Declaration of Independence signer Benjamin Harrison dies

Declaration of Independence signer Benjamin Harrison dies

 

On this day in history, April 24, 1791, Declaration of Independence signer Benjamin Harrison dies. Harrison was from a politically prominent family of planters from Charles City County, Virginia. His family dated back to the earliest English settlement of Virginia. He was related by blood or marriage to several  other Revolutionary War heroes, including Martha Washington, Thomas Nelson and Peyton Randolph, and was a business partner of Robert Morris, who was known as the "Financier of the Revolution."

 

Harrison attended William and Mary College, but never graduated. At the age of 19, his father and two sisters were killed in a freak lightning strike and Benjamin left school to take over his father’s business at Berkeley Plantation, which also included a ship building business and breeding horses.

 

Harrison was first elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1749 and he served there for the next 25 years. He was elected to the First Continental Congress when the Revolution broke out and shared rooms in Philadelphia with his friend, George Washington. Harrison’s jovial personality had a way of reducing tension and he was thus often chosen to serve as the "Chairman of the Whole" in Congress, meaning he would guide the debates about tough topics.

 

Harrison served in this position during debates about the Articles of Association, which was Congress’ boycott of British goods, during the debate about whether or not to declare a declaration of independence from Great Britain and during the discussions on the actual language of the Declaration of Independence itself. Harrison was one of Virginia’s seven signers of the Declaration.

 

Harrison served on several important committees in Congress and helped create the Board of War, the Navy and the Committee of Secret Correspondence. He also served simultaneously as a lieutenant in the militia of his home county and as a judge. In 1781, Harrison and his family were forced to flee when the traitor Benedict Arnold, now working for the British, invaded Virginia near Harrison’s Berkeley Plantation. Arnold pillaged Berkeley and burned many of the family’s valuables, including family portraits, the reason why no contemporary portrait of Harrison exists except for a small miniature carried by one of the family members.

 

After the war, Harrison continued in the Virginia Assembly and as governor from 1781 to 1784. He also served in the Virginia Constitutional Ratification Convention where he was a strong advocate for the inclusion of a Bill of Rights.

 

Perhaps Benjamin Harrison’s greatest legacy was his progeny. His son William Henry Harrison would famously defeat the Shawnee leader Tecumseh at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811, become a general in the War of 1812 and be elected the 9th President of the United States. In addition, William Henry’s grandson and Benjamin Harrison’s great-grandson, also Benjamin Harrison, would be a Civil War Union general and would be elected the 23rd President of the United States.

 

http://www.revolutionary-war-and-beyond.com

 

Jack Manning

Historian General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org  

 

"I am commonly opposed to those who modestly assume the rank of champions of liberty, and make a very patriotic noise about the people." —Fisher Ames (1789)

John Paul Jones Burns Whitehaven, England

John Paul Jones Burns Whitehaven, England

 

At 8 a.m. on April 23, 1778, John Paul Jones, with 30 volunteers from his ship, the USS Ranger, launches a surprise attack on the two harbor forts at Whitehaven, England. Jones’ boat successfully took the southern fort, but a second boat, assigned to attack to the northern fort, returned to the Ranger without having done so, claiming to have been scared off by a strange noise. To compensate, Jones decided to burn the southern fort; the blaze ultimately consumed the entire town. It was the only American raid on English shores during the American Revolution.

 

Later the same day, Jones continued from Whitehaven, where he began his sailing career, to his home territory of Kirkcudbright Bay, Scotland. There he intended to abduct the earl of Selkirk, and then exchange him for American sailors held captive by Britain. Although he did not find the earl at home, Jones’ crew was able to steal all his silver, including his wife’s teapot, still containing her breakfast tea. From Scotland, Jones sailed across the Irish Sea to Carrickfergus, where the Ranger captured the HMS Drake after delivering fatal wounds to the British ship’s captain and lieutenant.

 

In September 1779, Jones fought one of the fiercest battles in naval history when he led the USS Bonhomme Richard frigate, named for Benjamin Franklin, in an engagement with the 50-gun British warship HMS Serapis. The USS Bonhomme Richard was struck; it began taking on water and caught fire. When the British captain of the Serapis ordered Jones to surrender, Jones famously replied, “I have not yet begun to fight!” A few hours later, the British captain and crew of the Serapis admitted defeat and Jones took command of their ship.

