We recently ran an article about monuments commemorating the American Revolution. We asked our contributors:
If you could commission a monument, what would you commemorate and where would it be located?
They provided a wide range of worthy candidates.
Nancy K. Loane
On December 19, 1777, over 400 women—and an unknown number of children—struggled into their winter encampment at Valley Forge. Few names of these intrepid women are known; indeed many people have no idea women even served at Valley Forge. A monument to the women and children who wintered at the 1777-78 Valley Forge encampment is long overdue.
Christian M. McBurney
I would commission a statue of Maj. Gen. Charles Lee to be placed at the site of the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse. By deciding to retreat, and doing it in the manner that he did, he arguably saved about one-half of the Continental Army from possible destruction. (Currently, there is a statue of Baron von Steuben at the battlefield. After the battle, Steuben challenged Lee to a duel. Perhaps the Lee statue could be placed near Steuben’s!)
I would like to see a statue put in front of Independence Hall of John Adams of Massachusetts. Adams was crucial in getting the colonies to assist Boston after the Intolerable Acts shut down its harbor. He nominated Washington to be the commander of the Continental Army. Finally, Adams was a forceful voice in getting the colonies to declare their independence as one nation. And of course, to hear Adams put it, he alone chose Jefferson, the best writer in Congress, to draft the Declaration itself. Such accomplishments certainly deserve a permanent, physical celebration for the rotund attorney.
J. L. Bell
On the common in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is a monument to the “Washington Elm,” which legend said shaded Gen. George Washington as he assumed command. That common should have a monument to a significant event we can actually document. On July 2, 1774, militia companies from many towns filled the common, inflamed by rumors of Crown military attacks. Those men demanded resignations from all royal officials in Cambridge, the lieutenant governor on down. They chased customs officers into Boston. By the end of this “Powder Alarm” the people of Massachusetts had ended royal control of most of their province.
Arthur B. Cohn
I would commemorate the American smallpox victims who died during the retreat from Quebec in May and June 1776. As these defeated and demoralized troops struggled to reach the relative safety of Lake Champlain, for many, the journey ended on Ile aux Noix, the low-lying island in the Richelieu River. Here, many of the sick and suffering men died and were buried in mass graves. Now a Parcs Canada National Historic site interpreting Fort Lennox from a later era, I would place the monument to the smallpox victims where the visiting public can see it.
Richard J. Werther
In a perfect world I would erect a monument to the American Revolution in France, as we owe the French a huge debt in helping us win the war. The monument would include Washington, deGrasse, Franklin, and Vergennes. The first two won the military war culminating at Yorktown, the second two accomplished the diplomacy, the alliance of the countries, that made the win possible. Sort of our reciprocation for the Status of Liberty, albeit 130 years after!
I would commission a monument to commemorate Philip Schuyler placed next to Benedict Arnold’s nameless boot at the Saratoga Battlefield. One, the disgraced traitor; the other the forgotten strategist and diplomat. Both selfless contributors to winning the battle that augured victory for the Revolution. On October 17, 1777 as 5,895 British soldiers laid their muskets on stacks in surrender, Arnold the fearless warrior who had ignored Horatio Gates’s nonsensical orders in the battle, and former Major General Schuyler, logician and architect of the elaborate defense plan for Saratoga inherited by Gates (who had Schuyler stripped of his command) looked on while Gates basked in the glory of victory. Three years later Gates would retreat by horse 170 miles in three days, leaving his routed army to its own devices after the devastating Battle of Camden in South Carolina. On the monument I would inscribe the words “Major General Philip Schuyler of the Northern District. Warrior, Diplomat and Peacemaker. ‘Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste death but once.’”
I would propose a monument to honor Antoine-Jean-Louis Le Bègue de Presle Duportail and have it erected at Valley Forge or Yorktown, Virginia. Duportail was the first of four men authorized by King Louis XVI to come to America seven months before France declared war (Lafayette was not one of them). He became General Washington’s chief engineer and the founder and first Commandant of the Corps of sappers and miners which became the Army Corps of Engineers. He advised Washington how to improve the defenses of West Point and the Hudson River and planned the defenses of Philadelphia and the Delaware River, Valley Forge and Yorktown. He also taught the Americans how to conduct offensive siege strategy.
Brian Patrick O’Malley
The British held New York City from 1776 until 1783 and the prison ships there became notorious. The British captured Savannah, Georgia, in 1778 and Charles Town (Charleston), South Carolina in 1780. The prison ships in the harbors of Savannah and Charleston proved as unsanitary, ill-supplied and deadly as the prison ships of British-held New York. The website for the City of Savannah lists the many monuments in the historic port. Sadly, the list includes no monument to prisoners of the Revolutionary War. If I were to commission Revolutionary War monuments, I would remember the prison ships near Savannah.
