Book of the Week: Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada

[simpleazon-image align="right" asin="1459731123" locale="us" height="500" src="" width="500"]This week Magna Carta celebrates its 800th birthday. Therefore it seems fitting that this week's "Book of the Week" is [simpleazon-link asin="1459731123" locale="us"]Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada: Democracy, Law, and Human Rights[/simpleazon-link]. Harris and I will discuss Magna Carta's gifts to the United States too when we chat next week for Ben Franklin's World: A Podcast About Early American History

Book Description from

The year 2015 marks the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, the Great Charter imposed on King John by his barons in the thirteenth century to ensure he upheld traditional customs of the nobility. Though it began as a safeguard of the aristocracy, over the past 800 years, the Magna Carta has become a cornerstone of democratic ideals for all.

After centuries of obscurity, the Magna Carta was rediscovered in the seventeenth century, and has informed numerous documents upholding human rights, including the American Declaration of Independence, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man, and the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights. For Canadians, it has informed key documents from the Royal Proclamation of 1763 that shaped the then-British Colonies and their relations with First Nations, to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This book complements the 2015 Magna Carta Canada exhibition of the Durham Cathedral Magna Carta and Charter of the Forest.


The Confederate Raid of St. Albans Vermont

Raid PosterDid you know that a unit of Confederate soldiers invaded Vermont during the Civil War? I didn't.

On October 15, 2014, I attended a talk by J. Kevin Graffagnino about the Confederate raid of St. Albans Vermont in October 1864.

In this post you will discover details about the St. Albans Raid as well as the valuable lesson the raid taught Graffagnino about researching and writing history.


Origins of Research

Since November 2008, J. Kevin Graffagnino has served as the Director of the William L. Clement Library at the University of Michigan. Prior to 2008, he held curatorial and administrative posts at the University of Vermont and the Historical Societies of Vermont, Wisconsin, and Kentucky.

As a native Vermonter, Graffagnino became interested in the St. Albans Raid as a child. His work at the University of Vermont and the Vermont Historical Society allowed him to conduct in-depth research about the raid from the Vermont point of view. His position at the Kentucky Historical Society gave him the opportunity to return to the raid and look at it from the Kentucky point of view.


The St. Alban’s Raid: An Overview

vermont MapThe St. Albans, Vermont raid stands as the northernmost military action during the Civil War.

The raid took place on October 19, 1864 and it was led by a young Confederate calvary officer named Bennett Henderson Young.

The raid had strong Kentucky roots. In addition to Young, many of the Confederate soldiers who participated in the raid hailed from Kentucky.

Although the state government of Kentucky remained neutral throughout the war, many of its residents chose sides: Five times as many Kentuckians joined the Union Army than the Confederate Army.

In 1864, the Confederate Army sent 1st Lieutenant Bennett Young to Canada to reconnoiter the northern landscape of the U.S.

Canada did not take sides during the American Civil War. The country allowed civilians and soldiers from both the Union and the Confederacy to enter its borders to secure supplies or safety.

Young accepted his mission gladly. He wanted to punish New England for its role in the war and for the devastation its Union soldiers had wrought throughout the South. Young did not think it fair that nearly every community in the South lived in fear of wartime violence while most in the North lived without such fear, especially those in New England.

Young focused his attention on the northern borders of Vermont. Vermonters had been among the most vociferous opponents of slavery and the Confederacy.

In October 1864, Young met with Confederate leaders in Toronto. He told them that he intended to attack St. Albans, Vermont, a town in the northwest corner of the state.


Why St. Albans?

St. AlbansSt. Albans made a perfect target for three reasons:

1. Railroad Hub: St Albans served as the headquarters for the Central Vermont Railroad. As a railroad hub, the residents of St. Albans were used to seeing out-of-town travelers. This fact would allow Young and his men to infiltrate the town with a minimum of suspicion.

2. Money: As a railroad hub, St. Albans was a relatively prosperous community. Its three banks would have money in its vaults that Young and his men could secure and send back to the Confederacy.

The Confederate Army wanted Young to bring the horrors of the Civil War to New England. Young's attack was designed to unnerve the Yankees and make them live in fear that Confederate raiders might attack them at any moment. However, Young’s primary missions seems to have been to secure financial assistance for the Confederacy.

3. Location: Located in the northwest corner of the state, Young and his men could infiltrate St. Albans and make their way to the safety of Canada in short order.


