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Hold a Mock First Continental Congress

One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind (

We are in the midst of the 250th anniversary of the American Revolution but one would hardly know it. While people remain fixated on the big pre-1776 events like the Battle of Lexington and Concord, specific actions leading to July 4, 1776, already were happening. Specifically, for example, the Orangetown Resolutions passed on July 4, 1774. How’s that for a coincidence.

The Orangetown (NY) Resolutions were part of a widespread movement of town and county protests of the Intolerable Acts passed by the British Parliament in 1774. The very event that precipitated what became the First Continental Congress, initiated grassroots efforts that helped define 1774 as the year when America’s First Civil War began. People (adult, white, males) were asked to take a stand as Loyalists or Patriots. Once having done so the die was cast although no one knew it yet.

The text of the Orange Town Resolutions reads as follows:

At a meeting of the Freeholders and inhabitants of Orangetown and Province of New York, on Monday, the fourth day of July, 1774, at the house of Mr. YOAST MABIE in said town, the following resolves were agreed upon and passed, viz:

1st, That we are and ever wish to be, true and LOYAL subjects to his Majesty George the Third, king of Great Britain.

2nd, That we are most cordially disposed to support his MAJESTY and defend his crown and dignity in every constitutional measure, as far as lies in our power.

3d, That however well disposed we are towards his majesty, we cannot see the late acts of PARLIAMENT imposing duties upon us, and the act for shutting up the port of Boston, without declaring our ABHORRENCE of measures so unconstitutional and big with destruction.

4th, That we are in duty bound to use every just and lawful measure to obtain a REPEAL of acts, not only destructive to us, but which, of course, must distress thousands in the mother country.

5th, That it is our unanimous opinion that the STOPPING of all exportation and importation to and from GREAT BRITAIN and the West Indies would be the most EFFECTUAL method to obtain a speedy repeal.

6th, That it is our most ardent wish to see concord and HARMONY restored to England and her colonies.

7th, That the following gentlemen, to wit: COLONEL ABRAHAM LENT, JOHN HARING, Esquire, Mr. Thomas OUTWATER, Mr. GARDNER JONES, and PETER T. HARING, may be a committee for this town to correspond with the City of NEW YORK, and to conclude and agree upon such measures as they shall judge NECESSARY in order to obtain a REPEAL of said acts.

A copy of the Orange Town Resolutions was sent to me in the spring 2024 Orangetown Crier of the Orangetown Historical Museum and Archives. It will sponsor a reading of the resolutions on
July 4 2024 at the ‘76 House, the still-standing restaurant from the American Revolution, along with the Tappantown Historical Society and the Historical Society of Rockland County.

Here is an example of what one community is doing at the grassroots level on the anniversary of events in 1774. The people were still loyal to the king but were in opposition to the duties imposed by Parliament.

Similar events must have occurred in multiple communities throughout the land although not necessarily on July 4 1774. What are you doing about them?

Here is where historical organizations and American Revolution scholars can take the lead. We know that the federal commission and national organizations working on the 250th are of limited use here. If you are fortunate enough to be in a state with a state commission, perhaps the commission is taking the lead in promoting 1774 events leading up to the First Continental Congress. If your state commission is not taking any action, perhaps your county 250th commission is. In this case a town, there only are six in Rockland County, and the county history organization are the one’s taking the lead. This celebration will require some research to determine exactly when and where something comparable occurred in your community and who were the people who were involved.


It would be nice if a mock Continental Congress was held in Philadelphia in 2024. That would be a big undertaking and would raise problems about all the current states which were not colonies back then.

One alternative is to hold a mock Continental Congress in the legislative chambers of your state. It is quite possible that there already is some high school civics program that brings high school students to the capitol from throughout the state. That infrastructure could be built on to create a mock Continental Congress next fall during the new school year.

Mary Beth Norton, the author of 1774, has suggested three topics of debate for such a congress:

1. how to resist Britain that is whether to use nonimportation or not, and then non-exportation as well. Those are two different issues and people voted differently on them,

2. the other thing I would say would be how to enforce any agreement that the continental Congress makes. In short, whether to set up special committees or not, or whether to rely on existing governmental organizations.

