Tag Archives: Maritime History

The Champlain Memorial Lighthouse Centennial


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What follows is a guest essay by Thomas Hughes, Director of the Crown Point State Historic Site on Lake Champlain in Essex County, NY. The site includes two National Historic Landmarks: the ruins of French-built Fort St. Frédéric (1734-59) and the ruins of Crown Point’s British fort (1759-73).

Dedicated 100 years ago this month on July 5, 1912, and located at a prominent site that is steeped in history, the Champlain Memorial Lighthouse serves as a monument to the 1609 voyage on Lake Champlain by French explorer Samuel Champlain. Continue reading

New Concise History of the Battles of Plattsburgh


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Battle of PlattsburghLake Champlain was a corridor for warfare beginning with Samuel de Champlain’s exploration, but perhaps no moment in the Champlain Valley was as important as the Battle of Plattsburgh, something recognized by both Roosevelt and Churchill.

Although other, more famous, engagements of the War of 1812 were ruses meant to divert U.S. troops away from the prize – Plattsburgh. The Chesapeake Campaign for example, which included the British capture of Washington, DC, the bombardment of Fort McHenry captured in the National Anthem, was intended, as Donald Graves notes, “as a large raid to draw off American troops from the northern theatre of the war.” Continue reading

Replica Ship Half Moon Opportunities Announced


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William T. (Chip) Reynolds, Director, New Netherland Museum and Captain, Replica Ship Half Moon has announced that work is proceeding on fall programming and regular ship-board projects, and the ship will be holding an upcoming sail training opportunity.

On July 21-22 crew old and new alike will come together on the Half Moon to train in sail handling and ship operations. The two day program will depart from and return to Peckham Wharf in Athens, NY while anchoring out on the evening of the 21st. Crew will board 8am Saturday and depart late afternoon on Sunday.  No prior experience necessary; all training will be provided. Preference will be given to those who have volunteered with the Half Moon this season.

If you would like to participate in the sail training weekend, send an email with your name, phone number, location and the information for an emergency contact to: hmvolunteer@gmail.com

Dockside work continues on the Half Moon as they prepare for sail training and other programming through the summer and Fall of 2012. Crew have been working around the ship on various projects. Doug Lyke has been working on rewiring bilge pumps and radio wires; Gene Tozzi repaired the decorative anchor on the front of the ship; Woody Woodworth and Bob Hansen have installed new water pumps and other elements for the ship’s generator.

In addition to work around the ship, they’ve also said goodbye to bo’sun Wesley Jasper who spent three months living and working aboard the Half Moon, and who is headed to the Rotterdam Maritime Academy in the fall.

Work will continue weekdays throughout the summer. If you are interested in joining in and assisting with maintenance work around the ship, contact them at 518.443.1609 or by email at: hmvolunteer@gmail.com

This season, the Half Moon will be open for school and public tours in Albany NY Sept 22 & 23 and Sept 29 & 30 and public viewing in Connecticut.

Half Moon also offers school class tours. Educators looking to sign-up their class Sept 21, Sept 24-28 and Oct 1-4, should contact Carol Ann Margolis at the Albany Convention and Visitor’s Bureau: 518.434.0405

The 85-foot replica of the ship Henry Hudson sailed while exploring the Hudson River in 1609 has a volunteer crew of 15 and was built in Albany, N.Y. in 1989 to commemorate the Dutch role in exploring and colonizing America. The Half Moon replica has six sails on three masts, sporting 2,757 square feet of canvas. It’s equipped with six cannons and four anchors.

The original ship, called the Halve Maen, was commissioned on March 25, 1609 for the Dutch East India Company. The company hired Hudson, an Englishman, to search for a passageway between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. He thought he had found that passage when he sailed up the river that now bears his name. In making his trip up the river, Hudson claimed the area for the Dutch and opened the land for settlers who followed. His voyage came 10 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. 

For general information about the replica Half Moon check their website.

Photo provided.

50th Willard Hanmer Guideboat Race:Largest Gathering of Adirondack Guideboats Ever?


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On Sunday July 1, 2012 will mark the 50th annual Willard Hanmer Guideboat Race commemorating Willard Hanmer the preeminent Guide Boat builder of his era. The race has been celebrated every year since 1962 on the Sunday closest to the 4th of July.

This year, to celebrate the craftsmanship of this uniquely Adirondack craft, the organizers are planning a display of over 50 guideboats in a guideboat parade on Lake Flower prior to the race. Following the parade will be guideboat, canoe and kayak races.

This year the one-person guideboat race will follow the traditional route on Lake Flower, carry around the dam and down the Saranac River to the Fish and Game Club where there will be food, refreshments ands festivities for the whole family. Canoes and kayaks will be following the one person guideboat course, also going down the river. For those wishing to race in either the guideboat, recreational canoe or kayak classes contact: 50thhanmer@gmail.com.

According to the Historic Saranac Lake Wiki (a great local online history source) Willard J. Hanmer, the son of Thoedore J. Hanmer “began working in his father’s boat shop as a child in about 1910, sticking tacks, caning seats and sanding hulls. He built his own shop in the 1920s.” The guideboat parade will be open to anyone wishing to display their guideboat. Natalie Bombard Corl Leduc, a participant in the inaugural race invites all past participants of the race to row in the parade. For those wishing to display their guideboats or participate in the guideboat parade contact: 50thhanmer@gmail.com.

Finger Lakes Boating Museum Gets $2.4 Million


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The City of Geneva and the Finger Lakes Boating Museum have announced that grant agreements totaling $2,450,000 in state funds for the development of the Boating Museum and Visitor Center have been received and are being executed.

