Saturday, December 31, 2011

January 1, 1777: Hessians

On January 1, 1777, George Washington wrote to Congressmen Robert Morris, George Clymer and George Walton, "The future and proper disposition of the Hessian Prisoners, struck me in the same light in which you view it, for which Reason I advised the Council of Safety to seperate them from their Officers, and canton them in the German Counties."

Agreeing with the Congressmen's recommendations of December 28, 1776, Washington explained, "If proper pains are taken to convince them, how preferable the Situation of their Countrymen, the Inhabitants of those Counties is to theirs, I think they may be sent back in the Spring, so fraught with a love of Liberty and property too, that they may create a disgust to the Service among the remainder of the foreign Troops and widen that Breach which is already opened between them and the British."

On December 29, 1776, Washington expressed his wish to the Pennsylvania Council of Safety that the captured Hessian officers "may have such principles instilled into them during their Confinement, that when they return, they may open the Eyes of their Countrymen, who have not the most cordial Affection for their English fellow Soldiers."

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Hessian Prisoners

On December 28, 1776, a three-person Committee of Congress wrote to George Washington about the German mercenaries captured at Trenton on the night of Dec. 25-26. Robert Morris, George Clymer and George Walton wrote that the capture of the Hessians "affords a favourable opportunity of making them acquainted with the situation and circumstances" of German-Americans, "who came here without a farthing of property, and have, by care and industry, acquired plentiful fortunes...."

Friday, December 23, 2011

December 25: Trenton, New Jersey

On Christmas Night, 1776, Continental forces under General George Washington captured the Hessians garrisoned at Trenton, New Jersey. In his book Washington's Crossing, Brandeis Historian David Hackett Fischer disputes the legend that the Hessians under Col. Johann Gottlieb Rall were drunk.

Instead, Fischer explains, a popular uprising of militia in four New Jersey counties left Rall's regiment "in a continuous state of alarm." Fischer writes of the Hessians, "The men were ill and exhausted, deprived of sleep." David Hackett Fischer, Washington's Crossing (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 201.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

December 24: Ravage and Calamity

On Dec. 24, 1776, the Assembly of Pennsylvania rallied citizens for the defense of Philadelphia by mentioning the suffering in occupied New Jersey:

FRIENDS AND COUNTRYMEN: It is much easier for you to conceive, than for us to describe, the evils consequent on the invasion of a country by a rapacious and plundering soldiery. Such is now the situation of the neighbouring State of New-Jersey....

Every species of ravage and calamity have already marked the footsteps of our enemy, and they are now within a few miles of your Metropolis, waiting to cross the Delaware, to glut their inordinate lust of rapine and desolation, in the plunder of that rich and populous city.

December 24: Prisoners in Baltimore

On Dec. 24, 1776, President of the Continental Congress John Hancock received information about prisoners held by Americans in Baltimore.

The Baltimore Committee reported, "Our Committee have been informed by Mr. Benjamin Griffith, that the room in the gaol for the reception of the prisoners is now repaired, and made comfortable; that he has procured provisions and fire-wood, but that blankets cannot be obtained, and therefore hope the honourable Congress will furnish them from the publick stores."

Baltimore authorities were trying to find accommodations for the prisoners: "The  The Committee are looking for proper houses to accommodate the prisoners, if they can be procured that are sufficient, which they much doubt."

Donald McCloud, Alexander McCloud and Kenneth McDonald petitioned the President of Congress to ask that American authorities distinguish them as military prisoners from Loyalists captured in North Carolina.  The petitioners opened their address with an acknowledgement of the Congressional resolution to investigate the condition of prisoners in Baltimore: "We are sensible of the obligation your Carolina prisoners are under, by your passing a late resolve in their favour, in consequence of which they are to be supplied with the necessaries of life and to be removed to a more comfortable habitation; and being of the number of said prisoners, we beg leave to offer you our hearty thanks for your good and humane intentions...."

Remarking they were "on a different footing with the other prisoners from North-Carolina," the three petitioners wrote they "are appointed officers in the King's Regular Army, consequently cannot come under any restrictions or engagements but such as are usual among people in that character. We, therefore, expect a parole on the same terms that has been granted by you to others of the King's officers, and a chance of exchanging for officers of the same rank, which we doubt not will be sent for us if applied for."

For an account of Loyalism to among Scottish Highlanders, despite the suppression of a Highland rebellion in 1745, please consult Duane Meyer, The Highland Scots of North Carolina, 1732-1776 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1987 [1987]).   For more on the role of local and provincial committees in the American Revolution, please consult T. H. Breen, American Insurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the People (New York: Hill and Wang, 2010) and Breen's article for The Daily Beast. For more on the custom of parole for captured enemy officers, please consult the second paragraph on the post about June 4, 1776.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

December 23: Shocking to Humanity

On Dec. 23, 1776, Congressman William Whipple of New Hampshire wrote to Josiah Bartlett that, with the fall of Fort Washington, "...the Success of the Enemy there gave them incouragemt to persue victory, so it struck our troops with a panic that spre[a]d through the Country.... However the People of Pensilvania are now turning out with spirit, great numbers have already join'd Genl Washington, the people of Maryland are also turning out."

Like many of his contemporaries and several historians since, Whipple believed the misconduct of the British soldiery turned Americans against the King's cause. Whipple wrote, "The Jersey Men are by this time fully convic'd of their errors, for the Ravages committed by the Enemy in their way through that state is really shocking to Humanity."

Letters of the Delegates to Congress: Volume 5: August 16, 1776-December 31, 1776 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1979), page 652.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Dec. 21: Prisoners in NC

On December 21, 1776, the Continental Congress "Resolved, That Mr. [William] Hooper be empowered to examine into the state of the North-Carolina Prisoners, and have such of them as are sick, removed to a private house, and kept under guard; and that he provide a Physician to attend them."

Representing North Carolina in Congress, Hooper was among the many delegates who signed the Declaration of Independence on August 2, 1776. In a December 12, 1777 message, the American Commissioners to France (Benjamin Franklin, Silas Deane and Arthur Lee) informed Lord North, "The records of Congress, my lord, are filled with proofs of tender care and attention not only to the wants, but to the comforts and accommodation, of their prisoners." (Please consult Richard Henry Lee, Life of Arthur Lee... 2 vols. (Boston: Wells and Lilly, 1829), 1:102

Sunday, December 18, 2011

December 18, 1776

Although an American Loyalist who fled his native Massachusetts for England, Samuel Curwen confided to his journal, "It piques my pride, I confess, to hear us called 'our Colonies, our Plantations,' in such terms and with such airs as if our property and persons were absolutely theirs, like the 'villains' and their cottages in the old feudal system; so long since abolished, though the spirit or leaven is not totally gone, it seems."

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Slave Ship Mentor

The Columbia Herald (Charleston), 30 May 1785: "GAMBIA NEGROES. To be sold on Tuesday the 7th June, on board the ship Mentor...."

The Charleston Evening Gazette, 13 July 1785: "RUN AWAY...SIX New Negroes of the Mandingo Country, lately purchased out of the Ship Mentor...."

According to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, the ship Mentor acquired 166 slaves in Gambia and arrived in Charleston, South Carolina with 152.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

December 14, 1799

Lucretia Wilhelmina Van Winter sent George Washington a poem she wrote in his honor.

In March 1784, Washington thanked Van Winter but deflected the praise.  "At best I have only been an instrument in the hands of Providence, to effect, with the aid of France and many virtuous fellow Citizens of America,...the emancipation of a country which may afford an the oppressed and needy of the Earth."

On December 14, 1799, George Washington died at his home, Mount Vernon.  Washington's will left instructions for the emancipation of all his slaves and established a fund for the elderly and orphaned among them.  

