Thursday, August 4, 2022

Reaffirming the Dominant Narrative: Analysis of Historical Novels from the 1940s-70s


When asked, many would define historical fiction as made-up stories set in the past. However, when required to provide more parameters, the classification of the genre becomes unclear. How many years in the past must the book take place to be considered “historical?” Does Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, written in and depicting Regency era England, count as historical fiction if read by a 21st century audience? 

Within the ambiguous genre of historical fiction, book reviewers are careful to either give or withhold this label because it connotes poor writing. The novels I analyze in this essay wear the scarlet label of “historical fiction” as they have themes of adventure and romance, often associated with unsophisticated formulaic literature. In response to this stigma, many authors of historical fiction attempt to prove the legitimacy of their work by demonstrating its historical accuracy. Authors who set their novels during the American Revolutionary war, additionally, appeal to their audience by affirming the reader’s preconceptions of the war.

            Many writers of historical fiction prove the validity of their work by detailing their knowledge of the setting and commitment to crafting accurate portrayals of the past. In The Carolinians, the book jacket describes how author Jane Barry is “a long-time student of the Revolution” because she “spent three years researching the historical background” (Barry). Similarly, in The Neutral Ground, Frank O. Hough establishes his commitment to authenticity in his author’s note. After admitting to intentional chronological inaccuracies, Hough says “the writer can only plead expediency and belief in that doing so he has not ... altered in any essential respect a minor page of history (Hough 10). Authors additionally prove the factuality of their books by incorporating maps and dates. The intended purpose of these elements may be to aid the reader’s understanding of the locations and the passage of time. However, maps and dates also show the work is rooted in fact as the novel takes place in real places and follows a recognizable historical timeline.

While writers of historical fiction attempt to prove the factualness of their work, authors who set their stories during the American Revolution have more of a commitment to accuracy because of their audience’s prior knowledge of the event. In The Charlatan by Carter A. Vaughan, the protagonist Colonel Elias Wheaton is a spy who rescues the Duke of Savoy’s illegitimate son during the War of Spanish Succession (known as Queen Anne’s War in the colonies). The plot of the novel is full of adventure and drama as it details Elias’ love affairs and grand duels. In contrast, Vaughn’s novel The Yankee Rascal, is more believable story, following the patriotic war efforts of American Captain Jeremey Ford during the American Revolution. Although the novels are by the same author, the marvelousness of the story changes based off its historical backdrop. Since the audience is more familiar with the American Revolution than the War of Spanish Succession, Vaughn has more of a commitment to factualness in Dragon Dove and, thus, writes a more believable tale.

Authors who set their stories during American Revolution, furthermore, incorporate recognizable war tropes to characterize the soldiers as patriotic and heroic. For example, in Lucifer Land by Mildred and Katherine Davis, Cassie initially fails to recognize a ragged soldier from her past until she notices “It was the same body but erect instead of stooped. The same eyes, but filled with knowledge, instead of empty. The same voice, but sharp instead of blurred” (Davis and Davis 324). The authors utilize the trope of the war-torn hero to characterize the returning soldier as a patriotic man who sacrifices both his physical and mental health. Other novels formulaically incorporate a noble death on the battlefield. In Dragon Cove by Carter A. Vaughan, Oliver is a young boy who, although advised by the captain to flee, fights against the British during a naval battle. While the Americans win the battle, Oliver dies, conveying the hardship and tragedy of the war. Oliver’s young age, moreover, prompts an emotional response from the audience who characterizes him as valiant and courageous. From popular culture, the audience expects favorable depictions of fearless and honorable Revolutionary War heroes. Thus, the authors use these familiar war tropes to appeal to their readers and reassert the prevalent narrative.

The jackets of the books in the collection, furthermore, affirm the audience’s expectation of glorious and brave war heroes. Much of the artwork depicts a strong man, sometimes accompanied by a love interest. Behind him is often a burning or desolate town he defends. The juxtaposition of the feeble town and the powerful man connotes a resilient American rising from hardship. Many of the covers also portray American soldiers ready to attack the opposing British force. The cover of The Ragged Ones by Burke Davis illustrates a soldier in rags who looks down on the British from a cliff. The man holds his gun and powder horn as he is preparing to attack the troops below. Behind him are two other men who also hold weapons and take fighting stances. The ragged clothing symbolizes the hardship of the gritty soldiers while their powerful body language portrays their bravery and toughness. These images of hardened noble soldiers resonate with the audience who envisions the courageous rebels often depicted in popular culture.

