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New York State History Advocacy: The American Revolution 250th

Graphic by America 250.

Add the American Revolution 250th to the list of advocacy items in the event the New York History Community ever advocates.  This is in addition to the previous topics recently raised about

The State Historian
The State Museum
State-owned historic sites.

Now we turn to a national issue, the American Revolution 250th addressed in two previous blogs:

Education and the American Revolution 250th


Here is how two state senators characterized the present situation.

March 20, 2023

The Honorable Kathy Hochul
Governor of New York State NYS
State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224

Dear Governor Hochul:

With news breaking last month of corruption and scandal at the America 250 Foundation, Inc, where millions of dollars of public funds have been mismanaged, it has become apparent that the federally-funded organization and its public history partner organization, the [American] Association of State and Local History, have failed to establish a workable plan for the approaching commemorative years (2024-2033).

 As part of their damage control, Rosie Rios, Chair of the United States Semiquincentennial Commission and Emily Sexton, President of the America 250 Foundation, Inc, penned a letter on February 13, 2023, to state coordinators to shift the responsibility to them, stating “we [will] work diligently to elevate your good work while collaborating with you on partnerships and programs at the state and territory level.” Simultaneously, the American Association of State and Local History announced a 2-day virtual conference for local public historians to gather on April 27-28, 2023, to discuss what, if anything, should be commemorated about the country’s founding period. Questions remain at the national level, where there appears to be a growing sentiment against marking the anniversary of the American Revolution in any meaningful fashion [bold added].

 With New York’s Rev250 commemorative cycle set to begin in 2024, it is late to be entertaining these questions. Nearly eight years have elapsed since Congress passed the United States Semiquincentennial Act on July 22, 2016. Even factoring in the instability and challenges of the COVID era, there has been more than enough time to develop a coherent plan to rally cultural sector organizations to prepare for the commemoration of our nation’s and our state’s founding.

The New York State 250th Commemoration Act of 2021 called for a special commission to be seated and a strategic plan developed and delivered to the Governor within one year. The law stipulated that the plan would link partners throughout New York state for a full commemorative cycle concluding in December 2033.

 To date, the commission has not been seated and no plan has been delivered to your desk. The only serious planning efforts underway are all at the local level and predominantly within the Hudson Valley. In 2019 there was a flurry of activity surrounding the 250th planning process in New York State. State Historian Devin Lander held a series of workshops to foster local partnerships which resulted in Constance Kehoe (Westchester County), Johanna Porr Yaun (Orange County), Dr. William P. Tatum III (Dutchess County), and Lauren Roberts (Saratoga County) initiating local planning efforts, generating materials to help guide the creation of local commission and committees, and developing themes and collaborations for a potential New York State Field Guide.

 The outlook for New York looked promising when the first official 250th anniversary event, commemorating the Battle of Golden Hill, occurred at Fraunces Tavern in New York City on January 27, 2020.The impact and disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be understated; however, history-rich communities across the state have recovered and resumed their planning efforts over the past two years. Discouragingly, these efforts have not yielded action from state stakeholders. Despite the New York 250th Law’s provisions for creating budget lines with an implied intention of supporting local efforts and continuous verbal encouragement to advance these local arrangements, the county-level planning groups have received no form of actual direction or promises of funding. The resulting vacuum is currently undermining these planning groups, threatening to dismantle existing commissions and blocking the establishment of new planning blocs.

 A third of the battles fought during the American Revolutionary War occurred in New York. There are 81 historical societies and museums in our state dedicated to the history of the Founding Era. 19 of the most important sites are owned and operated by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation under direct state government control. [Note the previous blog above on the absence of advocacy on behalf of these sites – PF] New York has played a pivotal role in the story of America since the Revolution, with numerous sites, museums, and historical societies, from Seneca Falls to Stonewall, dedicated to tracing the impact of those events on the subsequent 250 years of American history. There is no state better equipped to connect the history of the advancement of Civil Rights to the American Revolution as the Federal Semiquincentennial Act charges us to do. The potential of that history and the apparatus already in existence to explore it remains unrealized.