3. Another debate topic that could be good would be to have them debate whether the colonies would have any possibility of fighting GB successfully if war started. There’s some excellent loyalist writing in that point they could draw on.

I offer these as guidelines for such a mock congress.

If getting access to the state legislative chambers in the fall is not feasible, perhaps a college could serve as well … or multiple colleges to involve as many students as possible.

If you do wish to hold such a mock congress, then now is the time to contact the schools in your area. If you first approach them in September for an event in October, then it will be too late. Plant the seed now.

The way things are going, 1774 is going to pass by without any national or statewide activities as if the First Continental Congress didn’t exist. Yes, the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic (SHEAR) will have roundtable of July 19 on the First Continental Congress at the semiquincentennial for the scholars in attendance at its annual conference. Yes it will follow with a private tour on July 20 of Carpenter’s Hall where the First Continental Congress was held.. But these are hardly national events. Mock congresses where students debate on being a Loyalist or a Patriot in October when the 2024 Presidential election heats up surely will bring home the mood and atmosphere of the First Continental Congress more than any academic paper, journal article, or book will. Imagine televising those debates.

1774/2024: Loyalty then and Now

Before turning the mere three-year anniversary of the insurrection by our Confederacy-loving former President, we should start at the very beginning. The semiquincentennial for the American Revolution really begins to take shape in 2024 even though 1774 does not get the attention of other years.

Last year ended with the spectacular Boston Tea Party on December16. Kudos to the city of Boston and the state of Massachusetts for putting on a great show. In case you missed, you can watch it at

In the popular mind, the next big event is the Battle of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. The battle includes the famous “shot heard ‘round the world. It follows the equally famous ride of Paul Revere. All these events and sayings have become part of American mythology, part of the narrative taught in textbooks for many generations.

Now name an event from 1774? Unless you are a scholar or in the American history business in some way, there is a good chance your mind will draw a blank. As we shall see, it is the events of 1774 that may have more bearing on the events today than any other. For as it turns out, we will not only be commemorating them we will be reliving them. How we do so may well determine if we remain a country as we know it or if the third civil war succeeds whereas the first two failed.


The British did not take kindly to the events in Boston in December, 1773. It responded with what are known as the Coercive Acts or the Intolerable Acts, a good indication of how the colonists reacted to these new British laws.

First, the British wanted their money back. They wanted to be compensated for the tea destroyed and passed the Boston Port Act. The act closed the port of Boston thereby punishing all Bostonians whether they had participated in the Boston Tea Party or not. The closure was to remain until such time as full recompense was made.

Second, and more egregiously, Massachusetts lost its charter under the Massachusetts Government Act. Henceforth it was to be governed by the British government. Many officials now were to be appointees by the crown, Parliament, or the governor instead of elected by the people. Towns throughout the colony were circumscribed by being limited to one annual meeting.

Third, the Administration of Justice Act permitted trials of accused royal officials to be held in Britain or elsewhere in the Empire at the discretion of the royal governor to ensure such officials could get a fair trial not possible in Massachusetts. Exactly who would testify against royal officials in distant lands essentially rendered such trials irrelevant.

Fourth and finally, a new method was devised for the housing of British troops through the Quartering Act. The old policy in quartering troops had proved unsuccessful. Now other buildings could be used if suitable quarters were not available.

As one might expect, these coercive acts were considered intolerable.


The book 1774 by Mary Beth Norton covers this time including the colonial response to the British response to the Boston Tea Party leading up to the Battle of Lexington and Concord in 1775. Here is an excerpt from the book.

This book, by contrast, has been shaped by my long-standing interest in the Loyalists. Rather than viewing the months between December 1773 and April 1775 with the common implicit or explicit assumption that resistance leaders commanded a people largely unified around a radical agenda, it reveals many debates, disagreements, and disruptions that characterized the period in all the colonies, from New Hampshire south to Georgia.

