Tag Archives: AmRev

Sea to Shining Sea…Eventually

Sea to Shining Sea…Eventually

The photo above is of a map from 1755 that shows the extent of the British holdings in North America. And yes, if you look close you will see that many of the colonies stretched well beyond what is their western border today. Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia do not stretch all the way to the Pacific ocean, but for a time they did. Most of the original colonial charters didn’t set a fixed western boundary for the colonies

Do you mean to tell me that you never heard of the Pennamite–Yankee Wars? Three times between 1769 and 1784 men from Pennsylvania and Connecticut faced off in the Wyoming Valley near the north branch of the Susquehanna River because each claimed it as their own. (Eventually, it ended up with Pennsylvania.)

Or in the early 1700’s when New York and Connecticut nearly came to blows over their border? Or Connecticut and Rhode Island (Which flared up in 2003)? Don’t think that Massachusetts avoided conflict with them either. Come to think of it Connecticut, for being such a small colony, sure did like to scrap.

The map above was compiled by John Mitchell. He was commissioned by the British Board of Trade to put together a comprehensive map of all their holdings in North America. He was given access to every existing map and chart as well as journals and colonial charters. From that, he put together the map above.

When finished it was found to place a large amount of territory into a dispute with France. This fact was used as a propaganda tool to help incite the French and Indian War.

When the American Revolution ended it was this map that the main parties used to work out the borders for the new United States of America.

 

Surrender at Yorktown

Surrender at Yorktown

On October 19, 1781, the Sige fo Yorktown finally came to an end. American and French forces accepted the full surrender of the British army. The war would go on for several more years, but the British defeat at Yorktown was the last full battle of the American Revolution.

The actual surrender was completed on paper in fourteen articles of capitulation that were agreed upon by the commanders. The document above was believed to have been printed on a French ship in the bay and was one of several copies used to first spread the word of the surrender. It is original and dates to 1781.

The Fourteen Articles

 

  • Article 1
    • British and German soldiers and sailors in York and Gloucester were to surrender themselves as prisoners.
  • Article 2
    • Artillery, arms, stores and military chest (money) were to be turned over.
  • Article 3
    • Two redoubts on the left flank were to be handed over to the American/French forces.
  • Article 4
    • Officer may keep their sides arms and personal belongings.
  • Article 5
    • The soldiers while prisoners were to be afforded the same rations as American soldiers. They would be allowed to receive additional supplies as provided by their officers or other parties.
  • Article 6
    • Some of the men not counted above may be paroled to Europe for the remainder of the war.
  • Article 7
    • Officers will be allowed to maintain soldiers as servants.
  • Article 8
    • A ship was to be provided so that Cornwallis could communicate with his commander, General Clinton, in New York.
  • Article 9
    • Traders that were captured with the British Army were no to be treated as prisoners and were allowed to dispose of their goods.
  • Article 10
    • Natives or inhabitants of other parts of the country are not to be punished for providing service to the British.  (This one became tricky.)
  • Article 11
    • Proper hospitals should be provided.
  • Article 12
    • Wagons should be furnished for transport.
  • Article 13
    • Shipping and boats captured in the harbor will be turned over to American naval officers.
  • Article 14
    • No article is to be infringed on based on reprisals.

For more details on the articles click here.

Continental Pensions

Continental Pensions

Continental Pensions

The gentleman in the picture above is one of the wonderful staff at Colonial Williamsburg. I did not catch his name but the “character” he played had an interesting evolution. He played his character at different points in time. Starting from when the trouble with Britain was beginning all the way to the end of the war. In this picture was a  Continental soldier after the war trying to figure out was next for himself. Many like him thought they would have some sort of pension to lean on, here is part of that story.

First Pension Act

Pensions and land grants were two methods used to entice young men to join the Continental Army. As early as 1776 Congress passed the first of the pension laws which promised half-pay for a period of time to anyone that served in The Continental Army. With the caveat that the only men eligible were those that lost a limb or that were rendered unable to earn a living after the war. So a start.

