Brunswick’s Skolfield-Whittier House, Pejepscot History Center, hosted our opening program of the season. Our members and friends enjoyed an illuminating presentation by historian and author Elizabeth D. Leonard, Colby College’s Gibson Professor of History, Emerita. Dr. Leonard’s presentation, “Let’s Stop Calling Him ‘Beast’: Revisiting the Life and Work of General Benjamin F. Butler,” convincingly pointed out that Butler’s life and legacy was far more complex than traditional narratives have portrayed. The presentation provided extensive insights into how perceptions of Butler varied, shaped by the perspective of the source—often denounced by Confederates (and “lost cause” proponents in the post-war era) and northern elites while, in his time, being widely supported as a friend to “the underdog.” Butler was an ardent unionist and context is an important aspect of his Civil War service and legacy. His wartime mission was to suppress the rebellion and his administrative policies provided an early “roadmap” for reconstruction. Butler’s “contraband” policy did much to transform the nature of the war and he was an early proponent of African Americans serving in the Union Army. After the war Butler worked to sustain and expand the gains brought about during the Civil War. He became an adamant opponent of President Andrew Johnson’s policies and advocated for desegregation, women, workers, and veterans. Elizabeth Leonard’s program was a welcome kick off to the round table’s 2023-2024 season.

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