Posts Tagged ‘American Revolution Statuary’

Captain Nathan Hale Statue

On this lunchtime bike ride I went to see a statue of Revolutionary War hero Nathan Hale, which is located outside of the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building, located at 950 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP) in the city’s  Downtown neighborhood.  I went for two reasons.  First, to see the statue itself.  But the other reason I went to see the statue was to try to determine why it was located where it is.  As far as I know, Hale was not a lawyer or connected in any way to the Justice Department or the Federal government.  And he didn’t even have any known connections to D.C.  So I was curious why the statue was placed where it is.

Nathan Hale was born on June 6, 1755 in Coventry, Connecticut.  In 1768, at the age of 14, he attended Yale College along with his older brother Enoch.  Hale graduated with first-class honors in 1773 at age 18 and became a teacher in Connecticut, first in East Haddam and later in New London.

When the Revolutionary War began in 1775, Hale joined a Connecticut militia unit.  His unit participated in the Siege of Boston, but Hale remained behind.  It has been speculated by some that he was unsure as to whether he wanted to fight.  On July 4, 1775, Hale received a letter from his classmate and friend Benjamin Tallmadge, and the letter was so inspiring that, several days later, Hale accepted a commission as first lieutenant in the 7th Connecticut Regiment.

In September of the following year, General George Washington was desperate to determine the location of the imminent British invasion of Manhattan Island. To that end, he needed a spy for the Continental Army behind enemy lines.  Hale was the only volunteer.

During his mission, New York City fell to British forces, and Hale was captured.  Hale was convicted of being a spy, and according to the standards of the time, was sentenced to be hanged the next day as an illegal combatant.  While waiting for the sentence to be carried out, Hale requested a Bible, but his request was denied.  Sometime later, he requested a clergyman.  Again, his request was denied.  The sentence was carried out the next morning, and Hale was hanged.  He was 21 years old.

Hale is best remembered for a speech that he gave just prior to being executed.  It is almost certain that his last speech contained more than one sentence, but it is for the following sentence that he is best remembered.  His last words before facing the gallows were famously reported to be, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”  Subsequent to his execution, Hale’s body has never been found.

The original statue honoring Hale was created by American sculptor Bela Pratt in 1912, and stands in front of Connecticut Hall where Hale resided while at Yale.  The statue located at the south façade of the Justice Department building near the corner of 10th Street and Constitution Avenue is a copy of this sculpture.  The D.C. statue is also part of the “American Revolution Statuary”, a group of fourteen statues in D.C. that are scattered across the city, mainly in squares and traffic circles.  They are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.

Unfortunately, despite visiting the statue and researching it later, I still have no idea why it is located where it is.  So if you know why, or have a theory, please feel free to share it in the comments section below.

         
[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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Statue of Brigadier General Thaddeus Kościuszko

On this ride I went to Lafayette Square Park, located just north of the White House between Pennsylvania Avenue and H Street, and between 15th and 17th Streets (MAP).  I went there to see one of the four statues which anchor the four corners of the park.  Today, I went to see the statue of Brigadier General Thaddeus Kościuszko, located at the northeast corner of the park.  The other three statues, which all outrank Kosciuszko, are of Major General Marquis Gilbert de Lafayette, Major General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, and Major General Comte Jean de Rochambeau.

The four corner statues located in Lafayette Square honor foreign volunteers who fought for the new nation during the American Revolutionary War.  As such, they are four of a total of fourteen statues known collectively as the “American Revolution Statuary”, which are scattered throughout D.C., mainly in squares and traffic circles, and are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Kościuszko statue was designed by a Polish sculptor named Antoni Popiel as part of a competition in 1907 to design a monument for the park.  Popiel’s design placed second in the competition.  For unknown reasons, however, President Theodore Roosevelt selected Popiel’s design for implementation.  It is unknown what happened with the design of the contest’s winner.  Kościuszko design was then erected in 1910, and dedicated by President William Howard Taft that same year.