The Raid

St. Albans RaidTwenty-two Confederate soldiers took part in the raid, including Young.

The twenty-two men arrived in St. Albans either alone or in pairs over several days. They stayed in different hotels as not to arouse suspicion. Their plan worked, no one in St. Albans suspected their plan.

The raid began at 3pm on October 19, 1864.

The Confederates divided into three different groups and each group entered a different town bank. In each bank, the Confederates raised their pistols and told the tellers and customers that they were Confederate soldiers who had come to take St. Albans and its money for the Confederacy.

The raid lasted 25-30 minutes.

After they robbed the banks, the soldiers rounded up all the horses in town. The rest of the St. Albans residents became aware of what was happening as the Confederates gathered the horses. The residents marched to the town square with their odd assortment of firearms.

A furious firefight ensued.

The civilians shot three of the raiders. The Confederates killed one civilian, an out-of-town visitor by the name of Elias Morrison. Ironically, Morrison had been a Confederate sympathizer.

After the firefight, Young and his men mounted their horses and galloped out of town. As they rode away they threw bottles of "Greek Fire" onto the sides of St. Albans buildings. Fortunately for the residents, the fire mostly smoldered. The only building claimed by Young's fire was an outhouse.


Flight into Canada

Young and his men galloped away with approximately $227,000 in their saddlebags.

Not long after crossing into Canada, Canadian police captured 14 of the raiders and about $90,000 of the stolen money. A Vermont posse apprehended Young.

St_Albans_RaidersUpon his arrest, Young claimed combatant status. The Vermonters didn’t care. They threw Young into a wagon and started back to the United States. However, before they made it across the border, Canadian police officers stopped the party and took Young into custody.

Although the Canadians promised to return Young and his men to the Vermonters the next day, they did not. They opted to keep them in country to face an extradition trial.

The Confederates may have failed at burning down St. Albans, but they succeeded in creating a feeling of panic and worry throughout Vermont. Rumors spread like wildfire throughout the state that Confederates were attacking towns and cities such as Burlington.

Vermonters interrogated hobos and any other unknown persons who entered their town. The state government formed a calvary unit to patrol its borders; the only available men to serve in it were invalid soldiers.

Meanwhile, the Canadians shipped the Confederates to Montreal where a judge would determine whether or not to extradite them back to the United States. In mid-December, the judge decided that he did not have jurisdiction to decide the case. He released Young and his men.

U.S. officials had them rearrested in short order. They asked the Canadians to hear charges of larceny, Young and his men had robbed individuals, an extraditable offense.

The Vermonters did not have much luck in Canada.

By late March 1865, the Canadian courts ruled that the raiders were not in fact eligible for extradition. Graffagnino pointed out that this decision could have been a bit of revenge for how the Vermonters supported the 1838 Patriot rebels against the Canadian government. Whatever the reason, the Canadians set Young and his men free.


Brief Epilogue

Treasury Notes St AlbansThe Confederates made away with a large portion of the $227,000 that they stole from the St. Albans banks.

The banks and their account holders lost all but 1/3rd of the money, which the Canadian authorities returned to the town.

Some of the stolen bank notes made their way to the Confederate capital in Richmond, Virginia, but the money arrived too late to do much good. The war ended in April 1865.

Graffagnino and other scholars of the raid suspect that many of the raiders used their proceeds to start new businesses and careers at the end of the war. Although Graffagnino did not give a specific statistic, he related that many of the raiders returned to Kentucky and the South where they became bankers and prominent businessmen.

Between 1865 and 1868, Young wandered around Canada and Ireland; the United States had a bounty on his head. In 1868, he made his way back to Kentucky, settled in Louisville, and opened a successful law practice. He died in 1919 at 75 years old. Today the citizens of Louisville remember him as a soldier, philanthropist and gentlemen.


Lesson From the Raid

Graffagnino closed his hour-long lecture by asking “so what?”

So what has the St. Albans Raid taught him about history and conducting research?

Graffagnino responded that researching the raid taught him how important it is to look at both sides of the story.

During his early career in Vermont, he only looked at the Vermont side of the story. Although he had collected a great many details about the raid, those details became richer during his time in Kentucky.

While working for the Kentucky Historical Society, Graffagnino learned more about Young, his men, and how the southerners portrayed the raid.

