Archive for the ‘The Revolution (1775-1783)’ Category

In our world, there are lots of famous pairs.  There are a lot of things that just work really well together, like they were meant to be.  And as we start the fifth year of Today’s History Lesson, let’s name some.

Chocolate and peanut butter.
Donnie and Marie.
Spaghetti and meatballs.
The Lone Ranger and Tonto.
Calvin and Hobbes.
Blue Falcon and Dog Wonder.
Abbott and Costello.
Sonny and Cher (ok…admittedly, they worked slightly less well together).
Starksy and Hutch.
Brooks and Dunn.

You get the picture.  In the political world, there have famous pairings, too.  We immediately think of duos like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, or maybe John and Abigail Adams.  Lexington and Concord.  Valley Forge and Baron von Steuben.  Republicans and tax breaks for the wealthy…I jest, I jest!!!  Hmmm…Democrats and deficits…there, does that even it out?  Anyways, we could go on and on, but I’ll focus instead in one.

George Washington and Alexander Hamilton.  We’ve talked about both of these immensely influential Founders on many occasions, but it’s time we put them together.

Hamilton and Washington were a team for the better part of twenty-five years.  Washington, the first President, was the calm, steady leader.  Hamilton, the first Treasury Secretary, was the impetuous, forceful subordinate.  It fact, it’s very safe to say that during Washington’s first term (and much of his second), Alexander was the second most powerful man in America.  He was more powerful than Vice President Adams.  He was more powerful than Secretary of State Jefferson.

Hamilton’s influence made him a lot of enemies, and Washington’s deference to Hamilton made a great many exceedingly jealous.  Thomas Jefferson, in particular, came to believe that Washington was little more than a marionette, dancing on the strings manipulated from above by a power-maddened Hamilton.

But George Washington’s trust in Hamilton was built on years of experience in close proximity to the man.  Whether you like Hamilton or hate him (or are completely indifferent), you must know that Washington was a pretty good judge of people, and he knew Hamilton better than most.

Their collaboration began on this day in history…March 1, 1777.  George Washington was a General…in fact, he was the General of the army.  Alexander Hamilton was an artillery company Captain, who had distinguished himself in the Battle of White Plains and the Battle of Trenton.  His leadership abilities and good performance under pressure (and under fire) had made him something of a desirable commodity.  General Nathanael Greene had requested his services.  Henry Knox (at that time a Brigadier General) had also sought out Hamilton to be an aide.  Hamilton had refused both, preferring to earn his Revolutionary glory on the field of battle.

But when General Washington invited Hamilton to join his staff as an aide-de-camp, it was an offer he simply couldn’t refuse.  He accepted the General’s offer and joined his staff on this day with the elevated rank of Lieutenant Colonel.  And that’s where this “dynamic duo” got its start.

Speaking of Captains, our son learned today that he has been promoted to the rank of Captain.  Congratulations to him!!

Read Full Post »

If you’re in mixed company and you say, “Boy, that Samuel Adams was really something!“, most people will ask about the variety to which you refer.  And that’s a remarkable shame.  I’m probably being old-fashioned and naive, but I think it’s a terrible indictment on our culture to mention the older of the Adams cousins (the younger being our first Vice President and second President) and have most people start listing off the various beers and lagers made by the company that bears his name.

Yes, the Samuel Adams beer company makes dozens of brews, some seasonal, some year-round.  People swear by it, love it, drink it on their cornflakes, and have it with their pumpkin pie.  There’s probably even a game on Sporcle where you get five minutes to list as many flavors of Samuel Adams beer as you can.

But what’s been lost in the beer goggles (and probably in many classrooms) is that Samuel Adams (the beer) doesn’t even exist if there wasn’t first Samuel Adams (the man).

If you don’t know the “who” better than the “brew”, I’ll make it super simple for you (whoa!!…a bit of unintentional poetry).

Samuel Adams was quite possibly the single most important driving force behind the initial push for independence in the Thirteen Colonies.  If Twitter had existed in the 1760s (I’m still trying to figure out why Twitter exists today, but one rant at a time), Adams would have been the guy everyone linked to in order to know what was going on.

