TSD Q&A: Gene Pisasale, Local Historian and Brandywine Battlefield Buff

GenePisasaleInterview by TSD contributor and history buff, John Riley

On November 30th, I went to the Brandywine Battlefield Park to attend a lecture by local historian and novelist, Gene Pisasale  [pictured at left]. I had met Gene years ago when he covered Hercules as an investment analyst. In addition to learning more about his subject that day, Revolutionary War hero Lafayette and the Battle of the Brandywine, I was interested to learn more about how he made the journey from petroleum geologist, to investment analyst, to historian and author.

Gene provided the audience with a fascinating account of the battle, the largest and one of the most important of the war while providing interesting insight into the unique relationship that would develop between the young Frenchman and General Washington.

Following Gene’s lecture I had the opportunity to drop into the Benjamin Ring House on the battlefield property which served as Washington’s headquarters. A volunteer explained to a small group of us that on the night before the battle, which was to take place on September 11, 1777, Washington huddled in the small front room of the house with Nathaniel Greene, “Mad Anthony” Wayne and Lafayette to plan their pending encounter against Generals Howe and Cornwallis. The British army of 18,000 had made their way north from the Chesapeake by way of Newark, Delaware and Cooch’s Bridge to a spot just to the south of the Brandywine. Washington would be outmaneuvered and defeated by Howe the next day but was able to save much of his army with a controlled withdrawal back towards Chester.

Town Square Delaware: Gene, you have been active in efforts to preserve the Brandywine Battlefield – what can you tell us about that effort?

Gene Pisasale: I live in Kennett Square, just down the road from Chadds Ford and I’ve been involved with both the Battlefield and local historical groups for several years. I was first interested in the Battlefield when I took a tour there several years ago and was told it was closing due to lack of funds. The Park did close briefly, but then re-opened due to the efforts of the Friends of Brandywine Battlefield, of which I am a board member. I based my first historical novel “Lafayette’s Gold- The Lost Brandywine Treasure” on Lafayette, George Washington and the Battle of the Brandywine and have given lectures on this and several other historical topics in my historical lecture series.

TSD: As a petroleum geologist and investment analyst, how did you develop such a keen interest local history?

GP: I first fell in love with history as a school child back in the fourth grade. I enjoyed reading about the epic battles, the presidents and the fascinating stories of the development of our republic. I’ve long focused my efforts on reading about local historic sites and after moving back from the West Coast in 1998, started visiting many of them, including Brandywine Battlefield, Gettysburg, the “Liberty Trail” of Philadelphia, historic Fort Mifflin and Fort Delaware and many others in the region. To me, history is a “living” thing, for all who want to learn and read and explore.

TSD: You seem to have a particular fascination with the Marquis de Lafayette – how were you attracted to learn more about this man who played such a vital role in the fight for independence?

GP: In researching my first historical novel “Lafayette’s Gold,” I did quite a bit of research on Lafayette, Washington and the underpinnings of the American Revolution. Lafayette is a fascinating character. He gave up a life of privilege and fortune to fight in a war far away for a cause that was highly uncertain. When Washington and Lafayette met for the first time, they apparently took an instant liking to each other. Washington’s father died when he was just 11 years old. Lafayette’s father died when he was two years old; his mother, when he was only twelve. So, the basis of their “father- son” relationship was easy to understand: Lafayette had no father… Washington had no son. Theirs was the most important friendship of the American Revolution.

Lafayette made a celebrated return to the U.S. forty years after he helped win the war. He visited dozens of cities including Wilmington and the Brandywine battlefield site.

TSD: What do you find most interesting about that visit?

GP: In 1824- 1825, Lafayette visited the then-24 states. He stopped in Philadelphia, Chadds Ford and West Chester, along with many other sites. There is no written record in his hand, but when Lafayette stopped in Chadds Ford, he visited Gideon Gilpin, whose eyes filled with tears on seeing the man to whom he’d given comfort on the eve of the Battle of the Brandywine. I’m continually amazed in hearing stories from people all around the region when they tell me about a specific plaque or marker in their area which commemorates Lafayette’s visit.

TSD: In your lecture you personalized Lafayette’s story, connecting his life to Washington’s and to your own. Why do you feel this special connection to the “Founding Son of the American Revolution”?

GP: My father died on May 25, 1974. I was 17 years old. It was the night of my senior prom at Lower Merion High School outside Philadelphia. He was seriously ill for the last several years of his life, so I never really got to know him. Never had a chance to talk politics or current events over a cup of coffee, or even… go to a ballgame. Maybe, as with Washington and with Lafayette, I need to fill a void. The story of the American Revolution – and Lafayette’s and Washington’s roles – is a truly fascinating. I look forward to writing more on this topic in the years ahead – and to the opening of the new Museum of the American Revolution in downtown Philadelphia in 2015.

TSD: What’s in store for Gene Pisasale in 2014, more writing, lectures? Perhaps you can provide us with some upcoming lectures or book signings.

GP: I’m giving a presentation on the Industrial Revolution in the southeastern Pennsylvania area titled “Frick’s Lock to DuPont- How the Industrial Revolution Saved America” at the Jenner’s Pond retirement community in Jennersville, Pa. on January 15th.

The presentation covers how Pennsylvania was a critical factor in our country’s development. Pennsylvania was the only one of the original 13 colonies which had all the building blocks in abundance: Coal, iron ore, timber and oil. These natural resources gave rise to some of the most important companies in America, including U.S. Steel, DuPont and several others. I mention these key industries – including DuPont – prominently in my presentation.

I also have presentations scheduled for the Kennett Square Civil War club on March 8th, at Widener University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) on March 19th and other groups throughout the year ahead in 2014.

My next book will be titled, “Tales of Chester County,” which will chronicle my Living History series that has appeared in more than ten local and regional media outlets over the past three years. It will also mention other adjacent areas and their history, including Delaware County, Philadelphia and northern Delaware. I plan to do a new lecture series on this topic, as well, and welcome opportunities to speak in Delaware and around the mid-Atlantic region for historic societies, civic groups, D.A.R., book clubs and other organizations. Please see my website, www.genepisasale.com, for details in the weeks ahead.

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  • Hello John! It’s been a few months since we spoke, but I wanted to give you an update on my work. My new book is due out soon. It will be titled “American Revolution to Fine Art- Brandywine Valley Reflections” and it will be a new genre- an historical pictorial book. It will cover roughly 300 years of our local history in the Brandywine Valley/Philadelphia/Wilmington area tabulated from 40 of the articles in my “Living History” series written for local newspapers, magazines and other media outlets over the past four years. I highlight a wide variety of topics, including George Washington, Lafayette and the Battle of the Brandywine, the mushroom and dairy industries of Chester County, the hertiage of several small towns in the region including Kennett Square, West Chester, Dilworthtown, Phoenixville, Downingtown and many others. I’m nearing completion of the manuscript and will submit it to my publisher in the next week. I hope to mention this in an article or interview with you soon!! Please contact me at 610-925-1795 or Gene@GenePisasale.com Many thanks!