Bookends—William Betts

Focus on William Betts

Book cover

William Betts endeared himself to generations of IUP students during his thirty-six years as a member of the English Department faculty. He retired from IUP in 1991. Now, he has written a fascinating book about the American Revolution called Bombardier John Harris and the Rivers of the Revolution. Published by Heritage Books, it makes the “War of the Revolution,” as Betts calls it, much more accessible to the reader than is often the case.

Betts notes in the book’s preface: “Now, more than two centuries removed from the Treaty of Paris which brought an official end to the War, we may experience great difficulty in bringing the Revolution to life. A torrent of recent books… and biographies of our founding fathers John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, and His Excellency George Washington…have doubtless helped a lot. To read the life of one who served the cause of the Revolution as a soldier for almost the entire eight and one-half years of the war can be a big help too.”

As for the rivers that are part of the title, Betts senses how hard it is for modern readers to grasp their importance. Even Indian trails, he points out, followed the rivers and streams and “became the fur-trade routes for the early settlers, and served as pathways for settlement itself.”

When the war came, he writes, “these Indian trails and the waterways became extremely strategic, just as they had for the French and Indians earlier and the age-old tribal conflicts.”

Betts uses John Harris’s life to tell a much larger story, with the name of a river the title of each chapter. He tells his story clearly and eloquently, annotating it and illustrating it with seventy-six images. As an added bonus, in an appendix, Betts provides “The Truth About Molly Pitcher.” A perennial source of confusion to Pennsylvania schoolchildren, the Molly Pitcher legend is deconstructed and set aright.