In addition to reaffirming the audience’s expectation of valiant soldiers, the collection of novels defends other lore such as the American dream. In many of the books in the collection, the protagonist gains social status because of their efforts in battle. This trajectory mirrors the real-life inspirational journey of Alexander Hamilton whose war efforts helped him improve his social standing. The authors’ portrayal of the American dream reinforces the concept of the country as a meritocracy. Furthermore, since the novels are set during the birth of the country, the depiction of this ideal not only affirms the audience’s belief in the American dream but asserts social climbing has been achievable even before America was a country.

Finally, the collection of novels conveys the dominant narrative that America was made for white men. In many of the novels, the women only function as potential love interests for the heroic male protagonist. In The Wilderness by Carter A. Vaughan, Naomi is an indentured servant until Gordon rescues and marries her. Although Naomi technically achieves social mobility, she does not have control over her fate as Gordon is the one who frees her, showing women do not have power in patriarchal America. The novels in the collection, additionally, exclude the enslaved from the dominant narrative. When the authors refer to the enslaved individuals as “black servants,” they write over the presence of slavery in colonial times. The enslaved in the novels, additionally, often do not have dialogue, showing how their narratives have literally been silenced. Furthermore, when enslaved individuals make brief appearances in the novels, they are depicted serving the white male protagonist. Thus, their achievements and contributions to America are ignored. While the depictions of women and the enslaved were widely accepted at the time the novels were written, many modern audiences would take issue with these negative portrayals. In response, current novelists such as Laurie Halse Anderson who wrote The Seeds of America Trilogy: Chains; Forge; Ashes, are now giving positive representation to historically oppressed groups, such as the enslaved.

Overall, due to the stigmatization of the historical fiction genre, many novelists tend to overcompensate the legitimacy of their work by showing its historical accuracy. The novels set during the Revolutionary War, additionally, affirm the audience’s preconceptions of the war by using tropes to depict the war and its outcome as noble and courageous. While this formula praises the noble hero, it perpetuates unfavorable depictions of women and the enslaved. Thus, it would be interesting to examine how modern books recreate this pattern or reject the traditional representation of the American Revolution to provide better portrayals of women and minorities.

Works Cited

Barry, Jane. The Carolinians. Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1959. 

Coolidge, Olivia E. Cromwell's Head. Houghton Mifflin, 1955. 

Davis, Burke. The Ragged Ones. Pocket Books, 1953. 

Davis, Lou Ellen. Clouds of Destiny. G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1978. 

Davis, Mildred, and Katherine Davis. Lucifer Land. Random House, 1977. 

Graves, Robert. Proceed, Sergeant Lamb. Methuen, 1941. 

Horan, James D. King's Rebel. Crown Publishers, Inc., 1955. 

Hough, Frank O. The Neutral Ground. J.B. Lippincott Company, 1942. 

Hough, Frank Olney. If Not Victory. Carrick & Evans, Inc., 1939. 

Hough, Frank Olney. Renown. G.G. Harrap & Co., 1938. 

Hungerford, Edward Buell. Forge for Heroes. Wilcox & Follett Company. 

Schoonover, Lawrence L. The Revolutionary. Ballantine Books, 1971. 

Vaughan, Carter A. The Wilderness. Doubleday, 1959. 

Vaughan, Carter A. The Yankee Rascals. Doubleday, 1963. 

Vaughan, Carter A. Dragon Cove. Doubleday, 1964. 

Vaughan, Carter A. The Charlatan. Doubleday, 1961. 

Vaughan, Carter A. The Invincibles. Redman, 1959. 

Vining, Elizabeth Gray, et al. The Virginia Exiles. Doubleday, 1955. 

Wyckoff, Nicholas E. The Braintree Mission. The Macmillan Company, 1957. 

Blog post by Siobhan Nerz, Bucknell University 

Siobhan put together an exhibit featuring some of the books she studied. It is currently on display at Washington's Headquarters Museum.

