Monday, August 31, 2009

'Ill Met By Moonlight': The Arnold-André Affair, 1


Aristotle defined tragedy as a drama recounting the fall of persons of high degree and exemplifying the tragic sense of life. One September 229 years ago in the lower Hudson Valley, a profoundly moving Aristotelean tragedy of errors played itself out. Two human beings, one, British Major John André, and the other, American General Benedict Arnold, were each inevitably doomed by their own failings and by fate or destiny.

Theirs is a story that celebrates one man's courage and dignity in the face of disaster and another man's craven willingness to abandon his wife and children to save his own skin. It is a story that portrays both the grandeur and the baseness of the human spirit. First, allow me to set the scene:

British troops have held New York City for four years. The Americans hold the area north of the Croton River, Peekskill and the fortified Hudson Highlands. The bastion at West Point commands a key navigation point and denies the British access to the upper Hudson. Because of the dogleg in the river formed by the jutting Point, sailing ships must tack to change direction. Slowing down exposes enemy ships to artillery fire from the batteries on the heights above. A great iron chain also hinders navigation.

Much of Westchester is a veritable no man's land ravaged by four years of marauding by both sides. In this so-called "Neutral Ground" of shifting allegiances, roving bands carry on an unrelenting campaign of raiding, plundering and retaliation.

Here are the major players in the drama about to unfold:

Sir Henry Clinton, 37, the British commander-in-chief headquartered in New York City. He knows the strategic value of West Point. In 1777, he moved up the Hudson to capture and briefly hold two American forts near Bear Mountain, south of West Point.

Benedict Arnold, 39, short (5' 4"), scrappy American general, a wounded hero of the attack on Quebec and the battles at Saratoga. In command of West Point for only two months, he is deeply in debt and bitter that others have received recognition he feels should be his. For nearly eighteen months Arnold has been secretly carrying on coded correspondence with Clinton that will lead to the surrender of West Point.

John André, 29, major in the British Army, son of a Swiss merchant from Geneva who settled in London. He is Clinton's Adjutant General; among his duties is handling spies and informers. In these dealings, he calls himself "John Anderson."

Beverley Robinson, 59, wealthy Tory leader and colonel in the Loyal Americans, the loyalist regiment he raised. Married to Susanna Philipse and with friends in high places, Robinson is extremely useful to the British.

Joshua Hett Smith, 44, a successful lawyer. Unlike his brother, William, a well-known Tory and Chief Justice of New York, he has patriot sympathies.

John Paulding, Isaac Van Wart and David Williams, members of a band of eight "volunteer militiamen" from Salem, who have come down to Tarrytown to intercept anyone trading with the British. Under a recently passed New York law, they can claim any property seized from enemy prisoners.

Cooped up in New York City, British General Clinton has ambitious plans to capture West Point and drive a wedge between the colonies. But he needs details about its defenses and its garrison of 3,000 men, artillery and supplies. Clinton is willing to pay Arnold 20,000 pounds if the attack is successful. But Arnold insists on a minimum payment 10,000 pounds for his cooperation, whatever the outcome. André has been authorized to make a counteroffer of 6,000 pounds.

To make negotiations with the enemy easier, Benedict Arnold moves his headquarters from West Point across the river to the confiscated Beverley Robinson house in Garrison. The conspirators finally work out a plan: Robinson is to request a meeting with Arnold, ostensibly to discuss his confiscated property. André will accompany Robinson to this meeting and negotiate details with Arnold for West Point's surrender. Clinton gives André specific instructions: He is not to enter the enemy lines; he is not to carry papers of any kind; and he is not to disguise himself.

After unsuccessful attempts to meet on September 11th and again on the 20th, contact is finally made. The drama now begins:

Thursday, September 21, 1780, near midnight. Robinson and André have traveled upriver from Dobbs Ferry on the armed British sloop Vulture, anchored for the past two days off Haverstraw, opposite Croton Point (then called Teller's Point). Evading the small American patrol boats in the river, Joshua Hett Smith, Arnold's emissary, rows downriver and arrives at the Vulture in a rowboat whose oarlocks are muffled with pieces of sheepskin.

Apparently expecting Arnold himself, Robinson refuses to go ashore. André, who has identified himself as John Anderson, impulsively offers to go ashore. and conceals his elegant staff officer's red tunic under a long blue outer cloak. Smith brings André to the west shore at the Long Clove, below Stony Point. (A marker erected by the Historical Society of Rockland County identifies the site of the landing.) André climbs the bank and finds Arnold waiting in a clump of fir trees. They hold a long conversation.

Friday, September 22, about four a.m. Smith comes up from the boat and warns of the approach of daylight. Arnold convinces André to accompany him to Smith's house about two miles to the north and wait there until nightfall before returning to the Vulture. Arnold tells Smith the mysterious John Anderson is a merchant who likes to pretend he is an officer.

Smith, Arnold and André ride up the road to Haverstraw. At the southern edge of the hamlet, an American sentry challenges them. Arnold gives the countersign, and they pass though. In penetrating the American lines, André violates the first of Clinton's orders. The trio reaches the Smith house on a hill in West Haverstraw (later called Treason Hill). It has a commanding view of the river. (Helen Hayes Hospital now occupies the site.) Arnold and André breakfast together.

As they watch in amazement from the Smith house, a four-pounder patriot cannon on Croton Point bombards the Vulture. Well-placed shots cause the warship to retreat downriver with the tide. André appears to have been abandoned in enemy territory.

Arnold advises him to dispose of his scarlet uniform jacket and to travel by land. He gives André six pages of detailed plans and descriptions of West Point's defenses and tells him to hide them in his stockings. In taking these, André violates the second of Clinton's orders.

Breakfast over, Arnold returns by boat to his headquarters in the Robinson House. Before leaving, he writes official passes for André as John Anderson and for Smith. Arnold instructs Smith to see that John Anderson returns to the British lines safely. Resigning himself to an overland journey, André violates the third of Clinton's orders. He exchanges his British officer's tunic for one of Smith's jackets. Over this, he dons the same long blue cloak he wore when he left the Vulture.

Friday, September 22, late afternoon. Riding a brown horse provided by Arnold, "at the decline of the sun" André leaves for the western terminus of King's Ferry at Stony Point with Smith and his Negro servant. King's Ferry is a crucial communication link between New England and the colonies to the south, with a permanent force of 166 boatmen on duty. The trip across the river to Verplanck's Point is by a flat-bottomed boat.

Once ashore, King's Ferry Road brings them to the Albany Post Road (now Route 9A). An interior route through Westchester offers less likelihood of interception. To bypass checkpoints at Peekskill, a local resident, Angus Sutherland, guides them over back roads. At what will one day be the site of the Hudson Valley Hospital Center, they turn east on Crompond Road (now Route 202).

André's intention is to ride to White Plains that night. Four miles east of Peekskill, however, the three riders are stopped at a militia checkpoint west of Stony Street. Arnold's pass is honored, but they are warned not to ride at night because of roving bands of marauding loyalists.

They turn back to the little farmhouse of Andreas Miller, on the south side of old Crompond Road a third of a mile past Hog's Lane (now Lexington Avenue). Inns are infrequent on back roads, and it is a common practice for farmers to take in travelers. Smith spends a restless night sharing the one available bed with André, who does not remove his clothes or even his boots and spurs.

Saturday, September 23, morning. At break of day, the three riders are on their way. Another militia checkpoint is near Strang's tavern at Crompond Corner, where Arnold's pass works its magic again. André has some fearful moments when they meet Col. Samuel B. Webb, an American officer just freed by the British, but Webb fails to recognize him.

In what is now the village of Yorktown Heights, they reach the farm of Isaac Underhill, where they hope to take breakfast. (The house still stands at the corner of California Road and Hanover Street.) Because of recent depredations, Mrs. Underhill can only give them a dish of "suppawn" (corn meal mush and milk).

Joshua Hett Smith, fearing loyalist partisans below the Croton River, announces he will go no farther. Smith pays Mrs. Underhill for breakfast and divides his Continental paper money with André. Accompanied by his servant, Smith turns back, headed toward Arnold's headquarters at the Robinson House.

Carrying a rough sketch map drawn by Smith, André rides on alone and crosses Pine's Bridge at the Croton River. Now he is in the notorious "Neutral Ground" and less likely to meet armed Americans. Roads are unmarked. Unsure of his way, he seeks directions frequently.

