Patrick Henry gives his "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death" speech

Patrick Henry gives his "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death" speech

 

On this day in history, March 23, 1775, Patrick Henry delivers his “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech. Henry was already well known for proposing the Virginia Resolves during the Stamp Act crisis, which challenged Parliament’s authority to tax the colonists. By the time the American Revolution broke out, Henry was already a leading proponent of independence from Britain.

 

The First Virginia Convention met in 1774 and sent representatives  to the First Continental Congress, one of whom was Patrick Henry. At the Second Convention, which met at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia, Henry proposed forming militia companies from every county to be called up at a moment’s notice in case of British aggression. The war would break out in Massachusetts only four weeks later. Henry’s actual words were not transcribed at the time, but they were pieced together by his biographer years later.

 

Henry stood to address the convention and first made it clear that he respected everyone’s opinion, but he felt that many were being overly optimistic and hopeful that Parliament would somehow miraculously change the course it had been following for the previous ten years. He told them the colonists had continually shown willingness to negotiate and settle differences amicably, while the British response was to ignore colonial proposals and inquiries, to prorogue colonial elected bodies and to build up a massive war machine amongst them. What else could the purpose of the war machine be but to subject the colonists to slavery?

 

In Henry’s own words, "They are meant for us; they can be meant for no other. They are sent over to bind and rivet upon us those chains which the British ministry have been so long forging."

 

Henry then addressed the fact that many in the colonies believed they were too weak to face the British war machine and that the only choice was to submit, no matter how unpleasant the consequences.  Henry said, "They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance, by lying supinely on our backs, and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot?"

 

The closing of Henry’s speech has been immortalized and taught to every school child for generations. In it, he made a call to action. It was time to resist Britain. If the result was death by war, then so be it, but he would not submit to the unjust commands of tyrants. "Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace, but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Historian General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org  

 

"Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. What is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?" —James Madison (1788)

Nathan Hale decides to join the American Revolution

Nathan Hale decides to join the American Revolution

 

On this day in history, April 22, 1775, Nathan Hale decides to join the American Revolution. Hale was from a New England family that dated back to the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He grew up in a large farming household in Coventry, Connecticut.

 

At the age of 14, he went to Yale College in New Haven, where he studied to be a school teacher. He took his first teaching job upon graduating in 1774 in East Haddam, but the following year took a job in New London at the age of 19. Hale was well-liked and known for his conscientiousness and, being college-educated, was held in high regard by the community. Nathan was the first schoolmaster in Connecticut to make regular classes for female students.

 

Nathan received word that the Revolution had broken out in Massachusetts at the school on April 22, 1775. That evening, the local townspeople had a meeting where Nathan asked to be let out of his contract because he considered it his duty to fight for his country. Hale received a lieutenant’s commission in Connecticut’s 7th Regiment, which left for Boston in September. There they joined the brigade of General John Sullivan and Hale was soon promoted to Captain of the regiment.

 

Hale saw no military action in Boston and, when the British abandoned the city, he went with the Continental Army to Long Island to defend New York City. Hale’s regiment did not see action here either when the British attacked and took the island, much to Hale’s disappointment. After George Washington moved his army back to Manhattan, the General devised a plan to place a spy within the British ranks on Long Island to find out when and where they would move against Manhattan.

 

Nathan Hale volunteered for the mission, apparently because he felt that he hadn’t done anything useful yet in the war. Hale was dropped off at Huntington, Long Island on September 12, 1776. Unbeknownst to him, the British would invade Manhattan and drive Washington out of New York on the 15th, making his mission unnecessary, but since Nathan didn’t know it, he continued with his mission.

 

Nathan posed as a school teacher looking for work and gathered information on British troop movements and strength and eventually made his way back to Huntington where he was to be picked up. Accounts vary on how exactly Nathan was discovered by the British. Some accounts have a Tory relative, a local who recognized him or a British soldier who recognized him, giving him up. At some point, British Lieutenant Colonel Robert Rogers, knowing Hale was a spy, approached him at a tavern and pretended to be a patriot sympathetic to Hale’s views. Hale told him his mission and Rogers captured him.