 The neglect now occurring at the state level will potentially cost New York dearly in years to come, with the most serious impacts hitting the fields of heritage tourism and education. With so many sites and museums ready to welcome visitors, our state stands to make millions of dollars from a successful, coordinated, supported Rev250 commemorative cycle. In an average year, the Hudson River Valley National Heritage area has a $967million impact on the state economy, supporting nearly ten thousand jobs and contributing $112 million to state and local tax revenues. During a nationwide commemorative cycle that will draw global attention to New York, those revenues and job numbers can only increase. In contrast, if the opportunity of this historical anniversary is ignored, New York will be handing that income to the other 12 original states that have already made tremendous progress in their planning efforts. This cycle also offers the opportunity to reinvigorate local history education, a mission that has predominantly been moved onto the shoulders of local historical societies over the past decades of experimentation with the state education curriculum. Without direction and support from the state, what hope do these local groups have of expanding their educational reach?

 It is not too late for planning efforts to recover and surge forward. We urge the executive branch to take immediate action by seating a commission with historians of the Revolutionary Era, opening budget lines, and beginning a serious planning dialogue to deliver the promised strategic plan to your desk at the earliest opportunity.


 James Skoufis 42 District

Shelley Mayer 37 District


At this point, it is easy to imagine nothing being done in many parts of the state beyond what is normally done for July 4. Fort Ticonderoga will continue to hold its annual conference on the American Revolution. So too will Fort Plain. These forts in the Champlain and Mohawk Valleys continue to tell the story of the American Revolution, but those conferences are for a small audience in a state of millions.

Local municipalities will continue to have parades. However it is quite possible, nothing will distinguish the 2026 parade from the 2025 parade or the 2027 parade. True, there is still time but there will be a contentious presidential election before 2026. There will be continued fights about CRT, 1619, and divisiveness which will sap the energy of people.

Consider the logistics of the situation as described by the two Senators. Right now there is one person appointed to the state commission and several others waiting in the wings. As Johanna Porr noted in her enewsletter quoted in a previous blog noted above, one big issue will be the budget for this year – how much if any will be budgeted specifically for 250th events?

If money is budgeted, how will it be allocated? This is question I raised years ago when examining the position of the state historian and the 250th. Suppose hundreds of historical societies and municipalities through submit applications for funding. What will the guidelines be? How much will be allocated towards the traditional means of celebration, meaning food, family, fireworks and patriotic parades and how much will be allocated towards the striving for a more perfect union for events in the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries? Who will be the person (people) who sift through the submissions and make those decisions? Keep in mind the state historian is a single individual so will the commission assist … or will each commissioner be focused on their own events and not really have a statewide concern?

The federal commission officially expires with the July 4, 2026, Philadelphia celebration. Things in New York really begin to heat up afterwards with the toppling of the statue of King George in lower Manhattan. Think of the prominent events which occur afterwards which have statewide and national implications:

1776 The Battle of New York/Brooklyn/Long Island
1777 The Battle of Saratoga with its Hudson Valley and Mohawk Valley components
1779 The Clinton-Sullivan Campaign
1780 Benedict Arnold
1781 Rochambeau
1783 Newburgh Conspiracy and Evacuation Day.

All these multi-county events have an enormous tourist potential beyond the local history organization to promote or even a county to develop. As noted in a previous blog above, Virginia is putting big money into the 250th with expectation of large increases in tourism. What programs will be created here in recognition of these events? How will they be promoted?

Right now I am in the midst of preparing for the Lafayette Bicentennial of 1824-1825. That event starts next year. I am directly involved in preparing for his arrival in Staten Island (which was not part of New York City then) and his travels in Manhattan, the Bronx (which was part of Westchester then), and Westchester. He only spent a single day in Bronx/Westchester yet he visited numerous locations. I am well aware of the work which goes in to trying to recreate that event mainly on the Boston Post Road and what is now Third Ave.

We are trying to make the Lafayette Bicentennial a celebration, a commemoration, and striving for a more perfect union at a time when a presidential election was tearing the country apart. It can be time consuming to say the least to organize such activities and coordinate them among the eight municipalities he visited plus one which did not exist then but does now. I am having a hard time imaging how he made all these stops in New York plus a few more in Connecticut in a single day traveling by carriage. In some ways the Lafayette Bicentennial where he also was in the Hudson Valley, Mohawk Valley to Niagara and on the Erie Canal practice for the American Revolution 250th. One lesson is time lost cannot be regained and right now New York and the country are losing time.