James Kirby Martin
Just north of the New York border in the Canadian Province of Quebec lies a small island on the Richelieu River. The island’s name is Ile aux Noix (translated Island of Nuts). In 1775 it served as a staging area for the Schuyler-Montgomery invasion that led to the capture of Montreal in November. In June 1776 Ile aux Noix served as the last gathering point for thousands of American rebels being driven out of Canada by superior British forces. Smallpox, dysentery, and other killer diseases were rampaging through these valiant patriot soldiers who, by the hundreds, succumbed to these diseases while temporarily bivouacked on the island. Their remains were hastily buried in open pits, but no marker of any consequence has ever been placed on Ile aux Noix to memorialize these lives tragically lost. Even if located on Canadian soil, surely a noteworthy monument should be erected on this sacred ground where so many desperate American soldiers died while in retreat toward such points south as Crown Point and Fort Ticonderoga.
Years ago a visitor to the Princeton battlefield would have seen a ceramic map, stacked cannon balls topped by an eagle, and a plaque marking where the British 17th Regiment of Foot spotted the Americans and fatefully reversed course. All these have disappeared. A wooden British mass grave marker is also gone. Remaining are a granite-mounted plaque honoring General Mercer, and a somewhat incongruous colonnade designed by prominent architect Thomas Walter and positioned on the battlefield as a memorial when an adjacent estate was demolished. So the site of a pivotal moment of the Revolution is strikingly “under-monumented.” I’d suggest rectifying this with an equestrian statue of Washington riding to the sound of the guns and saving the day. It could be situated on Maxwell’s Field, being acquired by the Battlefield State Park from the Institute for Advanced Study, and enabled by The American Battlefield Trust.
Adam E. Zielinski
As a member of the Revolutionary War Alliance of Burlington County, New Jersey, we are actively seeking to engage residents and local leadership in the often-overlooked significance of our historic towns and communities. Growing up in Mount Holly, I was fully aware of its revolutionary ties, but did not quite appreciate them until much later. We are hoping to change that with our proposal for a new monument that fully explains the town’s significance in the days leading up to Washington crossing the Delaware to take Trenton in December 1776. While the Battle of Iron Works Hill remains a footnote, at most, in histories of the Ten Crucial Days, our research has indicated the running engagement on December 23 (beginning at the Petticoat Bridge) was far more than just a few militia firing scattershot at a Hessian patrol. Our goal is to erect a new monument in town that will be visible and evokes commentary that will allow historians to finally acknowledge how important the days of December 21-24 in and around Mount Holly were in the war’s outcome. Look no further than the words of Joseph Reed or Johann Ewald for confirmation that Mount Holly’s place in our Revolutionary history is long overdue for its rightful place in our remembrance.
Phillip R. Giffin
A monument to General Washington’s “Pen Men,” his Aides de Camp, or “ADCs.” I believe the general would agree that he was exceptionally fortunate in his thirty-two choices for ADC, including such men as Joseph Reed, Jonathan Trumbull, Alexander Hamilton, David Humphreys, Thomas Mifflin, Tench Tilghman, Samuel B. Webb, and Martha Washington (Honorary). These individuals not only wrote much of his correspondence, they discussed strategies and tactics with him, carried his messages across battlefields, helped him relax with their conversation and their enthusiasm for winter dances, and became a source of some of his best unit commanders, and later his Cabinet Members. Rather than adding another monument to the streets of Washington DC or the National Park at Morristown, I suggest a statue to a lesser known but exceptional example of his Aides, such as Col. David Humphreys (ADC, combat leader, & Poet Laureate) or Col. Samuel Blachley Webb (wounded three times; his family home in Wethersfield was twice used for strategy meetings with the French). Further, I suggest it be placed on the Village Green in the town of Wethersfield, Connecticut, a town with deep connections to the Revolution and Washington’s ADCs (Webb, Trumbull, Humphreys, Deane, Chester, etc.).
John L. Smith
To this day, I can’t believe there’s no monument to John Adams in Washington, DC. The man who steered independence unceasingly through the hesitant Continental Congress, nominated George Washington as commander-in-chief of the new army, proposed Thomas Jefferson to write the Declaration of Independence, and shepherded the peace negotiations and details of treaties through early murky waters has no statue in a place of honor in our nation’s capital. Can he be squeezed in between Teddy Roosevelt and Lincoln on Mount Rushmore? Sure, he might’ve been cranky sometimes, but come on, people.
Kieran J. O’Keefe
The Oneida Indians should have a monument. While most of the Iroquois Confederacy sided with Great Britain, the Oneidas largely supported the rebelling colonies. They aided American forces in the Mohawk Valley, particularly at the Battle of Oriskany. In the spring of 1778, Oneidas served as scouts around the Valley Forge encampment and fought at the Battle of Barren Hill. The Oneidas, however, were never recognized for their support and were dispossessed of most of their land after the war. Their monument should be at the Oriskany battlefield or Valley Forge.