Understanding more about Young, his men, and their Confederate views gave Graffagnino a new appreciation for the raid and a fuller picture of what happened.



I admit that I attended Graffagnino’s lecture because I was interested in the content.

As a native New Englander with roots in both Boston and New Hampshire, I had no idea that the Confederates attacked Vermont. This surprising detail prompted me to step out of my historical comfort zone and find out more.

Uncle SamHowever, I am grateful that Graffagnino related his point about the importance of understanding both sides of the story when you research and write history. It seems like an obvious point, but it is one I have struggled with.

I have spent so much time researching the people of Albany that I almost feel insulted when I read an account by someone who does not understand how the fur trade worked, what it was like for the Albanians to live on the frontier, or to have their city used as a military base throughout each of the four wars for empire.

When I wrote my dissertation, my advisor sent back a few chapter drafts with calls for me to be more sympathetic to outside points of view. I am glad I took his advice.

For example, when I researched the Earl of Loudoun’s quartering practices during the French and Indian War from his point of view, I found that Loudoun disliked billeting his men in the Albanians houses and that he did all in his power to lessen the inconvenience. This was not something that I had read about in the Albanians’ accounts of the affair.

Today, I try to be more even-handed when I research and write about history. It was nice to hear that Graffagnino has also had to work at this part of his craft too. It was also nice to hear him voice a reminder to all of the historians and history enthusiasts in the audience that they should research and write about the past fairly.


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How do you avoid over sympathizing with your historical subjects?


French and Indian War Tour 2014

French and Indian War Tour MapOn September 13, 2014, Tim and I embarked on a week-long cruise of coastal Canada. Our ports of call included Halifax, Nova Scotia, Sydney, Nova Scotia, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Québec City, Québec, and Montréal, Québec.

Tim called this trip our vacation; I called it our “French and Indian War Tour.”

In this post you will find information about the sites I saw during my “French and Indian War Tour.”

Tip: Did you know that you can make my photos larger by clicking on them?


Halifax, Nova Scotia

I had to make tough choices about the history sites and museums I wanted to visit during out 8.5 hours in Halifax.

In the end, I chose a full-day trip to Grand Pré and a Nova Scotia winery in the Annapolis Valley.

Located along the Bay of Fundy’s Minas Basin, Grand Pré stands as a UNESCO World Heritage Site that memorializes the Expulsion of the Acadians by the British between 1755 and 1764.

Grand PreAcadians are descended from French colonists who settled in Nova Scotia during the 1680s.

Many of the colonists established farms on the rich alluvial soils along the Bay of Fundy. The farmers constructed a system of dykes and wooden sluices to drain and protect their land from the Bay’s extreme tidal range of 40-60 feet.

Both Great Britain and France claimed sovereignty over Nova Scotia. As a result, imperial warfare caused the island to change hands several times between 1700 and 1755. Each war ended with Great Britain returning the island to France, until the French and Indian War; the Treaty of Paris 1763 ended the war and awarded Nova Scotia to the Great Britain.

Neither the French nor the British trusted the Acadians. During each war, the farmers declared neutrality. In theory, they refused to supply either army with supplies, weapons, or men. In practice, both the French and British armies extracted assistance from the Acadians by threatening their families and property holdings.

In 1755, the British officers worried that the Acadians would reverse their hard-won victory over the French Army. They feared that the Acadians would invite French soldiers to attack them and assist the French effort.

The British military lessened its fears by expelling the Acadians from Nova Scotia.

The Grand Pré World Heritage Site tells the story of the British Expulsion of the Acadians (1755-1764). Exhibit placards and a multimedia show present information about the Acadian diaspora from both Acadian and British points of view. An exhibit in the visitor center also depicts how the Acadians drained and protected their land with dykes and wooden sluices using sizable models.

Sydney, Nova Scotia

Our stop in Sydney afforded Tim and I the opportunity to visit the most contested site in colonial North America: Fortress Louisbourg.

The Treaty of Utrecht (1713) ended Queen Anne’s War (1702-1713), but its articles did little to assuage French fears that the British might seize all of their possessions in North America. The articles awarded Great Britain all North American lands along the Atlantic seaboard with the exception of Île Royale (Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia).

LouisbourgThe French sought to strengthen its hold of Île Royale. Between 1720 and 1740 they built a large fortress near a prosperous fishing village on the northeastern tip of the island. The French called the fortress and the settlement around it Louisbourg and they protected both with a massive stone wall.

