Colonel William Prescott is born

Colonel William Prescott is born

 

On this day in history, February 20, 1726, Colonel William Prescott is born. Prescott led the American troops at the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775.

 

Prescott made his home in Pepperell in northern Massachusetts. He served in King George’s War and in the French and Indian War in the provincial militia, after which he was offered a position in the Royal Army, which he declined. When the American Revolution drew near, Prescott was made a colonel over the town of Pepperell.

 

Word of the Battles of Lexington and Concord reached Pepperell on the morning of April 19, 1775. Prescott rounded up his men, but they arrived too late to join in the fighting. They joined the growing numbers of militia members that surrounded the British in Boston.

 

On the evening of June 16, Prescott was given the task of building defensive works on Bunker Hill in Charlestown, across the river from Boston, due to an impending British takeover of this high ground. Prescott took 1,200 men who worked through the night, building defensive works on the adjacent Breed’s Hill instead because it was a better position.

 

Early on the 17th, British warships began bombarding their position. During the early stages of the bombardment, Prescott walked boldly on top of the defensive works, encouraging his men. British General Thomas Gage observed him through a telescope and asked who it was. An aide (who had once been married to Prescott’s sister) told him it was William Prescott. "Will he fight?" Gage asked. The aide replied, "Yes, sir; he is an old soldier, and will fight as long as a drop of blood remains in his veins." Later in the day, the British ground attack began.

 

It was at this time that Colonel Prescott made the famous statement, "Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes," hoping to preserve his precious ammunition. Three assaults were made by the Royal Army, resulting in a great slaughter of the British troops, half of whom were killed or wounded.

 

Prescott finally ordered a retreat when American position was overwhelmed. He was one of the last to leave and he and his remaining men were forced into hand to hand combat as they retreated. The Battle of Bunker Hill was technically a British victory because the Americans withdrew, but the victory was so costly to the British that they never recovered and eventually abandoned Boston.

 

Prescott was appointed a colonel in the new Continental Army. In early 1776, he was made a brigadier-general of the Middlesex County militia and became a member of the Massachusetts Board of War. He saw action during the campaign to defend New York City and in the 1777 Saratoga campaign, after which he returned to Massachusetts, where he was made a major-general of the Massachusetts militia.

 

In later years, Prescott served for several years in the Massachusetts Legislature. Both he and his brother served in the 1786 effort to suppress Shay’s rebellion. William Prescott died in Pepperell in 1795 at the age of 69.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

“Let justice be done though the heavens should fall.”
John Adams (1777)

Aaron Burr is arrested for treason

Aaron Burr is arrested for treason

 

On this day in history, February 19, 1807, Aaron Burr is arrested for treason. Aaron Burr was America’s third Vice-President under Thomas Jefferson. He is best-known today for killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel after some private comments Hamilton made disparaging Burr’s character were made public and Hamilton refused to retract the statements.

 

Less known is an incident Burr was involved in after his term as vice-president ended along with his political career due to the Hamilton incident. After his term, Burr went west to the American frontier and purchased land in the newly purchased Louisiana Territory, where he became involved in a scheme to either develop a new state in Louisiana or, more seriously, to conquer part of Mexico, apparently hoping to revive his political career.

           

This was illegal because Mexico was still a Spanish possession and only the United States government had the authority to make war or negotiate with foreign governments. Burr worked together with US General James Wilkinson who was the US Army Commander at New Orleans and the Governor of the Louisiana Territory. Together they developed their plans and raised a small privately funded army to accomplish their ends. They even negotiated with Great Britain, which considered aiding their plans, but eventually pulled out.

 

General Wilkinson eventually became nervous that the plans would fail and he could be implicated in a crime. He turned on Burr and wrote to President Thomas Jefferson about Burr’s plan and accused him of treason. In addition, some of Jefferson’s slave-holding supporters demanded that he do something about Burr because whatever territory Burr ended up controlling would be slave-free, since he was firmly against slavery. They did not want a slave-free territory in the south. Jefferson eventually charged Burr with treason, a charge which didn’t exactly fit the crime. Burr tried to escape to Spanish Florida, but was caught at Wakefield in the Mississippi Territory on February 19, 1807.

 

Burr was tried in a sensational trial in Richmond, Virginia beginning on August 3. He was represented by Edmund Randolph and Luther Martin, both former members of the Continental Congress. The evidence was so flimsy against Burr that four grand juries had to be convened before the prosecution could get an indictment. General Wilkinson, the chief witness for the prosecution, was found to have forged a letter, allegedly from Burr, stating his plans to steal land from Louisiana. This weakened the prosecution’s case and left Wilkinson in disgrace.