On the road to Chappaqua (now Quaker Street), he spots 12-year-old Jesse Thorne standing on a woodpile at a house at the corner of Kipp Street (now Hardscrabble Road). André asks directions and decides to turn south on Kipp Street. Ironically, in the crazy quilt of warring parties that is the "Neutral Ground," had he ridden on to Chappaqua he would have reached British forces.

He stops to water his horse at a roadside spring just north of Pleasantville Road, chatting amiably with unsuspecting militia member Sylvanus Brundage, the occupant of the house across the road. (The spring still flows and is marked by a plaque.) Continuing through Mekeel's Corners (the intersection of Bedford Road and the old Saw Mill River Road) without incident, he comes to Hammond's Mills (now Hawthorne) on the Saw Mill River.

The Hammond children, 14-year-old David and 12-year-old Sally, offer him water. He gives Sally a sixpence. David tells him troubling news: an American patrol is on the road to White Plains at Young's Corners (the junction of Bradhurst Avenue and Grasslands Road), about four miles to the south. A worried André hastily returns to Mekeel's Corners and heads southwest on the old Tarrytown-Bedford Road (Route 448) through the Pocantico Hills. He reaches the Albany Post Road (Route 9) just north of Clark's Kill (now called "André's Brook").

Saturday, September 23, 11 a.m. Consulting his sketch map, André crosses the bridge over the little stream and makes his way up the slope. A grim-faced John Paulding pointing a musket directly at him suddenly confronts him. Paulding, recently a prisoner of the British, wears the uniform jacket of a Jaeger, a mercenary German rifleman. It is unmistakable--green with red piping. The jacket had helped Paulding to escape from captivity in the North Dutch Church in New York City. Isaac Van Wart and David Williams, two other members of Paulding's group, gather around. Paulding's jacket convinces André he is among friends. Instead of showing the pass from Arnold that had worked so successfully at other patriot checkpoints, he makes a monumental blunder.

"My lads," he says, "I hope you belong to our party."
"What party might that be?" Paulding asks, innocently.
"The lower party," André answers. The term is a geographical euphemism for the loyalists in British-occupied New York City.
Paulding assures him, "Oh, we do." He adds, "My dress shows that."
Relieved that his ordeal is over, André announces, "I am a British officer and have been up the country on business, and would not wish to be detained a minute." To prove that he is an officer, he takes out a gold watch, something no ordinary soldier would carry.

At this, Paulding reveals that they are patriots and orders him to dismount. André blanches and sighs deeply. Thinking fast, he says "God bless my soul, a body must do anything to get along nowadays." Now he belatedly produces Arnold's pass.

Paulding, the only one of the three who can read or write, studies it. "You had best let me go, or you will bring yourselves into trouble," André warns, "for your stopping me will detain General Arnold's business. I am going to Dobbs Ferry to meet a person there and get information for him."

Paulding reflects for a minute. "I hope you will not be offended. We do not mean to take anything from you, but there are many bad people on the road, and I don't know but that you may be one. What is your name?"André tells him, "John Anderson," It is the name on General Arnold's pass.

Nevertheless, the three escort him into a nearby clump of bushes. Paulding tells Williams to search the prisoner. André removes his outer clothing. It reveals nothing incriminating. Next, he is told to remove his boots, which also conceal nothing. His captors notice that his stockings fit badly and order him to remove them. Inside one, three sheets of paper are found.

Paulding examines these and exclaims, "He's a spy!" The other stocking contains three other papers. Some are in Arnold's handwriting. He refuses to say how he came by the incriminating papers, offering only the patently lame excuse that he received them "of a man at Pine's Bridge, a stranger to me."

An unusual exchange ensues that has troubled historians ever since. Based on their later testimony, the captors of André may have been less than patriotic in their motives. Paulding asks what he would give to be let go. "Any sum you want," is the answer.

"A hundred guineas with the horse, saddle, bridle--and your watch?" (A guinea was a gold coin worth a pound and a shilling, a total of 21 shillings. The gold coin has not been minted since 1813. Certain amounts, such as philanthropic contributions and bequests, are still quoted in guneas.)

"Yes, and the money shall be sent here if you want."

"Will you give more?" asks Paulding. "Any amount you may name, in cash or dry goods," André assures him.
Eventually, the amount promised is raised to 10,000 guineas--a king's ransom. He offers to write a letter to be sent to the British outpost at Dobbs Ferry for the money. Fearing this might result in their capture or in a retaliatory attack, the militiamen decline. His captors take his horse, bridle and saddle, gold watch, and the Continental paper money Smith had given him. He also surrenders a silver watch. With this climactic incident, the curtain comes down on the first act in the drama of American General Benedict Arnold and British Major John André.

(To be continued)

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

First to Fight, First to Die: The Beau Geste of Edmond Genet


"Head for the sound of the guns." Cadets at West Point are taught this military precept--easily remembered advice for a unit commander when trouble threatens and information is lacking.

When German guns signaled the start of the First World War in 1914, hundreds of Americans headed for the sound of the guns in France. Their reasons were many. Some, impelled by humanitarian motives, joined American ambulance units serving with French troops along the Western Front.

Others, spoiling to get into the fight and avenge the ferocious attacks on Belgium and France, were hampered by America's policy of neutrality. They could enlist in the one French military unit that welcomed them and asked no questions--the Foreign Legion. Many served because of emotional ties to la belle France.

This is the story of one such American, Edmond Charles Clinton Genet, a Foreign Legionnaire who later went on to become a flyer in an elite unit, the famous Lafayette Escadrille. The family's roots date back to this nation's founding. His great-great-grandfather was Edmond Charles Genêt, French charge d'affaires to the fledgling United States in 1793.

"Citizen" Genêt
The French revolutionary republican government that had toppled the monarchy sent 32-year-old Edmond Genêt, who had the egalitarian title of "Citoyen" ("Citizen"), across the Atlantic to seek repayment of the American war debt to France, or at least to get credit so as to be able to purchase supplies needed for a war against Great Britain.

Hailed by Americans sympathetic to the French cause, Genêt exceeded his diplomatic authority and conspired with those who opposed President George Washington's policy of neutrality. He high-handedly armed privateers in American ports to operate against British shipping. This brought France and the United States to the brink of war, and risked loss of France's only source of credit abroad.

By August of 1793, an unhappy George Washington requested that Genêt be recalled. But a new faction had seized power in France, and "Citizen" Genêt risked arrest if he returned, so he chose to become an American citizen and remain in the United States.

He married Cornelia Tappan Clinton, daughter of George Clinton, Governor of New York, in 1794. She died in 1810. Eight years later, he married Martha Brandon Osgood, daughter of Samuel Osgood, first postmaster general of the United States. "Citizen" Genêt obviously had an affinity for the daughters of politically powerful fathers.

His father-in-law sold him a 600-acre farm along the Hudson below Albany. Here, he carried on long and costly experiments that enabled him to get a patent in 1815 for "an aerostatic vessel to be propelled by air"--a semi-rigid dirigible in which a pair of walking horses supplied the power. "Citizen" Genêt died in 1834, appropriately on July 14, Bastille Day, at his farm at Schodack, south of Albany and is buried with his two wives in the cemetery behind the little East Greenbush Dutch Reformed Church.

The Genet Family
Born in Ossining, November 9, 1896, Edmond Charles Clinton Genet was the third son of Albert Rivers Genet and Martha Rodman Fox Genet. (Over successive generations, the name Genêt had lost its circumflex accent.) His father had been born in Croton in 1858, the son of William Rivers Genet and Sarah Augusta Willock Genet. Albert Rivers Genet graduated from the Columbia University Law School and practiced law for more than 30 years in association with his great uncle, George Clinton Genet, and Edward F. de Lancey. The family lived at various addresses in Ossining.

His mother was born in Norristown, Penna., the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Gilbert Fox. She was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution and was active in many local veterans organizations.

Edmond's two older brothers were Albert Rivers Genet Jr., called "Rivers," born in 1887, and Gilbert Rodman Fox Genet, called "Rodman," born in 1889.

Young Edmond was educated in local Ossining schools and the Mt. Pleasant Academy. He was employed at the Chilmark dairy operated by V. Everit Macy, later Westchester's Commissioner of Public Welfare. Always fascinated by the sea, he sought an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. Unfortunately, he failed the mathematics portion of the examination.

Naval Service
Little more than a year after his father died in October of 1912, young Edmond enlisted in the U.S. Navy, hoping this would help him to gain entrance to the Naval Academy. After training at Newport, R.I., he was assigned to the battleship Georgia. Commissioned in 1906, this 15,000-ton ship, armed with a main battery of four 12-inch guns, had been part of the Teddy Roosevelt's Great White Fleet that circumnavigated the globe.

