Wednesday, February 29, 2012

March 1, 1776

"It is a prevailing opinion that something extraordinary will turn up in the course of a few days."

On 1 March 1776, American revolutionaries received the following intelligence suggesting a possible British evacuation from Boston: "We are told a gentleman, who came out of Boston last Friday, reports, that the enemy have taken away their mortars from Bunker' s Hill, and carried them to Boston; that a Council of War had been held in Boston for several days; that General Howe had advised...the Tories to leave the town; that all the vessels in the harbour that were not in the King' s service, were taken up to transport the Tories and their effects; and that it was surmised in Boston, that, should another battle ensue, and the Regulars be defeated, they would set fire to the town, and remove to some other part of the Continent."

Peter Force, editor, American Archives, Series 4, Vol. 4, p. 1483.

Monday, February 27, 2012

King George and Broadswords!

The Highlanders charged across Moore's Creek Bridge with shouts of "King George and Broadswords!" Behind the Scots came backcountry volunteers, many former members of the Regulators. Having rebelled against against the coastal planters before the Revolution, many Regulars opposed the Patriot movement dominated by coastal planters.

The Scottish Highlanders were actually running across the rails and stringers of the Bridge. American revolutionaries removed the planks. Historian David K. Wilson believes the Highlanders thought they were pursuing a retreating foe. Instead, the Scottish Highlanders and a number of former North Carolina Regulators faced Patriot artillery and pickets.

A barrage of Patriot gunfire prevented the Highlanders from closing the distance and making effective use of their broadswords. The Patriots had further advantage in numbers and morale. The Patriots numbered about 1,050, the Highland and Regulator Loyalists about 800. North Carolina Patriots engineered low Loyalist turnout; Davis writes that most Highland Scots refused to enlist for fear that Patriot government would confiscate their estates. The long march further reduced Loyalist numbers hours before the battle. Dwindling supplies further hastened the Loyalist retreat from the field.

The Patriots soon released most of the Highlanders and Regulators on parole--their pledge to refrain from further hostilities--and sent the officers and leaders to Halifax, North Carolina then to the custody of the Continental Congress.

David K. Wilson writes, "The action at Moore's Creek Bridge demonstrated that the North Carolina Whigs were more numerous, better organized, and more willing to fight than were their opponents." Read David K. Wilson, The Southern Strategy: Britain's Conquest of South Carolina and Georgia, 1775-1780 (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2005), page 33.

Lord George Germain promised British troops from Ireland by the middle of February. The Highlanders, as they forewarned their Regulator allies, could not rely on a timely arrival of British forces.

For Wilson's compelling description of the Battle of Moore's Creek Bridge (Feb. 27, 1776), please check David K. Wilson, The Southern Strategy: Britain's Conquest of South Carolina and Georgia, 1775-1780(Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2005), 19-35. For a description of the Scottish Highlander settlement in North Carolina, and an explanation of their support for their Loyalism despite the 1745 uprising, read Duane Meyer, The Highland Scots of North Carolina, 1732-1776 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1987 [1957]). For another more on the Highlander and Regulator leaders as prisoners, check the post for December 27, 1776.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Responses to Slavery

In an episode of Who Do You Think You Are?, actor Blair Underwood learns that 22% of his ancestry is Brong, from modern Ghana; 13% Yoruba, from Benin and southwestern Nigeria (the Bight of Benin); and 12% Igbo (Ibo), from southeastern Nigeria (the Bight of Biafra). (Underwood's genetic heritage is also 27% Bamoun, from Cameroon, and 26% European.)

In his book Africa in America: Slave Resistance and Acculturation in the American South and the British Caribbean, 1736-1831, Michael Mullin explains that planters believed Coramantees (Akan-speakers like the Brong), Papaws (Yoruba and others shipped from the Big and Little Popo rivers) and Igbo each responded differently to harsh treatment.

