Tag Archives: AmRev

Fort Stanwix: The Key to the West

Ft. Stanwix

Located near what is today Rome, New York Ft. Stanwix at one time was one of the primary guardians of the frontier world. When the construction began on August 26, 1758, during the French and Indian War, it was designated to defend the Oneida Carrying Place. An important portage that could command traffic from the Atlantic seaboard to Lake Ontario. British General John Stanwix oversaw the construction of the fort which is done in a standard star design.

Conference

In 1768 the fort was the site of a treaty conference between the British and Iroquois. The purpose of the conference was to redraw the boundary lines between the white settlements and the Indian lands based on the Proclamation of 1763. The proclamation basically forbid British subjects from settling across the Appalachian Mountains. Thus giving the Indians control of the land. Both sides hoped that the conference would lead to an end to the frontier violence that was costing both sides lives. They also cost the British a lot of money to maintain a defense force in North America.

Of course, as with most treaties of the time, no one got everything they wanted. The Iroquois maintained their boundaries in the north, much to the chagrin of the white settlers. In return, the Iroquois ceded the better part of what would become Kentucky. There was just one problem, the tribes that actually lived in that area Shawnee, Delaware, and Cherokee were not represented at all in the negotiations! So, of course, this treaty just paved the way for the next round of frontier violence.

American Revolution

After the treaty was signed Ft. Stanwix was abandoned and fell into disrepair until American troops occupied it in July of 1776. Officially renamed Ft Schuyler, it was repaired and fortified. In August of 1777, it came under siege by the British. At the time British General Burgoyne was leading one arm of the British army on his ill-fated Hudson River campaign. General Barry St. Ledger led another arm against the Continentals at Ft. Stanwix.

On the day that the siege began the defenders of the fort raised the flag that was based on the designed approved by Congress. For the first time, the flag of the United States of America was flown in battle. The Americans held out, thanks to General Herkimer at the Battle of Oriskany, and double thanks to General Benedict Arnold. St. Ledger retreated to Canada and his defeat helped set the stage for Burgoyne’s surrender at Saratoga months later.

In May 1781 the fort burned down and was not rebuilt. During the War of 1812, a blockhouse was built on the site. Designated a National Monument in 1935 the fort was reconstructed between 1974 and 1978 and remains in place, run by the National Park Service and open year-round.

The Secret Origin of Uncle Sam

Uncle Sam

The Secret Origin of Uncle Sam

During the War of 1812 a New York meat packer named Samuel Wilson provided barrels of beef to the army. Stamped on the barrels were the initials U.S.  Soldiers, being soldiers, started calling the food “Uncle Sam’s”. A newspaper picked up on the phrase and eventually it became widely accepted to refer to the Federal Government as Uncle Sam.

The actual image of Uncle Sam evolved in the 1860’s to 70’s when famous political cartoonist Thomas Nast began featuring the character in his cartoons. He would eventually grant the character the long white beard and striped pants that became part of the icon. (Nast also was responsible for the modern depiction of Santa Claus and for deciding that the donkey would symbolize Democrats.)

WWI

During the WWI era artist James Montgomery Flagg updated the symbol with a top hat and blue coat. In his famous rendition the character pointed directly at the viewer. This image would become famous as the recruiting poster telling the viewer, “I Want You For The U.S. Army”.

In 1961 the US Congress officially recognized Samuel Wilson as the creator of the symbol. In 1989 President Bush even declared the September 5th would be Uncle Sam Day as already celebrated in Wilson’s hometown of Troy, New York.

Interestingly enough the original “personification” of America was the figure Columbia, a woman most often portrayed with arms held wide open.  The name most like was a play on Christopher Columbus’s “discovery” of America. Though eventually she would give way to Lady Liberty (before the statue) and Uncle Sam, Columbia is still around us today. Columbia University in New York, the capital of South Carolina is Columbia and even in Washington DC (District of Columbia).  Eventually Uncle Sam would surpass poor Columbia and become the personification of the country all across the globe.

Thanks to Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in Orlando for the picture and articles inspiration.

