The Battle of Matson’s Ford stops Washington’s trek to Valley Forge

The Battle of Matson’s Ford stops Washington’s trek to Valley Forge

 

On this day in history, December 11, 1777, the Battle of Matson’s Ford stops Washington’s trek to Valley Forge. After decisively stopping a British advance on the Continental Army north of Philadelphia at the Battle of White Marsh a few days before, George Washington and his War Council made plans to winter at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, about 25 miles northwest of Philadelphia. Early on December 11th, the army began its march and headed toward Matson’s Ford on the Schuylkill River, which it needed to cross to get to Valley Forge. The river is pronounced "SKOOL-kul," with the emphasis on the first syllable, by the way.

 

Washington had sent out three scouting parties from the Pennsylvania militia to the western side of the river to watch for any British movements. General Charles Cornwallis was also on the move on the western side of the river, however, with several thousand men on a foraging mission for supplies and food for the army. Cornwallis’ men ran into Washington’s first advance troops at Middle Ferry where the British crossed the river. The Americans fired, but quickly withdrew because they were so small in numbers.

 

Soon after, a skirmish occurred at the Black Horse Inn with the second of Washington’s militia units. This group fled in confusion from the British, but got word back to General James Potter that the British were coming down the road toward the third detachment of militia at Harriton House, the home of Continental Congress Secretary, Charles Thomson, on Old Gulph Road. Potter then placed several regiments of militia between the advancing British and Harriton House. His line soon crumbled, however, due to the superior numbers of the British.

 

Potter’s men withdrew and crossed back to the eastern side of the river at Swede’s Ford, while Cornwallis called off the attack when the opposition dissolved. His men took up a position on the heights overlooking Matson’s Ford to watch for further movement. General Potter later guessed that 5 or 6 of his men were killed with 20 wounded and another 20 or so captured. The other side, however, estimated that 160 militia were captured. The collective engagements are called the Battle of Matson’s Ford.

 

In the morning, neither side knowing what the other was doing, General John Sullivan began the construction of a bridge across Matson’s Ford made from wagons that were tied together. After nearly getting two whole divisions across the river, the Americans spied the British army on the hills watching them openly. General Sullivan hastily ordered a retreat back across the river and destroyed the bridge behind them. The Continental Army spent the next day waiting while scouts went to determine the movements of Cornwallis. Cornwallis, however, had already departed for Philadelphia, taking the spoils from the farms in the countryside with him.

 

On the evening of December 12, George Washington and the army finally crossed the Schuykill at Swede’s Ford on another bridge made of wagons. The army camped out at Gulph Mills for another week before marching the rest of the way to Valley Forge on the 19th.

 

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Jack Manning

Treasurer General
National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

"Among the natural rights of the colonists are these: First a right to life, secondly to liberty, and thirdly to property; together with the right to defend them in the best manner they can."

Samuel Adams

John Jay is elected President of the Continental Congress

John Jay is elected President of the Continental Congress

 

On this day in history, December 10, 1778, John Jay is elected President of the Continental Congress, making him the 5th national leader of the united colonies. John Jay was a New York lawyer and politician who was against British policies toward the colonies, but did not favor declaring independence at first. He first got into public service in 1774 as a member of New York’s Committee of Correspondence, which was charged with building up New York’s defenses against the British.

 

Jay was first elected to the Continental Congress late in 1774 and again in 1775. While in Congress, Jay continued to work towards reconciliation with the British, but his views began to change as it became apparent that the British were not interested in reconciling. Events such as the burning of Norfolk, Virginia, helped change Jay into a dedicated patriot. Back in New York, Jay worked to enforce non-importation agreements and jail Tory supporters of the British. He wrote the state’s new Constitution in 1777 and became the state’s first Chief Justice in 1777 as well.

 

In 1778, Jay was elected the 6th President of Congress. He was actually the 5th person to hold this position, but Peyton Randolph had held the position twice. The position of President of the Continental Congress was not the same as the position of President today. It was not a position where the President made decisions and others carried them out. Instead, it was more administrative. Congress made the decisions and the President carried them out, filled out the paperwork, wrote the letters, moderated meetings, etc.

 

During Jay’s tenure as President, the British army began its Southern Strategy, moving its focus of the war from the northern states to the southern states. The city of Savannah was captured almost immediately after Jay took office and remained in British hands til the end of the war. The British quickly conquered much of Georgia and South Carolina and began marching north to take North Carolina and Virginia.

 

Other important events during Jay’s presidency included Spain declaring war on Great Britain in June, 1779, the British invasion of Connecticut which destroyed the cities of Fairfield and Norwalk and John Paul Jones’ epic Battle at Flamborough Head in which his ship, the Bonhomme Richard went down.

