We the Teachers

Pennsylvania Teacher Testifies to Benjamin Franklin’s Wonderful Life

Talk with teachers participating in TAH.org’s programs, and you learn that many have cultivated a deep knowledge of the history of their states, counties, and towns. Local history it is not emphasized in most school curricula. Yet teachers find that pointing students toward this history can help students make connections between past and present. It also encourages civic-mindedness, helping students to understand American government as a federal system, in which citizens take responsibility for local and state government.

A statue of Benjamin Franklin stands near the original site of Fort Allen (photo by Mike Feifel).

A statue of Benjamin Franklin stands near the original site of Fort Allen (photo by Mike Feifel).

Teachers who bring knowledge of their specific region to Ashbrook Masters seminars sometimes instruct the faculty. Professor Christopher Flannery speaks of a remarkable moment in a class he taught on the writings of Benjamin Franklin. In his Autobiography, Franklin mentions his brief military service during the French and Indian War. A seminar student – Mike Feifel, a teacher at Lehighton Area High School, near Bethlehem, Pennsylvania – offered Flannery and classmates an in-depth account of this episode.

Feifel explained that at the outset of the war, Franklin, as Pennsylvania representative to the continental Albany Congress, had attempted to organize a united governing council and militia for the colonies. The royal governor had not accepted his plan, and the threat posed by French-allied native American tribes to settlers along the frontier persisted.

Some of these settlers were Moravian missionaries who had founded a settlement called New Gnadenhutten – at the site of present-day Lehighton – for British-allied Indians, members of the Lenni Lenape tribe. Considered traitors by the Indians now fighting alongside the French to oust the British settlers, the Lenni Lenape had been hounded from their traditional hunting grounds.  The Moravians offered these native Americans their “Huts of Mercy” settlement, providing instruction in the gospel along with a stable community. They helped the Lenni Lenape build homes, while living themselves in one mission house just across the Lehigh River.

On November 24, 1755, the Moravians were eating dinner when a party of hostile Indians attacked. The Moravians were pacifists. Those not immediately killed fled to the attic, dying when the Indians set fire to the house.

“I pass by the site every day on my way to school,” Feifel said. The spot is marked with a marble burial stone and an historical placard that tells the story of the massacre.

The mass grave of the victims of the Gnadenhutten massacre (photo by Mike Feifel).

The mass grave of the victims of the Gnadenhutten massacre (photo by Mike Feifel).

The alarm caused by the massacre and a failed retaliation forced Deputy Governor Robert Morris to act. He gave Franklin the title of Colonel and put him in charge of frontier defense. A highly capable administrator and communicator, Franklin recounts in his autobiography how he had raised supplies from Pennsylvania farmers for British General Bratton’s earlier disastrous venture to retake Fort Duquesne. However, he says, “I had not so good an opinion of my military Abilities as [Governor Morris] professed to have.”

“Franklin had not spent a day of his life in a military campaign,” said Feifel, who’s done independent research in Franklin’s letters. Yet Franklin traveled to the frontier settlement of Bethlehem, mustered troops, and planned an attack on the tribe who had destroyed the Gnadenhutten settlement. “On the morning of his 50th birthday, Franklin was about to set out when he got word that muskets he had brought and supplied settlers with had failed to fire during another Indian attack.” American muskets required gunpowder that didn’t ignite in wet weather. “Franklin set out anyway, but then, as his soldiers marched through a narrow, wooded gorge, he saw they were vulnerable to hidden attackers.” He ordered a retreat.

Instead of going to meet the foe, Franklin resolved to build forts. These became Fort Allen, Fort Franklin, and Fort Norris, and offered strongholds to which settlers could run when attacked. “It was a huge advance for the undefended area,” Feifel told his classmates.

“In 1758, the Treaty of Easton brought a truce between British settlers and the hostile tribes. The last Indian massacre in the area occurred in 1763,” as the French and Indian War neared conclusion. Feifel credits Franklin’s initiative and leadership with securing the Pennsylvania frontier.

He pointed out to the seminar that this region would be critical to the nation’s industrialization. Here, anthracite coal would be discovered, and Josiah White would build canal to take coal to Philadelphia. Coal would later fuel the steel industry that grew up around Bethlehem. The area would also become the birthplace of organized labor, where the “Molly Maguires” first organized.