 

http://www.history.com

 

Jack Manning

Historian General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org  

 

"A nation without its history is like a person without their memory…"

Arthur Schlesinger

 

 

John Paul Jones Leads American Raid on Whitehaven, England

John Paul Jones Leads American Raid on Whitehaven, England

 

At 11 p.m. on April 22, 1778, Commander John Paul Jones leads a small detachment of two boats from his ship, the USS Ranger, to raid the shallow port at Whitehaven, England, where, by his own account, 400 British merchant ships are anchored. Jones was hoping to reach the port at midnight, when ebb tide would leave the shops at their most vulnerable.

 

Jones and his 30 volunteers had greater difficulty than anticipated rowing to the port, which was protected by two forts. They did not arrive until dawn. Jones’ boat successfully took the southern fort, disabling its cannon, but the other boat returned without attempting an attack on the northern fort, after the sailors claimed to have been frightened away by a noise. To compensate, Jones set fire to the southern fort, which subsequently engulfed the entire town.

 

Commander Jones, one of the most daring and successful naval commanders of the American Revolution, was born in Scotland on July 6, 1747. He was apprenticed to a merchant at the age of 13 and soon went to sea from Whitehaven, the very port he returned to attack on this day in 1778. In Virginia at the onset of the revolution, Jones sided with the Patriots and received a commission as a first lieutenant in the Continental Navy on December 7, 1775.

 

After the raid on Whitehaven, Jones continued to his home territory of Kirkcudbright Bay, where he intended to abduct the earl of Selkirk, then exchange him for American sailors held captive by Britain. Although he did not find the earl at home, Jones’ crew was able to steal all his silver, including his wife’s teapot, still containing her breakfast tea. From Scotland, Jones sailed across the Irish Sea to Carrickfergus, where the Ranger captured the HMS Drake after delivering fatal wounds to the British ship’s captain and lieutenant.

 

In September 1779, Jones fought one of the fiercest battles in naval history when he led the USS Bonhomme Richard frigate, named for Benjamin Franklin, in an engagement with the 50-gun British warship HMS Serapis. The USS Bonhomme Richard was struck; it began taking on water and caught fire. When the British captain of the Serapis ordered Jones to surrender, Jones famously replied, I have not yet begun to fight! A few hours later, the captain and crew of the Serapis admitted defeat and Jones took command of the British ship.

 

Jones went on to establish himself as one of the great naval commanders in history; he is remembered, along with John Barry, as a Father of the American Navy. He is buried in a crypt in the U.S. Naval Academy Chapel at Annapolis, Maryland, where a Marine honor guard stands at attention in his honor whenever the crypt is open to the public.

 

http://www.history.com

 

Jack Manning

Historian General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org  

 

"Excessive taxation … will carry reason and reflection to every man’s door, and particularly in the hour of election." —Thomas Jefferson (1798)

British Attack Danbury Connecticut

British Attack Danbury Connecticut

 

On April 21, 1777, British troops under the command of General William Tryon attack the town of Danbury, Connecticut, and begin destroying everything in sight. Facing little, if any, opposition from Patriot forces, the British went on a rampage, setting fire to homes, farmhouse, storehouses and more than 1,500 tents.

 

The British destruction continued for nearly a week before word of it reached Continental Army leaders, including General Benedict Arnold, who was stationed in nearby New Haven. Along with General David Wooster and General Gold Silliman, Arnold led a contingent of more than 500 American troops in a surprise attack on the British forces as they began withdrawing from Danbury.

 

Although they prevented the complete destruction of Danbury, the outnumbered American troops were unable to stop the British retreat. The British continued marching through Ridgefield and Compo Hill, Connecticut, en route to their ships anchored at Long Island Sound.

 

General Wooster was hit by a musket ball during the action; he died from his injuries May 2. General Arnold survived and notoriously became a traitor to his nation, plotting to turn over West Point and with it the Hudson River to the British in 1780. General Gold Silliman also survived, but two years later was kidnapped from his home and imprisoned by a gang of local Loyalists.

 

Silliman’s wife, Mary Silliman, kept a detailed diary of her experiences during the American Revolution. Accounts of her life in The Way of Duty by Richard and Joy Day Buel and the subsequent documentary, Mary Silliman’s War, reveal the internecine nature of the revolution in Connecticut–General Gold Silliman’s own Loyalist neighbors, not British Redcoats or foreign mercenaries, kidnapped him. Mary Silliman’s diary also demonstrates the ways in which the war affected all colonists, including non-combatants, pregnant mothers and farm wives like Mary. On her own, Mary Silliman managed to run her family farm, flee attack from the British army and negotiate her husband’s release from his Loyalist captors. She also nursed her own midwife and neighbor, after the woman was raped by Redcoats for refusing to relinquish her house to their control.

