FORT PLAIN – With a social studies teacher for a father and a natural affinity for writing, it’s no surprise to anyone acquainted with Benjamin L. Carp that he has become a successful author of history books.
His favorite topic is the American Revolution, and when he speaks Saturday morning as part of the Fort Plain Museum’s annual American Revolutionary War conference, “250 in the Mohawk Valley,” the particular subject matter will be the Boston Tea Party.
“I went to college resistant to the idea that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree because my father taught history, but by the time I was a sophomore it was clear that history was the only major for me. And by the time I was a junior I knew I would do some writing, and that history would be my vehicle to do that,” said Carp, who after attending Yale University for four years went on to get his Ph.D. at the University of Virginia.
“When you go to grad school and write a dissertation and then pursue your doctorate, most people are going to publish their dissertation, so I always had the idea. I had done some journalism in high school and then interned at a literary agency, so writing was always something I knew I would do,” Carp said.
His 2010 book published by Yale University Press, “The Defiance of the Patriots: The Boston Tea Party and the Making of America,” will be the subject of his presentation, which will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday in the visual arts and communications building on the campus of Fulton-Montgomery Community College. The three-day conference begins with a bus trip through the Mohawk Valley at various Revolutionary War sites in the area, and continues Saturday and Sunday with different speakers at FMCC.
Carp will also mention his two other books during Saturday’s presentation, “Rebels Rising: Cities and the American Revolution,” published by Oxford Press in 2007, and “The Great New York Fire of 1776: A Lost Story of the American Revolution,” released earlier this year by Yale University Press.
Carp grew up in Nassau County on Long Island and now lives in New York City, where he is a professor of history at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center. His book “Rebels Rising” was his graduate dissertation, while his book on the Boston Tea Party, which in December will be 250 years ago, came about at the suggestion of a friend.
“A colleague of mine, while I was teaching at the University of Edinburgh, asked me, ‘When was the last time a book on the Boston Tea Party came out?’ ” said Carp, who also taught at Tufts University before heading home to New York City. “The only one I was aware of was back in the 1960s, so I figured there might be some new things to say about it.
“I had a chapter in my ‘Rebels’ book about the Boston waterfront based on my dissertation, and then I did my own archival research and I learned some interesting things to help me tell an important story in a new way.”
All three of Carp’s books on the American Revolution focus on events that happened in major cities.
“I seem to be drawn to people doing stuff, especially very dramatic stuff, in major cities in the 18th century,” said Carp. “That is the commonality that runs through all three of my books. The Boston Tea Party was certainly a singular event. There have been other similar events in other cities, but nothing on that scope or scale. What happened in Boston 250 years ago was enormous, and it wasn’t just about ‘taxation without representation.’ It’s not as simple as people might assume.”
While Boston’s role in the American war for independence also includes another well-researched event — the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770 — the story of New York City during that time seems a bit underpublicized. That’s what Carp’s most recent book is about, and he will address some of those topics in his Saturday talk.
“The British occupied much of New York City in 1776, and soon after they took control a fire burns a fifth of what was the occupied part of the city,” said Carp. “Most historians have ignored this or just decided it wasn’t that significant. But if the fire had been set deliberately it suddenly takes on more historical significance. If the evidence suggests that it was a deliberate act by people affiliated with the rebel cause, then it is very important. I’ve been working on that for 26 years now and I wanted to make my own statement about the New York fire, so that’s why I wrote the book.”
Among the other speakers this weekend will be Rotterdam native Eric Schnitzer, an interpretive ranger at the Saratoga National Park and Battlefield; and Delmar’s Terry McMaster, an independent historian and reenactor. Schnitzer’s presentation is “Picturing History: The Images of the American War for Independence,” while McMaster will talk about Cherry Valley’s experience during the Revolution.
‘250 in the Mohawk Valley’
WHAT: Annual American Revolutionary War conference hosted by the Fort Plain Museum
WHERE: Visual arts and communication building at Fulton-Montgomery Community College in Johnstown
WHEN: Friday through Sunday
HOW MUCH: $120 for nonmembers; $100 for Fort Plain Museum members
MORE INFO: fortplainmuseum.org
Categories: Life and Arts