 

Hale was immediately sent to New York City and interrogated by General William Howe who, without trial or jury, sentenced him to death. On September 22nd, Hale was marched to a tree in an apple orchard in New York and given the opportunity to say some last words. History tells us Nathan’s last words were, "I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country." For his bravery and love for his country, he earned a well-deserved spot in America’s pantheon of heroes from the Revolutionary War.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Historian General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org  

 

"[T]o preserve the republican form and principles of our Constitution and cleave to the salutary distribution of powers which that [the Constitution] has established … are the two sheet anchors of our Union. If driven from either, we shall be in danger of foundering." —Thomas Jefferson (1823)

Massacre at Hancock’s Bridge

Massacre at Hancock’s Bridge

 

On March 21, 1778, just three days after British Loyalists and Hessian mercenary forces assault the local New Jersey militia at Quinton’s Bridge, three miles from Salem, New Jersey, the same contingent surprises the colonial militia at Hancock’s Bridge, five miles from Salem. During the battle, the Loyalists not only kill several members of the Salem militia, but also two known Loyalists.

 

In what amounted to a civil war for New Jersey, Colonel Charles Mawhood led the attack on Quinton’s Bridge, and then threatened to burn the town of Salem and subject its women and children to the horrors of the Loyalist militia if the Patriot militia failed to lay down its arms. Colonel Asher Holmes of the Patriot militia promised retribution on Loyalist civilians if Mawhood made good his threats and Mawhood appeared to concede. Three days later, however, Colonel John Simcoe, leader of the Queen’s Rangers, unleashed the Loyalists’ fury on the sleeping men at Hancock’s Bridge.

 

In what became known as the Massacre at Hancock’s Bridge, at least 20 members of the Salem militia lost their lives, some after attempting to surrender. The Loyalists reputedly exclaimed, Spare no one! Give no quarter! as they stormed the house of Judge William Hancock, a Loyalist whose house the Patriots had commandeered, while the Patriot militia slept. Judge Hancock and his brother were bayoneted in the melee, although both were known to be staunch supporters of the crown and were themselves non-violent Quakers.

 

http://www.history.com

 

Jack Manning

Historian General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org  

 

"[J]udges, therefore, should be always men of learning and experience in the laws, of exemplary morals, great patience, calmness, coolness, and attention. Their minds should not be distracted with jarring interests; they should not be dependent upon any man, or body of men." —John Adams (1776)

The Anti-American British government falls

The Anti-American British government falls

 

On this day in history, March 20, 1782, the Anti-American British government falls with the resignation of Prime Minister Frederick North. When General Lord Charles Cornwallis surrendered his army to George Washington at Yorktown, Virginia, the desire to bring the war to an end in England reached a fever pitch.

 

Debates raged in Parliament through January and February and finally, on February 27, the House of Commons passed a vote to end the war. On March 5, Parliament gives King George III the authority to negotiate peace with the Americans. Prime Minister North, however, is unpopular and the opposition tries to pass through several votes of no confidence in order to oust him.

 

Lord North had been Prime Minister since 1770 and was in charge of the British government during the entire American Revolution. The war had gone badly for England nearly from the beginning. They were never able to consolidate control beyond the major cities that were captured.

 

North had tried to resign several times during the war, thinking himself unable to handle a war, including right after the Battles of Lexington and Concord and after the defeat of General Burgoyne at Saratoga and the entrance of France in to the war. Each time, however, King George refused to accept his resignation and asked North to stay on.

 

With the defeat of Cornwallis, North again handed in his resignation and again, the King refused to accept it. This time, however, Parliament had had enough of war and momentum was swinging against North. After the vote to end the war on the 27th, a vote of no confidence was held which North narrowly survived. Only a few days later, however, another vote was held, which he failed.

 

On March 20, Parliament was scheduled to hold debates on North. North knew he was about to be sacked and before anyone could him further, he stood up to be recognized in the chamber. North publicly resigned, the first Prime Minister to be forced from office.