The Kościuszko statue honors the Polish army officer, military engineer and statesman who gained fame both for his role in the American Revolution, and his leadership of a national insurrection in his homeland.

Born to a family of noble origin sometime in February of 1746,  Andrew Thaddeus Bonaventure Kościuszko began his rise to prominenace when he attracted the attention of King Stanisław II Augustus Poniatowski while working as an instructor at a military academy in Warsaw.  The king was so impressed, in fact, that he sent him to Paris for further study.  Upon his return to Poland, he taught the daughters of General Józef Sosnowski.  During this time he fell in love one of the daughters, Ludwika, and rather than ask her father for his daughter’s hand in marriage, he tried unsuccessfully to elope with her.  Facing the wrath of her father, Kościuszko fled to France, and in 1776 he came to America, where he joined the colonial forces in their fight for independence.  At the end of the war he was given U.S. citizenship.

In 1784, however, Kościuszko returned to Poland.  But because of his association with the Czartoryski family, then in opposition to the king, he could not secure an appointment in the Polish army.  So for the next five years he lived in poverty on a small country estate.

With the advent of reforms in Poland in 1789, Kościuszko returned to military service. Under the protection of his former love, Ludwika, now the wife of Prince Lubomirski, and with the support of local nobility, he was granted the rank of general major.  Then in March of 1794, Kościuszko organized an uprising against Russia which, under the rule of Catherine the Great, had invaded Poland in an attempt to end Polish internal reforms designed to liberate the nation from Russian influence.  While serving as commander-in-chief of the uprising, Russian forces captured him at the Battle of Maciejowice in October 1794, which led to the defeat of the Kościuszko Uprising.

In 1796, following the death of Catherine the Great, Kościuszko was pardoned by her successor, Tsar Paul I, and he emigrated back to the United States.  It was then that be became a close friend of Thomas Jefferson, with whom he shared many ideals of human rights.

After receiving news of fresh possibilities to promote Poland’s cause in France, Kościuszko  secretly left the United States on May 5, 1798.  But his return to France was a disappointment when he could not gain Napolean’s support for Poland’s independence, nor later on, that of Alexander I of Russia.  Hence, Kościuszko retired from public life, and for the rest of his life remained in exile from Poland, living first in France and later in Switzerland.  It was not until after his death in 1817 that Kościuszko was finally able to return to his native Poland, when his remains were carried to Kraków and buried among the kings’ tombs in the cathedral.

Kościuszko was not only a supporter of American independence and a Polish national hero, but also a believer in social equality.  Kościuszko wrote a will in 1798 dedicating his assets to the freedom and education of American slaves.

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[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Note:  If you want to learn even more about Thaddeus Kościuszko, I would recommend a visit to the foundation named after him.  Founded in 1925, on the eve of the 150th anniversary of his enlistment in the American revolutionary cause, The Kosciuszko Foundation is a national not-for-profit, nonpartisan, and nonsectarian organization dedicated to promoting educational and cultural exchanges between the United States and Poland, and to increase American understanding of Polish culture and history.  It is located about ten blocks from the statue, at 2025 O Street (MAP), in northwest D.C.’s DuPont Circle neighborhood, just a block down the street from Sonny Bono Memorial Park.

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Statue of Major General Marquis Gilbert de Lafayette

After my bike ride at the end of last week to see L’Hermione, the 18th-century French war ship which brought General Lafayette to the American colonies in 1780 with news of the French assistance in the American Revolution, I decided for this ride to go to see a local statue of him, entitled Major General Marquis Gilbert de Lafayette.  The statue is located in Lafayette Square, which is also named after him, and is located just north of the White House, on H Street between 15th and 17th Streets (MAP).