 

http://www.history.com

 

Jack Manning

Historian General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org  

 

"[A] good moral character is the first essential in a man, and that the habits contracted at your age are generally indelible, and your conduct here may stamp your character through life. It is therefore highly important that you should endeavor not only to be learned but virtuous." —George Washington (1790)

Tensions in Virginia lead to the Gunpowder Incident

Tensions in Virginia lead to the Gunpowder Incident

 

On this day in history, April 20, 1775, tensions in Virginia lead to the Gunpowder Incident in Williamsburg, Virginia, when Governor John Murray confiscates the colonists’ gunpowder. Tensions with England had been increasing for several years, but when Boston was occupied, her port shut down and the Massachusetts Assembly disbanded in 1774, the colonists rose up in one accord to resist Parliament.

 

In September, 1774, the First Continental Congress brought representatives from twelve colonies together to form a joint response, one of which was to recommend that all the colonies organize their militias and store up arms and ammunition in case of war. As the Congress met, Royal Governor of Massachusetts, General Thomas Gage, confiscated the colonials’ supply of gunpowder in Charlestown, in an incident called the Powder Alarm, which brought militia from all over New England to march toward Boston. When it was learned there had been no bloodshed, however, the incident died down.

 

Virginians organized their military companies and stored up ammunition as well, much of it in the public powder magazine in the capital, Williamsburg. Meanwhile, Lord Dartmouth, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, suggested that the governors of all the colonies should take action to prevent these growing supplies from being used against royal officers.

 

The incident that pushed Governor Murray to action may have been Patrick Henry’s "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death" speech, delivered on March 23, 1775. All the soldiers in Virginia had been sent to Massachusetts after the Powder Alarm, but there were still several Royal Navy ships in the area. Governor Murray secretly brought 20 marines on shore on April 19 and ordered them to confiscate the gunpowder in Williamsburg the following night.

 

On the evening of April 20th, the marines began removing the gunpowder, but local citizens noticed and sounded the alarm. Peyton Randolph, the Speaker of the House of Burgesses and first President of the Continental Congress, had to persuade the gathering crowd not to burn the governor’s mansion down. The local council demanded the return of the powder, explaining it was their property and not the property of the royal government. Murray said he took it because he didn’t think it was safe where it was located because of rumors of a slave uprising. The crowd then began to disperse.

 

Word had spread into the rest of the colony, however, and militia groups gathered in numerous locations. Murray threatened to burn Williamsburg to the ground and release all the slaves in Virginia. On the 29th, a large force of 700 men at Fredericksburg was persuaded by Randolph not to march on Williamsburg. On May 2, about 150 men in Hanover County under Patrick Henry did march toward Williamsburg. Violence, however, was averted when Carter Braxton persuaded the government to pay £330 for the confiscated gunpowder.

 

The Gunpowder Incident happened the day after the Battles of Lexington and Concord began the American Revolution, but before word of these battles arrived in Virginia. This incident shows that the Revolution could have just as easily broke out in Virginia, or numerous other places in the colonies. The entire incident caused Governor Murray to fear for his safety and move onto a navy ship in the York River, effectively ending royal rule in Virginia. Efforts were made over the next year to reestablish royal governance in the colony, but Murray fled permanently in August the following year.

 

http://www.revolutionary-war-and-beyond.com

 

Jack Manning

Historian General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org  

 

"In reality there is perhaps no one of our natural Passions so hard to subdue as Pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will now and then peek out and show itself." —Benjamin Franklin (1771)

April 19 1775: Battle Begins on Lexington Common

April 19 1775: Battle Begins on Lexington Common

 

On This Day…

 

      …in 1775, the first shots were fired in the cause of American independence. In Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous poem, "the shot heard ’round the world" came from the musket of a Concord militiaman. In reality, the first blood was shed hours before the Redcoats reached the Old North Bridge. The confrontation on Lexington Common between 77 militiamen and nearly ten times that number of British Regulars ended with the death of eight Lexington men. The Redcoats moved on to Concord. When they got there, they found several thousand farmer-soldiers who had already heard of the bloodshed at Lexington. With their nerves steeled, the Americans drove the Redcoats back to Boston and placed the city under siege. The Revolution had begun.

 

Background

 

Ralph Waldo Emerson immortalized the musket fire at the Old North Bridge in Concord as "the shot heard ’round the world," the event that marked the beginning of the War for Independence. But the first shot on April 19, 1775, was not in fact fired in Concord but hours earlier on the Town Green at Lexington. The man who most likely triggered the fighting that day was not one of Emerson’s "embattled farmers" but an impetuous youth from Lexington.