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Gen. Charles Lee Taken Prisoner

     On Dec. 13, 1776, a party of British cavalry under Banastre Tarleton captured British-born American General Charles Lee. 
     In the Battle of Wexhaws (19 May 1780) in South Carolina, Tarleton's cavalry notoriously slaughtered wounded Americans on the field. Days after a brave stand by Stockbridge Indians against Tarleton's cavalry (31 Aug. 1778), a Bronx resident recalled finding the mutilated bodies of Indians, three of whom were killed after Tarleton's cavalry promised them protection if they surrendered.
     Tarleton evinced a bloodthirsty disposition in his pursuit of Lee.  In his 2004 book, Washington's Crossing, Brandies historian David Hackett Fischer quoted Tarleton's letter to his mother boasting that the menace of "instant death" and "fear of the sabre extorted great intelligence" from two captured American sentries and a light horseman.
     David Hackett Fischer, Washington's Crossing (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), page 149; Lincoln Diamant, Yankee Doodle Days: Exploring the American Revolution (Fleischmanns, NY: Purple Mountain Press, 1996), page 141; Thomas F. DeVoe, "The Massacre of the Stockbridge Indians," Magazine of American History vol. 5 (1880): pages 187-194.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Inevitable Death

On December 9, 1776, Timothy Parker, first lieutenant of the schooner Spy in the Connecticut state navy, wrote to Gov. Trumbull from a British prisoner ship off New York City.  Respectfully pleading the governor to negotiate an exchange with the British, Parker described the dismal conditions on the prison ship Hope.

Parker wrote, “That our present situation is most wretched, your Honour need not doubt, which I likewise hope you will soon be assured of from men of undoubted veracity.  There are more than two hundred and fifty prisoners of us on board this ship, (some of which are sick, and without the least assistance from physician, drug, or medicine,)….”

Parker concluded, “In short, sir, we have no prospect before our eyes but a kind of lingering inevitable death, unless we obtain a timely and seasonable release.” 

December 8, 1776: Prisoners in Plymouth

In 1776, James Warren of Plymouth appealed to Council of Massachusetts to relocated the enemy prisoners concentrated in the town. All the prisoners were Irishmen recruited by the British.

Explaining the logistical challenge, Warren wrote, "They grow very troublesome. The inhabitants are much alarmed, and I fear some disagreeable consequences will soon ensue, either from their insolence and numbers, united with the many Tories here, or from the necessity the people may think there is for attending to their own security."

Sunday, December 4, 2011


     In the winter of 1776-77, Connecticut Gov. Jonathan Trumbull, Sr. hoped George Washington and British commander William Howe could reach an agreement on a prisoner exchange.  Given the suffering of American prisoners from hunger and cold, Trumbull wrote, "if they cannot soon be relieved, they must yield to the offer made to them, and inlist themselves into the King's service.  Necessity will soon compel them.  About three hundred have already yielded to the temptation."
     British recruitment of American prisoners, subject to the duress of hunger and epidemic disease, remained an American complaint throughout the war.  The coercive enlistment of American military prisoners was consistent with the spirit of Parliamentary measures authorizing the enlistment of American maritime captives.
     The neglect of American captives, however, was not consistent with the sentiments of many Britons.  The British public repeatedly demonstrated goodwill for Americans detained in Britain.
     Trumbull's estimate that only three-hundred Americans enlisted despite near-starvation supports accounts by witnesses and survivors. In his 1779 narrative, Col. Ethan Allen remembered visiting American enlisted men detained in New York in 1776-77: "The integrity of these suffering prisoners is hardly credible. Many hundreds, I am confident, submitted to death, rather than to enlist in the British service, which, I am informed, they were generally pressed to do."
     Major Levi Wells, an American officer captured then paroled by Howe, estimated that between three and four thousand prisoners remained prisoners in New York City. Wells offered a sound estimate of the prisoner numbers. In the campaign of 1776, the British reported taking 4,101 American privates prisoner. The largest number (2,607 of the 4,101) of these became prisoners at the surrender of Fort Washington on Nov. 16, 1776.
      Please see page Jared Sparks, ed., The Writings of George Washington 12 vols. (Boston: American Stationers' Company, John B. Russell, Odiorne, 1834-1837), 4:547; Ethan Allen, A Narrative of Colonel Ethan Allen's Captivity... (Burlington, VT: H. Johnson & Co., 1838 [1779]), 98.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Our Polished Enemies

     In his Dec 19. , 1776 letter to George Washington, Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull, Senior did not blame British commander Gen. Sir William Howe for the suffering of American prisoners in British-occupied New York City.  Howe, Trumbull wrote, "expressed himself with great humanity" when accounting for the prisoners' suffering.
     Relaying to Washington Howe's explanation, Trumbull wrote that the number of American prisoners in the city "is so great, and not having a country to dispose them in, as we have for our prisoners...he most heartily wishes for an exchange...."
     About a month later, Trumbull blamed British commanders personally for the suffering of American prisoners.  Dorothy Twohig, editor of Volume 8 of The Papers of George Washington: Revolutionary War Series, includes in the volume a January 23, 1777 letter from Trumbull to Washington.
     Trumbull wrote that the friends of Connecticut officers and soldiers detained by the British in New York were especially "impatient" for their release, "& with good Reason, as their sufferings there from Cold, Hunger, nakedness, Sickness...& accumulated Insult beggar all Description, many incapable to support this Load of Suffering, have fallen sacrifice to the rigour and Inhumanity of our polished Enemies...." 
     Jonathan Trumbull, Sr. to George Washington, Lebanon, Connecticut, 23 January 1777, in Dorothy Twohig, editor, The Papers of George Washington: Revolutionary War Series: Volume 8: January-March 1777 (Charlottesville: The University Press of Virginia, 1998), 141.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

December 12, 1776: Prisoners in New York City

From travelers, exiles and former prisoners themselves, Americans heard horror stories about the suffering of American prisoners in British custody in New York City. In Dec. 1776, British commander Gen. Sir William Howe permitted a few American officers to return to their home states to solicit aid for the enlisted men.*  One of the officers was Major Levi Wells.

Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull wrote to Gen. George Washington on Dec. 12, 1776, "Major Wells, of one of the battalions of this State, among the prisoners in New-York, is now suffered, on his parole, to come from thence into this State to solicit relief for the prisoners there."

The suffering of the captive enlisted men distressed Trumbull: "The representation made to us by Major Wells is, that we have in New-York between three and four thousand prisoners, the privates all close confined, upon about half allowance; great number of them almost naked; their confinement is so close and crowded that they have scarce room to move or lie down, the air stagnate and corrupt; numbers dying daily, arising principally from their close confinement."

*According to contemporary European custom, a nation at war provided for its own personnel taken prisoner or reimbursed those who did.  Consult, for example, Charles H. Metzger, S.J., The Prisoner in the American Revolution (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1971), 51, 129, 225.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving, November 1782

In his thanksgiving sermon of November 1782, John Witherspoon said, "To many American soldiers I have said, Seldom boast of what you have done, but never of what you only mean to do."

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

November 28, 1782: Thanksgiving

On Oct. 11, 1782, the Continental Congress appointed Thursday, November 28, 1782 a day of prayer and thanksgiving. Delivering a thanksgiving sermon on that day, Rev. John Witherspoon thanked God for the French.

“It was surely a great favor of Providence to raise up for us so great and illustrious an ally in Europe.”

The three-person Congressional committee recommending the day of thanksgiving was written by one of its members, Rev. Witherspoon himself. The committee report called attention to “the success of the arms of the United States and those of their allies….” Witherspoon was encouraging his fellow-clergymen to also acknowledge the intervention of Providence in obtaining the support of the France.

My thanks to Jeffry H. Morrison for clarifying the date of Witherspoon's sermon. Morrison is Associate Professor of Government at Regent University. Gaillard Hunt, ed., Journals of the Continental Congress 1774-1789: Volume 23: August 12-December 31, 1782 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1914), page 647 and 647 note; John Rodgers, ed., The Works of the Rev. John Witherspoon… 3 vols. (Philadelphia: William W. Woodward, 1800), 2:458; Jeffry H. Morrison, John Witherspoon and the Founding of the American Republic (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005), 134.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Parties For Prisoners

When it comes to getting propaganda to enemy forces, Mao Zedong wrote in 1928, “The two most effective methods are releasing captured soldiers, and giving medical care to wounded enemy soldiers.”