 

After his term as President of Congress, Jay went on to serve in numerous political offices. He served as America’s Ambassador to Spain and then France during the war and was one of the chief negotiators of the Treaty of Paris, which ended the war. He became the Secretary of Foreign Affairs for the Confederation Congress from 1784 until the new government’s creation in 1789. President George Washington appointed Jay the first Chief Justice of the United States in 1789. In 1794, Jay was appointed Minister Plenipotentiary to Great Britain and negotiated Jay’s Treaty, which ended certain disagreements between Britain and the US that had lingered after the war. Jay then served as Governor of New York from 1795-1801, his last public office.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Treasurer General
National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

"Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism."
George Washington (1796)

 

American Victory at the Battle of Great Bridge

American Victory at the Battle of Great Bridge

 

On this day in history, December 9, 1775, an American victory at the Battle of Great Bridge sets the stage for the British abandonment of Virginia. The Battle of Great Bridge was a decisive blow to the Royal Governor, John Murray, Lord Dunmore. The battle caused Dunmore to abandon Norfolk and seek refuge in a navy ship. After bombarding the city and a few more raids, Dunmore abandoned Virginia for New York, never to return.

 

In April of 1775, at the same time the Revolutionary War broke out in Massachusetts, Lord Dunmore ordered the confiscation of the gunpowder supply at Williamsburg, Virginia. The act alarmed the colonists, who began to rise up against him. Lord Dunmore began to fear for his safety, left Williamsburg and moved his family on to a Royal Navy ship at Norfolk.

 

Skirmishes continued for the next several months, escalating when a British ship ran aground and was captured, causing the death of several sailors in the fight. Dunmore issued a proclamation declaring martial law and began to fortify Norfolk as his last stronghold. 9 miles south of town, at a small village called Great Bridge, he had a small fort set up to guard the only approach south of Norfolk. The fort was on the north side of a small bridge on a road running through a swamp.

 

500 men from Virginia’s 2nd Regiment took positions on the south side of the bridge on December 2. Over the next few days, their numbers swelled to almost 900. The British garrison had less than a hundred men. Upon learning of the situation, Dunmore decided to send a few hundred reinforcements and attack the Americans first.

 

Early on the morning of December 9, the attack began. Dunmore had unfortunately been misinformed, however. His best intelligence estimated the rebel camp numbers at no more than 400 men. The overwhelming superiority of the Americans’ numbers led to a rout. The British lost over a hundred men killed or wounded, while there was only one American injured.

 

Lord Dunmore’s forces retreated to Norfolk. Alarm struck the town as the patriots’ numbers continued to swell, causing Dunmore and most of the Loyalists in town to flee to the ships in the harbor. Norfolk was occupied by the Continental Army and the royal navy ships maneuvered into a threatening position, causing much of the rest of the town to evacuate. On January 1, the ships began bombarding the town for nearly a whole day. The patriot forces began looting and destroying much of the Tory owned property in town. Within a few days, most of Norfolk had burned to the ground.

 

Lord Dunmore decided to withdraw, but continued making raids on shore for supplies. In February, he was able to occupy Portsmouth to try to reestablish a base of operations, but was driven back to the ships in March by General Charles Lee. After a few more raids over the next few months and living on a ship for months on end, Lord Dunmore finally gave up and abandoned Virginia in August. He sailed for New York, the royal government never to be seen again in Virginia.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Treasurer General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org  

 

"Among the natural rights of the colonists are these: First a right to life, secondly to liberty, and thirdly to property; together with the right to defend them in the best manner they can."  Samuel Adams

Americans begin siege of Quebec

Americans begin siege of Quebec

Beginning on this day December 8, 1775, Colonel Benedict Arnold and General Richard Montgomery lead an American force in the siege of Quebec. The Americans hoped to capture the British-occupied city and with it win support for the American cause in Canada.

In June, Congress decided to send two columns of 1,000 men each towards Canada. General Richard Montgomery proceeded up Lake Champlain and successfully captured Montreal in November before reaching Quebec City. Colonel Benedict Arnold led his men through the woods of Maine, approaching the city directly. On November 14, Arnold arrived on the Plains of Abraham outside the city of Quebec; his men sustained themselves upon dog meat and leather in the cold winter. The 100 men defending the city refused to either surrender to Arnold or leave their defenses to fight them on open plains, so Arnold waited for Montgomery to join him with his troops and supplies at the beginning of December.

The royal governor general of Canada, Sir Guy Carleton, had managed to escape Montgomery’s early successful attacks. He snuck into Quebec, organized 1,800 men for the city’s defense, and prepared to wait out the Patriots’ siege. But Arnold and Montgomery faced a deadline as their troops’ enlistments expired at the end of the year. On December 7, Montgomery fired arrows over the city walls bearing letters demanding Carleton’s surrender. When Carleton did not acquiesce, the Americans began a bombardment of the city with Montgomery’s cannon on December 8. They then attempted a disastrous failed assault on December 31, in which Montgomery was killed and Arnold seriously wounded.

www.history.com  

 

Jack Manning

Treasurer General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org  

 

"There must be a positive passion for the public good, the public interest, honour, power and glory, established in the minds of the people, or there can be no republican government, nor any real liberty: and this public passion must be superiour to all private passions."