To underscore Roosevelt's "big stick" policy, the Georgia and 15 other battleships of the Atlantic Fleet sailed south from Norfolk and around Cape Horn (the Panama Canal had not yet been built), crossed the Pacific and returned through the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean, reaching Norfolk in February of 1909, after a voyage of 14 months.

After the assassination of Mexican President Francisco Madero, trouble flared south of the border. A counterrevolutionary faction headed by General Victoriano Huerta seized the reins of government. Woodrow Wilson, who had been sworn in as President in March of 1913, refused to recognize the Huerta administration. He also ordered an embargo to be placed on shipments of arms to Mexico. In the spring of 1914, the Georgia was in the port of Boston. On April 9, 1914, the arrest a group of American sailors on shore leave in the port of Tampico created an international incident. Mexican authorities hastily released the Americans and apologized. That wasn't enough for the Admiral commanding the American warship squadron standing offshore. He demanded a ceremonial salute of 21 guns to the Stars and Stripes as a good-faith demonstration by the Mexican government.

President Huerta himself offered his apologies, but refused to order a one-sided 21-gun salute. Woodrow Wilson went before Congress on April 20 and asked for a declaration of war against Mexico so American troops could be sent into the country.

Wilson also ordered the American fleet to prepare landings at Tampico and Vera Cruz "to protect American interests." The next day a thousand U.S. marines and sailors landed at Vera Cruz, meeting only token resistance. Another three thousand landed and occupied the city by noon of the following day. Nineteen Americans were killed and 71 injured.

Aboard the Georgia in Boston, Edmond Genet fretted that he was missing the impending war. His ship finally sailed for Mexican waters and arrived off Vera Cruz on May 1, after rendezvousing with her sister battleship, the Nebraska, off the coast of Florida. A disappointed Edmond Genet saw no action in Mexico. Then, just as the European War was breaking out in August, the Georgia left Mexican waters for Haiti, again to "protect American interests." The battleship was back in Boston by November. Young Edmond, now 18, spent the Christmas holidays with his family in Ossining and returned to his ship.

To everyone's surprise, within a few days he showed up in Ossining again and revealed to family members that he had been issued a passport in Washington and a French visa from the French consul in New York. He had booked passage to Le Havre on the pride of the French Line, the sleek new steamship Rochambeau, sailing from New York on January 20, 1915. "I am going to take my chances in the great war with the French," he wrote in a letter on the day he sailed. "I hardly expect to live through it but that matters little to me." He concluded with, "I was born to be a wanderer." Although members of his immediate family knew the truth and were unhappy, he did not reveal to friends that he was now officially a deserter from the U.S. Navy.

The French Foreign Legion
By an odd coincidence, a fellow passenger on the ship, wealthy 28-year-old Norman Prince, told young Edmond of his plans to enlist in the French Aviation Service and to organize a separate group of American volunteer fliers.

But Edmond Genet wanted to see action quickly, and lost no time. On February 3, 1915, he enlisted in the French Foreign Legion as a common soldat. Founded in 1831 by King Louis Philippe as a social safety valve to rid France of foreign refugees, from its earliest days the Legion was regarded as a dump for undesirables. Disreputable they may have been, but these "nationless" soldiers furthered French colonial expansion in Africa and Asia, avoiding loss of French blood.

Along the way, the Legion earned a reputation for remarkable courage and dramatic last stands. At the 1863 battle of Camerone, 65 doomed legionnaires took on 2,000 Mexican soldiers. The last five legionnaires still standing fixed bayonets and charged the massed Mexicans. To this day, April 30, Camerone Day, is the Legion's holiday.

At the start of the First World War, the quality of Legion enlistees changed drastically. Coming to the aid of France, a bewildering assortment of poets, writers, artists, students, romantic vagabonds and adventurers--foreigners all--swelled the ranks of the Legion's miscreants, misfits, thieves and men seeking redemption for past sins.

David E. Wheeler, of Buffalo, N.Y., who became one of Edmond's closest friends, was an example of the men who were volunteering for the Legion. Wheeler was a graduate of Williams College and Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons. An accomplished surgeon, he enlisted as a common soldier in the Legion. Although wounded in the leg, he carried another wounded man from the battlefield under enemy fire and earned the Croix de Guerre.

Invalided from the Legion, Wheeler later joined a Canadian regiment as battalion surgeon and returned to France, After the United States entered the war, he joined the American First Division (called "the Big Red One"--from the numeral on its insignia) and died of wounds received in combat on July 18, 1918.

Of the 90-odd American volunteers in the Foreign Legion, 38 were killed in action or died of wounds. Many of the survivors were wounded multiple times.. Eight were decorated with the cross of the Legion of Honor, 21 with the Medaille Militaire and 52 with the Croix de Guerre.

After a brief training period, Edmond's unit, one of the three "marching regiments" of the Legion, was sent to the Champagne sector of the front. In a June 1 letter to Jeanette Halstead back in Ossining, he noted that had he not left Ossining High School, he'd be graduating in the Class of 1915.

The Champagne Campaign
On September 22, 1915, French artillery pieces began a three-day softening up of German trenches. By the time the barrage ended, more than five million artillery shells had rained down on German positions. The infantry attack began at dawn on September 25, with Genet and more than 50 other American legionnaires taking part, along with Algerian colonial troops.

The Legion's objective was the heavily defended Bois Sabot, a horseshoe-shaped wooded area affording the Germans an enfilading cross-fire that mowed down attackers like stalks of wheat. The Germans had sowed the wood with 32 machine gun nests, artillery pieces, and Minenwerfer ("mine throwers"), mobile rifled mortars on detachable wheels that fired devastatingly accurate high-explosive shells.

Into the jaws of death marched the legionnaires in parade formation! As Genet later wrote to a friend, they marched "in solid columns of fours, each section a unit. It was wonderful, that slow advance; not a waver, not a break, through the storm of shell the Legion marched forward, officers in advance and the commandant at their head. It inspired us all to courage and calmness." He concluded with, "Shells were bursting everywhere. One lost his personal feelings. He simply became a unit--a machine."

When the battle was over, French forces had created a bulging salient about two and a half miles along a 15-mile front, but at tremendous cost: 80,000 men had been killed and 100,000 wounded. A million and a half French and German soldiers had battled, destroying sleepy French villages and making the landscape virtually unrecognizable in the process. On both sides more men were killed and wounded than had fought at Gettysburg.

The three Legion "marching regiments" suffered so many casualties in the carnage the survivors were only enough to make up a single marching regiment. Genet had come through the ordeal unscathed. To carry off the wounded, he and only 30 other legionnaires were left from two companies of 250 men each.

During his career as an infantryman in the French Foreign Legion, Edmond earned the praise of officers and fellow soldiers by his boyish enthusiasm and willingness to undertake the most dangerous tasks with complete disregard for his own safety. Without complaint, he withstood the abysmal conditions, the mud and the lice, and the forced marches with a 66-pound pack.

In October, Edmond Genet applied for a transfer to the French Aviation Service and passed a physical examination. He would spend six more anxious months in the Foreign Legion before he was accepted for flight training on May 29, 1916.

Escadrille Américaine
Acknowledging the contribution American volunteers could make, the Escadrille Américaine (American Squadron) went into action on April 18, 1916, with seven Americans, most of whom had served in the Foreign Legion or ambulance service, as pilots. Its French government designation was N.124--the "N" because it flew Nieuports. During the next 22 months an additional 31 Americans signed on the roster. The squadron flew its first mission on May 13, 1916. Five days later, Kiffin Rockwell scored the unit's first victory, shooting down a German two-seater observation plane. On June 23, Victor Chapman became the first American pilot to lose his life in aerial combat.

As the unit's fame spread, the German government protested the use of "Américaine" in the name since the United States was insisting that it was neutral. The name was changed to Escadrille Lafayette in December of 1916. A similar unit, called the Lafayette Flying Corps, was formed by business and professional groups to assist Americans who wanted to serve in French aviation units.

With nine volunteers in the Lafayette Escadrille, New York was well-represented. Three of these were from Westchester. Dudley Hill of Peekskill was the 12th American volunteer to join the Lafayette Escadrille. A graduate of Peekskill Military Academy, Hill dropped out of N.Y.U. in 1914 to drive an ambulance in France. A year later, he enlisted in the French Aviation Service and joined the Lafayette Escadrille on June 9, 1916. When the Escadrille was absorbed into the U.S. Air Service, Hill became the commanding officer of the 5th Pursuit Group. He died in 1951 at his home in Peekskill.

