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Archive for the ‘Colonial history (1607-1775)’ Category

La Salle

We celebrated a birth here a few days ago.  I guess it’s time we look at the anniversary of a death.  On March 19, 1682, Rene-Robert La Salle was mutinied by his own men while trying to set up a colony near the Gulf of Mexico.  What could cause such violence?  Well, let’s see.  The 300 colonists he was leading experienced marauding pirates, attacking Indians and sunken ships.  I guess that could cause some stress.

La Salle’s life as an explorer developed early.  He originally joined the Jesuits, but his wanderlust got the better of him.  He repeatedly asked his superiors to be stationed in China, the most prestigious location.  After numerous rejections, he eventually left the order and made his way to New France.

Despite giving the territory of Louisiana its name, La Salle’s primary claim to fame was being the first to navigate the Mississippi River from end to end, but it was Louis Joliet and Jacques Marquette who actually “discovered” the length and importance of the river three years earlier.  In fact, Joliet petitioned to make the same trip that La Salle eventually made, but his request was turned down by the king.  La Salle must have asked nicer because he got the honor.  Oh and the mutiny.

Recommended reading: A New World by Arthur Quinn

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After more than 6 months of occupying Boston, the city at the heart of the Revolution, General Howe was more than ready to leave.  As early as January, London had given him permission to take his troops to New York City, a much better spot to lanuch an offensive campaign, but by the time word arrived, winter had set in.  Finally on March 17, 1776, he got his wish – although not in the way that he would have liked it.

As Howe was waiting for temperatures to rise, General George Washington was looking for a way to drive the British out.  For reasons still not completely understoood, the British had failed to secure Dorchester Heights – high-ground overlooking the harbor of Boston.  They were well aware of its strategic importance, but a deadly bout of overconfidence kept them from taking up position there.

In one of the real-life stories that sounds more like an improbable movie script, Washington was able to covertly move two thousand men to the Heights overnight.  They accomplished it with good planning and also a decent amount of luck.  A heavy fog enshrouded the soldiers and equipment while a barrage of cannon-fire masked the sound of thousands of men moving and setting up defenses. 

Howe woke the next morning, saw that he had been outflanked under cover of darkness, and proclaimed that the “rebels have done more in one night than my whole army could do in months.”

After negotiating a deal with Washington — don’t attack, and we won’t burn Boston — Howe, his men, and 1,200 loyalists boarded ships and left on St. Patrick’s Day.

Recommended reading: Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence

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On March 5, 1770, British troops stationed in Boston to maintain order fired into a mob and killed 5 civilians.   This event immediately served as propaganda for the American colonists – even as questions arose as to who was really responsible for the outbreak of violence.

Who rung the fire alarm bells that turned a small angry group of would-be brawlers in a verifiable mob of close to 400?  Who was the mysterious figure at the waterfront, dressed in a wig and red cloak, who ran around encouraging the off-duty workers to go downtown in search of fights?

Eight soldiers and their captain, Thomas Preston, were put on trial several months later – once the passions died down a bit.  And who was the lawyer who represented these accused killers?  None other than our 1st VP and 2nd President, John Adams.  Though he was extremely senstive to public criticism, he set aside his (enormous) ego because of his sense of duty to the law.  Preston was acquitted, and in a separate trial, only 2 of the 8 soldiers were found guilty of manslaughter.  Adams’ reputation was hurt in the short-term, but once the War was over and the job of building a country began, his defense of the hated British in the face of such adversity was eventually seen as a remarkable character trait.

For an ongoing discussion of the Boston Massacre, see the esteemed Boston 1775 blog.

And of course, YouTube is the perfect place to go for historical reenactments.

Recommended reading: John Adams and A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic

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