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Sealed with Blood

War, Sacrifice, and Memory in Revolutionary America

By Sarah J. Purcell

Publication Year: 2010

The first martyr to the cause of American liberty was Major General Joseph Warren, a well-known political orator, physician, and president of the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts. Shot in the face at close range at Bunker Hill, Warren was at once transformed into a national hero, with his story appearing throughout the colonies in newspapers, songs, pamphlets, sermons, and even theater productions. His death, though shockingly violent, was not unlike tens of thousands of others, but his sacrifice came to mean something much more significant to the American public.

Sealed with Blood reveals how public memories and commemorations of Revolutionary War heroes, such as those for Warren, helped Americans form a common bond and create a new national identity. Drawing from extensive research on civic celebrations and commemorative literature in the half-century that followed the War for Independence, Sarah Purcell shows how people invoked memories of their participation in and sacrifices during the war when they wanted to shore up their political interests, make money, argue for racial equality, solidify their class status, or protect their personal reputations. Images were also used, especially those of martyred officers, as examples of glory and sacrifice for the sake of American political principles.

By the midnineteenth century, African Americans, women, and especially poor white veterans used memories of the Revolutionary War to articulate their own, more inclusive visions of the American nation and to try to enhance their social and political status. Black slaves made explicit the connection between military service and claims to freedom from bondage. Between 1775 and 1825, the very idea of the American nation itself was also democratized, as the role of "the people" in keeping the sacred memory of the Revolutionary War broadened.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Early American Studies

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Introduction: Public Memory and the Revolutionary War

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pp. 1-10

Military memory, especially memory of the Revolutionary War, is really at the heart of American national identity. Between 1775 and 1825, public memories of the Revolutionary War contributed to the formation of American nationalism and helped to shape the character of an expanding political culture in the early republic. As has been true in many other...

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1. "Blood-Bought Fame": National Identity and Commemoration During the Revolutionary War, 1775-1781

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pp. 11-48

At the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17,1775, Dr. Joseph Warren was shot in the face at close range and killed instantly. Although Warren was a well-known political orator, physician, and president of the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts and was about to be commissioned as a major general in the Continental Army, he fought at Bunker Hill in the ranks alongside...

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2. "Gratitude Shall Be Written on Our Hearts": The Nation and Military Gratitude, 1781-1789

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pp. 49-91

On October 17,1781, Lieutenant General Lord Cornwallis agreed to surrender his force to George Washington and seek the armistice that would end the Revolutionary War. Upon hearing the news in Philadelphia, New Jersey Congressman Elias Boudinot wrote to a family member that it would be "a day famous in the annals of American history... would to God...

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3. "Republican Emblems" and "Popular Devices": Heroes and Their Audiences in an Age of Party Conflict, 1790-1800

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pp. 92-132

On November 25,1794, competing groups of New York City militia convened to celebrate Evacuation Day, a new holiday that commemorated the British evacuation of New York City on November 25, 1783. The volunteer military men fired ceremonial salutes, paraded through the city's streets, and met for dinner and ceremonial toasts in several taverns. The Federalist...

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4. National Crisis and Destabilized Memory, 1801-1819

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pp. 133-170

On July 4, 1812, the citizens of Lexington, Kentucky, met in the center of town to observe the festive anniversary of their nation. A majority of Lexingtonians were inspired with "enthusiasm" over the recent declaration of war against Great Britain, which added considerably to the patriotic zeal of their annual celebration.

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5. The Return of Lafayette: Memory and the National Future, 1820-1825

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pp. 171-209

When the Marquis de Lafayette arrived in Yorktown, Virginia, in 1824 for the forty-third anniversary of the surrender of Cornwallis, he was met by the governor of Virginia and "an immense concourse of gratified spectators," who welcomed him back to the scene of American military victory. Lafayette, the French aristocrat who had volunteered to fight in the American...

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pp. 210-212

In the 18205, Daniel Webster's generation could hold on to the memory of the Revolution to chart a course for the future, but that future turned out to be much more contentious than they could have predicted. Webster's prediction that the memory of battles like Bunker Hill would be sufficient to hold the "whole country" together turned out to be overly...


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pp. 213-263


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pp. 265-276

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pp. 277-278

Gratitude is an important theme in this book, and I am filled with my own sense of gratitude for the people and institutions that have helped me write it. I have been given invaluable help from friends, colleagues, and relatives, all of whom deserve heartfelt thanks, if not parades and monuments...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812203028
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812221091

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Early American Studies