Mao reported, “The Red Army soldiers are extremely enthusiastic in welcoming and comforting the prisoners, and the prisoners reciprocate with warm gratitude in their speeches at every ‘Farewell Meeting for New Brothers.’”

Yes, Chinese Communists apparently had going away parties for enemy prisoners.

When Hessian officers captured at Trenton, New Jersey arrived in Philadelphia, Americans welcomed the prisoners with dinner at the Indian Queen Inn, at the expense of the Continental Congress.

Stuart R. Schram, Mao’s Road to Power: Revolutionary Writings, 1912-1949: Vol. III: From the Jinggangshan to the Establishment of the Jiangxi Soviets, July 1927-December 1930 (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1995), 101.
Harry M. Ward, Duty, Honor, or Country: General George Weedon and the American Revolution (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1979), 78.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

November 5, 1775: Guy Fawkes or "Pope Day"

Puritan New England cherished its rituals of November 5, Guy Fawkes Day or "Pope Day," the anniversary of foiled alleged plot by English Catholics to bomb Parliament. In November 1775, however, the United Colonies had soldiers in Quebec, a predominantly Catholic province under British administration since 1763.

In his General Orders for Nov. 5, 1775, George Washington condemned the "childish custom" of burning the Pope in effigy. Washington wrote, "At such a juncture, and in such circumstances, to be insulting their religion is so monstrous as not to be suffered or excused; indeed, instead of offering the most remote insult, it is our duty to address publick thanks to these our brethren, as to them we are so much indebted for every late happy success over the common enemy in Canada."

After the Revolution, George Washington continued to fight anti-Catholic bigotry. In response to salutations from American Catholics in 1790, President Washington wrote, "And I presume that your fellow-citizens will not forget the patriotic part which you took in the accomplishment of their Revolution, and the establishment of their government; or the important assistance which they received from a nation in which the Roman Catholic faith is professed."

View a transcript of President George Washington's Letter to Catholics in the United States at Beliefnet.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Immunity for Troops, 1776

On October 21, 2011, US President Barack H. Obama announced that US service personnel should withdraw from Iraq before the end of the calendar year. As Stephen Collinson reports for Agence France-Presse (AFP), the President pledged the withdrawal after Iraq refused to grant immunity in Iraqi courts to American service personnel.

In the Declaration of Independence, Americans condemned Britain's King George III for "giving his Assent to their [Parliament's] Acts of pretended Legislation:--For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:--For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States...."

Thankfully, Americans guilty of crimes in Iraq have faced prosecution in US courts. An American jury, for instance, sentenced Pfc. Steven Dale Green to prison for assaulting a fourteen-year-old Iraqi girl and killing her and several members of her family.

Friday, October 7, 2011

September 3, 1776: Atrocities on Long Island

Several American newspapers published a letter dated 3 Sept. 1776, written by a Scottish officer in the British service, boasting of atrocities by British soldiers at the Battle of Long Island (26 Aug. 1776).

Intercepted by American forces, the letter is attributed to "an officer in General Frazier's Battalion," that is, the 71st Regiment of Foot, also known as "Frazier's Battalion" for Lieutenant General Simon Fraser, the Scottish Highland noble who recruited many of the soldiers in Nov. and Dec. 1775.

The unnamed officer wrote, "The Hessians and our brave Highlanders gave no quarters; and it was a fine sight to see with what alacrity they despatched the Rebels with their bayonets after we had surrounded them so that they could not resist."

The officer claimed the brutal treatment of outnumbered men was the product of design by British officers: "We took care to tell the Hessians that the Rebels had resolved to give no quarters to them in particular, which made them fight desperately, and put all to death that fell into their hands. You know all stratagems are lawful in war, especially against such vile enemies to their King and country."

David McCullough suggested the letter was "very likely a fake," but other sources corroborate several unpleasant details.  Hessian Colonel Heinrich von Heeringen wrote, "The English did not give much quarter, and constantly urged our people to do the like." Others sources describe Scottish Highlanders as relatively magnanimous to captives. Colonel Samuel Atlee and a group of his men surrendered, throwing themselves "into the mercy of a battalion of Highlanders" posted "upon an eminance" near the road to Flatbush.  

Don Troiani, artist, and Earl J. Coates and James L. Kochan, editors, Don Troiani’s soldiers in America, 1754-1865 (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1998), 43; David McCullough, 1776 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005), 181; Edward Jackson Lowell, The Hessians and the Other German Auxiliaries of Great Britain in the Revolutionary War (New York, Harper & Brothers, 1884), 64; Matthew H. Spring, With Zeal and with Bayonets Only: The British Army on Campaign in North America, 1775-1783 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2008), 232-237.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

August 27, 1776: Battle of Long Island

On August 27, 1776, British forces, including Hessian mercenaries, defeated American forces at the Battle of Long Island.

Historian Edwin G. Burrows remarked that Britons and Tories referred to the rout, and the American retreat, derisively as "the Battle of Brooklyn." In the nineteenth century, Americans began calling the engagement the Battle of Long Island, perhaps, Burrows writes, in "an attempt to give the debacle a dignified name."

The Battle of Island Island became a scene for the sort of outrages that remained American grievances for the duration of the war.

By their own account, the British took 1,006 privates prisoner at Long Island on 27 August 1776. Sadly, many of these prisoners suffered in the custody of British and Tory personnel. Historian John H. Rhodehamel included in The American Revolution: Writings from War of Independence an excerpt from the diary of Lieutenant Jabez Fitch, a captured American officer paroled in New York City. Fitch visited the American prisoners and was horrified to find them dying of starvation: “Their appearance in genll: Rather Resembled dead Corpses than living men….”

Edwin G. Burrows, Forgotten Patriots: The Untold Story of American Prisoners During the Revolutionary War (New York: Basic Books, 2008), page 267, note 13; Jared Sparks, The Writings of George Washington... 12 vols. (Boston: Russell, Odiorne, and Metcalf, and Hilliard, Gray, and Co., 1834-1837), 4:547; John H. Rhodehamel, ed., The American Revolution: Writings from the War of Independence (New York: Library of America, 2001), 282.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

July 9: New York Resolves Unanimously

On June 30, 1776, the British fleet under Admiral Richard Lord Howe appeared off Staten Island. The fleet carried the British Army, under the Admiral's brother General Sir William Howe. The Convention of the Representatives of New York, with hundreds of others, left New York City on June 30.

On July 9, 1776, the Convention reconvened in White Plains to consider the Declaration of Independence issued by the Continental Congress. The Convention of the Representatives of New York "Resolved unanimously, That the reasons assigned by the Continental Congress for declaring the United Colonies free and independent States, arc cogent and conclusive; and that while we lament the cruel necessity which has rendered that measure unavoidable, we approve the same, and will, at the risk of our lives and fortunes, join with the other Colonies in supporting it."

The Convention sent a copy of the Declaration of Independence and the Convention's resolution to the County Committee of Westchester. The Convention asked the Westchester Committee to publish both documents, "with the beat of drum," at White Plains the following Thursday (July 11). The Convention also resolved that copies be sent "to the other County Committees within the State of New York, with orders to cause the same to be published in the several Districts of their respective Counties."

Brandies historian David Hackett Fischer wrote that George III considered the Howe brothers his cousins. For an interesting account of the Howe brothers and their likely relation to the Hanoverian kings of England, please consult David Hackett Fischer, Washington's Crossing(New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), pages 66-67.
Paul Herbert Smith, ed., Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789: Vol. 4: May 16-August 14, 1776 (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1979), page 372 note 1; Peter Force, ed., American Archives, Fourth Series, 6 vols. and Fifth Series, 3 vols. (Washington, D.C.: M. St. Clair and Peter Force, 1837-1853) Series 5, Volume 1: Page 205; David Hackett Fischer, Washington's Cross (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), pages 66-67.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Bayonet is Their Pride: August 10, 1776

American officer Aaron Burr wrote to his uncle Timothy Edwards on 10 Aug. 1776. Burr relayed information from two Americans returning from England, apparently after going to receive ordination (i.e., "to take the gown") as Anglican clergymen. (The Episcopal Church had no bishop in America to ordain priests):

By two Virginia gentlemen who went to England to take the gown, who returned in a packet and landed on Staten Island, where they tarried several days, and were permitted to cross to Elizabethtown [New Jersey] on Thursday last, we have some intelligence of the enemy....