The funds will be used for the design and construction of a museum showcasing boating and boat building in the Finger Lakes region, as well as an enhanced visitor center. The project will be developed on the north shore of Seneca Lake on the site of the existing visitor center.

The State of New York announced two separate grant awards, the first a $2,000,000 grant from the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York, secured through the efforts of State Sen. Michael Nozzolio. The second grant of $450,000 from New York’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program was announced as part of the 2011 Consolidated Funding Application process.

“After many months of planning, we are very pleased to be getting under way soon in providing Geneva and the entire Finger Lakes with a beautiful museum that will bring to life the history of boating and its influence on life in the Finger Lakes” said Vince Scalise, President of the Finger Lakes Boating Museum Board of Trustees. “We look forward to cooperating with the City in bringing this educational facility to the lakefront for all to enjoy and to learn.”

The City has selected Pittsford-based Hanlon Architects for design and engineering, which will begin immediately, and Chrisanntha Construction for construction of the project, which is slated to begin this fall.

Interested persons can see some of the Museum’s collection of boats on display at the 2012 Boating Festival in the Geneva Lakeshore Park Saturday (10-5) and Sunday (10-4), July 14 and 15. The Show will be held the same days as the Musselman Triathlon 2012 races and events.

The boat show will be from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, July 14, and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, July 15. Admission is free.

Many of the Museum’s wooden rowboats, power boats, and canoes built in the Finger Lakes will be on display. Activities will include workshops and demonstrations on boat building and restoration, interactive nautical displays and a sailing regatta. For more information, check the Boating Museum’s website at www.flbm.org.

The Boating Museum reached agreement with the City of Geneva in the fall of 2009 to establish a permanent home on the Geneva waterfront in association with a Visitor Center.

The Boating Museum has assembled a collection of more than 115 wooden boats built in the Finger Lakes over the past 100 years, as well as numerous related artifacts and extensive reference material. Portions of the collection will be displayed on a rotating basis within the new facility, but President Scalise emphasized that there will be a lot more to the museum than viewing boats because education, restoration and preservation are the key elements of the museum’s mission.

Also featured will be boat rides on Seneca Lake, active on-water programs including sailing and small boat handling, interactive workshops and displays to engage visitors in the design and construction of boats and boating history materials and programs.

The boating museum is a 501c3 not-for-profit corporation and was chartered by the New York State Department of Education in 1997 to “research, document, preserve and share the boating history of the Finger Lakes region.”

Photo: Construction of the Finger Lakes Boating Museum and Visitor Center will begin this fall on the north shore of Seneca Lake in Geneva.

Lake George’s Sunken Fleet of 1758 Event


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On Tuesday, June 5, 7 p.m. at Thurman town hall underwater archaeologist  Joseph W. Zarzynski will present a talk on Bateaux Below’s study of “The Sunken Fleet of 1758,” a notable event at Lake George during the French & Indian War (1755-1763).

In the autumn of 1758, the British sank over 260 warships in Lake George to protect the vessels over the winter of 1758-1759 from their enemy, the French and their Native American allies. Many of the sunken warships were recovered in 1759 and reused by the British.  However, over 40 sunken warships were never retrieved by the British forces in 1759 and they offer underwater archaeologists an excellent opportunity to study these shipwrecks to find out about the colonial soldiers that used them.

Zarzynski’s talk will give details on Bateaux Below’s 24-year-long study (1987-2011) of “The Sunken Fleet of 1758.”Zarzynski is co-founder of Bateaux Below, co-author (with Bob Benway) of the book Lake George Shipwrecks and Sunken History, and co-authored the documentary Search for the Jefferson Davis: Trader, Slaver, Raider.  The documentary, written with Dr. Samuel Turner, was a 2012 Peabody Awards nominee, and an “Official Selection” in the Orlando Film Festival (2011),  Amelia Island Film Festival (2012), and the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival (2012). The documentary was named one of three finalists for “Best Documentary” in the 6th Buffalo Niagara Film Festival.

Zarzynski’s June 5th program, hosted by the John Thurman Historical Society, is free and open to the public, and refreshments will be served. Thurman town hall is located at 311 Athol Road, Athol, NY, about 6 miles from the Warrensburg Health Center via route 418 and Athol Road. For more information, call 518-623-9305.

Photo: Joseph W. Zarzynski holds a model of the type of 18th century radeau that plied the waters of Lake George during the French and Indian War (Photo courtesy Peter Pepe).

War of 1812 Naval Bases at Sackets Harbor and Kingston


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The Annual Meeting of the Sackets Harbor Battlefield Alliance, Sackets Harbor Historical Society, and the Sackets Harbor Area Cultural Preservation Foundation will feature a talk by John R. Grodzinski entitled “A Tale of Two Dockyards: The Naval Bases at Sackets Harbor and Kingston in the War of 1812.”

The War of 1812 witnessed the unprecedented employment of naval power on Lake Ontario. From their humble pre-war beginnings, the dockyards at Sackets Harbor and Kingston grew in scale and by the end of the conflict, were producing ships of a scale intended more for the open ocean than inland seas. This presentation will examine the naval commitment made by Great Britain and the United States on Lake Ontario during the War of 1812 and the legacy of those efforts.

This free event will be held on Tuesday, May 29th, 2012 at the Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site’s Barn on Hill Street, off Washington Street in Sackets Harbor. The annual meeting begins at 6 pm; the program at 7 pm. Light refreshments will be served.