Mullin wrote, "Papaws are characterized in a contemporary travel account (in Thomas Astley's large and popular collection) as very polite and civilized, and most respectful of superiors before whom they immediately fell on their knees and kissed the earth while thrice clapping their hands. 'The like deference is paid by the younger to the elder brother, the children to the father, and wives to their husbands.'"

Mullin then quotes Caribbean planter Bryan Edwards, who wrote, "That punishment which excites the Koromantyn to rebel, and drives the Ebo Negro to suicide, is received by the Papaws as the chastisement of legal authority, to which it is their duty to submit patiently."

Gwendolyn Midlo Hall observed that Igbo responded with greatest despair when laboring with crops requiring laborers in large numbers (like rice in South Carolina or sugar in Louisiana), faring better in small communities or work gangs, like those on Virginia tobacco plantations. This could explain the Igbo reputation for self-destructive protest in the sugar-growing West Indies and rice-growing coastal Georgia and South Carolina.

Michael Mullin, Africa in America: Slave Resistance and Acculturation in the American South and the British Caribbean, 1736-1831 (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1994 [1992]), 285-286. Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, Slavery and African Ethnicities in the Americas: Restoring the Links (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2005), 141-142.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Brong People of Ghana

In an upcoming episode of Who Do You Think You Are? (24 February 2012), actor Blair Underwood learns that 22% of his genetic ethnicity is related to the Brong people of Ghana.  The Brong people speak one of the languages of the Akan family.  Other Akan-speakers are the Fante and Asante peoples of Ghana. 

During the era of the slave trade, Ghana was known as the Gold Coast.  Akan-speaking Africans were also known as “Coromantees,” even though very few could have come from the small fishing village of Koromanti.  John Thornton, Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400-1800, 2nd ed. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998 [1992]), 321-322.

Philip D. Curtin estimated that 16.0% of Africans brought to Virginia from 1710 through 1769 were from the Gold Coast, as were 13.3% of Africans imported to South Carolina from 1733 through 1807.  Philip D. Curtin, The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Census (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1969), 157.

South Carolinians, in fact, had a strong preference for slaves from the Gold Coast.  On July 17, 1755, South Carolina merchant and planter Henry Laurens explained the preferences of the South Carolina slave market to merchants Smith & Clifton:  “Gold Coast or Gambia's are best….”  James A. Rawley, London, Metropolis of the Slave Trade (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2003), 87.  For more on Blair Underwood's genealogy results, please visit the post here.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Mixed Messages

On February 21, 1776, Josiah Bartlett of New Hampshire wrote to John Langdon, "I Believe it is certain the British parliament has ordered all American vessels to be Seized, as you will see by the publick papers. Two of the outward bound vessels fitted out by the Secret Committee [of the Continental Congress], for the purpose of necessaries, are taken and Carried to the West Indies, the master of one has got back. In short we have nothing to Expect from Brittain, but war & Bloodshed, notwithstanding the pretence of sending Commissioners here to treat."

 Paul H. Smith, et al., editors, Letters of Delegates to Congress: Vol. 3: January 1, 1776-May 15, 1776 (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1978), page 293.

The mixed messages of British political and military leaders seemed both sinister and absurd to Americans. In a 1782 letter to former aid Tench Tilghman, George Washington remarked that General Sir Guy Carleton "gives strong assurances of the pacific disposition of his most gracious majesty, by Land," while at sea Admiral Robert Digby "gives proofs" of King George III's "good intention of capturing every thing that floats on the face of the Waters; and of his humane design of suffocating all those who are taken thereon, in Prison Ships, who will not engage in his Service."

Washington remarked, "To an American whose genius is not susceptable of refined Ideas, there would appear some little inconsistency in all this; but to the enlarged and comprehensive Mind of a Briton, these things are perfectly reconcilable."

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Kind Treatment

On February 20, 1776, the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety wrote to the President of Congress, John Hancock, about the prisoners in the town of Lancaster, "From the information given to this Committee, we learn that the kind treatment given them meets with very improper and indecent return; that they often express themselves in most disrespectful and offensive terms, and openly threaten revenge whenever opportunity shall present."