These Virginia gentlemen lodged in a house with several King's officers. They hold us in the utmost contempt. Talk of forcing all our lines without firing a gun. The bayonet is their pride. They have forgot Bunker' s Hill.

In Washington's Crossing, Brandies Historian David Hackett Fischer described the bayonet as "the terror weapon of the eighteenth century." David Hackett Fischer, Washington's Crossing (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 97.

For the fear of an Anglican bishop in America before independence, and acceptance of bishops after independence, please consult Derek H. Davis, Religion and the Continental Congress, 1774-1789: Contributions to Original Intent (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000) and Chris Beneke, Beyond Toleration: The Religious Origins of American Pluralism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006). For "take the Gown" as an expression for ordination, please consult Donald Henderson Stewart, The Opposition Press of the Federalist Period (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1969), 406.

Monday, July 4, 2011

July 5, 1776: Our Most Fatal Enemy

In a July 5, 1776 letter to Joseph Ward, John Adams wrote, “The Small Pox has been our most fatal Enemy. Our People must reconcile themselves, to inocculating Hospitals.”

Before Edward Jenner developed vaccination in 1796, the more risky procedure of inoculation offered smallpox immunity to survivors. Historian Elizabeth A. Fenn suggested the disastrous effects of smallpox on Continental efforts in Canada helped Americans overcome misgivings about inoculation.

By January 1778, Gen. George Washington undertook the mass inoculation of soldiers and officers in the Continental Army. In her landmark book Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-82, Fenn wrote that Washington’s “little-recognized resolution to inoculate the Continental forces must surely rank among his most important decisions of the war.”

Elizabeth A. Fenn, Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-82 (New York: Hill and Wang, 2001), pages 27-28, 39, 134.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

July 4, 1776

Abraham Clark, one of the pro-independence delegates New Jersey sent to the Continental Congress in June, wrote to Elias Dayton, a colonel in Continental Army, “Our Seeming bad Success in Canada, I dare say gives you great uneasiness…. In the Course of Such a War we must expect some Losses. We are told a Panick Seized the Army. If so it hath not reached the Senate. At the Time our Forces in Canada were retreating before a Victorious Army, while Genl. Howe with a Large Armament is Advancing towards N. York, Our Congress Resolved to Declare the United Colonies Free and independent States.”

Paul Herbert Smith, ed., Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789: Vol. 4: May 16-August 14, 1776 (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1979), 378.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

July 3: In a Few Days, a Declaration

July3, 1776: John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail Adams, “Yesterday the greatest question was decided which ever was debated in America, and a greater perhaps never was nor will be decided among men. A resolution was passed, without one dissenting Colony, ‘that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States….’ You will see, in a few days, a Declaration setting forth the causes which have impelled us to this mighty revolution, and the reasons which will justify it in the sight of God and man.”

New York did not dissent, but abstained from the vote.

Paul Herbert Smith, ed., Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789: Vol. 4: May 16-August 14, 1776 (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1979), 359, 372 and 374.

Friday, July 1, 2011

July 2: Resolved, These Colonies Are & of Right Ought to Be

On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress approved two resolutions on independence:

Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right, ought to be, Free and Independent States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown, and that all political connexion between them, and the state of Great Britain, is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.

Resolved, That this Congress will, to morrow, again resolve itself into a committee of the whole, to take into their further consideration the declaration on independence.

The delegates from New York supported independence and they heard from home that their constituents supported it. Thomas Jefferson noted, however, that the New York delegates were still bound by instructions from the New York Convention dated about a year before, "when reconciliation was still the general object, they were enjoined by them to do nothing which should impede that object."

In his account of the July 1 proceedings, Jefferson wrote, "They therefore thought themselves not justifiable in voting on either side, and asked leave to withdraw from the question, which was given them."

On July 2, the New York delegates wrote to the New York Convention to ask "whether we are to consider our Colony bound by the Vote of the Majority in Favour of Indepency and vote at large on such Questions as may arise in Consequence thereof or only concur in such Measures as may be absolutely necessary for the Common safety and defence of America exclusive of the Idea of Indepency. We fear it will be difficult to draw the Line...."

Worthington Chauncey Ford, ed., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789: Vol. 5: June 5-October 8, 1776 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1906), 507; Paul Herbert Smith, ed., Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789: Vol. 4: May 16-August 14, 1776 (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1979), 359, 372.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

July 1: Expect a Formal Declaration

July 1, 1776, Congressman Josiah Bartlett of New Hampshire wrote to John Langdon, “The affair of Independency has been this day determined in a Committee of the whole House; by next post I expect you will receive a formal declaration with the reasons; the Declaration before Congress is, I think, a pretty good one.”

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

June 30

June 30, George Washington informed John Hancock, “When I had the honour of addressing you yesterday, I had only been informed of the arrival of forty-five of the fleet in the morning; since that I have received authentick intelligence from sundry persons--among them from General Greene--that one hundred and ten sail came in before night that were counted, and that more were seen about dusk in the offing. I have no doubt but the whole that sailed from Halifax are now at the Hook.”

In his book 1776, historian David McCullough described the public reaction to the arrival of the British fleet.  Americans watched with terror and astonishment as the British fleet under Admiral Richard Lord Howe passed the Sandy Hook peninsula of New Jersey, facing Staten Island. Private Daniel McCurtin, a rifleman, wrote, "I declare that I thought all London was afloat." The fleet conveyed a British Army under the command of General Sir William Howe, the admiral''s brother. Historian David McCullough described hundreds of residents fleeing New York City. American generals George Washington, Henry Knox and Nathanael Greene bade farewell to their wives as the women prepared to hurry from the city.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

June 29: Good Fortune Mixed With Bad

On June 29, 1776, President of Congress John Hancock wrote to Gen. George Washington, “The Loss of Canada is, undoubtedly, on some Accounts, to be viewed in the Light of a Misfortune…. Yet, on the other Hand, there is a Mixture of good Fortune attending it.”

Hancock reasoned, “Considering the superiour Force of the British Troops, and a Retreat as unavoidable, every Thing has been done, which, in such a Situation, could be expected. In short, Sir, I am extremely glad, our Army is likely to get safe out of Canada.”

Thomas A. Desjardin, the Historic Sites Specialist for the state of Maine, reached a similar conclusion. Desjardin reasoned that the Continental retreat in 1776 encouraged Burgoyne to invade New York State from Canada in 1777. In turn, Burgoyne's defeat at Saratoga, New York prompted France to openly ally with the United States. Paul Herbert Smith, ed., Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789: Vol. 4: May 16-August 14, 1776 (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1979), pages 335 and 336; Thomas A. Desjardin, Through a Howling Wilderness: Benedict Arnold’s March to Quebec, 1775 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2006), page 197.

Monday, June 27, 2011

June 28: Maryland Coming Over Fast

June 28, 1776: In a letter to a now unknown correspondent, North Carolina Congressional delegate John Penn wrote from Pennsylvania, “The first day of July will be made remarcable; then the question relative to Independance will be ajitated and there is no doubt but a total seperation from Britain will take place. This Province is for it; indeed so are all except Maryland & her people are coming over fast….”

That very day, the Maryland Convention Resolved, Unanimously, That the Instructions given by the Convention December last…to the Deputies of this Colony in Congress, be recalled, and the Restrictions therein…removed; and that the Deputies of this Colony, attending in Congress, or a Majority of them or of any three or more of them, be authorized and empowered to concur with the other United Colonies…in declaring the United Colonies free and independent States….”

