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:
AMERICAN REVOLUTION 250th UPDATE
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
NEW YORK STATE HISTORY ADVOCACY
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
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.
In the meantime there are actions being taken by state history organizations which are to be commended. They are the Association of Public Historians of New York State (APHNYS) with the state historian and the Museum Association of New York (MANY). In addition one session at the upcoming conference of the American Revolution (June 9-11) held by the Fort Plain Museum will have a session by Devin Lander and Connie Kehoe from the Westchester 250th. That will be for a future blog.