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Friedrich Von Steuben: Father of the U.S. military

Neither married nor denied any of the allegations of homosexuality

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Valley Forge

Valley Forge.

This is the third in a series that will run throughout October in conjunction with our friends at the Philadelphia Gay News and partners around the nation. We hope that you treasure these little looks at where we’ve come, as they help us reflect and prepare for where we are going.

By Mark Segal

National Gay History Project

There are few historians today who would doubt that Baron Friedrich Wilhelm Von Steuben was gay.

To appreciate the contributions von Steuben (1730-94) made to the American Revolution, consider this: Before his arrival in Valley Forge in 1778, the Revolutionary Army had lost several battles to Great Britain and, without him, the United States of America might still be the British colonies.

Before Valley Forge, the Revolutionary Army was a loosely organized, rag-tag band of men with little military training. The military fumbled through the beginning of the war for independence lacking training and organization. Gen. George Washington and the Continental Congress knew that without help from additional seasoned military experts, the colonies would clearly lose. Since Washington himself was the best the colonies had, they looked to Europe for someone who could train the troops. To that end, Washington wrote the colonies’ representative in Paris, Benjamin Franklin, to see what he could come up with. Franklin, a renowned inventor, was treated as a celebrity in the French court. This would be pivotal in achieving his two major objectives in France: winning financial support for the revolution and finding military leaders who could bring a semblance of order to the Revolutionary Army.

Franklin learned of a “brilliant” Prussian military genius, Lt. Gen. Baron Frederich von Steuben. Von Steuben had a string of successes (some self-embellished) with the Prussian army. There was one problem. He’d been asked to depart because of his “affections for members of his own sex.” This became urgent in 1777 when he literally escaped imprisonment in what is now Germany and traveled to Paris. In Paris, Franklin was interviewing candidates to assist Washington back in the colonies when he discovered von Steuben.

During the interview process, Franklin discovered von Steuben’s reputation for having “affections” with males and the issue became pressing as members of the French clergy demanded the French court, as in other countries, take action against this sodomite. They had decided to make their effort a crusade and run him out of France.

Franklin had a choice here, and he decided von Steuben’s expertise was more important to the colonies than his sexuality.

At the same time, another colonial representative was in France with the explicit job of recruiting experienced military personnel from Europe to train the Continental Army. He was Silas Deane, a former representative to the first Continental Congress and friend of Franklin. Deane is best known for recruiting the Marquis de Lafayette. He also had a side job as a spy for the colonies. Besides being intelligent themselves, Franklin and Deane knew how to spot intelligence. It would have been impossible for either to not know about the reputation of von Steuben.

Franklin, working with Deane, decided von Steuben’s “affections” were less important than what he, Washington and the colonies needed to win the war with England. Deane learned of von Steuben’s indiscretions – and that the French clergy was investigating – from a letter to the Prince of Hechingen, his former employer, which read in part:

“It has come to me from different sources that M. de Steuben is accused of having taken familiarities with young boys which the laws forbid and punish severely. I have even been informed that that is the reason why M. de Steuben was obliged to leave Hechingen and that the clergy of your country intend to prosecute him by law as soon as he may establish himself anywhere.”

Deane, along with Franklin, acted quickly before the clergy could deport or imprison von Steuben and plotted to send him to the colonies to serve with Washington. Von Steuben was given an advance for passage to America and began as a volunteer, without pay.

Once he’d arrived in Valley Forge, Washington was concerned about von Steuben’s inability to speak English so he appointed two of his officers who spoke French to work as his translators. One of those officers was Alexander Hamilton and the other his close friend John Laurens. Within months, von Steuben gained Washington’s confidence and began to transform the colonial army.

Washington and Franklin’s trust in von Steuben was rewarded. He whipped the rag-tag army of the colonies into a professional fighting force, able to take on the most powerful superpower of the time, England. Some of his accomplishments include instituting a “model company” for training, establishing sanitary standards and organization for the camp and training soldiers in drills and tactics such as bayonet fighting and musket loading. According to the New York Public Library, (“The Papers of Von Steuben”) the following is a list of his achievements and timeline.

February 1778: Arrives at Valley Forge to serve under Washington, having informed Congress of his desire for paid service after an initial volunteer trial period, with which request Washington concurs.

March 1778: Begins tenure as inspector general, drilling troops according to established European military precepts.

1778-79: Writes “Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States,” which becomes a fundamental guide for the Continental Army and remains in active use through the War of 1812, being published in over 70 editions.

1780-81: Senior military officer in charge of troop and supply mobilization in Virginia.

1781: Replaced by Marquis de Lafayette as commander in Virginia.

1781-83: Continues to serve as Washington’s inspector general, and is active in improving discipline and streamlining administration in the army.

Spring 1783: Assists in formulating plans for the postwar American military.