 

Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Marshall, oversaw the case and was pressured by Thomas Jefferson to make a conviction. Marshall, however, did not find Burr guilty of treason and he was acquitted on September 1. He was then tried on a more reasonable misdemeanor charge, but was acquitted of this charge as well.

 

After the trial, Burr’s hopes of reviving his political career were dead and he fled to Europe. For several years, he attempted to talk various European governments into cooperating with his plans to conquer Mexico, but he was rebuffed by all. Eventually he returned to the United States and resumed his law practice in New York, where he maintained a relatively low profile for the rest of his life.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

"All men are created equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; among which are the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing the obtaining of happiness and safety."

George Mason

George Coryell, George Washington’s last living pallbearer dies

George Coryell, George Washington’s last living pallbearer dies

 

On this day in history, February 18, 1850, George Coryell, George Washington’s last living pallbearer dies. Coryell and his family served an interesting and colorful place in the American Revolution. His grandfather was one of the founders of Coryell’s Ferry on the Delaware River that played a major role in the war’s New Jersey campaign.

 

Emanuel Coryell founded the ferry at what is today Lambertville, New Jersey. In 1764, Emanuel’s son John bought the ferry on the opposite, Pennsylvania, side and the two sides together became known as Coryell’s Ferry. The ferry was at a strategic location, being half way between New York and Philadelphia. Both sides had an inn where travelers could stay overnight. The whole Coryell family was instrumental in helping the Continental Army during its time in the area.

 

In the fall of 1776, part of George Washington’s army camped at Coryell’s Ferry after crossing the Delaware. General William Alexander built earthworks to defend the ferry’s landing spot from a possible British crossing. The British did not dare try to cross there because of the formidable defenses.

 

George Washington visited the ferry numerous times, using the high ground to watch for British activities on the other side of the river and conducting a war council with his top generals at the inn to plan the attack on Trenton. Cornelius Coryell, another son of Emanuel Coryell, served as a guide to Washington while he was in the area and helped ferry Washington’s men across the Delaware just prior to their victory at Trenton. The Continental Army crossed at the Ferry again in 1777 and again in 1778 after the winter at Valley Forge on their way to attack Cornwallis when he abandoned Philadelphia. The Coryells helped them cross each time.

George Coryell Grave

 

Cornelius Coryell had a son named George whom George Washington became acquainted with in Philadelphia during his first term as president. Coryell crafted an impressive gate for Ben Franklin which Washington was very impressed with. He persuaded Coryell to move to Alexandria, Virginia where he set up shop and became a merchant and official and did occasional work at Mount Vernon. Both Georges were members of the same Masonic Lodge and knew each other quite well. For Washington’s funeral, Martha Washington requested that members of the Lodge serve as pallbearers. Six pallbearers carried the casket at the funeral itself, which was held at Mount Vernon for family and friends. Another four were assigned to carry the casket from the house to the tomb, which was also on the property.

 

Coryell was not one of the scheduled pallbearers. Some accounts say that Lt. William Moss, one of the four who were to lay the casket in the tomb, got sick, while some accounts say he was not strong enough to carry the casket. Whichever is the true reason, Lt. George Coryell, was present and asked to take Moss’s place. He was the last living of the ten pallbearers.

 

George Coryell lived in Alexandria until he retired and moved back to Lambertville. He lived there until his death in 1850 and is buried at the First Presbyterian Church of Lambertville.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

"Newspapers … serve as chimneys to carry off noxious vapors and smoke."
Thomas Jefferson (1802)

The House of Commons passes the Stamp Act

The House of Commons passes the Stamp Act

 

On this day in history, February 17, 1765, the House of Commons passes the Stamp Act. The Stamp Act would be one of the primary points of contention between the American colonists and Parliament in the years leading up to the Revolutionary War.

 

The Act placed a small tax on 54 separate items, all things made of paper, such as contracts, wills, playing cards, newspapers, almanacs, etc. The Act was part of Prime Minister George Grenville’s plan to reduce the massive debt incurred by the British treasury during the French and Indian War. All the money raised by the Act was to be used within the colonies to pay for the expenses of British soldiers stationed there after the end of the war.

 

The colonists did not object to paying taxes. They did, however, have a strong opinion about who could tax them. English law provided that people could only be taxes by their elected representatives. Since the colonies had no representatives in Parliament, Parliament could not legally tax them. Instead, they believed the proper bodies to lay taxes on them were their own elected colonial legislatures.

 

Parliament did not respond to the formal protests from the colonial governments, so the citizens began to take things into their own hands. Newspapers and citizens published anti-Stamp Act letters and pamphlets and mob violence broke out in numerous places against government officials involved with implementing the Act. The violence became so severe that by November 1, 1765, the intended start date of the Act, not a single stamp distributor was left in the colonies. Every single one had resigned, except for the one from Georgia and that was because he did not arrive until January. When he did arrive, he resigned the next day.