New Englanders despised the French presence in New France. Not only were the French predominately Catholic, but between 1689 and 1713, French soldiers and Native Americans raided frontier settlements in the region. The Yankees feared that the French would use Louisbourg as an additional base from which to attack them.

In 1745, New Englanders seized the opportunity afforded by King George’s War (1744-1748) to attack Louisbourg. Against the odds, the Yankees captured the fortress and its town. However, their possession proved short-lived. In 1748 the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle ceded Louisbourg back to the French.

The French and Indian War rekindled British desires to reacquire Louisbourg. In 1758, a large British force laid siege to the fortress and town.

The French surrendered after 6 weeks of daily bombardment.

The 1758 surrender of Louisbourg brought forth the predictions the French government had made in 1713: the British used the fortress as a launching point for its Siege of Québec in 1759.

In 1760, the British did not know that the Treaty of Paris 1763 would uphold their possession of Île Royale. In an effort to prevent the French from retaking Louisbourg, the British blew up the fortress, town, and the thick stone walls that protected them.

The fortress and town that stand at Louisbourg today are exact reproductions of the original fortress and town buildings.

In 1960, the Canadian government commenced a project to rebuild the Fortress, some of its walls, and 1/5th of the buildings that stood within the town.

Today, Parks Canada operates Louisbourg as a living history museum. In most buildings and areas throughout Louisbourg you will find men and women dressed as 18th-century French soldiers and townsfolk. These interpreters interact with you and explain how the French colonists and soldiers lived and work.


Québec City, Québec

Our French and Indian War Tour ended on the Plains of Abraham, located in Québec City.

Established in 1608 by Samuel de Champlain, Québec City stands as one of the oldest European settlements in North America.

QuebecIn 1985, UNESCO declared the Historic District of Old Québec to be a World Heritage Site in an effort to protect the remains of the stone walls that once protected the city.

The Plains of Abraham lie just outside of these walls.

The 1759 British Siege of Québec climaxed with a Battle on the Plains of Abraham.

The battle took place on September 13, 1759 and lasted about 30 minutes.

General James Wolfe and his 4,800-man British army fought General Louis-Joseph de Montcalm and his 2,000-man French army. Both generals fought on the field and both received mortal wounds.

Wolfe’s army won.

The British victory did not end the French and Indian War, but it ended the British quest for dominance in North America.

Wolfe’s victory brought New France under British control, a fact which the Treaty of Paris 1763 confirmed and maintained.

In the early 1900s, the Canadian government established the Plains of Abraham as its first national park. Today, Parks Canada administers this grand park, which provides Québec’s urban populace with museums, gardens, and outdoor recreational space.

Monuments and memorials recounting and commemorating events that took place during the 1759 battle dot the landscape.

Tim and I spent several hours walking through the park. We found where Wolfe received his mortal wound and the monument that commemorates the place where he died. We also walked along the cliffside boardwalk.

Peering over Québec's cliffs gave me a new appreciation for the efforts Wolfe and his men exerted when they scaled them 255 years ago.


Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island

In between our stops in Sydney and Québec City, our ship docked at Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

In addition to taking a scenic drive and visiting the Anne of Green Gables House, Tim and I walked around Charlottetown where we found Province House, the birthplace of the Confederation of Canada.

PEIIn 1864, the political leaders of Prince Edward Island invited representatives from Canada’s maritime provinces to Charlottetown to discuss forming a confederation of the Canadian maritime provinces. Representatives from the mainland heard about this meeting and invited themselves to it.

In September 1864, twenty-three political leaders from Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, and Québec gathered in Charlottetown to discuss what forming a confederated and united Canadian government might look like and mean for the British colonies.

Three years later, on July 1, 1867, Parliament passed the British North America Act. Queen Victoria signed the act and the Dominion of Canada was born.

I had no idea that my visit to Prince Edward Island would lead me to the birthplace of Canadian Confederation. Although the Province House did not fit within my French and Indian War-themed tour, it provided a nice epilogue to it.

The Province House museum and site tells the story of how Canada evolved from a group of British colonies to a united, independent nation.



Tim and I enjoyed our cruise through coastal Canada and down the St. Lawrence River. Our brief 6-8 hour stops in Nova Scotia, PEI, and Québec introduced us to the history and natural beauty of these provinces. Some day we hope to return and spend more time exploring them.