Guidelines Issued for the American Revolution 250th (July 1, 2021)

On July 1, the American Association of State and Local History (AASLH) issued guidelines for the Semiquincentennial. These guidelines are not an official document as AASLH is not a government entity. However it does work closely with the Federal Commission. Also it is a national organization so it has its finger on the pulse of what is going on with state and local museums throughout the country.

As part of the release of the guidelines, John Dichtl, president and CEO, AASLH, conducted a virtual program with three contributors to the work of the organization:

Terry Brown, America 250 Foundation / National Park Service

Aimee Newell, Museum of the American Revolution / AASLH Small Museums Committee

Sara Cureton, Executive Director, New Jersey Historic Commission.

The session was more of a conversation than a workshop and should be considered a first step in a multi-year journey. I participated in the program and have download and read the guidelines. This blog combines information from both.

A Vision for the Semiquincentennial by John Dichtl

“(W)e have often struggled to live up to the lofty ideals expressed in our founding documents.”

For me, these words from the opening sentence of the guidelines are critical to the vision of the 250th. The Founding Fathers considered their creation to be an experiment. They knew the documents they wrote were not the final word. The Fifth Article (not to be confused with the Fifth Amendment) defined the Constitution as an open ended document. The Founders then immediately exercised their rights under that Article to pass ten amendments known as the Bill of Rights. They saw the creation of the country as the start of a journey and not something constituted in stone. We will be better served as country during the Semiquincentennial if we keep reminding ourselves that we are part of an ongoing journey and experiment rather than to limit ourselves to simpleminded judgmental pronouncements about people from 250 years ago. Our challenge is to continue the journey started on July 4, 1776.

Unfortunately Dichtl then limits the 250th in a way that will prove a challenge to history museums and organizations. He sets a target date of 2026, five years from now. The speakers did the same in the online session. The guideline points to July 4, 2026, in Philadelphia as the culmination of the project. Officially, it is the peak.

Speaking as New Yorker, July 4, 1776, is just the beginning of when things get interesting. From the famous toppling of the statue of King George III, to the Battle of New York/Brooklyn/Long Island, to the Battle of Saratoga, to the Clinton-Sullivan Campaign, to Benedict Arnold, to Rochambeau, to the Newburgh Conspiracy, and finally Evacuation Day on November 25, 1783, the action in this state really heats up after the culmination date of the Federal project. The proposed legislation passed by the State (not yet signed into law) has 2033 as the end date for our commission. Needless-to-say, other states similarly will want to remember events after July 4, 2026.

The date disparity could become a funding issue. At this point we do not know if the Federal Government will pull the plug on spending for the 250th on July 4, 2026 or not. I did raise this issue in the chat during the online session. The AASLH is aware of the concern. At some point, the issue of funding after July 4, 2026 may become an advocacy issue.

Fortunately Dichtl’s other vision is right on the mark. He calls this a “once in a generation opportunity to renew public engagement with history.” As part of the oral history, we should be interviewing people who participated in the Bicentennial and displaying objects from that celebration. Dichtl expresses the hope that “Through the stories we share, this anniversary can encourage patriotism and pride in American resilience while also fostering critical awareness of our faults, past and present.”  Amen to that. Let the journey continue.  He sees it as a transformational opportunity for the history community. Amen to that as well.

250 Years and Counting by Sara Cureton   

Speaking of the Bicentennial, Cureton begins her contribution with an anecdote about a meeting for the Semiquincentennial where she was the only one who remembered the Bicentennial. She reflected on the lessons from that anniversary as thinking of history as endlessly interesting and impactful. Good lessons to have learned for a state leader of an historical commission!

As a state commissioner, Cureton takes a local approach as well. She mentions the listening sessions held around the state with many different communities. She observes that our fellow citizens often are much more interested in the historic sites in their hometowns. That makes sense. We are physical beings so what we can see, walk by, and touch in our own lives and communities will be meaningful.