The statue of General Lafayette was commission by the U.S. Congress and created by a French sculptor and painter named Jean Alexandre Joseph Falguiere. It was cast in 1890, and unveiled without ceremony in April of 1891.  The inscription on the base of the north side of the statue reads, “To General la Fayette and his compatriots, 1777-1783, Derville Farbre, by the Congress in commemoration of the services rendered by General Lafayette and his compatriots during the struggle for the independence of the United States of America.” It is part of the “American Revolution Statuary”, a group of fourteen statues scattered throughout D.C., mainly in squares and traffic circles, which are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.

Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roche Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette was born in 1757 into a wealthy noble family.  Before his second birthday, his father, a Colonel of grenadiers was killed when he was struck by a cannonball while fighting a British-led coalition at the Battle of Minden. At the age of twelve, his mother passed away, leaving him a young and very wealthy orphan. In 1771, at the age of fourteen, Lafayette entered the Royal Army. Then when he was sixteen, Lafayette married Marie Adrienne Francoise de Noailles, who was related to the King, thus allying himself with one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in France.

But Lafayette was never impressed with status or riches, longing instead for military glory. However, two years after marrying into the royal family, he lost his military commission, like many other noblemen, when the government reduced military spending. This sent his life in another direction, one which would lead him to America.

At a dinner in August of 1775, Lafayette came into contact with the Duke of Gloucester, who spoke with sympathy of the struggle going on in the colonies. He became convinced that the American cause in its revolutionary war was noble. In fact, Lafayette would always remember this dinner as the turning point of his life. “My heart was enlisted,” he later confessed in his memoirs, “and I thought only of joining my colors to those of the revolutionaries.” Lafayette then set about studying the ideals of the American Revolution while making plans to enlist in the Continental Army.

At that time, a representative of the Continental Congress named Silas Deane was sent to France to recruit officers. And even though Lafayette was only nineteen, spoke almost no English, and had no experience in war, Deane offered him a written agreement that he would be commissioned a major general. The King of France, however, issued a decree forbidding French officers from serving in America, specifically naming Lafayette. So Lafayette secretly and against the wishes of the French government, bought a shop named the La Victoire and sailed to America, where he announced himself a volunteer.

Lafayette arrived in America in June of 1777, and by the end of the summer he had met General Washington and a friendship developed between the two men which lasted as long as Washington lived. Their bond became so strong that when Lafayette was shot in the leg during the Battle of Brandywine, Washington sent his own surgeon to care for him, telling the doctor to treat the young Frenchman as if he were Washington’s own son.

Lafayette arrived in America in June of 1777, and by the end of the summer he had met General Washington. A friendship subsequently developed between the two men which lasted as long as Washington lived. Their bond became so strong that when Lafayette was shot in the leg during the Battle of Brandywine, Washington sent his own surgeon to care for him, telling the doctor to treat the young Frenchman as if he were Washington’s own son. (Sharing the same sentiment, Lafayette would years later name his son George Washington Lafayette.) After Lafayette recovered, he became a valued member of Washington’s close-knit military family. At the end of that year, Lafayette went with Washington and the army into winter quarters at Valley Forge.

Lafayette was overjoyed when news of the French alliance arrived in early 1778, but decided to return to France in June in hopes of winning even more military support for the American cause. Lafayette had also hoped to be put in charge of the French army, but Marshall Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau was chosen instead. In 1780 Lafayette returned to America aboard L’Hermione, delivering news to George Washington of full French aid in the colonialists’ cause, helping turn the tide of the American Revolution.

Washington then sent Lafayette to Virginia to stop British raids along the James River. While there, General Charles Cornwallis’ forces arrived in Virginia, Lafayette harassed the British general until Washington and Rochambeau could lay siege to him in Yorktown. In October 1781, there was no prouder soldier than Lafayette at Cornwallis’ surrender to a combined American and French force at the Siege of Yorktown, ending the war.