Paul Herbert Smith, ed., Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789: Vol. 4: May 16-August 14, 1776 (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1979), page 334; Worthington Chauncey Ford, ed., Journals of the Continental Congress 1774-1789: Vol. 5: June 5-October 8, 1776 (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1906), page 504.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

June 27, 1776: German-Americans and the Revolution

Journals of the Continental Congress, June 27, 1776: "Resolved, That four companies of Germans be raised in Pen[n]sylvania, and four companies in Maryland…."
     In the book Ethnic America: A History, columnist Thomas Sowell wrote, “While other Americans split into Tory supporters of England and revolutionaries for independence in 1776, German Americans split into pacifists and revolutionaries.”

     German pacifists, like the Mennonites, could not in good conscience participate in war, but they provided lifesaving care for the sick and wounded. As the Mennonites and German Baptists told the Assembly of Pennsylvania in November 1775, “We have dedicated ourselves to serve all men, in every thing that can be helpful to the preservation of men’s lives, but we find no freedom in giving or doing, or assisting in any thing by which men’s lives are destroyed or hurt.”
     In A History of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps, Mary T. Sarnecky wrote, “Closely knit family communities such as the Moravians designated men and women to nurse, providing them with instructions from the communities’ doctors.”

     In The Day is Ours!, William M. Dwyer quoted the community diary kept by the Moravian Brethren of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, which noted the pacifist Moravian community was willing to bear "the burdens of the country."
     Worthington Chauncey Ford, ed., Journals of the Continental Congress 1774-1789: Vol. 5: June 5-October 8, 1776 (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1906), 487; Thomas Sowell, Ethnic America: A History (New York: Basic Books, 1981), 53; Mary T. Sarnecky, A History of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999), 7; William M. Dwyer, The Day is Ours!: An Inside View of the Battles of Trenton and Princeton, November 1776-January 1777
(New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1998[1983]), 204.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

June 26, 1776

New Hampshire Delegates William Whipple and Josiah Bartlett wrote to the President (Governor) of New Hampshire Meshech Weare. Whipple and Bartlett explained that Congress requested a regiment from New Hampshire, to help strengthen collapsing Continental forces in Quebec: “The repeated Misfortunes our army in Canada have met with, make it necessary that a Strong reinforcement should be sent there as Speedily as possible.”

The Delegates added, “Sickness and other disasters have much dispirited our men, unless they are speedily supported by a strong reinforcement it[’]s un-certain what will be the consequence.”

Friday, June 24, 2011

June 25: Barnstable, MA votes No

In a resolution of May 10, 1776, the Massachusetts House of Representatives asked each town in the colony to state whether the inhabitants would support the measure “with their lives and fortunes” if Congress declared the colonies independent of Great Britain.

In a town meeting on June 25, the inhabitants of Barnstable answered in the negative.

At the meeting, several “respectable inhabitants” protested their neighbors’ vote, believing it could “disunite the Colonies” and “injure the cause of their country….” Fifteen residents signed a dissent appended to the report of the town vote.

Eight more joined them in signing a formal protest. The dissenters wanted their protest placed in the town’s record book, to show future generations “that there were a few in this town who dared to stand…in favour of an injured and oppressed country….”

Thursday, June 23, 2011

June 24, 1776: PA Provincial Conference Supports Independence

We, the Deputies of the people of Pennsylvania, assembled in full Provincial Conference, for forming a plan for executing the Resolve of Congress of the 15th of May...for suppressing all authority in this Province derived from the Crown of Great Britain, and for establishing a Government upon the authority of the people only, now, in this publick manner, in behalf of ourselves, and with the approbation, consent, and authority of our constituents, unanimously declare our willingness to concur in a vote of the Congress declaring the United Colonies free and independent States....

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

June 23: Smallpox

In a letter to Gen. John Sullivan, John Adams asked for an update on Canada. In particular, Adams asked about smallpox:

“Pray let me know the state of the Small Pox, an Enemy which we have more cause to fear than any other. Is it among our Troops? Is it among the Canadians, I mean the Inhabitants of the Country? Can no effectual Means be used to annihilate the Infection? Cannot it be kept out of the army?”

Adams warned, “The New England Militia will be of no Use, if they came in ever so great Numbers, if that distemper is to Seize them, as soon as they arrive.”

John Adams to John Sullivan, Philadelphia, 23 June 1776, in Smith, Letters of Delegates to Congress, Vol.4, 297.

Historian Elizabeth Anne Fenn suggested that most British soldiers survived smallpox before the American Revolution, giving them lifelong immunity. Many Americans had no such exposure. This immunological disadvantage was a major factor in the collapse of American forces in Canada.

Please consult Elizabeth A. Fenn, Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-82 (New York: Hill & Wang, 2001), especially pages 27-28 and 260.

June 23: Declaration Could Energize British Opposition to "Present System"

John Adams wrote several letters this date. To John Winthrop, Adams wrote, "It is now universally acknowledged that we are and must be independant states. But Still objections are made to a Declaration of it. It is said, that such a Declaration will arouse and unite Great Britain. But are they not already aroused and united, as much as they will be? Will not such a Declaration arouse and unite the Friends of opposition to the present System?"

Paul H. Smith, ed., Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789: Vol.4: May 16, 1776-August 15, 1776 (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1979), page 298.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

June 22: Associators of Anne Arundel County, Maryland

On June 22, 1776, a "very respectable" meeting of the Associators of Anne Arundel County, Maryland, considered two questions. First, should Maryland's Delegates to the Continental Congress be bound by "the majority of the United Colonies upon all questions to be agitated in Congress," except matters concerning the internal affairs of Maryland? Secondly, should the colony give the Delegates the power "of exercising their own judgments upon any question that may come under their consideration?" (Emphasis added.)

In answer to both questions, the Associators resolved unanimously in the affirmative. "The complexion of the times is such that, in our opinion, unanimity alone can render our opposition to the establishment of a Parliamentary tyranny glorious. By division, the most diabolical wishes of the King, Lords, and Commons, will be effectually realized."

June 21, 1776: New Jersey Authorizes Vote for Independence

The New Jersey Provincial Congress, meeting in Burlington, elected Richard Stockton, Abraham Clark, John Hart, and Francis Hopkinson, Esqs., and Dr. John Witherspoon as the colony's Delegates to the Continental Congress.

The Provincial Congress empowered the New Jersey Delegates "to join with the Delegates of the other Colonies in Continental Congress, in the most vigorous measures for supporting the just rights and liberties of America...." The Provincial Congress even empowered the Delegates, if they deemed it necessary, "to join with them in declaring the United Colonies independent of Great Britain..." (emphasis added).

Thanks the Northern Illinois University Libraries for making the document available online.

Monday, June 20, 2011

June 20, 1776: Thirty-One Toasts!

On June 20, 1776, an account was written of the "elegant entertainment" the New York Provincial Congress hosted on June 18 for "his Excellency General Washington and his suite, the General and Staff Officers, and the Commanding Officers of the different Regiments in and near this city...." At this event, participants offered thirty-one toasts.

Toast 19 expressed the wish that any brutality by the enemy would not provoke American forces to acts of cruelty: "May no injuries erase from our bosoms the sentiments of humanity."

Toasts 7 and 8 celebrated the Edmund Burke and the Rev. Richard Price, British advocates of the cause of freedom in America. Toast 23 wished freedom for Ireland: "May the generous sons of St. Patrick expel all the venemous reptiles of Britain."

Saturday, June 18, 2011

June 14: NJ Gov. Arrested for Proclamation "in the Name of the King"

On May 15, 1776, in a Preamble to a May 10 resolution, recommended the colonies frame new governments without oaths or proclamations in the name of the King of Great Britain, because George III has "excluded the inhabitants of these United Colonies from the protection of his crown" and ignored the humble petitions from the United Colonies.

On June 14, the Provincial Congress of New Jersey ordered the arrest of royal Governor William Franklin for violating the resolution of the Continental Congress.

The Provincial Congress noted that Franklin, in a proclamation "bearing date on the 30th day of May," called the New Jersey General Assembly "in the name of the King of Great Britain" to meet on June 30 New-Jersey. The Provincial Congress called for the arrest of Franklin because, "in the opinion of this Congress, the said William Franklin, Esq., by such his Proclamation, has acted in direct contempt and violation of the Resolve of the Continental Congress of the 15th day of May last."