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Featured Artifact: Richard Valentine Morris’ Specimen Table

Today's featured artifact is a square mahogany specimen table. It was owned by Richard Valentine Morris, son of the more famous Lewis Morris who signed The Declaration of Independence. Being from such a prominent family, Richard Morris had the financial means and status to commission this elaborate piece of furniture. The resulting work of art sports carved legs with urn inlays at the top and rosette inlays at the bottom. The main feature of the table is its top, flaunting 144 square pieces of colored marble held together in a brass frame. The table earns the classification of a 'specimen table' from its array of diverse stones, collected from different excavation sites. 

Specimen tables were popular among the English elite in the 18th and 19th centuries. Even after America gained its independence, Britain continued to have cultural influence over its former colonies. The elite of America often viewed Europe as the height of culture, emulating their art and decorating their houses in similar styles. Thus, it is not uncommon to see a specimen table, inspired by European models, in America. The main feature of specimen tables is their incorporation of different stone materials (Gowrley). 

During this time, it was common for young men of elite families to go on Grand Tours of Europe where they had access to fine marble and granite. This coming-of-age rite served to educate young men in the classics. Many rich youths traveled to Italy to embrace Roman history and study Latin. Although Grand Tours were intended as scholarly endeavors, young men often used their freedom from home as an opportunity to gamble and engage in promiscuous activities (Howard). The elite also used their time to collect samples of rocks and marble, later commissioning specimen tables to show off the findings from their travels. Some of these materials were taken from Roman excavation sites and made into smaller pieces (Gowrley). The elite’s ability to not only own but break down artifacts from antiquity shows the privilege of the individuals who went on Grand Tours. Thus, the specimen tables were a way for people to show their status and culture.

Although it was popular for elite young men to acquire the materials for their tables on Grand Tours, Morris collected his marble pieces during his time in the navy. In 1802, after being commissioned captain of the ship Adams in 1798, Morris was commanding a squadron in the Mediterranean during the first Barbary war. During the war, France and Britain paid tribute to the Barbary states, allowing them to have increased Mediterranean trade while other states were open to the attacks of the Barbaries. After the United States became its own country, it did not have the protection of England and was vulnerable to attack (Augustyn). Thus, Morris was in Tripoli to make peace and negotiate with the Barbaries. Unfortunately, he was unsuccessful and in 1803, Thomas Jefferson, the president at the time, relieved him of his command. Historical accounts describe Morris as lacking motivation. Furthermore, his decision to bring his family to the Mediterranean while he was on duty may indicate his lack of focus on the war itself (“The Barbary Wars, 1801-1805”). While his family’s presence may have been a distraction, it did give his wife the opportunity to collect the marble for his beautiful table. 

Although the plaque on the side of the table states it was made in Crete in 1798, this may be only referring to its top. The paper label at the bottom of the table notes the bottom half of the furniture was made by Charles Honoré Lannuier, a French furniture maker who worked in New York city. Therefore, it seems Morris commissioned the top of his table in Crete and paid Lannuier to complete the bottom half of the furniture in America. Morris’ choice in furniture maker reflects his class. Lannuier was a popular craftsman among the elite at the time, famously capitalizing on the wealthy Americans desire for French-inspired furniture (LaChiusa). Overall, the specimen table of Lewis Morris is an interesting glimpse into the life of its owner and the class of elite of which he belonged.

Works Cited

Augustyn, Adam. “First Barbary War.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia 
Britannica, Inc., 7 May 2022, 

“The Barbary Wars, 1801-1805.” The Mariners' Museum : Birth of the U.S. Navy,  

Gowrley, Freya. “Classical Histories, Colonial Objects: The Specimen Table across Time and Space.” British Art Studies, Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art and Yale Center for British Art, 30 Nov. 2021, 

Howard, Jeremy R. “The Role of the Grand Tour.” Encyclopædia BritannicaEncyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 26 Aug. 2021, 

LaChiusa, Chuck. “Charles-Honoré Lannuier.” Buffaloah.com 

This blog post by Siobhan Nerz, Bucknell University

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Openly Gay Revolutionary War Hero, Baron Friedrich von Steuben

🏳️‍🌈Did you know that Morristown NHP has a famous Revolutionary War LGTBQIA+ connection?