Still only 24 years old, Lafayette returned again to France after the American Revolution, where he was welcomed as the “Hero of Two Worlds.” Back home, he rejoined the French army and organized trade agreements with Thomas Jefferson, the American ambassador to France. With the country on the verge of major political and social upheaval, Lafayette was named commander of the Paris National Guard. But when violence broke out in 1789, Lafayette’s obligation to protect the royal family left him in a vulnerable position to the factions vying for power. So he fled France in 1792.

Upon his departure from France Lafayette was captured at Olmütz by Austrian forces and imprisoned. He was later released by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1797. He finally returned to France in 1799, where he largely retired from public life. He settled at LaGrange, an estate near Paris nicknamed the Mount Vernon of France. In 1824, he made one final tour of America and was hailed as a hero.  Six years later, the aging statesman declined the dictatorship of France during the July Revolution, and Louis-Phillipe was crowned king.  He died four years later, May 20, 1834 at the age of seventy-six, following a battle with pneumonia.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

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Brigadier General Casimir Pulaski

Kazimierz Michał Władysław Wiktor Pułaski was born on March 6, 1745, in Warsaw, Poland, the oldest of three sons born to Count Józef Pułaski and Marianna Zielińska, who were members of the szlachta, an old and influential branch of the Polish aristocracy. Following in his father’s footsteps he became interested in politics at an early age, and soon became involved in the military and the revolutionary affairs in Poland. At the age of fifteen, he joined his father and other members of the szlachta in a conspiracy known as the Confederation of Bar, intended to free Poland from Russian and Prussian interference in Polish affairs.  In 1771 the Polish government implicated Pulaski in a plot to abduct Stanislaus II, the Russian-controlled king.  Accused of treason for his actions on behalf of Polish liberty, Pulaski travelled to Paris and sought protection in France. There he met Benjamin Franklin and Marquis de Lafayette, who induced him to support the colonies against England in the American Revolutionary War. Following a recommendation by Benjamin Franklin, the American ambassador to France, Pulaski emigrated to North America to help in the cause of the American Revolution, arriving in Philadelphia in 1777.

Upon his arrival Pulaski submitted his name to the Continental Congress for an officer’s commission. However, he was initially turned down.  So he unofficially joined General George Washington’s forces, and after saving his life at the Battle of Brandywine, was appointed a brigadier general in the Continental Army. Later that year Pulaski went on to fight at the Battle of Germantown, and then briefly stayed at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777-78. During the following spring, he briefly resigned his commission with the intent of returning to France. After being reinstated and sent to New York, Pulaski experienced a number of setbacks and once again decided to leave America. But events in Georgia kept Pulaski in the army and brought him to the South.

Pulaski distinguished himself throughout the revolution, and of all the Polish officers who took part in the American War for Independence, Pulaski was the most prominent. Of his many accomplishments, Pulaski is best known for having created the Pulaski Cavalry Legion, and reforming the American cavalry as a whole. In fact, along with Michael Kovats de Fabriczy, they are known as the founding fathers of the American cavalry.

At the Siege of Savannah in 1779, while leading a daring charge against British forces, he was mortally wounded by British cannon shot.  Pulaski’s enemies so respected him, however, that they spared him the musket and permitted him to be carried from the battlefield to the American camp.   James Lynah, the physician who treated Pulaski, claimed that he could have saved him if the general had remained in the American camp.  However, Pulaski insisted upon boarding a ship, and was taken aboard the Continental Brigantine Wasp.  Rumors about the exact cause of death and place of burial emerged after Pulaski’s death and continue to exist, but the standard account of what happened comes from Captain Paul Bentalou, who claimed that the general died of gangrene aboard the ship and was buried at sea.