John R. Grodzinski teaches military history at the Royal Military College of Canada at Kingston, Ontario. He is author of  Sir George Prevost: Defender of Canada in the War of 1812 (forthcoming, University of Oklahoma Press) and several articles examining various topics related to the War of 1812. Grodzinski is also the editor of the on-line War of 1812 Magazine and conducts staff rides and battlefield tours that consider the Seven Years’ War, the American War of Independence, the War of 1812 and the development of fortifications in Canada from 1608 to 1871.

Illustration: The Kingston (now Ontario) naval yard at Point Fredrick in 1815 by E. E. Vidal (watercolor)  now hanging in the Massey Library at the Royal Military College of Canada.

Ulster County Architecture Focus of May 14th Event


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Monday, May 14th the Gardiner Historical Society will host their annual meeting with the Historical Society of Shawangunk and Gardiner at 7 pm at the Gardiner Town Hall. The event is open to the public and is free of charge, refreshments will be served.

Author William B. Rhoads will share his book Ulster County, New York, The Architectural History & Guide, A Historical guide to 325 sites in all 20 Ulster County townships and the city of Kingston. The sites explored in the book show the variety and changing architectural styles that have appeared over nearly 300 years in the Hudson River Valley and Catskill Mountains, from 17th century Dutch limestone houses of the colonial era, through the Federal and Victorian periods, up to the Modernist architecture of the mid-1950’s.


The architecture reflects the history, tracing the evolution of one of the first regions in today’s New York State to be settled by Europeans. Dutch and French Huguenot villages and homesteads of the 1600s form the core of today’s Kingston, New Paltz, and Hurley, surrounded by the structures built by their descendants and later immigrants – the English, Irish, Italians and scores of other ethnic and national groups – as Ulster county rose from the American Revolution and became an important commercial center, with bustling ports on the Hudson River, the booming 19th century “Empire State’s” first superhighway. Everywhere one looks in Ulster County there are vestiges of the past – abandoned cement mines, locks of the old D&H Canal, idle railroad depots, the ghostly shell of a grand old hotel that never opened to the public. And there is the “living history” as well, the structures built by previous generations that are still vital today, like the Mohonk Mountain House and the hundreds of other historic buildings representing nearly every American architectural style from 1660 to 1950 that remain private homes, libraries, schools, houses of worship or have been converted into museums.

William B. Rhoads is a professor emeritus of art history at SUNY New Paltz, where he taught from 1970 to 2005. His publications include studies of Colonial Revival architecture and Franklin Roosevelt’s sponsorship of architecture and art. Rhoads’s Kingston, New York: The Architectural History & Guide was published by Black Dome Press in 2003.

Plattsburgh’s Brush with the Titanic


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In the past 200 years, a few ships have borne the name Plattsburg. In the War of 1812, there was the unfinished vessel at Sackets Harbor, a project abandoned when the war ended. There was the rechristened troop transport that hauled thousands of troops home from the battlefields of World War I. There was the oil tanker that saw service in the Pacific theater during World War II. And there was the cruise boat that plied the waters of Lake Champlain in 2003–4. One of them played a role in the most famous maritime disaster of all time.

The unfinished ship at Sacket’s Harbor had been designated the USS Plattsburg. The oil tanker was the Plattsburg Socony, which survived a horrific fire in 1944. Thirty-three years later, after two more renamings, it split in two beneath 30-foot waves and sank off Gloucester. The cruise ship was the short-lived Spirit of Plattsburgh. But it is the USS Plattsburg from the First World War that holds a remarkable place among the best “what if” stories ever.

In early April 1917, just three days after the United States entered World War I, a merchant marine ship, the New York, struck a German mine near Liverpool, England. The damage required extensive repairs. A year later, the ship was chartered by the US Navy, converted into a troop transport, and newly christened the USS Plattsburg.

By the time the armistice was signed, ending the war in November 1918, the Plattsburg had made four trips to Europe within six months, carrying nearly 9,000 troops of the AEF (American Expeditionary Forces) to battle.

The transport assignment continued, and in the next nine months, the Plattsburg made seven additional trips, bringing more than 24,000 American troops home. A few months later, the ship was returned to her owners, reassuming the name SS New York. After performing commercial work for a few years, the ship was scrapped in 1923.

When the end came, the New York had been in service for 35 years. At its launch in 1888 in Glasgow, Scotland, it was named S.S. City of New York. The SS indicated it was a “screw steamer,” a steamship propelled by rotating screw propellers (City of New York was one of the first to feature twin screws). After service under the British merchant flag, the ship was placed under the US registry as the New York, where it served in like manner for five more years.

In 1898, the US Navy chartered the New York, renaming it Harvard for service during the Spanish-American War. It served as a transport in the Caribbean, and once plucked more than 600 Spanish sailors from ships that were destroyed off Santiago, Cuba. When the war ended, the Harvard transported US troops back to the mainland, after which it was decommissioned and returned to her owners as the New York.

A few years later, the ship was rebuilt, and from 1903–1917, it was used for routine commercial activities around the world. In April 1912, the New York was at the crowded inland port of Southampton, England. It wasn’t the largest ship docked there, but at 585 feet long and 63 feet wide, it was substantial.

Towering above it at noon on the 10th of April was the Titanic. At 883 feet long, it was the largest man-made vessel ever built. This was launch day for the great ship, and thousands were on hand to observe history. The show nearly ended before it started.

No one could predict what would happen. After all, nobody on earth was familiar with operating a vessel of that size. Just ahead lay the Oceanic and the New York, and as the Titanic slowly passed them, an unexpected reaction occurred.