And while his history has been largely forgotten, Samuel Adams was a giant in his time.  When John Adams went to France in 1779, he was recognized as “not the famous Adams.”  He wrote that his cousin had “the most thorough Understanding of Liberty, and her Resources, in the Temper and Character of the people…”.  Jefferson (the author of The Declaration of Independence) called him “the man of the Revolution…for depth of purpose, zeal, and sagacity, no man in Congress exceeded, if any equalled Sam Adams.”

The British also knew Samuel Adams, and steins of beer were not part of their discussions.  If you want to know their opinion of the man, it’s best explained by example.  In June of 1775, the governor of Massachusetts (Thomas Gage) offered amnesty to all the “rebels” causing trouble…all rebels, that is, but two.  John Hancock and Samuel Adams.  When the British Redcoats met the colonial militias at Lexington and Concord, what was their primary mission?  War?…no.  Territory?…no.  The arrest of Adams and Hancock?…yep.

In the shadow of Thomas Paine’s publication of Common Sense, Samuel Adams (a long-time newspaperman) returned to print.  On February 3, 1776, an article written by Adams (and published under the pseudonym “Candidus”) was published in the Boston Gazette.  It contained what was quite possibly the first call for an actual, formal declaration of independence.  “By declaring independence,” he penned, “we put ourselves on a footing for an equal negotiation.”

And like Paine, he had words for the Quakers.  A devoutly religious man himself, “Candidus” appreciated Quaker piety.  But their tendency to favor the British monarchy under the guise to “pacifist neutrality” irritated him.  “If they profess themselves only pilgrims here, let them walk through the men of this world without interfering with their actions on either side.”

Some of Adams’ words would upset people today.  They upset people in the 1770s.  But when the members of the Continental Congress decided on indpendence a few months later, the words of “Candidus” were on their lips.

Not beer.

Recommended Reading: Samuel Adams: A Life

Read Full Post »

As my knowledge of America’s Revolutionary era has reached the “ankle-deep” stage over the last couple years, there are a few authors that I should probably thank.  Without question, Ron Chernow’s studies of Alexander Hamilton and (most recently) George Washington get a mention.  David McCullough is another, especially for his biography of John Adams.

For you internet junkies, I have to thank Frances Hunter’s American Heroes and Martin and company over at What Would the Founders Think.  These two sites have both taught me so much about the early days of this nation, and both deserve a look from you. 

But one author that I think may sometimes get overlooked is Joseph Ellis.  My first exposure to his writing came several years ago with His Excellency.  Then I read American Sphinx, his work on Thomas Jefferson.  A couple of months back, I picked up First Family, which represents Ellis’ return to John and Abigail Adams.  One of these days, I’ll actually get it finished.

In the introduction to First Family, Ellis reminds us that John and Abigail shared one of the most remarkable relationships in U.S. history.  It wasn’t just the steadfastness of their marriage, the struggles raising of a family (including a future President), and growing old together that set them apart.  In fact, those things are pretty common to many couples.

But Ellis writes, “Abigail and John traveled down that trail about two hundred years before us, remained lovers and friends throughout, and together had a hand in laying the foundation of what is now the oldest enduring republic in world history.  And they left a written record of all the twitches, traumas, throbbings, and tribulations along the way.  No one else has ever done that.”

He informs us that the record consists of “roughly twelve hundred letters between them” and describes it as “a treasure trove of unexpected intimacy and candor.”

Throughout the Colonies’ push for independence, this second “First Couple” spent quite a bit of time apart, as duty often called John away, whether it be to Philadelphia and the Second Continental Congress, or even further away to Paris.  David McCullough writes that Abigail’s letters often concerned news from the homefront.  “…family, of politics, of her day-to-day struggles to manage expenses, cope with shortages, and keep the farm going…”.

