Mary Beth Writes

Not everyone wants to see where the American Revolutionary War got up and got going - but we did.

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The summer after college I worked in my family’s printing business, trying to earn and save enough to move out. To where I was not sure, but somewhere!

In early August a friend invited me to meet her at her friend’s college apartment in Toledo, Ohio. My mom had bought a new car that spring and had given to me, as a graduation gift, her 1969 Pontiac Tempest … which leaked oil like crazy.  I had to top off the oil every time I filled up with gas … but … I had wheels! So off to spend time with Jeanie I went. After two fun days I said to myself, “Since I’m this far already, I might as well drive on to New York City.” What’s another 600 miles (1200 by the time I came back home) when you are 21?

I had a LOT of adventures on that trip and I did see the NYC - on $1 a day. (Read about it here.) 

Leaving the city to return home was intense. I was a small-town girl  Journey - “Just a small-town girl …”). Driving into and out of NYC is not for wusses.  I somehow got onto US-87 going north out of the city and then just stayed on it because that’s how I managed highway panic back then.  If the road is working, stay on it.  Possibly that’s how I’ve lived my life, too, but I won’t go into that right now.

So. I went SEVERAL HUNDRED MILES out of my way. I didn’t get up my nerve to turn west until New York State Highway 29 - which is 200 miles north of NYC.

But then, close to there I saw an exit for 'Saratoga State Historical Site.'

It was late in the afternoon of a day that been so intimidating.  I parked, walked around the visitor center and there, dropping away in front of me was a long, beautiful meadow. Evening sun tinted the acres of unmowed grass to amber. The Adirondacks in the distance were misty lavender. Interpretive signs said this was the site of one of the most important battles of the American War for Independence.

That peaceful image stayed in my mind all my life; it became one of the reasons I wanted to learn more about our nation’s early history.  All the clamor of 4th of July parades and fireworks and red, white, and blue hoopla seemed so unconnected to that late afternoon meadow.  What was the real story?

When Len and I lost our Nova Scotia vacation to Hurricane Dorian, I wanted to go back to Saratoga. I have read Colonial era history for years; I know more now than I did then. I wanted to see that long meadow again.

I’m not going to explain the sequences of battles that led to Saratoga. If you are interested, this is a nicely condensed place to begin: https://www.hudsonrivervalley.com/documents/109744hudsonrevolution2-pdf

We spent time at Crown Point. It is empty; a place that was once a major fortification and is now an Ozymandias.

“… My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

We drove south to Ticonderoga. It is a privately owned, cost $20 (each) to get in, and was worth it. We saw and heard reenactors fire off a French canon over Lake Champlain.  OMG that single cannon was the loudest thing I have heard in years. Hearing it upped my understanding of the courage (and ringing ears) of the men and women who fought and lived through cannon wars.  You can hear cannons dozens of miles away.  (Some say Gettysburg was heard 150 miles away in Pittsburg.)

Ticonderoga was built by the French around the same time as they were building Fort du Chartes along the Mississippi. (https://www.marybethdanielson.com/content/long-ago-sort-american-camelot-mississippi The French were finally waking up to the reality that the people on whom they depended for their unconscionable wealth were vulnerable to enemy Indian nations and to the British. Both Crown Point and Fort Ticonderoga began as French installations that were then lost to the British in the Seven Years War of 1756-1763. Ticonderoga is built in the shape of a star, though it’s hard to you enjoy this unless you are a crow.

Here are some of our take-aways from seeing these places.

1. There is navigable water most of the way from Montreal down skinny waterways that flow into Lake Champlain that almost abuts Lake George that takes one to a portage to the Hudson River down (with rapids and waterfalls) to the Atlantic Ocean.  Whoever controlled this waterway was going to be the superpower of New England.  About 1/3 of the Revolutionary War was fought in New York state.

2. Driving in and around the forested mountains and the waterways of the Adirondacks is SLOW and TWISTY-TURNY. Unless you are already from this place, it is as dense and confusing as free day in a cornfield maze. A lot of our time navigating this area was spent pulling into driveways so that natives could get past us.  Imagining what this place was like with no highways, when battles were going on and armies were dragging themselves after each other gives a clue as to how we Americans lasted long enough to win.  Many of the American soldiers were from this kind of topography. The Brits and the conscripted Germans were from cities and villages.

3. Daniel Morgan, cousin of Daniel Boone, was a dang-good sharpshooter. George Washington asked Morgan to train and build a cadre of sharpshooter men. The art and skills required to win a war were changing right here, via this group of riflemen. The Brits wore red coats and fought in noble and valorous lines.  Morgan and his guys could shoot precisely over long distances from hidden places. It unsettled the Brits to fight these crazy Americans on their own crazy turf.  Also, the Americans were fighting for the place where they lived. The Europeans were there because someone made them be there.  

4. We all know and bemoan that our nation’s current political mood is divided, rancorous, and toxic. Pundits say we’ve never been this divided. Pundits are wrong.  Every historian will tell you that during the American Revolution about 1/3 of our population was Patriot, 1/3 was Loyalist, and 1/3 felt overwhelmed and just wanted to stay out of it.

These are toxic times – but we need to remember that the War of Independence was NOT a cohesive and unifying experience.  

And these phtos are from the battlefields at Saratoga: Because the Americans, amazingly, won here - the French said they would bring their navy to help us - and that is why we won the war. 

Comments

Leonard's picture

The state park is just a few miles east of Saratoga Lake, where a guy named "Crum" invented Potato Chips. http://originalsaratogachips.com/our-story/

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