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Becoming Men of Some Consequence

Youth and Military Service in the Revolutionary War

John A. Ruddiman

Young Continental soldiers carried a heavy burden in the American Revolution. Their experiences of coming of age during the upheavals of war provide a novel perspective on the Revolutionary era, eliciting questions of gender, family life, economic goals, and politics. "Going for a soldier" forced young men to confront profound uncertainty, and even coercion, but also offered them novel opportunities. Although the war imposed obligations on youths, military service promised young men in their teens and early twenties alternate paths forward in life. Continental soldiers’ own youthful expectations about respectable manhood and their goals of economic competence and marriage not only ordered their experience of military service; they also shaped the fighting capacities of George Washington’s army and the course of the war.

Becoming Men of Some Consequence examines how young soldiers and officers joined the army, their experiences in the ranks, their relationships with civilians, their choices about quitting long-term military service, and their attempts to rejoin the flow of civilian life after the war. The book recovers young soldiers’ perspectives and stories from military records, wartime letters and journals, and postwar memoirs and pension applications, revealing how revolutionary political ideology intertwined with rational calculations and youthful ambitions. Its focus on soldiers as young men offers a new understanding of the Revolutionary War, showing how these soldiers’ generational struggle for their own independence was a profound force within America’s struggle for its independence.

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Benjamin Franklin's Humor

Paul Zall

Although he called himself merely a “printer” in his will, Benjamin Franklin could have also called himself a diplomat, a doctor, an electrician, a frontier general, an inventor, a journalist, a legislator, a librarian, a magistrate, a postmaster, a promoter, a publisher—and a humorist. John Adams wrote of Franklin, “He had wit at will. He had humor that when he pleased was pleasant and delightful . . . [and] talents for irony, allegory, and fable, that he could adapt with great skill, to the promotion of moral and political truth.” In Benjamin Franklin’s Humor, author Paul M. Zall shows how one of America’s founding fathers used humor to further both personal and national interests. Early in his career, Franklin impersonated the feisty widow Silence Dogood in a series of comically moralistic essays that helped his brother James outpace competitors in Boston’s incipient newspaper market. In the mid-eighteenth century, he displayed his talent for comic impersonation in numerous editions of Poor Richard’s Almanac, a series of pocket-sized tomes filled with proverbs and witticisms that were later compiled in Franklin’s The Way to Wealth (1758), one of America’s all-time bestselling books. Benjamin Franklin was sure to be remembered for his early work as an author, printer, and inventor, but his accomplishments as a statesman later in life firmly secured his lofty stature in American history. Zall shows how Franklin employed humor to achieve desired ends during even the most difficult diplomatic situations: while helping draft the Declaration of Independence, while securing France’s support for the American Revolution, while brokering the treaty with England to end the War for Independence, and while mediating disputes at the Constitutional Convention. He supervised and facilitated the birth of a nation with customary wit and aplomb. Zall traces the development of an acute sense of humor throughout the life of a great American. Franklin valued humor not as an end in itself but as a means to gain a competitive edge, disseminate information, or promote a program. Early in life, he wrote about timely topics in an effort to reach a mass reading class, leaving an amusing record of early American culture. Later, Franklin directed his talents toward serving his country. Regardless of its origin, the best of Benjamin Franklin’s humor transcends its initial purpose and continues to evoke undying laughter at shared human experiences.

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Between Sovereignty and Anarchy

The Politics of Violence in the American Revolutionary Era

Edited by Patrick Griffin, Robert G. Ingram, Peter S. Onuf, and Brian Schoen

Between Sovereignty and Anarchy considers the conceptual and political problem of violence in the early modern Anglo-Atlantic, charting an innovative approach to the history of the American Revolution. Its editors and contributors contend that existing scholarship on the Revolution largely ignores questions of power and downplays the Revolution as a contest over sovereignty. Contributors employ a variety of methodologies to examine diverse themes, ranging from how Atlantic perspectives can redefine our understanding of revolutionary origins; to the ways in which political culture, mobilization, and civil-war-like violence were part of the revolutionary process; to the fundamental importance of state formation for the history of the early republic.