Katie Turner Getty
I envision a monument commemorating the hundreds of Bostonians loaded into transport ships by British General Howe and unceremoniously deposited on the Point Shirley peninsula during the Siege of Boston. These civilians—sometimes called donation people—were poor, extremely ill or infirm, advanced in age, or caring for numerous children. Though General Washington and the provincial congress sent provisions and authorized old rotten fish-houses to be used as firewood, several people died right on the beach. A monument at Point Shirley would remind us of the hardships, upheaval and displacement suffered during wartime by some of Boston’s most vulnerable residents.
Matthew P. Dziennik
I would commission a monument to John Small, the Gaelic-speaking British officer famously depicted in Jonathan Trumbull’s The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill. In the words of Trumbull, he was “equally distinguished by acts of humanity and kindness to his enemies as by bravery and fidelity to the cause he served.” I would place the monument in Hants County, Nova Scotia, where after the war he helped establish a military settlement and where he campaigned tirelessly for his soldiers’ rights.
The sacrifice of the seventy-two sailors and marines who perished on the privateer General Arnold on December 26-28, 1778, should be remembered with a memorial in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The ship was on its way to raid British shipping when it was caught in a December blizzard. It was blown on to a mudflat inside Plymouth Harbor, where survivors were trapped for three days. The majority of the men perished from exposure to extreme cold, huge waves and hurricane-force winds. Sixty of the dead are buried in Plymouth. The captain was interred with his men twenty-five years later after his death.
The Battle of Great Bridge, Virginia, December 9, 1775. The battle is one of the earliest, shortest, smallest, least know yet most important battles of the American Revolution. It took place eight months after Lexington and Concord, six months after Bunker Hill and seven months before the Declaration of Independence. Fewer than 300 men were involved in the actual fighting, which took less than ten minutes from first shot to last. The result was a devastating defeat for the British forces under the royal governor, Lord Dunmore, forcing the expulsion of British forces from Virginia, leaving the largest, most populous, and wealthiest of the thirteen fledgling United States free of any organized British presence for the next five years. During those five years Virginia provided Washington’s army with thousands of men, tons of materials and massive amounts of supplies—men, materials, and supplies that were critical to keeping that army in existence so that six years later we still had an army to march south with our French allies to capture the British army under Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown in the action that secured our independence. I would erect the monument in the town of Chesapeake, Virginia, at the southern abutment of the draw bridge on Battlefield Boulevard that spans the Chesapeake and Albermarle Canal. This is where the American fortification was located and where the bulk of the fighting took place.
Don N. Hagist
Given the changes in political tides in the centuries since the war, the British soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War deserve commemoration. The names of many of the fallen are known, and thousands of their descendants are among American citizens today. The political climate of the Revolution itself must also be respected, so monuments to British soldiers belong within the boundaries of battlefield parks, the places that provide context and commemoration rather than celebration.
Robert Scott Davis
A memorial at Ninety-Six, South Carolina, national historic site in memory of the Loyalists executed there and all such Americans who fought for King and Country.
I would say Morgan’s Grove outside Shepherdstown, West Virginia.The reason: It was the one place the US Army can truly identify as being the locale from which one of the first ten rifle companies of the fledgling Continental Army mustered and deployed. Today it is a community park, which is good, but there is no indication on the site of its significance.
David O. Stewart
Gouverneur Morris, in Philadelphia, on the grounds of Independence Hall. During the Revolution, Morris was congressional delegate and then chief aide to the Financier, Robert Morris. As a delegate, he provided invaluable support to Washington in reforming the army during the Valley Forge winter. But his great contribution was writing the final Constitution at the end of the Philadelphia Convention of 1787. He condensed twenty-three articles to seven, excised unnecessary passages, clarified murky language, and wrote the unforgettable preamble, dedicating “We the people” to “form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”
A memorial to those who were forced to leave their native homeland: Loyalist Americans, because of virulent and violent sentiment against them; Native Americans, forced to move west and north because the British loss meant wholesale land theft by the winners; and African Americans, who, having been given their freedom by the British, would be sent back into slavery had they stayed. The logical place for the monument: lower Manhattan from where tens of thousands of Loyalists and African Americans were evacuated.
Charles H. Lagerbom
I would like to see a large monument in Castine, Maine, commemorating forces who fought on the Penobscot Expedition 1779. In this major engagement for control of Massachusetts’s easternmost province, the outcome was the worst American naval defeat until Pearl Harbor. It damaged the reputations of naval officer Dudley Saltonstall and military men Solomon Lovell and Paul Revere. Great Britain seized near-total control of the eastern portion of the rebel colonies and only yielded the territory at the Treaty of Paris negotiations. It remains one of the least-known conflicts of the entire war.
I would put a monument in front of any one of the many Quaker sites that were taken advantage of both by the British and the Americans. In New Castle County, Delaware, alone, there are three sites that would qualify, including Wilmington Friends Meeting occupied by Washington and his men during the Philadelphia Campaign, and Hockessin Friends Meeting, part of the British march to Chadds Ford a few weeks later—and of course, Hale Byrnes House, home of Quaker Daniel Byrnes, which was the site of Washington’s Council of War on September 6, 1777.