 

Many localities in the colonies then passed non-importation agreements, refusing to import British goods until the Act was repealed. This put an enormous amount of pressure on British merchants who began to suffer and lay people off because they could not pay their debts. These merchants began to pressure Parliament to repeal the bill. A change in administration made Lord Rockingham Prime Minister and he immediately began pushing for a repeal. The Stamp Act was finally repealed on March 18, 1766, causing rejoicing and celebrations both in England and in the colonies.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

"Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves, therefore, are its only safe depositories."
Thomas Jefferson

Peter Francisco, the "Virginia Giant," dies

Peter Francisco, the "Virginia Giant," dies

 

On this day in history, January 16, 1831, Peter Francisco, the "Virginia Giant," dies. Peter was abandoned at the age of five years in City Point, Virginia (now Hopewell) by a sea captain. It is believed he was born in the Azores to a wealthy family and was either abducted to be sold into slavery or the abduction was staged by his parents who feared his life was in danger from their political enemies.

 

When Peter was found, he could speak no English, but repeatedly said "Pedro Francisco," so the people called him Peter Francisco. Peter was cared for in the Prince George County Poorhouse until he was adopted by Judge Anthony Winston, uncle to Patrick Henry. Winston raised Peter on his farm called "Hunting Tower Plantation" in Buckingham County. He was eventually trained to be a blacksmith due to his great height and strength – by the time he was fifteen years old, Peter had grown to be six feet six inches tall and weighed 260 pounds!

 

When the American Revolution began, Peter happened to hear Patrick Henry’s "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death" speech when he went to Richmond with Judge Winston. Inspired by the speech, Peter asked if he could join the army, but Winston wouldn’t allow him to join until he was sixteen. In December of 1776, Peter joined the Tenth Virginia regiment of the Continental Army.

 

Peter became famous for his exploits in the army and probably became the best known individual soldier of the entire war. His exploits are numerous, including inspiring a group of soldiers to stand their ground at Sandy Hollow Gap to allow Washington’s army to retreat at the Battle of Brandywine. Peter was wounded in the leg at the battle and recovered with the 20 year old Marquis de Lafayette, who was also wounded and would become a lifelong friend.

 

At the Battle of Stony Point, Peter was one of 20 commandos chosen to assault Fort Stony Point. 17 of the 20 were killed. Peter was the second one over the wall and received a 9 inch gash in his stomach. At the Battle of Camden, Peter allegedly hauled an 1100 pound cannon off the field so the British would not capture it. At the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, Peter killed eleven men with a six foot sword made for him personally by George Washington at the request of Lafayette. Peter was shot and left for dead on the battlefield, but found by a local Quaker who nursed him back to health. While recovering from this wound, Peter reconnoitered Colonel Banastre Tarleton’s raiders in Amelia, Virginia. He outwitted and outfought 9 cavalrymen, killed three of them and escaped with all 9 of their horses!

 

Peter also fought in the Battles of Germantown, Monmouth Courthouse, and Cowpens. Peter was present at Yorktown with the Marquis de Lafayette when Cornwallis surrendered his army, but did not fight in the battle. George Washington personally said of Peter, "Without him we would have lost two crucial battles, perhaps the War, and with it our freedom. He was truly a One Man Army."

 

Peter married three times and had six children. He owned a 250 acre farm on Louse Creek and became the Sergeant-at-Arms to the Virginia State Senate for the last three years of his life. He died on January 16, 1831 of appendicitis and was buried with full military honors.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

"[A] wise and frugal government … shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government."

Thomas Jefferson (1801)

 

 

Abraham Clark is born

Abraham Clark is born

 

On this day in history, February 15, 1726, Abraham Clark, signer of the Declaration of Independence from New Jersey, is born. Clark was born in Elizabethtown, New Jersey (now Elizabeth) and was trained as a surveyor. He taught himself law and was involved in surveying and legal work regarding titles, mortgages and so forth. He was well-respected for often helping poor people with legal advice and title issues at no charge. Because of this, he was sometimes called, "The Poor Man’s Counselor."

 

Before the Revolution, Clark served as a clerk for the New Jersey colonial assembly and as sheriff of Essex County. When the Revolution began, he served on the New Jersey Committee of Safety and was elected to the rebel New Jersey provincial assembly in 1775. This assembly appointed 5 men to the Continental Congress on June 21, 1776, including Abraham Clark.

 

Clark voted for independence on July 2, 1776 and signed his name to the Declaration of Independence. About the vote, Clark wrote to his friend Elias Dayton on July 14th, "Our Declaration of Independence I dare say you have seen. A few weeks will probably determine our fate. Perfect freedom, or Absolute Slavery. To some of us freedom or a halter. Our fates are in the hands of An Almighty God, to whom I can with pleasure confide my own; he can save us, or destroy us; his Councils are fixed and cannot be disappointed, and all his designs will be Accomplished."