June 19, 1776

The New Jersey Provincial Congress read two contrary petitions, reflecting divided opinion of possible independence. First, the Provincial Congress acknowledged, "A Petition from sundry Inhabitants of the Township of Shrewsbury, in Monmouth County, praying that no new mode of Government may be established; that the present may continue...and that no measures may be adopted that tend to separate this Colony from Great Britain; was read, and ordered a second reading."

The Provincial Congress received a petition of a different sentiment from the vicinity of New Brunswick: "A Petition from the South Ward of New-Brunswick, praying that a new Government be established, and that a speedy and absolute independence upon Great Britain be proclaimed, &c.; read, and ordered a second reading."

Friday, June 17, 2011

June 18, 1776

In June 1776, the New Jersey Provincial Congress offered parole to royal governor William Franklin. The parole required Franklin to resign office and retire to his estate and remain within six miles of it for the duration of the conflict between the United Colonies and Great Britain. After Franklin refused parole, the Provincial Congress directed their President, Samuel Tucker, to sign and send the following letter to Colonel Nathaniel Heard: "SIR: It is the desire of Congress, that you immediately bring William Franklin, Esquire, to this place, under such guard as you may think sufficient."

Thursday, June 16, 2011

June 17: Expect the Declaration in "abo[u]t a month"

On June 17, 1776, William Whipple, one of New Hampshire's Delegates to Congress, wrote to Joshua Brackett, "In order to make you easey about the Manifesto as you call it, I just whisper you that a Committee are appointed to prepare a Declaration to be laid before the House on the 1st of July which no doubt will pass & I believe will meet with your approbation. You may expect it in abot a month from this time."

Smith, Letters of Delegates to Congress, Volume 4: page 260.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

June 16, 1776: Secure Their Friendship

Acknowledging receipt of Gen. John Sullivan's letters of June 5 and 6, Gen. George Washington wrote that he was glad for good news about Continental efforts in Canada. On June 16, Washington wrote to Sullivan, "I am convinced many of our misfortunes are to be attributed to a want of discipline, and a proper regard to the conduct of the soldiery. Hence it was, and from our feeble efforts to protect theCanadians, that they had almost joined and taken part against us. As you are fully apprized of this, and conceive them well disposed towards us, with confidence I trust you will take every step in your power to conciliate and secure their friendship."

Washington believed that support for American troops depended upon their good and respectful conduct. Washington wrote, "If this can be effected--and of which you seem to have no doubt--I see no objection to our indulging a hope that this country (of such importance in the present controversy) may yet be added to, and complete our Union." My thanks to Northern Illinois University Libraries for making American Archives, the documents edited by Peter Force, available online.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

June 15: Jacta est Alea ("The Die is Cast")

On June 15, 1776, Jonathan Dickinson Sergeant wrote to John Adams, “Jacta est Alea. We are passing the Rubicon & our Delegates in Congress on the first of July will vote plump.”

Paul H. Smith explained that Sergeant read too much into the New Jersey Provincial Congress’s June 14 resolution denouncing royalist governor, William Franklin, who called for a June 20 meeting of the Congress “in the name of the King of Great Britain.” Not until June 22 did the Provincial Congress authorize its delegates to the Continental Congress to vote for independence. Smith, Letters of Delegates to Congress, vol. 4, page 224, note 1.

Crossing the Rubicon River with his army, Julius Caesar defied Roman law and supposedly made this allusion to a game of chance. While the American Revolutionaries hoped to found a republic, Caesar's militaristic actions threatened the Roman Republic, making Sergeant's reference seem ironic.

June 14, 1776

On June 14, 1776, John Hancock, President of Congress, wrote to Pennsylvania Committee of Safety: “You will receive herewith from the commanding officer of the troops in the barracks, Mr. M'Lean, a prisoner who was sent hither by General Putnam in irons, for refusing to give his parole and for other misbehavior, the letter respecting him was referred to the committee appointed by Congress on prisoners, & the prisoner was committed to the charge of the Commanding officer in the barracks 'till the committee should report on his conduct, but as the troops are ordered from the barracks, I have it in command to request you to take charge of him, & have him safely kept agreeable to former resolutions of Congress, until the Congress shall take order concerning him.” Smith, ed., Letters of Delegates to Congress, Volume 4, pages 215-216.

Combatant states normally offered captured enemy officers parole, that is, freedom of travel within certain limits on their word as gentlemen that they will not escape.  In some cases, parole included release to the officer's home country.  Refusing to take parole, Lt. Neil McLean was transported in chains like a criminal. In a Nov. 5, 1776 letter to Robert Morris, McLean denied recruiting for the Royal Emigrants, Scottish Highlanders settled in America and recruited into the service of England's King George III. If the British gave him a commission as an officer in the conflict, McLean denied knowing of it.

Monday, June 13, 2011

June 14, 1776: Hopes of Reconciliation "Extinguished"

As New Jersey's Caesar Rodney anticipated, the King's response to a petition from the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of London convinced many Americans that separation and independence from Britain might prove necessary.

On June 14, 1776, John Morton, the Speaker of the House in the Pennsylvania Assembly, signed the Assembly's instructions to the colony's delegates in the Continental Congress. Although the November 1775 instructions to the delegates forbade any vote for independence, "The situation of publick affairs is since so greatly altered, that we now think ourselves justifiable in removing the restrictions laid upon you by those instructions." Not only Parliamentary measures, the Pennsylvania Assembly remarked, but the King's treaties for foreign mercenaries "and his answer to the Petition of the Lord-Mayor, Aldermen, and Commons of the City of London, manifest such a determined and implacable resolution to effect the utter destruction of these Colonies, that all hopes of a reconciliation on reasonable terms are extinguished."

The Assembly explained that, during "this fatal controversy," the Assembly's first wish was the happiness of the Colonies, their reconciliation with Britain their second. "Ardently have we prayed for the accomplishment of both. But if we must renounce the one or the other, we humbly trust in the mercies of the supreme Governour of the Universe, that we shall not stand condemned before his Throne, if our choice is determined by that overruling law of self-preservation, which his Divine wisdom has thought fit to implant in the hearts of his creatures."

Also on June 14, 1776, the General Assembly of Connecticut instructed the colony's delegates to move for a declaration that "the United American Colonies" are "free and independent States," and to agree to any measures necessary to secure foreign alliances. In a message to the Speaker of the Virginia Convention, Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull acknowlegde the example of "the ancient and patriotick Colony of Virginia," who "have nobly advanced to authorize and instruct their honourable Delegates to propose in Continental Congress to declare the United Colonies free and independent States, form foreign alliances, and forward a more perfect confederation of the Colonies...."

June 13, 1776: John Hancock on "Ease & happiness" of British Officers, Prisoners

Major Charles Preston, commander of the British garrison at St. Johns, Canada, surrendered to American forces on Nov. 2, 1775. In June 1776, Preston was among the British prisoners at Reading, Pennsylvania. Knowing the Continental Congress permitted an officer to visit the men at Reading, Preston hoped that officer would be Captain John Crawford, “as it is his business to furnish both officers and men with money, and to keep all the accounts.” In a June 3 letter to John Hancock, President of Congress, Preston expressed his wish that Crawford's appointment would find no objection from Congress or the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety.

On June 13, Hancock responded, “Capt Crawford will deliver you this, he agreeable to the Resolve of Congress proceeds to Reading to furnish the officers & Men with Money & to Determine the Rations to Mr [David S.] Franks.” Hancock expected Crawford, as a gentleman of honor, to abide by the terms of parole that gave him freedom to travel to Reading: “I dare Say a strict attention to the Parole in other instances will be observ'd by Capt Crawford, my Knowledge of & Reliance on your honour is such that I am Confident you will not suffer any Circumstances to take place that shall in the least Degree occasion an Alteration in the present Determination with respect to the Gentlemen who are prisoners.”

Hancock added, “In any thing wherein I can promote the Ease & happiness of the Gentlemen constant with my Scituation depend I will with pleasure do it, & you will please at any time to Communicate any Occurrencies to me.”