On this lunchtime bike ride I stopped by Freedom Plaza in northwest D.C., to see a bronze equestrian statue of Brigadier General Casimir Pulaski, which is located near the corner of 13th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP). The statue, by Polish sculptor Kazimierz Chodziński and Architect Albert R. Ross, shows a mounted figure of General Pulaski dressed in the uniform of a cavalry commander from his native Poland. It is part of a group of fourteen statues scattered across the city, mainly in squares and traffic circles, which are collectively known as the “American Revolution Statuary.” These statues are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Brigadier General Casimir Pulaski statue was dedicated on May 11, 1910. Just over 99 years later, Congress passed a joint resolution conferring honorary U.S. citizenship on Pulaski. It was sent to President Barack Obama for approval, and was signed on November 6, 2009. Pulaski is only the seventh person to receive the honor.  So the man who wanted to stay in Poland but was forced to leave, became a citizen of the United States, a country which he wanted to leave but where circumstances forced him to stay.  And although he failed to help lead the revolution in Poland, the statue honoring him for his participation in the American revolution depicts him wearing the uniform of Poland.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

Statue of Doctor John Witherspoon

Statue of Doctor John Witherspoon

On today’s anniversary of his death in 1794, I chose the Statue of Doctor John Witherspoon at the intersections of Connecticut Avenue, N Street and 18th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s DuPont Circle neighborhood as the destination for this bike ride. The bronze sculpture by William Couper is part of a group of fourteen statues in D.C. known collectively as the “American Revolution Statuary.” They are listed together as a group on the National Register of Historic Places, and are scattered across the city, mainly in squares and traffic circles.

John Knox Witherspoon was born in February of 1723 at Gifford, a parish of Yester, at East Lothian, Scotland. He was a Scots Presbyterian minister before he and his family emigrated to New Jersey in 1768 in order to become President and head professor of the small Presbyterian College of New Jersey, which would eventually become Princeton University.

As a native Scotsman who was long wary of the power British Crown, Witherspoon came to support the Revolution in his new country. He was then elected in June of 1776 to the Continental Congress as part of the New Jersey delegation, and appointed Congressional Chaplain. He voted to adopt the Virginia Resolution for Independence, which was finally approved on July 2, 1776. The text of the document formally announcing this action, the United States Declaration of Independence, was approved two days later, to which Witherspoon was a signatory, and the only college president to sign it.

Witherspoon went on to serve in Congress until November 1782, and became one of its most influential members. He served on over 100 committees, spoke often in debate; helped draft the Articles of Confederation, and played a major role in shaping foreign policy. He also helped organize the Federal government’s executive departments.  He later served twice in the New Jersey Legislature, and strongly supported the adoption of the United States Constitution during the New Jersey ratification debates.

Actress Reese Witherspoon has claimed to be a direct descendant of John Witherspoon. However, it has been noted by the Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence that her claim has yet to be verified.

The John Paul Jones Memorial

The John Paul Jones Memorial

The John Paul Jones Memorial near the Potomac River was my destination on this bike ride. Located in West Potomac Park near the National Mall, the memorial is situated at the terminus of 17th Street near Independence Avenue (MAP) on the northern bank of the Tidal Basin in southwest D.C.

The memorial consists of a 10-foot bronze statue by American sculptor Charles Henry Niehaus, mounted on a 15-foot marble pylon. On the sides of the monument are ducts, out of which water flows into a small pools on either side. And the back of the pylon includes a relief of Jones raising the U.S. flag on his ship, the Bonhomme Richard, an event which is believed to be the first time the flag was flown on an American warship. The memorial was dedicated on May 16, 1914, and is the oldest monument in Potomac Park. It is part of a group of fourteen statues in D.C. known collectively as the “American Revolution Statuary.” These statues are scattered across the city, mainly in squares and traffic circles, and are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.

John Paul Jones was the United States’ first well-known naval hero of the Revolutionary War. Despite having made enemies among America’s political elites and never rising about the rank of Captain in the Continental Navy, his actions in British waters during the Revolution earned him an international reputation which persists to this day. Based on this, he is sometimes referred to as the “Father of the United States Navy”, an appellation he shares with Commodore John Barry. He is also widely remembered as the Captain of the USS Bonhomme Richard, who, in response to a taunt about surrender from the enemy captain of the HMS Serapis during Revolutionary War’s Battle of Flamborough Head, exclaimed, “I have not yet begun to fight!”

