Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Tuesday Night at the American Revolution Round Table of Bergen County, NJ

Last night I gave a talk on Philip Vickers Fithian and The Way of Improvement Leads Home to the members of the American Revolution Round Table of Bergen County.  The Way of Improvement Leads Home was published by the University of Pennsylvania Press six years ago, but I continue to be gratified by students who are still reading it, professors who are still assigning it, and groups like the Round Table who continue to be interested in Fithian's amazing story.

It was a very good turnout at the Iron Horse Restaurant in Westwood.  The buffet was amazing (American Revolution Round Tablers have big appetites and know how to fill a plate with food) and the audience was very knowledgeable about the Revolution in New Jersey.  

Most round tables of this type tend to gravitate toward military history, so I am always a bit on edge about how a talk on the social, political, or intellectual history of the American Revolution might play among the attendees.  Last night I used Fithian's story as a window into three dimensions of the American Revolution that are often neglected by the military history buffs who come to Round Tables.  First, I discussed the way the Revolution provided new opportunities for local farm children like Fithian.  Second, I showed the way ordinary farmers in the hinterlands connected with the revolutionary spirit of the age.  Third, I talked about John Witherspoon, Princeton, and the role that Presbyterianism played in the Revolution in New Jersey. (Fithian was a 1772 graduate of Princeton)

I ended my lecture a bit earlier than usual in order to leave plenty of time for questions.  Our discussion went several different ways.  We talked about the ways that the College of New Jersey and Queens College (Rutgers) responded to the American Revolution.  We debated the usefulness of progressive histories of the Revolution written by Ray Raphael, Howard Zinn, and Gary Nash.  And we discussed whether or not Fithian had anything to say on the matter of religious freedom.  It was a good conversation.  I am also thankful to Rich Rosenthal, the organizer of the American Revolution Round Table of Morristown, for plugging my book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?.  

Thanks to Dave Whieldon for the invitation.