However, there is a problem here. During the Q&A, the question came up about communities that did not exist during the American Revolution. In New Jersey that might not be much of a problem but in New York too, before the Erie Canal was built (Bicentennial 2025), many communities today did not exist then. They may have descendants from the American Revolution living there now. They may have records of the first July 4 the community celebrated regardless of when and can track what the day meant to their community over time. As states, they have dates when the joined the country as a state and July 4 became their birthday too. Immigrants have dates of naturalization when July 4 became the birthday of their country. June 2, 2024, is the centennial of the Indian Citizenship Act when Indians gained the right to vote. There are different ways to connect to July 4, 1776, besides the physical and the biological.


With this section, the guide introduces five themes for the anniversary. It refers to the National Endowment for the Humanities, a funder, launching “’A More Perfect Union’: America at 250.” It “recognizes that very generation of Americans is tasked with improving this nation.”  The guidebook calls on every history organization in the United States to participate.  Even though the commemoration will be decentralized, the guidebook will enable you to be connected with thousands of other museums, historical societies, history departments, and classrooms across the country. OK, a little Chamber-of-Commerce boosterism is acceptable.

Theme: Unfinished Revolutions – There is still work to be done.

Theme: Power of Place – I always write that Nature sets the stage and humans write the play and then alter the stage. This theme relates to those ideas.

Theme: We the People – For me the key element in this theme is the right to vote. One might also add the equal opportunity to be able to vote in a reasonable way. For example, the aforementioned instance of Indians gaining the right to vote in 1924 is a marker of their citizenship as Americans and inclusion in We the People. The scant opportunity to actually cast their votes on huge reservations with few polling places and limited car ownership undermines that right.

Theme: American Experiment: This theme has a civics component in examining how local, state, and federal governments are constituted and by whom.

Theme: Doing History – How do we do history? The New York Times 1619 Project, the Donald Trump 1776 Commission, Critical Race Theory? Certainly how we do history is in the news.

I have a problem with these themes. Each one comes with five bullet points that the guidelines state the audience should consider in the programming by the local history organizations. The problem is these themes and bullet points sound like adult education classes or discussion groups at the local history organization, library, or classroom. There is nothing wrong with that but there is a very academic tone to the guidelines. It’s too dry to be inspiring. There is nothing about celebration. There should be more than a course in American History 250 at the local high school or community college. I miss the excitement.

Here is what is missing from the guidelines. I realize that they are a first step and could not cover everything.

State Commissions

The AASLH certainly is aware of the state commissions. It tracks the creation of them. There is still a long way to go. What exactly is a state commission supposed to do once it is created? One should keep in mind the wide variety in the range of resources available at the state level. For example, in New York, the Office of the State Historian consists of one person. If a voluntary commission is created, all the work is going to be dumped on that one individual. Fortunately the state legislators know that is problem so perhaps something will be done. I imagine each state will have its own story to tell about the practicalities of fulfilling the guidelines

Recommendation – A second guide should be created outlining on a more practical basis what a state commission should do and the resources required to it. I have my own ideas which I will not present here.

Recommendation – Communication mechanisms should be established (by the AASLH? By the Federal Commission?) so the state commissions can share experiences on a regular and routine basis.

State to State Collaboration and Cooperation

While the motto of the official commission seems to be “decentralization,” neither states nor local history organizations can go it alone. Think of the aforementioned Rochambeau as an event involving multiple states. Concomitant with Rochambeau is the journey of Cornwallis through states in the South leading to the showdown at high noon in Virginia.

Recommendation – Potential multi-state events should be identified and task forces created for them with the states who will be involved. Again communication mechanisms should be established.

Trips and Tourism

I did not notice anything about tourism and trips in the guidelines and discussion. Everything seemed to be geared to the individual history organization acting alone. Tourism will be an important part of the 250th. For example to stick with Rochambeau, there will be people who will travel the route from Rhode Island to Virginia. That means more than having a website or app. It means good old-fashioned mapping of routes including noting when the route actually is not a road today and may even be on private property. There is (or was) a NPS group based in Philadelphia that has been involved precisely in mapping the route. Now we are arriving at the next stage of transforming that information into a tourist experience.

