By Tom McLaughlin
Have you ever seen a group of History Nerd Teachers gathered together to study the American Revolution? I was blessed to be in such a group this summer.
Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge offered teachers from Washington State to Florida the opportunity to experience the American Revolution from its beginning in Boston to its turning point at the Battle of Saratoga.
Day 1 and 2 of the graduate program “American Revolution North” saw us exploring the streets of Boston, witnessing a portrayal of the protest meetings against the Stamp Act and Tea Act at the Old South Meeting House. Standing on the bow of the Museum Ship commemorating the Boston Tea Party, you could almost smell the tea being dumped by the “Sons of Liberty” as it mixed with the water of the harbor.
On the streets of Boston, a variety of time-period character actors led us through the events of the 1770s as we stood on the spot where Crispus Attucks and others were murdered during the Boston Massacre. Attucks’ only thought: “Liberty for all Americans.”
We listened to a re-enactment of the reading of the Declaration of Independence, which was read to the people of Boston on July 5, 1776, and ended the day at the Old North Church. There the Patriots passed the message “1 if by land, 2 if by sea” to Paul Revere, William Dawes and the other Midnight Riders so they could warn the countryside that “The Regulars are coming.”
Day 3 took us onto the Battlefield at Lexington, where Captain John Parker stood with 77 Minutemen against more than 700 British Regulars in 1775. From there we traveled to Concord. Standing on the North Bridge where the British began their retreat to Boston, one teacher remarked, “You can feel the history right here.”
Next was Bennington, Vermont, where, in 1777, Brigadier General John Stark and his American forces successfully defeated two detachments of General John Burgoyne’s invading army, the first in a series of battles leading to the British defeat at the Battle of Saratoga.
On Day 4 we visited the estate of Irish immigrant Sir William Johnson. Johnson was the largest single landowner and most influential individual in the colonial Mohawk Valley of New York, ultimately helping the British during the French and Indian War and the Revolution. We also visited the mansion of the courageous American General Nicholas Herkimer, the Oriskany Battlefield State Historic Site, and Fort Stanwix National Monument. Herkimer’s place in history was assured when, in 1777, enroute to help defend Fort Stanwix, he and his men were ambushed by British-allied Loyalists and Iroquois at Oriskany – one of the bloodiest battles of the Revolution. At that battle, Herkimer, though severely wounded, continued to bark orders to his men while leaning against a tree on the battlefield.
We finished our American Revolution North tour on Day 5 with a visit to Fort Ticonderoga and the Saratoga Battlefield. Fort Ticonderoga, built by the French during the French and Indian War, was occupied by both the British and the American forces during the Revolution. Smelling the beef stew cooking in the pot and hearing the volley of musket fire from the American contingent, the atmosphere was authentic enough to make some visitors wonder, “Am I really protected here from General Burgoyne and the British troops?”
The climax of our experience was the tour of Saratoga, where Burgoyne was ultimately defeated, turning the tide of the Revolution toward the Americans. Looking down the barrel of an American cannon or seeing the “Boot” monument, the voice of the “unnamed” American general could almost be heard yelling “Save the day, boys” to his troops.
Throughout this trip back in time, we were led in discussions by a variety of facilitators, National Park Service Rangers and other experts who helped bring this period to life for each of us. This awesome opportunity allowed the teacher to become the student and gain valuable information to take back to their classrooms.
Thank you, Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge. Students throughout America will benefit from the opportunity you gave these teachers this summer.
Tom McLaughlin teaches at the Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy in Dallas, Texas.
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