The Titanic’s more than 50,000-ton displacement of water caused a suction effect, and the New York, solidly moored, resisted. It rose on the Titanic’s wave, and as it dropped suddenly, the heavy mooring ropes began to snap, one by one, with a sound likened to gunshots. The New York was adrift, inexorably drawn towards the Titanic. A collision seemed inevitable.

Huge ships passing within 50 to 100 feet of each other might be considered a close call. In this case, desperate maneuvers by bridge personnel and tug operators saved the day (unfortunately). The gap between the two ships closed to only a few feet (some said it was two feet, and others said four). Had they collided, the Titanic’s maiden voyage would have been postponed.

No one can say for sure what else might have happened, but a launch delay would have prevented the calamity that occurred a few days later, when the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank within hours, claiming more than 1500 lives.

Photos: USS Plattsburg at Brest France 1918; L to R: The Oceanic, New York, and Titanic in Southampton harbor; the tug Vulcan struggles with the New York to avoid a collision; the New York (right) is drawn ever closer to the Titanic.

Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 20 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

Poughkeepsie’s Soldiers and Sailors Monument


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One of our contentions at the Hudson River Valley Institute has always been that you can go anywhere by starting exactly where you are. The closest I ever came to losing this argument was at a Teaching American History conference with a gentleman from New Mexico. “It’s easy for you – the Hudson Valley has nearly 400 years of colonial history and documented prehistory before that,” he said “all we have are aliens (Roswell) and those German POW scientists from WWII.” (He had just finished a presentation about the latter). But he went on to explain that even in that state’s most isolated towns, there was at least one war memorial with the names of local soldiers who served their country, and when they shipped out, they charted a course around the nation and the world leaving a path for students today to trace through history. Continue reading

Canal Life: Near Tragedy on the George W. Lee


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In November 1886, Captain John Frawley of the canal boat George W. Lee reached the eastern terminus of the Mohawk River at Cohoes. Before him was the Hudson River intersection: south led to Albany and New York City, and north was the path of the Champlain Canal, which ran from Waterford to Whitehall, at Lake Champlain’s southern tip. Access to the Champlain Canal was on the north bank at the Mohawk’s mouth, opposite Peeble’s Island.

At the mouth of the river was a dam, maintaining calm water so the boats could cross the river, and about 500 feet upstream from the dam was a bridge. Canal boats were pulled by tow ropes linked to teams of mules or horses. To cross from the south bank of the Mohawk to the north, towing teams used the bridge, which is what Frawley did.

Sounds simple, and usually, it was. But the Mohawk was badly swollen from several days of rain. Traveling at night, Frawley was perhaps unaware that the normally strong current had intensified. Water was fairly leaping over the nine-foot-high dam.

Accompanying the captain were his mother, around 60 years old; his ten-year-old son; and the boat’s steersman, Dennis Clancy. To help ensure that things went okay, Frawley left the boat to assist the team driver during the crossing of the 700-foot-long bridge. They moved slowly—the rope extended sideways from the bridge downstream towards the boat, an angle much more difficult than pulling a load forward along the canal.

Below them, the George W. Lee lay heavy in the current, straining against the rope. All went well until the bridge’s midpoint was reached, when, with a sound like a gunshot, the rope snapped. Horrified, they watched as the boat swung around, slammed sideways into the dam, and plunged over the edge. Nothing was left but darkness.

Shock and grief enveloped them at such a sudden, terrible loss. Within minutes, though, a light appeared on the boat’s deck. It had held together! At least one person had survived, but no one knew how many, or if any were injured. The roar of the river drowned out any attempt at yelling back and forth. With the boat aground, there was nothing to do but sit and wait until morning.

With daylight came great news. All were okay! But, as had happened the previous evening, great elation was followed by great uncertainty. How could they be saved? The river remained high and dangerous. The boat, resting on the rocks below the dam, could not be reached. And the November chill, heightened by cold water pouring over the dam all around them, threatened the stranded passengers with hypothermia.

A rescue plan was devised, and by late afternoon, the effort began. The state scow (a large, flat-bottomed boat), manned by a volunteer crew of seven brave men, set out on a dangerous mission. Connected to the bridge by a winch system using two ropes, the scow was slowly guided to the dam, just above the stranded boat.

The men began talking with the passengers to discuss their evacuation. Then, without warning, disaster struck. Something within the winch mechanism failed, and again, with a loud cracking sound, the rope snapped. Over the dam went the scow, fortunately missing the canal boat. Had they hit, the results would have been catastrophic.

Briefly submerged, the scow burst to the surface. A safe passage lay ahead, but the drifting scow was instead driven towards nearby Buttermilk Falls by the swift current. Two men leaped overboard and swam for shore in the icy water. The rest decided to ride it out.

In one reporter’s words, “The scow sped like an arrow toward Buttermilk Falls. It seemed to hang an instant at the brink, and then shot over the falls. It landed right side up and soon drifted ashore.” Incredibly, everyone survived intact. Chilled, wet, and shaken, but intact.

Meanwhile, still stuck at the base of the dam was a canal boat with cold, hungry, and frightened passengers. A new plan was needed, but darkness was descending. The stranded victims would have to spend another night on the rocks.

On the following day, Plan B was tried. According to reports, “A stout rope was stretched from the Waterford bridge, over the dam, to a small row boat at Peeble’s Island [a distance of about 1800 feet.] Two men stood on the bridge and pulled the skiff upstream until it came alongside the canal boat Lee. The party embarked and the boat was allowed to drift back to the island.”

