What inspired you to start researching and writing about the Revolution?
I was always a Civil War nut as a kid. As I started getting some books on that, I also picked up some on the Revolution as a side interest. By 1975, I was between schools and first got into living history. It was the start of the Bicentennial and interest was high everywhere. The group I joined was associated with a nearby historical society. They had lots of spirit, but lacked skills and historical knowledge, so we learned as we went along. I decided to visit my town’s library that had a very good local history and genealogy collection (it is far larger today), so I started poking around. Over the next year or so, I purchased a new copy of a book I used to love to frequently consult in that collection and I was hooked. I wanted to learn and acquire more.
Along the way I moved onto other groups. I also met a fellow who convinced me to start writing articles for some black powder magazines in collaboration with him. I soured on the partnership and made my own deals with the publications. About this time, my living history path led me to the Brigade of the American Revolution, where I put my interest in research to good use. I also started to write living and military history articles for their magazine, The Brigade Dispatch, which Don Hagist edited for a number of years.
How do you choose a topic to write about?
That is actually the easy part. I have already done much of the background on the members of the 2nd New York Regiment, so I just pick the one(s) that interest me and start on an article and see where it expands. The 3rd New Jersey articles were a little different, because I am working with more general information. If I found an interesting anecdote or situation, I just expanded upon it. As for formulating an idea for any other story or article (I do have them), it is not that difficult. I am a pretty creative person, so it just comes to me in my head. The light bulb comes on and I scribble the idea down, before I forget it. If I do not lose the paper, it goes in the computer and I start my process.
What are your go-to research resources?
My first choices include the American Archives edited by Peter Force, the Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application Files, 1800-1900 and the Revolutionary War Rolls 1775-1783 from the National Archive and Records Administration, and, most recently, the Philip Schuyler Papers. I also use Francis B. Heitman’s Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army (cautiously), Fred Anderson Berg’s Encyclopedia of Continental Army Units: Battalions, Regiments, and Independent Corps, and the Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789, edited by Worthington C. Ford.
The next level of sources depends on what I am writing about. For the Yorkers, I go to Documents Relating to the Colonial History of the State of New York, edited by Berthold Fernow, the Journals of the Provincial Congress, Provincial Convention, Committee of Safety and Council of Safety of the State of New-York: 1775-1775-1777, and the Minutes of the Albany Committee of Correspondence 1775-1778. For my work on the 3rd Jersey there are the Minutes of the Provincial Congress and the Council of Safety of the State of New Jersey and personal diaries, like Citizen Soldier: The Revolutionary War Journal of Joseph Bloomfield, edited by Mark E. Lender and James K. Martin. That is just for starters.
What’s the most challenging aspect of writing an article?
For me it is connecting all the dots. I work almost entirely with original sources, so that results in a lot of footnotes. These sources do not always fit together in a nice convenient package, so I need more support information, which then adds to the number of sources. It becomes one big circle that frequently spins me into the ground.
Many of my sources are pension applications loaded with depositions from aged veterans, transcribed by a lawyer or clerks with no military background. Add to this, some bureaucratic red tape and missing documents, things can get messy. (These were the kind of issues that plagued me when I was writing and researching my latest JAR article “Dickens, Rose, and Turnbull.”) If I have access to any diaries that is a big help, because they are specific, but memoirs are as dangerous as a pension deposition given by a veteran who had outlived the average lifespan of the era.
Which of your own JAR articles is your favorite or most rewarding? Why?
That is like a parent being asked to pick a favorite child. Instead, I will briefly mention three. The most rewarding has to be “The 3rd New Jersey Regiment’s Plundering of Johnson Hall,” simply because it got the most recognition and acknowledgement across the board, most notably its selection for inclusion in the Journal of the American Revolution Annual Volume 2018. “Evans & Bean of the Hampshire Grants” is the best article I did. The two men start out with a similar story line, split apart, and then more or less come back together. It was rather complex and most of their story was new to me. It was quite an education putting it all together. Lastly, my favorite article has to be “Henry Defendorff: A Very Intelligent Man.” It is just a fun story that starts out slow, but the reader starts seeing aspects that indicate he was up to something. It is never fully explained and one ends up guessing who the man riding the horse really is. I would love to find out if there is more to his story, as one is left hanging. Meanwhile, I am definitely going to be putting together a PowerPoint presentation on his adventures.
What new research/writing projects are you currently working on?
I have just completed my second book, The 3rd New Jersey in New-York: Stories from “The Jersey Greys” of 1776. It incorporates, in part, my four articles in JAR on the 3rd New Jersey, other support material, and new research. It required a huge amount of my time, especially over the last couple of years. It was finally completed and formatted months ago, however it remained in limbo, due to Covid-19 restrictions. While waiting, I completed and submitted my tenth article for JAR, “Dickens, Rose, and Turnbull,” which starts with a discussion that quickly debunks the myth that the 2nd New York from 1775 morphed into the 1st New York of the 3rd establishment of the Continental Army. The article ends with mini-biographies of three enlisted men of the 2nd New York from 1775, who were among a handful that actually did end up in the 1st New York after 1776. It felt good to get back to my beloved 2nd New Yorkers.
Going forward, I am thinking about an overdue article on New York uniforms in 1775 for another publication. I am also looking to do another longer story of an officer from the original 2nd New York for the JAR. I have a “doosy” in mind. If my latest book is as successful as I hope, I may have a small follow-up book in me on the same subject. That, however, remains to be seen. Meanwhile, I am putting together some presentations and other such things.
What other hobbies/interests do you enjoy?
I am an eclectic person, so I have had lots of interests over the years. Outside of playing some after-work softball or golf, I spent nearly all of my free time doing living history. It became an obsession where I was involved in all facets, including research, leadership, administration, and public relations for many years. The thing I liked most was making the uniforms. I even designed the regimental coat my unit still wears to this day. Now my writing and my aging body keep me from being as heavily involved as I once was.
I have also enjoyed collecting DVDs of old movies and some TV shows that I have enjoyed or remember. I basically watch them once and then file them. Not what I had in mind, but I keep getting new ones and there is not enough time.
At one point I got into a newsletter on John Wayne movies, called “The Big Trail,” that led me to a fellow in Florida who was selling some John Wayne collectables. My funds were somewhat limited back then, but I was still able to accumulate a small collection of items from one of his movies, and a favorite of mine, “El Dorado.” (He had some of the sheet music for the movie and I passed on it — always regretted doing that.) I have since picked up a few more pictures and posters to add to the collection.
Is there an article, or subject area, that you would like to see appear in JAR?
I have written stories about soldiers for JAR. So it follows that I would love to read more stories about soldiers’ origins, where they went, what they did, and what happened to them. I also like articles on Revolutionary War uniforms, military equipment and military science, and drills, but JAR does not cover that often.
It is interesting to note that many of the people who write for the JAR, like me, are members or former members of the Brigade of the American Revolution, “a national historical association dedicated to re-creating the life and times of the common soldiers of the War of Independence, 1775-1783.” That motto is more ingrained in us than many of us would like to admit, as we all seem to write about that very same thing.
Why is the Journal of the American Revolution important to you?
JAR brings together academics, military and living historians, students, dabblers, and genealogists all under a huge subscriber base. Combine that base with the people who just peek in and out, and you have an absolutely staggering number of people reading a historical publication. Even though I am gaining no financial benefit from being a contributor, I cannot beat that kind of exposure. It has led to so many different opportunities for me.