Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Statue of John Harvard

John Harvard Statue
Harvard Yard
Cambridge, Mass.

In any guided tour of historic Harvard Yard in Cambridge, Massachusetts one of the obligatory stops is the statue of John Harvard. This life-size bronze statue portrays a seated man dressed in a Puritan style of the early 17th century. Inscribed on the large pedestal supporting the statue is "John Harvard - Founder - 1638." The inscription is barely legible - perhaps purposely not repaired.

The tour guide will most assuredly point out - usually with glee - that this statue is commonly referred to as the "statue of the three lies". The first lie is John Harvard wasn't the founder of Harvard College. The college was already in existence when he died in Charlestown, Mass. in 1638, leaving the college his library and a sum of money. The second lie is the incorrect founding date - Harvard College was founded by the Massachusetts Great and General Court in 1636. The final lie is not so obvious. As no likeness of John Harvard existed the sculptor, Daniel Chester French, simply used a Harvard student as his model. The statue bears no resemblance to the real John Harvard.

One other thing of note about John Harvard's statue. It is considered good luck to touch his left foot, so over the years that foot has assumed a shine that the rest of the statue lacks. You can draw your own conclusions about what this might say about Harvard - but it does lead me to one definite conclusion. When researching history you can't always believe what you read, even in Harvard Yard.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

A short history of Fort Ticonderoga

Fort Ticonderoga
Ticonderoga, N.Y.

Situated on a peninsula overlooking Lake Champlain, Fort Ticonderoga was built by the French during the French and Indian War (also called the Seven Year's War) to prevent the advancement of British forces from the south into French Canada. Fort Carillon, as it was originally named, can only hold about 400 soldiers within its walls, a not very sizable garrison. But in spite of its small size the Fort was supplied with a respectable amount of artillery pieces by both the French and the British - which was to prove very important to a later generation in another war.

The first attempt in July of 1758 to subdue Fort Carillon by the British ended in failure. A 16,000-man force, made-up of British Regulars and Colonial Militia and led by Major-General Ambercromby, greatly outnumbered the defending French forces. But what was lacking was an artillery train. Ambercromby had decided that speed was of the essence in his overland approach to the Fort and had left his cannon behind.

What he found upon arrival was that the French had been very busy fortifying the lower part of the peninsula with a system of trenches, earthworks and fallen timber. This was sufficient, along with a vigorous defense, to keep Fort Carillon in the hands of the French. The British forces sustained very heavy casualties, with most notably the Highland Regiment (the Black Watch) bearing the brunt of the attacks and the losses. Ironically in the following year, under a different General, Fort Carillon was captured after a brief four day siege. The damaged Fort was rebuilt and given its present Indian name - Fort Ticonderoga, the place between two waters.

Early on May 10, 1775, Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys, along with co-commander Benedict Arnold, arrived at Fort Ticonderoga to attempt its capture yet again. The importance of the Fort now was not just its strategic location, but what was alluded to previously - its cannon and munitions. The American rebels were reacting to the events of Lexington and Concord in the previous month and were hoping to strike a further blow at King George the III.

Awakening the commander of the small, sleeping garrison Ethan Allen demanded the fort's surrender, "In the Name of the great Jehovah and the Continental Congress".* Allen accepted his sword and stepped into his place in history and legend. It was left to Colonel Henry Knox, of the Continental Army, to remove and transport Ticonderoga's artillery to Cambridge, Massachusetts to end the siege of Boston. But that is, as the saying goes, another story.

* This is likely more legend than fact.