 

Clark served nearly 10 years in the Continental Congress, both during and after the war. Clark had two sons who served as captains in the war and both were taken prisoner and held captive on the notorious British prison ship, Jersey. The British offered to release his sons if Clark would switch sides and pledge allegiance to the King, which he refused to do. Due to Elizabethtown’s proximity to Staten Island and New York City, the city was the site of dozens of battles and skirmishes during the war. Much of Clark’s property was destroyed, though his house survived.

 

Clark served in the New Jersey legislature for four years, during which he introduced a bill forbidding the abuse of slaves and authorizing their freedom under certain conditions. After the war, he was one of twelve men who met at the Annapolis Convention to discuss the necessity of a new constitution to replace the Articles of Confederation. Clark and the other attendees, including Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Dickinson, urged the Confederation Congress to meet in Philadelphia to revise the inadequate Articles. Clark was then elected to attend the Constitutional Convention in May, 1787, but he was not able to attend because of sickness.

 

Clark’s last act of public service was to represent New Jersey in the US House of Representatives from 1791-1794, where he is said to have insisted on and been responsible for the printing of the word "Liberty" on United States coins. He also persuaded Congress to put symbols of America on the coins, instead of the head of the current president, which was the other proposal. Clark passed away in 1794 after suffering a heat stroke on his property. He is buried in Rahway, New Jersey.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

"If ever a time should come, when vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest seats in Government, our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin."
Samuel Adams

The Battle of Kettle Creek is won

The Battle of Kettle Creek is won

 

On this day in history, February 14, 1779, the Battle of Kettle Creek is won, which turns out to be one of the most important battles in Georgia during the American Revolution. The British had begun their southern strategy to take back the southern states by capturing Savannah in December, 1778. The strategy revolved around the belief that large numbers of Loyalists in the southern states would rally to the British and help defeat the patriot uprising. The Battle of Kettle Creek disproved the theory.

 

After capturing Savannah, a force was sent to take Augusta under Lieutenant Colonel Archibald Campbell. Campbell dispatched well-known Loyalist militia leader John Boyd to travel through the Georgia and South Carolina back country to recruit Loyalist soldiers. Boyd was able to gather some 600 to 800 men and set out to rendezvous with Campbell, who had arrived in Augusta and taken the town without a fight on January 24.

 

Several smaller militia groups under South Carolina Major Andrew Pickens and Georgia Colonel and Lieutenant Colonel John Dooly and Elijah Clarke gathered together to attack Boyd’s Loyalists. On February 14, Boyd’s men stopped to rest and eat at Kettle Creek near present day Washington, Georgia. Pickens, in command of about 350 men, sent Dooly to the right and Clarke to the left, while his own men advanced from the center. An advance force in front of Pickens alarmed Boyd’s sentries and began firing, which alarmed Boyd’s entire camp, ruining the surprise attack. In addition, both Dooly’s and Clarke’s men were hindered in the swamps, ruining Pickens’ plan to attack from three sides.

Battle of Kettle Creek Battlefield Wilkes County, Georgia This is the site of the battle. You can see the graves of several American soldiers who died in the battle.

 

In spite of these errors, Boyd met his fate when he was shot with a mortal wound causing the rest of his men to panic and scatter. Pickens advanced and Clarke was finally able to rally through the swamp and lead another attack on the main force of Loyalists. In the end, 9 patriots were killed and 23 wounded, while somewhere between 40 and 70 Loyalists were killed and another 75 taken prisoner. The more significant statistic though, is that only 270 of Boyd’s men finally joined Campbell’s British troops. The rest went home discouraged and afraid. Several of the prisoners were tried for treason and hung. The British defeat at Kettle Creek proved that Loyalist sentiment in the south was not as strong as the British had hoped.

 

Ironically, on the same day as the Battle of Kettle Creek, Campbell decided to abandon Augusta and head back to the coast, only three weeks after taking the town. He did this because of another gathering patriot army under Generals Andrew Williamson and John Ashe and because he didn’t know whether Boyd would succeed in bringing a large army of Loyalists to his aid. Of course, Campbell turned out to be right.

 

After the Battle of Kettle Creek, Major Pickens tended to the mortally wounded John Boyd, with whom he was probably acquainted. Boyd gave Pickens a message and some personal items to give to his wife, which he later did. Pickens would go on to serve in several major battles and be promoted to Brigadier General and would later become a member of the US House of Representatives from South Carolina.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

"A general dissolution of principles and manners will more surely overthrow the liberties of America than the whole force of the common enemy. While the people are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but when once they lose their virtue then will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or internal invader."

Samuel Adams, 1779