--Detail from 'View from
Misses Masters School' by J. C. Cropsey, c.1890
The farther backward you can look,
the farther forward you are likely to see.
Winston S. Churchill
History is philosophy, teaching by examples. Thucydides
I view it as a noble undertaking to rescue from oblivion those who deserve to be eternally remembered. Pliny
An appeal to the cause of historical accuracy
1) The National Park Service has so far declined to give any response to the substantive historical points raised in the 14 page public comment, submitted to the NPS by the Dobbs Ferry Historical Society in Dec 2006, and given as testimony to the U. S. Senate Subcommittee on National Parks in April 2007.
2) The main issue is NOT whether this or that event occurred in Dobbs Ferry or in some other locality;
The main issue is whether a basic principle is being respected or violated--- the principle that historical conclusions must be based on historical evidence and primary source documentation.
3) Eminent historians David Hackett Fischer and Thomas Fleming are supporting Dobbs Ferry's campaign because they respect historical evidence and primary source documentation and because they want the public to receive accurate information.
7 POWER POINT SLIDES: THE
These 7 Power Point slides (in pdf format) highlight the primary sources and the statements of David Hackett Fischer and Thomas Fleming.
1. What information about Dobbs Ferry’s role on the Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail should be included in National Park Service educational material and on National Park Service maps?
ANSWER: Dobbs Ferry should be recognized as one of the key locations
on the Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail because
a. Dobbs Ferry was the starting point, on Sunday, Aug 19, 1781, of Washington's march from New York to Virginia; the American army was ‘paraded’ (assembled) for the march at the main intersection of Dobbs Ferry before setting out as a unified body for Virginia, with Col. Alexander’s Scammel’s light infantry in the van; and because
b. Dobbs Ferry and neighboring localities were the sites of the 1781 summer encampment of the allied American and French armies where the winning strategy for the Revolutionary War was adopted; and because
c. Elite military units were deployed in Dobbs Ferry during the 45 days of the encampment (Col. Alexander Scammel's light infantry, a special forces unit, and Col. Elisha Sheldon's dragoons, the first cavalry of the United States); and because
d. A large redoubt, overlooking the Hudson River, was constructed at Dobbs Ferry by Sheldon's troops, and remnants of that redoubt are still in evidence today; and because
e. Dobbs Ferry received cannon fire from British ships on the Hudson River on at least three occasions during the summer encampment of 1781, and fire was returned by the troops in the redoubt, causing considerable damage on one occasion to the HMS Savage, a British ship-of war; the damage to the HMS Savage allowed an American prisoner of war on board to escape; and because
f. General Washington put the name, "Dobbs Ferry" or "Dobbs's Ferry" or "near Dobbs Ferry" at the top of more than 100 letters which he sent from the encampment, indicating that these were his preferred names for the location of the encampment.
2. What historic resources in Dobbs Ferry relate to the Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail?
Col. Alexander Scammel's light infantry, a special forces unit, was camped on “Echo Hills,” in the eastern part of Dobbs Ferry, the location of Children’s Village today.
Col. Elisha Sheldon's dragoons, the first cavalry of the United States, was camped (i) on Villard Hill in the western part of Dobbs Ferry, (ii) at the Dobbs Ferry Redoubt on the heights overlooking the Hudson, and (iii) just north of the main intersection of Dobbs Ferry (present-day Ashford Avenue-Broadway intersection).
b. The remnants of the redoubt at Dobbs Ferry constitute an important historic resource. The redoubt was built at the direction of General Washington in the early days of the summer encampment of 1781. French military engineer, Louis Lebègue Duportail, supervised the construction of the redoubt.
Historic road segments
After the units were paraded for the march, Dr. James Thacher** indicates that the men expected to be ordered to turn left and march south along Broadway in the direction of King’s Bridge (Manhattan) and were surprised by the orders they actually received, to turn right and march north along Broadway, to the Hudson River crossing at “King’s ferry” (present-day Verplanck).
*A ‘parade’, in the sense of assemblage, occurred before any major movement of the army.
Please see American Revolution: the decision which won the war--David Hackett Fischer (starting from 5:20 on video)
d. Historic landscape
Please see American Revolution: the decision which won the war--David Hackett Fischer (starting from 1:20 on video)
ANSWER: Yes, and the French contribution, which was indispensable to victory, should be emphasized.
4. Did the French army also march from Dobbs Ferry?
ANSWER: No. The starting point of the march for the French army was a few miles east of Dobbs Ferry.
