With our popular podcast Dispatches now in its second year, we asked our contributors a whimsical question:
Which person from the American Revolution and the founding era would you like to hear give a podcast, and on what topic?
The responses reflect the range of interests of our readers, and how much remains unknown about this era in history.
Todd W. Braisted
Thomas Gage might be worthy of consideration. As Britain’s commander in America leading up to and into the outbreak of hostilities, it would be fascinating to query him on a number of subjects. In retrospect, what might he have done differently/What were his personal opinions on London’s strategy in America? Did he think hostilities were inevitable and was he taken by surprise when fighting commenced on Lexington Green? What were his opinions on his adversaries, Loyalists and troops under his command? It could be a very long podcast!
[Thomas Gage was also selected by Steve Leet]
Charles H. Lagerbom
William Molineaux, a not-very-well-documented leader in the Sons of Liberty movement. He seemed to be at the center of most political happenings in pre-Revolution Boston in the years leading up to the war and was one of the pivotal members leading local protests to the Townshend Acts and Boston Tea Party. However, he did not publish much on his political thinking and he died suddenly in October 1774. I would like to hear him expound upon his thoughts on civic protest and political agitation in the time of King George III.
Albert Louis Zambone
John Adams. He would be amazing, assuming that everything he put into his letters he said in his podcast. He would be all over the place: discoursing on the dangerous human desire for aristocracy one moment, then slamming Alexander Hamilton, John Taylor of Caroline, Timothy Pickering, James McHenry, and his endless list of enemies in the next moment. The downside is that he would be unable to have guests on his podcast. Well, he could have them, but he would talk over them most of the time. And the list of people he would invite is the reverse of his enemies’ list: very small. But that’s OK, because people would listen for the stream of consciousness rants sprinkled with Greek etymology and Unitarian theology. These would last for about two hours, and he would totally crush Joe Rogan on iTunes downloads.
[John Adams was also selected by Kevin Diestelow]
Mark G. Spencer
James Madison, on faction in the age of the Internet.
I’d love to hear Benjamin Franklin opine about any topic he chose. He was both humorous and thoughtful with a skill for putting people at ease and opening their minds. If he could be prodded to discuss it, the evolution of his thinking in deciding that a break with Great Britain was inevitable and desirable would be particularly fascinating to hear in his own voice.
[Benjamin Franklin was also selected by Robert S. Davis, Robert N. Fanelli, Stuart Hatfield and Adam E. Zielinski]
J. L. Bell
On March 5, 1771, first anniversary of the Boston Massacre, Dr. Thomas Young delivered an oration on that shooting. He spoke in the Manufactory building, site of a 1768 confrontation between locals and soldiers. Boston’s political leaders liked the idea of a memorial oration so much that they commissioned one the next month from a schoolteacher. Another official oration followed on every anniversary until 1783. Speakers included Dr. Joseph Warren and John Hancock. The town had their words published. But not Dr. Thomas Young’s. We don’t have his oration in any form. It would be fascinating to hear the rhetoric that launched that tradition, and to gauge how radical it was. Young was a deist in a devout society. He advocated a louder political voice for the people. He wrote vigorously in the press and led demonstrations in the streets. Boston’s elite liked Young’s idea for an oration, but not all of his ideas.
St. George Tucker. Born in Bermuda to a trading family, he was apprenticed in the law to George Wythe, although Tucker had his eyes set on the Inns of Court in London. As a Virginia lawyer, Tucker was filled with Revolutionary fervor that he sated by profiting handsomely in the family’s smuggling business of everything from salt to guns from the Caribbean. The gun-running enterprise ended when the Royal Navy’s blockade became more effective. As to his role in ground combat, Tucker enlisted as a private in a Virginia militia company 1779, rose to regimental command—through political connections. He was wounded in the thigh at Guilford Court House, North Carolina, with his slave by his side. At Yorktown, Tucker was “Scotch Tom” Nelson’s French interpreter. There he kept what has become a memorable journal of events. After the war, Tucker became one of the leading legal scholars of the new republic.
Steven M. Baule
Maj. John Pitcairn of the British marines on his views of the opening aspects of the rebellion. His death at Bunker Hill robbed the British of a promising field officer who appears to have been widely respected by range of people. It would be interesting to see if he thought the rebellion could have been put down without additional bloodshed.
