]n case of enemy invasion or other emergency situations, it was to be set on fire to notify militiamen to go to preselected meeting places and prepare for response to the alarm." The one on the left tells us there were plans for a beacon here, but there is no historical proof one was placed here.  There was to be a line of beacons on the hills, with one on the hill to the south at Summit, which was on the fringe of the battle of Springfield in June 1780; that beacon was said to be activated as the British approached Morristown but were defeated.

In the film Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, there is a dramatic scene showing the force and power of beacons; I found it one of the most beautifully presented images in the series.  We have Aragorn, the king to be, urging the leader of the neighboring country to come to aid:

"Aragorn: The Beacons of Minas Tirith! The Beacons are lit! Gondor calls for aid.
Theoden: And Rohan will answer. Muster the Rohirrim. Assemble the army at Dunharrow. As many men as can be found. You have two days. On the third, we ride for Gondor and war."

Not dissimilar to the use explained on the hill at Fort Nonsense.