5. What about neighboring localities, such as Ardsley, Hartsdale, Edgemont and
ANSWER: They were very important. We fully support historically accurate National Park Service recognition for those communities also. Most units of the French army were encamped in the Hartsdale-Edgemont area. One French unit, however, the elite Legion de Lauzun, was encamped in
The building that served as
Questions from Senator Thomas
In early May, 2007, a few days after Dobbs Ferry gave testimony in Washington, the late Senator Craig Thomas of Wyoming, ranking minority member of the Subcommittee on National Parks, asked Dobbs Ferry to respond to two written questions: The response to Senator Thomas's second question summarizes Dobbs Ferry's historic role at the time of the 1781 summer encampment of the allied American and French Armies:
Linda Borkow, Dobbs Ferry Historical Society,
Thank you for your questions, Senator Thomas.
The Dobbs Ferry Historical Society submitted a 14-page
comment to the National Park Service on
Our comment was provided to the Subcommittee on
We have not received a response to the historical evidence and documentation found in our 14-page comment. The only response provided was confirmation that the comment was received by the NPS.
We are not satisfied with their response thus far: we hope that the NPS will respond to the historical content in our 14-page comment.
A stated objective of the NPS Washington-Rochambeau
Revolutionary Route Resource Study is “to identify the full range of
resources and historic themes associated with this route” (page 2).
Because we present abundant evidence that Dobbs Ferry is a key site
The NPS Resource Study also states that the NPS “will carefully review all comments and determine whether any changes should be made to the report” (page 2). This statement suggests that the NPS is prepared to make changes in the Resource Study in response to comments which are relevant and well-substantiated.
We do not know why Dobbs
Ferry was omitted from the NPS map which accompanies this
legislation. As was mentioned in our testimony on
For that reason it seems unlikely that the concerns of the
Dobbs Ferry Historical Society are the result of a scholarly
difference of interpretation of the march to
Similarly, we do not know why the Resource Study associated with this legislation fails to mention:
a. that Dobbs Ferry was the
starting point, on
b. that Dobbs Ferry and neighboring localities, such as Ardsley and Edgemont/Greenville, were part of the 1781 summer encampment of the allied American and French armies where the winning strategy for the Revolutionary War was adopted;
d. that a large redoubt,
e. that Dobbs Ferry received cannon fire from British ships on the Hudson River on at least three occasions during the summer encampment of 1781, and fire was returned by the troops in the redoubt, causing considerable damage on one occasion to the HMS Savage, a British ship-of war; the damage to the HMS Savage allowed American prisoners of war on board to escape.
f. and that General Washington
placed the name, "Dobbs Ferry" or "Dobbs's Ferry" or "near Dobbs
Ferry" at the top of approximately 100 letters which he sent from
the encampment, indicating that these were his preferred names for
the location of the encampment.
There is one reference to Dobbs Ferry in the text of the Resource Study: On page 17, mention is made of a Hudson River ferry crossing at Dobbs Ferry of 600 officers and men "ahead of the main armies," and this is of definite interest, but no mention is made at all of occurrences a through f, all of which are more important historically than that ferry crossing ahead of the main armies.
Dobbs Ferry appears in very small font on one map in the Resource Study (page 47), along with hundreds of other localities.
It is difficult to draw any conclusions about the historical significance of Dobbs Ferry from the map on page 47.
While we are calling for important changes, compatible with the historical evidence, in the NPS Resource Study and on the NPS map accompanying this legislation, we wish to reiterate our strong support for S. 686 and to express our appreciation to the NPS study team for their hard work in behalf of a wonderful concept, the Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail.
 Military Journal of the American Revolution by Dr. James Thacher
U. S. Senate testimony
given by Linda Borkow, spokesperson for the Dobbs Ferry Historical Society, before the Subcommittee on National Parks, April 26, 2007
Senate testimony information packet, including maps, Washington's correspondence from "Head Quarters Dobbs's Ferry" and the 14-page document of the Dobbs Ferry Historical Society (The Dobbs Ferry Historical Society 14-page document was submitted to the National Park Service on Dec 2, 2006, during the "public comment period.") pdf format: 9,979KB
Statement of support written by Thomas Fleming
Mr. Fleming is a distinguished author, one of the most highly regarded historians in the United States and President of the Society of American Historians. On Jan 6, 2008, Mr. Fleming e-mailed this letter to 15 staff professionals in the offices of Senators and Congressmen involved with the W-R National Historic Trail legislation:
As a former chairman of the American Revolution Round Table and the author of many books on the struggle for independence, I have become interested in the contest between the town of Dobbs Ferry, NY, and the National Park Service. To put it simply, I cannot understand why the NPS persists in opposing Dobbs Ferry’s request to be included on the official map of the route that General Washington and his French ally, General Rochambeau, followed on their historic march from Westchester County to Yorktown in 1781.