Amendment #1

In 1778 General Washington convinced Congress to amend that to include half-pay for 7 years to all officers that remained in the service until the end of the war. Enlisted men who stayed would be eligible for an $80 annuity after the war.

Amendment #2

In 1780 Congress amended the act again to provide the half-pay for 7 years to the orphans and widows of Continental officers who died in service.

Amendment #3

Later in 1780, it was amended again, once more at the insistence of Washington, to give officers half-pay for life.

Amendment #4

After the near revolt of the officer corps at Newburgh, NY in March 1783, a new pension act was passed giving the officers full pay for 5 years payable in hard money or interest-bearing annuities. Officers could choose which they wanted

Amendment #5-10

The pension laws would be changed another six times over the years. In 1828 Congress provided for full pay to surviving officers and enlisted men without any further requirement of disability or financial need. In 1832 they extended further, full pay for life for all officers and enlisted men who served at least 2 years in the Continental Line, the state troops or militia, the navy or marines. Men who served less than 2 years but at least 6 months were granted pensions of less than full pay.

100 Years and Still Tweaking

Fifty-six years after the start of the war everyone who fought was now eligible for a pension. The final actual pension legislation regarding the American Revolution was passed in 1878. This last one extended lifetime benefits to any widow whose husband served at least 14 days or participated in any engagement during the war.

The sad part is that many of the men and widows were never able to actually collect their pensions. That is a story for another time though.

The Revolution Overseas

The Revolution Overseas

The Revolution Overseas

 

The newspaper above is dated April 3, 1781, and is a copy of the Edinburgh Advertiser. In the paper is an account of the Battle of Cowpens where American General Daniel Morgan defeated the British army. Well, at least it should, but you see the article is very non-committal to the actual facts and calls into question Morgan’s so-called “victory”. With Scotland being a part of British Empire that kind of reporting is not that huge of a surprise. As the events in America reached other nations in Europe their reactions were wide and varied.

In Poland, there was a single newspaper and it leaned heavily pro-American. They used the “American” version of events and called out the British for their “brutality”. They also took the time to publish all the rebels manifestos and introduced their radical ideas to their own people.

Russia had two newspapers at the time, one run by the University of Moscow, the other the Russian Academy of sciences.  They both took a more balanced approach to the war and didn’t take sides.

In Swede,n the Revolution was used to extract reforms from the regime of Gustav III.

Switzerland came out as very pro-British.

In the Italian province,s there was a strong pro-American bias but many of the newspapers leaned pro-British.

Spain favored the Americans out of self-interest. Their hope was an American victory in the war would allow them to take a greater share of the Atlantic that used to be their pond. This feeling eventually led them to join the war on the American side.

And most interesting was Portugal. A long time British ally that took the extraordinary step of suggesting to the Crown that the Americans should have their own parliament.

One thing was for sure, the world saw the struggle in America through many various lenses but they all awaited the results with bated breath.

Monmouth Flag

Monmouth Flag

Monmouth Flag

In April 1775 when the American Revolution became an armed conflict the people of America were torn. For the most part, the conflict was not against the King or the Empire, but against Parliment. They saw themselves mostly still as loyal subjects and Englishmen.

In August of that year that the King issued A Proclamation for Suppressing Rebellion and Sedition. He formally declared the colonies in rebellion. The people in America who thought the king may be an ally, now realized he was NOT on their side. From there the true independence movement began to grow.

Many of the early flags of the rebellious colonies show the mixed emotions of the time. Feeling like they were still British, the Union Jack showed prominently in the corner of the flags. The solid colored field varied from colony to colony.

It was not until The Continental Congress passed the Flag Resolution on June 14, 1777, that the now familiar United States flag began to make an appearance. Thirteen white stars on a blue field, red and white stripes alternating. The idea of still being British was cast off as the new nation struggled for independence. A new flag symbolized a new destiny.

The flag in the picture above is one of the earliest surviving flags. It has been dated back to 1775-76 and was passed down through the hands of a Pennsylvania family. Reportedly it was flown in combat at the Battle of Monmouth in 1778. From that, it has taken the name of the “Monmouth Flag.”

