I emailed a few people this morning noting that Rufus King died at his Jamaica (Queens) home on this date in 1827, 195 years ago today. One of them emailed back noting that King was born one years prior to Mozart and thus came of age not just during the American and French Revolutions but in an era when he got to hear the work of some of the greatest composers of all time. Beethoven himself died in March 1827, one month prior to King. Last June a friend and I ventured out to the King Manor, where among other things we visited the Grace Episcopal Church cemetery around the corner from the house. Most of the Kings are interred here. For more, here is the first of two article about Rufus King I wrote for the Journal of the American Revolution published two years ago almost to the day.
It has been a long day and I don’t have the time or mental energy to say much beyond a quick mention that today is Frederick Law Olmsted’s 200th birthday. I mentioned the Olmsted bicentennial to a colleague early this morning who had been unaware. Oddly enough, ten minutes later he forwarded me something from his significant other who had been reading about it at essentially the exact moment. She sent it to him to read and asked also that he pass it along to yours truly. Later in class we spoke for a time about the journalist, social reformer, and landscape architect’s life and achievements. We have examined big chunks of Olmsted’s life and times over the past several months, including a visit to Prospect Park to see for ourselves. Actually we jumped the class off in early February with Olmsted’s November 1865 return from California just after the Civil War. I noticed earlier that there is a lot going today and this week to mark the Olmsted 200. It is hardly a mere local story. If you want to know his legacy, just look around you.
(image/”A Description of the New York Central Park, with Illustrations” by Albert Finch Bellows via British Library)
Charles Mingus was born one hundred years ago today on April 22, 1922. He is one of the most captivating figures in this most American of art forms. Mingus’s three biggest influences were Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, and the Black Church. He also had a firm grasp of classical music which served him well when composing in longer form. Charles Mingus was working on another level. In terms of his personality two figures with whom I have always equated him were John Lennon and Frank Sinatra. Like those two, he was supremely talented and intelligent; all three could, and would, cut through the b.s. in any situation. Also like them, his personality was a combination of generosity and sensitivity interspersed with sexism, occasional violence, and gratuitous verbal cruelty. The hardest part in knowing Mingus would have been the unpredictability.
He died in 1979 of ALS, a cruel fate for any person let alone such an outsized figure as he was. Mingus Big Band was–and is–an ensemble put together by his widow Sue Mingus to keep the bassist and composer’s work in the public sphere.
I was in Greenwood Cemetery with someone today on what was a glorious spring day. Often in the cemetery we wander with no set objective but today set out to see John Church Hamilton, one of the children of Alexander Hamilton. This mausoleum is a tad off the beaten path, but not so much so that one can’t find it without undue difficulty. John had quite a career in his own right as a soldier in the War of 1812 (thus the flag), lawyer, and prolific historian. He lived until 1882, six years after the centennial. That the offspring of the Founding Generation continued on well into the Gilded Age is a reminder that one is not talking all that long ago.
Today is the anniversary of the start of the war. I was checking the Massachusetts weather, which is rainy and blustery. Kind of like Brooklyn right now too. I hope it doesn’t throw off any events planned for later. Tonight I’m attending a virtual program. The pandemic has accelerated such activities because we all became so reliant on it when the world shut down. The above image comes from George Jones Varney’s “The Story of Patriot’s Day, Lexington and Concord, April 19, 1775,” published in 1895 on the first anniversary of Patriots’ Day. It is the Somerville powder house captured by General Gage’s men on September 1, 1774. We tend to think the war just began on its own, when really things had been building for at least a half a decade going back to the Boston Massacre in 1770. One could go further back too depending on how one chooses to look at it. It will be interesting to see how these next 3-4 years play out with the coming of Revolutionary War 250.
I hope everyone is having a relaxing and meaningful holiday weekend. I was in Greenwood Cemetery yesterday and things are blooming. Today is the anniversary of Benjamin Franklin’s passing in 1790. His death came less than a year after Washington’s inaugural in New York City and nine months prior to the federal government’s move to Philadelphia. The Poor Richard Club placed the plaque we see here beside Franklin’s grave in Christ Church Burial Ground. When I saw it last weekend I was struck at how new it appeared. The Poor Richard Club was a group formed in 1906 (the bicentennial of Franklin’s birth) by Philadelphians who worked primarily in the advertising world. I couldn’t nail down the exact year but by what I could piece together the group disbanded sometime in the late 1980s or 1990s. Presumably demographic and other changes are what ultimately rendered the club extinct. When I was in Philly I did cross the still-extant Union League Club. Who knows why one group survives and another one does not? I am becoming increasingly intrigued by the history and memory of the Revolution and Early American Republic. The hows and whys of what gets remembered, preserved, commemorated, or forgotten are fascinating in and of themselves.