What an amazing, fortuitous outcome. Two boats (one at night) over a dam; three people trapped for more than 36 hours in a raging river; two men swimming for their lives in icy water; and five men and a boat over a waterfall. All that potential for tragedy, and yet all survived unscathed.

Photos: The dam at Cohoes, looking west from Peeble’s Island; A canal boat scene at Cohoes.

Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

A New Titanic Book for Young Readers


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In her new book for young adults, Titanic: Voices from the Disaster (Scholastic Press, 2012), Deborah Hopkinson, noted author of historical fiction and nonfiction for young readers, resurfaces a hundred-year-old tragedy through the stories and voices of those who survived the sinking of the RMS Titanic in April 1912.

Voices from the Disaster includes letters and narrative accounts from Titanic’s passengers to prompt readers to think of those whose journey ended along with what Hopkinson calls “a masterpiece of human engineering:”

. In a letter to their parents, Harvey, Lot, and Madge wrote, “Well dears so far we are having a delightful trip the weather is beautiful and the ship magnificent. Lots of love and don’t worry about us. Ever your loving children.”

. “You have to try to imagine it – the last moment I saw my dear sister stand there with little Thelma tightly in her arms.” Ernst Persson, third class passenger.

. “I almost thought, as I saw her sink beneath the water, that I could see Jacques, standing where I had left him and waving at me.” May Futrelle, first class passenger remembering her husband

“This book is an introduction to the disaster and to just a few of the people who survived,” says Hopkinson, “I hope their stories and voices remind you, as they do me, that our lives are fragile and precious. And I hope they make you wonder, as I do, what it would have been like to be on the Titanic that night so long ago.”

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.

American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World


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On November 25, 1783, the last British troops pulled out of New York City, bringing the American Revolution to an end. Patriots celebrated their departure and the confirmation of U.S. independence. But for tens of thousands of American loyalists, the British evacuation spelled worry, not jubilation. What would happen to them in the new United States? Would they and their families be safe?

Facing grave doubts about their futures, some sixty thousand loyalists—one in forty members of the American population—decided to leave their homes and become refugees elsewhere in the British Empire. They sailed for Britain, for Canada, for Jamaica, and for the Bahamas; some ventured as far as Sierra Leone and India. Award-winning historian Maya Jasanoff’s new book Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World (Knopf, 2011), chronicles their stories.

Jasanoff re-creates the journeys of ordinary individuals whose lives were overturned by extraordinary events. She tells of refugees like Elizabeth Johnston, a young mother from Georgia, who spent nearly thirty years as a migrant, searching for a home in Britain, Jamaica, and Canada. And of David George, a black preacher born into slavery, who found freedom and faith in the British Empire, and eventually led his followers to seek a new Jerusalem in Sierra Leone.

Mohawk leader Joseph Brant resettled his people under British protection in Ontario, while the adventurer William Augustus Bowles tried to shape a loyalist Creek state in Florida. For all these people and more, it was the British Empire—not the United States—that held the promise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Yet as they dispersed across the empire, the loyalists also carried things from their former homes, revealing an enduring American influence on the wider British world.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.

New ‘Crossing the Delaware’ on Display Amid Debate


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The New-York Historical Society is displaying Mort Künstler’s “Washington’s Crossing at McKonkey’s Ferry” until January 17, 2012. Emanuel Leutze’s 1851 painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware” commemorates General George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River on December 25 in 1776 during the American Revolutionary War. His original painting is part of the permanent collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Mort Künstler, a New York artist known for his historical paintings, has created what he considers a more historically accurate version of Washington crossing the Delaware River. The painting was unveiled at the New-York Historical Society on Monday, December 26, the date in 1776 that Washington led his troops into battle in Trenton after crossing the Delaware.

David Hackett Fischer, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Washington’s Crossing, and featured speaker at the unveiling, says Künstler’s version is “quite accurate” and “got more right than any other image.”

The original painting shows the Betsy Ross flag flying, however that flag was not adopted until 1777; Mr. Künstler’s version has no flag. The original painting depicts the action taking place in the middle of the day, though the actual crossing took place during a stormy night. Based on historical research, the new painting shows Washington and company in a flat-bottomed ferry boat rather than on a row boat.

On that last detail however, there has been some debate. Rick Spilman, writing in the Old Salt Blog, noted:

“The problem is that most historians think that the American crossing of the Delaware used Durham boats, large flat-bottomed boats which hauled cargo such as ore, pig-iron, timber, and produce from upcountry mines, forests and farms down the Delaware River to Philadelphia’s thriving markets and port. Robert Durham, an engineer at the Durham Iron Works in Reiglesville, Pennsylvania, reputedly designed a prototype for these large cargo boats as early as 1757. Washington wrote to Governor Livingston of New Jersey, directing him to secure “Boats and Craft, all along the Delaware side…particularly the Durham Boats” for his anticipated crossing.”

In any event, you’ll have just one day to compare the two paintings first hand. The newly restored Luetze painting will be unveiled in a new frame in the New American Wing Galleries for Paintings, Sculpture and Decorative Arts at the Metropolitan Museum on January 16, the day before the new Künstler painting comes down at the New-York Historical Society.

Illustrations: Above, Mort Künstler’s “Washington’s Crossing at McKonkey’s Ferry”; below, Emanuel Leutze’s 1851 “Washington Crossing the Delaware”.

State Museum Aquires Unique Stoneware


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After hiding away in private collections – and a California coat closet – for nearly 200 years, a unique piece of early American decorative art is returning home to New York, where it will be housed at the New York State Museum thanks to collector Adam Weitsman. Weitsman, President of Upstate Shredding, also donated a monumental jug, two water coolers considered important by the museum and a gallon jug decorated with the image of a ship.