This description highlights the fact that 1774 could be considered the first year of America’s first civil war as people were asked to take a stand as Loyalists or Patriots.

Instead of privileging the viewpoints of men like Samuel Adams and focusing almost exclusively on his province of Massachusetts, it gives voice to such moderate colonists as Joseph Reed and John Dickinson of Pennsylvania and details the disputes that rolled New York throughout the year. It pays attention to the opinions of colonial officials and others who sent regular reports to London about political circumstances in their colonies. It also analyzes the writings of the Loyalist pamphleteers, who first published their vehement dissents while the Continental Congress was in session in September, and examines how more radical authors responded to Loyalists’ arguments.

In short, as a scholar, Norton seeks to document from the written record exactly where the colonists stood. In particular, she notes the writings of the Loyalists to show that the colonists were not united in their approach.

I aim, in short, to include the views of all of those who participated in formal political discourse in the colonies in 1774, regardless of their gender, race, or place of residence. I sought evidence in a variety of libraries, from the National Archives of the United Kingdom to the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, and many universities and state historical societies. The narrative has been constructed from the published and unpublished correspondence of political leaders and ordinary folk alike; from pamphlets and broadsides; from the official records of colonial governments and their revolutionary successors; and from newspapers with reports of local meetings and other activities, along with essays expressing a wide range of opinions. Because of the emphasis on formal political discourse, it devotes less attention to those who are often termed “the people out of doors,” although it does not exclude them entirely from consideration. As will be seen in the following pages, people who did not leave written records of their opinions nevertheless revealed their ideas through their actions. 


Take for example the Town of Rye, NY, where I live. According to Charles Baird’s History of Rye, the first recorded action of the inhabitants was a patriotic meeting at August 10, 1774. It was held in response to the closing of the port of Boston. At that meeting, the participants selected representatives to attend what would become the First Continental Congress scheduled for September 1. The chair of the meeting and one of the delegates appears to be the owner of the tavern now housing the Rye Historical Society. The meeting Sentiments and Resolutions expressed outrage at what had transpired and also loyalty to the House of Hanover.

To ensure that they were not misunderstood, a follow-up document entitled The Declaration of Loyalty was signed on September 24, 1774.affirming loyalty to the Crown. One of the signers was Abraham Bush who resided at the still standing Bush-Lyon Homestead. Thomas Lyon, from a collateral line and with a descendant in the Port Chester Historical Society today, did not sign. So here we have an example of if not brother against brother, at least cousin against cousin.

I refrain from quoting some of the more vociferous responses to these actions except to note they would be right at home on Twitter today.

Undoubtedly this sequence could be repeated for other communities in Westchester, in New York, and in other colonies. Before we declared our independence from Britain on July 4, 1776, the first civil war in America already was engaged.


So how should Rye and other communities in the county, state, and country, commemorate the signing of loyalty oaths in September 1774?

September 2024 will be right in the middle of a presidential campaign. One candidate already is compiling loyalty lists so federal government workers will be loyal to him. The other candidate calls the first candidate an existential threat to democracy and that the rule by law is on the ballot this upcoming election.

Students or adults engaged in mock debates on signing the loyalty oaths or not in 1774 easily will make the transition to the vote in 2024. Students and adults reading the newspaper accounts, pamphlets, broadsides, letters, sermons, etc., from 1774 as Mary Beth Norton did for her book will readily discern that the battle being debated in America’s first civil war corresponds to that of today in our third civil war.

To complicate the matter further, the celebration of the Lafayette Bicentennial for his return visit in 1824-1825 at the invitation will be underway precisely when these debates are being held. In September 1824 he was in New York, Brooklyn, West Point, Albany, Troy, Princeton, New Brunswick and Philadelphia among other places. Thus at the same time communities will be celebrating America’s victory in the American Revolution, we will be commemorating America’s division in the first and third civil wars with the fate of our country hanging in the balance over whether we even get to the 250th of July 4, 1776, in one piece.