Washington rewarded Von Steuben with a house at Valley Forge (still in existence and open for visits) which he shared with his aide-de-camps Capt. William North and Gen. Benjamin Walker. Walker lived with him through the remainder of his life, and von Steuben, who neither married nor denied any of the allegations of homosexuality, left his estate to North and Walker. His last will and testament, which includes the line “extraordinarily intense emotional relationship,” has been described as a love letter to Walker.

The nation that von Steuben helped found has memorialized him with numerous statues, including those at Lafayette Square near the White House and at Valley Forge and Utica, N.Y. (where he is buried) and German Americans celebrate his birthday each year on Sept. 17, hosting parades in New York City, Philadelphia and Chicago.

If George Washington was the father of the nation, then von Steuben, a gay man, was the father of the United States military.

Mark Segal is founder and publisher of Philadelphia Gay News, the country’s oldest LGBT newsweekly. Sometimes called the Dean of the Gay Press, Segal is an award-winning columnist and is fascinated by history.

Introduction to the National Gay History Project:

Historians take note. This year’s National Gay History Project is a shout out to say that the LGBT community will no longer allow insensitivity, intentional or not, to downplay the contributions LGBT people have made to this country. To put it simply, this year’s project is definitive. Without people who were LGBT or LGBT allies, there would be no United States of America. We helped create this nation and we helped keep it together through the Civil War. And indeed, the Founding Fathers not only had us in mind when creating this country, they welcomed and recruited us in their efforts.

Welcome to “We Are America.”

Mark Segal

coordinator

 

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Autos

Surprise rides of 2022

Fun, frugal, and full of frills

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Nissan Frontier

Each January, I list my top vehicle picks of the year. But with so many contenders this year, the focus this time is on surprise rides: Three solid choices that are unexpectedly fun, frugal and full of frills.

NISSAN FRONTIER
$29,000
Mpg: 18 city/24 highway
0 to 60 mph: 7.3 seconds

Sure, Tesla, Rivian and other newcomers may be garnering lots of press these days. But other automakers also have been upping their game. Cue the Nissan Frontier pickup, completely redesigned with bold, bad-boy styling. This includes a pugnacious grill, menacing headlights and sleek LED taillights. Inside, new laminated side windows reduce wind and road noise. Refined, soft-touch surfaces are a pleasant surprise, as are various clever storage spaces. And then there are the zero-gravity seats, built to alleviate driver fatigue. Despite the space-age description, these NASA-inspired seats have a traditional design but are built with 14 different pressure points to reduce stress on tired muscles. They may not be as fancy as massaging seats in luxury vehicles, but they feel just as effective. Other cabin niceties include large easy-to-read gauges and an optional 9-inch touchscreen, along with wireless charging, Wi-Fi and 10-speaker Fender stereo. One minor annoyance: the steering column tilts but has no telescopic function. While there may be a few less-expensive pickups on dealer lots, none come with as many features. As for performance, the 310-horsepower V6 is the best in its class, and overall handling is more akin to a well-mannered SUV than a workhorse hauler. For off-road enthusiasts, a Pro-4X model comes with heavy-duty Bilstein shocks, electronic locking rear differential for better grip and beefy all-terrain tires.

JEEP WAGONEER
$60,000
16 city/22 highway
0 to 60 mph: 7.3 seconds

Jeep Wagoneer

While oversized rides don’t really fit my urban identity, the all-new Jeep Wagoneer had me almost pining for a Brady Bunch lifestyle in the burbs. Out of production since 1991, this resurrected land yacht made me feel safe and secure on the road. It also tapped into my love of a beloved cruiser: the Pontiac Grand Safari station wagon that I drove across country in my 20s. (Alas, those tawdry travel tales are another story.) But while such behemoths may be described as big and boxy, the Wagoneer is definitely chic, echoing many of the more sculpted elements of a ritzy Range Rover. Powered by a gutsy V8 Hemi engine, this super-sized SUV quickly hustles down the road. A mild-hybrid system not only helps conserve fuel but also adds some extra oomph. Front-wheel drive comes standard, though many buyers will prefer one of the four-wheel-drive options for even better drivability. Air suspension lets you raise and lower the Wagoneer, which has up to 10 inches of ground clearance and can trek through two feet of water. Along with offering more standard features than most competitors, there’s also more second- and third-row legroom. The rich interior, with contrast piping and stitching on the seats, includes a wraparound dashboard with up to three large screens. Two more screens are available for rear-seat passengers, who can stream thousands of programs via the Wi-Fi. Notable amenities include automated parking, rear-seat monitoring camera and premium 19-speaker McIntosh stereo. Fully loaded, a Wagoneer can reach $75,000. That’s still less than the primo Grand Wagoneer ($89,000), which can sprint from 0 to 60 mph in a wickedly fast 5.7 seconds. That glam model, with goodies such as a refrigerated front console and a hidden touchpad safe to store valuables, can easily top $100,000.