Zabdiel Boylston died in 1766, just as the founding era began—but without him, many of the founders wouldn’t have lived to see the new nation. Boylston, working with minister Cotton Mather, conducted the first smallpox inoculations in America in 1721. At the time, smallpox killed one-of-six or seven people, Boylston estimated. His inoculations reduced the mortality rate to one-in-forty-six. Many thought inoculations would spread smallpox, and opponents threatened Boylston’s and Mather’s lives. But the results couldn’t be denied. In 1777, Washington ordered his army be protected. “I have determined that the troops shall be inoculated,” he wrote Dr. William Shippen Jr., the army’s director-general of hospitals. A podcast with Boylston about his political challenges from eighteenth-century science deniers would provide perspective about our own challenges with coronavirus, including President Trump who initially called concern about it a “hoax.”
Gen. Nathanael Greene famously said many times “that at the close of the war, we fought the enemy with British soldiers, and they fought us with those of America.” It has been estimated that about forty percent of those who took part in the Revolution did so without any great commitment to either side, simply seeking to survive in the moment; the iconic Patriot arises years later in the recollections of old men, their widows and children. I would greatly love to hear Brig. Gen. Andrew Williamson, the highest ranking militia officer in South Carolina following the May 1780 Fall of Charleston, talk about his taking a British parole, and how, living as so many did, he came to be vilified as a traitor, the “Arnold of the South.” His defense against such a claim would help shed light on a great dark hole in our understanding of the Revolution in the South. Ironically, among the greatest supporters Williamson had against this charge that he was a traitor was General Greene.
Benjamin Lincoln on the war’s three largest surrenders. Only an untimely leg wound prevented this Massachusetts-born major general from attending the three most massive surrenders during the Revolutionary War. First, during the 1777 Saratoga campaign, Lincoln effectively led the Continental Army’s right wing capturing several British positions. Seeing an opportunity to prevent a British retreat back into Canada, Lincoln rallied the militia to surround Gen. John Burgoyne’s army. Unfortunately, he missed the capitulation ceremony to care for a musket ball taken in his right ankle during a scouting patrol. Tragically, three years later, Lincoln made the mistake of defending the port city of Charlestown against the combined firepower of the British Army and Navy, leading to the largest Rebel surrender of the war. Vindicated, a year later, he famously accepted the British surrender at Yorktown. Eyewitness commentary from three momentous surrenders – that would fill in many gaps in the historical record and would be a fantastic podcast!
The obvious choice based upon my specific area of research would be George Washington, the primary consumer of all American intelligence and its often micro-managing Intelligence Director. However, considering what we know of his personality, he probably would not share any additional details on his operations. So, I would select James Lafayette, the Black slave who spied for General Lafayette in the tidewater area prior to the Battle at Yorktown. We know almost nothing about his actual intelligence activities and he certainly could shed some light on these activities. Of particular interest would be his part in Lafayette’s deception plan to keep Cornwallis in place until the American-French armies arrived.
Patrick H. Hannum
It would be great if we could resurrect Brig. Gen. William Woodford for a short podcast. As Commanding Officer of the 2d Virginia Regiment, Woodford is best known for repulsing an attack led by British Regulars from the 14th Regiment on December 9, 1775 at the Great Bridge in southeastern Virginia. Woodford participated in actions at Hampton, Great Bridge and Norfolk in the early days of the revolution, driving the British colonial government from the state. These early military actions receive little attention although were just as important as the events around Boston during the same period, because they secured Virginia for the Whig cause. As a prisoner of war, Woodford died while in British hands in New York in 1780. About the only press Woodford receives today is when one purchases a bottle of Woodford Reserve, distilled in Woodford County, Kentucky. It would be nice to hear a few words from him.
My first thought is George Washington. But, as John Adams said, Washington had the “gift of silence”—not the best interview. I’m also tempted to say Alexander Hamilton. But according to Thomas Jefferson, in cabinet meetings Hamilton gave forty-five minute “jury speeches,” holding forth and not letting anyone else talk. How would that podcast go? Host: “Today we welcome Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. How are you, Mr. Hamilton? Hamilton: “I’m about as well as can be expected when democratic extremists threaten our republic . . .” An hour passes. Host: “Unfortunately, we’re out of time. We’ll have you back soon, Mr. Hamilton, and I’ll ask you a second question.” Ultimately, I think the 1790s journalist James Callender would be great for a podcast. He exposed both Jefferson’s relationship with Sally Hemings and Hamilton’s affair with Maria Reynolds. I’d love to hear how he uncovered their secrets. And, who knows, maybe he’d drop more gossip?