 

Neither the captain of the Lexington militia nor the British commanding officer wanted bloodshed that morning. Not so the fiery patriot Sam Adams. Hearing gunfire, he was said to rejoice at the sound; he knew that the events unfolding on the town Common were almost certain to start the war he and other radical revolutionaries desperately wanted.

 

It was the presence of Adams and John Hancock in Lexington that first brought out the Lexington militia. Returning from a market trip to Boston on the evening of the 18th, Solomon Brown, the 18-year-old son of a prominent Lexington farmer, overtook a dozen men on horseback loitering along the main road. As he passed them, the wind blew their overcoats open; he saw that they were British officers and that they were armed. Solomon Brown knew that Adams and Hancock –already considered traitors by the British – were staying with Jonas Clarke, the Lexington minister, and he feared the Redcoats were on their way to seize the Patriot leaders.

 

Young Brown rode on to Lexington, passed his own house on the main road, and continued to the Munroe Tavern. Tavern keeper William Munroe was orderly sergeant in the militia; he immediately dispatched men to stand guard at the minister’s house. Several others, including young Solomon Brown, set out to trail the British officers as they passed through town.

 

Rumors quickly spread that something was afoot, and militiamen began to gather around the Common and at Buckman’s Tavern just off the Green. Militia units from towns all over Massachusetts had been preparing for the past eight months for a strike by British troops. On the night of April 18th, the people of Lexington believed the moment had arrived.

 

It was near midnight when Paul Revere galloped down the main road, through the village center, and up to the door of Reverend Jonas Clarke. As he loudly demanded to see Adams and Hancock, one of the guards stationed there hushed him, saying that the family had gone to bed and his noise would disturb them. "Noise?!" he is reported to have exclaimed. "You’ll have noise enough before long! The Regulars are coming out!" Hancock opened the front shutters and called down, "Come in, Revere, we are not afraid of you."

 

While the men at the parsonage debated what to do, Revere left to alarm Concord. He would not make it. Shortly after he rode out of Lexington village, he fell into the hands of British sentries – the same guards who earlier captured Solomon Brown as he attempted to spy on them. Brown later testified that he was held until 2 a.m., searched, questioned, taunted by the soldiers, and then released. The young man and a companion headed across the open fields and made their way back to Lexington. But the excitement that night was far from over.

 

As soon as Revere arrived with news of the British approach, church bells began ringing, summoning militiamen from all corners of the town. The Lexington captain, John Parker, was a seasoned soldier and a man respected for his sound judgment. He decided that his men should conceal themselves, not confronting the Redcoats unless the soldiers threatened their homes or families. Then, since the night was cold and Parker’s lookouts had not returned with reports of advancing troops, the captain sent his men to find shelter in homes around the Common. Most went to Buckman’s Tavern. They were unaware that most of the lookouts had been captured and that British Regulars were advancing steadily towards Lexington.

 

Just before dawn, one of Parker’s lookouts raced up to the tavern, bringing news that a column of 700 British Redcoats was no more than half a mile from the center of town. Parker ordered his drummer to beat the call to arms. The British regiment was just passing Solomon Brown’s house when they heard the battle summons. The sound confirmed for them rumors they had heard on the march west from Boston that thousands of angry colonists were massing, readying to confront and slaughter them. Their commanding officer ordered the men to stop and load their muskets, then advance at double step. The soldiers complied, uncertain what they would meet as they rounded the bend to Lexington Common.

 

Only 77 of the 120 Lexington militiamen had time to arrive and form two meager lines before the Redcoats burst upon the scene. The two sides nervously — and briefly — faced each other, until British Major John Pitcairn ordered the Lexington men to drop their weapons and retreat. Captain Parker, seeing that his men were hopelessly outnumbered, ordered them to disband. But as they turned to disperse, a shot rang out. The normally disciplined Regulars ignored Major Pitcairn’s frantic demands to cease firing. As they retreated across the Common, eight Lexington men were killed and nine injured – many shot in the back.

 

No one knows for sure who fired the shot that incited the Redcoats. Solomon Brown later told a companion that he had stood outside Buckman’s Tavern, taken aim at an enemy officer, and fired. Later that day, he brought his friend to the spot where the officer had been standing. Two pools of blood lay on the ground.

 

The British soldiers gathered for a victory cheer, then continued on the road to Concord in search of munitions that had been stored there. But their actions on Lexington Common had already determined their fate. The rumors they had heard of thousands of colonists converging on Concord were true; the alarm had spread to towns across Massachusetts. Over 3,500 militiamen met the Redcoats at the Old North Bridge and inflicted heavy casualties before forcing them back to Boston. The next day, the city was under siege.

