Monday, February 21, 2011

February 29, 1776

The year 1776 was a Leap Year. On Feb. 29, 1776, the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety passed a resolution, published in the March 2 edition of the Pennsylvania Evening Post:

Whereas many persons have been employed in purchasing Fire Arms in order to carry them into other provinces, and as a practice of this kind may be of pernicious consequence unless they are intended to be employed in such places, as from their situation are exposed to the danger of an attack, of which this Committee in this case reserve to themselves a right of judging, therefore

Resolved, That no person or persons whatever, do presume to purchase or carry out of this province any Fire Arms without application to, and license from this Committee being first obtained.

Friday, February 18, 2011

January 6, 1776: William Hooper to James Iredell

In this passage from a letter to James Iredell, William Hooper expressed a wish for reconciliation and peace and a worry with the moral corrosiveness of luxury, sentiments not uncommon among America's Founding Generation. Hooper, a lawyer, served as a delegate to the Continental Congress from the state of North Carolina.

Iredell, a jurist and essayist, was appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States by President George Washington in 1790. Iredell served as a Supreme Court Justice until his death in 1799. In the North Carolina Ratyifying Convention, in the summer of 1788, Iredell defended the Constitution's ban on religious tests for public office.

In his letter, dated Jan. 6, 1776, Hooper wrote, "Yes, Britain, It is the Criterion of thy existence; thy greatness totters. Luxury & Wealth with every vice in their train, are hurrying thee down the precipice, & liberty shuddering at thy fate is seeking an Asylum westward. Oh Heaven still check her approaching Ruin, restore her to reason, restore her to the Affection of her American Subjects. May she long flourish the guardian of freedom and when that Change comes and come it must, that America must become the seat of Empire, may Britain gently verge down the decline of life, and sink away in the Arms of her American Sons."

Hooper also used the example of Holland or the Netherlands--the United Provinces--to show the importance of the United Colonies building a navy: "A Fleet is begun here at the Continental Expense, Should it's success be great it will much exceed my expectations. It has a formidable power to cope with, the luxury of Britain has not yet enervated its seamen. However if this War continues, which God forbid, A Navy we must have. That of the United Provinces was trifling in its commencement, its increase and importance shewed the propriety of it. Some small armed Vessels about Boston have made some valuable acquisitions."

The letter appears in Paul Hubert Smith, editor, Letters of Delegates to Congress: Vol. 3: January 1, 1776-May 15, 1776 (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1978), page 45.

Monday, February 14, 2011

January 5, 1774: Women and Revolution

On Monday, Jan. 10, 1774, Rhode Island newspaper The Newport Mercury reported news from the nearby New Bedford, Dartmouth area of Massachusetts, about events occurring the previous Wednesday (Jan. 5):

Last Wednesday 57 ladies, of Bedford, in Dartmouth, had a meeting, at which they entered into an agreement not to use any more India tea: And having heard that a gentleman there had lately brought home some, they requested he would immediately return the same, which he complied with, upon which the ladies treated him with a glass of this country wine, and dismissed him, highly pleased with their exemplary conduct, for which a number of gentlemen present gave him three cheers in approbation of his noble behaviour.

The meeting in New Bedford, Massachusetts might remind readers of the Ladies' Patriotic Guild formed in Edenton, North Carolina, mentioned in an earlier post.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

January 5, 1776

On January 5, 1776, the Naval Committee of the Continental Congress issued "Orders and Directions for the Commander in Chief of the Fleet of the United Colonies," Commodore Esek Hopkins. As its successor the Marine Committee did throughout the remainder of 1776, the Naval Committee urged kindness to prisoners:

You will carefully attend to such prisoners as may fall into your hands-see that they be well and humanely treated. You may also send your Prisoners on shore in such convenient places where they may be delivered to the Conventions, Committee's of Safety or inspection in order to their being taken care of and properly provided for.

For the Marine Committee's absorption of the Naval Committee's duties in 1776, please consult Paul H. Smith, editor, Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789: Volume 2: September 1775-December 1775 (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1977), page 316, note1.  In its journal for 25 January 1776, the Continental Congress treated the "marine" and "naval" committee as interchangeable names for the same body (Worthington Chauncey Ford,ed., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789: Volume 4: January 1-June 4, 1776 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1906), page 90.  

Sunday, February 6, 2011

January 4, 1776

On Jan. 4, 1776, John Jay wrote to his brother Sir James Jay, who was in England. Given the tensions between England and the United Colonies, John Jay thought their correspondence should contain little regarding American politics:

"As to Politick's I can say little, nor do I desire that Your Letters should say anything on that Subject. Thus much I can say in general that Everything with us is in a good Way, and, tho' We desire Reconciliation, are well prepared for contrary Measures. This is an unnatural Quarrel, & God only knows why the British Empire should be torn to Pieces by unjust Attempts to subjugate us. Some say a great Number of Foreign Troops are coming over, but I think it somewhat uncertain whose Battles they will fight."

The Foreign Troops: Jay's letter indicates that Americans were already contemplating how to persuade German mercenaries to desert the British service by offering clemency, land and liberty.

In 1782, Congress authorized the acceptance of German prisoners who volunteer for the Continental service, noting "the Commander in Chief [George Washington] has for several years made trial of the fidelity of some of the German prisoners, who were formed into a separate Corps, and highly approves their past conduct." Charles Henry Metzger, The Prisoner in the American Revolution (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1971), 3; Gaillard Hunt, ed., Journals of the Continental Congress 1774-1789: Vol. XXII: January 1-August 9, 1782 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing House, 1914), 275.

Sir James Jay: George III knighted James Jay in 1763, in recognition of his fundraising efforts for King's College in New York. Sir James remained in England until 1778.

John Jay: At different times during the Revolution, Jay served in the New York Provincial Congress and the Continental Congress (the First and the Second). In 1779, Congress appointed Jay ambassador (minister plenipotentiary) to Spain, a post in which he also served after the War of American Independence. Jay wrote five of The Federalist papers, the essays that appeared in American newspapers explaining and defending the proposed Constitution of the United States. Jay served as the Chief Justice of the United States. Jay was an opponent of slavery; his efforts to free slaves in the state of New York finally met with success, as New York implemented a plan of gradual emancipation.

Paul H. Smith, ed., Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789: Vol. III: January 1-May15, 1776 (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1978), 29.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

January 3, 1777: Battle of Princeton Anecdote

ANECDOTE.--After the battle of Princeton on the 3d of this instant, General Washington perceiving a wounded soldier belonging to the enemy laying on the field, came up to him, and after enquiring into the nature of his wound, commended him for his gallant behaviour, and assured him that he should want for nothing that his camp could furnish him.--After the General left him an American soldier who thought he was dead, came up in order to strip him; the General see[ing] it, bid the soldier begone, and ordered a sentry to stand over the wounded prisoner till he was carried to a convenient house to be dressed.--The Pennsylvania Packet, January 22, 1777

William S. Stryker, editor, Documents Relating to the Revolutionary History of the State of New Jersey: Vol. I: Extracts From American Newspapers Vol. I: 1776-1777 (Trenton, New Jersey: The John L. Murphy Publishing Co., 1901), page 268