MITSUBISHI OUTLANDER
$28,000
Mpg: 24 city/31 highway
0 to 60 mph: 8.6 seconds

Mitsubishi Outlander

Of the three vehicles reviewed here, the updated Mitsubishi Outlander was the biggest surprise. After all, the automaker isn’t the most popular or reliable brand on the block. But like a washed-up diva making a stunning comeback, the Outlander is now taking its star turn in the highly competitive crossover market. The overall styling is dazzling, with sheet metal that has been stretched and pulled into an edgy origami design. Built on the same platform as the Nissan Rogue, this new Outlander is taller, wider and longer than that popular compact. It also offers a third seat, even if legroom here is miniscule. And despite what is a capable but rather tepid engine, the Outlander handling is crisp and spirited. Driver visibility is especially good, and I found the cabin to be pleasantly quiet. But most notable are all the amenities, including head-up display, wireless smartphone integration, 10-speaker Bose stereo, panoramic sunroof, power tailgate, heated steering wheel, heated seats (both front and back), a full slate of the latest safety gear and much more. Another plus: the 10-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty. All in all, it’s nice to see Mitsubishi start to regain its footing—with the Outlander center stage.

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Real Estate

Is cash always king?

How to stay competitive in the face of all-cash offers

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With more all-cash offers these days, there are still ways to stay competitive if you need a mortgage.

One of the frequently asked questions I get as a real estate agent serving the DC Metro area and Delaware beaches is: How can I be competitive in a market that is seeing an increase in all-cash offers? 

I get it, the real estate market is super competitive, but it’s not just because of the low inventory, it’s also because of the cash offers sellers are seeing.

Money is money right? Why would a seller be inclined to take a lower all-cash offer versus a higher offer with a mortgage. Let’s break it down a bit. 

An all-cash offer usually comes with very limited contingencies in addition to the more important piece, which is the timing. A cash sale can close in less than a week whereas a sale with a conventional mortgage can usually only be expedited to a 21-day close. Don’t lose hope! There are still a few ways you can have a competitive edge over cash offers with a few steps your agent can advise you through:

OFFER CASH – THEN ACQUIRE FINANCING: If the stars align and you are purchasing a home that the sellers currently reside in, you can expect that they will need some time to gather their items and move — they also have to gather their great great grandmother’s wedding dress and Uncle Fester’s golf clubs that they just HAVE to keep. This will allow you time to go the conventional mortgage route. Please note that this is a very detailed alteration and it is recommended fully that you speak with your real estate agent prior to doing this to ensure that you are fully educated with the pros and cons of this method and what is at risk. The biggest item to highlight is that a mortgage comes with the infamous appraisal. The appeal of an all-cash offer is that there is no appraisal. With a mortgage an appraisal is required. If the appraisal comes in low, you will need to be ready to come to the table with the difference in appraised value – in cash. For example: Appraised value is $100,000 and you are under contract for $200,000 – that is a delta of $100,000, which you will need to come up with in cash in order to continue with the transaction, separate from any other monies you have already placed down.

OFFER $$$ OVER LOW APPRAISAL: Following up on the appraisal aspect here – you can write a contract with financing in place from the onset and provide an addendum that you will pay the difference in low appraisal (referencing the example above) or you can offer an alternative that would be to pay up to XX over a low appraisal. In this example of paying a dollar amount over a low appraisal, you write into the contract that you are going to offer $50,000 over the appraisal if it is a low appraisal. So if the contract price is $150,000 and you offer to pay $25,000 over a low appraisal value and the property is valued with appraisal at $125k then you would have to pay a total of $150k for the home and that $25k difference would, again, need to be in cash. This allows a bit of leverage with lower cash amounts on hand – but again similar to the example of acquiring financing above, the sellers must allow for the timing of a mortgage application process to occur.

GIFTS FROM FAMILY: What is family for if it isn’t for providing you large sums of cash!? In all seriousness – this is a fully accepted method of cash funds. You will want to speak to a financial planner/tax individual to fully understand tax implications for both parties (giftor and giftee) to fully understand what this means, but there is always the ability to be gifted funds from parents, aunts, uncles etc., to ensure that you are liquid and can purchase the property of your dreams.

OFFER “RENT BACK” TO SELLERS: Following the guise that the sellers must find a property to purchase or perhaps they are moving across the country and need a month or two in order to get their affairs in order. This allows you to provide a “rent back” to the sellers and basically become their landlord. In this scenario you would typically charge them rent, which would be equal to your carrying costs for your home expenses. For the purposes of being competitive in this market, you can offer a “rent FREE rent back” where you afford them the ability to sell the home to you and they still reside in the home for an established time post closing at no cost to them. This sounds silly — why would you let someone stay in your new home rent free for two months when that means that you are paying for your mortgage and other expenses in addition to rent for an apartment or maybe shacking up with mom and dad again? 