But despite his eventual success and fame, John Paul Jones came close on several occasions to losing out on his place in history. He had an inauspicious start in life, and there were several events early in his career that had the potential to not only end his career, but could have landed him in prison for the rest of his life.

John Paul (he added “Jones” later) was born to John Paul, Sr. and Jean McDuff on July 6, 1747 in Scotland. He started his maritime career as an apprentice at the age of 13, with many of his destinations being near Fredericksburg, in the Province of Virginia, where his older brother William Paul had settled. He worked his way up the ranks on a number of different sailing ships until, having become disgusted with the cruelty in the slave trade, he abandoned his prestigious position as first mate on a profitable ship named “Two Friends” while docked in Jamaica, and found his own passage back to Scotland.

After eventually obtaining another position on a different ship, John Paul’s maritime career unexpectedly took off when both the captain and a ranking mate suddenly died of yellow fever. He was able to navigate the ship back to a safe port, for which the vessel’s grateful Scottish owners rewarded him by making him the ship’s captain.

However, as quickly as his reputation had been earned, it was nearly destroyed during a subsequent voyage. John Paul viciously flogged one of his sailors, which resulted in accusations that his discipline was “unnecessarily cruel.”  When the disciplined sailor died a few weeks later, he was arrested and imprisoned for his involvement in the man’s death. After being released on bail, he fled Scotland.

Leaving Scotland behind, John Paul commanded a London-registered vessel named The Betsy, which he sailed to Tobago in the southern Caribbean and made a fortune engaging in commercial speculation. This ended after approximately 18 months, however, when he killed a member of his crew named Blackton with a sword in a dispute over wages. He would later claim that it was in self-defense but, nonetheless, fled Tobago to avoid the hangman’s noose.  Leaving his fortune behind, he fled to his brother’s home back in Fredericksburg.

It was at this time that John Paul began using the alias John Jones. At the suggestion of his brother, he began using the name John Paul Jones. Shortly after settling in North America, he went to Philadelphia and volunteered his services to the newly founded Continental Navy at the beginning of the Revolutionary War. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Commodore John Barry Statue

Commodore John Barry Statue

On today’s anniversary of his death in 1803 at the age of 58, I chose to write about my bike ride to Franklin Square, at 14th Street and K Street in northwest D.C., (MAP) to see the local monument commemorating Commodore John Barry.  The monument consists of a statute of Barry standing on top of a base of pink marble with steps of pink granite. The base is adorned by the carved figure of a woman standing on the bow of a ship, with her raised right hand holding out an olive branch. Her lowered left hand holds a shield and sword steady at her side. To her right, an eagle standing on a branch of oak leaves gazes up at her.

The bronze statue by American sculpture John Boyle is near the western border of the square.  It was dedicated on May 16, 1914, and is part of a group of fourteen statues in D.C. known collectively as the “American Revolution Statuary.” These statues are scattered across the city, mainly in squares and traffic circles, and are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Commodore John Barry Statue is not the only attraction in D.C. with a connection to Barry. The USS Barry Museum Ship, which currently lies moored at Pier 2 in the Anacostia River at The Washington Navy Yard (MAP), was also named after Barry.  It is one of four Navy vessels which were named for the commander.

John Barry was born on March 25, 1745, at Ballysampson on Our Lady’s Island, which is part of Tacumshin Parish in County Wexford, Ireland. The place of his birth had two very strong influences on his life. First, Wexford, at the southeasternmost part of Ireland, has always had a strong maritime tradition. And this tradition was instilled in Barry. Also, Barry learned at a very young age of the massacre of some 3,000 Wexfordians under an invading English force led by Oliver Cromwell in 1649, which led to a lifelong opposition to both oppression in general and the British in particular.