Thomas Paine is the answer. Paine, the English-born author of Common Sense and The Crises, would have understood the internet and podcasting as fast as anyone in the eighteenth century. We don’t need to assign him a topic; he already knows what we need to hear. There is an old tale that Washington ordered the first issue of The Crisisread to his men before they crossed the Delaware. “These are the times that try men’s souls,” it began. Perhaps the story isn’t true. But there is no question people listened to Paine read aloud. It was a shared experience, much like a podcast.
[Thomas Paine was also selected by Tom Shachtman]
I would be interested in hearing the reflections of Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton. I think a podcast particularly about the charity work and involvement with the Orphan Asylum Society and Society for the Relief of Poor Widows With Small Children would be especially interesting.
Fans of the comically offbeat conspiracy-theory-laced “Welcome to Nightvale” would enjoy a similar offering from Samuel Adams, who would host “Welcome to Beantown,” a podcast where he would spin reports about hooded figures near a dog park, the sheriff’s secret police force, and theories on those strange lights in the sky (or are they coming from a church?) And a podcast on managing your finances, similar to “The Truth About Money,” would be hosted by Benedict Arnold, giving financial advice on how to organize corporate takeovers, capitalize on insider information, and juggle side hustles while supporting a high-maintenance trophy wife.
I would love to hear a podcast from the Schulyer Sisters, where they provide a female perspective of the Revolutionary Era, give some behind the scenes Revolution stories, banter back and forth with one another, and answer listener questions. Kind of like an advice show for the classical era. Maybe call it My Sister, My Sister, and Me.
Katie Turner Getty
I’d like to hear Elizabeth Burgin describe how she and other women aided American prisoners of war in British-occupied New York. Many prisoners kept journals or wrote memoirs after their imprisonment and it’s clear that women brought life-saving supplies—namely food and clothing—to suffering American prisoners. Some women also helped orchestrate escapes. These women provided so much assistance to prisoners that they impoverished themselves, got banished from New York, or (in Burgin’s case) became wanted by British authorities. But the missing piece—and what I would most want to hear on the podcast—is Burgin and (and other women) speaking for themselves. What prompted them to take such decisive action? How’d they do it? What did they experience and how did they feel? I haven’t yet found any records of women themselves discussing their relief of the prisoners, but I believe there must be some out there.
William W. Reynolds
Gen. Henry Knox was close to Washington throughout most of the Revolutionary War and I would like to hear his opinion of the most challenging period or event Washington experienced during the war and how, from Knox’s observations, he dealt with it.
Today, perhaps more than ever before in the history of the American Republic, it is necessary to address income inequality. Our present moment would stand to benefit by listening to the opinions of Thomas Jefferson on the prospect of a Universal Basic Income to ameliorate gross inequities and provide immediate economic relief. Although UBI projects have been tested in countries across Europe as well as in Canada, the prospects of this plan recently garnered national attention by the ill-fated presidential bid of Andrew Yang as well as a viable remedy to help struggling families and businesses in the wake of Covid-19. Jefferson’s efforts to grant property to the property-less in Virginia finds important commonalties to the broader vision of UBI projects and offers valuable inroads to rethinking income inequality in contemporary America.
Christian M. McBurney
I would like to interview Charles Lee! No surprise here, since I just released my second book focusing on his military service during the Revolutionary War. I would ask what motivated him to commit treason as a British captive. Did he regret it? I would also ask him if he was still angry that he had performed admirably by engaging in a fighting retreat at the battle of Monmouth Court House in June 1778, yet many historians still act as if he ruined an opportunity by the Continental Army to soundly defeat the opposing British force. I would ask him his views on George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and John Laurens—without cursing, if that was possible.
[Charles Lee was also selected by Jeff Dacus, Joshua Shepherd and Daniel J. Tortora]
Charles Cornwallis. I would want to know how he would have done things differently if he was in overall command of British forces instead of the Howe brothers, and (later) Henry Clinton. I think the war would have been waged much differently with the more aggressive Cornwallis in command.
Rufus King, first in Harvard College’s class of 1777, Revolutionary War veteran, member of the Confederation Congress, framer and signer of the Constitution, senator of New York in the First U.S. Congress, and much more. Rufus King’s father was Richard King, a successful Massachusetts merchant who served in that state’s militia as a commissary officer in the 1745 siege of Louisbourg. His first child, Rufus, was born a decade later. Young Rufus turned ten the year the Stamp Act was passed. Looters vandalized Richard King’s property, believing him a Stamp Act supporter and Loyalist. In the ensuing decade rioters further terrorized the King family, destroying their property and humiliating Richard King before his family. Mr. King died in March 1775 a broken man. In later years Rufus King was publicly silent about these events. I would like to hear him discuss the role these experiences played in his intellectual and political development.