The countdown for the 250th anniversary of the birth of the country continues. The work may have been suspended this past year but the clock did not stop ticking. As we transition from online to in-person meetings, the effort will shift as well. Online meetings probably will continue. They provide a logistically routine and cheap way to reach out on a statewide, regional, and even national level to large numbers of people involved in the 250th. Still there is a place for the in-person meeting especially for local events. And let’s not forget the social aspect of birthday parties either.

As we come out of hibernation, it is time for me at least to return to writing about what is going on in American history aided by the fact that I just turned in my manuscript May 31 for The Exodus: An Egyptian Story (Oxbow). So here are some thoughts about the American Revolution.

State Historical Administrators Meeting (SHAM)
The American Association for State and Local History (AASLH)

A major topic at the SHAM meeting was the preparations for the 250th anniversary in 2026. According to AASLH, one-third of the participants reported that their states have formed a 250th anniversary commission or officially designated another such entity to lead planning. That brings to a total of fourteen states have commissions. Action is being taken in Nebraska, North Dakota, and Texas. It would be interesting to correlate the states involved in the 250th and gaining the right to vote with the states which have changed their voting laws restricting those same rights. The AASLH reports that in Pennsylvania, the America250PA Commission is working with the national commission’s staff to develop a template that all states can use for strategic planning toward 2026 that will be synchronized with America250.

AASLH is developing another example of national guidance for what will be a decentralized, state-focused Semiquincentennial on the subject of historical themes. These themes will provide guidance to state and local history organizations. AASLH staff presented an overview of the themes at SHAM. It seeks feedback from many of the attendees on the draft which it produced with the help of teams of scholars, public historians, and other history practitioners. AASLH will publish the themes as part of a larger 250th planning guide on July 1, 2021, only a few weeks away. The National Endowment for the Humanities assisted in this effort by providing funding.

One final note concerns plans for regional collaborations among the states. Many events are not necessarily confined to current political boundaries. This kind of partnership will continue to be an important agenda item for SHAM for the rest of the year.


On February 4, 2021, Fraunces Tavern honored Mary Beth Norton, former president of the American Historical Association, for her book 1774: The Long Year of Revolution. The book covered the sixteen months from the Boston Tea Party to the Battles of Lexington and Concord that changed the course of American history. In her talk, Mary Beth explored the “long year” of the American Revolution, a time when once-loyal colonists began their discordant “discussions,” leading to the acceptance of the inevitability of a war against the British Empire.

During her online talk, I noticed that she used one word repeatedly that I was not expecting. The word was “debate” which I subsequently did mention to her. She constantly referred to the ongoing debates that the Americans were having about the issues of the day. American families, communities, and colonies were divided on what action to take. As we know, there were Loyalists and there were Patriots.

Listening to her talk about these debates gave me an idea for a 250th involving topics. What specifically were these debates about in 1771, 1772, 1773, 1774, and 1775 leading up to the Declaration of Independence in 1776? What were the positions as the colonists approached separation? If you live in a community from colonial times you may be able to determine from church sermons, letters, and broadsides what the people in your community were arguing about.

Perhaps some of the national history organizations could assist in developing guidelines and sources for each year to debate these topics. Now as we are living through our third Civil War, it might be useful to learn what are communities said and why during our first Civil War. It certainly would be a way to connect the American Revolution with the present and to involve high school students as they debate the very issues that consumed their communities 250 years ago.


What are the signs, statues, cemeteries, and memorials related to the American Revolution in your community? Is there a database listing of them? Do they appear on your website and on the tourist websites? People will stop and take selfies at all of the above, but they need guidance to know that they are there.

It would be beneficial if the state maintained/coordinated the creation of such a database if one does not already exist.

As people scour their own communities in the search for such remembrances, it is an excellent opportunity to determine:

1. If any need repair or restoration work
2. If any need to be updated particularly signs as new information may be available and vocabulary has changed
3. If any new ones are needed to include people, places, or events which may have been overlooked in the past.

