Coming soon to a bookstore near you!

Willard Sterne Randall’s name should be familiar to anyone with an interest in early United States history. He has written biographies of Ethan Allen, George Washington, Benedict Arnold, Thomas Jefferson and other notables. His latest book departs from the biographical side of history for a broader look at America’s long struggle to become an independent nation. Surprisingly, that struggle doesn’t end with the Revolutionary War, but extends through the War of 1812, according to Randall.

The book is titled UNSHACKLING AMERICA: How the War of 1812 Truly Ended the American Revolution. It is a deeply researched, penetrating and exciting tale.

I am proud to say that I had a small part in the making of the Unshackling, as Will asked me to create two maps for the book.

“Randall brings to life the violent skirmishes that played out in the name of trade on sea, lake, and land.” —Publishers Weekly

The book is due out this coming Tuesday, June 27. You should be able to get a copy locally at the Vermont Book Shop in Middelbury.

Rediscovering a crashed Army plane that went down 60 years ago

I’ve attended Bill Power’s talk about the Army plane that crashed into the Green Mountains in the 1950s. It includes his first-hand account of relocating the crash site and the poignant closure for the family of one of the pilots.

He’s giving it again at the Brandon Library on Tuesday, June 13, at 6:30 p.m. It will be worth your time.

Nice TV report about the Lake Champlain Bridge

Hat tip to Lake Champlain Life for pointing out this nice story about the bridges that have spanned the narrow between Chimney Point and Crown Point.

This Place In History: Lake Champlain Bridge - Story 2017-06-11 09-10-24

Click the image to go to the page with this video.

Bill Powers presents a talk about the Forest Dale banjo factory – May 20

Banjo presentation 20 May 2017.JPG

A hike into history at Mount Independence this Saturday, May 6

Southern Battery

The central of three southern batteries started by the Americans in the late spring of 1777 and completed by German forces fighting for the British occupying the Mount after the American evacuation.

I’ll be one of three co-leaders of a hike along the rocky slopes of Mount Independence this Saturday, May 6. The hike will start at 1:00 p.m. with some show and tell at the museum, visitor center of artifacts found on site by archaeologists over the years. Then, we’ll venture out onto the trails, and even off trail, to explore the defenses built by American and British forces in 1776 and 1777. Learn more about the hike here.

Mount Independence Spring Wildflower Walk – April 30

My wife, Amy Olmsted, is the chief horticulturist with Rocky Dale Gardens in Bristol, Vermont. Each spring in recent years she has led a walk on Mount Independence to view and share knowledge about early wildflowers.

A cluster of bloodroot.

This year’s hike is on Sunday, April 30. We’ll meet at the Mount Independence State Historic Site visitor center by 1:00 p.m. The site is not open officially yet (that’s Memorial Day weekend). However, regular admission fees do apply — namely Mount Independence Coalition Members and children under 15 get in free, everyone else is $5.

Learn more here.

Lovely trout lily.

A bridge across Lake Champlain

Back in 1777, Chief Engineer Jeduthan Baldwin of the American forces on Mount Independence commenced the building of a bridge spanning Lake Champlain between the Mount and the Ticonderoga peninsula. When completed, the bridge would be supported by 22 piers — or caissons — spread equally across the quarter mile expanse of water. Each caisson was about 25 feet wide at the bottom and tapered upward. No one is exactly sure of how the construction of these caissons was made, but we have some good guesses. The image below is by Gary Zaboly. It will be one of five featured drawings by Zaboly in the upcoming book about Mount Independence, called Strong Ground, being published by the Mount Independence Coalition.

Artist Gary Zaboly renders a theory about how the Great Bridge across Lake Champlain in 1777 may have been built while there was ice on the lake. (Image courtesy of the Mount Independence Coalition.)

This rendition depicts how the work might have gone with ice on the lake, but we know that the ice broke up in late March of 1777, so most of the piers must have been installed using a different method — most likely assembled on shore, then floated in to place and sunk with quarried rock for ballast.

The plan was to install a road bed atop the piers, but the Americans were forced to evacuate the site before the bridge was completed. Instead they relied on a temporary floating bridge to move men and supplies across the lake, including on the fateful night of July 5th, 1777, when the retreat began. A German soldier fighting for the British was so impressed by the work, he compared it favorably to one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

In the early 1990s, I was one of many people attending a ceremony at the point on Mount Independence State Historic Site when we noticed a log from one of the caissons had bobbed up from the bottom of the lake. Some of us took off our shoes, waded into the water and helped wrestle the log onto shore.

Pulling a timber from the lake - circa 1991

With a few others, I (on the right) helped pull a loose log from one of the 220-year-old bridge piers from the lake at Mount Independence around 1991.

Today that log has been restored and resides comfortably in the museum at Mount Independence State Historic Site.

Museum with bridge pier logs

Visitors at the Mount Independence museum can view two of the logs used to build the bridge piers.


Back on track

It has been way to long since I published anything on this blog. My attentions have been elsewhere. One (or dozens) of the distractions has been my volunteer work for the Mount Independence Coalition. We’re wrapping up the development of a full-blown history of the Mount, which is titled Strong Ground: Mount Independence and the American Revolution. If you have any interest in the history of Vermont, the Champlain Valley or the Revolutionary War, you’ll want to get a copy. I’ll post here when it is available (beginning of August, most likely).

Anyway, I intend to start posting more often here. Thank you for reading.

A terrific article about the retreat from Mount Independence

My colleague on the board of the Mount Independence Coalition, Ron Morgan, has done a fabulous job researching and then writing about Arthur St. Clair’s decision to retreat from the Mount in July 1777 as the British army was about to surround the American position. The causes and the effects have long been a question of debate among scholars. Ron has sifted through the transcripts of the court martial proceedings that followed this action, and has written an article that is must reading for anyone interested in the American Revolution or Vermont history. You can find this report here.

Military Road Car Tour, August 24

Here’s some news for local history buffs from the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation:

HUBBARDTON, Vt.—For the second annual guided driving tour of sections of the Mount Independence-Hubbardton Military Road of 1776-77, join leader Jim Rowe at the Hubbardton Battlefield on Saturday, August 24, starting at 9:30 a.m.  The trip will go from the Hubbardton Battlefield down to the Otter Creek, with stops along the way.  Drive in the path of history!

Meet at the Hubbardton Battlefield at 9:30 a.m. for your orientation.  The tour is $2.00 for adults and free for children under 15, and includes admission to the Hubbardton Battlefield State Historic Site.

Rowe, president of the Crown Point Road Association, has a lifelong interest in this Revolutionary War military road and is an engaging presenter.  He will be assisted by several other knowledgeable members of the Association.

The road was built after the September 7, 1776, order of Gen. Horatio Gates to connect the American Revolutionary War fortification being constructed at Mount Independence on Lake Champlain to Hubbardton and Rutland, Vermont, and Fort No. 4 in New Hampshire.  Gates considered the road “so Essential to the Interest of the United States” and “the safety and protection of the inhabitants of all the Middle States of this Union.”  Soldiers, ammunition, and stores used the road to reach Mount Independence.  On the night of July 5 and 6, 1777, as the British invaded the lake, American forces withdrew from Mount Independence and Fort Ticonderoga along the road, engaging the British at the Battle of Hubbardton on July 7.

Last year’s tour started at Mount Independence in Orwell and ran to the Hubbardton Battlefield.  The Hubbardton Battlefield, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, is the site of the only Revolutionary War battle fought in Vermont.  It is located at 5696 Monument Hill Road, Hubbardton.  Call (802) 273-2282 for more information.