Edmond Genet of Ossining, number 20 on the unit's roster, proved to be a proficient student flier in the reliable Blériot monoplane, although he experienced two crashes, common events in a program in which the student trained and flew alone from the first day. The French training program could take an almost leisurely six months or more--a startling contrast with the British Royal Flying Corps program. In the latter, students flew with instructors in dual-control planes; the program took only six weeks. The life expectancy of a pilot could be measured in weeks or months. Weather permitting, patrols were conducted twice a day, at dawn and early in the afternoon.

Offensive patrols flew over enemy-held territory to attack hydrogen-filled observation balloons or enemy fighter planes. Here antiaircraft fire from ground batteries could be devastating. Defensive patrols repelled ground-strafing attacks by enemy fighters and protected Allied observation balloons. A command decision allowed pilots no parachutes for fear they would not fight to the bitter end. Pilots had a choice: they could ride a damaged or burning plane down--or jump to their deaths.

The Anatomy of Edmond's Melancholy
One source of solace and encouragement for Genet during his overseas service was a young woman in Ossining who exchanged letters with him. Her name was Gertrude Talmage. He called her his "darling angel."

Twenty-year-old Gertrude Talmage was the granddaughter of the Rev. Frank Dewitt Talmage, a well-known Presbyterian minister, famous for his dramatic sermons. His 6,000-seat Brooklyn Tabernacle attracted almost as many worshipers as Henry Ward Beecher's Plymouth Church. The sudden death in Pittsburgh of her father, 42-year-old Rev. Frank Dewitt Talmage, had caused her mother, the former Gertrude Barlow, to return to Ossining, where her brother ran a hardware store. Edmond and Gertrude had been exchanging letters since he first left Ossining. In August of 1916, Gertrude's letters stopped abruptly, causing him great anguish.

He earned his brevet as a pilot on September 3, 1916, and was sent to the south of France for training on the Nieuport fighter in acrobatics and advanced gunnery. Originally designed for racing, the Nieuport was a compact biplane powered by an 80- or 110-horsepower rotary engine. On a rotary engine, the propeller was bolted to the engine crankcase and everything, including the cylinders revolved around the stationery crankshaft. This arrangement could produce a surprising amount of torque in flight and cause problems for pilots unfamiliar with its characteristics. There was no carburetor. The fuel--a mixture of gasoline and castor oil--was sucked from a hollow portion of the crankshaft and fed directly into the cylinders. Rotary engines ran full throttle or not at all; the engine was cut in and out manually, making for a high-pitched intermittent buzzing.

French pilots affectionately dubbed the Nieuport, a tightly compact little plane, Bébé ("baby"). With a wingspan of only 25 feet, it could land almost anywhere. Carefully built out of handcrafted and shaped wood, its wings and fuselage were covered with fabric. Its armament was its only handicap. A drum-fed .303 caliber Lewis machine gun was fixed on the top wing so the gun's bullets could clear the whirring propeller blades. Changing drums in midair was a challenge, requiring the pilot to stand up. The Germans had an advantage: Their belt-fed Vickers guns could be fired through the blades of the turning propeller. Fighter planes had to be aimed at the object at which they were firing. On the other hand, two-seater observation planes on both sides proved to be tough opponents, thanks to the observer's free-swiveling machine gun.

As the weeks wore on, Edmond's diary entries showed an increasing level of gloom largely connected to the silence of "the girl he left behind him." He confided to his diary on October 6:"It's fully two months since I've heard from darling Gertrude. What can be the matter? Am thoroughly distracted over it by now.” The next day he wrote, "I do wish I could hear from Gertrude soon." The next day: "Feeling almighty blue and downhearted on account of not hearing from darling Gertrude for so long. Am altogether lonely for her." On the 12th, he recorded: "Terribly lonely for dear beloved Gertrude and wrote her a letter. Why doesn't a letter ever come from her? I'm sure she writes the same as I do very often."

His attitude toward life was colored by his melancholy. On November 5th, he mused, "Will I ever live through this war? The dear God only knows. What of it?" Four days later he recorded that it was his 20th birthday, although he wished it were his 18th, adding, "The years are flying fast. Much too fast."

On the off chance that his letters had not been reaching Gertrude, he sent a letter through her aunt, Mrs. J. Curry Barlow, to be forwarded to her. By the 28th of November he was "getting unbearably discouraged over not getting any letters from Darling Gertrude. What can be the reason? Has she stopped writing because she failed to get my many letters thinking I had not written at all? Would she think me that unfaithful? I sincerely hope that isn't the case. Dear, dear girl." Two weeks later he reported that he was "feeling very lonely and blue today. Don't know why but it sure is mostly because no word comes from Gertrude."

Overcome by homesickness, on Christmas Day he pined for home. "Wish I was in the U.S. with Mother this Xmas." Then he added prophetically, "tho, perhaps it's my last one."

Edmond Joins the Lafayette Escadrille
On the afternoon of January 22, 1917, Edmond Genet ferried a plane to the Escadrille's new base at St. Just, to which the unit had just moved. Weather conditions were awful, with a ceiling so low that "even the crows were walking." Suddenly the sound of a plane overhead caused the walls of the barracks to vibrate.

Huddled close to a pot-bellied stove, the American pilots wondered who could be foolish enough to fly in such vile weather. The plane landed and taxied across the field. In his 1937 history of the Lafayette Escadrille, The Great Adventure, Edwin "Ted" Parsons, another Escadrille pilot, described Edmond Genet's arrival: "The door of the mess room burst open, and on the wings of a great gust of snow-laden wind a short, muffled, fur-clad figure drifted into the room. Only the tip of a reddish, frost-bitten nose and a pair of wide appealing blue eyes showed through the woolen wrappings. Hastily the stranger unwrapped layer after layer of woolen and silk, then jerked off his helmet. Lieutenant De Laage [the Escadrille's second in command] gasped in surprise.

"The chunky little figure was topped by a thatch of short-cropped blond hair above the round, innocent, pink-cheeked face of an infant. He didn't look a day over fourteen. His peach-bloom complexion showed no traces of ever having met a razor socially. He had a snubby little nose, and there was a constant expression of pleased surprise at the wonders of the world in the wide-set blue eyes. He saluted snappily and in a high-pitched, almost girlish voice announced that he had ferried up a new Nieuport from Plessis-Belleville for the Escadrille."

Members of the unit were dismayed at the apparent youth and inexperience of the new arrival. This attitude changed quickly when they learned that he had served in the trenches with the Foreign Legion for fifteen months and had taken part in the murderous attack on the Bois Sabot.

From the moment of his arrival at the Escadrille, no pilot in the air did more or better work than little Edmond Genet. Despite the foul weather and the consequent scarcity of German planes, he seemed to have a nose for smelling them out. He had tough combats when other pilots were bemoaning their inability to even see an enemy plane. Bad weather did not discourage Genet--not after the winter he had put in the trenches.

When off-duty pilots headed to Paris to carouse and overstay their leaves, Edmond would travel with them to attend church or have dinner with friends. And he would always return punctually at the end of his leave. By February 10, 1917, he was writing home, "I am so discouraged over Gertrude and her long mysterious silence that I can scarcely write to her anymore." But write to her he did.

Death of a Friend
After nearly two months with the Escadrille, Genet lost a good friend and mentor, James R. McConnell, on March 19 while on a three-plane patrol: The third plane developed engine trouble after takeoff, so Genet and McConnell, who was suffering from back pain as a result of an accident, went on alone. In a cloudy sky near Jussy, two German planes swooped down on the unsuspecting Americans. In the melee, McConnell and Genet lost contact. Genet's opponent was a two-place machine, always a tough adversary. The German gunner shot away one of the Nieuport's upper wing supports and cut the rod that moved the left aileron, a piece of which flew off and struck Genet in the cheek.

The German plane beat a retreat in the face of Genet's doggedly persistent attack. Genet remained in the area hoping to find McConnell. Upon Genet's return to base, McConnell still had not returned, and the squadron waited in vain for word of him. Later, a cavalry patrol reported finding a downed Nieuport with the dead pilot nearby with several bullet holes in his body. German ground troops had stripped the body of all identification.

