News Of History


The gray, water-soaked, mud-stained skeleton of one of America’s first warships has been raised from the bottom of Lake Champlain and is now on the beach below Fort Ticonderoga. After thorough drying and protection, the hulk will form the nucleus of a naval museum to be erected on the shore below the towering battlements of the fort. Other naval relics will be on display with it.

The hulk is that of the Trumbull , one of the fleet of sixteen ships built by order of General Benedict Arnold in 1776 to contest the British invasion which, one year later, culminated in Burgoyne’s defeat at Saratoga.

On October 11, 1776, Arnold’s makeshift fleet, manned by land-lubber soldiers, met a British flotilla of five major warships and a number of gunboats. The action succeeded in imposing an expensive delay on the British invaders, but all save three of the American ships were either sunk in action, captured by the enemy or scuttled by their crews. The three which remained escaped to Fort Ticonderoga and were sunk in a rough semi-circle near the base of the fort in an attempt to keep enemy ships out of firing range and thus to compel the British to make their attack by land. In the end, winter came on and there was no attack. Late in the following spring, the Americans evacuated the fort.

The Trumbull is one of the three sunk near the fort. One of the other two was raised in 1909 but has since been badly damaged by weather on its exposed exhibition site. The third is still under water.

Five big inflated pontoons were used to lift the Trumbull from the bottom, and at first sight the hulk bore little resemblance to a warship. The long oak side planks of the old vessel were rotted through at the seams, and the thick iron spikes that held her together protruded, bent, from the hull. Only one of the two huge foot-square timbers that formed her bow remained, and broken ends of oak ribs rose like enormous fingers above the muddy deck.

The new naval museum project in which the hulk of the Trumbull will take its place is being financed by the Fort Ticonderoga Foundation, a non-profit organization which maintains the historic fort. John H. G. Pell, a Wall Street investment broker, whose family has supported historical restoration in the area since 1816, is director of the Foundation.

Back in 1710 an English bureaucrat cleaned out his desk drawers and files preparing for his retirement from public office, and thereby—quite unintentionally—did a great favor for present-day American historians.

William Blathwayt, the bureaucrat in question, was colonial administrator, having served for forty years under three kings. When he collected personal letters and papers to take home with him, he helped himself to a generous portion of official government papers as well: more than 2,000 documents dealing with the early history of the American colonies.

Included in these are letters from colonial governors—Sir William Phips, of Massachusetts, blamed the witchcraft trials on the devil and his deputy governor, and William Penn wrote fondly: “I like the land, aire and food very well. I never eat better in England.” There is material on Indian raids, on the capture of Captain Kidd, and on the strained conditions in early New York during the transfer from Dutch to English rule. There are rough drafts of letters arid official papers in Blathwayt’s own hard-to-read scrawl. One of the drafts is the Pennsylvania charter from King Charles II, signed in March, 1681, with numerous additions and corrections in the margin.

All in all, Blathwayt’s papers include material on most of the continental American colonies as well as the West Indies, Jamaica and the Bahamas.

The American Blathwayt papers are owned by Colonial Williamsburg, the non-profit organization restoring WiIliamsburg, Va., to its pre-Revolutionary setting. They are carefully preserved in a vault there for research work.

The Philadelphia Antiques Fair this fall marked the 75th anniversary of a widely popular American fad which had its origin in Philadelphia.

One of the attractions at the great Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876 was a free exhibit called the New England cottage. During the six months exhibition, some 10,000 visitors a day visited the New England cottage, which was completely furnished with antiques. Most of the visitors—judging by the tremendous growth in the popularity of antique furniture thereafter—went home to raid their own attics and put the plunder in their best rooms. Those who had no attics haunted country auctions and second-hand furniture stores.

As a result, apparently, within three years the game of antique-hunting was in full swing and the first dealers were setting up shop. Now, 75 years later, there are some 8,000 antique shops in the United States, more than 150 of them to be found in Philadelphia itself.

We may eventually get a microfilm edition of the Papers of the Continental Congress. The project is being considered by the National Historical Publications Commission, whose purpose it is to promote the publication of historical source materials. This Commission has been working to considerable effect since 1950, when Congress granted it life-giving-funds; but because its income is still limited it tries primarily to encourage and aid in the initiation of historical publishing projects under non-governmental sponsorship.