By Elijah McGuire-Berk
Elm Staff Writer
On Thursday, Nov. 6, The Maryland Loyalists Batallion, a group of actors dressed as British colonial Redcoats, escorted a man onto the Decker Theatre stage. This wasn’t just any guest to Washington College; this was Professor of History at the University of Virginia and the Sanders Director of the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jeffersonian Studies Dr. Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy. His book, “The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, The American Revolution, and the Fate of the Empire,” was the recipient of the George Washington Book Prize.
The George Washington Book Prize is a $50,000 award given to a historical book that is about the America Foundation era, 1760-1820. The recipient of the award is determined through a collaboration between Washington College, Mount Vernon, and the Guilder Lehrman Institute for the Study of American History.
According to Assistant Director of the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience Jean Wortman the prize is “one of the largest for historical non-fiction in the country…it’s pretty prestigious…it’s great for the college because it really puts us into a national spotlight.” Dr. O’Shaughnessy noted that the award earned him a lot of publicity, “There was a 19 paragraph article in the [U.K.] Times newspaper in the news section, not the book section.”
The book is about 10 British military officials who were the eponymous men who lost America. According to Dr. O’Shaughnessy, he came up with the idea for the book when he was an undergraduate student in college working on a project about the British West Indies. He said, “I was a friend of the descendant of the last British secretary of state for America. He used to joke, ‘I’m a descendant of the man who lost America.’ So I was interested in this person.”
When asked about these men Dr. O’Shaughnessy said, “Most of them [the people discussed in his book] have hardly been written about,” and save for a few select biographies, some of the individuals mentioned in his book have received little to no historical attention.
Concerning the title of the book, he said, “I thought of the title 20 years before I wrote the book.” The subtitle was added in later at the request of the publishers. Dr. O’Shaughnessy said, “I couldn’t think of many people who lost America,” but the publishers feared that the title could be misinterpreted as a modern political book. He later rescinded that belief when he spoke to the Donors of Monticello, a group of people that consists of Republicans and Democrats. said Dr. O’Shaughnessy, “The Republicans thought it was a book about the Obama administration and the Democrats thought it was a book about the last Bush administration.” The subtitle was different in the British edition though. In the British edition, it read, “British Command and the Preservation of the Empire.” He assured the readers however that the text would be the same in either edition.
Dr. O’Shaughnessy enjoyed learning about the people talked about in his book. “Each individual turned out not to be just a mediocrity but to be someone of real substance.” He cited General Charles Cornwallis who is remembered for being the last General to surrender to the Colonial forces but is remembered in Britain for putting down a large Irish rebellion and helping to start up the British Empire in India. According to Dr. O’Shaughnessy, “Clearly, this is someone who deserves much more study.”
When asked how he felt about winning the award, Dr. O’Shaughnessy was ecstatic. He said, “I’d happily go on celebrating it forever. It was wonderful.”
By Elijah McGuire-Berk