“The addition of these recent pieces of decorated stoneware surely put the New York State Museum on the map as having the premier collection of American stoneware. Not only are the decorations unique and outstanding as works of American folk art, but the documentation and history of these recent acquisitions enable us to learn so much more about the stoneware industry and those artists who left us such remarkable works of art,” said John Scherer, Historian Emeritus of the New York State Museum.

Weitsman has made a number of donations to the museum in the past, and a Herington incised jug will be an important – and valuable – addition to the collection.

A double-handled, profusely decorated stoneware jug is among the latest items Weitsman has donated. Inscribed “BENJAMIN HERINGTON,” it was bought at auction for what was, at the time, a record-breaking $138,000. The jug, considered by some a masterpiece, was made as a memorial to a 22-year-old potter who drowned in the Norwich, Connecticut harbor in 1823.

The double-handled jug joins two other pottery donations from Weitsman, including a 21 1/2 inch tall jug made in Poughkeepsie in the mid- to late-1800s, and a one-gallon stoneware jug decorated with the image of a ship, made in New York State between 1835-1846. The new acquisitions also include two water coolers made by Jonah Boynton of Albany purchased from New York City dealer Leigh Keno.

Stoneware was an integral part of the history of New York State and the expansion of the country in early days of exploration and settlement. In a time before refrigeration, stoneware was used to store and transport foodstuffs and drinking water. Clay deposits ideal for making stoneware were found around New York State, notably in what is now New Jersey, lower Manhattan and eastern Long Island. New York State became a large stoneware producer and artisans in New York developed durable vessels decorated with rich designs using incision techniques and distinctive rich blue coloring.

Weitsman began collecting American stoneware at age 11 and made his first donation of more than 120 pieces to the museum in 1996. In a 2009 article for Antiques and Fine Art Magazine, ‘Art for the People: Decorated Stoneware from the Weitsman Collection,’ Scherer wrote, “Since his initial donation Weitsman has continued to add at an aggressive pace to the museum’s holdings, making it the premier collection of American decorated stoneware in the country.”

The Weitsman Stoneware Collection is available can be viewed by the general public at the New York State Museum in Albany, New York.

Fort Ticonderoga Acquires 1759 Powder Horn


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Fort Ticonderoga’s collection is strengthened by a recent donation of an engraved powder horn made in 1759. The horn is inscribed “JOSEPH STAB HIS POWDER HORNE 1759.” Joseph Stab’s identity thus far remains silent. A search of available records for the military campaigns of 1759 has not yet revealed who he was.

Stab’s powder horn is nicely engraved with a variety of scenes and images. Directly above his name is a hunting scene depicting a horseman and three hounds chasing a deer. Another part of the horn is engraved with what appears to be Indians in trees shooting at game. A variety of birds, trees and deer are depicted over much of the remainder of the horn along with depictions of sailing ships one of which is identified as “Sloop Oswego.” The British Navy sloop Oswego was constructed on Lake Ontario in 1755 and captured (burned) by the French on August 14, 1756 at the end of the siege of Fort Oswego. Was the sloop depicted on Stab’s horn as a memory of service in a previous military campaign? Further research may reveal the answer.

Powder horns were regularly issued to American provincial and British regular soldiers in the French & Indian War for carrying bulk gunpowder. Unlike what is commonly seen in the movies, soldiers generally did not load their muskets directly from a horn. The horn was a container in which to carry bulk gunpowder to later be used in making paper cartridges. Many soldiers had their horns engraved perhaps as a way of commemorating their military service. Although there is little direct information that survives regarding the process of engraving a powder horn, it appears from scant evidence that most horns were engraved by a only a handful of men, perhaps individuals with known artistic or engraving skills, serving as fellow soldiers in the army. Some powder horns have poetic phrases reflecting upon specific events and military campaigns; others are inscribed with only the owner’s name and date. Many powder horns have maps or floral or naturalistic scenes engraved on their surfaces. Each horn, however it is decorated is a unique record of a person’s military experience.

Fort Ticonderoga’s collection of 18th-century military objects is celebrated as one of the best of its type in the world. The collection of engraved powder horns numbers about seventy-five pieces spanning the French & Indian War and American Revolution. According to Chris Fox, Fort Ticonderoga’s Curator of Collections, “Each powder horn is unique and has a story to tell.”

Dozens of engraved powder horns are exhibited in the museum each season and many will be featured in the museum’s newest exhibit Bullets & Blades: The Weapons of America’s Colonial Wars and Revolution opening May 2012.

Vietnam War Graffiti Exhibit Opens Veterans Day


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The personal thoughts and feelings of American soldiers and Marines going to war in Southeast Asia come to life in the “Marking Time: Voyage to Vietnam” exhibition opening Nov. 11 (Veterans Day) at the New York State Museum.

The stories of these soldiers and Marines are told through the graffiti they left behind on the bunk canvases they slept on, aboard a ship that brought them to Vietnam in 1966-67. Eight canvases inscribed by soldiers from New York state are included in the traveling exhibition, open until Feb. 26, 2012. Uncertain about their future, the young troop passengers inscribed personal thoughts about families, hometowns, patriotism, love, anxiety, discomfort and humor.

Their canvases, bunks and personal items were discovered in 1997 onboard the General Nelson M. Walker. The transport ship was being scrapped after seeing service during World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars. In between it was in reserve status in a Hudson River berthing area, near New York City, for six years. Military historian Art Beltrone discovered the historic graffiti and other artifacts during a trip to Virginia’s James River Reserve Fleet, where the ship had been relocated from New York.