 

Two days later, King George III appointed Charles Watson-Wentworth, the Marquess of Rockingham, to be Prime Minister. Lord Rockingham set about immediately negotiating with the American peace commissioners in Paris. By November, a preliminary peace treaty was signed. It is agreed to by Parliament the following January and by Congress in April, 1783.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Historian General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org  

 

"Let the American youth never forget, that they possess a noble inheritance, bought by the toils, and sufferings, and blood of their ancestors." —Joseph Story (1833)

Thomas McKean is born

Thomas McKean is born

 

On this day in history, March 19, 1734, Thomas McKean is born. He would be one of the most politically active of the Founding Fathers, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, President of Delaware, Chief Justice of Pennsylvania and Governor of Pennsylvania.

 

Thomas McKean was born in Chester County, Pennsylvania to Irish immigrants of Scottish decent. He became a lawyer in the 1750s. Delaware at that time was technically a part of Pennsylvania, but had its own General Assembly. McKean had homes in Philadelphia and in Delaware and was politically active in both.

 

His first public office was Attorney General for Sussex County, Delaware. He became a judge of the Court of Common Pleas in 1765 and was sent to the Stamp Act Congress from Delaware to coordinate resistance with the other colonies against the Stamp Act. From 1762 to 1776, he was a member of the General Assembly in Delaware and served as its Speaker of the House in 1772.

 

McKean was chosen as a member of Delaware’s delegation to both the First and Second Continental Congresses. He was a prominent advocate of independence from Great Britain and voted for the Declaration of Independence on July 2, 1776. McKean helped write the Articles of Confederation and served as the President of Congress for a few months in 1781, during which time Lord Charles Cornwallis surrendered his army at Yorktown, the event that eventually brought the Revolutionary War to an end.

 

During the war, McKean participated in the defense of New York City. He also attended Delaware’s convention to write its own state constitution. He wrote virtually the entire constitution in one night and, when it was ratified on September 20, 1776, it became the first state constitution to be adopted after the colonies declared their independence. McKean then served as President of Delaware for a short time when the then current president, John McKinly, was captured by the British.

 

McKean was elected Pennsylvania’s Chief Justice from 1777 to 1799. In this position, he became one of the most prominent shapers of the American legal system, some scholars believe even more so than the long serving Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, John Marshall. McKean served at the Pennsylvania Convention which ratified the US Constitution and at the convention which adopted a state constitution for Pennsylvania.

 

Thomas McKean was then elected governor of Pennsylvania for 3 terms from 1799 to 1808. He led the way in preparing Philadelphia’s defenses during the War of 1812, at the age of 80 years old. He finally passed away at the age of 83. His grave is at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Historian General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org  

 

"It is of great importance to set a resolution, not to be shaken, never to tell an untruth. There is no vice so mean, so pitiful, so contemptible; and he who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second and a third time, till at length it becomes habitual; he tells lies without attending to it, and truths without the world’s believing him. This falsehood of the tongue leads to that of the heart, and in time depraves all its good disposition."
Thomas Jefferson (1785)

The Battle of Quinton’s Bridge

The Battle of Quinton’s Bridge

 

On this day in history, March 18, 1778, the Battle of Quinton’s Bridge is fought by New Jersey militia near Salem, New Jersey. British General William Howe occupied Philadelphia in September of 1777. The following winter, George Washington and the Continental Army were encamped at Valley Forge. Both sides camped for the winter with no major battles, but numerous skirmishes took place between them as soldiers foraged through the countryside for food and supplies.

 

In February, 1778, Brigadier General Anthony Wayne took a large force on a foraging mission through southern New Jersey. In March, General Howe sent Lt. Col. Charles Mawhood after Wayne, hoping to provoke a fight. On the 17th, Mawhood crossed into Salem County, while Wayne was at Burlington and ready to return to Valley Forge.

 

Salem County militia learned of Mawhood’s movements and quickly moved to block his advance by establishing positions at Quinton’s Bridge and Hancock’s Bridge on Alloway Creek. They deplanked the bridges and took up positions on the side opposite the British advance. On the morning of the 18th, Mawhood sent troops to Quinton’s Bridge, opposite the 300 soldiers on the other side. After a while, the British troops began a retreat, but this was actually a ruse to trick the militia into following them.