Barrry was 10 years old when his family immigrated to the American colonies after they were forced out of their home and off their land by a British landlord.  And his loyalty to his newfound adopted homeland became evident early on. Late in 1776, after the colonies had declared their independence from England, Barry was approached by an acquaintance who sympathized with the British, and offered a monetary bribe along with a commission in the Royal Navy and his own ship under Royal authority if he would turn his American ship over to the British. He indignantly refused because, in his own words, he “spurned the eyedee of being a treater.”

Barry presented an imposing and commanding figure. He was a burly and in shape man of 6’4″, with a ruddy-complexion who spoke in a commanding tone. In an era when most men stood only about 5’5″, Barry’s physical presence served him well throughout a career which took him from humble cabin boy to senior commander of the entire United States fleet after becoming America’s first commissioned naval officer, at the rank of Commodore, receiving his commission from President George Washington in 1797.

Barry is widely credited as “The Father of the American Navy,” although it is moniker which is shared with one of his contemporaries, Commander John Paul Jones. As most naval historians note, Barry can be classed on a par with Jones for nautical skill and daring, but he exceeds him in the length of service to his adopted country and his fidelity to the nurturing of a permanent American Navy. Although frequently obscured by his Commander Jones, Barry is an unsung hero of the young American Republic and is indeed deserving of the byname, “Father of the American Navy.”

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Statue of Benjamin Franklin

Statue of Benjamin Franklin

On this bike ride I stopped by The Old Post Office Pavilion, to see a statue of Benjamin Franklin. The statue, which was designed by Ernst Plassman and sculpted by American artist Jacques Jouvenal, stands on a pedestal in front of the building located at the southeast corner of the intersection of 12th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP) in the downtown section of northwest D.C.

The Carrara marble statue was a gift of Stilson Hutchins, one of the founders of The Washington Post newspaper, and was dedicated on January 17, 1889, at 10th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. It was eventually moved to its current site in 1982. The statue is part of group of fourteen statues called “American Revolution Statuary.”  The statues are scattered across the city, mainly in squares and traffic circles, and are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.

Franklin was born in 1706 in Boston, the 10th of 17 children of soap maker Josiah Franklin, and his second wife, Abiah Folger. His father wanted him to attend school with the clergy, but he was unable to afford more than two years. Instead, Franklin attended the Boston Latin School, but dropped out at the age of ten. Although he never returned to formal schooling, Franklin continued his education through voracious reading, teaching himself to read French, Spanish, Latin, German and Italian.  Later in life, however, he received honorary degrees from Harvard, Yale, the University of St. Andrews, the University of Oxford, and the University of Edinburgh.

After leaving school, Franklin became an apprentice to one of his brothers, James, who was a printer. Thus began a career which would include varying levels of success in multiple vocations and avocations. Eventually becoming one of the foremost of this country’s Founding Fathers, Franklin was one of five men who helped draft the Declaration of Independence and was one of its signers.  As a diplomat, he represented the newly emerging United States in France during the American Revolution. He was also a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. Franklin was also a patriot, statesman, political theorist, and politician, as well as an author, printer, librarian, bookstore owner, scientist, inventor, composer and musician, soldier in the Philadelphia militia, volunteer firefighter, philosopher, abolitionist, and civic activist. An authentic and world-renowned polymath in the vein of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Galileo Galilei, and Nicolaus Copernicus, Franklin’s expertise spanned so many different subject areas that it is almost impossible to capture an accurate appreciation of his complexity and genius.

In addition to his many more well-known accomplishments, Franklin was also instrumental in founding the first hospital in America; establishing the colonies’ first circulation library, founding the University of Pennsylvania, and organizing the first insurance company in the colonies. And as a prolific inventor, Franklin invented the rocking chair, the concept of Daylight Savings Time, the odometer, the Pennsylvania fireplace which is now more commonly known as the “Franklin Stove,” the flexible urinary catheter, the lightning rod, swimming fins, writing chair school desks, a new kind of ship’s anchor, a musical instrument known as a glass armonica, bifocal eyeglasses, and a pulley system that enabled him to lock and unlock his bedroom door without getting out of his bed.

