Monday, February 25, 2013

Jamestown Legacy Exhibit to Open March 1


WILLIAMSBURG, Va., February 11, 2013 – More than 60 objects destined for exhibit at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown will be on display in “Jamestown’s Legacy to the American Revolution,” opening March 1 at Jamestown Settlement, a museum of 17th-century Virginia.  The special exhibition, which continues through January 20, 2014, examines the lives of Revolutionary War-era descendants of people associated with 17th-century Jamestown, the first capital of colonial Virginia.

Work is under way on the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, which will replace the Yorktown Victory Center by late 2016.  The artifacts featured in “Jamestown’s Legacy to the American Revolution” – a sampling of those to be exhibited in the new museum – include furnishings, weapons, nautical items, documents and commemorative objects.  Among them are an American-made saber engraved with the owner’s name and the year 1776, a trunk owned by a Continental Navy shipbuilder, and examples of 18th-century Virginia currency.

The exhibition opens with “King George III’s Virginia,” illustrated with an eight-foot-tall portrait of the king in coronation robes, one of several done by the studio of Allan Ramsay between 1762 and 1784.  From the time he ascended to the British throne in 1760, George III worked to strengthen British administration in the American colonies, with his American subjects ultimately rising in opposition.

In pre-Revolutionary Virginia, agriculture and trade drove the economy.  A section titled “Merchants, Planters and Farmers” profiles Mary Cary Ambler, widow of Edward Ambler, a wealthy Yorktown merchant and planter, and John Ambler II, their son, and Azel Benthall, a small planter and church vestry clerk on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.  The Ambler family suffered serious financial reverses during the Revolution, while farmers like Benthall were better able to cope with wartime shortages.

Colonel Richard Taylor, who served with the First Virginia Regiment of the Continental Army, and Captain Edward Travis IV, who served in the Virginia navy, are featured in “Soldiers and Sailors.”  Most Virginians who fought in the war were either militiamen or soldiers of the Continental Line.  Virginia’s small naval force operated chiefly to keep the state’s rivers and the Chesapeake Bay safe from the British navy and to assist in the transport of supplies for the Continental Army.

“Statesmen and Diplomats” highlights individuals who supported the Patriot cause and the new nation as public officials.  Arthur Lee served on diplomatic missions to Europe during the Revolution and later as a member of Congress.  Richard Bland II was actively involved in events leading up to the Revolution, as a member of the Virginia committees of Correspondence and Public Safety and the Continental Congress.  During and following the Revolution, General Joseph Martin served as Virginia’s agent for Indian Affairs, acting as a diplomat between the Cherokee and settlers who encroached on Indian lands.

The exhibition concludes with an overview of the career of George Washington, whose ancestor John Washington arrived in Virginia in 1656 and later sat in the House of Burgesses at Jamestown.  Less than a decade after leading the United States to victory as commander of the Continental Army, George Washington reluctantly accepted the office of the first president of the United States.  A life-size statue, made in the 19th century by William James Hubard after an 18th-century work by Jean-Antoine Houdon, portrays Washington as a modern Cincinnatus, the Roman farmer who left his land to fight for his country and, after victory as a general, returned to his farm as a man of simplicity and peace.

“Jamestown’s Legacy to the American Revolution” is supported with grants from James City County, Altria Group and Dominion Resources.  

Jamestown Settlement, open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, is located southwest of Williamsburg on Route 31 at the Colonial Parkway, next to Historic Jamestowne, site of America’s first permanent English colony, founded in 1607.  Jamestown Settlement general admission of $16.00 for adults and $7.50 for children ages 6 through 12 includes admission to the special exhibition.  A combination ticket is available with the Yorktown Victory Center.  The two state-operated living-history museums tell the story of America’s beginnings through gallery exhibits and in outdoor re-created settings – Powhatan Indian village, three English ships and 1610-14 colonial fort at Jamestown Settlement, and Revolutionary War encampment and 1780s farm at the Yorktown Victory Center.

For more information, call (888) 593-4682 toll-free or (757) 253-4838 or visit

Friday, February 22, 2013

George Washington: Mightiest Name on Earth

On this day (February 22) in 1731 (according to the Gregorian Calendar), the greatest statesman in American history was born. It can accurately be said that George Washington is truly the indispensable man in the history of the United States. Without Washington, there would be no United States today. Anyone who disputes that shows his or her ignorance of American history. (See "What if George Washington Had Never Been Born?")

Without Washington, there would have been no victory in the American Revolution. Without Washington, there would have been no Constitutional Convention or ratification of the new Constitution. Without Washington serving as President, the United States would likely have collapsed in its first few years. No one at the time could have pulled off what Washington accomplished during these critical, formative years of the United States. (See "Leadership Qualities of George Washington").

Washington was human, of course. He had his faults - the greatest of which being his status as a slave owner. Nevertheless, even in his weaknesses, he showed a determination to be better. Washington had a volatile temper, but learned to (most of the time) restrain and control it. Deeply infatuated with a woman (Sally Fairfax) who was married to another man, Washington restrained himself and, once married to Martha, devoted himself entirely to his own family. As a slave owner, Washington wrestled with his conscience, growing to deplore the evils of slavery, eventually freeing his slaves in his will. He was not perfect, but he always pointed himself in the right direction. 

No temptation faced by Washington, of course, can top what he confronted in the closing years of the American Revolution. Faced with an impotent national government, a pathetically weak economy, and a disgruntled army bordering on open revolt, Washington could have assumed total power over the newly independent United States. Some suggested he become dictator or king. A lesser man would've seized the opportunity. Not Washington. He believed in a Republic. He renounced all talk of dictatorship or monarchy, and instead resigned his commission, handing all his authority over to Congress in 1783. Later, when called back into national service, he refused to serve more than two terms as President of the United States. 

George Washington stands in history as a hero among heroes. And the legacy he leaves us as Americans in particular is worthy of our gratitude and respect. Abraham Lincoln is said to have declared: "Washington is the mightiest name on earth...To add brightness to the sun or glory to the name of Washington is alike impossible. Let none attempt it. In solemn awe pronounce the name, and in its naked deathless splendor, leave it shining on."  Washington undoubtedly would've considered such language more appropriate to the "Divine Author of our Blessed Religion." (See "Was George Washington a Christian?") Nevertheless, when it comes to those who fall short of divinity, it's hard to think of a figure in history mightier than George Washington. 

**For more on George Washington, check out David McCullough's stirring 1776 or Ron Chernow's bestselling Washington: A Life

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Presidents Day Trivia: Reflecting on the True Meaning of the February Holiday

Are you happy "Presidents Day" is here? Are you glad to have a three-day weekend? As you enjoy your day off work (if your employer respects "Presidents Day"), I'm sure you'll reflect on the (ahem) immense achievements of (cough) great Presidents like Warren G. Harding, Martin Van Buren, James Buchanan, and Millard Fillmore.

For those who may need help understanding what "Presidents Day" is really all about, I prepared this little 10-question quiz for you. A little "Presidents Day" trivia to help you remember why we have a day off in February. Here we go...

  1. Which President came to office with a unanimous vote of the Electoral College, representing the overwhelming consensus of the American people?
  2. Which President was elected overwhelmingly without campaigning for the office of President? He was truly the reluctant statesmen. 
  3. Which President came to office without the benefit of having ANY predecessors from which to draw example? He had to set all the precedents and be the example to future Presidents himself? 
  4. Which Chief Executive presided over the creation of a stable American economy with a sound currency --- from SCRATCH? 
  5. Which Commander-in-Chief put down the Whiskey Rebellion, which was our nation's first domestic insurrection and could've (if left unchecked) led to the disintegration of the Union before the 18th century even came to a close!? 
  6. Which President said that "religion and morality" are "indispensable supports" to "prosperity"? A man known for his immense character, he set the important precedent that no one is qualified to lead a nation unless he can first govern his own passions and temptations -- and submit himself to a Higher Authority. 
  7. Which President steered our nation down a path of careful neutrality, keeping us from getting embroiled in the bloodbath of the French Revolution and from getting into a renewed war with Great Britain - something that would've been absolutely devastating to the nascent United States? 
  8. Which President (before he became President) led a rag-tag, ill-equipped, poorly-fed, and (initially) poorly trained "army" of farmers, peasants, shopkeepers, teenagers, etc. to victory over the mightiest empire in the world? This accomplishment alone, something he achieved before becoming President, were enough to make him the truly indispensable man in American history. 
  9. Which President could have EASILY become dictator or king, but flatly refused -- opting instead to reluctantly accept the presidency in a constitutional Republic based on shared powers with checks and balances? 
  10. Which President set the precedent of serving only two terms (in spite of the fact that he easily could have been reelected to a third)? 

If you don't know the answers to the preceding ten questions, well...that's because we celebrate "Presidents Day" each year instead of the holiday's original purpose. So, sit back and enjoy a day that has tragically become the most meaningless "holiday" on our calendar -- a heavily commercialized day that symbolizes so poignantly how many Americans are out of touch with their heritage and shamelessly ungrateful for it.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Becky Akers Brings Famous Spy Nathan Hale to Life

Becky Akers, a historian and freelance writer, has kicked up a "Halestorm" (you might say) with a debut novel set in her favorite period, the American Revolution. Akers' focus is on Nathan Hale, the schoolteacher-turned-soldier-turned-spy, who has gone down in American history as perhaps the most famous hero to be hanged. Akers' writings have appeared in several publications, including The Washington Post, Barron's, Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Post, but she's turned to fiction with Halestorm, her first novel.

I had the privilege of interviewing Ms. Akers via email, and I'm delighted to bring our online conversation to the attention of my readers. My questions are bold and in italics. I hope you'll pick up a copy of Halestorm and that you'll enjoy the interview.


"Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule for this interview. My blog readers will, I know, appreciate it. So....this is your first novel, correct?"

Thanks so much, Rev. Tubbs. I appreciate the opportunity to chat with you and your readers today.

To answer your question, Halestorm is not only my first novel, but some of my first writing-for-publication ever.

I’d always wanted to write fiction, especially historical novels (my favorite genre!), but I wasn’t sure how one makes a living at that. So when I graduated college, I went to work as an editor, figuring that was the next best thing. Boy, was I wrong! Several jobs later, I quit to write full-time, and Halestorm was among my first efforts. Surprise: the publishing world wasn’t eagerly awaiting The Next Great American Novel from an unknown writer, so I spent the next years compiling a portfolio, with articles in The Washington Post, The New York Post, the Christian Science Monitor, Barron’s,,, etc.

"Why Nathan Hale?"

I have loved Nathan Hale since I was a child of 4 or 5 and first heard or read about him – I can’t remember which it was.

My mother’s 16-year-old brother died in a car crash two weeks before I was born. So my earliest memories include the agony a family suffers when a young man dies. My uncle’s name happened to be Dale; somehow, as little kids will, I conflated that with “Hale” in my mind. Nathan Dale-Hale was more than a mere historical hero to me: he was an absent but utterly beloved brother.

"What lessons can Americans today take from someone like Nathan Hale?"

That liberty is among God’s greatest gifts to us, more precious even than life.

Many folks mistake Nathan’s sacrifice for nationalism – the “my-country,-right-or-wrong” mentality. And while that’s tragic, it’s understandable, given the warped version of his speech on the gallows bequeathed to us. That famous line – “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country” – actually originated with Capt. (later Gen.) William Hull, one of Nathan’s buddies from college. He heard an account of the execution from an eyewitness, which he included in his memoirs as an old man. And then he paraphrased – inaccurately – the quote from a report on Nathan’s death the Boston Chronicle published just six years after the hanging: “I am so satisfied with the cause in which I have engaged, that my only regret is that I have not more lives than one to offer in its service.” Obviously, Hull’s condensation packs a greater punch, but it also changes “cause [of liberty]” to “country” – an unfortunate and nationalistic rewrite.

"How long did it take you to write Halestorm?"

Not long enough! I loved Nathan even more when I had finished writing the book. In fact, I came up with the idea for my second novel in part because I was so lonely for him and those glorious Revolutionary times – I longed to continue my immersion in both.

"How much research did you do in writing Halestorm?"

Enormous amounts.

Though Nathan has been my hero forever, I didn’t really know that much about him. And while I’d always loved the American Revolution, ditto. I majored in Greek and Latin in college (partly because the Founding Fathers were fluent in both), so I hadn’t studied American history then either. Ergo, I started from scratch – but that may have been a blessing. Far too many history departments are bastions of Marxism whose professors denigrate or pervert the Revolution.

"In writing historical fiction, how do you balance facts and true events with the need for creative license?"

Nathan is the ideal subject in that respect (and so many others!) because we know enough about his life and death to provide the plot for an incredibly dramatic, exciting novel – far more dramatic and exciting than anything I could invent – yet we know little enough that there’s plenty of room for imagination. For example, we know that the Redcoats captured him sometime on Saturday, September 21, 1776 and hanged him the next morning at 11 AM. But how did they capture him? And what happened between his arrest and hanging? My task was to fill those gaps while remaining true to the period, to Nathan’s character, and to the general pathos of a 21-year-old boy’s confronting certain, shameful death.

"Is the Revolutionary War era your favorite period of American history? If so, why?"

It absolutely is!

I adore the Revolution because of its fierce devotion to human freedom. Now, all three million Americans then weren’t anarchists, hating politicians, corporatism, government and bureaucracy, but most of them were pretty close. They understood that government is our direst enemy, not the benefactor that too many of their descendants consider it.

"Tell us what you're working on next."

My second novel follows the adventures of Benedict Arnold (who makes a cameo appearance in Halestorm – and some of Halestorm’s characters likewise figure in this next book). I was astonished at what I found while researching his treason: Arnold was in fact a hero, not the greedy, villainous traitor so many historians paint him. While he was military governor of Philadelphia, he tangled constantly with the Radical Patriots – early communists and totalitarians. Arnold fought them valiantly; then, when they seemed about to triumph and hijack the entire Revolution, he turned to the British as a lesser threat and the only agency that could save Americans from the worse tyranny of the Radicals.

Combine that with a tale of espionage, heartbreakingly close calls, and profound betrayal, and again you have a story far more riveting than any novelist could invent.

"I'm sure the novel on Benedict Arnold will provoke lots of discussion. Can't wait to see that. In the meantime, best of luck with Halestorm and, once again, thank you for your time and for bringing such an important hero to life."

Thank you. Like I said, I appreciate the opportunity to chat with you and your readers today as well as all your scholarship on the American Revolution.