It was indeed McConnell, however, and his squadron mates buried him where he fell, without ceremony, which was what he wanted. He had left a letter to be opened after his death. It concluded: "My burial is of no import. Make it as easy as possible for yourselves. I have no religion and do not care for any service. If the omission would embarrass you, I presume I could stand the performance. Good luck to the rest of you. God damn Germany and vive la France."

Another historian of the Lafayette Escadrille, Herbert Molloy Mason Jr., recorded that "McConnell's death crushed Genet's spirit." In a letter to his mother in Ossining, Edmond wrote, "I'll get a Boche yet, or more than one, or be dropped myself, to avenge poor Mac. I've already been told I'm reckless in the air over the lines, but after this I vow I'll be more reckless than ever, come what may. Mother, my blood boils and thirsts after those accursed Huns. They're brutes and fiends and daily they grow worse."

On March 27th, he learned the reason for "darling Gertrude's" silence. His mother enclosed a letter from Mrs. Barlow, Gertrude's aunt, saying that "Gertrude is very much in love and engaged to some fellow from Vermont."

On that date Edmond wrote in his diary, "Mrs. Barlow has forwarded all my letters to Gertrude. It seems that Gerty could have at least written to me about her engagement and not have kept me utterly miserable with no news from or about her at all. I am finished now with writing any more to Gertrude, I'm feeling about as miserable and forlorn as anyone could feel over such news, What's the use of being true to one girl when she is so far away? It won't make much difference after all, tho. I don't expect to live thru to the end of this war."

He poured his heart out to his "Dear Little Mother" in a letter the same day. "I don't know why I've been hoping for cheerful news of the one girl I've always set my heart on and to whom I've tried to be genuinely true these past four or five years when it has seemed inevitable for months now that there was no hope.

"The simple truth is unbearable; can you halfway imagine what it means to me to hate to realize that she has been receiving my letters all these months and has just permitted me to keep on without telling me directly and instantly of her engagement?"

Thomas Hewitt, who became the 28th Escadrille pilot, listed his address only as Westchester, New York. Hewitt arrived at the Escadrille on March 30, 1917, with William Dugan, who had served with Genet in the Foreign Legion, and another pilot. Genet had come to know the importance of reliable comrades on patrol. He was not given to gossip or snide remarks about anyone, but he noted in his diary that two were "good fellows" but Hewitt was "questionable."

A proficient pilot, Hewitt turned out to lack nerve and to be accident-prone. Washed out of the Escadrille, he returned to the United States and served as a private in the Coast Artillery Corps at a fort in Long Island Sound. After earning a law degree, he engaged in several questionable business ventures. Alcoholism got the better of him, and he died in 1936 in a shabby Washington, D.C., rooming house.

On April 4, false rumors spread that the United States had entered the war. (The actual declaration of war by Congress came on April 6.) Emond confided to his diary, "I'm mighty glad I'm one of the few Americans who are already over here fighting tho I did desert my country's service to be here." Then he recorded his mood: "I feel sure something is going to happen to me very soon. It doesn't seem any less than Death itself." A death wish? A premonition? A hint of an impending suicide? We'll never know--but thirteen days later Edmond Charles Clinton Genet would be dead.

Death Comes for Edmond
Edmond's diary stops abruptly with the entry for "Sunday, April 15, 1916, the 986th day of the war." After describing the patrol he participated in that morning, because the weather turned too rainy for flying, he told of walking to church in town and visiting a cemetery "where a lot of German and French soldiers are buried." The entry concludes with, "Have to go out on patrol at 5:30 tomorrow morning so am turning in early."

The next morning, April 16, was a Monday, considered to be an unlucky day by Escadrille pilots. Norman Prince, Edmond's acquaintance from the Rochambeau and Jim McConnell had both been killed on a Monday.

Edmond flew into German territory with Walter Lovell and Thomas Hewitt on a patrol that lasted 75 minutes. His flight log noted that his stomach was upset from the evasive actions he took to avoid German antiaircraft fire. After a nap back at the base, he took off again at 2:30 p.m. with Raoul Lufbery, the Escadrille's ace from Wallingford, Conn. Lufbery watched as German antiaircraft fire bracketed Genet's plane. Edmond banked the craft as if headed for home. Lufbery then lost sight of him in the clouds. Unworried now about Genet, he turned for a leisurely flight back to base only to discover that Genet had never returned.

French infantrymen later reported that Genet's plane had gone into a violent tailspin at 4,000 feet with the engine at full throttle. In the downward plunge, a wing tore off and the plane buried itself in the road within French lines. Apparently, Genet had been wounded by shrapnel from the antiaircraft shells and had lost consciousness at the controls. Ted Parsons later wrote, "He had dug a hole five feet deep in the hard-packed road. The tank was a flat piece of metal, the wheels were ribbons, and there wasn't a piece of wing or framework bigger than a match. Every bone in his body was broken and his features were completely gone." When Genet's remains were prepared for burial, soldiers found that he had wrapped an American flag around his body.

The death of "Smiler," as he was called, cast a pall over the squadron, for his fellow pilots had come to love and respect the idealistic Edmond. At his funeral, Captain Thenault paid a touching tribute to the young pilot. In his own history of the Escadrille, Captain Thenault later described him as "one of our best pilots, the type of man who always had to be restrained rather than encouraged. "My dear friend, farewell. Respectfully, I salute your memory which we shall cherish, and before the grave of the first soldier fallen for the two flags--the Stars and Stripes and the Tricolor--in the Great War, we say thanks to America for having given to the fight sons such as thou. Farewell."

The Aftermath
On February 18, 1918 the Lafayette Escadrille's planes and most of its pilots were taken over by the United States Army. Members of the Army’s 103rd Aero Squadron replaced French ground personnel.

During its 22 months of existence, the Lafayette Escadrille served on nearly every battlefront in France. Its 38 American pilots downed 35 enemy planes, at a cost of eight American fliers. In addition to the 35 victories, they scored another 27 while serving with other French squadrons or with the U.S. Air Service. More important, Escadrille volunteers provided a pool of experienced combat pilots for the fledgling U.S. Air Service.

In November of 1919, a year after the Armistice ended World War I, an official-looking letter about Edmond arrived at the Ossining home of Edmond's mother at 164 Spring Street. It was from Josephus Daniels, former North Carolina newspaper editor and Secretary of the Navy since 1913. "Failing as a youth to appreciate fully the meaning of his enlistment oath," the letter said, "he went to the assistance of stricken France and offered his services to her in her hour of need. Many young Americans at this time were answering the call of freedom and going to serve in the ranks of those forces overseas, which were stubbornly, and valiantly opposing the onrush of the German armies.

"My conscience prompts me to regard his service with the French forces as equivalent to a continued service with his own country, I am disposed for the moment, in contemplating this boy's glorious record, to forget his youthful error in deserting the United States Navy.

"Edmond Charles Clinton Genet may properly be considered as having honorably terminated an enlistment with an ally, since he died on the field of battle. I, myself, am honored in having the privilege of deciding that the record of Edmond Genet, ordinary seaman, United States Navy, shall be considered in every respect as an honorable one."

In a suburb of Paris at Villeneuve l'Etang is an imposing marble monument dedicated on July 4, 1928. It honors the dead American fliers who served in the French Aviation Service. Marble crypts contain the remains of 49 of the 65 American aviators who died in the First World War. Edmond Genet is among them.

Fickle Gertrude Talmage married Roy Minich, her theologian boyfriend. She had a lifetime to reflect on her cruel and immature treatment of Edmond, a lonely flier far from home. She died at Malden, Mass., in 1983 at the age of 88.

Edmond's letters to his mother and friends were collected and published in 1918 by Charles Scribner's Sons as the War Letters of Edmond Genet. Edited by author and poet Grace Ellery Channing, it had a touching foreword by essayist John Jay Chapman, a descendant of Westchester's John Jay. Chapman well knew the pain of losing a child; his son Victor had been the first Lafayette Escadrille pilot to be shot down. The whereabouts of the original letters making up this collection are unknown.

Edmond's diary and flight log are with his nephew, G. Patton Genet, of Marion, N.C., the son of Gilbert Rodman Fox Genet. They were published in 1981 by the University Press of Virginia as An American for Lafayette: The Diaries of E.C.C. Genet, Lafayette Escadrille.