Although Franklin could have made enormous sums of money for many of his inventions, he purposefully chose not to patent any of his inventions.  He explained why in his autobiography, in which he wrote, “… as we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours; and this we should do freely and generously.”

Other interesting albeit unrelated facts about Franklin include that at the age of 16, after reading a book about vegetable diets, he decided to become a vegetarian.  He wrote the first known “pro vs. con” list as a method for contemplating and making a decision.  Franklin thought the turkey should be the national bird, rather than the bald eagle, because he thought the turkey was more respectable than eagles and a true native of the United States.  Also, while working in London, he was given the nickname “Water-American” because he would rather drink water than beer, unlike the vast majority of people at that time. Lastly, Franklin liked to take “air baths,” in which he would sit naked in his bathtub and let the cold air from an open window clean away germs.

Oddly, Franklin also had two birthdays during his lifetime. His birth certificate reads that he was born on January 6, 1706. However, in 1752, the British colonies changed to a different calendar. Over time, calendars no longer line up with seasons and adjustments must be made to help synchronize the calendar year with the solar year so that seasons happen in the right month. That is why we now have leap year.  Anyway, at midnight on September 2, 1752, it legally became September 14th, and previous dates were adjusted for the new calendar.  Franklin’s new birthday from that point forward became January 17th.

Franklin was also a postmaster, having been appointed the British postmaster for the colonies by King George III before the Revolutionary War. Then on July 26, 1775, the Second Continental Congress established The United States Post Office and named Benjamin Franklin as the first U.S. Postmaster General. This may explain why the statue was placed in its current location in front of the Old Post Office building.

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The Lieutenant General George Washington Statue

The Lieutenant General George Washington Statue

The monument that towers over the National Mall in downtown D.C. is universally recognized as our nation’s memorial to the ‘father of our country” and first President, George Washington.  Although it was initially proposed over one hundred years before its completion, it languished in the planning and construction stages for decades.  Finally, on February 21, 1885, The Washington Monument was official dedicated.  But few people know that the 555-foot and 5-inch obelisk was not the first monument built in D.C. to honor the new nation’s first leader.  Twenty-five years earlier, on February 22, 1860, a statue to memorialize Washington was erected in D.C.  On today’s bike ride, I went to that earlier Washington monument.

The momentum to honor George Washington first surfaced before he died in 1799. The Continental Congress of 1783 passed a resolution to erect a monument to this hero of the American Revolution in the soon-to-be-built Federal capital bearing his name.  But when a frustrated President Washington was struggling to finance and oversee construction of the new capital city on the Potomac River, he pulled the plug on funding for his own memorial.  The project resumed when plans for a memorial were adopted during the centennial of Washington’s birth in 1832.  Work on the project was interrupted by political quarreling in the 1850s, and construction ceased entirely during the Civil War. Finally, in 1876, inspired by the United States centennial, Congress passed legislation appropriating funding for completion of the monument.  It was completed almost a decade later.

By this time, however, the more modest monument, The Lieutenant General George Washington Statue, had already been installed almost a quarter of a century earlier.  The bronze equestrian statue of Washington riding his horse during the Battle of Princeton depicts him in the heroic, idealized Romantic style.  It was installed where the Foggy Bottom and West End neighborhoods meet, in the center of a park in the traffic circle at the intersection of 23rd Street, K Street, New Hampshire Avenue, and Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP).

The statue is part of the “American Revolution Statuary“, a group of fourteen statues in D.C., and are scattered across the city, mainly in squares and traffic circles.  They are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.

This monument may not be the most well known, or the biggest, but it does predate the more well-known monument on the National Mall.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]