About Michael Barbieri:
A life-long Vermonter, Mike has spent forty years researching and interpreting the Revolution with a concentration on the northern theater. He has taught history at high school and college levels and has given innumerable presentations on the 18th century. In 1974, Mike helped form Whitcomb’s Rangers and subsequently based his master’s thesis on the original unit. He worked for a number of years at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum and, now semi-retired, is quite active supporting the historic sites in the region, particularly Hubbardton and Mount Independence which are at the center of much of his research.
What inspired you to start researching and writing about the Revolution?
My concentration on the 18th century began in 1974 when a friend and I saw a news report on a reenactment of the Lexington-Concord affair. The activity looked interesting so we began to search for a reenactment unit and came across a group of folks looking to form a new unit. I ended up being the one chosen to do the research for a selection of prospective units to recreate. Over the forty years since, my interest in the period has become much broader and deeper.
What historians or books have most influenced your work? Why?
Austin P. Nichols, one of my high school history teachers, showed me that history could be fun. Bill Wigham, the inspector-general for the Brigade of the American Revolution, provided me with many insights into the daily life and mind-set of the common person of the period. His observations and analyses gave me my first lessons in divorcing one’s mind from the modern world when studying another time. In the published field, I often find myself thinking back to Charles Royster’s A Revolutionary People at War: The Continental Army and American Character, 1775-1783. In like manner, the pages of my copies of Ray Raphael’s works have been turned many times. Both these authors have helped me to see beyond my research findings and keep an open mind when interpreting that information.
What are your go-to research resources?
I am primarily a primary source researcher—journals, diaries, innumerable collections, newspapers, period dictionaries and encyclopaedias, maps, etc., etc.—and I read such things just for the fun of it. If a subject is totally unfamiliar to me, I look for an overview on-line (often “Wikipedia”) or in one or more of my books with detail on that subject, particularly The Blackwell Encyclopedia of the American Revolution.
Which of your own JAR articles is your favorite or most rewarding? Why?
I thoroughly enjoyed researching and writing my first article for JAR, “Bennington Fatally Delays Burgoyne.” It provided me with an opportunity to utilize some of my existing research and motivated me to do more work on the campaign. While I am not a big fan of “what if” history, the work prompted me to think beyond the accepted story and ponder what would have happened if Burgoyne had been able to immediately move on instead of waiting for days on end. Great fun and gave me a deeper understanding of one of my favorite topics!
Other than your own contributions, what are some of your favorite JAR articles?
I can honestly say that I don’t have any favorites. I find enjoyment and value in all of them.
What books about the American Revolution do you most often recommend?
That all depends on who’s asking and where their interests lie. For the broad story of the war, I often suggest Scheer and Rankin’s “Rebels and Redcoats.” It is a bit dated but still is a good overview of the war with a decent element of interpretation and a fine exposure to primary source accounts and quotes.
What new research/writing projects are you currently working on?
- Winter soldiering in the Lake Champlain valley
- Forton prison
- Composition of Ebenezer Francis’s rear guard during the retreat from Ticonderoga and the battle of Hubbardton
- Fabrics mentioned in newspapers
- Whitcomb’s Rangers (my reenactment unit and a never-ending project)
What other hobbies/interests do you enjoy?
- Backyard astronomy
Why is Journal of the American Revolution important to you?
JAR provides an outlet for projects by non-professional researchers—including myself—that ordinarily would not make it beyond a small circle of friends. In that way, the site exposes my mind to topics and events that I might otherwise never have encountered or investigated. Considering the readership numbers, it obviously does the same for many others.
Is there an article, or subject area, that you would like to see appear in JAR?
- Foreign affairs—happenings in other parts of the world caused or affected by the Revolution
- Articles about the common person—what they did or what the war did to them
- More about sites from the period and what is happening to them—protected, developed, ignored?
- Although I don’t know how it would be best managed, I would like to see a “request for information/sources” field on the site.
Why is the American Revolution important and interesting to you?
The time of the Revolution is a world quite foreign to the one we live in (ease of identifying with the world at that time and the photograph have made the Civil War far more popular with the public). But, the Revolution is also the beginning not just of the United States but of today’s world. That one event brought together several developing transformations within Western society that had been rather subtle in nature up to that time but the Revolution gave them a new-found impetus. The completion of independence in the 19th century pushed many of those changes to the forefront of society and created our modern world. That being said, the common person of the period still is not that different from us. The technology and knowledge surrounding them may have been different but, at the core, we have the same needs and desires as they did. There is a line from a song about World War I that goes, “On each end of the rifle we’re the same.” Likewise, my study of the period has taught me that on each end of the time frame we are all the same.
Mike – great interview. I need to pass along my appreciation for your JAR article “The Worth of a Continental”. The pay rate article for Continental Army soldiers and militia men was very valuable information, and well researched and cited.
Since having the privilege of being at Fort Ticonderoga last year, I have a huge love for your area. You’re lucky to live there and your volunteer work supporting the sites mentioned in your bio is so important. Thank you!
Glad the pay article provided you with some worthwhile information, John. That’s what we are all striving for on this website.
Indeed, I feel quite privileged to live near the Champlain valley. So much happened here that had a large impact on Native Peoples and American history. While Ti has become a great site–and continues to expand its high-quality offerings–I suggest that anyone in the area should visit Mount Independence across that narrow strip of water between Vermont and New York. That site actually played more of a role in the early years of the Revolution than did Ti. I plan to do an article on the site in the future that, hopefully, will help educate folks a bit about the place.
My daughter and I only had a portion of a free day left before flying back, so after touring the ruins of Crown Point, we went over to Vermont (of course) and made it all the way to Middlebury.
Now that I know someone at Mount Independence, we’ll swing south on the next trip!
Mike – great to see you up close. I always enjoy your expertise in the Champlain Valley and am eager for more. You invariably choose topics new to me and provide thoroughly researched articles. I regret not having gone to Mt. Independence when visiting Ti a few months ago – now, when I return I hope to find you and John L. Smith there. Keep on turning over those rocks and telling us what you find.
Hugh, on behalf of the Mount Independence Coalition Board, let me invite both you and John L. Smith (and anyone else reading this) to come visit this amazing site, under our auspices, at your convenience! Depending upon when you visit, one of our very knowledgeable board members will almost certainly be available to give you an in-depth tour, and if Mike comes along you will get a seminar. Although anytime is great for a visit, I would suggest late fall or early spring, when the foliage is off the trees and scrub, as the best time to view the remains of the fortifications and buildings, which are extensive (in the fall of 1776 the place was the third largest city in North America). Be sure to check out our website: http://www.mountindependence.org/wordpress1/ Depending upon circumstances, I may be able to arrange a private tour of the July 3 – 5, 1777 German encampment and headquarters, and the meticulously restored 1769 house that they occupied (and specifically referred to in Burgoyne’s orders). Just let me know when you are going to be up here next!
Ron – thank you for the wonderful invitation. I would love to take you up on it. You’re over 1000 miles away but I’ll see what might be arranged for the Spring. Hope others visit Mt. Independence as well. Thank you!
Ron – yeah, man! I’m signing up along with Hugh Harrington on your generous offer. I’m 1,500 miles away, but I’ll see what I can do to make it to Mount Indie very soon in this following year.
Sounds wonderful and thanks to both you and Michael Barbieri for the invitation and for the historical work you both do.