Why the red coat?

Why the red coat?

It has been said in some circles that the British Army used red coats for their uniforms as a way to hide blood should a soldier get shot. This could be important to the moral of a unit. It would be hard to see who was wounded and who was not. Such consideration is foolish and patently untrue. While the red may hide the blood, the gaping holes in the fabric would probably be a giveaway. Also, they wore white pants, which are not good for hiding the blood that would accompany most wounds. So the question is why red?

In the days before synthetic dyes made almost any color cheap and easy to produce, some colors were more difficult and expensive to dye into clothing than others. Red and purple were by far the most difficult. Which is why they were used to project a sense of power. Purple has long been associated with kings and red with the Catholic church, the two groups that could afford the most expensive dyes.

So cladding their army in coats of red was meant to project power onto the battlefield. A sense of status to the soldiers themselves. Yet it was very expensive so the British put a little twist on it. The red dye for the enlisted men’s uniforms came from madder, a plant that is actually in the coffee family whose roots will provide a reddish color. Still costly, but affordable to the army. The officers however needed a red that was a little brighter and would stand out from the enlisted men. Their uniforms were dyed with cochineal, which is an insect. Yep, their uniforms were dyed with dead bug shells.

 

 

Jefferson Indian Peace Medal

Jefferson Indian Peace Medal

Jefferson Indian Peace Medal

 

In the days before the American Revolution, the great European powers explored the wilds of North America. They presented the leaders of the various native tribes with silver medals. The medals were symbols of friendship. They also singled out the leaders as special people. They were effective tools that tied the leadership of various tribes to the major powers.

In the wake of the Revolution, it was decided that the United States of America would continue the tradition. Thomas Jefferson, the first Secretary of State, saw the medals as just trinkets that were the continuation of a long-standing European tradition to give small presents to treaty negotiators, one that was harmless and really had no meaning. Sort of like when you stop at a truck stop and buy a spoon with the name of whatever state you are visiting.

When Jefferson, as President, sent Lewis and Clark on their great adventure to the Pacific Ocean they were loaded down with these medals in 1804 through 1806. Along the way, as they handed out the medal to the various tribes they encouraged their “new friends” to send back or turn in any such trinkets they had received previously from other Europeans. There is no record to indicate how many were returned. Odds are not many.

The medal above is one of these medals. The original medals were made of thin silver plates connected with a small silver band. On the front, President Jefferson, the back the crossed tomahawks and clasped hands indicating peace and friendship. Each successive President would strike their own medallions. Whether or not they worked in promoting friendship… well that may be another story.

 

The First Congressional Medal

The First Congressional Medal

So, you think that Congress is slow to act now?

The medal above was commissioned by Congress in 1776 to honor General George Washington for his role in forcing the British to abandon the besieged city of Boston.

A gold one was to be struck and given to General Washington.  Silver ones would be struck and given to dignitaries and VIPs.

The front of the coin, which should look a little familiar is based on the bust of Washington Jean-Antoine Houdon. The back side showed a scene of Washington and four of his men on Dorchester Heights overlooking Boston.

Over the next twelve years, Congress would authorize six additional medals. In 1777 they honored General Horatio Gates and 1779 General Anthony Wayne. Major Henry Lee, General’s Morgan and Greene would follow over the next couple of years and the last of the era went to John Paul Jones for his capture of the Serapis.

So about the delay. Congress approved each of these medals in a quick form, but it turned out that there was nowhere in the colonies that could actually produce the medals. So they looked to France to produce the awards. And they took their time.

On March 21, 1790, President Thomas Jefferson presented former President Washington with his medal. Also as a box containing the other five medals commissioned fourteen years after they were ordered. If only they had Amazon!

Over the years the Congressional gold medals would be given to prominent military men. Later recipients would expand to include actors, artists, musicians and other entertainers.

 

 

The Lilies of Yorktown

The Lilies of Yorktown

The Lilies of Yorktown

In October 1781 British General Cornwallis found himself, along with his army, under siege in the small Virginia town of Yorktown. The French and American armies took their final positions and the battle began in earnest. The American Revolution was about to enter into its final phase.

