The Story of “Evacuation Day”

A century after the end of the War for Independence, New Yorkers continued to celebrate a holiday known as “Evacuation Day,” commemorating the leaving of the last British troops from New York City on November 25, 1783. It marked the end of a seven-year occupation by the British army who used the city as the headquarters for its North American operations during the war. But it also marked the beginning of a holiday that would be enthusiastically celebrated by New Yorkers for a century to come. On this anniversary, I offer the following narrative account of a day that played a large role in the city’s historical memory of the Revolution for more than a century, but was eventually displaced when it became incompatible with contemporary circumstances. Continue reading

Guest Post: “Fear in the Revolutionary Americas” Conference Recap

Elizabeth M. Covart is an early American historian, writer, and podcaster. Presently she is working on her first book manuscript about cultural community creation in Albany, New York, 1614-1830. Liz also writes a practical blog about history and how to make it more accessible at Uncommonplacebook.com and her new podcast, “Ben Franklin’s World: A Podcast About Early American History,” seeks to bring the work of academic and public historians to history lovers everywhere.

massacre_jane_c_1October 31, 2014. On the most fearsome day of the year, Tufts University convened “Fear in the Revolutionary Americas, 1776-1865,” a one-day conference designed to explore the question: What role did fear play in the revolutions that occurred in North and South America between 1776 and 1865? Continue reading

J. Franklin Jameson Superstar

It is not often that historiographical essays have a hero. But, in Al Young’s essay, “American Historians Confront ‘The Transforming Hand of Revolution’,” it’s hard not to see J. Franklin Jameson that way. Jameson was a New Englander by birth and character who helped found the American Historical Association in 1884. Never a prolific historian (or teacher, for that matter), Jameson’s greatest impact—beyond the important structural role he played in the emergence of History as a modern academic and professional discipline in the United States—came in the form of a small collection of four lectures originally written in 1895 but published largely in the form they were given at Princeton 30 years later. That small book, The American Revolution Considered as a Social Movement, is not just the starting point for Young’s assessment of the historiography of the American Revolution in the twentieth century, it is quite literally its genesis. Continue reading

The Masquerade

I’ve admired Alfred Young’s wonderful, if unwieldy, Masquerade: The Life and Times of Deborah Sampson, Continental Soldier (New York: Knopf, 2004) since I first encountered the book in an undergraduate classroom a decade ago. Young’s biography of Sampson, which covers the life, career, and memory of this remarkable woman who “passed” as a man in the Continental Army for seventeen months, shares much in common with its intellectual sibling, The Shoemaker and the Tea Partythe detective-like level of historical research, the concern with the constantly shifting nature of memory, the drive to capture the life of a common person who left an uncommon historical legacy. New concerns, such as the performative and unstable nature of gender, emerge in Masquerade as well. My most striking impression from this latest reread, however, is just how much the book is about the limits of the American Revolution. Continue reading

George Robert Twelves Hewes and the Politics of Historical Pedagogy

How does an ordinary person win a place in history?

Such is the line that Alfred Young opened his classic The Shoemaker and the Tea Party: Memory and the American Revolution (Boston: Beacon Press, 1999). In a way, the phrase captures much of his overall scholarship. Other contributions to this roundtable have/will cover(ed) how he did this in his influential books, essays, and edited collection. In my post, I want to focus on how he translated his approach into a work that is probably read more than any of his other books. Indeed, Shoemaker and the Tea Party is a popular book in the classroom, both undergrad and graduate, since it tells a fascinating tale with an important message.  Continue reading

Decoding Diplomacy

JA Steady 2

John Adams, Codename: “Steady”

Ciphers, codes, and keys—plus reflections on how to encrypt sensitive developments in early American diplomacy—run through the papers of two generations in the Adams family’s saga of public service. So how did they use secrecy in statecraft? Continue reading