This is a serious matter in our era of growing historical tourism. The proposed Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail is likely to become a very popular attraction for hundreds of thousands of people.
The Dobbs Ferry Historical Society submitted a 14 page comment to the NPS on December 2, 2006, with ample evidence that the town was the actual starting point for the march. My investigation confirms the validity of their maps and citations. This evidence was also submitted to the Senate committee overseeing the matter, the Subcommittee on National Parks. This bill, S 686, has been reported out of committee. The House bill, HR 1286, is still under consideration by the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands.
To give you just one piece of this voluminous evidence, General Washington placed the name “Dobbs Ferry” or “near Dobbs Ferry” on no less than 100 letters he sent from his encampment, before the march began. Yet
all the NPS has been willing to do is include Dobbs Ferry in tiny type, along with a dozen other towns in the vicinity.
I am a great admirer of the NPS. They have been very helpful to me while researching many of my books – most notably my recent Washington’s Secret War, The Hidden History of Valley Forge, which received the Fraunces Tavern Award as best book of the year in 2005. But I am also aware that their bureaucratic spokespersons in Washington can be unreasonably stubborn about having their own way. I think this matter is a case in point. I hope you will take up this dispute with them and resolve it as soon as possible in Dobbs Ferry’s favor.
WE CONTINUE TO CALL UPON
THE NPS TO RECOGNIZE DOBBS FERRY AS A KEY SITE ON THE
REVOLUTIONARY ROUTE (W3R)
The Dobbs Ferry Historical Society gave testimony before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on National Parks in support of Dobbs Ferry's petition on April 26, 2007. You can review that testimony here, as well as many related documents, including a strong statement of support by eminent historian, Thomas Fleming (January 6, 2008). (See Senate Testimony, Historical Documentation, Correspondence and Statements of Support)
We enthusiastically applaud the passage of the Washington-Rochambeau National
Historic Trail legislation in early 2009. Our goal is to improve the
accuracy of NPS educational material pertaining to the W-R National
Historic Trail, including historical narratives and maps, by correcting
a major omission,
We enthusiastically applaud the passage of the Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail legislation in early 2009. Our goal is to improve the accuracy of NPS educational material pertaining to the W-R National Historic Trail, including historical narratives and maps, by correcting a major omission,the absence of any reference to the starting point of Washington’s march from
At the present time the educational material of the NPS does not acknowledge Dobbs Ferry's historical significance on the Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail.
We are very appreciative that two of the most renowned historians in the United States, David Hackett Fischer, University Professor and Warren Professor of History at Brandeis University, and Thomas Fleming, past President of the Society of American Historians (2007-2008), have taken the time to look through our historical material and have kindly expressed a willingness to be of assistance.
Dr. Fischer, a
distinguished scholar who has written acclaimed books about the
Revolutionary War, and who won the Pulitzer Prize for his 2003 work,
advised me to emphasize the convergence of Continental troop
movements in Dobbs Ferry on
Thomas Fleming, a highly regarded expert on the Revolutionary War and author of many books which deal with the Revolutionary War period, including most recently, The Perils of Peace, America's Struggle for Survival after Yorktown, recipient of the Burack Award from Boston University in 2002, praising his lifetime’s work, the Abraham Lincoln Award from the Union League Club of New York in 2003 for his contribution to American literature, and numerous other awards, has written a compelling letter of support for Dobbs Ferry. The letter was sent to many staff professionals in the Senate and House on January 6, 2008.
Mr. Fleming’s letter confirms the historical accuracy of the 14-page document of the Dobbs Ferry Historical Society and strongly advocates recognition of Dobbs Ferry’s historic significance as a key site on the Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail.
Mr. Fleming’s statement reminds us of the importance of official recognition by the National Park Service, and he reminds us that the stakes are very high.
After more than three years of e-mail correspondence, telephone
communication, appeals, petitions, faxes, official Historical
Society resolutions, official
Our village is entitled to historically accurate recognition. To be consistent with its mission and purpose, the NPS should not be placing obstacles in our way but should, instead, be assisting us in celebrating our history.
Because Dobbs Ferry will persist in its efforts, there is every reason to expect that our village will, in the end, gain full recognition for its actual historic role --- a key site on the Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail ---- the locality where the Continental troops were paraded for the march and took the first steps of "the largest and perhaps boldest movement of the war." *
Richard Borkow, M.D.
Village Historian of Dobbs Ferry
Trustee, Dobbs Ferry Historical Society
Village Historian of Dobbs Ferry
Trustee, Dobbs Ferry Historical Society
* Historian Benson Bobrick
* Historian Benson Bobrick