Smith, ed., Letters of Delegates to Congress, Vol 4: Pages 206 and 206note1.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

June 12, 1776: Virginia Declaration of Rights

On June 12, 1776, the Virginia Convention ratified the Declaration of Rights, a preamble to the state’s new constitution (ratified June 29). Article One reads, “That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.

The Virginia Declaration of Rights served as a pattern for other state constitutions. In drafting a Bill of Rights or Declaration of Rights, Americans drew inspiration from the Bill of Rights England’s Parliament required of incoming monarchs, William and Mary in 1689.

June 11, 1776: The Hasty are Slowed, The Hesitant Encouraged

From Congress, Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts wrote to James Warren (emphasis added), “Yesterday after a long debate the question of independence was postponed until the first July, in order to give the assemblies of the middle colonies an opportunity to take off their restrictions and let their delegates unite in the measure. In the interim will go on plans for confederation and foreign alliance.

If these slow people had hearkened to reason in time, this work would have long ere now been completed, and the disadvantage arising from the want of such measures been wholly avoided; but Providence has undoubtedly wise ends in coupling together the vigorous and the indolent; the first are retarded, but the latter are urged on, and both come together to the goal.” Smith, ed., Letters of Delegates to Congress, 4:187.

In the eighteenth century, the term "retarded" simply meant delayed or impeded in speed. Only in the nineteenth century did people begin using the term to connote developmental challenges. In modern American English, the term is a derogatory, impolite reference.

June 10, 1776: Vain Hopes of Reconciliation

Samuel Adams wrote to Gen. Horatio Gates (emphasis added), “The Hint you gave me when I last saw you respecting the Enemies offers to treat, I have revolved in my Mind. It is my opinion that no such offers will be made but with al Design to take advantage by the Delay they may occasion. We know how easily our people, too many of them, are still amusd with vain hopes of Reconciliation. Such Ideas will, no doubt, be thrown out to them, to embarrass the Army as others have been….” Smith, Letters of Delegates to Congress, 4:180.

June 9, 1776: John Adams's Nunc Dimittis

John Adams wrote to William Cushing, “I had, yesterday, the Honour of your Letter of the 20th of May, and I read it, with all that Pleasure, which We feel on the Revival of an old Friendship when We meet a Friend, whom, for a long Time We have not Seen.”
Adams added, “We are in the very midst of a Revolution, the most compleat, unexpected, and remarkable of any in the History of Nations. A few Matters must be dispatched before I can return. Every Colony must be induced to institute a perfect Government. All the Colonies must confederate together, in some Solemn Compact. The Colonies must be declared free and independent States, and Embassadors must be Sent abroad to foreign Courts, to solicit their Acknowledgment of Us, as Sovereign States.... When these Things shall be once well finished, or in a Way of being so, I shall think that I have answered the End of my Creation, and sing with Pleasure my Nunc Dimittis, or if it should be the Will of Heaven that I should live a little longer, return to my Farm and Family, ride Circuits, plead Law, or judge Causes, Just as you please.”

June 8, 1776: The Reason of Every Madman

In a letter to John Jay of New York, Congressman Edward Rutledge of South Carolina wrote, “The Congress sat till 7 o'clock this Evening in Consequence of a Motion of R. H. Lee's resolving ourselves free & independent States.” Rutledge remarked, “No Reason culd be assigned for pressing into this Measure, but the Reason of every Madman, a Shew of our Spirit.”
Smith, ed., Letters of Delegates to Congress, Vol. 4, page 175.

June 7, 1776: Richard Henry Lee's Resolution

Proceedings in Congress: “The Delegates from Virginia moved in obedience to instructions from their constituents that the Congress should declare that these United colonies are & of right ought to be free & independant states, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is & ought to be totally dissolved; that measures should be immediately taken for procuring the assistance of foreign powers, and a Confederation be formed to bind the colonies more closely together.”

Paul Herbert Smith, ed., Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789: Vol. 4: May 16-August 14, 1776 (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1979), 158.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

June 6, 1776

Josiah Bartlett wrote to Nathaniel Folsom, "I have Enclosed to you a News paper Containing the address of the City of London to the King and his answer by which we see what we have to Depend on from the ruling powers of Brittain."

June 5, 1776: Compelled to Surrender Liberties in Return for Protection

June 5, 1776: Caesar Rodney of New Jersey to his brother Thomas Rodney: “The Petition of the Lord, Mayor and City of London to the King, and his Answer will Convince those people (Who have opposed the Resolution of Congress) of their Error; if they be open to Conviction it certainly will—You will have it in this day's paper.

On March 22, 1776, Sir Thomas Hallifax, Lord Mayor of London, along with “several of the Aldermen, the Sheriffs, and some of the Common Council of the City of London,” presented a petition to King George III at the Court of St. James.

First, the London petitioners recognized what the war meant for Britain. The war left England “naked and exposed” by “draining” it of troops. The petitioners expressed anxiety at the treaties for foreign mercenaries, “whose latitude is such as to provide the means of introducing a foreign Army even into this Realm.”

The Lord Mayor and Aldermen warned of the "calamities" entailed in a protracted war in America: “We cannot, sir, without horrour, look forward to national debt and of burdensome taxes, that loss of our most valuable resources, those distresses of our merchants and manufacturers, those deficiencies of the revenue, that effusion of the blood of our countrymen and brethren, that failure of publick credit, and those dreadful calamities and convulsions, which must follow a civil war so begun and pursued, whose extent no wisdom can foresee.”

Secondly, the petitioners emphasized what the war meant for Americans: “We humbly conceive that no people can be bound to surrender their rights and liberties as a return for protection.”

The Lord Mayor and Aldermen noted that the colonists “are willing…to continue to us all those advantages of a regulated and exclusive commerce,” if only England agreed to “their Charters being inviolably secured” to them. This commerce was the basis for London’s “opulence and prosperity.”

The colonists also offered what the petitioners called “such reasonable voluntary aid as their abilities permit.” The Londoners did not want American contributions, “nor our own sinking funds,” “misapplied to the purpose of corruption,” but applied solely to the relief of Britain’s national debt.

The London petitioners also remarked, “The Colonies have fought our battles with us; and in the last war they so far exceeded, their abilities, that this nation thought it just and necessary to make them an annual compensation….” If the King and both Houses of Parliament offered the colonists “just and honourable terms” for reconciliation and the colonists still refuse to submit, then “your Majesty will undoubtedly be enabled to meet, what will then be rebellion, with the zealous hearts and hands of, a determined, loyal, and united people.” The leadership of London not-so-subtly remarked that the colonists were not yet in rebellion, despite hostilities at sites like Bunker Hill. The British people, likewise, were not yet a “united people” when it came to fighting the Americans.

In his response, the King did not acknowledge or address the concerns raised by Hallifax or the London Aldermen and Councilmen. Instead, he considered the war an ordeal which Americans "have brought upon themselves:"

“I deplore, with the deepest concern, the miseries which a great part of my subjects in North America have brought upon themselves by an unjustifiable resistance to the constitutional authority of this Kingdom; and I shall be ready and happy to alleviate those miseries, by acts of mercy and clemency, whenever that authority is established, and the now existing rebellion is at an end. To obtain these salutary purposes, I will invariably pursue the most proper and effectual means.”

Friday, June 10, 2011

June 4, 1776: "Those Poor Devils" POWs in a Jail

Oliver Wolcott, a Connecticut Delegate to Congress, wrote to Roger Newberry, "The Prisoners have been treated by us with great Indulgence, I see by the papers what has been done with McKay and Skeene. You observe a Code of Laws published for the Regulation of Prisoners which if duly attended to, I hope will be effectual."

Although sometimes extended to enlisted men, "parole" was a courtesy usually extended by warring states to captured officers and gentlemen. If a prisoner promised not to escape, he could enjoy free movement within a certain area. In some cases, the enemy permitted a prisoner to return to his homeland, if he promised not to rejoin the war until notified of his official exchange.