However, Abigail was far more than just the keeper of the house while John was away.  She was a shrewd woman with a strong mind and a keen sense her husband’s work and its implications, not only for them, but for generations that would follow.  On March 31, 1776, she wrote to John concerning the British evacuation of Boston and smallpox vaccinations.

But then she followed up with some seemingly parenthetical thoughts that have become her most famous words.  “And, by the way,” she wrote, “in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies, and be more favorable to them than your ancestors.  Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of husbands.”  She continued on (quoting Daniel Defoe), “Remember all men would be tyrants if they could.”  And then she offered up a playful (or was it?) threat for her husband’s consideration.  “If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies we are determined to forment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”

Mrs. Adams final statement here is most remarkable.  A woman, living in a society completely dominated by men, talking of independence and equality.  And while her husband took her statements as playful banter, I cannot but imagine that the phrase “will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation” really packed a punch.  This was the reason he and other men were meeting in Philadelphia, talking about revolution and independence from the rule of tyranny.

Abigail Adams threw down the proverbial gauntlet to her husband, challenging him (and those with whom he gathered) to consider the possibility that freedom involved more than “taxation with representation” and more than throwing off the shackles of King George III.  Maybe it also included equality for women in the voting booth.  She and John both detested slavery (their letters discuss it on numerous occasions), and maybe freedom had something to say about that as well.

Ninety years and a bloody Civil War would be required to ultimately end the curse of slavery in America.  And more than 150 years would pass before women were finally allowed to vote.  But Abigail’s letter saw that “city of the future” in the spring of 1776, when the battle-cry of freedom was just warming up.

Recommended Reading:  First Family:  Abigail and John Adams

Read Full Post »

Our drive back from Estes Park was good, and it’s good to be home, but it’s also a bit sad to see a vacation end.  It was like that back in August when we returned from a couple days in Phoenix.  I’m well aware of the need to come home…work awaits, and we’re not celebrities that possess bank accounts overflowing with disposable income.  But still, I wish vacations, wherever we enjoy them, didn’t have to end.


The fall of 1777 saw the Continental Army in a pretty bad state.  General Horatio Gates stunning victory at Saratoga (which I promise we’ll discuss at some point) was the lone high point in an autumn of despair and defeat.  For General George Washington, it was one defeat after another.  Losses at Cooch’s Bridge and Chadd’s Ford had left the capital of Philadelphia open to  General William Howe’s British Redcoats…and the Second Continental Congress booking the fastest flights out of town.

But as bad as their military results were, it was the general condition of Washington’s men that was most appalling.  The soldiers were destitute.  Many were sick, many more were hungry, and most all of them were inadequately clothed.  In his book Washington’s Secret War, Thomas Fleming recounts the Commander-in-Chief’s words to Alexander Hamilton, then a Lt. Colonel.  Writing in mid-September, Washington lamented, “The distressed situation of the army for want of blankets and many necessary articles of clothing is truly deplorable.”

There was no relief in sight.  The Congress, which was busy “committee’ing” itself to death, was broke.  Many Colonists, unwilling to accept I.O.U.’s from a bankrupt government while becoming increasingly convinced of eventual British victory, found it easier to sell their goods to the British, who actually paid for stuff.  So the Continental Army went without, which made it more difficult to fight, which made British success more sure, which made Colonists fearful of supplying its Army, which…well, you see the vicious circle.  General Washington was within his right to simply take from the people what his men needed, but Fleming correctly asserts that “he was always aware that he was fighting a war for the civilian hearts and minds as well as for military victory.”  Washington used this power very sparingly and with much delicacy.

Against this backdrop, it’s probably easy to understand how Washington’s defeat in the Battle of Germantown was almost inevitable.  Philadelphia had fallen in late September (just days after Washington’s lament to Hamilton), and General Howe had divided his forces, leaving some to defend the captured city while moving a sizeable group (about 9,000 strong) north to Germantown.  General Washington saw his opponent’s division of forces as a chance to strike back.