 

Captain William Smith quickly replaced the bridge planks and followed the British with 200 men. The bulk of Mawhood’s men were hiding at a nearby farm and they quickly moved to come up behind the militiamen to prevent them from returning to the bridge. Smith’s force tried to cross the creek anyway and several dozen drowned.

 

Mawhood’s men tried to cross Quinton’s Bridge, but they were stopped by the arrival of Colonel Elijah Hand with more militia. Hand prevented the British from crossing the bridge, stopped the slaughter of Smith’s men and forced the British to retreat. Captain Smith made it to safety on a horse that had been shot twice and with a bullet wound that had grazed his head.

 

Mawhood tried to get Colonel Hand to surrender, threatening to kill all his men, destroy their properties and force their families into destitution. Hand refused and responded that he considered the request a "cruel order by a barbarous Attila and not of a gentleman, brave, generous and polished with a genteel European education," saying that if his men were killed it would only inspire more to join the militia.

 

Two days later, Mawhood sent a force to take Hancock’s Bridge instead with orders to spare no one. On the 21st, the British surprised 20-30 militia at the home of Judge William Hancock, bayoneting everyone in the home, including Judge Hancock.

 

The Battle of Quinton’s Bridge was an American victory because the British finally retreated, but at a heavy cost of 30-40 dead, plus another 30 at Hancock’s home 3 days later. Humiliated by being beaten by a bunch of farmers and unable to cross Alloway’s Creek, Mawhood returned to Philadelphia. The British never again returned to Salem County.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Historian General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org  

 

"The foundations of our national policy will be laid in the pure and immutable principles of private morality, and the preeminence of free government be exemplified by all the attributes which can win the affections of its citizens, and command the respect of the world." —George Washington (1789)

The British Army abandons Boston

The British Army abandons Boston

 

On this day in history, March 17, 1776, the British army abandons Boston. When the American Revolution broke out on April 19, 1775 at the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the American minuteman chased the British soldiers back to Boston and surrounded the city. Over the next few days, more militia from all over Massachusetts and the other colonies arrived to help.

 

The Siege of Boston continued for weeks with only minor skirmishes, but on June 17, British Commander-in-Chief Thomas Gage took Bunker and Breeds Hills north of town, but in a bloody and very costly maneuver. Indeed, a quarter of Gage’s troops were injured or killed, forcing him to give up further operations.

 

George Washington arrived on July 3 to command the newly created Continental Army. Most of the militia was absorbed into this army. Washington set about training the militia how to operate as a cohesive army and began strengthening the fortifications around the city.

 

Food and supplies were short in Boston, where the only access was from British ships by way of the sea. Soldiers were forced to cut down trees in the town and tear down buildings for firewood. Ammunition and guns were in short supply for the colonists. A stalemate ensued between the two sides for months.

 

The tide turned after Washington sent the young Colonel Henry Knox to bring tons of cannons to Boston that were captured by Benedict Arnold and Ethan Allen at Fort Ticonderoga in New York back in May. Knox hauled 60 tons of cannons over snow covered mountains on ox carts. It took him three months to get the cannons back to Boston.

 

Washington then placed the cannons on Dorchester Heights south of Boston in a secret overnight action. In the morning, when General Gage awoke, he learned that the high ground on Dorchester Heights had been fortified by the rebels. This land was a high outcropping that overlooked the town and the harbor. This move put any British ships attempting to resupply the town in danger. Vice-Admiral Samuel Graves and General William Howe, who had replaced Gage as the British commander, knew the city was not defensible in this position. A decision was made to abandon the town and almost 10,000 troops embarked for Nova Scotia on March 17.

 

British strength was now broken in Massachusetts and Boston would not be targeted by the British again for the rest of the war. Washington took his army south to defend New York City, the next most logical place of attack for Howe. Howe sailed for Nova Scotia, delivering hundreds of Loyalist refugees there. Howe then sailed with a massive fleet to New York, arriving in July to begin the conquest of New York and hopefully, the rest of the middle colonies.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Historian General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org  

 

"One single object … [will merit] the endless gratitude of the society: that of restraining the judges from usurping legislation." Thomas Jefferson (1825)