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Friends Speaker Series

Sponsored by the Sherrin H. and Bruce A. Baky Foundation

As part of the Friends mission to provide interesting and compelling programming for the public, the annual Speaker Series is held in cooperation with the Washington Memorial Chapel. This series, which runs from October through May, gathers an array of historians, scientists, authors, archeologists, actors and performers to share with the public their multiple points of view on history, the natural world and the ongoing commemoration of Valley Forge.

Presentations are held at Washington Memorial Chapel, on Route 23 in Valley Forge, on Tuesdays at 7 pm. Free and open to the public. A reception follows each talk.

For directions to the Chapel, visit

Tuesday, December 2
Give Me a Fast Ship: The Continental Navy

Five ships against hundreds – the fledgling American Navy versus the greatest naval force the world had ever seen...

America in 1775 was on the verge of revolution – or, more likely, disastrous defeat. After the bloodshed at Lexington and Concord, England’s King George sent hundreds of ships westward to bottle up American harbors and prey on American shipping. Colonists had no force to defend their coastline and waterways until John Adams of Massachusetts proposed a bold solution: The Continental Congress should raise a navy. The idea was mad. The Royal Navy was the mightiest floating arsenal in history, with a seemingly endless supply of vessels. More than a hundred of these were massive “ships of the line,” bristling with up to a hundred high-powered cannon that could level a city. The British were confident that His Majesty’s warships would quickly bring the rebellious colonials to their knees.

They were wrong. Beginning with five converted merchantmen, America’s sailors became formidable warriors, matching their wits, skills, and courage against the best of the British fleet. Victories off American shores gave the patriots hope – victories led by captains such as John Barry, Nicholas Biddle, and James Nicholson. Meanwhile, along the British coastline, daring raids by handsome, cocksure John Paul Jones and the “Dunkirk Pirate,” Gustavus Conyngham sent fear throughout England. The adventures of these men and others on both sides of the struggle rival anything from Horatio Hornblower or Lucky Jack Aubrey. In the end, these rebel sailors, from the quarterdeck to the forecastle, contributed greatly to American independence.

About the Speaker

Tim McGrath

Tim McGrath (BA History, Temple University ’74) is a business executive who lives outside of Philadelphia. He has served on the board of directors of the Kearsley Retirement Community (founded by Benjamin Franklin’s physician), Christ Church Hospital, the Philadelphia Senior Centers, and Fort Mifflin. His many interests, including tennis, riding, and sailing, are limited only by creaking knees and a fickle rotator cuff.

Over the years he has written articles on management, U.S. history, and healthcare issues for various newspapers and magazines. His first book, John Barry: an American Hero in the Age of Sail (Westholme Publishing, 2010), won the American Revolutionary Roundtable Book of the Year Award, the Navy League Book Award, and was a finalist for the Samuel Eliot Morison Award for Naval Literature. With his son, Ted (an award-winning freelance illustrator), he wrote Travels with the Commodore, a children’s book published for the Philadelphia Port Authority’s community reading program. His latest book, Give Me a Fast Ship (NAL/Penguin), was actually completed on schedule despite his terrible typing.

January 6
Nancy K. Loane
’My Dear’: Officers’ Letters from Valley Forge
Author Nancy K. Loane shares new information about the encampment and the lives of the officers in the Continental Army, and those they left behind.
February 3
Scott Randolph
The Battle of Crooked Billet
Scott Randolph, the director and producer of the award-winning film “The Battle of the Crooked Billet,” discusses this little-known Bucks County battle.
March 3
Jesse West-Rosenthal
Archaeology at Valley Forge
Archaeologist Jesse West-Rosenthal presents a history of archaeology at Valley Forge, details of recent excavations, and a show-and-tell of selected artifacts from the encampment.
April 7
Joel T. Fry
The Bartram Family: Plant Collectors in the 18th century
Joel T. Fry, the curator of Bartram Gardens, shares the story of the careers and travels of John and William Bartram, famed natural scientists and plant men, and the family garden.
May 5
to be announced