On Tuesday, June 7, award-winning author Nathaniel Philbrick makes a special appearance in Burlington in support of Lake Champlain Maritime Museum (LCMM)’s education programs. The event celebrates the release of Philbrick’s new book, Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution. “Lake Champlain Maritime Museum is delighted to celebrate the publication of this new work,” comments LCMM Executive Director Mike Smiles. “Nathaniel Philbrick puts this important Champlain Valley story into its national context.” The program, which includes book signing, lecture and reception, will be held at the Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center at 60 Lake Street, Burlington. Seating is limited and reservations are required; tickets are available online at www.lcmm.org or by phone 802 475-2022.
Released in May, Philbrick’s book has brought renewed national attention to Lake Champlain’s part in the American struggle for independence, and the tragic relationship of George Washington and Benedict Arnold. In September 1776, the vulnerable Continental army under novice commander George Washington evacuated New York. Three weeks later, Benedict Arnold’s hastily assembled American fleet miraculously succeeded in postponing the British naval advance down Lake Champlain. Although Washington relied on Arnold as a trusted and brilliant officer, the ending of the story is common knowledge: Arnold’s decision to transfer his allegiance to the British made his name synonymous with traitor. Reexamining the crucial period in which the hero of Valcour Island became embittered and alienated while the emerging nation struggled to figure out how it should be led, Philbrick’s narrative is a timely reminder that the real threat to American liberties sometimes comes from within.
In 1991, LCMM staff and volunteers built a full-sized, working replica of Benedict Arnold’s gunboat Philadelphia. The vessel remains the most popular exhibit at the Museum campus. In 1997, the Museum’s team of nautical archaeologists located the last missing gunboat from Arnold’s fleet upright and intact at the bottom of the lake; LCMM co-founder and Director Emeritus Art Cohn continues to work with the U. S. Navy on planning for the future of the historic shipwreck. Artifacts in LCMM’s Key to Liberty exhibit reveal numerous other personal stories uncovered by the Museum’s archaeological fieldwork and research: fragments of the cannon that exploded on the gunboat New York, killing 26 year old Lt. Thomas Rogers, are displayed alongside a replica of the gravestone erected by “his grieving widow Molly.” The struggles of Jeduthan Baldwin, engineer in charge of building the log bridge across the lake in the winter of 1777 accompany a massive timber that recently washed up on the lake shore; the recollections of Bayze Wells, from Farmington, Connecticut, who kept a journal of his experiences on board one of Arnold’s gunboats have become the soundtrack of a video about the battle.