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What was the last historic site you visited? 


Coming Attractions: Book, Podcast, Blog, and Travel

Coming-SoonOver the next few months, Uncommonplace Book will feature posts about exciting projects, content, and trips. In this post you will find a sneak preview of upcoming blog posts as well as status updates on my 3 major projects.



For the last two months I have felt frustrated with my first chapter. I am just about finished with my second draft and until last week I felt like I had all the pieces of the story, but no idea about how they fit together.

Last week I had a eureka moment: Why should I begin my narrative with Henry Hudson?

The realization that I do not have to cover Hudson's voyage or the early days of the New Netherland and West India Companies has led me to decide that I will begin my chapter with an example from 1657. I will use this example to explore the community of Beverwyck and expound upon its earlier history when necessary.

Will this tactic work? I have no idea.

I am giving myself until Friday, August 15, 2014 to finish this draft. I need to be quick with this third draft because I have to move onto my second chapter by August 15, if I plan to finish 4 chapters by early February.  I have to have to submit a good draft of my fourth chapter to the Boston Early American History Seminar by February 3, 2015.



I have scheduled the first interviews for “Ben Franklin’s World: A Podcast About Early American History.” I begin recording on August 13.

I have requested 7 or 8 interviews and the responses have been positive. I have booked 5 interviews, I am coordinating dates with 2 guests.

My goal is to record most, if not all episodes on Wednesdays. A set recording day will allow me to better organize my workflow.

I am trying to book 1 guest per week as I would like to turn my twice monthly podcast into a weekly show by the beginning of 2015.

I am still looking for guests and plan to send out more e-mails once I have set the interview dates for the 3 guests I am coordinating with.

If you have a project related to early American history that you would like to promote to a non-specialized audience please checkout my “Be a Guest" information page. I would also be grateful if you would send the URL ( for that page to any historian you know who may like to be a guest.



Here’s a sneak peak at posts that will appear over the next several weeks.


Conference Recaps

I attended both the Conference on New York State History and the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic conferences this summer.

You can expect to see 2 posts recapping panels from the CNYSH this month. The first post will summarize a panel about writing historical narratives. The second post will review a panel about life in the 17th-century Hudson River Valley.

I had the opportunity to attend several great panels at SHEAR. Topics include women and property, yellow fever, citizenship, relations between the United States and South America, early American contact with the Muslim world, and slavery and freedom. Recaps of these panels will appear over the next few months; they will be interspersed among other content.


TravelTravel Posts

I have 2 trips coming up that will likely result in multiple posts.

On August 20, I leave for 8 days in Zürich, Switzerland. Tim has to travel there for work and asked if I would like to accompany him. (A rhetorical question.)

Tim and I plan to tour Lucerne during the weekend and I will spend the rest of the week in Zürich visiting museums and cultural sites in the morning and working on my book revisions in the afternoon.

On September 13, Tim and I will embark on a cruise from Boston to Canada. Tim calls this trip a vacation, but I refer to it as “French and Indian War Tour 2014.”

The ship will stop in Maine, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Québec City, and Montreal. I am wicked excited to travel down the St. Lawrence River and imagine how some of my Albanians used the river to conduct the fur trade.

I am also excited as our stops will include a look at the first Acadian settlement areas along the Bay of Fundy; Fortress Louisbourg, famous in New England for its capture by the Yankees in 1744; and Le Château Frontenac and the Plains of Abraham in Québec City. The British won a decisive battle over the French at the Plains of Abraham in 1759; the victory led to the British acquisition of Canada at the end of the French and Indian War in 1763.


Thursday Posts

In February, I mentioned that I would experiment with posting on Thursdays. Since that initial post I have posted nearly every Thursday.

Over the next several weeks you may see fewer Thursday posts.

I intend to remain as regular as possible with these posts, but I am working out a new workflow. I need to figure out how I can best add my podcast project to my present workflow that consists of book, blog, and freelance project time. As you know, some weeks present more challenges than others and I may have to give something up in order to meet my larger book, blog, and podcast goals.

You will not miss out on any content if I find that I need to reduce the frequency of my Thursday posts. I maintain a list of every post idea I have and I take notes at every conference, seminar, and event I attend. You will still receive great content here at Uncommonplace Book.


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What projects, trips, new endeavors will you be working on over the upcoming weeks and months?