Archive for September, 2014

I am always interested in Benson Lossing, as he lived in my home town of Dover, Dutchess, NY.  He authored a small pamphlet about the Dover Stone Church including the story of Pequot Sachem Sassacus that I imagine he heard from Eunice Mauwee, granddaughter of Schaghticoke Sachem Gideon Mauwee, as she was then a frequent visitor to the Lossing home.  Recently searching for a list of his works I came across this article that shows his role as preservationist and cultural heritage tourist.  This review shows Lossing as a spokesperson for the value of historic preservation and demonstrates how his work helped preserve history through sketches and stories.  I only repeated a few paragraphs here…the full review is definitely worth a read.

Traveling in the early 1840s, Lossing became concerned with the relative apathy of the nation in remembrance of the Revolution and lack of conservation of the structures, land, and monuments of the conflict. In his archaic prose he lamented the loss of the original sites associated with the Revolution: “For years a strong desire was felt to embalm those precious things of our cherished household, that they might be preserved for the admiration and reverence of remote posterity.”[i] In 1848, Lossing decided to write a history of the American Revolution from the novel perspective of a traveler visiting the scenes of the various events. He traveled over 8,000 miles throughout Canada and the United States visiting nearly every site of importance, and many relatively unknown sites, associated with the Revolution.

Lossing intertwines the history of the areas he visits with his search for Revolutionary War stories. While visiting Connecticut to chronicle battles such as that around Danbury, he throws in the tale of the three judges who fled from England after condemning Charles I to death and settling in New Haven. Anecdotes of French and Indian War encounters or the first colonists of Canada enrich the tales of the Revolution and provide background to the contemporary locations. He details which buildings remain from the colonial period, complaining of the changes brought by progress and the poor stewardship of those original sites.

An important part of Lossing’s tour through America is the wonderful portrait he paints of the people and places of the United States in the mid-1800s as he travels. The buildings and streets that he describes when telling about the post-Revolutionary construction give a valuable look at towns and cities of antebellum America. His use of early railroads, canal boats, coaches and other contemporary transportation allow a glimpse of a slower, less advanced time.  His worries about changes in technology sound familiar to us.  He complains about a train ride near Albany: “Sweeping down the valley at the rate of twenty miles an hour… the traveler has very little opportunity to estimate the character of the region through which he is passing.”[iii] Ominously, his dark portrayal of the transition as he travels from the bustling, energetic country north of the Mason-Dixon line into the slow, primitive culture of the South sheds a light on the deep sectional differences caused by the blight of slavery.


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