Given the proximity of Lancaster to escape routes by water, the Committee of Safety recommended not only that Congress separate the officers from the men but separate the officers from each other, "either dispersed of in different towns, or dispersed among the farmers in the country, where their opportunities of doing mischief will less correspond with their inclinations."

Many factors contributed to the distribution of prisoners in America. In a letter to British General Sir William Howe, dated April 9, 1777, General George Washington referred to "the dispersed situation" of British and Hessian prisoners "taken at a more early period of the War, thro' the different States, arising from the circumstances of their captivity and a regard to their better accomodation...."

You can read the Committee of Safety's letter at the American Archives web site courtesy of the Northern Illinois University Libraries.  Please find George Washington's April 9, 1777 letter to Howe regarding prisoners by searching the web site dedicated to The George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799.

Friday, February 17, 2012

His Name is Paine

On Feb. 19, 1776, John Adams wrote to British-born American General Charles Lee a letter "to introduce to your Acquaintance a Country man of yours and a Citizen of the World, to whom a certain Heretical Pamphlet called Common Sense, is imputed.  His Name is Paine.  He is traveling to N. York for his Curiosity and wishes to see a Gentln, whose Character he so highly respects."

Paul H. Smith, et al., editors, Letters of Delegates to Congress: Vol. 3: January 1, 1776-May 15, 1776 (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1978), page 277.

I Despise the Bigot

On Feb. 19, 1776, Congressman Josiah Bartlett from New Hampshire received a Feb. 2  letter from his wife.  Bartlett wrote, "When I read at the Close of your letter, and account of the Death of my good friend, John Wadleigh, it very sensibly affected me, for I had received no account of his being worse than when I left home."

Bartlett recalled, "I had really a great value of him, and think the Town & Especially that part of it, have met with a great loss in his Death.  I Can[']t help Calling to mind the many hours, pleasant Conversation I have had with him, and tho' he had Some Sentiments Different from mine, yet I really Loved & Esteemed him, and I Despise the Bigot, who Can have no Esteem or friendship for any man, whose religious opinions are Different[.]"

Paul H. Smith, ed., Letters of Delegates to Congress: Vol. 3: January 1,1776-May 15, 1776 (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1978), 277.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Adams on Charles Carroll

From Philadelphia, John Adams wrote on February 18, 1776 to fellow-New Englander James Warren about Charles Carroll of Carrollton.  Explaining that Carroll was an important addition to a committee visiting Canada, Adams wrote, "I was first introduced to him, about Eight Months ago...and was much please with his Conversation.  He has a Fortune, as I am well informed, which is computed to be worth Two hundred Thousand Pounds Sterling.  He is a Native of Maryland, and his Father is still living.  He had a liberal Education in France, and is well acquainted with the French Nation. He Speaks their Language as easily as ours--and what is perhaps of more Consequence than all the rest, he was educated in the Roman Catholic Religion, and still continues to worship his Maker according to the Rites of that Church."

Paul H. Smith, et al., editors, Letters of Delegates to Congress: Vol. 3: January 1,1776-May 15, 1776 (Washington, D.C.: Library of COngress, 1978), 275.

Preventing Plunder

On February 17, 1776, Congress resolved "That the officers in the continental Armies be enjoined to use their utmost diligence in preventing every kind of plunder; and that all who shall offend herein, be punished according to the strictest discipline...."

Antagonizing the people could lose a war. As George Washington remarked on April 19, 1776, "human nature is such that it will adhere to the side from whence the best treatment is received."

Worthington Chancey Ford, ed., Journals of the Continental Congress 1774-1789: Vol. 4: January 1-June 4, 1776 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1906), 158.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

War and Devastation

In a February 16, 1776 letter to fellow New Yorker James Duane, Robert Livingston expressed hope that British opposition to the war in America could force British reconciliation with America.