Image credit Josh Trujillo
General Friedrich von Steuben, who is credited with maintaining the morale and discipline of the soldiers at the encampment at Morristown, was openly gay.

In 2018, artist Josh Trujillo wrote an illustrated piece for The Nib, entitle "The American Revolution's Greatest Leader was Openly Gay."

During Pride 2018, featured the famous openly gay Revolutionary War hero. “Gay men have always been part of the American military. In an era before gay marriage or open pride, military men fell in love, formed passionate friendships and had same-sex encounters. Due to social and official discrimination, though, most of their stories have gone untold. But in the case of one of the military’s founding heroes, homosexuality was always part of the story."

“Baron Friedrich von Steuben, a Prussian military man hired by George Washington to whip the Continental Army into shape during the darkest days of the Revolutionary War, is known for his bravery and the discipline and grit he brought to the American troops. Historians also think he was homosexual—and served as an openly gay man in the military at a time when sex between men was punished as a crime.“ ‘Though his name is little known among Americans today,’ writes Erick Trickey for Smithsonian, ‘every U.S. soldier is indebted to von Steuben—he created America’s professional army.’”, “The Revolutionary War Hero Who Was Openly Gay”

#pride #vonsteuben 

Image credit Josh Trujillo 

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Featured Manuscripts: Washington’s Laundry Lists

Front cover of our bound Washington
laundry list manuscripts.

When asked to imagine the first president of their nation, Americans often conjure up images of a picturesque hero fearlessly crossing the Delaware river or nobly signing the Constitution. Few visualize the president partaking in mundane activities, such as writing letters or even having laundry done. In this blogpost, I will analyze Washington’s laundry lists, illustrating a seemingly insignificant yet essential part of the president’s life. 

The Morristown National Historical Park acquired the laundry lists (MORR 12067) from Lloyd W. Smith in 1955. The lists are bound in a brown leather cover. The front cover of the whimsical booklet depicts a gilded washtub in the center and clothes pins around the border. Furthermore, there is a sleeping cap in each of the corners. The end pages are marbled and the bottom center of the front inside paste down is highlighted with the name of the binder “Stikeman and Co.” in gold.

Although the booklet includes only three laundry lists, there are many blank filler pages to keep it level and balanced. The first blank page contains an inscription by Smith. The code “VB-2” indicates the filing system for his personal collection. The other inscription indicates the wash lists came from the Hartmann auction house, and Smith annotated the names of “Mr. + Mrs. Hartmann,” who likely gave Smith the book. It is unclear whether the laundry lists were a gift or a purchase. As a frequent customer of the Hartmann auction house, it is not unlikely that Smith bought the laundry list himself. However, other pieces of evidence suggest that the artifact was a gift from the auction house to Smith who was a loyal customer. First, Smith habitually wrote the prices of his purchases in case of future resale, but there is no such mark on this artifact. The playful nature of the book, additionally, suggests it was a gift because someone took the time to bind the laundry lists and decorate the book cover in gold. Finally, although Smith’s normal practice was to write the specific date of his purchase, the book’s inscription says, “Christmas 1926,” suggesting that the laundry lists were a Christmas present. 

The first list is from May 6th and the second is from May 18th. The documents record the number and types of garments to be washed. Washington himself would not have written his own laundry lists nor taken part in business transcriptions to have his clothes cleaned. Instead, Washington would have had a representative carefully document and send off his dirty belongings. While it seems tedious to count each article of clothing, this was necessary because in Washington's time, clothes were expensive and, as a result, people owned less of them. Contrary to the norm of owning little garments, Washington, a newly inaugurated president and wealthy plantation owner, needed and could afford an extensive wardrobe. Interestingly, both laundry lists were written less than a month after Washington's inauguration in New York City on April 30, 1989. Therefore, it is fun to imagine that these lists call for the washing of the undergarments Washington wore when he was sworn in as president. 

