New York has a great story to tell about its role in the American Revolution. In fact it has many great stories to tell, and many people are telling and struggling to tell those stories.
Given the plethora of sites in the state relating to the American Revolution and to the significance of the events which transpired here, one would think that the State basks in the greatness of being the home to so much that was so critical to the founding of our country. Think again.
At the kickoff session for the Path through History program in 2012, keynote speaker Ken Jackson castigated New Yorkers for their shortcomings in telling their story compared to the efforts of those in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.
At the New York History Roundtable called by Assemblyman Steve Englelbright in 2014, the Assemblyman castigated New Yorkers for their failure to advertise on the television program Turn, a spy story set in Setauket (in his own district), while Virginia, where the show is filmed, markets itself on the show, which is based on events in New York.
When the American Revolution in New York does make the news, it’s more likely to be for the wrong reasons. There is the valiant and ongoing effort by the Friends of the Fishkill Supply Depot to save the cemetery where American troops were buried. There is the Marylander Proposal to honor the 256 soldiers buried in Gowanus after the Battle of Brooklyn, There is the effort of The Friends of Miller’s House/Washington’s Headquarters to rescue the dilapidated and deteriorating Westchester County owned building that has been shuttered since 2004. People in small communities and large are struggling to preserve the legacy of the American Revolution and with little state support.
What Should Be Done
1. Hold American Revolution conferences in the City of New York and the Hudson Valley – while the comparatively isolated Fort Plain and Fort Ticonderoga hosts conferences in the Mohawk and Champlain Valleys thanks to two private historical societies, the Hudson Valley and the City of New York do not. (There is an American Revolution Roundtable in Manhattan which meets periodically during the school year.) The conference in the city should be timed to coincide with the July 4 fireworks to promote national attendance.
2. Create week-long tourist itineraries on the theme of the American Revolution in the Champlain, Hudson, and Mohawk Valleys and in the City of New York.
3. Create professional development programs for teachers based on the American Revolution (even without federal funding).
4. Market the story of New York’s role in the American Revolution. If the Hamptons can promote itself on the television show Royal Pains (filmed and set in New York), why can’t the State promote the American Revolution on shows set in New York?
5. Ensure the education curriculum includes local references to New York’s role in the American Revolution.
Photo: A promotion for Virginia at the end of the TV show Turn.
18 thoughts on “5 Ways NYS Can Promote Its American Revolution Stories”
6: Linking the Sites together with a Cohesive Story. The entire “Story” of the revolution is kind of like a Soap Opera – everything is connected and related. I would be nice to see a standardized format of Characters across the state. This way as people tour across New York they not only have a familiarity with who is who but also an cohesive insight into the history – thus spurring people Downstate to go Upstate and vice versa and making the history more easily understood.
Exactly right. In an ideal world, the itineraries in New York, the Hudson Valley, the Champlain Valley, the Mohawk Valley would flow together. One could spend a month on the Revolution or return each summer for another week. The guides would be crossed trained so they could refer to that happened elsewhere to link the itineraries together in a cohesive whole. This is the “I have a dream” portion of the proposal!
The Center for Revolutionary Studies at Siena College ably fulfills #3. Dr. Jennifer Dorsey does a fine job leading that program which has good relationships with Saratoga Battlefield, Fort Ticonderoga (another excellent source of ongoing American Revolution programs), and the State Library/Archives with their fascinating source material.
These all need more promotion.
Excellent point. Your last line about promotion is an interesting one. I don’t know how much they promote the program to teachers or if they offer professional development programs for teachers who already have a degree.
One way to get kids hooked on history, is to have them work on their own family genealogy. Maybe it won’t lead to American Revolutionary ancestors, but it will get them to think about history and how history has shaped their family.
That will work better the further from New York one travels. The problem downstate is that fewer and fewer people can trace their heritage in America back to the Civil War or the American Revolution since their families weren’t here then.
The “downstate” remark, fortunately, does not apply to many of us on Long Island, myself excluded. As a student of Colonial and Revolutionary War Long Island, the many names of people, places and things, thankfully, still exist’, both Dutch and British, and Indian and slave.
For those of us in central-western New York, there is also the Oriskany campaign and Sullivan’s invasion of the Iroquois country. There is very much lively contemporary documentation of the latter, and even though the reason for the campaign will no doubt upset a lot of people – it need not be weighted on the “winning” side; furthermore, it had tremendous ramifications for the settlement of New York and the westward movement generally. Even if the region doesn’t want to tackle something this size, the graves of hundreds of Revolutionary veterans are out here, as New England virtually depopulated itself once settlement of the Genesee Country began in 1788. I am the public historian for Yates County, one of the smallest in the state; but the first to be settled after the Revolution. More than 200 Revolutionary veterans are buried here. What a great opportunity to promote these historic cemeteries and the brave men who sleep there!
Yates County Historian
The recent conference at Fort Plain on the American Revolution did deal with the Oriskany campaign and Sullivan’s invasion. Obviously putting together American Revolution itineraries for the western frontier would take some effort particularly if we included the impact on the area of American winning the war. The Finger Lakes region is not the first one which comes to mind when one thinks of the American Revolution in New York. Is the American Revolution touted in Finger Lakes tourism?
I suspect that a BIG part of the problem of achieving what you propose is that the city was Tory during the Revolution. Not cool!
Let’s just say the city was occupied by the British. The Lower Manhattan Historical Society (I am on the board) has resumed the celebration of Evacuation Day, a holiday that was observed in New York until World War I when the British were our allies. So between the tearing down of the statue of King George on July 9, 1776 and the evacuation by the British on November 25, 1783, we have two bookend events plus the recognition of the America’s who died on the prison ships.
As I am writing this I am preparing to go to a dinner at the Morris-Jumel Mansion sponsored by the Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society. So there are sites in the city which can be traced back to the Revolution but it does take an effort to put them together in a program.
As usual Peter you are right on target with your commentary. At the 2012 Path Through History Conference even Governor Cuomo asked in his speech what had happened to the Revolutionary War citing the common statistic that one third of all the war’s battles were fought in New York and no one seems to know about it. While the NYSPTH project has had limited success those conference comments forced many in the Mohawk Valley to finally pay attention to the “elephant in the room”. The Revolutionary War theme was the strongest contender for the six county Mohawk Valley Region.
As a result the MVPTH Committee was formed and also had some limited success producing a brochure and website but “tourism professionals” spurred by I Love NY regulations refused to recognize the Mohawk Valley as a marketable brand name opting for the term “Central New York” (which made no sense to anybody) instead. This confusion and lack of vision led to no more funding awards and future plans have stalled.
Our Revolutionary War Conference at Fort Plain last May was amazingly successful drawing visitors from 13 states as far away as California and even several provinces of Canada. It was funded by a small grant from Montgomery County and demonstrated that our brand of heritage tourism has the “legs” to draw visitors and tourism dollars into our area.
Aiding in the conference success was a bus tour of our area’s colonial historic sites. It was organized through our newly formed Mohawk Country Association. This group, comprised of colonial historic sites only, is working to promote our area’s history and market the Mohawk Valley as the destination heritage area we always knew that it could be. For more information contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website at http://www.mohawkcountry.org
Thanks for writing, Norm, and your kind words. As it turns out I have written a post, not yet submitted, about Congressman Gibson’s to Fort Plain and the Mohawk Country Association. Please keep in mind that you are welcome to write a post or posts on what was involved for volunteers in several upstate organizations to band together to lull off both the conference and the Association.
As the director of Siena College’s McCormick Center for the Study of the American Revolution, I would like to echo point #5 with an addendum. I suspect that you are referencing P-12 curriculum, but I am of the opinion that the best place to promote NYS History is in collegiate classes. My coursework at Siena College includes “field trips” to the NYS Museum and other historic sites. My college students have done research projects for the benefit of local historic sites including the Ten Broeck Mansion. They have done some documentary editing in partnership with librarians in the Manuscripts and Special Collections division of the New York State Library. New York college students are extraordinarily proud of New York history and want to know how national history connects to local history. More important, the civic-minded millennial generation welcomes project based learning opportunities that allow them to actually contribute to public history. Students, who do not intend to have careers in history but love New York and its history, can learn how to be good stewards of our historical heritage.
My particular concern was social studies teachers: what do they need to know about local and state history to be certified as teachers and to maintain their professional development. When I was doing teacherhostels/Historyhostels including in your area, they were based on visiting the historic sites and bringing that experience back to the classroom even if they couldn’t take students on field trips there. My regret was not being able to offer such programs for college credit.
I hope you will consider submitting a post to New York History about the program. I wonder if that is something other colleges couldn’t do as well…or if they are doing it. Thank you for writing.
Amie Alden, Livingston County Historian has published a book and has an excellent interactive webpage on the Sullivan Campaign through her area.
Clinton County has a proud history of commemorating our area’s part in the Revolutionary War. On Sunday, October 11, 2015 the Saranac Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, located in Plattsburgh, will hold its 120th Memorial Service commemorating the 239th anniversary of the 1776 Battle of Valcour. This commemoration is free and open to the public and is traditionally supported by a number of local groups and the Clinton Community College. The Clinton County Historical Association exhibits information on this history, and their book shop carries a number of books by local authors on our area’s involvement in the Revolutionary War.
We would definitely be interested in participating in a week long tourist history tour.
Yes I fully agree that New York needs to better promote our colonial history and the American War for Independence. I have been doing my part for 15 years at the Van Cortlandt House. Whatever happened during the War in NYC or in the private lives of the Van Cortlandt’s it is portrayed in vignettes around the house. I have been doing this privately on my own for 23 years too. I’ve been performing as General Washington at Federal Hall ( and other sites) for Evacuation Day which they have brought back annually. Inauguration Day. July 4th reading the Declaration of Independence on the stairs of Federal Hall, as well as showing up at the fountain July 9th in City Hall Park for the reading. I believe a Roundtable style organization would be a good idea.
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