John Adams (1776)

Marquis de Lafayette arranges to fight with the Americans

Marquis de Lafayette arranges to fight with the Americans

 

On this day in history, December 7, 1776, the Marquis de Lafayette arranges to fight with the Americans. Meeting with Silas Deane, one of the American ambassadors to Paris, Lafayette arranged to join the American war as a major general. Forbidden to go by King Louis XVI, Lafayette obtained a ship and, escaping the efforts of the King to detain him, set sail in April of 1777. He was only 19 years old.

 

Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette, was an aristocrat born in the south of France from a distinguished line, including a marshal who served in Joan of Arc’s army, a legendary ancestor who fought in the Crusades and his grandfather, the ultra-wealthy Comte de La Rivière. Lafayette was trained for the military from a young age. Due to his military and society connections, he became a member of the Freemasons where he was exposed to the ideas of the Enlightenment and political liberty. Many of these connections supported French involvement in the American Revolution against Britain and Lafayette determined to join the Americans in their fight for freedom.

 

Fearful of being arrested, Lafayette left Europe dressed as a woman to avoid detection. He arrived in South Carolina on June 13, 1777 and made his way to Philadelphia. Congress did not want to receive him at first, believing he was just another Frenchman looking to make a name for himself. Eventually, Ben Franklin persuaded George Washington to accept him as a personal aide. Washington and Lafayette grew very close, even to the point that Lafayette was almost treated as a son. He became one of Washington’s inner circle and one of his most trusted advisers during the war.

 

Lafayette went on to serve in the Battle of Brandywine, where he was injured. He served in New Jersey with General Nathanael Greene; helped expose the cabal of General Thomas Conway to replace George Washington; fought in the Battles of Barren Hill, Rhode Island and Monmouth; and was eventually sent back to France to help negotiate more substantial support for the Americans. After returning to the US, Lafayette was put in command of three regiments in Virginia where he fought against the traitor, Benedict Arnold and General Charles Cornwallis. Lafayette’s actions trapped the General at Yorktown, contributing to his surrender on October 19, 1781, where Lafayette was present at the surrender ceremony.

 

When Lafayette returned to France, he joined the French government, where he served for many years as a politician and military officer. During the French Revolution, Lafayette was branded as a traitor for helping the King and was captured while trying to escape the country. He spent the next five years in an Austrian prison. His wife narrowly escaped the country through the intervention of the American ambassador, Gouverneur Morris, but several of her family members went to the guillotine. After the Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte negotiated Lafayette’s release and he returned to France, continuing to serve in the Chamber of Deputies.

 

In 1824-25, the Marquis de Lafayette made a grand tour of the United States at the invitation of President James Monroe. Lafayette toured all 24 states at the time and was received as a hero of the American Revolution. Lafayette visited such places as Mount Vernon, the Brandywine Battlefield, Williamsburg and the University of Virginia, meeting with such notables as President Monroe, Thomas Jefferson and the aging Dorothy Hancock, widow of John Hancock.

 

Although Washington had died more than 30 years earlier, he and Lafayette had frequent correspondence while he was still alive. When Lafayette finally died on May 20, 1834, he was buried in Paris under soil from George Washington’s grave.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Treasurer General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org  

 

"Personal security and private property rest entirely upon the wisdom, the stability, and the integrity of the courts of justice." Joseph Story (1833)

Margaret Morris begins journaling the war in New Jersey

Margaret Morris begins journaling the war in New Jersey

 

On this day in history, December 6, 1776, Margaret Morris begins journaling about the war in New Jersey, a diary she would keep for the next seven months. Her diary is one of the best sources for information about the early part of the American Revolution and how the war affected women, families and daily life.

 

Margaret Morris was a widow with four children who had moved to Burlington, New Jersey, after the death of her husband, Philadelphia merchant William Morris, Jr. She purchased the former home of New Jersey’s Royal Governor William Franklin, son of Benjamin Franklin, on Burlington’s "Green Bank," a wealthy neighborhood surrounding a large green park area.

