Fourth of July....And Peggy!
July 4, 2017
Happy Fourth of July! I hope you all have a wonderful day filled with a sense of camaraderie with family and friends, your fellow Americans and all those across the globe who dream of and stand up for individual freedoms and dignity, and SAFE fireworks!
As I put a cake into the oven this morning to bake for later festivities, my mind wandered to how lucky I have been to write about people who established and then protected our messy, contentious, and gloriously human democracy. This year I’ve written two very different novels, the first centered on McCarthyism—one of America’s more ignoble moments—and the second on Peggy Schuyler, the youngest of the Schuyler Sisters trio immortalized by Lin Manuel Miranda’s brilliant musical Hamilton. Very different narratives! Yet both ended up celebrating Americans’ ability to rise up against injustices, to defy majority thinking and overwhelming opposition or personal dangers, and to imagine and then stubbornly champion the rights every living person should enjoy.
And that’s what the Fourth of July commemorates.
So, this morning, I am thinking of the Schuyler family and those lesser-known or even anonymous patriots I learned about in upstate New York. Take Peggy’s father General Philip Schuyler. He was probably our Revolution’s most important spymaster and counter-intelligence officer, George Washington’s right-hand man in that regard. From his Albany mansion, Schuyler built a web of double agents and informants—New Yorkers rich and poor; Canadians he’d met, even fought, during the French and Indian War; and Iroquois warriors—to hinder British movements along the nation’s dangerous backdoors in New York’s wilderness forests and lakes. His agents intercepted British communiqués, which he opened, copied, and then resealed to sent along to their unsuspecting recipients—allowing Washington to undo his enemy’s plans. Schuyler devised secret codes. He set up ambushes and blockades. He negotiated alliances with neighboring tribes of the Six Nations of Iroquois. In fact, so dangerous and effective was Schuyler in confounding the British, that an armed band of vigilantes and Loyalists invaded his home to kidnap him.
During the fray, it was Peggy who saved the youngest Schuyler baby from capture that night. Whip-smart, fluent in French, Alexander Hamilton’s confidante, a favorite of Benjamin Franklin, Peggy Schuyler was witness, and I suspect, participant, in some of the most romantic and cataclysmic events of the Revolution. She even knew the beautiful poet/musician and British intelligence officer who turned Benedict Arnold to traitor. She seems to have had a heart-breaking romance with a friend of her soon-to-be brother-in-law—a French marquis who designed self-propelled, exploding boats and whose bravery in the audacious storming of Stony Point with General “Mad Anthony” Wayne earned him one of the few medals of honor struck by Congress during the American War of Independence. Oh, oh, and there was this spy….
Oh, I have so much to share with you!! But I know I need to wait until closer to the release of Hamilton and Peggy! A Revolutionary Friendship on Presidents’ Day weekend. (Watch this space and my tweets for more!)
Meanwhile, let me suggest that during summer vacation, if you can, go tour the Schuyler Mansion, currently celebrating its 100th year as a historic site. The Saratoga Battlefield (as well as the family’s country estate) is not far away, so you can have a really comprehensive Revolutionary experience! Interpreters at the mansion are THE experts in the Schuyler family and are so generous in sharing all they know. They’ve even designed a Hamilton-focused tour and another focusing on the Women of Schuyler Mansion (including the sisters—there were five!) Here’s a link to the Schuyler Mansion’s fascinating blog: http://schuylermansion.blogspot.com/ and a great facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/schuylermansion
I leave you with this: One source I used suggests Philip Schuyler read aloud the Declaration of Independence to his fellow citizens in Albany on this day in 1776. That scene was repeated a thousand times across America—someone reading the Declaration’s stirring words to gathering crowds. I love the idea of people elbowing one another to draw close to hear Schuyler’s unamplified voice, and then the hush that would have followed as they listened to its daring message. Angelica, Eliza, AND Peggy standing nearby. And then the bells—bells ringing throughout our sparsely populated, frontier country, village by village, announcing a tectonic shift in human history.
Here’s NPR’s reading of the Declaration for you to enjoy yourselves: http://www.npr.org/2017/07/04/534096579/a-july-4th-tradition-the-declaration-of-independence-read-aloud