The Power Of The Press

The Power Of The Press

The Power Of The Press

As part of the celebration of the Bicentennial (America’s 200th Birthday) President Gerald Ford was presented with a printing press that had been built in France in 1785. The gift was to point out how the printing press in our struggle for independence. The power of the press accomplished more than any battle ever could have.

Americans in the Eighteenth Century were among the most literate people in the world. Newspapers were numerous and political pamphlets and broadsides were as common as blogs are today. This enabled people in Georgia to read about the events in Boston in the words of people who witnessed events. This chain of paper bound the colonies together.

PR Outreach

Pamphlets formed the spine of the resistance. Some of the most important ones in the years prior to 1775 are:

  • John Dickinson, Letters of a Farmer in Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, 1768)
  • James Warren, Oration to Commemorate the Bloody Tragedy of the Fifth of March, 1770 (Boston, 1772)
  • Thomas Jefferson, A Summary View of the Rights of British Americans (Williamsburg, 1774)

The opposition also generated a ton of paper to get their views out to as many people as possible. Some of their most notable are:

  • Samuel Seabury, The Congress Canvassed (New York, 1774)
  • Thomas B. Chandler, A Friendly Address to All Reasonable Americans(New York, 1774)
  • Daniel Leonard, Origin of the American Contest . . . by Massachusettensis (Boston, 1775)

As for newspapers, well there were many on both sides that spoke for the Patriots and the Loyalists, each a propaganda arm of the various movements. The best look at newspapers during the Revolution comes in the collection Reporting the Revolutionary War by Todd Andrlink. In that collection, he gathers many of the surviving newspaper articles. Worth a read. You can catch an interview with him about the book here.

The printing press was a very apt present for the country. It serves as a reminder that the power of the press is an awesome power that should be wielded responsibly, now more than ever.

 

Keep Your Powder Dry

Keep Your Gunpowder Dry

Keep Your Gunpowder Dry

 

Gunpowder changed the way that lives were lived and wars were fought, no one can deny that. From guns to bombs, to fireworks, to any number of uses.  It gives a great amount of bang for the buck (pun intended). The only problem is that once it gets wet, it quits banging. So for ages people have been coming up with ways to keep their powder dry. The most popular was the good old-fashioned cow horn. It was waterproof and easily obtainable, just eat a cow and usually you get two!

During the French & Indian War, American and British forces took the old-fashioned powder horn to new heights by engraving them with military themes. The smooth surfaces were perfect for engraving and anyone that has been to war knows the old adage, “hurry up and wait.” So the men had plenty of time to be creative.

The powder horn above was a custom job that was carved for a veteran of the 1758 siege of Louisbourg (Nova Scotia, yeah, we invaded Nova Scotia once). The horn contains a map of the city showing where each artillery battery was located, shows ships in the harbor firing on the city, a hunter with his dog, and a light infantryman firing his weapon at Native Americans. (It was a different time!)

In the center of the horn is a distinctively carved tree. This style of the tree was like a signature for the artist. Unfortunately, he remains unidentified, but his work has been seen several times.

 

Purple Heart

 

Purple Heart

Purple Heart

 

On August 7th, 1782 from his headquarters in New York General George Washington established the Badge of Military Merit, the precursor to the Purple Heart you see above. In his official order creating the award he wrote that “the road to glory in a patriot army and a free country is…open to all.” For what is believed to be the first time a military service award could be given to an enlisted man instead of just officers which was the European tradition.

Three soldiers of the Revolution were awarded the Badge of Military Merit and hold the distinction of being presented with the award by General Washington personally.

  • William Brown, Sergeant of the 5th Connecticut Regiment of the Connecticut Line
  • Elijah Churchill, Sergeant of the 2nd Regiment Light Dragoons
  • Daniel Bissell. Sergeant of the 2nd Connecticut Regiment of the Connecticut Line

After the war, the award was almost forgotten and fell into disuse, but never officially decommissioned. After WWI an attempt was made by the Army to revive it, but the attempt faltered until 1931. That year General Douglas MacArthur, the Army Chief of Staff, moved ahead with the process and a total redesign.