Recommendation – A guidelines book should be created for the tourist departments of the states both for the intra-state responsibilities and inter-state ones. As someone who has created American Revolution programs visiting multiple sites in the Hudson Valley, Mohawk Valley, and Champlain Valley, I am very interested in this topic. People are going to want to travel to the sites where the events of the American Revolution took place.


Related to tourism is teacher education. Again I speak from experience as the trips noted above were for teachers. Unfortunately, the Teaching American History Grants have bit the dust. Perhaps they can be resurrected as Teaching American Revolution History Grants.

Recommendation – Revive the Teaching American History grants for the American Revolution. Work with the State Education Departments to create teacher training programs in each state based on the American Revolution and which will be available to teachers nationwide. Reaching out to national academic organizations needs to be part of the planning.

Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service

This NPS-commissioned study was commissioned years ago, I wrote several blogs about it in 2016-2018. The recommendations from the study never were implemented. Indeed over the past few years, the NPS focused more on survival than forging ahead.

Recommendation – Use the Semiquincentennial as an opportunity to implement the recommendations of the Imperiled Promise study so the NPS will be better prepared to fulfill its responsibilities during the project.

A final note must be made about the culture wars now more accurately described as America’s Third Civil War. Part of the story of the American Revolution is that it was our first Civil War. Now we live in a time when masks have weaponized, vaccines have been weaponized, and the American flag is a symbol of disunity. History organizations have no particular skill or expertise in navigating through this contentious time where more and more Americans regard July 4 as a day of infamy for which white people should repent.  We can anticipate as one more presidential election will occur before July 4, 2026, that the situation will only get worse.

During the Q&A on July 1, one person asked about disinformation, fake news and fake history and the pitfalls and landmines in divisive political times. Cureton’s response was that the political may be the biggest challenge in divisive times.  Exactly right. The Centennial occurred after the Civil War. The Bicentennial occurred after Watergate and Vietnam. The Semiquincentennial is occurring while America’s Third Civil War rages not yet like a California wildfire but potentially becoming one. The very event itself will be weaponized and exacerbate the situation. There is no guidebook for that.

Election Results: Amazon versus Hallmark

Amazon decided to locate its new headquarters in Long Island City, Queens, New York, and Alexandria, Virginia. These two locations possess the characteristics Amazon considers desirable.  They have highly educated and mobile workforces. They are located at both national and international transportation hubs. They have significant other business sectors so Amazon will not be the 600 pound gorilla that everyone turns towards to solve local problems. They have an excitement about them: people want to move there. The bottom line is that the midsize cities of mid-America simply do not have the base to support the Amazon behemoth. The other major cities simply do not have the resources or the proximity to the politicians and regulators Amazon needs to buy and sell.

As it turns out, Amazon probably would have chosen these two locations even if there had been no government prostitution. Other communities made more lucrative offers but they could not match the actual requirements for a successful match. For all we know, Amazon may well have been leaning towards these two winning locations even before the search began even if they it never consciously acknowledged it to itself yet alone to the public. In the meantime, Amazon gathered a great deal of information about a multitude of sites throughout the country that will be useful.

One cannot help but notice that the desirable characteristics for Amazon coincide with the burgeoning demographic areas of the Democratic Party. By contrast Republican areas were not even in the running.

Politically, Amazon’s choice in New York will not make much difference. New York already is a democratic state. Republicans have no chance of winning any statewide election. At the state level success for a Republican is obtaining 40% of the vote. Its last hold in power, the State Senate, witnessed an eight seat drop this past election. Instead of vying for majority power it has had for roughly 75 years with some breaks, Republicans now are an also-ran with little if any power to do anything if the Democrats are united. Even without Amazon, the 2020 census is likely to accelerate this trend as the one-party city itself and the Democratic suburb offshoots gain in power. In the reapportioning, the Republicans are likely to lose even more of what little they have left at the federal and state level.

