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Lost in history: Book follows soldiers to the Battle of Brooklyn • Brooklyn Paper

Lost in history: Book follows soldiers to the Battle of Brooklyn

On the spot: Chris Formant will read from his new novel, “Saving Washington,” at Green-Wood Cemetery on Aug. 25, telling the tale of the Battle of Brooklyn at the same place that the conflict came to a head.
Noam Galai

He’s re-writing the history books!

A new novel breathes vivid life into the story of the revolutionary heroes who sacrificed themselves on the Brooklyn battlefield during the fight to start a new nation. “Saving Washington: The Forgotten Story of the Maryland 400 and the Battle of Brooklyn” follows two fictional soldiers as they go on the historical suicide mission to rescue George Washington — and America’s chance at freedom, said the book’s author, who will read from his book at Green-Wood Cemetery on Aug. 25.

“If not the bravery of these 400 kids, Washington would have been captured, the Continental Army would’ve been destroyed, and the revolution would have been over that day,” said Chris Formant. “And this happened only six weeks after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.”

The rag-tag colonial army was outgunned, outmanned, and surrounded by their red-coated oppressors, forcing the Maryland 400 to fend off the coming onslaught while Washington and his troops fled across the East River. The event is commemorated in Brooklyn every year, but elsewhere, the epic sacrifice has been largely forgotten, said Formant.

“We celebrate winners. We don’t celebrate defeat,” he said. “And we got our butts kicked, and Washington was humiliated. Even the people who were scribing it at the time wanted to forget. So it was lost to history.”

In his book, Formant spins a gripping, fact-based narrative, seen through the eyes of a young white soldier named Joshua Bolton and his childhood friend Ben Wright, a freed black man.

“Every war is fought by teenagers, so I decided to tell this story through the eyes of two teenagers — why they enlisted, what were their emotions and motivations,” he said.

To his surprise, Formant’s research revealed a religious undercurrent that guided the soldiers.

“I was always taught that the revolution was fought over taxes … but there are no teenagers that have ever been born on the face of the earth who would go on a suicide mission over taxes. I wanted to uncover what was really going on at the time,” he said. “What I found was that they felt that God had put them on this mission, and they really had to do this… It was as close to a religious revolt as we’ve ever had in our history.”

Including a black man in the regiment is based on the real history of the Continental army, according to Formant.

“I went and looked up pension records, and discovered something very interesting — there were African Americans who fought in this unit, both free and slaves,” he said. “I found at least three African Americans who were awarded pensions for being a part of this regiment.”

Formant recently sold the movie rights to his book, and he hopes the novel — and possible film — sparks a renewed interest in the heroes of the Maryland 400.

“These might be the most important — and yet most forgotten — soldiers in the history of the United States,” he said. “And their remains are scattered in unmarked graves under the streets of Brooklyn.”

“Saving Washington” reading by Chris Formant at Green-Wood Cemetery (Fifth Avenue at 25th Street in Green-Wood Heights, www.green-wood.com). Aug. 25 at 11 a.m. Free.

Reach reporter Aidan Graham at agraham@schnepsmedia.com or by calling (718) 260–4577. Follow him at twitter.com/aidangraham95.

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