Confiding mixed feelings, Livingston wrote, "This I know that another year of war and devastation will confirm me a republican though at present I wish to join hand with a nation which I have been accustomed to respect, yet I am persuaded that the continuance of the war will break my shackles and I shall learn to despise the pusillanimity of our British friends and abhor the cruelty of our foes."

Paul H. Smith, et al., editors, Letters of Delegates to Congress: Vol. 3: January 1, 1776-May 15, 1776 (Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1978), 265.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Barbarity and Cruelty

February 15, 1776

Robert Morris wrote to British merchant Sir Robert Herries, "America has long been charged by her Enemys in England with aiming at Independency. The charge was unjust, but we now plainly see, that the burning of Towns, seizing our Ships, with numerous acts of wanton barbarity & Cruelty perpetrated by the British Forces has prepared Men's minds for an Independency, that were shock'd at the idea a few weeks ago."

Paul H. Smith, et al., editors, Letters of Delegates to Congress: Vol. 3: January 1, 1776-May 15, 1776 (Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1978), 256. Born in Liverpool, England, Robert Morris was an American financier and Revolutionary Patriot.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The King and His Ministers

On February 14, 1776, Congressmen John Penn wrote to Thomas Person, "From a newspaper printed in Ireland which arrived here today I find that the Parliament there have agreed that 4,000 Troops there should be imployed against America, and to receive the like number of Hanoverians in their room."

While many German mercenaries were Hessians (from Hesse-Cassel), some were mercenaries hired from Hanover.  The Irish Parliament agreed to send troops to America if German mercenaries replaced the (British) troops in Ireland.

Penn wrote, "It also appear that Lord North had moved to bring in a bill to repeal the Boston Port act...but to license his Matys armed Vessels to seize the American Ships where ever bound and to make prizes of them and their cargoes.  There were 190 odd for the motion 60 against it.  It appears that the King and his ministers are determined if possible to subjugate us to the control of a British Parliament."

British policy served to radicalize American opinion.  Also writing on Feb. 14, John Adams informed James Warren, "Scarcely a Paper comes out, without a Speculation or two in open Vindication of opinions, which Five Months ago were said to be unpopular."

Paul H. Smith, et al., editors, Letters of Delegates to Congress: Vol. 3: January 1, 1776-May 15, 1776 (Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1978), 253, 255-256.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Feb. 13: Parker Leaves Cork...Finally

On February 13, 1776, Commodore Sir Peter Parker finally leaves Cork, Ireland.  Lord George Germain, Lord North's secretary of state for American affairs, assured British personnel in North America that Parker would leave Ireland by the first of December 1775 to rendezvous with Major General Henry Clinton off the coast of North Carolina. For several months, however, authorities in Dublin argued with London over the use in America of troops based in Ireland.

David K. Wilson, The Southern Strategy: Britain's Conquest of South Carolina and Georgia, 1775-1780 (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2005), 36-37.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Like Men Determined

     On February 12, 1776, Congressman John Penn from North Carolina wrote to Thomas Person, "General Clinton left Boston about three weeks ago.  He called at New York last week to pay Governor Tryon a visit...."
     Irish-born William Tryon served as the lieutenant-governor and then governor of North Carolina (1765-1771) before becoming governor of New York (1771-1780) for the British.  Penn suspected Clinton planned to invade North Carolina and wanted Tryon's advice on that province. 
      Penn wrote, "I make no doubt but the Southern Provinces will soon be the Scene of action, as our enemies may hope to obtain greater success there than at the North....  The People to the Northward have Spirit and Resolution which I doubt not will carry them victorious through this Contest, I hope we to the Southward shall act like men determined to be free."