Albert Rivers Genet Jr., oldest brother of Edmond Genet, served as an ensign in the New York Naval Militia and in the U.S. Navy during the First World War. In 1919, at Ossining's Trinity Church he married Molly Beecher, who had attended Miss Fuller's School in Ossining. Remaining in the Naval Reserve, he attained the rank of Lieutenant Commander. He died of tuberculosis in 1922 at the age of 33, at Saranac Lake, N.Y., where he had gone for treatment of the disease, and is buried in Ossining’s Sparta Cemetery.

Edmond Genet's "Dear Little Mother," Martha Rodman Fox Genet, lived on in Ossining until she died in 1931 at the age of 72. Her funeral was held in St. Mary's Church in Scarborough. She was survived by her one remaining son, Rodman Genet, of Clearwater, Florida, a daughter-in-law, Mrs. Albert Rivers Jr., (the former Molly Beecher) of Tarrytown, and three grandchildren. Edmond's mother is buried beside her husband in Sparta Cemetery.

Edmond's next older brother, Gilbert Rodman Fox Genet served with the 2nd Regiment of the South Carolina Infantry on the Mexican border in 1916 and with the U.S. Army during the First World War. He married Mary Pemberton Patton on October 28, 1917, at St. Matthew's Church, Darlington, S.C. He died in Clearwater, Florida, in 1946.

Albert Rivers Genet's daughter, Nancy Fuller Genet, died in 1977 at the age of 58; In her will, she requested that "my remains be cremated and my ashes placed in a small container at my father's grave in the Genet burial plot in the Revolutionary (i.e., Sparta) Cemetery at Scarborough, N.Y., with a small flat stone marker containing name and dates." Regrettably, there is no evidence her wishes were carried out. Albert Rivers Genet's wife, who never remarried, died in 1983 at the age of 85. She, too, asked that her remains be cremated, but specified no disposition of them.

Despite Edmond's sacrifice and the Genet family's close association with Ossining, no park or street has been named for him. No tablet memorializes his birth or his childhood and youth spent in the village. Even Peekskill has a plaque on a boulder in Depew Park honoring Edmond Genet's selfless sacrifice.

Ossining has an active historical society and museum displaying a few Edmond Genet memorabilia. The local V.F.W. Post 1041 perpetuates his name. After 92 years, the time is right for his hometown to remember its local hero in a tangible way. Intense, patriotic and dedicated, Edmond was the first American to die after the United States declared war on Germany.

It is given to only a few to choose the manner or the circumstances of their dying. Seeking no recompense, praise nor gain, Edmond Charles Clinton Genet chose a short, glorious life and, in the words of poet and fellow Foreign Legionnaire Alan Seeger, "that rare privilege of dying well." When trouble threatened, he bravely headed for the sound of the guns.



1. Sgt. Victor E. Chapman New York, N.Y. 04/18/16-06/23/16 KIA
2. S/Lt. Norman Prince Prides Crossing, Mass. 04/18/16-10/15/16 KLD
3. Sgt. James R. McConnell Carthage, N.C. 04/18/16-03/19/17 KIA
4. S/Lt. Kiffin Y. Rockwell Asheville, N.C. 04/18/16-09/23/16 KIA
5. Sgt. Ronald W. Hoskier South Orange, N.J. 12/11/16-04/23/17 KIA
6. Sgt. Edmond C.C. Genet Ossining, N.Y. 01/19/17-04/16/17 KIA
7. Sgt. Andrew C. Campbell Jr. Chicago, Ill. 04/15/17-10/01/17 KIA
8. Sgt. Douglas MacMonagle San Francisco, Cal. 06/16/17-09/24/17 KIA

KIA = Killed In Action
KLD = Killed in Line of Duty

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Rediscovering Henry Hudson's Half Moon


In the National Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian we can marvel at the tiny spacecraft in which astronauts rocketed into space a scant 47 years ago. Sailing the Hudson and neighboring waters today is the 17th-century equivalent of a modern space capsule: a full-size replica of Henry Hudson's most famous ship, the Halve Maen (Half Moon).

Four centuries ago, a small band of Argonauts set forth in the original of this vessel to search for a passage to the fabulously rich Indies. Compared to the amenities of modern-day astronauts, conditions aboard such ships were abominable. Space was cramped and offered no privacy. Watches were long, and the manual labor was heavy, always in perpetually wet clothes infested with lice. Once out of port, sailors endured a diet of cold salted meat and fish, no vegetables or fruit, and moldy biscuits or hardtack, enlivened by stale beer. Typhus, scurvy and dysentery were common afflictions. A sailor's life was short and brutish.

A Golden Age
This was the golden age of exploration, an era of ship captains for hire. Columbus, an Italian, sailed for the Spanish crown; John Cabot, originally Giovanni Caboto, by birth a Genoese and by adoption a Venetian, sailed for the English; Giovanni da Verrazzano, a Florentine navigator, sailed for French King Francis I; Esteban Gomez was a Portuguese pilot in the service of Spain. In 1524, Verrazzano discovered what is now New York Harbor, where a great bridge would be named for him--but he did not sail into the river.

It is not these early explorations that concern us here; rather, it is the replica of the Half Moon now plying these waters during the celebration of the 400th anniversary of Hudson’s discovery of the river that bears his name. First, some statistics: the length of her hull is 84.5 feet; her length on deck is only 65 feet. Her beam is 17.3 feet, and the depth of her hold is a mere eight feet.

The Half Moon’s Specifications
The ship assigned to Hudson by the Dutch East India Company was small by 17th-century standards. Built in a Dutch shipyard of German and Danish lumber with a high forecastle and sterncastle, she resembled the so-called Vlie boats the Dutch used on the Zuider Zee. England and the Netherlands were then fierce commercial rivals. The Dutch had a fleet of 1,680 ships, vastly outnumbering the 350 available to the English.

Being lighter and narrower, with their frames spaced much wider apart and using lighter planking topside, Dutch ships were faster than their English competitors, which had tightly spaced frames. Unlike English shipbuilders, the Dutch built their oceangoing vessels with flat bottoms to negotiate the shallow entrance to the Zuider Zee.

Because the original Half Moon was built using a simple geometric method called the tangent arc system, no comprehensive plans have survived. Even in the 17th century, industrial espionage was common; this may also explain why no plans have ever been found.

Although the Half Moon has a large amount of sheer (the upward curve of the longitudinal lines of the hull), the decks remain surprisingly level. Today, boats are built with decks following the sweep of the sheer. A horizontal deck offered many advantages: on warships with gunports in a line, cannons on wheeled carriages could easily be served and moved. Level decks also could be flooded when needed, lowering the risk of fire and explosion.

The rig and sail plan of the Half Moon are typical of square-rigged ships of the period: a square foresail and topsail on the foremast and foretopmast; a square mainsail and topsail on the mainmast and main topmast; a triangular lateen sail hung on a long yard attached at an angle to the top of the mizzenmast. A square spritsail hanging from the bowsprit. In all, the sail area measured about 2,800 square feet.

Today’s gaily decorated Half Moon is a faithful replica of the ship in which English sea captain Henry Hudson and a mixed crew of sixteen English and Dutch seamen set sail and departed from Amsterdam on March 25, 1609.

Hudson’s Mission
In his pocket was a copy of a contract with the Dutch East India Company in which he agreed to search for a northeast route to the Indies through the forbidding Arctic Ocean. Hudson had already made such a search unsuccessfully in the service of the English Company of Adventurers, also known as the Muscovy Company. This may explain why his cabin also held charts and papers relating to the undiscovered Northwest Passage.

Regrettably, we know the names of only two of the crew who accompanied him on this voyage of discovery, and these almost by accident: Robert Juet and Samuel Colman, two English seamen. Hudson's log books have long since disappeared, so the only complete record is the journal kept by Juet, a mate on the Half Moon. Colman would later be mortally wounded by a native arrow and buried on a sandy spit, named by Hudson Colman's Point. We know it today as Sandy Hook.

True to the terms of his contract, Hudson headed north and then east, but severe weather soon caused unrest among his crew. Instead of returning to Amsterdam, Hudson navigated his little vessel west across the Atlantic to search for the elusive Northwest Passage.

Hudson reached the mouth of our river on September 3, 1609, after first scouring the coastline from Nova Scotia to Cape Hatteras for the elusive Northwest Passage. He spent 32 days exploring the river that would later bear his name, and began his homeward voyage on October 4, 1609. To satisfy the English members of his crew, he put in at the port of Dartmouth in England on November 7, 1609. English authorities seized his vessel and forbade him to leave the country or to do any further exploration for the Dutch.

The Half Moon and Hudson's logbooks were returned to the Dutch in 1610. She sailed for India the following year, and her fate is unknown. She may have been destroyed by English privateers in 1618.