Early in the morning of October 4, 1777, he divided his 11,000 men into 4 columns and prepared for battle.  But just as at Chadd’s Ford, foggy conditions created confusion among the Continentals, and 2 of the columns got lost.  In a couple of hours, the fighting was over.  The Continental Army retreated from the field suffering 152 killed, 521 wounded, and 400+ captured.  The British held their positions at the cost of 71 dead and 450 wounded.

Washington had shown pretty good battlefield tactics, and a victory here (coupled with the victory at Saratoga) may have caused the British the reconsider their stake in the Colonies.  But his men lacked the necessary training (and they certainly lacked the necessary support and equipment) to deliver a knockout blow at this point.  And what’s more, members of Congress now began to doubt that their military leader had the moxie to successfully engage the British.  Whispers of a replacement, one General Horatio Gates (hero of Saratoga), were now being heard.

The Continental Army would engage the British in minor skirmishes over the next two months, but the Battle of Germantown left General Washington’s men with little choice but to find a place close enough to keep tabs on the British, but far enough to keep a major engagement off the table.  That place?…Valley Forge.

Recommended Reading:  Washington’s Secret War

Read Full Post »

“I regret that I have but one life to live for my country.”

When I was in grade school, the extent of my knowledge about Nathan Hale was limited to just three things.  That he was captured by the British during the American Revolution, that he was hanged, and the words above were the last he spoke before the hangman’s noose did its deadly work.

I’m quite a bit older, and I still don’t know much about the man.  But I don’t think I’m the exception.  Nathan Hale died at just 21 years of age, and lived in a time when record-keeping was nothing like it is now.  So information is sparse, and what we have is sketchy.  There are no portraits of Hale, so we really don’t know what he looked like.  The statues formed in his honor?…they’re pretty much artist interpretations of what his appearance may have been.  His famous last words…the ones that made him famous that I learned at an early age?…people don’t actually know if he said them.

So what do we know?

Nathan Hale was a Captain in the Continental Army, and as the British worked to capture New York City in 1776, the 21-year-old volunteered to go behind British lines and spy on their movements.  That was early September.  And as we know, General Washington and the Continental Army were forced to leave and as they did, a fire broke out that burned a quarter of the city.

It was never determined if the fire was an act of nature, or an accident, or if it was deliberately set.  But the British believed that it was the work of rebel activity, and rounded up a couple hundred potential suspects.  One of them was Hale.

And apparently, it didn’t take them long to figure out he was a spy.  And if we recall the case of Major John André, the penalty for spying was death.  But unlike André, there was almost no delay in carrying out Hale’s sentence.  On September 22, 1776 (just one day after the fire and his arrest), Nathan Hale was hanged.

It’s pretty clear that the young man made some kind of statement before the deed was done.  And several accounts have him saying something at least close to the quote we all know.  But those may not be his exact words, however much they’ve been immortalized.  Still, Hale seems to have been a daring young man.  And he was certainly willing to risk the one life he could live in the service of his country.

So whether or not the statement is 100% correct, it is appropriate, because there are few deeds more noble than that.

Read Full Post »

The Battles of Lexington and Concord convinced a goodly number of Colonial doubters that war with the British Crown was inevitable.  Bluster and pontification, threat and proclamation…they were all one thing (I’m not sure that’s grammatically proper, but oh well).  Muskets and shot, bloodshed and death…well, that was altogether different.

But still, there were those Colonists who wanted to avoid going to war against a superpower.  They recognized that there were serious issues that needed to be resolved, but believed a peaceful solution was still possible.  On July 8, 1775, these men prevailed upon the remaining members of the Second Continental Congress to send the Olive Branch Petition to King George III.  In it, they addressed their grievances, but also maintained their loyalty to the Crown.

Of course, 18th-century communication was slow, so it took some time for the Olive Branch Petition to arrive in the King’s hands.  But it mattered little because King George had already received word of the incidents at Lexington and Concord.  And his men had intercepted correspondence (particularly from John Adams) advocating war.  The King refused to even open, much less read, the Olive Branch Petition.