Potentially such an endeavor could be a big, so communities might want to collaborate in seeking funding to accomplish it in a standardized manner.


One final thought is the benefit of creating a speakers bureau. Again this would work best on a state level. The purpose here would be to be identify potential speakers in a searchable database based on the people, places, events, and topics related to the American Revolution. Why should individual historical societies have to reinvent the wheel? Perhaps at some point there could even be funding so such speakers could speak locally at historical societies/libraries/museums.

There is an advantage to have some speakers present online. Over the past year many of us have probably heard lectures online hosted by an organization far from us geographically. Once we return to in-person meetings, there still will be speakers and topics who can draw from a larger audience than a single historical society can draw. It may be worthwhile to have periodic talks done online then.

Isn’t there a way to have a speaker in-person as well as online? I am not exactly sure what the technology would be? Perhaps just having a laptop set a few feet in front of the standing speaker for online viewing. With slides it would be a little more complicated. Oh well, I am sure smarter minds than mine can figure something out.

Witches in America: A Tale of Three New Yorkers

Witch Hunter? (

Witches are in the news and three New Yorkers have tales to tell. From Queens to Ithaca to Chittenango, New Yorkers figure prominently in the witch stories in American history. And there is Broadway too. So let’s examine the status of witches through the lens of the New York experience.


Today the big noise about witches comes from a new source. It is the tale of a child from Queens who lives a great white house when he isn’t playing golf. He talks about witch hunts all the time. In his use of the term, he implies that he is the target of a witch hunt. How one reacts to that assertion depends on three factors: whether or not witch hunters are heroes or villains, whether or not the target of the hunt is a witch, and whether or not the witch is a good witch or a bad witch.


These pronouncements about witch hunts led to a response by Professor Mary Beth Norton, Cornell University, acting in her capacity as the president of the American Historical Association (AHA). As an historian she is the author of In the Devil’s Snare, a book I own, about the most famous outbreak of witch-hunting in American history, the Salem Witch Trials. She reports that she has been teaching an undergraduate seminar at Cornell focusing exclusively on the Salem witchcraft, a course which has a robust enrollment. She also occasionally comments on my posts.

In the May issue of Perspectives on History, a publication of the AHA, she authored a column “From the President” entitled “An Embarrassment of Witches: What’s the History behind Trump’s Tweets?” She begins with the presumed consensus among historians that witches did not exist in the past so that therefore anyone who is the target of a witch hunt automatically is innocent (of at least that charge). She concludes that the use today similarly is meant to assert a declaration of innocence as the persecuted victims of the witch hunts were centuries ago in Essex County, Massachusetts. Her comments leave open the question of whether those engaged in the witch hunt genuinely believe in the existence of witches or simply using that charge to cover up the true motives of the hunt.

Norton continued by noting the persistence of the Salem witch hunt story in American life. Case in point is the Arthur Miller play The Crucible (1953). It was written during the time of Senator Joe McCarthy’s investigations through the House Un-American Activities Committee of suspected Communists and traitors, people who were colluding with the Soviet Union to violate the United States. That play has become a staple of American education. During National History Day, Norton receives multiple inquiries annually from students about the historical event.  For the remainder of the column, she discussed some of the enduring myths and historical questions about the witchcraft crisis of 1692.


The small community of Chittenango is home to the person who perhaps created the most enduring image of witches in America. I am referring to Frank Baum. The Wizard of Oz is a beloved part of the American cultural heritage. Every year it introduces young children to a slice of Americana and reminds older Americans of this venerable triumph of innocence over evil. Its music, dances, and scenes have become iconic symbols in the American culture.

So beloved is the movie that it has fostered an annual conference, the Oz-Stravaganza. [From the organization websiteIn 1978, librarian Clara Houck set out on a mission to acknowledge the history of the Village of Chittenango as the birthplace of author L. Frank Baum. Clara organized the very first celebration. Local children dressed up as OZ characters and paraded around the library parking lot on May 15th. Then they went inside, had birthday cake and sang Happy Birthday to L. Frank Baum. A lot has changed since then. The festival became a multi-day event. Changed names from Oz-Fest to Oz-Stravaganza, and saw crowds increase from a few hundred for the parade to several thousand for the festival. The event is now run by the International L. Frank Baum & All Things Oz Historical Foundation. Nearby is his home in Fayetteville where he lived as an adult.

