Rare Book Monthly
Book Catalogue Reviews - October - 2003 Issue
Remembering the Revolution
A review by Bruce McKinney
“It cannot but be interesting and profitable to contrast the present condition of this country, with what it was in its early settlement, when our forefathers had to encounter so many difficulties and toils and trials and privations. Now we are seated by our firesides in the enjoyment not only of the necessities, but of the luxuries of life; not only of civil, but religious liberty – alike free from internal commotions and foreign invasions.” Thank God everything was finally easy. The year? 1859. This quote is from the opening paragraph of “Reminiscences of the Revolution ...” by Arthur Reid, published in Utica that year, one of several printed items I’ve found on the net recently in my pursuit of upstate New York materials.
As the title suggests, this pamphlet sought to remember the Revolution before all first-hand memories were irretrievably lost. Such pieces were common and most communities published newspaper accounts, pamphlets and books to record the passing of the age. There seems to have been nostalgia for the primitive past even as the modern world arrived. Certainly, in Utica, there a feeling that history was receding and the modern world arriving. The apparent intent is to be accurate but the thick gauze of passing time has obscured the already distant events to more accurate scrutiny. So what is intended as non-fiction passes under the undemanding eyes of the print shop owner, his type setter and the printer to move from manuscript to printed document and on into the world of historical printed material as a curious form of fictionalized history. It tells us much but it does not tell us all.
The Reminiscences of the Revolution is actually the recounting of Indian depredations that are committed in 1777 north of Albany against Mr. John Allen and his extended family of nine. General Burgoyne is remembered for his inspirational speech to the Iroquois tribal members as is Le Loup, their chief, for his speech to his English confederates. No where is it explicitly mentioned that the two sides could understand each other and it seems certain they could not. These speeches are said to have laid the groundwork for the bloodshed that culminated in the deaths spoken of in this report. All this is remembered in extraordinary detail by a girl of eight who more than a half century later gives her account to the writer with either MacArthurian recall or a license to improvise. The fatal incident takes place in Argyle in what is now Washington County. The victims are reported as the extended family of John Allen, nine persons in total including three slaves who are mentioned in a purely factual way and without names.