I was up and out of the house early this past Sunday to attend the Hackensack Toy Soldier show in New Jersey. One of the things that came home with me, purchased for a mere $1, is this 1956 National Park Service handbook about Independence National Historical Park. I have a number of modern NPS handbooks that I have purchased over the past several years for the Civil War sesquicentennial and War of 1812 bicentennial. Last year when a friend and I visited Philadelphia I bought The American Revolution handbook as well. The one we see here was written by Park Service historian Edward M. Riley, who authored a number of similar booklets on other sites in this period when the Eisenhower Administration was starting the Mission 66 initiative. One can actually read his tome on Independence National Historical Park online here. Yes, the scholarship moves on–we’re talking two decades prior even to the Bicentennial here–but in addition to keeping up with current progress in my fields of interest I am always intrigued by how historians in the past, in this case the 1950s, handled the topic at hand.

Ladybird and President Johnson with the Reverend Cotesworth Pinckney Lewis, November 1967. Days after this photograph was taken Riley telegrammed Johnson an apology for Lewis’s statements concerning the Vietnam War.

A Proquest search pulls up a small but interesting series of takes on Edward M. Riley’s life and career. In 1955 he had just left his position as historian at Independence Hall and was now at Colonial Williamsburg about to take part in a five-year, $500,000 project to study life in Colonial America. Clearly his mission was to do at Williamsburg what he had done in Philadelphia. In 1959 he is found still at Colonial Williamsburg, serving as director of research, and giving the government of Bermuda a trove of 650 letters related to that nation on the 350th anniversary of the founding of the Colony of Bermuda. In October 1963 Riley comes to Oyster Bay, Long Island to give a talk to raise funds for the renovation of Raynham Hall, a Revolutionary War site. That event was held at Christ Protestant Episcopal Church.

The reason I mention the location is because of the final piece that mentions Riley. In November 1967, Edward M. Riley, a senior warden in the Bruton Parish Episcopal Church of Williamsburg, telegramms President Lyndon B. Johnson an apology after the Rev. Cotesworth Pinckney Lewis challenged the president, who had been at the Virginia church’s service the week previously, from the pulpit on his Vietnam War policies. Riley’s role in the apology is unclear; the article seems to imply that the Bruton Parish leadership were sending the missive on orders from the Episcopal Church’s more senior leadership. Public pressure was certainly intense, with over 10,000 calls and letters coming in from around the world. Johnson was furious. It’s an extraordinary story and part of the life of an extraordinary historian and figure.

(bottom image/Historic Images Outlet)