Monthly Archives: September 2015

Benedict Arnold’s treason is discovered

Benedict Arnold’s treason is discovered

On this day in history, September 23, 1780, Benedict Arnold’s treason is discovered by 3 young patriots who grew suspicious of a passerby who turned out to be British spy, John Andre. The discovery led to the three men’s entry into the hall of fame of American heroes from the Revolution.


Benedict Arnold was a hero of the American invasion of Canada and the Battle of Saratoga. He was once viewed as one of the Continental Army’s best and brightest and had the personal favor of George Washington. The reason for Arnold’s turning is uncertain, but he was known for having frequent disputes with his superiors and was overlooked for promotion several times. This may have been the source of his disgruntlement.


Arnold began corresponding with British General, Sir Henry Clinton in New York the year before and proposed the exchanging of information for certain favors. Arnold used his influence with George Washington to have himself placed in command of West Point, the most strategically important place on the Hudson River preventing a British invasion to the north.


On the evening of September 21, 1780, Arnold met with British Major John Andre at the home of Joshua Hett Smith, a patriot who was unaware of
Arnold’s true intent, at Haverstraw, New York. Arnold turned over the plans of West Point to Andre and was to receive 20,000 pounds and be made a general in the British army in return. The following morning, Andre began the trek back to New York in disguise, carrying a pass signed by Arnold that would let him through American lines. He carried the secret plans of West Point in his shoes.


After crossing the Croton River, Andre believed he would be in safe territory as Arnold had told him only British patrols would be found beyond
that point. When he crossed the river, however, he was stopped by a patrol made up of three young patriots, 25 year old David Williams, 22 year old John Paulding and 20 year old Isaac Van Wert. The three belonged to the New York militia and were in the area searching for cattle stolen by the British.


Young John Paulding wore a worn out Hessian military jacket and this jacket apparently deceived Andre into believing they were British. Andre exclaimed he was glad to meet some friendly soldiers and that he was on important business. The three boys took him into custody instantly and told him they were patriots. When Andre changed his story and produced the signed pass from Arnold, they became more suspicious. They stripped him and found the documents from West Point.


At this point, the three soldiers took Andre to a nearby Continental Army outpost. Lt. Col. John Jameson listened to the story and quickly sent off letters to George Washington and Benedict Arnold (it wasn’t yet clear that Arnold was guilty of any wrongdoing). Arnold quickly escaped to a British ship and made his way to safety. George Washington was furious when he arrived at West Point only a few hours after Arnold’s departure and the truth was revealed.


Arnold escaped to New York and, as promised, was made a general in the British army. He led attacks in Virginia and Connecticut and later moved to London. John Andre, the captured British spy, was hanged for his role in the affair on October 2. The three boys who captured Andre became heroes, with poems and songs, books and plays written about them. They were well-known figures to Americans for over a hundred years because of all the publicity, but their names have faded in recent times, which is truly a loss to modern day Americans.


Jack Manning

Historian General


“The greatest good we can do our country is to heal its party divisions and
make them one people.”
Thomas Jefferson, 1801


Nathan Hale is hanged

Nathan Hale is hanged

On this day in history, September 22, 1776, Nathan Hale is hanged for spying against the British on Long Island. Hale was born in Coventry, Connecticut in 1755. He went to Yale and became a school teacher in New London, Connecticut. When the Revolution broke out, Hale joined Connecticut’s 7th Regiment as a lieutenant and marched to Boston to participate in the siege of that city.


Hale was disappointed that he saw no military action at Boston before the British abandoned the city. Afterwards, the Continental Army moved to defend New York. Hale was disappointed once again when his unit saw no action at the Battle of Long Island on August 27, 1776.


After losing the battle, George Washington knew the British would attempt to invade Manhattan and devised a plan to place a spy into the British ranks on Long Island to learn where the invasion would begin. The 21 year old Hale volunteered for the mission, probably because he was tired of being overlooked and out of harm’s way.