Not the First Replica
Interestingly, today’s Half Moon is not the first replica. In 1909, the Dutch constructed a copy of the ship for the Hudson-Fulton Celebration to be held in New York Harbor. The event was planned to honor both Henry Hudson and American inventor Robert Fulton, the first to propel a boat using steam power. In 1807, Fulton's Clermont made the 140-mile trip between New York and Albany in the remarkable time of 32 hours.

When the Dutch tried to replicate the Half Moon, however, they discovered that no plans were available. This led them to construct a copy that was similar to the original, but was smaller and erred in some details. It turned out to be an ill-fated ship.

Instead of sailing across the Atlantic as Hudson had done, the second Half Moon arrived ignominiously in New York as deck cargo aboard a Holland-America Line freighter Soestdijk. During the celebration, she collided with the replica of Fulton's Clermont and part of her bowsprit was torn off. Enterprising crewmen took advantage of this accident and carved pieces of the broken bowsprit into miniature souvenir models of the Half Moon.At the conclusion of the Hudson-Fulton Celebration, the Half Moon was towed to Palisades Interstate Park and moored in Popolopen Creek as a tourist attraction. It was an appropriate berth: Hudson himself had anchored here in 1609.

In the spring of 1924, she was moved upriver again, this time to Cohoes, seven miles north of Albany. By coincidence, this marked the point on the river at which Hudson had abandoned his search for the Northwest Passage.

Hauled out of the water by Cohoes city fathers, the little ship was moved to what was to become her final resting place in East Side Park. With few visitors, the forlorn, poorly maintained hulk eventually became a shelter for vagrants and partying teenagers. Fires were a frequent problem, and on July 22, 1934, the second Half Moon was destroyed in a conflagration.

Today’s Half Moon
Fast forward now some fifty-four years to 1988, when plans were being made for a New Netherland Festival to commemorate Dutch contributions to America. The organizer of this event was Dr. Andrew A. Hendricks, a physician of Dutch descent, from Lumberton, N.C.
Dr. Hendricks consulted Dutch and American shipbuilders and decided to hire Nicholas S. Benton, of Newport, R.I., to design and build a third Half Moon. Naval historian Donald S. Johnson, of Perry, Maine, served as a consultant.

Benton, a master ship rigger and shipwright, was president of the Rigging Gang of Middleton, R.I., which specialized in ship restoration. Benton visited maritime museums in the Netherlands and the U.S. to study ship design of the period.

With additional research available that had not been known in the building of the 1909 replica and dissatisfied with that vessel's design, Benton decided to go back to square one and use the original tangent arc method. Once plans were completed, various contractors were hired to furnish materials. Oak was chosen for the keel, frames, lower planking and wales; upper planking, ceilings and decks were to be of pine and fir.

Mitchell S. FitzGibbon, of Westfield, N.Y., forged the ironwork. Ernie Cowan Enterprises, of Mayville, N.Y., cut and milled the wood. Certain concessions were made to innovative new technology to extend the life of the ship and cut costs. Instead of using large individual timbers, oak planks were laminated and bonded with waterproof epoxy resin. The result was not only an infinitely stronger hull, but also one less likely to be affected by dry rot.

On the original Half Moon, the sails had been made of flax. For the 1989 replica, Dave Bierig Sailmakers, of Erie, Penn., fashioned the sails from Duradon. Manufactured in Scotland, this synthetic fabric looks and handles like canvas but is softer and easier to furl. The rigging--woven from hemp on the original--is now a composite of polyester around stainless steel wire to reduce stretch, and treated with a net dip.

The keel for the third Half Moon was laid on July 23, 1988, in Albany, N.Y. She was launched on the Hudson River on June 10, 1989. Completion and fitting out of the ship was set back by Benton’s untimely death at age 35 on June 19, 1989, when the mast of a schooner he was dismantling snapped and he fell 75 feet. Benton had carried many of the plans for the ship and its rigging in his head.

For the past twenty years, the Half Moon has sailed the Hudson and neighboring East Coast waters and rivers as a traveling museum offering educational programs about the history of the Dutch colony of New Netherland. The ship itself is a living history exhibit. Cabins and decks furnished authentically with sea chests, weapons, tools, navigational instruments, and trade goods that take visitors back to an age when intrepid European explorers opened new routes to trade with the East. For the first three weeks of August, the Half Moon is scheduled to remain at Peckham Materials in Athens, N.Y., for standard maintenance before resuming Hudson River cruising under Capt. William T. "Chip" Reynolds. In November, the ship will sail to its winter berth at Verplanck, N.Y.

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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Far From Home: The Lenape Indians' Trail of Tears


On May 11, 1647, 55-year-old Petrus Stuyvesant stomped ashore at New Amsterdam on a wooden leg decorated with incised bands of silver. Only three years before, while attacking the Spanish-held Caribbean island of St. Martin, he had lost his right leg to a cannonball. Adriaen Van der Donck, a young lawyer and witness to his arrival, described him as “Peacock like, with great state and pomposity.”

The Princess Amelia, the ship on which the hot-tempered new governor of New Netherland arrived, would later return to the Netherlands carrying Willem Kieft, the man Stuyvesant was replacing. Wrecked off the Welsh coast, she carried the unpopular Kieft to his death.

Large areas of the colony Stuyvesant had inherited had already been carved from the original Dutch lands—Connecticut and New Haven. As one of his first actions following the creation of a municipal charter for New Amsterdam in 1653, Stuyvesant would endorse the decision “to surround the greater part of the City with a high stockade and a small breastwork.”

Along the northern edge of the settlement, a palisade consisting of stout oak logs 12 feet long, six inches in diameter and “sharpened at the upper end” were sunk three feet into the ground. This ambitious structure would give the name to Wall Street. Contrary to popular belief, it was erected not to defend against Indians, but against the English threat from New England.

New Amsterdam, capital of New Netherland, was a mess. Stuyvesant later reported to the directors of the Dutch West India Company that Kieft's "land-destroying and people-expelling wars with the cruel barbarians" had ruined the colony. Settlers abandoned farms on the frontier, entire villages were destroyed and many colonists gave up and headed elsewhere. Some 700 people, afraid to return to outlying homes, huddled in makeshift dwellings near the settlement’s fort.

The Dutch West India Company was under the impression that the bitter enmity caused by Governor Kieft's ruthless killing of Indians had been calmed with the treaty signed at Teller's Point (Croton Point) in 1645. They couldn't have been more mistaken. Sporadic Indian attacks continued. Stuyvesant, under orders not to provoke another devastating war, tried to placate the Indians.

The Peach War
On September 15, 1655, a fleet of 64 canoes landed at New Amsterdam and about 500 armed Indians attacked the settlement. They broke down doors, smashed furniture, ransacked homes and threatened the terrified occupants. Finding barrels of beer and brandy, they drank themselves into a stupor. Stuyvesant and his entire army were absent. They had sailed down the Jersey coast, rounded Cape May to attack Swedish forts along the Delaware River. Established along the lower Delaware by former Dutch West India Company director Peter Minuit in 1638, colonies of Swedes and Finns were diverting the local fur trade away from the Dutch.

This was the first act of Indian retaliation in what would be known as the Peach War. A prominent citizen and former West India Company soldier, Hendrick van Dyck, had caught an Indian woman stealing peaches from his orchard and had shot her.

Before the Peach War was over, Dutch settlements at Pavonia (Jersey City) and Staten Island were laid waste. Indians murdered fifty colonists and carried off into captivity more than a hundred more, mostly women and children. Twenty-five farms were burned, and 600 head of cattle and 12,000 bushels of grain were destroyed. Too weak to take military action, the Dutch paid ransom to the Indians for the captives. The Peach War dragged on inconclusively until 1657, with the ransoming of the last of the Dutch prisoners.

The Esopus Wars
When Dutch settlements expanded north of the Hudson Highlands, a series of bloody conflicts erupted between them and a Delaware tribe, the Esopus. These clashes became known as the Esopus Wars. Thanks to treaties they had made with the Dutch, most of the Indians of Westchester managed to avoid becoming involved. To lessen the risk of the Westchester Indians being drawn into the conflict, in the summer of 1663, Stuyvesant moved the Wiechquaeskeck, Kitchawanck, Sint Sinck and Keskistkonck tribes to the northern end of Manhattan Island near Spuyten Duyvil.

