Contributor Close-up: Michael J. F. Sheehan


April 3, 2019
by Editors Also by this Author


Journal of the American Revolution is the leading source of knowledge about the American Revolution and Founding Era. We feature smart, groundbreaking research and well-written narratives from expert writers. Our work has been featured by the New York Times, TIME magazine, History Channel, Discovery Channel, Smithsonian, Mental Floss, NPR, and more. Journal of the American Revolution also produces annual hardcover volumes, a branded book series, and the podcast, Dispatches

What inspired you to start researching and writing about the Revolution?
I was born and raised in the town of Stony Point, New York, and so every summer included attending the July battle anniversary and reenactment at Stony Point Battlefield. In addition, my grandfather would take my brother and I to other historic sites along the Hudson, like Washington’s Headquarters in Newburgh and Tappan, New Windsor Cantonment, and the USS Intrepid, so early on I learned to love history, and more so the American Revolution, as it seemed you couldn’t go more than a mile in Rockland County without running into a building or site related to the war. I began to feel an ownership or closeness to the eighteenth century just by living in the Hudson Valley. Once I was hired at Stony Point Battlefield, it wasn’t long before I knew that studying the American Revolution would be the direction I would take.

What historians or books have most influenced your work? Why?
Some of the early books I read to give myself a broader understanding of the war and the period included Ketchum’s Decisive Day, McCullough’s 1776, Ellis’s His Excellency, and Baker’s Sons of a Trackless Forest. As I became more aware of deeper research, I collected all I could of JAR Editor Don Hagist’s titles, and works by other now-JAR authors like Todd Braisted, Mike Schellhammer, John Rees, and Larry Kidder to name a few, but Don Loprieno’s The Enterprise in Contemplation’s attention to detail and the wonderful narration of Walter Isaacson’s Benjamin Franklin: An American Life are particular favorites.

What are your go-to research resources?
The first source I always check, without fail, are the Washington Papers, Series 4, General Correspondence. The Papers of Congress, muster rolls, pay rolls, and pension applications available from the National Archive and Record Administration and Library of Congress through the mediums of Founders Online, Fold3, and are essential sources to my research. JAR is always worth a search when starting up a new topic. Too much praise cannot be given to Heitman’s Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army.

Which of your own JAR articles is your favorite or most rewarding? Why?
I would have to say it’s a tie for my “The Unsuccessful Attempt on Verplanck,” for being my first article and first legitimate research project, and “The Extraordinary Life of Isaac Grant,” as that was my first biography, and certainly the lengthiest research project I’ve ever undertaken—I really felt like I knew Grant personally when I had completed the paper.

Other than your own contributions, what are some of your favorite JAR articles?
My favorite JAR updates are actually the “Ask an Author” posts; I love seeing so many talented and intelligent individuals “debate” about a particular topic. Other than that, there simply are too many to choose, though I am particularly fond of Joshua Sheppard’s piece on liquors and the troubles they got the men into; it is entertaining and also shows the real problem alcohol could produce in a body of armed men!

What books about the American Revolution do you most often recommend?
I always recommend 1776 to those new to AmRev studies, but Isaacson’s Benjamin Franklin: An American Life and Bernier’s Lafayette: Hero of Two Worlds are always go-to’s.

What new research/writing projects are you currently working on?
As of this writing, I have just submitted my tenth article for JAR, a brief biography of a Connecticut officer. I am always collecting sources on King’s Ferry and have been compiling research for five years for a volume on the history of the ferry and it’s two ends, Stony and Verplank Points. I will continue to write biographies when I can find pension applications of suitable length—especially if the subject frequented Stony Point or served in the battle.

What other hobbies/interests do you enjoy?
Aside from writing and reading, my main hobby is playing in an Irish seisun band, Shades of Erin, at the local pub. I joined the band in 2012 and have been playing guitar, mandolin, and singing with them since. In the past year or so I’ve gotten into enjoying cooking and the challenges it can offer, and of course, the results. I also reenact with my unit in the Brigade of the American Revolution, Lamb’s Artillery, where I serve as a board member-at-large. As of 2017, I joined my familial local lodge in the Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks, no. 877.

Why is Journal of the American Revolution important to you?
JAR has been such a blessing since its inception. Most days of the week, one can read a fresh new piece of American Revolution and Founding Era history- no other Journal offers that. JAR offers the perfect blend of detailed, researched work with readability and accessibility. The journal maintains academic standards while expanding history to those who are unfamiliar or new to it. That authorship is open to all is fantastic, and helps encourage college students or armchair historians alike to get into the academic aspects of history. Being a JAR author since 2014 has been a point of pride for me.

Is there an article, or subject area, that you would like to see appear in JAR?
I would love to see more biographies or vignettes on private soldiers’ lives; their struggles, their adventures, and their triumphs. The common soldier and sailor is the heart of the Revolution and their tales should still inspire us today.


  • Enjoyed this very much! Michael, I came across a brief mention of King’s Ferry recently. I’ve been working on an article for JAR related to Thomas Painter’s escape from the Good Hope prison ship in the “North” River. After a few weeks of misadventures, Painter finally makes it to New Jersey, travels north, and re-crosses at King’s Ferry in an effort to get home to West Haven, CT.

    Here’s the link to the book. He mentions King’s Ferry on page 44. Of course you may already be aware of this. It’s just a small mention, but perhaps “crossing point for escaped prisoners” could be added to your long list of events at King’s Ferry! 🙂

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