For three quarters of a century, since the National Park Service took over the land where a ragtag Colonial army beat the British and changed the course of the American Revolution, much of the interpretive history there, as you might expect, has focused on the two Battles of Saratoga.
Any discussion of the surrender, when Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne handed his sword to American Horatio Gates 12 days after the second battle, was usually summarized in a short explanation of Jonathan Trumbull’s classic 1821 painting, “The Surrender of General Burgoyne at Saratoga.” In that piece, Trumbull painted and identified many of the major figures at the scene.
Soon his creative talents will take a backseat to a 22-acre plot of land where the actual surrender took place. Previously indicated by a single historical marker along the west side of Route 4 just south of Schuylerville, the area has been added to the Saratoga National Historical Park with the help of the Open Space Institute of New York.
“I think this addition of land culminates much of the work we’ve been doing since we came up with our GMP [General Management Plan] back in 2005,” said Saratoga National Historical Park Superintendant Joe Finan. “Our GMP reflected a need to better interpret the surrender site, and this helps us do that. Because of Burgoyne’s surrender, Benjamin Franklin was able to bring the French to our aid and what was a local Colonial insurgence became more of a world war, greatly increasing the stress on the forces of the British Empire.”
Work in progress
Today, the 75th anniversary of the battlefield becoming part of the park service, an unveiling of the “Sword Surrender” site will be held at 11 a.m. Any members of the public interested in attending the ceremony should be at the Schuyler House in Schuylerville by 10:30 a.m. A shuttle bus will take them to the site. State Assemblyman Steven Englebright of Suffolk County and former state Sen. Roy McDonald of Saratoga Springs are expected to be among the speakers, along with Finan and park historian Eric Schnitzer.
The site is a long way from being open to the public, perhaps two or three years, but with the gift of land from the Open Space Institute of New York, the process is under way.
“We’re reaching out to a number of groups, including our own Friends of the Battlefield, asking them to take on this campaign to raise money,” said Finan. “So how quickly we do this is going to depend on philanthropic efforts. The site is going to have a modest design, and it’s not going to take a lot of maintenance, so we’re not incurring a huge expense.”
The long process of getting the 22 acres of land into the hands of the National Park Service began a couple of years ago when Englebright was driving north on Route 4 just north of the park, according to park chief of interpretation Gina Johnson.
“He was up here from Long Island, and he noticed the sword surrender site was up for sale,” said Johnson. “He got together with Roy McDonald, and they started working with the Open Space Institute. Through their efforts, the Open Space Institute purchased the land, and they’re giving it to us.”
Among the other speakers scheduled for today’s event is Caitlin Collins, president of the National Society of the Children of the American Revolution, a group that has already raised $30,000 for the project, and Charlie Burgess of the Northern New York Open Space Institute.
Also being unveiled at the site Saturday will be a bas-relief sculpture of Trumbull’s painting.
For more information, contact Johnson at 670-2980 or at [email protected]