 

Margaret was a faithful Quaker, as many in Burlington were, and she was strictly against the war. She began writing in a journal on December 6, 1776, when she first heard that the British fleet was approaching Philadelphia. "People there were in great Commotion… the English fleet was in the River & hourly expected to sail up to the City… the inhabitants were removing into the Country… &… several persons of considerable repute had been discovered to have formed a design of setting fire to the City… When I heard the above report my heart almost died within me, & I cried surely the Lord will not punish the innocent with the guilty…"

 

Burlington was right in the crossroads of troop movements in New Jersey, being just 15 miles south of Trenton and 20 miles from Philadelphia. The Battle of Mount Holly was fought six miles from Margaret’s door. She writes of hiding in the cellar when Burlington was fired on from the Delaware River by "Gondola-men," local militia patrolling the Delaware River, when they heard Hessian soldiers were staying in the town.

 

As a Quaker and a pacifist, Margaret didn’t favor either side in the war, but she was an amateur doctor and helped those in need on both sides. She writes of hiding a Tory supporter in her house who was being chased by the militia, and comforting and feeding American soldiers in the empty house next door. She wrote of the Hessians coming through town and the Continental Army staying in local homes. She wrote of her son nearly being killed by American troops when he was looking at them through a "spyglass" and was mistaken for a Loyalist supporter. She told of the fear that struck her every time soldiers came through town. Sometimes they would ransack local houses. Fortunately hers was spared.

 

Margaret wrote of hearing of Washington capturing the Hessians at the Battle of Trenton and speculating that their drunkenness was their downfall. She also writes of hearing the cannon fire from the Second Battle of Trenton a few days into the New Year. The soldiers staying next door turned out to be young Americans who had deserted because of the terrific battle.

 

Margaret also wrote of her deep faith in God through the war. She decided to stay at home, instead of fleeing as many in the area did. She frequently credited that "Guardian of the Widow & the Orphan," with protecting her through each harrowing circumstance she faced.

 

Margaret Morris’ journal was preserved by family members and is a valuable source of information to historians. She later went on to write about the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1793 in Philadelphia and passed away in 1816 at the age of 79.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Treasurer General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org  

 

"In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution."
Thomas Jefferson (1798)

Battle of White Marsh begins

Battle of White Marsh begins

 

On this day in history, December 5, 1777, the Battle of White Marsh begins. Also known as the Battle of Edge Hill, this was the last battle of 1777 between George Washington’s forces and the British army occupying Philadelphia. The battle ensured the British would remain in Philadelphia throughout the winter of 1777-1778, while Washington’s army moved to Valley Forge, where it took up winter quarters.

 

The British began what is known as the Philadelphia Campaign by landing 15,000 troops at the northern end of the Chesapeake Bay near Elkton, Maryland, about 55 miles from Philadelphia. British General Sir William Howe chose this location because the approach to Philadelphia from the Delaware River, which went straight into the town, was nearly impregnable, being guarded by Forts Mifflin and Mercer and a series of spikes in the river that could impale ships just south of the city.

 

Washington’s forces were badly defeated at the Battle of Brandywine, the first major engagement of the campaign. After this, Howe was able to march straight into Philadelphia, causing Congress to flee inland to York. Part of Howe’s forces occupied Philadelphia, while the main body camped at Germantown, 5 miles north of the city. Washington attacked the British at Germantown in a battle that highly impressed the courts of Europe, even though he lost this engagement as well. General Howe then moved all his forces to Philadelphia to concentrate on the city’s defense in October, while Washington set up a formidable system of defensive works just south of the town of White Marsh, 13 miles northwest of Philadelphia.

 

The deep of winter was fast approaching and both sides wanted to make a last effort to attack the other side decisively before they had to take up winter quarters. Very late on December 4, Howe marched 10,000 men north out of Philadelphia. A series of skirmishes took place beginning on December 5 that lasted for the next four days. Howe’s different battalions tried to find a way to flank or penetrate Washington’s defenses, but were unable. Skirmishes took place around the southern edge of White Marsh on Edge Hill, Chestnut Hill, around Wissahickon Creek and near places with names such as Tyson’s Tavern, Sandy Run and Three Mile Run.

 

After 4 days of unsuccessfully trying to find a way to penetrate Washington’s line, Howe decided to turn back. His troops were running low on supplies and it was extremely cold at night. His men had not brought overnight gear such as tents, so they were sleeping in the open air. With that, Howe withdrew to Philadelphia where his men made winter quarters.

 

The British had lost 120 men killed, wounded or missing and suffered over 200 deserters at the Battle of White Marsh. The Americans lost 200 men. George Washington was disappointed that he had not been able to draw Howe into a larger battle at White Marsh, but he also conceded that it was time to winter. On December 11, 10,000 troops began to march to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, where they would spend the brutal winter of 1777-1778.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Treasurer General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org  

 

"If duties are too high, they lessen the consumption; the collection is eluded; and the product to the treasury is not so great as when they are confined within proper and moderate bounds. This forms a complete barrier against any material oppression of the citizens by taxes of this class, and is itself a natural limitation of the power of imposing them."
Alexander Hamilton (1787)