What It Means to Be American
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Explore : Revolutionary War

Identities

The Revolutionary War Couple Who Shed Their British Loyalty—One Letter at a Time

Henry and Lucy Knox Sacrificed Family, Home, and Beliefs to Adopt Their New American Identity

In this painting of the Capture of the Hessians at Trenton, Gen. Henry Knox stands by the left shoulder of Major General Nathanael Greene, who is seated on the white horse at right. Image courtesy of Yale University Art Gallery/Wikimedia Commons.

By Phillip Hamilton
April 16, 2018

In late 1783, General Henry Knox, formerly a bookseller from Boston who had become a trusted military subordinate to George Washington, wrote the first draft of an address to be presented to the commander-in-chief by his officers. Their Revolution won, the Continental Army’s leaders wanted to express their heartfelt gratitude to the general, “under whose auspices,” as Knox wrote, “the Army have been led to glory and victory, and America to Freedom and Independence.” Young Knox also urged his comrades …

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Identities

When the Hunger for Freedom Becomes Self-Destructive

My Bostonian Ancestor Fought the Red Coats. I Fought a Heroin Addiction. Both of Us Are Soldiers.

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By Lisa Whittemore
July 14, 2015

On April 17, 1775, Samuel Whittemore was toiling in the fields of his Arlington, Massachusetts farm when he spied the British militia returning to Boston from the Battle at Lexington and Concord. He was no stranger to fighting: Whittemore had fought on behalf of the British as a captain in His Majesty’s Dragoons battling the French in the mid-1700s. However, on this particular day, Whittemore took up arms against the British in the name of independence. A historical society article …

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Engagements

George Washington’s Deep Self-Doubt

The First President Was Indispensable to Our Early Democracy, Precisely Because He Didn’t See Himself as Indispensable

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By Robert Middlekauff
May 18, 2015

Revolutions tend to get hijacked, going from being about the people to being about the triumphant revolutionary leaders. And so the French Revolution begat Napoleon, and the Russian Revolution begat Lenin and Stalin.

It’s appropriate, therefore, that one of the more enduring, and endearing, aspects of our national reverence for George Washington is the fact that once he had militarily won independence for the American colonies—at a time when he had achieved global fame for this feat—he appeared perfectly content to …

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Ideas

Noah Webster Would Have Loved Urban Dictionary

The Founding Father of American English Was a Radical Who Wanted Us to Write the Language the Way We Spoke It

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By Rosemarie Ostler
May 12, 2015

In the late 18th century, as the recently independent states were working to define what America was—after fighting with England about what it wasn’t—grammar books were still teaching American children to speak like proper Englishmen and women. The books taught such formal, outdated usages as the correct verb forms for thou (thou goest, thou wilt) and proper uses of shall (used with I and we for simple future, with you, he, she, and they to imply insistence or a threat). …

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