Historic Deerfield conserves American Revolution battle map

  • This 18th-century American Revolution battle plan was in several pieces before conservation treatment. The plan was most likely drawn by Maj. Moses Ashley, of Westfield, for a battle that never occurred on the Hudson River near West Point, New York. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • The battle plan after treatment. Rebecca Johnston of the Williamstown Art Conservation Center treated the document by piecing it together, treating the ink and removing mold spores. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Thursday, November 11, 2021

DEERFIELD — An 18th-century American Revolution battle plan detailing tactics for a large-scale conflict that never happened has been successfully conserved by Historic Deerfield.

Westfield native and Continental Army Maj. Moses Ashley drew the plan in watercolor paint and ink in 1780 to prepare for a battle on the Hudson River near West Point, New York. The battle, however, never happened because Maj. Gen. Benedict Arnold had defected to the British Army and revealed the rebels’ battle strategy. The document lays out the details of the Continental Army’s regiments and their strategies for the battle.

Historic Deerfield Curatorial Department Director Amanda Lange said Benedict Arnold’s knowledge of the plan when he defected was the driving point in the battle never occurring.

“That kind of wrecked the element of surprise,” Lange said in a phone interview. “He was going to be able to tell them what (the Continental Army) had in terms of battle plan, lineup and strategy.”

Lange said the document, which was acquired by the museum at an auction in 2018, suffered some damage over time from the way it was stored and the materials it was drawn with.

“It seems like it had been folded for many, many years and stored that way,” Lange said. “The fold lines had actually turned into breaks in the fabric of the plan.”

Rebecca Johnston of the Williamstown Art Conservation Center in Williamstown did the conservation work on the document, which included replacing the fold tears, removing mold spores only visible to ultraviolet light and treating the ink, according to the treatment proposal.

Lange said the treatment of the document took a “lot longer than anticipated” because Historic Deerfield delivered it right before the pandemic began in March 2020. “It was definitely disrupted because of the COVID pandemic, like a lot of things,” Lange said.

“When (Williamstown Art Conservation Center) did reopen, there were some supply chain issues. … It was about nine to 10 months of on and off work.”

The conservation project was funded by a grant from the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati, which is a group composed of lineal male descendants of commissioned officers who served in the Continental Army or Navy during the American Revolution, according to the organization’s website.

Lange said the museum plans to use the document in an exhibit celebrating the 250th anniversary of the American Revolution in 2026. It may see only limited display time before that because it is such a fragile document.

“Even though it’s been restored, it’s still a light-sensitive object. … It has a tendency to fade over time,” Lange explained. “We really want to bring it out for the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.”

Detailed images of the document can be viewed at bit.ly/3FxpGgm.