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.”

Saturday, June 4, 2011

May 27, 1776

John Adams, serving in the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, writes to his wife Abigail Adams, managing their family home in Massachusetts, to say how glad he was to receive her letters, especially one dated May 14th, 1776: "It relates wholly to private Affairs, and contains such an Account of wise and prudent Management, as makes me very happy. I begin to be jealous, that our Neighbours will think Affairs more discreetly conducted in my Absence than at any other Time."

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 79.

Friday, June 3, 2011

May 26, 1776

Charles Carroll of Carrollton to John Thomas:

“We have already mentioned the bad discipline of the Army. It is no doubt in a great measure owing to the cause assigned in One of your letters, the short inlistments; but there appears to us other causes: the Officers are not sufficiently active, nor do they seem actuated by those disinterested principles & generous Sentiments, which might be expected from men fighting in so just & glorious a cause. We would not be understood to cast a general reflection.

“There are many Officers we are satisfied, who act upon the noblest motives, but it gives us pain to assert on the best information, that there are several, whose conduct has too plainly proved them unworthy of the charactor & trust conferred on them by their countrymen. We have mentioned our sentiments with freedom. We shall always give our Opinions with the same; We mean not to dictate, but to advise with you & the Genl. Officers on the most effectual ways & means of extricating ourselves from our present difficulties, and promoting the Genl. service.”