First two documents:

May 6th . 1789

6 Ruffled } shirts

2 flair }

8 Stocks

3 Pair. Silk hose

2 White } Hand [?]

2 Silk }

1 [?] Drawers [underwear]

1 Hair Net

May 18th. 1789

12 Shirts

12 Stocks

4 Whites }

5 Silk } Hand [^]M.

3 [?]lk Hose

2 hair Nets

1 [?] flannel drawers

As for the third document, the front includes a laundry list written on April 28, 1789. The back of that same paper has a record that the service was paid for on May 25, 1989. The paper has been folded thrice vertically. The folds allow the document to fit into an organizer. Additionally, the back of the page says, “Catherine Warner… May 26th. 1789,” so when the document stands up, one can distinguish it from other records. This is often how people stored court cases and business transactions. Additionally, this document is much larger than the first two. Thus, while the previous laundry lists were scraps of paper, the third document was probably taken out of a ledger. 

April 28 1789, Front:

G Washington To Sarah Warner 28 of April 1789

o Washing and ironing 7 dozen and 10 pieces 

Of clothes of 5 Shillings a dozen






20 Shirts

20 Stocks

4 Pocket handkerchiefs

1 Silk

1 pair of Silk Stockings

1 pair Cotton Stockings

1 night cap



8 Shirts

8 Stocks

4 pocket handkerchiefs 

1 pair of Drawers

1 night cap

3 pair of Stockings



12 shirts

12 stocks

9 pocket handkerchiefs

2 night caps

7 pair of Drawers

3 pair of Stockings

2 pair of Stockings



For Jacbn

2 dozen peases


9 dozen and ten peases





The back:

Received May 25th. 1789 the sum of two pounds ten shillings in full for the 

within sum of washing ten doz. of [?] to President of the United States.


Catherine X Warner


The text that is upside down:

No. 339 

Catherine Warner


May 26th. 1789.

Another interesting aspect of the third document is its mention of the individual who washed Washington’s clothes. The front of the document refers to her as “Sarah Warner” while the back calls her “Catherine Warner.” The different first names suggest that a mother and daughter were responsible for the laundry. While the identity of the woman is unclear, one can speculate about her identity. The washer may have been an enslaved woman or a freed woman who worked for pay. She may also have been a local white woman at a boarding house. Although Warner’s identity remains a mystery, the document does reveal that she was unable to write. The back of the paper records that Warner was paid and in place of a signature she marks an “X,” acknowledging her received payment and showing to modern audiences that she was illiterate.

Overall, although Washington himself did not write these laundry lists, the documents interestingly illustrate Washington's human need for clothing while conveying how his regular want for an abundance of clean garments was unique to the wealthy first president and other individuals of similar stature. In addition to providing insight about the seemingly mundane aspects of the president’s life, the document showing the transaction gives recognition to the women who washed the president’s clothing and contributed to Washington’s clean and pristine image. 

This blog post by intern Siobhan Nerz, Bucknell University

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Meet the Intern: Siobhan Nerz

Siobhan Nerz (she/her) joined the Cultural Resources Division in the Summer of 2022. She is a rising junior at Bucknell University, double majoring in English Literary Studies and Classics and Ancient Mediterranean studies. She is a local, having lived in Morristown her whole life. Siobhan is interested in Morristown NHP because of the opportunity to gain experience working in a museum. Her academic interests include Latinx theater, literary theory, and the Ancient Greek language. Overall, Siobhan is eager to do hands- on work with artifacts and learn about both history and museum practices.

Welcome, Siobhan!

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Photo Exhibit : Rediscovering Morristown National Historical Park (Xiomaro) June 4 - July 31

Morristown National Historical Park celebrates its upcoming 90th anniversary with a fine art photography exhibition by New York artist, musician, and author, Xiomaro @xiomaro_art_studio

“Rediscovering Morristown National Historical Park” is on view from June 4 to July 31 at the Jockey Hollow Visitor Center and at Washington’s Headquarters Museum.
Details and a free souvenir print are available at #ArtInParks
Pictured here is an abstract view of the bathroom in the Cross Estate Mansion.
📸 Xiomaro
[Image Description:  Pictured here is a view of the bathroom in the Cross Estate Mansion at New Jersey’s Morristown National Historical Park.  It was photographed in 2021 by the artist Xiomaro @xiomaro_art_studio A window opening suggesting abstract geometric shapes appears on the left in bright hues of red and pink.  A doorway, mysteriously shrouded in shadow, appears in the center with a hint of blue and red along with a barely perceivable fireplace emerging from the dark. On the right is a red-pink wall gently reflecting the window light.  Along the right edge is part of a bright blue door.]