When discovered, the Walker was a veritable floating time capsule, filled with hundreds of historical artifacts relating to the Vietnam War, the 1960s, and the men who went to war. Many of those artifacts will be on display. Included is an original eight-man rack of sleeping bunks, complete with the original mattresses, sheets, pillows, blankets and life vests. The rack shows how confining living space was during the uncomfortable 18-23 day, over 5,000-mile voyage to Vietnam. There also is clothing, shoes, comic books, magazines and copies of The Walker Report, the ship’s official newspaper written, printed and distributed by troop passengers. Other personal objects left behind, such as playing cards, empty cigarette and candy wrappers, liquor bottles, religious tracts and rosary beads, were found hidden under the sheets.

The multi-dimensional exhibition also includes two short films, “Marking Time: Voyage to Vietnam” and “Discovery of a Forgotten Troopship,” which can also be viewed online.

The exhibition is curated by Beltrone and his wife, Lee of Keswick, Va. Together they founded the Vietnam Graffiti Project (VGP) which, assisted by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, is dedicated to finding the graffiti writers and Walker voyage passengers to tell and preserve their stories. VGP is still trying to identify many of the writers, including many of those from New York state. Among those who have been found are Harmon Adams of Kenmore, near Buffalo, and Dave Dubreck of Churchville, near Rochester.

World War One and Charles Dabney Baker


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War heroes come from all walks of life, and are deemed noteworthy for all sorts of reasons. In April 1918, during World War I, the North Country was justifiably proud of five lesser headlines in the New York Times beneath a bold proclamation: “Plattsburg Youth A Transport Hero.”

The story was particularly unusual for one main reason—though the youth was a lieutenant in the infantry, he and his foot-soldiers had performed heroic deeds with no land in any direction for perhaps 1000 miles.

Plattsburg (no “h” used in those days) was a principal military training facility, and many death announcements during the war ended with a single, telling entry: “He was a Plattsburg man.” In this case, the Plattsburg man in question, Charles Dabney Baker, was still very much alive and receiving praise from both sides of the Atlantic for astute leadership and remarkable calm during a crisis situation.

The odd circumstances surrounding Baker’s citation complemented his unusual path from childhood to the military. Historically, the vast majority of fighting men do not come from affluent backgrounds. Men of money and power have often been able to protect their children from serving. Poorer folks, on the other hand, often joined for the guaranteed income and the financial incentives dangled before them. A few thousand dollars was nothing to a person of wealth, but constituted a small fortune for someone in need.

Charles Baker was certainly part of an affluent family. He was born in Far Rockaway, Long Island in 1891, the son of a Wall Street banker. When he was but eight years old, the family household of four children was supported by a live-in staff that included two nurses, a waitress, a cook, and a chambermaid. A kitchen maid and a laundress were later added. Life was sweet.

Charles graduated from Princeton in 1913 and went to work for the Bankers’ Trust Company in New York City. It was an ongoing life of privilege, but after two years in the banking industry, he opted to join the military. Following a stint on the Mexican border, he was promoted to the rank of sergeant, and then trained at Plattsburg as America finally entered the war in Europe.

For Baker, who was prepared for battle, disappointment ensued when his regiment was ordered to France without him. He was instead tasked with commanding a detachment of men assigned to care for 1600 mules and horses that were being shipped to Europe in support of the troops.

As the journey began, a series of problems developed, culminating in a crisis situation in the middle of the ocean. A powerful storm threatened the mission, with winds estimated at 80–90 miles an hour. The ship was badly tossed, and a coal port lid failed (it was said to have been the work of German spies who had loosened the bolts when the craft was docked).

As the ship began to flood, chaos and disaster loomed. Baker, the highest ranking officer aboard, took charge of his landlubber crew and whipped them into action. The partially flooded ship rocked violently, and its precious cargo suffered terribly. A sailor on board later reported that many of the horses and mules “were literally torn to pieces by the tossing and rolling. Their screams of agony were something awful to listen to.” A number of others drowned.

Under Baker’s orders, bailing crews were assigned, dead and living animals were tended to, and the remaining men battled to keep the ship afloat. Days later, they limped into port and assessed the damages. It was determined that 400 animals had been lost, but the remarkable response by Baker and his infantrymen resulted in the survival of 1200 others. A complete disaster had been averted, and after delivering their cargo, the 165th Infantry was soon on the front line in France.

The story of the ocean trip might have remained untold except for brief mention that appeared in some newspapers. Among those reading the report was a sailor who had shared the voyage. He contacted the newspapers, and soon the story was headline news, praising Baker and his soldiers for great bravery and heroism under extreme conditions.

While the story gathered momentum, Charles and his men were otherwise occupied, already engaging in trench warfare. Just a few weeks after joining the fight, the 165th was pinned down under withering bombardment by the Germans. As Baker encouraged his troops, a shell exploded nearby, puncturing his eardrum.

For three days the barrage continued. Against the advice of his men, Baker endured the pain, refusing to withdraw to seek treatment. He felt his troops were best served if he remained on duty with them.

In early May it was announced that the French government had conferred upon Baker the Croix de Guerre medal, accompanied by the following citation: “First Lieutenant Charles D. Baker showed presence of mind and bravery during a heavy bombardment of nine-inch shells. Went calmly to his post in the trenches despite a destructive fire, assuring the safety of his men and locating the enemy’s mortars which were firing on the positions.”

Baker was forced to spend time recovering in the hospital. Despite his adventures, the frequent praise, and the French medal, Baker was described as humble, unassuming, and much admired and respected by his men. Soon he was back on the battlefield, right in the thick of things.

