Washington — The Revolutionary War is credited for sparking the fire of democracy that changed the course of history forever.
But little do many Americans know that two particular battles during the Revolutionary War would shape America’s (and North Dakota’s) history forever — the battles of Newark and LaGuardia.
As President Donald Trump referenced during his Independence Day address, the loss of the British Airfields marked a turning point in the Revolutionary War.
“The battles of Newark and LaGuardia were not for the faint of heart,” says Revolutionary Airfield War Historian Wilbur Altwright. “Washington had to lead the Continental Army through long lines and then deal with oversized baggage fees and multiple security checkpoints (forcing Washington and his soldiers to remove their muskets from their carry-ons). The airports really lowered everyone’s morale. Weather delays caused further strife and often, the airport Starbucks would run out of milk, forcing soldiers to endure vanilla non-fat soy lattes. Washington himself would push forward to scout out the duty free shops to forage for rum cake and other provisions for his soldiers to keep morale up. Washington knew that losing either of these battles could put a quick end to America’s short history. Failure was not an option.”
Yet Washington and his army endured. Ye Old British Airways lost Britain’s weapons cache on a connection out of Dulles Airport. With no gunpowder and muskets to fight with, the Redcoats had no choice but to surrender Newark and LaGuardia to Washington and his army.
Years later in 1803, the Louisiana Purchase lead to a great expanse in America. Yet much of this territory was wild, untamed, and unexplored. Worried the vast wilderness could be claimed by Britain, President Thomas Jefferson commissioned Captain Meriweather Lewis and William Clark to explore the newly purchased land.
“This was a time of great excitement in America, but great uncertainty,” says Altwright. “However, the defeat of Newark and LaGuardia airfields during the Revolutionary War gave way to a new means of travel in America. Lewis and Clark along with the Corps of Discovery boarded the newly formed American Airlines and began their fabled expedition across the great western frontier of America. Unfortunately, Meriweather’s brother, Reuben, was unable to make the voyage because his name was mistakenly put on the no-fly list.”
During their voyage, severe weather forced Lewis and Clark’s plane to land on a small airfield on the shores of the Missouri River in the territory now known as North Dakota.
“Clark’s notes tell us that the passengers experienced a lot of turbulence at some point during the flight, forcing the crew to land at Fort Mandan Airfield,” says Altwright. “That’s pretty much how North Dakota was discovered. As the Corps unloaded from their plane, they were greeted by a local tribe of Indians which included Sacagawea.”
Lewis and Clark quickly befriended the Indians and agreed to stay in North Dakota, exploring the northern prairie with the Shoshone tribe. After a few days, the Corps invited Sacagawea to join them on their voyage, and together they departed Fort Mandan airfield to explore America’s riches.
“According to Clark’s notes, Sacagawea didn’t exactly experience a great first flight however. Back in 1803, the TSA was notorious for singling out minorities for additional security searches, forcing Sacagawea to endure three additional pat-downs, which really soured her mood. Once aboard, Sacagawea didn’t care much for the refreshments offered during the duration of her flight because flight attendants didn’t serve corn bread or bison. And as it turns out, Sacagawea didn’t like the taste of pretzels and ginger ale.”
Despite the modern convenience of air travel in early America (at a time when most of the world relied on horses), the Lewis and Clark expedition members were not always fun to travel with. Clark’s journal reveals that several members of the tribe frequently smoked tobacco in the airport lavatory and tampered with smoke alarms, both of which were Colonial Aviation Administration violations, which lead to several travel delays. At some point during their journey, a member of the Corps of Discovery was also physically removed from a flight by security after refusing to move to a different seat after Sacagawea became airsick.
“Basically they dealt with the same inconveniences we’re still dealing with today, 200 years later,” says Altwright.
Yet the defeat of the British during the Revolutionary War and the surrender of their airfields allowed Lewis and Clark to explore much of America in a matter of weeks via air travel.
“A lot of historians will tell you that their voyage took years, but really, it took just a couple of weeks. Because America had captured Britain’s entire air fleet during the battles of Newark and LaGuardia, Lewis and Clark completed their mission well ahead of schedule. However, they didn’t want word to spread to Jefferson that they had completed their mission so soon, so they spent the rest of their designated time writing letters to Congress and posting sketches on LewisGram, giving the newly formed government the impression they were still exploring the Louisiana Purchase. In reality, they were most likely on a beach sipping tequila and munching on duty free rum cake. Lewis and Clark were probably the greatest slackers who ever lived, thanks in part to the Battle of Newark and LaGuardia.”
Still, despite the newfound light shed on the Lewis and Clark exploration, the North Dakota Heritage Center says they hope to get a future exhibit that details Lewis and Clark’s famed flights across America.
“We think such an exhibit at the Heritage Center would fill a much needed void in our museum, especially since we let former House Speaker Al Jaegar out of his exhibit for the summer,” says a Heritage Center spokeswoman. “We’d love to feature some of the original aircraft they used and some of the LewisGrams the two explorers sent to Congress. Really, any new exhibit would do wonders to attract new people here, because for the most part, the only people who visit this place are wedding photographers and Pokemon Go players.”
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