It’s important to remember that in order to get a property in this market there is the need to think creatively if you don’t have all the cash in the world — you can still be VERY competitive.

Justin Noble is a Realtor with Sotheby’s international Realty licensed in D.C., Maryland, and Delaware for your DMV and Delaware Beach needs. Specializing in first-time homebuyers, development and new construction as well as estate sales, Justin is a well-versed agent, highly regarded, and provides white glove service at every price point. Reach him at 202-503-4243, [email protected] or BurnsandNoble.com.

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Real Estate

Leather and lace in your home decor

From couches to countertops, add some flair

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Leather isn’t just for couches anymore; you can find it in countertops and a wide range of décor.

When I was very young, I would visit my maternal grandmother and marvel at the hand-tatted and crocheted doilies that adorned the arms and backs of her sofa and chairs. They were also found on her dressers and side tables, and on the dining table as coasters and placemats, to prevent scratches on the furniture. Like snowflakes, the designs of the doilies were both intricate and individual.

I’m convinced that people had better posture in the early 20th century, because I never saw the remnants of men’s hair tonic, Macassar oil, or pomade on Nana’s doilies, even though they were there to keep the furniture from absorbing those hair products. Certainly, people weren’t the couch potatoes lounging on sofas then that we are today. Being able to Netflix and chill was a long way off.

I was impressed with the amount of work that had gone into such a little piece of fabric, so I later tried to learn to crochet. Sadly, all I was able to accomplish was string after string, never having been taught how to join those strings together to resemble a doily. At least with knitting, I was able to form squares large enough to be blankets for my Barbie.

In my mid-century childhood, doilies were put away and saved for grandchildren who, years later, would neither want them nor appreciate their historical value. The ‘50s saw polyvinyl chloride (PVC) go from a commercial substance used frequently in post-WWII construction to a residential fabric that we now refer to fondly as “pleather.” I can still remember the sound of my thighs peeling off the vinyl banquette at the diner when I would get up to leave a booth.

To be without a leather couch in the ‘60s was déclassé and, although styles have changed, such a couch remains a timeless piece. These days, if you are looking for a little more leather in your life and in your home, you can look beyond that couch and chair, where options range from the subdued to the highly decorative.

While vinyl is still the least expensive leather-look fabric, we now have “bonded” leather, made with scraps that are bonded together using polyurethane or latex. As you can tell from the prices of such furniture, the actual leather used in the process can vary from 10-90 percent.

Of course, top grain leather is the most expensive, and we have suede, die cut, embossed, patent, and a variety of other techniques used to change the look of a hide. In addition, there is now vegan leather.

For something unique for your kitchen or bar, check out the tooled leather countertop from Kosel Saddlery (koselsaddles.wixsite.com/marty) in Montana. They also make saddles and chaps.

Instead of the shiny granite counters that we all know, MSI Surfaces (msisurfaces.com) makes honed and leathered granite finishes for a more subtle appearance and has dealers throughout the DMV. 

For a do-it-yourself application, Amazon sells the Aspect brand eight-pack of leather glass, peel and stick subway tiles for backsplashes in five neutral colors for less than $20 each.

EcoDomo (ecodomo.com) in Gaithersburg offers a variety of custom leather treatments, including countertops, door and cabinet panels, floor planks and tiles, and wall systems. Your color choices aren’t limited to black or brown either. They can manufacture pieces in blue, red, green, and even in custom colors to match other items in your décor.

Many online stores such as Wayfair and Overstock carry real and faux leather headboards, footstools, poufs and benches at affordable prices. 

There’s always something in leather at Pottery Barn, even for the conservative budget: pieced leather pillows, tufted stools, basket collections, and even a leather-bound coffee table book for cigar aficionados. 

If you’re looking for small accent pieces, try a leather coaster, placemat, napkin ring, or my personal favorite, a cutlery pouch for your tableware collection from Lucrin Geneva (lucrin.com). They also offer office accessories such as crocodile desk sets, wastebaskets and storage boxes.

And for the connoisseur of leather, vinyl, rubber, or even neoprene items of a more personal nature, head to the Capitol Hill Hyatt Regency this Friday through Sunday for Mid-Atlantic Leather weekend. With plenty of specialty items, high-impact fashion, toys and games for all ages and yes, even custom-made furniture among the vendor exhibitions, you’re sure to find something that will tickle your fancy.

Just remember that you (and your puppy) must both be vaccinated and masked to attend. We take COVID (and rabies) very seriously here in D.C.

Valerie M. Blake is a licensed Associate Broker in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia with RLAH Real Estate.  Call or text her at 202-246-8602, email her via DCHomeQuest.com, or follow her on Facebook at TheRealst8ofAffairs.

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