Forgotten Americans: Footnote Figures Who Changed American History

Forgotten Americans: Footnote Figures Who Changed American History

by Willard Sterne Randall, Nancy Nahra
     
 

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In 1779 a Philadelphia belle, Margaret Shippen, married a hero of the ongoing Revolution, General Benedict Arnold. Within months Peggy was sending coded messages to an old suitor from England, conveying Arnold’s promise to defect. When their plot was discovered, the general fled. Peggy distracted George Washington with hysterics before following her husband.

Overview

In 1779 a Philadelphia belle, Margaret Shippen, married a hero of the ongoing Revolution, General Benedict Arnold. Within months Peggy was sending coded messages to an old suitor from England, conveying Arnold’s promise to defect. When their plot was discovered, the general fled. Peggy distracted George Washington with hysterics before following her husband. The British government eventually paid Peggy far more than Benedict Arnold ever received.A generation later, the Philadelphia neighborhood where Margaret Shippen had grown up was home to a businessman named James Forten. Due to his invention for rigging sails, Forten was rich enough to build large public halls and bankroll political causes. At the same time, this veteran of the Revolution was losing his political voice because he was black.Margaret Shippen Arnold and James Forten are just two of the fifteen fascinating but little-known lives told in Forgotten Americans. Weitten by an honored biographer and an award-winning poet, this entertaining book shines a light on overlooked figures. Traditional histories have often neglected these people, for many reasons. Some were on the losing side of a conflict, such as Tecumeseh, who spent years trying to unite Indian nations against white settlers. Others worked behind the scenes, like Annie Turner Wittenmyer, who took charge of supplying Union hospitals in the West during the Civil War. And some we disregard because their actions now seem unsavory, as with the once-celebrated ”Indian-slayer” Tom Quick.From these fascinating threads, Will Randall and Nancy Nahra weave a rich tapestry of American life. In it we witness the power of religious revival and the lure of mass entertainment. We watch philosophical differences split the nation. We see the shift in Native American’s lives from Teedyuscung, a Delaware murdered despite his conversion to Christianity, to Louis Sockalexis, the baseball prodigy. These lively stories also reveal little-known facets of the famous: Benjamin Franklin’s disinherited son, Thomas Jefferson’s secret politicking, and how Mary Todd Lincoln’s confinement to a mental hospital became a public issue. From early settlements to the close of the nineteenth century, the brief biographies in Forgotten Americans engagingly fill out our knowledge of the nation’s past.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Randall, a historical biographer (Thomas Jefferson: A Life, LJ 8/93), and Nahra, a poet, contend that most American historians have neglected to tell the story of individuals whom the authors say played crucial historical roles. They identify 15 of these "footnote" figures from early Colonial times to the end of the 19th century, focusing on a number of fascinating individuals whose stories are not widely known, some undoubtedly for ethnic, racial, or gender reasons but others because their significance is questionable. The authors' contention that these were all figures "who changed American history" is not well supported; in some cases Randall and Nahra appear to have constructed straw people, claiming that their subjects have been overlooked. Furthermore, educated people are likely aware of Anne Hutchinson, Tadeusz Kosciuszko, Tecumseh, and Sitting Bull, each of whom receives a chapter. Ironically, Randall and Nahra fail to share very much about how they did their own research. It also seems odd that the authors chose no subjects from the 20th century. Not recommended.Charles K. Piehl, Mankato State Univ., MN
Kirkus Reviews
Renowned biographer Randall (Thomas Jefferson, 1993, etc.) and wife Nahra, an award-winning poet, here offer fascinating sketches of Americans who have unjustly been relegated to the footnotes of history. While not all of the authors' subjects are truly obscure—most students of the Revolutionary period are aware of Polish patriot Tadeusz Kosciuszko or the Tory William Franklin, Benjamin's son, who was the last royal governor of New Jersey, and of Peggy Shippen, who induced Benedict Arnold's treason, while Tecumseh and Sitting Bull are well known even to casual students of American history. But most have faded from popular consciousness despite having been influential or even notorious in their own time. After vividly sketching the bloody tale of Tom Quick, who fought a personal feud with the Lenape Indians for 40 years, the authors tell the stories of Native Americans who resisted the conquest of the continent by whites, like the Lenape Teedyuscung, and those who conformed to white culture, like old-time Cleveland baseball star Louis Sockalexis, an Abenaki Indian after whom the Cleveland Indians were named. Besides Native Americans, the authors depict persons who, often courageously, resisted the exclusions of white male society: Anne Hutchinson, the independent mystic who dared defy the male authority of the Puritan church; James Forten, black Philadelphia inventor and philanthropist and his granddaughter Charlotte, an abolitionist who taught ex-slaves at a special school in South Carolina; and Myra Bradwell, feminist lawyer and suffragist. Charmingly, the authors also include an account of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison taking a summer vacation in New England in 1791;rather than showing us "forgotten Americans," here the authors emphasize the forgotten dimensions of the best- remembered Americans. Well narrated, these thumbnail portraits vividly show the forgotten side of important struggles and issues in American history.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780738201504
Publisher:
Da Capo Press
Publication date:
06/28/1999
Pages:
277
Sales rank:
1,193,755
Product dimensions:
5.29(w) x 8.23(h) x 0.74(d)
Lexile:
1280L (what's this?)

Meet the Author

Willard Sterne Randall is the author of award-winning biographies of Washington, Jefferson, and other figures from the Revolutionary period. Before taking up history, he was an investigative journalist, receiving the National Magazine Award for Public Service. Nancy Nahra earned her doctorate in romance languages from Princeton, and now teaches classical civilization and poetry. One of her poems won the John Masefield Award from the Poetry Society of America, and a collection was a semifinalist in the National Poetry Series Open Competition. Randall and Nahra divide their year between Vermont and Rome, where they are visiting professors at John Cabot University.

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