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Black, Hispanic, Native American Patriots at Valley Forge National Historical Park

BLACK HISPANICSS NATIVE AM Black, Hispanic, Native American Patriots at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Valley Forge National Historical Park

Black, Hispanic, Native American Patriots at Valley Forge National Historical Park

Log huts have been reconstructed on the fields where General Washington’s army lived and trained.

Americans of African descent represent their ancestors at Valley Forge Reenactment.           

By Audrey Peterman

     On Day #37 of our “365 Parks in 365 Days” adventure, I am pleased to re-visit Valley Forge National Historical Park, the unit that is second only to Acadia National Park in its impact on my life. Acadia was the first national park I ever visited, and at the time, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a National Park System.

    The overwhelming natural beauty I saw there made me feel as if I had been living in a mansion but until then I’d only seen the kitchen, and suddenly I’d stumbled into the grand ballroom. What a difference! When I visited Valley Forge many years and many park units later and found that my Black ancestors were part of General Washington’s army that played such a definitive role in winning the Revolutionary War, I couldn’t believe I had never learned that in any history class or seen it in the media anywhere.

    The great American mythologist Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) said that every culture has myths by which it lives, a story that’s so deep rooted and prevalent that it “goes past your mind and into your very being, into your very gut.” Suddenly I saw how the American myth had been constructed to make White Americans the only heroes in our country’s history by deliberately erasing the contributions of all other racial and ethnic groups. And just like that, I was free. The story of the brave, suffering white soldiers at Valley Forge had captured my imagination for so long that finding it was seriously flawed put everything else I’d learned about my country’s history into question. Thankfully, I also found that the national park system provides a window into history where it actually happened, so it is far more factual. I am passionate about sharing these stories so that we can create a more accurate myth by which to live.

    Only then can we achieve our ultimate goal, to be “. . . one Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all…”

 Here’s how I describe it in Our True Nature:

    Just 30 minutes outside Philadelphia, Valley Forge National Historical Park preserves the encampment where General George Washington and his Continental Army camped in the bitter winter of 1777-78. Conditions were extremely dire and the troops lacked food and adequate clothing.

Some even lacked shoes and left bloody footprints in the snow. General Washington’s troops were the most racially integrated of any army that our country fielded before Vietnam. Approximately 5,000 soldiers of African descent served in the Continental Army during the Revolution.

     The troops included Americans of Hispanic and Native descent working side by side with their white brothers. Women were as much deprived as the soldiers as they worked as cooks, laundresses and seamstresses supporting the army.

    A fascinating part of the story is how the arrival of Baron Friedrich Wilhelm Augustus von Steuben as a volunteer started a chain of events that changed the rag tag army into a disciplined, well supplied fighting force. Baron von Steuben had considerable military experience as he had fought in the Prussian Army, including the Seven Year War from 1756-1763. As a result of a fortuitous meeting with Benjamin Franklin in France, von Steuben was sent by the Continental Congress to join General Washington’s army as a volunteer. Nothing could have turned out more favorably for the Americans, as von Steuben used his military knowledge to develop the army into a strong, organized fighting force. Their morale and abilities were so greatly improved that this winter encampment is credited with being a vital turning point in our victorious revolution.

     At this park, you can walk back through the American Revolutionary War, starting at the Visitor Center. Watch the movie and take in the exhibits. Tour General Washington’s, headquarters. Tour the soldiers’ log huts that have also been reconstructed. Take in the interactive exhibits of General Washington and his advisors. Stop at the statues and monuments throughout the park, including the statue of Baron von Steuben and the Monument to Patriots of African Descent.

     Note: If you buy a copy of Our True Nature from my website today (www.legacyontheland.com) you will be helping me buy more copies to use in schools this Black History Month. Your books will be autographed with a personal message of appreciation.)

Publication of “Our True Nature” is supported by Delaware North Parks & Resorts, Forever Resorts and Guest Services.

 

 

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    About The Author

    Carma Lynn Henry Westside Gazette Newspaper 545 N.W. 7th Terrace, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33311 Office: (954) 525-1489 Fax: (954) 525-1861

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