A Lively Experiment

Notes on collections at the RIHS

Nuclear Nathanael Greene

In another serendipitous moment, while looking for a sheet of much earlier 5-cent stamps, I found this:

The USS Nathanael Greene was nuclear-powered James Madison class submarine, launched May 12, 1964 and commissioned on December 19, 1964. So 48 years ago tomorrow, this envelope was mailed to the RIHS to commemorate Rhode Island’s most important Revolutionary War general. The USS Nathanael Greene carried Polaris missiles, hence the iconography on either side of the Greene family crest. The Latin motto, nec timeo nec sperano, translates as “I neither fear nor despise.” Perhaps true of General Greene, but a statement somewhat less believable of Cold War America.

With its curious combination of bucks and missiles, 18th and 20th centuries, the envelope is but two years younger than the Brigade of the American Revolution, the oldest umbrella organization of Revolutionary War reenactors.  The centuries and wars converge on this envelope, a commemoration of the past and a celebration of the bold future of nuclear weaponry (this was also the time of the space race).

The envelope looks almost kitschy now, missiles and elks, something more suited for a hipster t-shirt than a solemn event. How we honor history says as much about us as it does about the past.

~Kirsten Hammerstrom, Director of Collections


3 comments on “Nuclear Nathanael Greene

  1. Bruce MacGunnigle
    30 August 2012

    The Elks are actually Bucks (deer), from the Greene family coat of arms. My mother was a Greene, and I recognize it from the coat of arms she had hanging in her home.

  2. rihswebsite
    10 September 2012

    Thanks for the correction!

  3. David Procaccini
    6 September 2014

    Hello, I am the President of the Gen. Nathanael Greene Homestead, the home Nathanael built in 1770 and hoped to be his home until old age, of course we know that this did not occur. The home is now a museum as well as a National Historic Landmark. We are open 7 months out of the year and conduct a multitude of educational programs. When the Homestead was sold out of the family, the ancient barn was torn down, we are attempting to build a replica on our remaining 11 acres for use as a classroom, and for special events. We are attempting to raise funds for this, any help you can provide by sharing our information is greatly appreciated.
    The link to our fundraising site is: http://www.gofundme.com/d54snw

    Thank you
    David M. Procaccini, President, Gen. Nathanael Greene Homestead

    RI Sons of the American Revolution
    RI Society of the Cincinnati

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