Unveiled on the bicentennial of Washington’s birth. The new design features a heart-shaped medallion that features the bust of General Washington, hanging on the purple ribbon.

Originally the award was given for those wounded in combat as well as those who performed meritorious achievement. Eventually, with the commissioning of the Legion of Merit, the Purple Heart was reserved exclusively for the wounded. The first recipient of the Purple Heart? General Douglas MacArthur himself!

For more information on the award, please visit http://www.thepurpleheart.com/history/

Counting on the Continental Currency

Counting on the Continental Currency

Counting on the Continental Currency

On June 22, 1775, the Continental Congress issued the first Continental currency in the form of $2 million in bills of credit. At the time paper money was almost a rarity as most people preferred hard currency. Actual coins made of silver and gold. Unfortunately, there was not enough of the hard specie, as it was called, in the colonies to pay for the war.

The paper money was backed only by the promise of future tax revenues and fluctuated badly from the start. The value rising and falling based on the performance of the Continental Army against the British. It did not take long for the up and down to become simply a down as rampant inflation, lack of faith in the currency and the British penchant for counterfeiting (Read more about that here! Or in the hardcover annual here.) made the paper not even worth the paper it was printed on.

By 1781 the exchange rate was $225 to $1. ($225 in Continental currency for $1 of hard specie.) This was at a time when the average Continental Army private made $5 a month in Continental scrip. If they were paid at all. Most men had received little if any pay since 1778.

Value

Joseph Plumb Martin, a soldier from Connecticut, relays in his memoirs a story where to earn a little extra (having not been paid in many months) he assisted in a roundup of runaway slaves that had fled to the service of British after the siege at Yorktown in 1781 had ended. “… the fortune I acquired was small, only one dollar; I received what was then called its equivalent, in paper money, if money it might be called, it amounted to twelve hundred (nominal) dollars, all of which I afterwards paid for one single quart of rum; to such a miserable state had all paper stuff, called-money- depreciated.”

Twelve hundred dollars for a quart of rum, and we thought prices were high today. The struggle to pay for the war is an epic tale for another time. It almost came to pass that counting on currency was almost a disaster.

Another Side of General Washington

General Washington

Another Side of General Washington

Hanging in the visitor center at Colonial Williamsburg is this 1799 portrait of General Washington that was pained by Charles Willson Peale. This painting is breathtaking in person and truly presents the General as a figure larger than life.

One of the most amazing things about Washington was how down to earth he was. Even during the Revolution, his legend was well on the way to mythic proportion. There were times when his words alone spurred his men to fight. His promises were enough to keep the army together. Even when there was no food, no pay, and no prospect of victory.

The time though that he proved the most worthy of being a myth and legend was the time when he showed his officers how human he was.

Newburgh

The British were defeated at Yorktown, but the war would continue for several more years and the Continental Army had to stay in the field. Many officers and soldiers had not been paid for six years and dissatisfaction was mounting. In January 1783 a group of officers asked Congress to consider the back wages it owed the army. Congress refused. Tensions between the army and Congress worsened to the point that calls came to march on the Congress and collect the payments by force.

In Newburgh, NY, the officers gathered to plan the coup. Faced with the disgruntled offers and a recalcitrant Congress, George Washington called his officers to a meeting. He explained that Congress was doing what they could, he promised to do everything possible to have the issues resolved. Washington was loved and admired by his men but not even he could divert them from the course they were on, mutiny seemed inevitable.

Sensing he was losing the room, Washington started reading a letter from a Congressman that supported the officers. A few words in Washington had to pause and put on a pair of reading glasses to continue. Apologizing for the delay Washington said, “I have already grown gray in the service of my country. I am now going blind.” The officers saw the personal sacrifice of their commander. This one simple remark reached into the hearts and minds of the assembled men and placed their struggle into perspective. Instead of preparing for a military coup, the men asked Washington to do all he could and the war continued.

A gesture, as simple as putting a pair of glasses, saved the Revolution from becoming a dictatorship. If not for that one personal, and embarrassing moment for Washington, who knows how the story would have ended.