 

Legend has it that Sam Adams, hearing the musket fire on the Common as he and Hancock left Lexington for safer quarters, commented that it was a fine morning. An irritated Hancock responded that he did not find the weather at all to his liking. Adams replied, "It is a fine morning for America." Both men undoubtedly knew that the shot fired that morning on Lexington Common had started a revolution.

 

Links

Library of Congress American Memory website http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/today/apr19.html

 

Militiaman’s account of the battle on Lexington Green http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/lexington.htm

 

If You Go

National Heritage Museum’s permanent exhibit, "Lexington Alarmed http://www.monh.org/"

 

Minuteman National Historic Park http://www.nps.gov/mima/

 

Links http://www.tourlexington.us/historic.html  to historic sites and museums in Lexington.

 

Sources

 

The Battle of April 19, 1775, by Frank Warren Coburn (Lexington Historical Society, 1922).

 

Lexington and Concord: The Beginning of the War of the American Revolution, by Arthur B. Tourtellot (W.W. Norton & Co, 1959).

 

Paul Revere’s Ride, by David Hackett Fischer (Oxford University Press, 1994).

 

The Day of Lexington and Concord: April 19th, 1775, by Allen French (Little Brown & Co. 1925).

 

Online at: http://www.massmoments.org/

 

Jack Manning

Historian General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

"An ELECTIVE DESPOTISM was not the government we fought for; but one which should not only be founded on free principles, but in which the powers of government should be so divided and balanced among several bodies of magistracy, as that no one could transcend their legal limits, without being effectually checked and restrained by the others."
James Madison- Federalist No. 48, February 1, 1788

 

 

Paul Revere makes his famous midnight ride

Paul Revere makes his famous midnight ride

 

On this day in history, April 18, 1775, Paul Revere makes his famous midnight ride to warn the countryside that the British Regulars were coming. Revere was one of the most well-connected and trusted patriots of the inner circle of patriot leaders in Boston.

 

Patriots in Boston were constantly watching British movements and listening to their conversations surreptitiously. In the days leading up to the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the patriots became aware that a major movement was being planned. They did not know the exact date of the movement, or the target, but common sense told them that the patriot leaders, John Hancock and Samuel Adams, might be the target, as well as a large cache of weapons and ammunition being stored in Concord.

 

Two days before the 18th, Paul Revere was sent into the countryside to share the latest intelligence with rural patriot leaders. One stop he made was in Lexington, where Hancock and Adams were staying with the Reverend Jonas Clark, having fled Boston for their own safety. Revere warned them that a major action was planned for the near future and that they may be the target. After this, he went on to Concord and warned the citizens that the arms cache might be the target. The citizens quickly went about moving the supplies to other locations.

 

On the evening of April 18, Paul Revere received a message from Dr. Joseph Warren that his inside spy had informed him the action would take place the following day and the target was the arms at Concord. Revere immediately instructed Robert Newman to place a prearranged signal in the steeple of the Old North Church to inform the inhabitants of Charlestown that the British would be making their trek by sea and not by land – hence the phrase, "One if by land, two if by sea." Revere then crossed the Charles River in a boat, arrived in Charlestown and set off for Lexington on a borrowed horse.

 

On the way, Revere was discovered by a British patrol, but he escaped to the north and made a round-about ride to Lexington. He arrived in Lexington around 12:30 that night and informed Hancock, Adams and the local militia the British were coming. Revere was joined by William Dawes, another rider sent by Warren and Dr. Samuel Prescott as they rode on to Concord. Along the way, however, they ran into another British patrol that scattered the group. Prescott got away and rode on to Concord. Dawes got away, but fell off his horse and walked back to Lexington.

 

Revere was captured, a fact unknown to most Americans. He was ordered to divulge any information he had at gunpoint. He calmly told them that 500 Americans would be there with guns shortly. Just then, shots were heard from Lexington (it was actually the militia congregating). The shots spooked the soldiers and they rode off, leaving Revere behind with no horse. Revere then went back to Lexington, and helped get some belongings of Hancock out of the town and joined the Revolution.

 

On the morning of the 19th, the American Revolution would break out when the British soldiers marched into Lexington. Through the rest of the war, Revere would frequently be called on to deliver messages as far as New York and Philadelphia. He would also serve as a lieutenant colonel of artillery in the Massachusetts Militia and as Commander of Fort Independence in Boston Harbor.

 

http://www.revolutionary-war-and-beyond.com

 

Jack Manning

Historian General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org  

 

"War, like most other things, is a science to be acquired and perfected by diligence, by perserverance, by time, and by practice." —Alexander Hamilton (1787)