On August 23, 1775, King George III issued his response: A Proclamation for Suppressing Rebellion and Sedition.  In it, the Colonies were declared to be in open rebellion against the Empire, and it gave officials permission “to use their utmost endeavours to withstand and suppress such rebellion.

And while the war of words would continue for a period of time, it was clear that words were no longer going to fix the tenuous situation.  The time for Revolution had truly arrived.

Recommended Reading: American Sphinx

Read Full Post »

It’s easy for us to think that when Lord Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown in October of 1781, the American Revolution ended.  But news didn’t travel very quickly in the 18th century, and even if it did, the British didn’t consider the conflict over.  Yorktown ended up being the last major conflict, but Britain actually stopped fighting (two years later, with the signing of the Treaty of Paris)  more for political reasons than because it felt like it had lost the war.

So while fighting largely ceased in the eastern part of the Colonies, it continued in the west as the British worked in conjunction with the various Indian tribes to fight the militias.  As the Colonists drifted westward, many of the native tribes were being pushed off their ancenstral homelands.  And they felt as though this was the last best chance to push the white man back east and reclaim lands they believed rightfully theirs.  The British used this situation to their advantage, arming the Indians and feeding both their desires and their fears.

It’s here that Simon Girty enters the stage.  A white man raised by the Indians, he had defected from the Colonists in 1778 to fight with the British.  And now, in 1782, a large contingent of natives gathered in Ohio and made ready to raid settlements in Kentucky.  In his biography of Daniel Boone, Robert Morgan writes that Girty fired up the various tribes with a bold speech.  Concluding, he said, “Brothers, the intruders on your lands exult in the success that has crowned their flagitious acts….Was there a voice in the trees of the forest, or articulate sounds in the gurgling waters, every part of this country would call on you to chase away these ruthless invaders, who are laying it waste.” If you’re interested in learning more about this man (who was one of the most hated men in America at the time), check out an excellent piece from Frances Hunter’s website…it’s well worth the read.

The British and Indian tribes swept south.  One of their destinations was Bryan Station, a fort and settlement in modern-day Lexington, Kentucky.  But the settlers got advanced warning of their approach and retreated to the protection of the fort.  In response, men from the surrounding area gathered at Boone’s Station and headed north, pursuing the Indians who had left the area.  Among them was Daniel Boone and his son Israel.

All along the path, Boone found signs of the enemy camps, and it worried him immensely.  The natives normally didn’t leave obvious clues to their whereabouts and travels.  Morgan writes, “Their campfires were left burning; their trail was plainly marked; and every indication showed that they desired a pursuit…”.  Daniel Boone smelled a trap.

On August 19, 1782, Boone and 180 other men (led by John Todd and Stephen Trigg) approached Blue Licks, an area of rising ground where the Licking River forms a U-shape as it meanders.  Boone was familiar with the territory and knew that beyond the river, there were ravines where the enemy would be waiting.  He urged caution and a delay for more reinforcements, but others jumped the gun and crossed the river.  The battle was about to be joined, and Boone could do little but go along.

It was a perfect trap as the 180 men reached the high ground, and there met a withering fire from Girty, the Indians, and the British, led by William Caldwell.  Things fell apart very quickly.  Both Colonels Todd and Trigg were shot down early in the battle, and only Boone’s group could make any advance, before retreating for fear of being flanked and surrounded.

Men were falling fast and Daniel Boone wanted to get his son out of the action.  Turning to look for a horse, he heard a thud behind him.  He wheeled around to see Israel fall with a bullet to the heart, his son dying almost instantly in front of him.  With the enemy bearing down, a grief-stricken father couldn’t even stop to grab his son’s body, but rather mounted the horse and made his escape.

The Battle of Blue Licks cost the Kentucky militia dearly, as 77 of the 182 men were killed.  The British counted fewer than a dozen killed.  And for Daniel Boone, the loss of his Israel was devastating.  Another son, Nathan, would later recount, “Father used to be deeply affected, even to tears, when he spoke of the Blue Licks defeat and the death of his son.”

Recommended Reading:  Daniel Boone – Morgan’s biography is upcoming on my list.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »