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Commission to promote New York’s Revolutionary War history holds first meeting

Logo of the New York 250 Revolution Commission
New York state Education Department
New York state Museum
Logo of the New York 250 Revolution Commission

New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed legislation in February that creates a state commission to plan for the 250th anniversary of the Revolutionary War. The first meeting of the commission included presentations on the Saratoga National Historical Park and efforts to raise a Revolutionary War gunboat from Lake Champlain.

During their first meeting, the panel delved into administrative and procedural necessities and talked about how the New York 250 Commemoration Commission will comply with the goals set in the statute. Acting State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commissioner Randy Simons, the co-chair, said the state is the focal point for the nation’s Revolutionary War commemorations.

“And it really speaks to the breath of our history here in New York state and how the stories here shaped our nation,” Simons said. “So today will be about laying the foundation for what will be an eight year long commemoration and then obviously talking about the future of the commemoration and what the Rev250 will do here in New York state.”

During its first year, the 250th Commemoration Commission plans to help heritage organizations across the state plan programming to promote events highlighting New York’s participation in the American Revolution and the formation of the United States.

Saratoga National Historical Park is the site where American troops defeated the British in 1777. Superintendent Leslie Morlock said the National Park Service is looking at the commemoration as an opportunity to raise awareness.

“For those of you who may not be familiar we protect five locations: the Saratoga Battlefield, the Saratoga Monument, the surrender site, Victory Woods and General Philip Schuyler's house. We protect approximately 3500 acres and it is at this location where the Americans fought the British and ultimately won and the British surrendered,” Morlock said. “And it really was a turning point taking the Revolutionary War towards the side of the Americans. Saratoga National Historical Park is looking to use this momentum and the upcoming 250th commemorations to build lasting efforts that will stretch beyond 2026 and 2027 to elevate our visibility as an important stop in understanding the early American and how it resonates into our modern interests.”

The Clinton County Historical Association was represented by Lake Champlain Maritime Museum Director Emeritus Art Cohn, who talked about the history of the lake during the Revolutionary War. He focused on the gunboat Spitfire, which sank when the Americans retreated after the Battle of Valcour Bay on October 11, 1776. Cohn told the panel how a survey team found the gunboat on the lake bottom in 1997.

“As I speak to you today, this boat sits on the bottom of Lake Champlain. That bow cannon is still in place. The interior is filled with mud, preserving what we believe are thousands of artifacts that arrived on this lake bottom in the middle of the night on October 12, 1776. It's a moment frozen in time,” Cohn said. “And there's a record there that will add potentially huge amount of information about this event and about the people who participated in it. The mast is still standing full height. It's really extraordinary to have a boat in this kind of condition.”

When it was first discovered, the best preservation method for the Spitfire was to leave it on the bottom of the lake where the cold water protects it. But Cohn said zebra mussels are now a threat and he hopes the commission can help their efforts to raise and restore the historical artifact.

“The muscles will dissolve the iron fastenings holding this boat together. It will not stay intact over time,” Cohn asserted. “And so we are recommending this boat be recovered whole, have it brought to a pre-built conservation laboratory to do the many years of conservation this boat will need. An environment that is also accessible to the public.”