Podcast review: American Revolution Podcast

I love history. History teaches about the past and illuminates the present. It focuses on events and people but often reveals things about current situations and oneself. History done well can challenge assumptions and widen one’s perspective on the world. It can broaden horizons and deepen knowledge. The American Revolution Podcast lives up to this historical legacy.

A couple years ago, I stumbled across the well-established Revolutions podcast by Mike Duncan. I decided to start at the beginning, rather than jumping into the most current episodes. When I got to the American Revolution, I was surprised by what the podcast illuminated—both about events and people I knew and those I didn’t. After completing the episodes on the American Revolution, I searched for historical works to learn even more.

And then I learned about the American Revolutions Podcast by Michael Tory. (Full disclosure: Tory alerted me to his podcast in a comment to my blog post about the Revolutions podcast. Intrigued, I subscribed to his podcast and started to soak in his talks.)

I am still winding my way through his podcast, trying to catch up to the present episodes. (I’ve listened to 13 episodes so far.) I’m hooked. It is a completely different animal than Revolutions. True to his word, Troy goes into more detail about the revolution than Duncan does. (Of course, American Revolution Podcast is focused on the American Revolution whereas Duncan goes in-depth about a particular revolution for dozens of episodes before moving on to a different revolution.)

Troy begins by laying the groundwork for the revolution a few decades before the revolution technically begins in 1776 with the Declaration of Independence. His focus is decidedly on military aspects. He gives wonderful blow by blow accounts of military expeditions—who was involved, the strategies used, the outcomes reached, and the implications. The sheer amount of information that he shares (and that is completely new to me) is staggering. Thirteen episodes in and I am not yet to what one typically thinks of the start of the revolution.

Troy walks listeners through the relations between the British, the French, and the Native Americans in the decades prior to the revolution. I suspect that many of the places and the people will resurface later, and that knowing about pre-revolutionary America will deepen my understanding about the colonies, our relations with others in the world, and the revolution itself.

I am patiently waiting (ok, maybe not so patiently) for if/when present-day Indiana enters the discussion on the Ohio River Valley. After my travels to historic sites in Vincennes and reading fiction set in the time of George Rogers Clark, I am finding the descriptions about skirmishes between the British, French, and Native Americans (aka the French and Indian War) enlightening.

Interesting tidbits in the episodes routinely jump out at me. I’ve learned why Washington was not the magnificent military leader early in his career—a fact alluded to in the musical Hamilton. Spoiler: Washington failed miserably at an expedition in the Ohio River Valley.

King George I (not The King George during the revolution—that was King George III) was actually originally over 50th in line to the throne, but as he was the only next in line who wasn’t Catholic, he got the throne. (You know that whole bloody mess they had in England over Catholicism.)

Delaware was originally a Swedish colony. (I didn’t know the Swedes were some of the early colonists.)

The Forbes Road—a military path in Pennsylvania—later became the basis of the Lincoln Highway in Pennsylvania, a highway that spanned the US in the early 1900s.

Both American Revolution Podcast and Revolutions contain information on military exploits but the latter focuses more on political history. American Revolution Podcast focuses more, at least so far, on military history. Troy’s podcast is filling in gaps in my knowledge (or entire lack of knowledge) about pre-revolution America.

Troy’s episodes are so rich—I could easily listen to them multiple times and learn more each time. I am looking forwarding to continuing past episode 13…and seeing what I learn next.

The Old Cathedral Library

Unsurprisingly, the oldest Catholic parish in Indiana houses the oldest library in Indiana. Early Catholic priests were often the only educated people in an area. What is surprising is that almost half of the 11,000 items in the library come from the personal library of Simon Bruté (1779-1839), the first bishop of the former Diocese of Vincennes. On second thought, maybe it is not so surprising considering that President John Quincy Adams, no intellectual slouch himself, called Bruté “the most learned man of his day in America.”

In 1794, Fr. Benedict Joseph Flaget—a priest at the St. Francis Xavier parish (1792-1795) and an educator in the community—set up the library. In its present form, the library is housed in a separate building behind the Old Cathedral in Vincennes, Indiana. The building is small (clearly not all documents are on display) and only open for limited hours during the summer months, but it is worth a visit.

The library contains an eclectic collection of religious, historical, and political documents. The majority of the documents are in French (60%)—the language of the early Jesuits and community—or Latin (25%)—the language of the church. But Bruté was an incredibly well educated man and had in his possession books in other languages.

The oldest document in the library is a 1319 papal bull (from Pope John XXII urging Christians to help the poor). The oldest book is The Book of Psalms from the 11th or 12th century. The oldest printed book using movable type is Michael de Carcano’s Sermonarium Triplicatum (1476).

The library contains Francis Vigo’s prayer book. Vigo, who hailed from Mondovi, Sardonia, was instrumental in helping George Rogers Clark capture the fort at Vincennes and push the British out of the area during the Revolutionary War—he backed Clark by loaning him the money he needed. (The government never made good on the loans and Vigo died in poverty on March 22, 1836.)

The library includes two complete sets of polygot bibles that were published in Paris in 1645. The bibles are written in 7 different languages: Arabic, Greek, Syriac, Hebrew, Chaldean, Samaritan, and Latin. The library also includes bibles in a variety of other languages: Gaelic, Welsh, Spanish, and Hebrew.

Bruté collected books across the religious spectrum: St. Augustine’s City of God (1620), a Koran (1684), a book on the Episcopal Church (1817), a book on Armenian rites (1642), and a book by John Calvin (1561). He also owned books important to political and philosophical discourse of the time, witness a book by Locke (1695) in the library.

In addition, the library houses documents of historical significance.

