My American Revolution: A Modern Expedition Through History's Forgotten Battlegrounds

My American Revolution: A Modern Expedition Through History's Forgotten Battlegrounds

Robert Sullivan

Language: English

Pages: 272

ISBN: 1250037700

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Named a Best Book of the Year by The Wall Street Journal

Americans tend to think of the Revolution as a Massachusetts-based event orchestrated by Virginians, but in fact the war took place mostly in the Middle Colonies―in New York and New Jersey and parts of Pennsylvania. In My American Revolution, Robert Sullivan delves into this first Middle America, digging for a glorious, heroic past in the urban, suburban, and sometimes even rural landscape of today.

Sullivan's history is personal, anecdotal, experiential. He visits the down-home reenactment of the crossing of the Delaware, which has taken place each year for the past half century, and uncovers the fact behind the myth. He camps in New Jersey backyards, hikes through lost "mountains," and wrecks his back―then evacuates illegally from Brooklyn to Manhattan by handmade boat. He recounts a Brooklyn historian's failed attempt to memorialize a colonial Maryland regiment; a tattoo artist's more successful use of a colonial submarine, which resulted in his 2007 arrest by the New York City police and the FBI; and the life of Philip Freneau, the first (and not great) poet of American independence, who died in a swamp in the snow.

Like an almanac, My American Revolution moves through the calendar of American independence with the eternally charming Robert Sullivan as our guide. This is a fiercely individual and often hilarious journey; in the process of making our revolution his, Sullivan shows us how alive our own history is, right under our noses.

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clear and mild—the cold was on its way that evening—and when I left my apartment and walked to the subway, I knew immediately that my backpack was way too heavy. At our neighborhood produce stand, I passed Carmine, the guy who runs it, who is a history buff, and he acted as if I was the fifth person he had seen that day who was about to remarch the Continental Army’s path from the crossing of the Delaware to its winter encampment. “Four miles an hour,” he said, cryptically. “What do you mean?”

I. N. Phelps Stokes, studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, but he had given up architecture and devoted himself to throwing lavish for-profit themed balls, for which he wrote and conducted all the music. “He is what you might call ‘Beaux-Arts,’” a reporter said. Reporters also noted that drunkenness was a theme at the for-profit balls, where women unexplainably lost all or some of their clothing. The list of performers at the balls was drawn up by Pierpont Morgan Hamilton. In 1932, the

the likeness of the first president. I noticed a nearby wreath, and wondered if it could be inauguration-related. I went into the hall—my first time—where a man dressed as General Henry Knox, the Boston bookseller-turned-general-turned-first-secretary-of-war (until personal debt brought him down), was giving a talk. I quietly circled the interior of the hall’s rotunda. In the back corner, I came upon a giant slab of stone, barely contained in an old frame, and etched with this inscription:

considers the soldiers living in the cold: Those winter soldiers died often—slowly, agonizingly, despairingly. Far more died in winter camps than in summer battles. The wonder is that mutiny did not come sooner, that desertions from the ranks were not greater at Jockey Hollow. The selfish, grasping quest for power in Congress should have discouraged even the toughest of armies.… Why did they keep the faith? I don’t know. I often ask myself this. Was it patriotism, an innate quest for freedom, a

for fires in the view of a winter night, all eyes on a war that seemed to never end. Hills that I had hardly noticed for most of my life were suddenly the most obvious hills in the world. You who make your home in the Rockies, or have lived among or hiked upon the Pacific Northwest’s mighty Cascades, those of you who call the Adirondacks, or even the Catskills, home—you may scoff at the very notion of hills in or near New York City; you might hesitate to use the word “mountains” in referring to

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