What do a stage coach driver, the editor of the Papers of Thomas Jefferson, a sitting president of the United States, and a descendant of an African American Revolutionary War soldier have in common?
And what do they all have in common with the 65th governor of Connecticut, the son of a Mount Rushmore president, and the brother of abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe?
They are on the all-time list of featured speakers at Wyoming Monument Commemoration Ceremonies. It’s a list that includes six university presidents and five Pulitzer Prize winners.
The sitting President of the United States was Rutherford B. Hayes. He was the scheduled speaker at the first Commemoration Ceremony in 1878, the 100th anniversary of the Battle, but he didn’t have much to say. Owing to the heat, dust and the crush of the crowd of several thousand, Hayes kept his remarks short. No transcript of his talk was found, but it was noted his remarks were “pleasant” and he had “great admiration for the people of Wyoming.”
The stage coach driver was Lawerence H. Gipson, who drove a stage in Colorado as a young man, but by the time he gave the keynote at the Monument Commemoration in 1941 he was Dr. Gipson, head of the History Department at Lehigh University. In 1962, he won the Pulitzer Prize for History for his 15-volume history of “The British Empire Before the American Revolution.”
His speech on July 3, 1941, was “Two Centuries Ago in Pennsylvania.” Though most of Pennsylvania was a wilderness on the edge of the frontier in 1741, Gipson said Pennsylvania was the most important producer of bread, beef and pork in the British Empire and had a leadership role in the development of the American metal industry. Gipson talked about the War of Jenkins’ Ear, between Spain and England for the right of free navigation of the oceans, wherein 300 Pennsylvania indentured servants ran away from their masters to join a force recruited to fight with the British in the West Indies.
In his speech in 1898, Francis W. Halsey, a New York Times editor, paid tribute to the Iroquois saying even in their destruction of Wyoming, they “unconsciously rendered an inestimable service by becoming allies of the English rather than the French and thus helped make America Anglo-Saxon rather than Latin.” Hasley went on and on advocating for an Anglo-American Alliance — and on and on.
Brevity was not an attribute for event speakers in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The talks weren’t speeches, they were orations. Listeners, without smart phones to tend to or Netflix shows to binge-watch, expected them to orate for an hour or more.
In 1909, Claude Halstead Van Tyne, a University of Michigan history professor, titled his talk “The Wyoming Valley and the Union Sentiment in the American Revolution.” He made the case the unification of the colonies against the British was more about economics than patriotic fervor.
The colonies, he said, “Were at a total variance. Quaker Pennsylvania, Catholic Maryland, Puritan New England. In the Carolinas were the Huguenots, in New York the Dutch and in Delaware the Swedes.”
Trade, he said, led to “the growth of the sentiment for a union of colonies” and “the Wyoming Valley, by reason of its location and the character of its inhabitants, was greatly instrumental.”
In 1951, Paul Wallace, the editor of Pennsylvania History, identified a network of eight major Indian trails which united the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy.
“The trails in those days were not so dangerous or uncomfortable, not so drab and monotonous as the writers of fiction would have us believe. The woods of Penn Sylvania were friendly. The trails were safer than our modern highways. There was no lack of color on the Indian paths. The colors were painted by Indian artists on the trees. The aisles of the forest were the Indians’ art gallery,” he said.
The defense of Indians was a popular theme with commemoration speakers. The 1895 speaker Thomas K. Stowe — who sister Harriet Beecher Stowe exposed the horror of slavery in her book “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” — said the Indians learned the art of war from the whiteman.
“Don’t blaspheme the Indians. I neither blame nor praise them. They are men,” he said.
The 2019 Wyoming Monument ceremony starts at 10 a.m., Thursday, July 4.
After the ceremony, The Luzerne County Historical Society and the 24th Connecticut Militia Regiment will host a re-enactment of the Battle of Wyoming and an open house from noon to 4 p.m. at the society’s Denison House, 35 Denison St., Forty Fort. Admission is free. This year’s speaker is Ted Muendel, who is developing a documentary movie on the Battle of Wyoming.