The situation is a little different in Virginia. Republicans still have no chance of winning a statewide election there but the margins are not as stark as in New York. Part of the difference is due to one-party Washington, D.C. not being in the state of Virginia the way one-party New York City is in New York. As the Washington suburbs served by the Metro continue to expand especially with Amazon, the state will become more and more Democratic. It will not take a coin toss anymore to determine who is in power in the legislature. Republicans in Virginia will be restricted to the rural non-growth areas. The biggest difference from New York is where upstate New Yorkers retire to the South, rural Virginians are already there.  Amazon is quite willing to sell to these people but it would not want to locate there.

Hallmark’s audience is quite different from Amazon’s. The Hallmark movie universe tends to be the rural one with mainly white Christians, probably Protestants. If the city is involved, such as New York, it is the place the hero/heroine leaves. They either return home to be reconnected with their loved ones and to save the family home/store/factory. They tend to be in their thirties so they may have known some success in the big city but it comes with a price to their soul and happiness. They regain their soul when they return to the place where everyone says “Merry Christmas” and the community lighting of the Christmas tree is a big deal…unlike say in New York City where Rockefeller Center is devoid of all signs of Christmas and no families are present!

If they are not from the rural paradise and are the mean person sent there to shut it down or buy the store/factory/inn, then they soon succumb to its charms for its money they have and peace they lack. Hallmark could tell big city-based Christmas stories but they are the exception not the rule despite their being where the American people live.

And if there is not a rural American paradise to which to return, then there is always a small kingdom in Europe that no one has ever heard of desperate for an American princess. Considering the real stories of not only Grace Kelly but Meghan Markle, it turns out that fairy tales can come true.

Still the Hallmark world has an attraction to the Amazon world but only a part-time basis. People in the city buy second homes but rarely in another city. Someone in New York does not buy a second home in the Boston or Philadelphia area. They may visit a child in college in those cities but for a second home for weekends, summer, and maybe retirement, they often chose the Hallmark world. Excluding the glitzy Hamptons, many New Yorkers choose to go north to the Hudson Valley, the Catkskills, the Berkshires, and beyond. They want land, they want space, they want peace and quiet as long as they can go to Starbucks and get the delicacies and entertainment they want. These people do not want to live in Mayberry, Bedford Falls, or Cicely, Alaska. It’s nice to leave the rat race and visit Brigadoon every now and then. They need the Field of Dreams but only for a moment.

Did you ever notice how popular and important Friday Night Lights was for people who did not live in a Friday Night Lights community? A Friday Nights Light community is a Hallmark community with more realism. It does have conflicts. It does have tensions. It does have rivalries with similar neighboring communities. But unlike the Hallmark communities, the Friday Night Lights communities gather together every Friday and not just once a year. In these communities, the people have their community songs, their community flags and banners, their community traditions, and a community spirit that is passed on from generation to generation. If you buy a second home in such a community you will be an outsider even if your city money enables you to throw your weight around. This separateness especially will be true if you have no kids attending the local schools.

In this regard, a Friday Nights Light community is like a Jane Jacobs city block or street. The social fabric is strong. People have a sense of place, a sense of belonging, a sense of community. These are not the characteristics of an Amazon community. The people who move to the big cities in other states have limited connection to the history of that state, that city, that community. Here in New York we are celebrating the bicentennial of the building of the Erie Canal. That project put New York on the national map on its way to becoming the world capital. That project launched a can do period in American history that lasted until we placed a man on the moon. Yet today the Erie Canal has no meaning to the people of the city. It remains an underutilized asset of American history in upstate New York of little interest to people in downstate New York. They would sooner visit the canals of Europe than those of New York.

The fate of the Erie Canal story highlights the shortcomings of the piecemeal approach. America has a big story to tell. What the two political parties have in common is that neither is trying to tell it. No candidate proposes a vision for We the People of the 21st century and the less said about our shallow, superficial, simple-minded President the better. Clearly there is a need for such a vision. Clearly there is a need for such a storyteller. Clearly there is a need to connect America’s citizens to the story of their country. In 1976, my father temporarily relocated to Washington, D.C., and bunked with Congressmen to reduce living expenses when he worked on the Bicentennial. In July 2016, the United States Semiquincentennial Commission was established in preparation for the 250th anniversary of the United States. It will occur on July 4, 2026, the bicentennials of the deaths of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams on July 4. Will we be a united country then or will the experiment have run its course?