Wednesday, March 30, 2011

January 15, 1777: Accounts of Americans Taken Prisoner at Fort Washington

Extract of a letter from Morristown, New Jersey, dated January 15, 1777: "The garrison that was taken at Fort Washington are mostly released, some of them told me that 1100 of the garrison died in the city, being starved to death; that provisions was very scarce with the enemy."

Essex Journal (Newburyport, Massachusetts), 6 Feb. 1777

Monday, March 28, 2011

January 11, 1776

Whereas it appears to this Congress, that several evil disposed persons, in order to obstruct and defeat the efforts of the United Colonies, in the defence of their just rights, have attempted to depreviate the bills of credit emitted by the authority of this Congress,

Resolved, therefore, That if any person shall hereafter be so lost to all virtue and regard for his country as to 'refuse to receive said bills in payment,' or obstruct or discourage the currency or circulation thereof, and shall be duly convicted by the committee of the city, county, or district, or in case of appeal from their decision, by the assembly, convention, council or committee of safety of the colony where he shall reside, such person shall be deemed, published, and treated as an enemy of his country, and precluded from all trade or intercourse with the inhabitants of these colonies.

Worthington Chauncey Ford, ed., Journals of the Continental Congress 1774-1789: Vol 9: January 1-June 4, 1776(Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1906), page 49.

The resolution highlights the activism of local committees and provincial level committees and councils. In an article for The Daily Beast, historian T. H. Breen called these local committees "schools of revolution," tutoring thousands of ordinary Americans in self-government and participatory democracy. T. H. Breen, "The Secret Founding Fathers," The Daily Beast (3 July 2010),
(accessed 28 March 2011)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

January 10, 1776

On Jan. 10, 1776, Christopher Gadsden, a South Carolina delegate to the Continental Congress, sent Commodore Esek Hopkins a list of “Field Officers & Captains” stationed at Charlestown (Charleston), South Carolina.

Gadsden assured Hopkins, “Shou'd you go may depend on all the Assistance they can give. They are most of them Gentlemen of considerable Fortunes with us who have enter’d into the service merely from Principle & to promote & give Credit to the Cause….”

In a biography of Charles Pinckney, historian Marty D. Matthews remarked that many Carolinians were apathetic toward the contest between Congress and Britain. Gadsden explained that whiggish members of the Carolina gentry set an example of service, hoping to make enlistment fashionable.

Matthews explained that the occupation of South Carolina by the British army in 1780-81 convinced many Carolinians to join the Continental effort.

Several American leaders hoped more gentlemen might enlist as officers. Major General Richard Montgomery, a member of the Anglo-Irish gentry who enlisted in the Continental Army, wrote to General Philip Schuyler on November 13, 1775, "I wish some method cou[l]d be fallen upon of engaging Gentlemen to serve--a Point of honour and more knowledge of the world to be found in that Class of men wou[l]d greatly reform discipline and render the troops much more tractable."

Marty D. Matthews, Forgotten Founder: The Life and Times of Charles Pinckney (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2004), page 19; Michael P. Gabriel, Major General Richard Montgomery: The Making of an American Hero (Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2002), page 140.

Friday, March 25, 2011

January 9, 1776: Common Sense

The January 9, 1776 edition of the Pennsylvania Evening Post featured the following advertisement:

Philadelphia, January 9, 1776
THIS day was published, and is now selling by Robert Bell, in Third-street (price two shillings) COMMON SENSE addressed to the INHABITANTS OF AMERICA, on the following interesting SUBJECTS.
I. Of the origin and design of government in general, with concise Remarks on the English Constitution.
II. Of Monarchy and Hereditary Succession.
III. Thoughts on the present state of American affairs.
IV. Of the present ability of America, with some miscellaneous reflections.
Man knows no master save creating Heaven,
Or those whom choice and common good ordain.

The author of Common Sense (long known simply by the title of this famous work) was Thomas Paine. Paine published Common Sense as a pamphlet--with no binding and no cover--to keep it affordable for as many people as possible. As Welsh philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote, "Paine's importance in history consists in the fact that he made the preaching of democracy democratic." This was true in the affordability of his works, as well as their style. Paine dedicated his profits from Common Sense and the Crisis series of essays to the Continental war effort.

Paine asked Robert Bell to publish the first edition of Common Sense, with Paine and Bell splitting any profits. Paine wanted to donate his share of profits to the Continental Army, but Bell denied making any profit. Bell continued to publish Common Sense without the author's approval, Paine released an expanded edition through another publisher, and still more book and newspaper publishers released the work around the world.

His sacrifices for the revolutionary effort left Paine obliged to petition Congress and state legislatures for financial support. Congress awarded Paine $3,000 while the State of New York awarded him an estate confiscated from a Tory in New Rochelle.

Please consult Caig Nelson, Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations (New York: Viking, 2006), Page 81; Harvey J. Kaye, Thomas Paine and the Promise of America (New York: Hill and Wang, 2005), pages 66-67; and Eric Foner, Thomas Paine and the Promise of America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976), 99, 192; Bill Henderson, "The Small Press Today and Yesterday," in Philip G. Altbach and Edith S. Hoshino, eds., International Book Publishing: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Pub., 1995), pages 323-324.

THOMSON: James Thomson (1700-1748) wrote the poem "Liberty" (1734-1736) in five parts. At the start of Common Sense Paine quotes from part four of "Liberty," which Thomson published in 1736. John Fuller, "James Thomson 1700-48," in George Watson, ed., The New Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature: Vol. 2: 1660-1800 (New York: Cambirdge University Press, 1971), 528.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

January 8, 1776

In his diary for Jan. 8, 1776 Richard Smith wrote, "An Express came with Letters from Baltimore informg. that Ld. Dunmore has destroyed the Town of Norfolk in Virginia."

Richard Smith was a lawyer who represented New Jersey in the Continental Congress from July 1774 to June 1776.

On Jan. 1, 1776, British forces set Norfolk, VA ablaze. Earlier, on Oct. 18, 1775, British forces burned the town of Falmouth, Mass. (now Portland, Maine). In the Declaration of Independence, American grievances against Britain's King George III included, "He has plundered our Seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our Towns, and destroyed the Lives of our People."