A voice from Valcour Is­land

Di­ary aids un­der­stand­ing of Revo­lu­tion­ary War lake bat­tle

The Sun Times (Owen Sound) - - NATIONAL NEWS - WIL­SON RING

MONT­PE­LIER, Vt. — The re­dis­cov­ery of a Revo­lu­tion­ary War di­ary be­long­ing to one of the Amer­i­can com­man­ders of the Bat­tle of Valcour Is­land is of­fer­ing his­to­ri­ans a fresh first-per­son view of the fight that his­to­ri­ans credit with help­ing the fledgling United States of Amer­ica sur­vive.

The di­ary of Col. Ed­ward Wigglesworth, the third in com­mand of the Amer­i­can fleet dur­ing the Lake Cham­plain bat­tle that be­gan 242 years ago Thurs­day, was thought lost, but it was re­dis­cov­ered ear­lier this year by an ama­teur his­to­rian.

Ex­cerpts from the di­ary had been pub­lished decades ago, but stu­dents of the bat­tle wanted the orig­i­nal.

“It’s a voice from Valcour Is­land,” said Art Cohn, of the Lake Cham­plain Mar­itime Mu­seum, who has stud­ied the bat­tle for decades. “It is some­body literally speak­ing to us from the event that we hold so highly as a com­po­nent of the Amer­i­can story.”

In 1997, an Amer­i­can gun­boat was dis­cov­ered up­right and in pris­tine con­di­tion in deep Lake Cham­plain wa­ters. Us­ing di­ary ex­cerpts pub­lished af­ter the book’s dis­cov­ery in the 1930s that he read in the 1990s, Cohn pre­sumed the boat was the Spit­fire. A mis-tran­scribed name of the boat’s com­man­der in the ear­lier ver­sion kept the is­sue un­set­tled.

“It con­firmed that ev­ery­thing that Art did was cor­rect,” said Charles Pip­penger, a semire­tired neu­rol­o­gist and ama­teur his­to­rian from South Burling­ton who dis­cov­ered the di­ary in March. “They al­ready knew it was the Spit­fire, but they spent sev­eral years try­ing to fig­ure this out. If they had had the di­ary they would have known im­me­di­ately.”

Now, Cohn has writ­ten a plan to raise the Spit­fire, pre­serve it and build a mu­seum where it would be dis­played.

The Bat­tle of Valcour Is­land pit­ted a small Amer­i­can fleet led by Gen. Bene­dict Arnold — be­fore he turned traitor — as­sem­bled in 1776 at Ske­nes­bor­ough — now White­hall, N.Y. — to counter a larger Bri­tish fleet be­ing built in Que­bec. The Bri­tish in­tended to sail south as part of a broader cam­paign to split New Eng­land from the rest of the coun­try and end the re­bel­lion.

Wigglesworth, an ex­pe­ri­enced mariner from Mass­a­chu­setts, was placed in com­mand of a bat­tal­ion dis­patched to Fort Ti­con­deroga, the Amer­i­can bas­tion on Lake Cham­plain.

The Bri­tish were clear win­ners af­ter a day of heavy fight­ing near Valcour Is­land, just south of Platts­burgh, N.Y. But it was Wigglesworth who in the dark of night led the sur­viv­ing Amer­i­can ves­sels through the Bri­tish lines and re­treated south, pre­serv­ing the Amer­i­can naval forces on the lake.

Even though the Bri­tish won the bat­tle, it de­layed for a year the Bri­tish ad­vance south. The ex­tra year gave the Amer­i­cans time to as­sem­ble the forces that were used to win the 1777 Bat­tle of Saratoga, which led to French recog­ni­tion of the United States.

The first his­tor­i­cal ref­er­ence to the di­ary is found in the mid-1800s, but af­ter that, it dis­ap­peared un­til 1932 when it was bought by a Ver­mont man. Af­ter his death, it was given to the Ben­ning­ton Mu­seum. It was not cat­a­logued by the mu­seum staff un­til 2009 and posted on­line late last year.

Pip­penger found the on­line list­ing in March and pho­tographed the en­tire 34-page doc­u­ment. An ar­ti­cle he wrote about the dis­cov­ery, which in­cludes a num­ber of his­tor­i­cal corrections, is set to be pub­lished this week by the Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion.

He says the orig­i­nal ver­sion is al­ways bet­ter than the snip­pets fre­quently used in his­to­ries.

“What makes it re­ally sig­nif­i­cant is you are back to the orig­i­nal thing, the to­tal story,” Pip­penger said.

LISA RATHKE/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS In this Wed­nes­day, Oct. 3, 2018 photo the re­dis­cov­ered Revo­lu­tion­ary War di­ary of Col. Ed­ward Wigglesworth rests on a ta­ble at Ben­ning­ton Mu­seum, in Ben­ning­ton, Vt. The di­ary was kept dur­ing the bat­tle of Valcour Is­land on

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