Susan Brynne Long
Patrick Henry talking about his public life, especially during the American Revolution and the ratification of the Constitution. Henry is remembered as a popular, boisterous young lawyer whose rousing “give me liberty or give me death!” speech at the Second Virginia Convention rallied delegates to declare war against Great Britain. After the war, however, Henry publicly opposed the Constitution, estranging himself from James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington. Henry himself recognized that, while once a prominent figure in revolutionary politics, he was on the losing side of the ratification battle saying, “I fear I have lived long enough to become an old-fashioned fellow.” I would like to hear him elaborate on this observation, and discuss his descent from the height of popularity into the shadowy depths of anti-federalism, a position which was popularly vilified in print culture following ratification.
The stories Benedict Arnold could tell. At the most basic level, think of the events for which he could provide detailed information: being a businessman during the happenings leading up to the Revolution; Ethan Allen and Ticonderoga; the trek through Maine and the Canadian campaign; the summer of ‘76 on Lake Champlain; the Saratoga campaign; Philadelphia and West Point; command in the British army; life in post-war England and New Brunswick to name but a few. Beyond that, he could share his thoughts about his career. When did his frustrations with Congress become a major factor in his decisions? How did he and Gates actually get along? What really happened in Philadelphia and what role did Peggy Shippen play in his decisions? What motivated him to turn to the British? Did he ultimately regret his struggle with Congress and his decision to abandon the American cause?
Douglas R. Dorney, Jr.
As one primarily interested in southern history I would like to hear a podcast with former Royal Governor of North Carolina Josiah Martin on the topic of Loyalist sentiments. He would be an authority on this topic because of his direct involvement in loyalism before, during, and after the war. From 1772 to 1776 he had to manage the aftermath of the 1771 Regulator rebellion and the rise of rebel government. After being deposed in 1776, he was one of the “experts” touting large amounts of loyalist support in the South. Accompanying Cornwallis in the southern campaign until 1781, he had firsthand knowledge of both the strategic failures of the campaign as well as witness to many of the battles of 1780 and 1781. Until his death in England in 1786 he was an advocate for the sizable loyalist emigres community.
I would like to hear from Phillis Wheatley, former slave who, in 1773, became the first African American woman to publish a book, titled Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, on what was discussed in her March 1776 meeting with Gen. George Washington. On October 26, 1775, Wheatley sent Washington her laudatory poem, “To His Excellency George Washington.” On February 28, 1776, a complimentary Washington wrote her back, called her “a person so favour’d by the Muses, and to whom nature has been so liberal and beneficent in her dispensations,” and invited her to visit at his headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts. There is little record of what was discussed at their March meeting. The meeting was unusual because Washington, a slave holder, met with a freed African American woman and accorded her a level of respect, honor and dignity that his female slaves could only hope for.
Philip D. Weaver
A podcast of Philip Schuyler discussing his manipulation techniques would make a terrific on-line management course. In my upcoming book The 3rd New Jersey in New-York: Stories from “The Jersey Greys” of 1776,I reference much of Schuyler’s correspondence. He deftly arranged for part of the regiment to divert west and secure the Mohawk Valley. Promising their quick return, Schuyler privately communicated with Washington to let the Jerseys stay. Later, by some twisted logic, both he and Horatio Gates were sharing joint command of the Northern Department. Their letters, with the Jersey’s as the political football, are truly amazing. Gates kept begging for the Jerseys to come to Ticonderoga and Schuyler kept stalling. Ultimately Schuyler relented, explaining to Gates that he was “excessively alarmed” by a paragraph in his last letter and when he saw the attached troop return, “which convinced me of your mistake.” Schuyler sent them to Ticonderoga
George F. Reasor
Nathanael Greene describing his thought processes during the period he was the commander of the Southern Campaign. Specifically, how he dealt with all the conflicting issues that demanded his attention and how he was able to keep a positive state of mind throughout. Assuming command of a beaten and demoralized army, Greene was opposed by a very able Cornwallis as well as Rawdon and Stewart. He never decisively won a battle and had to continually interact with the militia, which could be tricky. Additionally he had to keep his army as healthy as possible in the southern climate, all while a civil war raged around him in the South Carolina backcountry. How was he able to hold it all together? He obviously was very mentally tough and I would love to hear his take on it.