  • A letter from Fr. Petit, who traveled with the Potawatomi during their removal from Indiana, to Bruté dated November 16, 1838
  • A document showing that in 1794 Congress approved $200 for a teacher of sciences and Christianity for the Indians. As a result, Fr. John Francis Rivet was sent to Vincennes on May 1, 1795 to teach. (In 1801, Fr. Rivet was asked by the Indiana Territorial Governor Harrison to teach at the new Jefferson Academy.)
  • The oldest document written in Indiana—a marriage record dated April 21, 1749
  • The 1767 British census of Vincennes and the Byelaws of the President and Trustees of the Borough of Vincennes (published by Elihu Stout)
  • Rivet’s will

The Old Cathedral Library is clearly a treasure trove of information about the early church, early Vincennes, and early Indiana—located in an old French trading town on the Wabash River, an important hub in the 1700s.

The Old Cathedral

Was it a cathedral or a basilica? Was it the Old Cathedral, St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, or the Basilica of St. Francis Xavier? Yes.

I was a bit perplexed about all of these names. They all pointed to the same place: a red brick church next to the George Rogers Clark National Historical Park in Vincennes, Indiana. In 1836, the parish was given the designation of cathedral. In 1970, Pope Paul VI elevated the church to the status of basilica due to its historical nature. So St. Francis Xavier in Vincennes refers to a parish, a cathedral, and a basilica. (I am still not sure which name to call it.)

The building houses a functioning parish, but it was difficult for me to determine if the hubbub around the church involved mostly parishioners or tourists. The church is open to visitors, but it wasn’t clear to me what the hours were that visitors could stroll through the building.

The church has operated continually since 1732, when Jesuits built a log cabin on this site. (Parish records start in 1749.) Over the centuries, St. Francis Xavier Cathedral has been a part of six dioceses under different governing bodies: Indian, French, Spanish, British, Vincennes under Clark, and US.

The church has been rebuilt three times. In 1770, a second log cabin replaced the first. In 1786, a third building for the church was constructed. In 1826, the present incarnation was built.

Since then alterations have been made to the structure. Between 1840 and 1841, a bell tower was added and the sanctuary was raised to house a crypt. In 1870, Wilhelm Lamprecht of Munich, Germany painted a mural of the crucifixion as the centerpiece in the sanctuary.

The crypt lies behind the sanctuary and down some stairs. The crypt contains the remains of four bishops: Simon Bruté (1834-1839), Celestine de la Hailandière (1839-1847), John Stephen Bazin (1847-1848), and Maurice de St. Palais (1849-1877). This area also houses the remains of the 3rd c. martyr St. Aufidia.

Vincennes was a central hub of French fur trading. In 1763, Vincennes and the environs fell under British control. The area remained French in culture, in inhabitants, and in religion—the St. Francis Xavier parish continued.

In 1769 Fr. Pierre Gibault, who had an important role in the community, visited Vincennes and return periodically. In 1778, he convinced the French inhabitants to sign an oath of allegiance to the US and to turn the fort over to George Rogers Clark. In 1784, he became a resident priest.

In the 1790s, two other priests important to the history of the parish and the Indiana Territory arrived at St. Francis Xavier. In 1792, Fr. Benedict Joseph Flaget—later known as the father of parochial education in Indiana—set up a school. In 1795, Fr. John Francis Rivet—Indiana’s first public school teacher—set up a public school.

Next to the church is a cemetery where tombstones for other priests important to the church and people important to the early life of Vincennes remain. In total 5,000 people lie buried in the cemetery though you would never know from the few tombstones that grace the cemetery.

Vincennes State Historic Sites: Fort Knox II

The buildings and sites associated with the Vincennes State Historic Sites are either clustered together just south of Vincennes University or scattered downtown (Old French House and Indian Museum, Old State Bank). Fort Knox II is one of two administered by the museum that are located far from either location.

Fort Knox II only exists as a grassy field with posts indicating its contours and placards discussing its history. There is not much to see but much to read.

Fort Knox, named for the first US Secretary of Defense Henry Knox, actually existed in three incarnations at three different locales between 1787 and 1816. The changes in locations were prompted by changes in threats.

The first incarnation of the fort was built in 1787 at the site of the British Fort Sackville (which Clark captured in 1779) in downtown Vincennes. As the town grew and threats from Native Americans came from the north, the fort was moved outside of town and became Fort Knox II.

Fort Knox II (1803-1813) was an important outpost during a time of confrontation with Native Americans in the Indiana Territory. In 1811, future president—then Captain—Zachary Taylor built a stockade at Fort Knox. Another future president—then Territorial Governor—William Henry Harrison assembled an army to march on Prophetstown to battle Tecumseh and his brother the Prophet in what became known as the Battle of Tippecanoe.

With the War of 1812, the city proper was threatened again. The timbers of Fort Knox II were dismantled and floated downstream back to Vincennes to secure the city. In 1816, the fort closed for good. Fort Knox III was dismantled and the garrison moved to Fort Harrison in Terre Haute.

Fort Knox II is a strange historic site to visit, not just because no structure really exists there, but because a within a stone’s throw lies a log cabin not connected with the historic site. The log cabin clearly houses modern-day residents who have no connection to the fort or the museum. As I wandered around the site of the fort, I had the distinct impression that I was wandering around people’s front lawn.

Great things

Quote

“Great things have been effected [sic] by a few men well conducted.” ~ George Rogers Clark, in a letter to Virginia Governor Patrick Henry

The quote comes from a letter that Clark wrote to Henry in 1779 about a mission to seize control of strategically important western forts and to push British control of the western regions north to the Great Lakes.