Friday, February 11, 2022

Meet the Intern: Caroline Mull

Caroline Mull, Drew '22
The division of Cultural Resources would like to welcome Caroline Mull (she/her) to the fold. 

Caroline is a senior History and French major at Drew University. She'll be completing her MS in Data Analytics in 2023. Her research interest, in no particular order, include pre -1950s American, English, and Francophone History, the mystery genre, sewing (particularly with historical patterns), and all things old books, handwriting, paper, and ephemera. She will get to combine her love for history and data analytics by helping us update our current digital humanities projects. Her primary project will be to update our Google Cultural Institute tour of the historic Ford Mansion.

Caroline is interested in Morristown NHP because she is eager to try something hands-on while focusing on the historical periods she is most fascinated with. The digital aspect of this internship, all while working in an office, is incredibly interesting and is very fun for her. She is eager to develop the park’s digital presence on a Google Arts & Culture tour while getting to investigate a very special piece of furniture within the collection. She's looking into the history and provenance of a Chippendale style dressing table to determine its maker, year, or any other information.  

Welcome, Caroline!

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Remembering Ronalds and Unpacking a Contentious Past

Superintendent Ronalds with
a contractor during construction of the
Pennsylvania Line huts, c. 1963.

Today we at Morristown National Historical Park pause to remember a figure instrumental in the growth not just of this site but of the entire National Park Service. Francis S. Ronalds served as superintendent of Morristown National Historical Park from 1940 to 1967. However he was much more than that. In a decades-long career that stretched from the New Deal through the Space Age he was responsible not just for his daily responsibilities here at Washington’s Headquarters but for the acquisition and development of several historic sites on behalf of the Park Service system and American people.

Francis Spring Ronalds was born in Grayville, Illinois on August 28, 1897. He grew up in the first two decades of the twentieth century and married Grace Ann McFadden in 1919. Their daughter Margaret was born in 1920. In these same years he matriculated at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he majored in History and was active in the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity.

In researching this piece we learned with great shock and disappointment of his involvement in another campus organization: the college
Undergraduate University of Illinois
yearbook showing Ronalds as a member
of the campus Ku Klux Klan
s Ku Klux Klan chapter.
 The 1921 University of Illinois yearbook described the Klu Klux Klan, as it was locally spelled, as an inter-fraternity junior social organization.” It may surprise some readers to know of the size and scale of the Klan in the 1920s and that millions of Americans joined the organization. This discovery from Ronalds’s past is in keeping with similar revelations related to historic figures in recent years and part of the Ronalds biography that we cannot minimize or ignore. 

Ronalds continued his studies and completed his PhD in the late 1920s, writing his dissertation on the Whig revolution in seventeenth century Great Britain. He also earned a degree from the Indiana University School of Law. In 1925 he and wife Grace had a second child, a son. For much of the late 1920s and 1930s Dr. Ronalds taught History at the Urbana-Champaign campus.

In the mid-1930s Ronalds opted for a career change. It was an opportune time for someone of his interests and skill sets; the Franklin D. Roosevelt Administration was restructuring the National Park Service, using New Deal funds to improve NPS infrastructure, and expanding the organization’s longstanding emphasis from primarily nature sites west of the Mississippi River to cultural and historical ones closer to the East Coast. For its part Congress enacted the Historic Sites Act of 1935, which President Roosevelt duly signed that August 21st. From this legislation came, among other things, The National Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings. Ronalds and his family moved to Washington, D.C., where he served as Historic Sites Survey coordinator. The Ronalds were not in the District of Columbia for very long; by 1939 they moved to Morristown, New Jersey. From there he supervised historic sites in several states stretching along the Eastern Seaboard. President Roosevelt took a close personal interest in the National Park Service. He was especially keen on seeing the Frederick W. Vanderbilt estate—which stood in Roosevelt’s hometown of Hyde Park, New York—placed under the auspices of the Park Service system. Ronalds worked closely with the administration to make that happen, visiting the privately-owned Vanderbilt mansion on October 3-4, 1939 with a Park Service colleague and again a few weeks later with the same colleague and President Roosevelt himself. I
n 1940 the Vanderbilt mansion and estate—all 200 plus acres—joined the NPS. For the next several years Ronalds served as the Vanderbilt administrator, overseeing its daily operations, historical interpretation, and the inventorying the art, furniture, and other artifacts. This was all in addition to his being superintendent of Morristown National Historical Park.