The editors skillfully meld these emerging currents together to produce a new perspective on the American Revolution, revealing how America—first as colonies, then as united states—reeled between poles of anarchy and sovereignty. This interpretation—gleaned from essays on frontier bloodshed, religion, civility, slavery, loyalism, mobilization, early national political culture, and warmaking—provides a needed stimulus to a field that has not strayed beyond the bounds of “rhetoric versus reality” for more than a generation. Between Sovereignty and Anarchy raises foundational questions about how we are to view the American Revolution and the type of experimental democracy that emerged in its wake.

Contributors: Chris Beneke, Bentley University • Andrew Cayton, Miami University • Matthew Rainbow Hale, Goucher College • David C. Hendrickson, Colorado College • John C. Kotruch, University of New Hampshire • Peter C. Messer, Mississippi State University • Kenneth Owen, University of Illinois at Springfield • Jeffrey L. Pasley, University of Missouri, Columbia • Jessica Choppin Roney, Temple University • Peter Thompson, University of Oxford

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Beyond the Farm

National Ambitions in Rural New England

By J. M. Opal

During the first half-century of American independence, a fundamental change in the meaning and morality of ambition emerged in American culture. Long stigmatized as a dangerous passion that led people to pursue fame at the expense of duty, ambition also raised concerns among American Revolutionaries who espoused self-sacrifice. After the ratification of the U.S. Constitution and the creation of the federal republic in 1789, however, a new ethos of nation-making took hold in which ambition, properly cultivated, could rescue talent and virtue from the parochial needs of the family farm. Rather than an apology for an emerging market culture of material desire and commercial dealing, ambition became a civic project—a concerted reply to the localism of provincial life. By thus attaching itself to the national self-image during the early years of the Republic, before the wrenching upheavals of the Industrial Revolution, ambitious striving achieved a cultural dominance that future generations took for granted.

Beyond the Farm not only describes this transformation as a national effort but also explores it as a personal journey. Centered on the lives of six aspiring men from the New England countryside, the book follows them from youthful days full of hope and unrest to eventual careers marked by surprising success and crushing failure. Along the way, J. M. Opal recovers such intimate dramas as a young man's abandonment by his self-made parents, a village printer's dreams of small-town fame, and a headstrong boy's efforts to both surpass and honor his family. By relating the vast abstractions of nation and ambition to the everyday milieus of home, work, and school, Beyond the Farm reconsiders the roots of American individualism in vivid detail and moral complexity.

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A Biographical Dictionary of Early American Jews

Colonial Times through 1800

Joseph R. Rosenbloom

Here is a virtually complete list of persons identifiable as Jews in America by 1800, the result of a thorough search of manuscript materials and published literature for the names of Jews who lived in America (including Canada up to 1783) during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. No other study provides comparable information for such an ethnic group in this country.

Each entry in this dictionary is accompanied by birth and death dates and places and other biographical data so far as they are available. The biographies vary from two lines recording the birth of an unnamed stillborn child or the presence of a transient in New York City to half-column summaries of the careers of well-known persons. Included are converts to Christianity and, in some instances, their children. Persons whose names or associations have resulted in their being incorporated into earlier lists of "Jews" are noted also, with an attempt to ascertain their identity.

Especially noteworthy is the small number of Jews in America during the two centuries before 1800. Only about 4,000 Jews, of whom 1,500 were native-born, have been identified in this dictionary -- and not all of these positively. Perhaps another 800 have been omitted, Rosenbloom points out, because their names are not included in extant records. Even so, it would appear that the percentage of Jews in the total colonial population (less than three million in 1783) was infinitesimal.

Students of the American colonial period will find this book a useful tool for ascertaining the national origins of American Jews, their occupations, their part in the Revolution, their places of settlement, and other historical and sociological data.

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The Blind African Slave

Memoirs of Boyrereau Brinch, Nicknamed Jeffrey Brace

Jeffrey Brace, as told to Benjamin F. Prentiss, Esq.

The Blind African Slave recounts the life of Jeffrey Brace (né Boyrereau Brinch), who was born in West Africa around 1742. Captured by slave traders at the age of sixteen, Brace was transported to Barbados, where he experienced the shock and trauma of slave-breaking and was sold to a New England ship captain. After fighting as an enslaved sailor for two years in the Seven Years War, Brace was taken to New Haven, Connecticut, and sold into slavery. After several years in New England, Brace enlisted in the Continental Army in hopes of winning his manumission. After five years of military service, he was honorably discharged and was freed from slavery. As a free man, he chose in 1784 to move to Vermont, the first state to make slavery illegal. There, he met and married an African woman, bought a farm, and raised a family. Although literate, he was blind when he decided to publish his life story, which he narrated to a white antislavery lawyer, Benjamin Prentiss, who published it in 1810. Upon his death in 1827, Brace was a well-respected abolitionist. In this first new edition since 1810, Kari J. Winter provides a historical introduction, annotations, and original documents that verify and supplement our knowledge of Brace's life and times.

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Books and the British Army in the Age of the American Revolution

Ira D. Gruber

This manuscript is an outgrowth of a presentation Gruber made to the Society of the Cincinnati (as part of the Society’s George Rogers Clark Lecture series) in 2002. It is a hybrid reference book and monograph. The work consists of a substantial introduction, a bibliography of books the officers preferred, a bibliography of books on war that do not appear in any of the inventories (termed books not taken), a set of biographies of the 42 officers on which the study rests, and various appendixes and tables that back up the earlier material.

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Boy Soldiers of the American Revolution

Caroline Cox

Between 1819 and 1845, as veterans of the Revolutionary War were filing applications to receive pensions for their service, the government was surprised to learn that many of the soldiers were not men, but boys, many of whom were under the age of sixteen, and some even as young as nine. In Boy Soldiers of the American Revolution, Caroline Cox reconstructs the lives and stories of this young subset of early American soldiers, focusing on how these boys came to join the army and what they actually did in service. Giving us a rich and unique glimpse into colonial childhood, Cox traces the evolution of youth in American culture in the late eighteenth century, as the accepted age for children to participate meaningfully in society--not only in the military--was rising dramatically.

Drawing creatively on sources, such as diaries, letters, and memoirs, Caroline Cox offers a vivid account of what life was like for these boys both on and off the battlefield, telling the story of a generation of soldiers caught between old and new notions of boyhood.

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Bring Out Your Dead

The Great Plague of Yellow Fever in Philadelphia in 1793

By J. H. Powell. Introduction by Kenneth R. Foster, Mary F. Jenkins, and Anna Coxe Toogood

In 1793 a disastrous plague of yellow fever paralyzed Philadelphia, killing thousands of residents and bringing the nation's capital city to a standstill. In this psychological portrait of a city in terror, J. H. Powell presents a penetrating study of human nature revealing itself. Bring Out Your Dead is an absorbing account, form the original sources, of an infamous tragedy that left its mark on all it touched.

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A Brittle Sword

The Kentucky Militia, 1776-1912

Richard G. Stone, Jr.

As an outpost of the advancing frontier, Kentucky played a crucial military role. Kentucky's state militia, which, under federal law, enrolled every able-bodied male citizen aged eighteen to forty-five, helped to secure the West for white settlers during the bloody Indian wars. Its members suffered defeat, capture, and death in the War of 1812, but also contributed to victories in the battles of the Thames and New Orleans. Though some Kentucky volunteers campaigned in the Mexican-American War, the general militia was moribund by the middle of the nineteenth century. Its infrequent musters had degenerated into sometimes mirthful and sometimes tragic frolics.

A Brittle Sword provides a lively interpretation of Kentucky's citizen-soldiers and their role in the military history of both the state and the nation.

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