Paul H. Smith, et al., eds., Letters of Delegates to Congress: Vol. 3: January 1, 1776-May 15, 1776 (Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1978), pages 238 and 239.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Feb. 11: Great Changes

On February 11, 1776, John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail (Smith) Adams, "In such great Changes and Commotions, Individuals are but Atoms. It is scarcly worth while to consider what the Consequences will be to Us. What will be the Effects upon present and future Millions, and Millions of Millions, is a Question very interesting to Benevolence natural and Christian. God grant they may and I firmly believe they will be happy."

Find the letter in its entirety either at the Library of Congress web site Letters of Delegates to Congress or check Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 11 February 1776 [electronic edition]. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Feb. 10: Wicked Designs

On Feb. 10, Joseph Hewes, representing North Carolina in the Continental Congress, wrote to the Council of Safety of his home state, “By the latest Accounts from England…we have reason to apprehend that our Colony will be attacked in the Spring.”  Hewes urged an early meeting of Provincial Congress, “that you may be the better enabled to Counteract the wicked designs of the ministry by providing against the Armament intended to destroy your liberties.” Paul H. Smith, et al., editors, Letter of Delegates to Congress: Vol. 3: January 1, 1776-May 15, 1776 (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1978), 221.

Arms for North Carolina

On Feb. 9, 1776, learning that “a quantity of powder, arms and salt petre” had arrived, Congress “Resolved, That two tons of the powder now arrived [belonging to the United Colonies,] be returned to the committee of safety for Pen[n]sylvania, in part of that borrowed of them: 
 That the former order of Congress to grant one ton of gun powder to the colony of North Carolina, be answered out of the powder belonging to the continent now arrived.”

Worthington Chauncey Ford, ed., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789: Vol. 4: January 1-July 4, 1776 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1906), pages 124-125
<> (accessed 8  Feb. 2012)

Letters From Home

On February 8, 1776, Josiah Bartlett, a New Hampshire Delegate to the Continental Congress, wrote to his wife, Mary, "On the 6th Instant I Recd yours of the 19th of last month Enclosing Some letters from the Children, and with pleasure hear you are all well and that Levi is learning to Cypher, I hope you will try to keep him as much to Learning as Possible till my return."

Paul H. Smith, et al., eds., Letters of Delegates to Congress: Vol. 3: January 1, 1776-May 15, 1776 (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1978), page 216. <> (accessed 8 Feb. 2012)

Able Fencers

On February 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee wrote to Samuel Adams from Massachusetts, "I pray you Sir to leave nothing undone that may secure Canada & New York this winter. These are the openings thro which America may, by able fencers, receive the worst wounds."

In 1777, British Gen. John Burgoyne led an army of Britons, Hessian mercenaries and Indian supporters into New York through Canada. In early-1776, however, Americans were trying to maintain a military presence in Canada and maintain the support of the people of Canada.

Paul H. Smith, et al., eds., Letters of Delegates to Congress: Vol. 3: January 1, 1776-May 15, 1776 (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1978), page 214.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Feb 6: Warning of NC Expedition

On February 6, 1776, William Hooper wrote from New York to Joseph Hewes and John Penn, representing North Carolina in the Continental Congress, to warn their home state to prepare for invasion. British Major General Henry Clinton was in New York City with British troops from Boston, planning to rendezvous off North Carolina with troops from England.

"When I consider the defenceless State of No. Carolina arising from a want of Arms & Ammunition, the divided sentiments of the people, the effect it might have upon the Highlanders & Regulators if Governour Martin supported with a body of Troops should introduce himself amongst them, I am importunate that no stone should be left unturned to protect in that province the friends to the American Cause."

The delegates could not "dictate" but "hint" to their fellow-North Carolinians "that it will be prudent immediately to send off an Express to Edenton with the Intelligence I herewith afford you, & thereby to recommend to them to call as soon as may be the Provincial Congress to take such measures under their Sanction as may prevent the cause of America, so far as N. Carolina is concerned in support of it, going to total destruction."