Enjoy your holiday Sunday.
Someone I know is trying to learn more about Thomas Jefferson and his ideas about agrarianism for a project he is working on. The researcher is not necessarily looking for primary sources held in archives but books and journal articles that might shed light on the Virginian’s thoughts on farming, urban vs. rural life, and that type of thing. Jefferson himself is not the main topic of the project. It’s more about context and background. We found a few articles in JSTOR and some information in anthologies of Jefferson’s writings. Still, a few more sources might fill in additional gaps. I’m sure that Dumas Malone covers Jeffersonian agrarianism in his six-volume biography. Does anyone know any other books or authors who cover this topic? If so please let us know in the comments. Do feel free to pass this along as well. Thanks.
I was up and out of the house before 6:00 am yesterday in order to meet some friends at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia. It was a June 2017 visit that spun me off on a different intellectual path that I am still on today. One of the friends with whom I was meeting too has been on something of a new trajectory these past several years relating to the Colonial, Revolutionary, and Early Republic Eras. We met at Federal Hall on Presidents Day 2020 just before the pandemic. He has been making great strides in his pursuits. All of us in our party found the museum overwhelming and exhilarating. There is so much to take in. The MOAR opened in April 2017 and has done such an incredible job in such a short period of time that it is difficult to believe it has been a mere half decade. A highlight of the day, one of many, was talking to the museum staff who intermingle and converse with patrons in the galleries. I struck up conversations with at least 3-4 and they have disparate intellectual interests. There is something in there about pursuing one’s own happiness. All were very knowledgable and dynamic. One thing I brought up with each was what they might be planning for 250th anniversaries coming up, especially for 2026. That is only four years away. It was on the radar of each of them.
We also took a guided tour of Christ Church Burial Ground. As you can see in the image above, somewhere along the way over the centuries church officials tore out a portion of the brick wall and replaced it with fencing that allows passersby to see Deborah and Franklin’s headstone from the sidewalk. Christ Church is still an active congregation and, in addition to the ecumenical work, its members have been doing a lot these past twenty years to archive and disseminate their historical records and heritage. That work has included upkeep and tours of the cemetery. You get a sense when you are here of how small a city colonial and revolutionary Philadelphia was. At the time this was considered the outskirts of town, even what we would today call suburbia. Yet it is all within walking distance of Independence Hall.
I walked past what used to be the St. George Hotel yesterday during a walk in preparation for a coming class visit to the surrounding area. I refused to follow the lockout over this past off-season. However imperfect is MLB and however disappointing are the people who run organized baseball, it is always good when the game returns.
I watched part one of Ken Burns’s “Benjamin Franklin” last night and thought it was quite good. I don’t know if it is just my interpretation, but it seems that over the past several years there has been a greater seriousness and sense of urgency in Burns’s work. Absent now are the Lost Cause tinges one saw in “The Civil War” and such dramatic touches as the violins of “Ashokan Farewell.” I’m not sure if that is because Burns has matured as a filmmaker or due to our current historical moment, but either way I find it striking. I’m glad Burns made the film now, at a time when I know more about the period than I did even five years ago. I know he and his team are working on a larger project about the Revolutionary War slated for release in 2026 for the 250th anniversary.
Artistically the black-and-white engravings in the film are striking. Though I don’t know for sure, I assume the engravings were made specifically for the film. I loved that in addition to younger scholars he interviewed Gordon Wood and the late Bernard Bailyn. We have so much still to learn from the work these giants have done. I certainly do. The film does a good job of placing the colonies in an international context within the Atlantic World. Part one ends in 1774 and hints at the trouble to come between Benjamin and son William, the governor of the New Jersey colony and a Loyalist. We see hints that the American Revolutionary War was very much a civil war, and I think part two tonight will go into that.
Later this month some friends and I are going to Philadelphia on a day trip already planned several weeks ago. We booked our tickets for certain venues in advance figuring that the release of “Benjamin Franklin” would attract larger crowds, which would be good. I haven’t been to Philadelphia in a good 3-4 years–a summer or two before the pandemic–and am psyched to return.