Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
This thesis is a micro-history of the formation of the various identities that shaped the Revolutionary War experiences of one eighteenth-century Vermonter (Thomas Johnson) whose life is documented in a manuscript collection at the Vermont Historical Society. I break down Johnson's identities into three levels: social class, state, and national. My argument is that what it meant to be a provincial gentleman, to be a Vermonter, and to be an American were still being constructed at the time of the Revolution and were therefore in a state of flux. The fluid nature of these identities shows us how America's founding fathers' generation was full of ambiguity and a multiplicity choices.
The first section of my thesis analyzes how Johnson's identity as a gentleman officer influenced his experience as a prisoner-of-war. I argue that Johnson's identity as an American patriot and his role as a double-agent can only be understood in relation to his conflicted identity as a provincial gentleman. The second section, on the identity of Vermont in the context of a new American nation, starts with historical background on the formation of Vermont first as part of New Hampshire, then as part of New York, and, finally, in negotiations with the British in Canada to rejoin the British empire, with which Johnson participated. In this section I argue that the shifting identities of colonial and revolutionary Vermont provided a backdrop of fluidity and change, as well as animosities between eastern and western residents, which influenced the identities of individual Vermonters during the war, including Thomas Johnson. For the national level, I look at how European Americans had divided loyalties during the war, with an emphasis on the Revolution as a civil war. My thesis departs from most historiography on the Revolution as a civil war, though, by examining it as a war with gray area - not just black and white, or Patriots versus Loyalists. I use this analysis to examine how Johnson's community was divided and why Johnson's neighbors reacted so diversely to the possibility that he was working with the British. In a last and brief section of my thesis, I look at how Johnson has been memorialized in his town's history, and how doubts of his American loyalty have all but disappeared over time, regardless of the intense debates they provoked during his lifetime. I aim to show that despite the consensus view that has shaped much of the historical memory of the American Revolution, the actual process of revolution was full of disorientation and turbulence.
Number of Pages
Grove, Angela Nicole, "Thomas Johnson: Gentleman, Vermonter, Patriot" (2015). Graduate College Dissertations and Theses. 403.