Paul H. Smith, et al., eds., Letters of Delegates to Congress: Vol. 3: January 1, 1776-May 15, 1776 (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1978), page 208, citing a monuscript in the Hayes Collection at the University of North Carolina University Libraries. For the Association signed by the Ladies of Edenton, North Carolina on 25 October 1774, please check here.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Long Island Raid

On February 5, 1776, The Newport Mercury reported, "We learn from New York, that a large body of men landed the week before last upon Long-Island, took 7 or 8 principal Tories, and disarmed a considerable number of others, some of whom had been supplied with arms from the Asia man of war."

Throughout the Revolutionary War, Patriots from New Jersey and the New England states raided eastern Long Island on whaleboats.  Some raiders, however, were marauders looking for a chance to loot.  Others were Americans hoped to exchange captured Tories for Americans detained in New York City prisons and prison ships.

For more on the "whaleboat war," consult Edwin G. Burrows, Forgotten Patriots: The Untold Stor of American Prisoners During the Revolutionary War (New York: Basic Books, 2008), 133-36; and the essays (rather, the well-told true stories) collected in Joseph S. Tiedemann and Eugene R. Fingerhut, eds., The Other New York: The American Revolution Beyond New York City, 1763-1787 (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2005).  

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Spoiler Alert: Who Do You Think You Are?

     DNA tests are increasingly popular means of studying history and genealogy.  Genetic tests can prove especially helpful for African-Americans. 
     The Yoruba people of southwestern Nigeria are famous for their influence on Haitian, Brazilian and Cuban religious life.  In the United States, Yoruba influence is most conspicuous in Louisiana.  Called "Nago" and "Lucumi" in various locations in North and South America, the Yoruba people came from the Bight of Benin, a region along the coast of Nigeria, Togo and Benin.      
     In her book, Slavery and African Ethnicities in the Americas: Restoring the Links, Gwendolyn Midlo Hall warned against overstating the Yoruba presence among captives sent to mainland North America.  Hall wrote, "Except for Louisiana, where Nago were 4 percent of identified ethnicities, the presence of Yoruba in the United States was insignificant."  In a recent article for Folio Weekly (Jacksonville, Florida), I wrote, "Most African Americans...should not expect a match in the Bight of Benin." 
     In an upcoming episode of Who Do You Think You Are?, however, American actor Blair Underwood discovers that 13% of his ancestry is Yoruba. 
     In his book, The Final Victims: Foreign Slave Trade to North America, 1783-1810, James A. McMillin wrote that after the Revolutionary War ended in 1783, American slave imports from what is now Nigeria dropped dramatically. 
     It was in this period that more Yoruba became victims of the slave trade.  Just as Americans bought fewer and fewer captives from Nigeria, merchants there crammed more and more Yoruba people into American and European slave ships. G. Ugo Nwokeji remarked that in this same period (the late-1700s and early-1800s), the Nigerian port of Old Calabar began selling more people captured in nearby Cameroon. 
     After 1783, relatively few slave ships came to America from what is now Nigeria.  Those few ships, however, were more likely than before to carry Yoruba or Cameroonian prisoners.  In fact, Blair Underwood's ancestry is 27% Bamoun, an ethnic group from Cameroon.
     Since 40% of Underwood's ancestry is Yoruba and Cameroonian combined, many of his ancestors probably arrived relatively late in the slave trade.  His family's recent arrival in America means that Underwood is more likely to discover (spoiler alert) a close relative in Africa.  For Blair Underwood's ancestral connection to Ghana, please visit the post here.  
Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, Slavery and African Ethnicities in the Americas: Restoring the Links (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005), 23.
James A. McMillin, The Final Victims: Foreign Slave Trade to North America, 1783-1810 (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2004), 69.
G. Ugo Nwokeji, The Slave Trade and Culture in the Bight of Biafra: An African Society in the Atlantic World (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 156note.
Brian Patrick O'Malley, "Roots Rock: Recently discovered slave graves resurrect discussion on the origins of African Americans," Folio Weekly (Jacksonville, Florida), 3-9 January 2012, 43 < > (accessed 2/3/2012).