The French played an integral part in the war on the side of the Americans. Without their navy, there would have been no chance for the US to gain any ground against the mighty British Navy. Without their army, their professional and well-armed army things may have turned out different. At Yorktown, it was French siege guns and artillerymen that bore the brunt of the siege operations.

As the siege went on, both sides knew the end was coming. On the far end of the British lines were two redoubts, fortifications, that had housed British artillery at one time. To complete the siege the redoubts had to be taken. Called #9 and #10 the French and American forces prepared for the final investment. The Americans, led by a young Alexander Hamilton would take #10. The French would take #9 sending 400 men against the 120 defenders.

The French would carry their redoubt with a loss of fifteen men killed and seventy-seven wounded. Almost a quarter of their force. With both redoubts taken the circle around the British tightened and several days later they surrendered.

Today in redoubt #9, as pictured in the photo above, lilies grow bright and strong. Some people say that since the lily is the symbol of France it must have been the blood of the French soldiers that caused the lilies to spring up there in the redoubt. Hard to say if that is true or not, but there they are on the French redoubt paying tribute to our friends and allies.

 

 

The Journal of Major Washington

The Journal of Major Washington

The Journal of Major Washington

 

In 1753 the Governor of Virginia, Robert Dinwiddie, sent Major George Washington (then only 21) into the Western reaches of the Colony to warn the encroaching French that they were trespassing on land that was claimed by Virginia for England. The land in question would eventually become Ohio.

Washington and his small expedition were to deliver an ultimatum to the French garrison at Fort Le Boeuf. Not far from Lake Erie. He was received by the French commander who told Washington that he would forward the request to his superiors in Quebec. In the meantime, they were going nowhere.

When the expedition kicked off Washington was sure to take experienced woodsmen, explorers, and interpreters with him. He was about to get his first taste of the true frontier. On his tour, he dealt with rain and snow, visited a number of French forts and even some native villages. Putting his skills as a surveyor to the test he even created one of the first maps of the Ohio River Valley. Realizing that he was not going to get the answer he was looking for Washington headed home.

As soon as he returned to Williamsburg Washington wrote out the official report of his trip and handed it over to Governor Dinwiddie who immediately saw it as a tool to warn people about the encroaching French menace. Dinwiddie had the journal published in book form and in broadsides and excerpts even showed up in newspapers in the colonies and back in England. Overnight Major George Washington became a name well-known at home and in the social circles in London.

The picture above is of one of the original copies of the published journal.

Side note

Dinwiddie would send Washington back to the Ohio River Valley on a second expedition to parley with the French. This one did not go as well. George Washington may have accidentally started a world war. One that would end with the British American colonies on a slippery slope to revolution. Too bad he didn’t keep a journal of THAT adventure!

The Ferguson Rifle

 

Ferguson Rifle
The lock mechanism of a Ferguson Rifle.

The Ferguson Rifle

It was expensive and hard to produce. Four gunsmiths would struggle to make 100 in six months. It cost four times what the standard musket would cost. What it was though was one of the first breech-loading rifles and it very well could have changed the face of the American Revolution.

A turn of the trigger guard would cause the breech plug to drop down, a standard British .615 caliber lead ball would be put into the barrel followed by the patch and powder. It could be loaded from a prone position, behind cover and loaded faster than a standard Brown Bess musket.

The rifle was designed by Patrick Ferguson a British officer who worked based on an earlier 1720 French design. After making improvements in the mechanism he was awarded the patent in 1776. At the start of the revolution, Ferguson gained permission to outfit 100 men in an “experimental rifle corp” to field test the weapons. At the Battle of Brandywine, the rifle served well but Ferguson himself was wounded. During his recuperation, the unit was disbanded and the rifle was used only sparingly. The cost of production proved too much and the rifle was mothballed.

