Benedict Arnold’s Boot (Part 1)

BENEDICT ARNOLD’S BOOT:  The rise and fall of a New York hero (part 1)

By Susan Ingalls Lewis

The Boot Monument at the Saratoga Battlefield

The Boot Monument at the Saratoga Battlefield

Why would I call Benedict Arnold both a New Yorker and a hero?  Arguably the most famous traitor in American history—a man whose name is still synonymous with betrayal—Arnold was born and grew up in Connecticut, and died in England.  Yet the momentous events of his career took place in New York, and Arnold was one of the most important Revolutionary War heroes before he transformed himself into a villain.  In fact, it was his fall from grace that makes his treason so notorious.  As one of the most demonized figures in our history, it is not surprising that the memorial to his service is simply a mysterious sculpture of a boot on which his name never appears.  This unique tribute, located on the battlefield at Saratoga and erected in 1887, offers a visual reference to the wounds that Arnold sustained there, and is dedicated simply to “‘the most brilliant soldier’ of the Continental Army.”

Arnold was not only the hero of the Battle of Saratoga in 1777—the pivotal battle of the war—but also contributed to the U.S. victory over Great Britain through (1) the capture of Fort Ticonderoga in 1775, (2) the building of the first navy and the Battle of Valcour Island in 1776, and (3) lifting the siege on Fort Stanwix and thus driving one prong of the British invasion back to Niagara in 1777.  In addition, Arnold’s military career was noteworthy for numerous acts of ingenuity and courage.

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New York: Aviation Pioneer

New York:  Aviation Pioneer

By Susan Ingalls Lewis

The story of aviation in the United States usually begins with the Wright Brothers and their famous flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903.  Yet the Wrights, though they were the first to successfully test a flying machine, are only a small part of the story of the development of powered aircraft.    New York State was actually at the center of aviation pioneering in the years between 1908 and 1929, with developments concentrated first near Keuka Lake, then on Hempstead Plains.  This period of aviation history highlights New York as a center of innovation, leadership, competition, and capitalism.

Curtiss Junebug

Curtiss Junebug

The first name in New York aviation was Glenn H. Curtiss of Hammondsport New York (Steuben County) in the Finger Lakes region of the state.  Curtiss became known as “The Fastest Man of Earth” in 1907, when the “Hercules” motorcycle he designed, built, and raced set a speed record of more than 136 miles per hour.  By 1908, Curtiss had moved from motorcycles to flying, and began testing his planes by taking off on the frozen surface of Keuka Lake.  When Scientific American organized a three-part contest that year, Curtiss set out to win all three competitions.  “On July 4, 1908, the publication’s editors, along with members of the Aero Club of America traveled to the tiny hamlet of Hammondsport, N.Y., to witness the first pre-announced, public flight of an aircraft in America, the ‘June Bug,’ which won the first leg of the three-part competition” by flying in a straight line for 1 kilometer (.62 miles).[1]  Although the Wright brothers had preceded Curtiss’s flight by several years, his was the first scheduled, publicized test of an airplane.  The following year Curtiss flew 25 kilometers (15 miles) in his “Golden Flyer” biplane to win the second stage of the contest.  Finally, in 1910 he won both the third leg of the Scientific American competition in “The Albany Flyer,” which he piloted from Albany to New York City.   Curtiss not only designed and flew his planes, but built the special high-powered, water-cooled V-8 engines that ran them.

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Matilda Joslyn Gage

Matilda Joslyn Gage:  New York’s Neglected Suffragist

By Susan Ingalls Lewis

Most New Yorkers probably recognize the names of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, though we may not realize that these advocates for women’s rights spent most of their lives in New York State.  But few have ever heard of a third leader from New York:  Matilda Joslyn Gage (1826-1898).  Like Anthony and Stanton, Gage began her activism in the abolition movement, but devoted most of her life to fighting gender inequality.  With them, she was a founding member of the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) and a co-author and co-editor of the first three volumes of History of Woman Suffrage, published 1881-1886.  Gage also became an advocate for Native American rights.  Yet even historians of women, like myself, know little about Gage’s beliefs and accomplishments.

Matilda Joslyn GageMatilda Joslyn was born in the town of Cicero, in Onondaga County, north of Syracuse and south of Oneida Lake, where her family was active in the Underground Railroad.  As a married woman and mother, Gage lived in Fayetteville, a village east of Syracuse, where her home also became a refuge for enslaved people attempting to escape their bondage.  New York’s strategic position on the way to Canada made the state a prime location for “stops” on the route from slavery to freedom beyond U.S. borders.  Gage’s antislavery sentiments were shared by her husband, a merchant, her Baptist Church, and many in her Fayetteville community, who became strong supporters of the new Republican Party and the Union cause in the Civil War.