In July 1918, less than six months after Baker’s arrival in Europe, the 165th was involved in heavy fighting on the Ourcq River about 75 miles northeast of Paris. The Germans had the better position, and Allied forces suffered very heavy casualties as machine gunners cut down hundreds of men. Some of the Allied commanders took to an old method of moving forward by sending only two or three men at a time, backed by intense cover fire. It was difficult and deadly work.

On July 29th, while involved in fierce fighting, Charles Baker was badly injured by machine-gun fire and was once again removed to a base hospital in France. Nearly six weeks later, on September 12, he succumbed to his wounds.

From the crisis on the high seas to his eventual death on the battlefield, barely eight months had passed. It was a tragedy that was repeated millions of times during the war. And in this case, it was duly noted: Baker was a Plattsburg man.

Photo: Charles Dabney Baker, 1913.

Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

War of 1812: Carrying the Great Rope


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During the War of 1812, control of Lake Ontario was one of many issues considered critical by both sides. A key position for the British was Kingston, Ontario, about thirty miles north of the vital American base at Sackets Harbor. In an effort to establish domination of the lake, the two sites engaged in a shipbuilding race.

The British finished first and gained control, but American builders quickly completed three new ships (two brigs and the huge frigate Superior, larger than its British counterpart). Their launch required only weapons and rigging, which were en route from Brooklyn via Albany. In 1814, hoping to keep those vessels in port, the British sought to disrupt American supply routes. A prime target was Fort Ontario, located at Oswego on the mouth of the Oswego River.


On May 5, the British fleet launched an attack that was repelled by the Americans. On the following day, an intensified assault featured heavy cannon fire from the British. Eventually, the Americans lost the fort and some important armaments, but most of the valuable supplies had been taken upriver to Oswego Falls (now Fulton) for safe storage. The preservation tactic worked, and shortly after the Battle of Oswego, a plan was in place to resume moving war supplies northward to the waiting ships at Sackets Harbor.

Following the attack, the British withdrew to Kingston, but a few weeks later, they were at the Galloo Islands near Sackets Harbor, blockading any marine attempts at supplying this strategic site. Should the materials slip through, it would dramatically tip the scales in favor of the American forces. By monitoring the harbor, the Brits were preventing that from happening, ensuring their superiority on the lake.

A British attempt to destroy the Superior was foiled, and on May 2, the ship was launched. But it was hardly battle-ready, still lacking guns and rigging. Less than three weeks after the attack on Oswego, the critical supplies hidden at Oswego Falls were once again on the move. They had already traveled from Brooklyn to Albany, and then to Oneida Lake. Now, from Oswego Falls, it was time for the final, dangerous leg of the journey.

A land contingent paralleled the 19 American boats as they fairly sneaked up the eastern shoreline of Lake Ontario. At Sandy Creek, the boats were taken inland as far as possible while scouts checked ahead for the presence of British ships. It was a wise move, for the enemy was indeed lurking nearby. Shortly after, the British launched an attack, but in less than a half hour, the Americans had won a resounding victory known as the Battle of Big Sandy Creek.

Despite the win, it was deemed unsafe to risk sending the valued supplies any farther by water, lest they again fall under attack and be captured or destroyed by the British. Wagons, oxen, horses, and manpower were summoned, both from the military and from local residents. The plan was to move the important supplies the remaining distance by land.

The bateaux (boats) were unloaded, and soon a lengthy caravan laden with guns, ship cables, and other supplies was on its way to Sackets Harbor, about 20 miles north. Only one item was yet to be moved—a length of rope, albeit an important one—and it presented a real problem.

This wasn’t just any length of rope. It was intended as the anchor line and/or rigging for the USS Superior, the huge new frigate that could alter the balance of power on the lake. That meant this was a BIG rope. Most descriptions portrayed it as 6 inches thick and 600 feet long, weighing in at just under 5 tons.

No cart was big enough to handle its tremendous size and weight, but if it wasn’t delivered, the Superior would remain port-bound, and the Brits would own the lake. Ingenuity often yields solutions at such critical moments, but sometimes good ol’ elbow grease is the answer. In this case, it was a combination of the two, but the emphasis was clearly on the physical.

A section of the rope (referred to as a cable) was piled on a cart, and the remaining cable was strung out along the trail. Militiamen heaved it to their shoulders, and like one gigantic, ponderous snake, the cable began moving slowly northward behind the cart.

There are various accounts of the trip, and claims as to the number of cable-carriers range from 84 to more than 200. Some say that discouraged men skipped out of the nasty job after a few hours, and that locals stepped in, literally shouldering the burden. None of the stories differed on one count, though: participants were left badly bruised from the incredibly difficult ordeal.

But, they did it! The cable arrived at Sackets Harbor on the afternoon of the second day. The tired men wore abrasions, cuts, and huge, deep-purple bruises as hard-earned badges of valor. At the close of their incredible 20-mile journey, “there was loud cheering the whole length of the cable,” as the men were greeted with music, drumming, flag-waving, and drink—and the princely sum of $2 each for their efforts.

They should have celebrated with a tug-of-war!

As soon as it was deemed seaworthy, the Superior turned the tables on the British, blockading their main shipyard at Kingston and helping establish American dominance of the lake. It was thanks in no small part to the “can-do” attitude exemplified by North Country pioneer folks.

Top Photo: Fort Ontario at Oswego.

Middle Photo: One of several plaques honoring the cable carriers.

Bottom Photo: Map of Lake Ontario sites.

Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.