The following December the United States joined the Second World War after the attack on Pearl Harbor. In 1942 daughter Margaret married a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Forces and son Francis Jr. became a U.S. Navy officer. On October 28, 1943—the anniversary of the Statue of Liberty dedication—Superintendent Ronalds stood with others on the steps of the Sub-Treasury Building on Wall Street and participated in a remote-controlled lighting of Lady Liberty
s torch, which had been extinguished for security reasons once the United States had entered the conflict. Its temporary relighting was part of a bond initiative to raise money for the war effort. Earlier that very month on October 8, 1943 Ronalds was at President Roosevelt’s Hyde Park home discussing National Park Service business. On January 13, 1945—a few weeks prior to Roosevelt’s leaving for the Yalta Conference in the Crimea—Superintendent Ronalds conducted an oral history with President Roosevelt in which the historically-conscious world leader discussed the role that his Hyde Park home played in his life. Less than three months later President Roosevelt died in Warm Spring, Georgia. Today Franklin Roosevelt’s Hyde Park home, called Springwood; Eleanor Roosevelt’s nearby Val-Kill cottage; and the Vanderbilt mansion collectively comprise the Roosevelt-Vanderbilt National Historic Site.

Ronalds’s work was paying off. When the war ended the work if anything his pace accelerated. Space constraints prohibit a full rendering of his rich and varied career, but a brief list of his additional accomplishments include: negotiating in 1945 with the Adams family and Adams Memorial Society for the turnover to the American people of what is now Adams National Historical Park, the Quincy, Massachusetts birthplaces and homes of Presidents John and John Quincy Adams; assistance in the designation of Newport Rhode, Island’s
Touro Synagogue as a National Historic Site it 1946 and laying of a tablet there one year later; co-founding the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1949; creating what became the American Museum of Immigration on Liberty Island; working with local, states, and federal stakeholders to help create Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia; and serving on the advisory board of the popular history magazine American Heritage.”

Superintendent Ronalds
with a descendant of the
Marquis de Lafayette, c. 1955.

Throughout all this he remained superintendent of Morristown National Historical Park. Each February there were usually annual public commemorations of Washington’s birthday. General tourists visited daily and scholars such as Carl Van Doren and Douglas Southall Freeman used the growing Morristown collection—and utilized Ronalds
s expertise—to research such books as Van Dorens Mutiny in January: The Story of a Crisis in the Continental Army Now for the First Time Fully Told from Many Hitherto Unknown Or Neglected Sources, Both American and British” (1943) and Freemans seven-volume, Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of George Washington (1948-1957). One of this greatest accomplishments was negotiating with Lloyd W. Smith, the long-serving president of the Washington Association of New Jersey, the organization that had worked in the waning days of the Herbert Hoover Administration to gift the Ford Mansion to the American people under the stewardship of the National Park Service, for the acquisition of Mr. Smith’s sizable collection of books, letters, manuscripts, broadsides, and other ephemera. The Lloyd W. Smith Collection is housed today in the Morristown NHP Library. Superintendent Ronalds and others at Washington’s Headquarters watched with great concern in the early 1960s as public officials began planning the construction of an expressway through Morristown. Such a highway would bisect the different sites within the historical park. By 1964 park officials succumbed to the inevitable and ceased their protests against what became Interstate 287. 

Hilltop cemetery in Mendham showing
gravestone of Ronalds and his wife Grace.
Their daughter Margaret is buried under the
 arched silhouette cutout behind her parents.

Ronalds retired from the National Park Service on March 31, 1967. He died
in Silver Spring, Maryland in February 1985 and rests today in Mendham, New Jersey’s Hilltop Cemetery.


Closeup of Ronalds' stone

Written by Keith Muchowski, Morristown NHP volunteer.