White would donate some of his profits from Lehigh River navigation to found schools for Native Americans. One of these, Carlisle Industrial Indian School (now Carlisle College), educated the great athlete Jim Thorpe.

“All of this happened because of what Franklin did,” Feifel told fellow students in Flannery’s Ashbrook seminar.

Program Report: Alexander Hamilton hosted at Fraunces Tavern, NYC

This last Saturday, October 15th, the esteemed Dr. Stephen Knott presented a Forum at the Fraunces Tavern in New York City.  Fifty-five teachers from several states gathered at this historic site, the very place where General Washington bid farewell to his troops at the conclusion of the Revolutionary War.  Dr. Knott spoke on “Hamilton’s View of Federal Power”, “Launching the New Government” and “Cabinet Warfare: The Report on Manufacturing and the Whiskey Rebellion” as topics, as well as all facets of Hamilton’s life, his workings with Washington, the rivalry with Jefferson and the duel with Burr that ended his life. All participants received a copy of Dr. Knott’s latest book, “Washington and Hamilton: An Alliance That Forged America”   This program was generously funded by the Achelis & Bodman Foundations.  

Teachers at the Fraunces Tavern

Teachers at the Fraunces Tavern

 

Liberty Fund Weekend Colloquium: George Washington

This last weekend 18 teachers came to Alexandria, Virginia  for a Liberty Fund Colloquia on George Washington.  Topics of conversation considered Washington’s early life and the beginning of the Revolution and his advocacy for Federalism and Republicanism.  Teachers discussed the complexities of his first and second Presidencies, and the difficulty of setting new precedents while always remaining committed to the limits set forth within the Constitution.  We spoke at great length of Washington’s virtue, integrity, character and commitment to his nation.  Washington set for the standard by which all future Presidents were and are  judged.  After a long day of thoughtful discussion, teachers toured the Mount Vernon estate and the Presidential Museum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Second Roots of Liberty National Essay Contest is Underway!

TAH.org is once again excited to support the Roots of Liberty National Essay Contest. This is an excellent opportunity for a high school teacher to sponsor an outstanding student essay. The contest asks student to build a thoughtful essay about the following:

“In To Make Their Interests Coincide With Their Duty: How the Constitution Leads Public Officials to Make Good Decisions, law professor Robert T. Miller argues that the brilliance of the American Constitution is that it “creates a system of procedures for selecting public officials and ordering how they make decisions that are in the best interests of society.” Analyze one consequential presidential decision to determine to what extent, if any, the Constitution leads presidents to make good decisions.

The winning student essay will received a grand prize of $5,000, plus a trip to D.C. for 2. The teacher who sponsors the winning student will receive a prize of $1,000. Additional cash prizes are available. Find prize and rule details here. The essay contest deadline is Friday, December 15, 2016.

A Conversation with Historian Charles Dew

Charles Dew, author of Apostles of Disunion, published this month The Making of Racist: A Southerner Reflects on Family, History, and the Slave Trade. Part memoir, part history, this thoughtful book argues we need public dialogue on slavery and its legacy. We discussed this and the MAHG teachers’ collaborative project in our interview with him.

A Conversation with Historian Charles Dew

Creative Collaborations Among Teachers

The friendships that begin in the Master of Arts program in History and Government lead to a fertile exchange of teaching ideas. Recently they’ve led to teaching collaborations across time zones.

In this post, we share the story of two teachers who collaborated in assigning a local history project. Through it, students in California and Ohio learned that trends in national history have shaped their hometowns in parallel ways.

California and Ohio Teachers Collaborate on Local History Project

 

 

New TAH.org Site Feature: Enhanced Sitewide Search

TeachingAmericanHistory.org has a new feature: a simple, enhanced search tool embedded on every page of the site. If you look in the upper-right corner of any page you’ll see the Search box that’s always been there – but now you have the ability to select whether you want the search term to be applied to whole site, or just our Documents Library. If you select Documents, you’ll be able to search the titles and contents of our 2300+ primary documents, providing easier, faster access to the information you want.

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