The Myth

Ferguson would eventually meet his end later in the war at King’s Mountain. One account of his unit at Brandywine would live on well past him. Just before he was wounded in the battle he observed a group of American officers enter a small glade. He and some of his men had taken cover at the edge. From the uniforms, he could tell that these were high-ranking men. He raised his self-named rifle placing the sites on the man in the lead. At that moment the group turned around, oblivious to the dangers lurking at the wood line. Ferguson decided to not take the shot as shooting the man in the back would not be honorable. The group of officers made it back unscathed and Ferguson would later catch a ball in his elbow and be put out of action.

Based on accounts on the day of the battle it is very probable that the man who had been in the sites of Ferguson’s rifle was General George Washington himself. Later upon hearing that it may have been, Washington Ferguson said that he did not regret his decision. A case of honor over expediency.

 

The Raleigh Tavern at Williamsburg

The Raleigh

The Raleigh Tavern

Nestled in the middle of the Duke of Gloucester Street in Colonial Williamsburg stands the Raleigh Tavern. Or at least a close facsimile. The original burned down in 1859 and the lot was built over. In 1926 the forerunner to Colonial Williamsburg began excavation on the site and uncovered the original foundation. The building was restored and opened in 1932 and became the first exhibition building at Williamsburg. It stands today. You can eat lunch and dinner there and take part in reenactments of the history that happened here.

What makes this building so special?

Ground was broken for the tavern around 1717, named of course, for Sir Walter Raleigh. One of the first to try to build a colony in Virginia. The tavern became the social center of the town. It became a favorite place for the delegates to the colonial assembly to meet after sessions. In a lot of ways, these “after session” meetings became the breeding ground of the revolutionary movement.

In 1769 the  Governor dissolved the House of Burgess because they passed a non-importation agreement. This was in response to the Townsend Acts. It was here at the Raleigh that the men met. Here they formed an association that carried out the first boycott in the colonies against the British.

In 1773 in a private room Richard Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and other prominent men meet and created the first of the Committees of Correspondence. This committee traded news and happenings with leaders in other colonies and would become the primary means of organizing colonial resistance to the Crown’s rule.

The next year when Governor Dunmore closed the legislature for objecting to Parliament closing the Port of Boston in reaction to the Boston Tea Party, the delegates meet here again to draft another non-importation agreement.

The Raleigh Tavern became the center point of the revolution in Virginia.  It is very fitting that it became one of the first buildings restored at Williamsburg. If you ever are in the area stop by Colonial Williamsburg and The Raleigh Tavern, a place that earned a spot in history.

 

Firearms in Colonial America

Firearms in Colonial America

Firearms in Colonial America

Yep, firearms of all kinds were very prevalent in Colonial America. As might be expected in a far distant land with thousands of miles of frontier bordering it. The following are a few interesting details that were found in the William and Mary Law Review Volume 43 No. 5,2002 Counting Guns in Early America by James Lindergren and Justin L, Heather

The information that is listed below comes from probate records from the various colonies where full inventories of personal belongings were made and kept. So the numbers are dependent on estates going through the probate process, which was not always the case. Interesting, but not conclusive.

In inventories from 1774 firearms were found listed in the 53% of male estates.

At the same time, female estates showed that approximately 38% of women-owned some sort of firearm.

From the same inventories, only 30% of estates showed any cash in the inventory.

14% owned some sort of edged weapon.

25% had bibles listed, and 62% listed any book at all in their inventory.

Approximately 10% of all inventoried firearms were listed as either broken or outdated.

The information provided states at least one firearm is listed. It would not be a stretch that most people that had one, more than likely had more than one.

For comparison in a recent ongoing study, as of 2015 approximately 41% of US households owned at least one gun.

Counterpoint

For the counterpoint. The article that this information came from was written to dispute the findings of Michael Bellesiles who in 2000 wrote Arming America: The Origins of the National Gun Culture. In that book, he contends that firearms in Colonial America were few and far between. Often with the colonial militias needing to confiscate guns to arm their ranks. A review of that book can be found here at The New York Times website.

If you feel like digging into the question, you can get a copy of Bellesiles book here with its stellar 1.5-star review average. This may be a case of reading the book, and the article and see if you can help answer the question about how prevalent firearms were in Colonial America.