Baum actually wrote multiple OZ stories. Dorothy would return there for additional adventures. So perhaps one day there will be multiple sequels as with other superheroes.

The Munchkins used to attend the festival in numbers but they have dwindled in ranks over the years and the conference last summer may have marked the end of a longstanding tradition.

But there is more to this sweet innocent girl of the Midwest than you might suspect. She was after all a serial witch killer. In the first instance, she dispatched the Wicked Witch of the East with great force. All one can see of the dead witch is the ruby red (not orange) items attached to her feet (not head). After her death is verified, the people erupt into a joyous song and dance of “Ding dong, the witch is dead” as if it were V-J Day (which hadn’t yet occurred when the movie was made) itself. Celebrate! Celebrate! Dance to the music!

However Dorothy’s work was not yet done. There was still another wicked witch to kill. This one even more formidable than her departed sister. This witch fought back to destroy the one who would slay her. The closer Dorothy came the more enraged the witch became, erupting into spasm after spasm of focused fury against the innocent Dorothy and her little dog Toto (tweets hadn’t been invented yet). She warned of the pending destruction of the witch-killer but to no avail.  At last as Dorothy pressed on step by step in her quest, the Wicked Witch unleashed her flying monkey minions to rid her of the threat to her wellbeing. If you look closely enough even today you can even recognize from the faces of the flying monkey minions who they are in the real world.

Then at last, the moment of truth arrived. Just as the witch was ready to burn down those who threatened her, Dorothy reached for the waters of purity against which there is no defense. (Note – she couldn’t use the lasso of truth because it hadn’t yet been invented either.) As the vanquished witch began to dissolve into nothingness until only the item on the top of head remained, she shrieked those words which have become the dying cry of all witches dispatched to the great beyond: I’M MELTING. I’M MELTING.

Storytellers have more options than historians to create alternate facts. In fact, it is possible to tell a story from the perspective of the Wicked Witch of West as has been done on Broadway in Wicked.

Baum has raised two issues of importance in the quest to ascertain the true meaning of witch hunts:

  1. there can be good witches, Glenda the white-costumed witch, and wicked witches, the green-skinned wicked witch of the west
  2. witch hunts can be a something good if a wicked witch is the target.


As it turns out, witch hunters can be heroes. Consider these examples in addition to the aforementioned Dorothy.

The Last Witch Hunter is a 2015 American dark fantasy action film starring Vin Diesel as an immortal witch hunter who must stop a plague from ravaging New York City (Wikipedia)


Hansel and Gretel are bounty hunters who track and kill witches all over the world.

If there were Americans acting on behalf of the Soviet Union in the 1950s, then it is understandable why someone seeking to identify them would be a hero. Of course, if the hunter went too far, abused his power, and falsely accused people then he would have forfeited his claim to be acting for the good of We the People. Still, we should be cognizant of the fact that in American mythology and storytelling, being a witch hunter can be heroic. The trick is to know if there really is a witch to hunt, if the witch is a good witch or a bad witch, and if the hunter exceeds his mandate.

So when we look at America today, what is the situation involving witches and witch hunters? Did Americans support the violation of the 2016 election by Russia and obstruct the effort to reveal the truth? Or are the pure and innocent being falsely accused in hoax by a witch hunter who has overstepped his bounds: “there is no there there”? If the latter is true, then we have a new Joe McCarthy and The Crucible should be updated. If the former is true, then we should hope the musical shout of “Ding-dong, the witch is dead” will rise to the heavens and people will rejoice as if it was V-J Day all over again.  The witch killer will have prevailed, the witch hunt will have been successful, and once again there will be peace in the shire.

So is Robert Mueller Dorothy or Joe McCarthy? What about his target? Who is he?