Hale sailed from Norwalk, Connecticut across Long Island Sound on September 12th. He landed at Huntington and made his way west where he posed as a teacher of Dutch descent looking for a job. Hale spent several days trying to gather information, especially about the planned invasion of Manhattan. Unbeknownst to Hale, the British invaded the island at Kip’s Bay on the 15th, forced the Continental Army to withdraw to the north of the island and captured New York City all on the same day.


Hale continued with his mission, not realizing that it had already failed. On the evening of September 21st, a large fire started in New York City that burned down a quarter of the town. In the hysteria of the event, some 200 patriot sympathizers were rounded up on suspicion that they had set the fire to prevent the British from using the city as a base of operations.


Hale by this time had already begun to make his way back to Huntington to cross back to safe territory and report back to Washington, so he had nothing to do with the fire. During his escape from Long Island, Hale was tricked into disclosing his mission to a British officer who had been tipped off to Hale’s mission. He was taken into custody and sent to General William Howe in New York. Some have speculated that Hale was caught as a result of the frenzy to take patriots into custody after the fire, but there is no evidence to support this claim.


General Howe interrogated Hale at the Beekman Mansion outside the city and sentenced him to hanging for treason. That night, Hale was held in the greenhouse on the Beekman estate, where he was denied his request to have a Bible or see a clergy member. British officer John Montresor reported the young man conducted himself with great composure as he marched to the gallows on September 22.


Before his death, Nathan Hale made one of the most memorable statements of the Revolution, when he allegedly said, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” Hale apparently made much more lengthy comments in which he condemned the British and made it clear that he was proud of his role in the rebellion.


No grave has ever been discovered for Hale, but numerous statues of the blond haired, blue eyed spy from Connecticut have been erected in his honor. Numerous schools, buildings, army installations and a US submarine have been named for this 21 year old hero of the American Revolution as well.


Jack Manning

Historian General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution


“To judge from the history of mankind, we shall be compelled to conclude
that the fiery and destructive passions of war reign in the human breast
with much more powerful sway than the mild and beneficent sentiments of
peace; and that to model our political systems upon speculations of lasting
tranquillity would be to calculate on the weaker springs of human
character.” Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 34 – 1788


The Great Fire of New York of 1776

On this day in history, September 21, 1776, the Great Fire of New York of 1776 burns down much of the city, less than a week after it was occupied by the army of British General William Howe. Howe marched into the city on September 15 unopposed. George Washington and the Continental Army had been in the city, but realized it was indefensible and retreated to the north of the island a few days before.


Upon leaving the city, Washington was encouraged to burn New York to the ground to prevent the British from using it as a base of operations. Such prominent people as Nathanael Greene and John Jay advocated the burning of the city. Washington, however, wrote to Congress and asked their wishes. Congress told him that abandoning the city was reasonable, but not to burn it.


New York at this time was only a city of 25,000 people, confined to the lower tip of Manhattan. On the evening of September 21st, a fire started at the Fighting Cock’s Tavern in Whitehall. The fire quickly spread to neighboring buildings by embers carried on the wind. Within hours, businesses, homes, churches and schools were burning. The panicked citizens fled into the streets carrying whatever belongings they could. By the time the fire burned itself out, somewhere between 10% and 25% of the city had burned to the ground and many of the remaining structures had been looted.


British General Howe suspected the rebel patriots of setting the fire and arrested more than 200 patriot sympathizers. Many patriots had fled the city, though, when the British occupation began. This led some to suspect it was started by the British as an act of revenge against the colonists. Others speculated the fire was begun to provide cover for thieves to loot the city.


Historians have never been able to determine who started the Great Fire of New York of 1776. There was evidence of arson. Alarm bells were mysteriously missing; fire-fighting equipment was found damaged and useless and many of the city’s public watering cisterns were mysteriously dry.