Although Gage did not attend the famous 1848 women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls (neither did Anthony), she was a speaker at the 1852 National Convention for Women’s Rights held in Syracuse, New York.  Her speech included these words:

Although our country makes great professions in regard to general liberty, yet the right to particular liberty, natural equality, and personal independence, of two great portions of this country, is treated, from custom, with the greatest contempt; and color in the one instance, and sex in the other, are brought as reasons why they should be so derided; and the mere mention of such, natural rights is frowned upon, as tending to promote sedition and anarchy.[1]

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Boldt Castle and Singer Castle

Gilded Age Mansions of the Thousand Islands:  Boldt Castle and Singer Castle

By Susan Ingalls Lewis

No study of the Gilded Age is complete without a discussion of the magnificent mansions constructed by the super-rich as they attempted to out-shine each other in conspicuous consumption through architectural display.   Although most textbooks focus on Newport’s “cottages”, or George Vanderbilt’s Biltmore in North Carolina, New York historians can point to palaces on Fifth Avenue, mansions along the Hudson and the shores of Long Island, or the Great Camps of the Adirondacks.

However, New Yorkers also built two remarkable castles at the far Northern border of the state, each located in the Thousand Islands region of the St. Lawrence River:  Boldt Castle on Heart Island, near Alexandria Bay, and Singer Castle on Dark Island, near Chippewa Bay.   Interestingly, these castles were built almost simultaneously (in the first years of the 20th century), only about 30 miles apart, each by a self-made millionaire.  Though the names of George C. Boldt (1851-1916) and Frederick G. Bourne (1851-1919) are no longer familiar, in their own era they were well known as innovative entrepreneurs in their respective fields – hotel management and international business.   Boldt’s castle was designed to resemble a German fortress on the Rhine, while Bourne’s was based on Scottish castles such as those described in Sir Walter Scott’s novels.

Boldt Castle on Heart Island, near Alexandria Bay

Boldt Castle on Heart Island, near Alexandria Bay

Boldt Castle has the more dramatic story.  George Charles Boldt immigrated to the United States from Germany in 1864, and began work as a dishwasher in New York City.  His big break came in Philadelphia, where his abilities were recognized by the owner of an exclusive club, who made Boldt the manager of its dining room.  Boldt also married the boss’s young daughter, Louise Kehrer (aged 15), who assisted in his later business ventures.   After the Boldts established the Bellevue-Stratford as the premiere hotel in Philadelphia, George was tapped by William Waldorf Astor to design, manage, and co-own another grand hotel – the original Waldorf.   The major purpose of this mammoth structure was apparently to annoy Astor’s aunt, whose private home was located in the adjoining lot. In the ongoing family feud, William’s cousin, John Jacob Astor IV (yes, the one who died in the sinking of the Titanic), then built the equally luxurious Astoria Hotel next door.  It was Boldt who made peace between the cousins and linked the rival hotels, creating the famed Waldorf-Astoria, then located at Fifth Avenue and 34th Street.

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About This Blog

We live in the midst of New York stories, and create new ones every day. They are all around us. The sum of these stories, some familiar, some virtually forgotten, make up the history of our state. As a center of innovation, enterprise, diversity, interconnections, conflicts and leadership, New York State both reflects the entire history of the United States and provides its own special flavor to the American narrative.

New Yorkers have been accused of neglecting their past to focus on the New York [map]future. Yet the college students who study Empire State history with me are not only excited to learn about the state in which they live, but frustrated when they realize how much they were never before taught. So, as I wrap up my research and begin writing a new college textbook on the history of New York State, I set out in this blog to share with a wider audience some of the discoveries I have made along the way as I’ve researched New York’s stories. It will feature snippets of history that I find intriguing — vignettes from the Big Apple and the boroughs, Long Island, the Hudson Valley, Capital District, North Country, Southern Tier, Finger Lakes, the Niagara Frontier – and anywhere in between. Although these stories may not be news to all of you, they will be surprising to some, and will jog the memories of others.

Read and enjoy. And, if you have any comments or corrections, please share them with me.

Susan Lewis, Associate Professor of History, SUNY New Paltz

 

Juptier Hammon

JUPITER HAMMON OF LLOYD’S NECK, LONG ISLAND:
African American poet of the Revolutionary Era

By Susan Ingalls Lewis

The first African American poet published in the United States was not, as I had always learned, 220px-Hammon_address (wikipedia)Phyllis Wheatley, but an enslaved man of African descent, Jupiter Hammon (1711- before 1806). Hammon was born, lived most of his life, and died on the North Shore of Long Island, then part of Queens, in the village today known as Lloyd Harbor (Town of Huntington). The village is named after his masters’ family, and the Joseph Lloyd Manor House (c. 1766) located on Lloyd Neck is an historic site open to the public – which is how I came across Hammon’s name.

In fact, Jupiter Hammon is not only the first black American poet to be published (in a 1760 broadside), but— according to Dr. Cedric May, an expert on 18th century African American Literature— the first individual of African descent in American history to have his own words published from manuscripts written in his own hand.

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