On May 26, the town committee of Hartford, Connecticut sent a message to the Continental Congress about Philip Skene and Captain Samuel McKay. Captured in Skenesboro, New York by the Continental Army in June 1775, Skene accepted a parole that expired on May 23, 1776 grating him freedom of movement in Middletown, Conn. McKay became a Continental prisoner with the capture of St. Johns, Canada. McKay renewed his parole on May 10, 1776, but escaped on May 18 with Daniel McFarland, a British soldier of the Artillery and McKay's waiter.

On May 22, 1776, the Hartford Committee jailed McKay; McFarland and John Graves of Pittsfield, Connecticut, who helped McKay and McFarland escape. The Continental Congress read the Hartford Committee's report on June 1, 1776 and referred to the Committee on Prisoners.

Joseph Hewes, a North Carolina Delegate, wrote from Philadelphia to Samuel Johnston, "Your favour by Allen McDonald Esqr. I have received. He and all those what came with him as prisoners are confined in the Jail of this City."

Most of these prisoners sent from North Carolina to Pennsylvania were officers of a loyalist force captured at the Battle of Moore's Creek Bridge in February 1776. Please consult Paul Herbert Smith, ed., Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789: Vol. 4: May 16-August 14, 1776 (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1979), page 78, note 1.

Your favour: During the era of the American Revolution, people referred to a letter as a favor from the sender.

Hewes added, "I have not seen him or any of them, it is not in my power to do them any kind of service, Congress will not suffer them to go out on parole 'till they hear further from North Carolina or perhaps 'till the British Troops have left the Province."

On the news of escapes by British and Tory prisoners, Hewes wrote, "Many of our Prisoners have broke their parole and gone off which will make those poor devils you sent and all taken hereafter fare worse."

Sadly, Hewes could not bring himself to visit the prisoners when he was unable to address their complaints and their likely requests for enlargement [release] on parole. Hewes explained, "As I cannot serve them I do not visit them, to hear their complaints and have no power to relieve would be disagre[e]able."

Thursday, June 9, 2011

June 3, 1776: This Will Be The Trying Year

Josiah Bartlett of New Hampshire wrote to John Langdon, "The Circumstances of affairs in Canada and the certainty of a large body of Hessians &c being hired and designed soon to attack the United Colonies has so engrossed the attention of Congress to be prepared for them, that it is not possible to get them to attend to smaller matters."

Bartlett believed that 1776 "will be the trying year, and if possible they must be hindered from getting any Foothold this Season; if that can be done, I think the day will be our own, and we be forever delivered from our British Tyranny."

June 2, 1776

Richard Henry Lee wrote to Landon Carter, "The infamous treaties with Hesse, Brunswick, &c. (of which we have authentic copies) and the Ministerial reply to Graftons motion leave not a doubt but that our enemies are determined upon the absolute conquest and subduction of N. America. It is not choice then, but necessity that calls for Independence, as the only means by which foreign Alliance can be obtained.... You seem to apprehend danger from our being aided by despotic States, but remember that France assisted Holland without injury to the latter."

Hesse, Brunswick, etc.: During the War of American Independence, Britain hired the most mercenaries from Friedrich Wilhelm II, the Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel. The mercenaries became generically known as "Hessians." Hundreds of mercenaries, however, came from other German states, like Brunswick and Hanover.

Congress listed Britain's hiring of foreign mercenaries as one of the grievances compelling the American colonies to declare themselves independent states.

Former Minister Lord Dartmouth's response to Duke of Grafton: In a debate in the House of Lords over a conciliatory resolution by Augustus Henry FitzRoy, 3rd Duke of Grafton, William Legge, the Second Earl of Dartmouth (former minister of American affairs) said Britain should not cease military operations in America "till the Colonies own our legislative sovereignty; and, by the acts of duty and obedience, show such a disposition as will entitle them to the favour and protection of the parent State."

Paul Herbert Smith, ed., Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789: Vol. 4: May 16-August 14, 1776 (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1979), 117-118; 92, note 5.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

June 1, 1776: How Few Its Enjoyments

Oliver Wolcott, representing Connecticut, wrote to his wife, Laura Wolcott, "It is now a long time which I have been here, and I do most sincerely Wish to return to the Pleasures of a domestick rural Life, such a Life as Poets and Wise men have always with so much Propriety praised. Here I see but little except human Faces which I know not, and numerous Pyles of Building, which have long since Satiated the Sight, and the street rumble is farr from being musical. But as I was not sent here to please myself, I shall cheerfully yeild to my Duty, convinced of this Truth, that the Noise and Bustle of this World are the best Lessons to teach a man how few are it's Injoyments."

In January 1788, Oliver Wolcott spoke in Connecticut's Ratifying Convention in defense of the proposed Constitution's ban on religious tests, in Clause 3 of Article 6.

Wolcott remarked, "Knowledge and liberty are so prevalent in this country, that I do not believe that the United States would ever be disposed to establish one religious sect, and lay all others under legal disabilities. But as we know not what may take place hereafter, and any such test would be exceedingly injurious to the rights of free citizens, I cannot think it altogether superfluous to have added a clause, which secures us from the possibility of such oppression."

Monday, June 6, 2011

May 31, 1776: "The Propriety of Declaring for Independency"

May 31, 1776, Elbridge Gerry, a Delegate from Massachusetts to the Continental Congress, wrote to Joseph Palmer, "The Conviction which the late Measures of Administration have brot to the Minds of doubting Persons has such an Effect, that I think the Colonies cannot long remain an independant depending People, but that they will declare themselves as their Interest & Safety have long required, entirely separated from the prostituted Government of G Britain."

Later in the letter, Gerry added, "The principal object of our Attention at this important Time I think should be the Manufacturing Arms, Lead & Cloathing, & obtaining Flints, for I suppose since the Measures adopted by North Carolina & Virginia that there cannot remain a Doubt with our Assembly of the propriety of declaring for Independency & therefore that our Tho'ts will be mostly directed to the Means for supporting it."

Paul Herbert Smith, ed., Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789: Vol. 4: May 16-August 14, 1776 (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1979), page 107.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

May 30, 1776: "The Die is Cast"

May 30, 1776, John Adams to Samuel Cooper, “The Die is cast. We must all be soldiers and fight pro Aris et Focis. I hope there is not a Gentleman in the Massachusetts Bay, not even in the Town of Boston, who thinks himself too good to take his Firelock and his Spade. Such imminent Dangers level all Distinctions. You must before now, have seen Some important Resolutions of this Congress, as well as of Seperate Colonies. Before many Weeks you will see more.”

Pro Aris et Focis is a Latin motto meaning "For Our Altars and Our Hearths." For John Adams to Samuel Cooper, 30 May 1776, please consult Paul Herbert Smith, ed., Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789: Vol. 4: May 16-August 14, 1776 (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1979), pages 101-102.

May 29, 1776

John Adams writes to Benjamin Hitchborn, "You ask my sentiments of the political System to be adopted. My opinion I am very certain will not be followed. We have able Men in the Colony, but I am much afraid they will not be heard. I hope a Governor, and Lieutenant Governor will be chosen: and that they will be respectable for their Fortune, as well as abilities and Integrity if such can be found. The Judges I hope will be made independent both for the Duration and Emoluments of office. There is nothing of more importance than this: but yet—there is nothing less likely to be done."

On a similar concerns among some American Revolutionaries that military officers should come from a respectable rank of society, consult the entry on this blog for January 10, 1776.

May 28, 1776: NH Delegates Seek the Sentiments of Their Constituents on Independence

On May 28, 1776, New Hampshire Delegates to the Continental Congress Josiah Bartlett and William Whipple wrote to Meshech Weare, the President (Governor) of New Hampshire, “The Convention of Virginia have instructed their delegates to use their endeavors that Congress sho'd declare the United Colonies a Free independent state, North Carolina have signified the same desires. S. Carolina & Georgia will readily Acceed.... We hope in a few months Civil Governments will be establish'd in all the United Colonies on a firm & permanent Basis. We sho[oul]d be glad to know the sentiment of our Colony on the important subject of a total seperation [separation] from Great Britain. Let our own opinions be what they may, we think ourselves in duty bound, to act agreeable to the sentiments of our constituents.”