The British Take Over
In May of 1664, a treaty finally ended the Esopus Wars, leaving the Dutch exhausted once again. British King Charles II, recognizing island of Manhattan was the key to the Hudson River and the untapped fur trade of the west, made a gift of the vast stretch of land between Maine and Delaware to his brother, James, the Duke of York, who would later rule as James II. Less than four months later, New Netherland easily fell to an English squadron of four gunships and 450 men commanded by Colonel Richard Nicolls. With a fort that was weak, few men and supplies, and a populace on the brink of rebellion over the shortsighted policies of the Dutch West India Company, Stuyvesant had no choice but to surrender.

The English moved quickly to set up an alliance with the Iroquois. Called the Covenant Chain, its purpose was to use the fierce Indian tribe as a buffer, protecting the newly named colony of New York from the French in Canada.

By the early decades of the 18th century, most of the remaining Indian lands in the Hudson Valley had been sold to the English. The Hudson Valley had long since been trapped out. Lenapes of the lower Hudson Valley were forced to travel as far as the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes in search of pelts. Many returned empty-handed from such expeditions. Some never returned, having been killed by Mohawk, Seneca, Mohican or Susquehannock Indians who resented intrusions into their fur-rich lands.

This may be a good place to stop this account to clarify Indian names. The Mahican and Mohegan tribes are frequently confused. The names refer to two very distinct Algonquian tribes in two different and widely separated locations. Mahicans inhabited the upper Hudson Valley in New York, and Mohegans lived in the Thames River Valley in eastern Connecticut.

Popular novelist James Fenimore Cooper, who wrote The Last of the Mohicans in 1826, was partly responsible for the mix-up. Cooper lived in Cooperstown, New York, and the setting of his story was the upper Hudson Valley. He could only have been writing about the Mahicans of that area. Unfortunately, "Mohican," the spelling variation of the Mahican tribal name chosen by Cooper, and his use of Uncas--the name of an important Mohegan sachem in Connecticut--only added to the confusion.

The Mahican homeland was on both sides of the upper Hudson River, from the Catskill Mountains north to Lake Champlain. On the other hand, Uncas and the Mohegans occupied the upper portion of the Thames River valley in Connecticut, which empties into Long Island Sound at New London. The Pequots, a closely associated tribe, lived nearer the coast. Despite the presence of a hamlet named Mohegan Lake in Westchester County, there were no Mohegans in Westchester nor anywhere near it.

No conspiracy existed among colonial governments to obliterate Indians or their culture. Acquisition of Indian lands had been driven by the oldest of motives: greed. Facing chronic problems resulting from friction between Indians and a growing, expanding population of newcomers, colonial leaders decided that civilizing the natives was the only practical solution. They would encourage them to settle down as farmers.

New Jersey established the first Indian reservation on the North American continent. In 1758, the colony purchased 3,044 acres of land for a reservation called Brotherton at the present village of Indian Mills in Burlington County. The following year, about a hundred Indians, mainly Lenapes, moved to the reservation.

Waiting for them were comfortable homes, a log meeting house, general store and gristmill. Although they accepted the fruits of European technology, the Indians clung desperately to their native lifestyles. Confining Indians to small tracts of land conflicted with their concept of freedom and mobility. Indian men considered it demeaning to become farmers. Indian women traditionally cultivated the fields, while the men hunted and fished. The Indian population on the Brotherton Reservation dwindled.

The Exodus Begins
For many Indians in the Hudson Valley, the solution to settler encroachment was to move west to unspoiled forests rich in game and to land that had not been disturbed by the plow. The Susquehanna and Ohio River valleys beckoned. Here it was almost like old times again--but not for long. Colonial America was expanding. No matter where the Indians moved, it was only a matter of time before white settlers would begin to pour in.

Delawares who moved to Pennsylvania and later to Ohio found that German-speaking pastors of the Moravian Church had established mission houses for them. The Indians found haven in Moravian missions and were converted to Christianity. Housed in log cabins, Indian converts ate well, and learned agriculture and other useful skills. They were encouraged to abandon their primitive way of life and live in peace and harmony.

Ignoring the westward movement and reversing direction, a large group traveled east. They converged on a new mission settlement for displaced Oneida Indians at Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Some Mahicans who remained behind in New York also became Christians and were baptized, taking biblical names like Aaron, Jacob, John and Joseph while retaining Indian last names.

During the Revolutionary War, Stockbridge Indians enlisted in the Continental Army. They hoped a new government--if it should become a reality--would look more favorably on Indian problems. On August 31, 1778, American troops were posted near the present northern boundary of New York City. With them was a company of 40 or 50 Stockbridge Indians under their chief, Daniel Nimham. The Indians were south of what is now McLean Avenue, the Americans north of it.

While the Stockbridge Indians attacked a British force advancing from the east, a second British force struck the Indians from the south. Before they could reload their muskets, a third column, mounted dragoons under infamous Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton descended on them. Pursued by the British, the Indians retreated into an open field at the northeast corner of today's Van Cortlandt Park.

Outnumbered and lacking bayonets, the Indians mounted a valiant but doomed defense. A bronze plaque erected by the Bronx Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution marks the site and memorializes Chief Nimham and 17 Stockbridge Indians, noting that they "gave their lives for liberty." The exact number of killed and wounded may never be known.

Migration to Canada
Other Indians, notably the Iroquois and their dependent tribes, including some Delawares, fought on the side of the British during the Revolution. To punish them, the new American government confiscated their lands. Because the British owed a debt to their former Indian allies, the Canadian government set aside land for them in Ontario along the Grand River. Known as the Six Nations Reserve, this reservation is today and is home to Mohawks and other tribes, including some who identify themselves as Delawares. Nearby are two smaller Canadian reservations that include Delawares among their populations. One is called Moraviantown, and the other is at a hamlet called Muncy Town.

Reconstructing the movements of Delaware bands is not easy. Famine, disease and alcoholism took their toll, and bands went out of existence. Some Lenapes quietly moved to Seneca villages along the Allegheny and Genesee rivers of western New York, where traces of them can be found to this day. Others headed to New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Homesick for their former lands, from time to time Indians would return to the Hudson Valley to visit ancestral gravesites or even to die. Strangers now in a changed land, they would trade furs they had trapped in their new homeland, or peddle homemade baskets and brooms from door to door.

The Stockbridge Indians remained in Massachusetts until 1788, when they joined Oneida Indians in central New York at a town they named New Stockbridge. Other Indians arrived, including Delawares from the Brotherton Reservation in New Jersey. Now calling themselves Munsees, from the name of their dialect, they traveled farther west again with their Oneida hosts to Indiana, and on to Wisconsin in 1822. Although the Munsees had remained only briefly along the White River in Indiana, their stay is recalled in the name of the present city of Muncie.

Moving Farther West
On the eastern shore of Wisconsin's Lake Winnebago they established a town they again named New Stockbridge. In 1856, refusing a government offer of land even farther away in Minnesota, the Stockbridge band moved again to a home on 40,000-acre reservation purchased by the government from an Algonquian tribe, the Menominee Indians, near Bowler, Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin tribal group now call themselves the Stockbridge Munsees and operates a comprehensive health care center, a residential facility, and a family recreation and fitness center. For tribal parents who work, it offers children's day-care services. Their secret? A highly successful gambling casino on the reservation pays for these.

Other Delawares found their way to Kansas and from there to the Indian Territory, which woild become the present state of Oklahoma in 1907. The tribe now numbers about 10,00 members and makes its headquarters at Bartlesville, Oklahoma. A small group of separately organized Delawares (called "the Absentees") are located in Anadarko, Oklahoma, on lands they jointly control with the Wichita and Caddo tribes. Interestingly, there are no Indian reservations in Oklahoma.

The story of our treatment of Indians over the years is a sad chronicle. Four hundred years after Europeans first strong-armed their way into their homeland, American Indians as a whole remain economically the poorest, the least employed, the unhealthiest, the lowest in education and income level, and the worst housed ethnic group in America. For our disgraceful treatment of these proud people, we should all be ashamed.

The Delaware Indian Research Center
Readers interested in learning more about the Delawares, or Lenapes, should visit a valuable local resource and repository of information, the Delaware Indian Research Center at the Trailside Nature Museum in the Ward Pound Ridge Reservation. A large library of books, tapes and photographs, as well as a collection of local Delaware artifacts is available here for viewing and study. The museum is maintained by Westchester County's Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation (Tel.: 914/864-7322). The entrance to the park, Westchester's largest, is near the intersection of Routes 35 and 121 in Cross River.

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