[Nathanael Greene was also selected by Randy A. Purvis]
Don N. Hagist
Hannah Norman. She is one of the many wives of British soldiers about whom we know almost nothing. Her husband William, a fellmonger from Somersetshire before he joined the army, was a private in the 17th Regiment of Foot who arrived in Boston in 1775. When he was forty years old, he and Hannah were among those captured at Stony Point in 1779 and sent to prison in Philadelphia. There, she wrote a letter to the American commissary of prisoners asking for liberty to “walk out once or twice a week that I may be more capable of procuring some nourishment.” While William Norman survived the war and received a pension, Hannah’s letter is the only surviving evidence of her existence. Hearing what her life was like in garrison and on campaign would fill a great void in our understanding of armies of the era.
James Kirby Martin
There are so many good choices, but the one that currently stands out for me is Private Joseph Plumb Martin. Why? Because he could elaborate on what long-term service was really like in the Continental army. Why the army was so poorly supported by the civilian population? Why there were endless food and supply shortages? Why he willingly engaged in combat? Why disease, especially smallpox, was such a widespread killer in Continental service? Why he never really got paid? Why he felt anger when he was retired from the service and was cast aside like an old worn out horse? Why he felt militia units were grabbing too much credit for their service after the war was over? Why it took the nation so long to provide a pension plan for down-and-out veterans? Why Henry Knox treated him unfairly in regard to owning and farming land in Maine’s Waldo Patent? Martin’s would be a fascinating podcast interview, indeed.
Samuel Huntington, a lawyer from Norwich, Connecticut, and signer of the Declaration of Independence, who served as president of the Continental Congress from late September 1779 until July 1781. Being a delegate to Congress from 1774 to 1784, he knew, corresponded, and worked with all the other leaders of the Revolution, including John Adams, Samuel Adams, George Clinton, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson, Henry Laurens, Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., and George Washington. He also knew the French ministers plenipotentiary resident in Philadelphia Conrad-Alexandre Gerard and Anne-Cesar, chevalier de La Luzerne. I would love to hear his impressions of all these figures.
Nancy K. Loane
I would welcome an upbeat podcast from Caty Greene (Mrs. Nathanael Greene) on cheerfulness, a lady who consistently demonstrated fortitude and optimism herself in adverse circumstances. Caty, blessed with glossy black hair, brilliant violet eyes, and “exquisitely molded hands and feet,” was smart and lively, and spoke both English and French. Gen. Greene called Caty his “angel. Baron Steuben’s teenage aide thought Caty a “handsome, elegant & accomplished woman.” Even Gen. George Washington, who reportedly danced for two hours straight with Gen. Greene’s wife, wrote that he endeavored to “strew the way over with flowers” for Caty as she traveled to South Caroline to join her husband there. On that journey, although the roads were bad and the accommodations horrible, Caty’s companion, the usually grouchy Maj. Ichabod Burnet wrote that “everything has been undergone with cheerfulness and fortitude by Mrs. Greene.” How did Caty Greene manage that?
J. Brett Bennett
Justifiably credited with leading opposition against the British after their capture of Charleston, South Carolina in May of 1780 and nearly all of the Continental troops in both Carolinas and Virginia, I would like to learn more from Brig. Gen. Francis Marion on leadership and the approach he applied toward inspiring partisans in the face of overwhelming odds. In his A Narrative of the Campaign of 1780, Col. Otho Holland Williams wrote, “Col. Marion, a gentleman of South Carolina, has been with the army a few days, attended by a very few followers . . . Their number did not exceed twenty men and boys, some white, some black, and all mounted, but most of them miserably equipped.” How did Marion successfully motivate his modest force and persuade them into believing they were capable of making a difference?
John Paul Jones. Jones’s role in the Revolution’s naval war is the stuff of lore, and legend. But many aspects of his life indicate that he was a driven but conflicted person. It would be fascinating to hear what motivated him to be such a dynamic leader. Plus we could finally learn if he really said, “I have not yet begun to fight.”
John Dickinson. He was one of the most articulate colonial critics of British imperial policy, but became a strident opponent of declaring independence in 1776 — but then wrote the draft for the Articles of Confederation — but then was a leader in having them replaced by a new Constitution in 1786-87. One of the most prominent national figures at the time, he’s been largely neglected by history since. I would love to hear his own account for his winding road as a revolutionary.