George Washington wrote to John Hancock, then the President of Congress, that he had instructed no one to set the fire, but that “Providence—or some good honest Fellow, has done more for us than we were disposed to do for ourselves.”


After the fire, refugees from the burned areas set up tent cities and lived in squalor. Thousands of Loyalist refugees from other areas flooded into the city as well, putting even more pressure on the damaged infrastructure of the city. New York would remain in this condition, with much of the city lying in ruins for years to come.


The British did not leave New York City until the very end of the Revolution in November, 1783, the last city in the former colonies to be abandoned by its British oppressors. George Washington marched triumphantly into the city on November 25, 1783, and the city was able to rebuild freely in the hands of the victorious patriots.


Jack Manning
Historian General
National Society Sons of the American Revolution


“I ask, Sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people. To disarm the people is the best and most effectual way to enslave them.”
George Mason

The Battle of Paoli

On this day in history, September 20, 1777, the Battle of Paoli seals the fate of Philadelphia, allowing the British to take the city unopposed. British General William Howe had landed 17,000 troops in Maryland on August 25 and begun marching the 60 miles to capture the American capital.


George Washington’s Continental Army had put up a fight at the Battle of Brandywine, but was driven back by the superior British forces. Washington retreated beyond the Schuylkill River, but then crossed back over to fight near present day Malvern. This battle was averted, however, when both sides were forced to abort because of a severe storm. The battle became known as the Battle of the Clouds.


Following the storm, Washington withdrew to the west to get dry ammunition and supplies from Reading, Pennsylvania, while General Howe’s army remained stationary due to the wet and rutted roads. Washington sent Brigadier General Anthony Wayne with 1,500 men to pursue and harass Howe’s rear. Major General William Smallwood was sent to assist him with 1,000 Pennsylvania militia.


On the evening of the 19th, Wayne camped near the Paoli Tavern, which is near modern day Malvern, while Smallwood camped two miles to the west near White Horse Tavern. Wayne believed his presence was unknown to General Howe, but Howe had learned of Wayne’s mission from spies and local Loyalists.


On the evening of September 20, Major General Charles Grey left the British camp with 1,800 soldiers. As they approached Wayne’s camp late that night, Wayne’s sentries fired on the British and alerted the camp. Three waves of British soldiers carrying bayonets rushed through the camp. The Americans, surprised and with few bayonets, were quickly overcome. They began to scatter and many ran toward General Smallwood’s camp hoping for reinforcement. As the British pursued and ran into Smallwood’s force coming to the rescue, Smallwood’s men were routed as well.


The Battle of Paoli, which has also been called the Paoli Massacre, was a stunning defeat to the Continental Army and the Pennsylvania militia. 53 Americans were killed, 113 were wounded and 71 were captured. The British suffered less than a dozen casualties. The outsized British victory was soon called a “massacre” by American patriots because of the high rate of American casualties. Rumors even spread that the British had bayoneted wounded survivors and surrendering men, but there is no evidence that has proved this accusation.


General Wayne was accused of poor decision making leading to the rout, which angered him and led him to demand a full court-martial. The court-martial later found him innocent of any wrong doing or guilt in the loss.


After the battle, General Howe’s rear was clear of any American interference and he continued the march to Philadelphia. Washington and Howe maneuvered on opposite sides of the Schuylkill for a few days, but Howe was able to find an unprotected ford on the river and marched unopposed into the city on the 26th. Philadelphia would be occupied for the next 9 months.


Jack Manning
Historian General
National Society Sons of the American Revolution


“The true theory of our Constitution is surely the wisest and best, that the states are independent as to everything within themselves, and united as to everything respecting foreign nations. Let the general government be reduced to foreign concerns only, and let our affairs be disentangled from those of all other nations, except as to commerce, which the merchants will manage the better the more they are left free to manage for themselves, and our general government may be reduced to a very simple organization, and a very inexpensive one — a few plain duties to be performed by a few servants.”
Thomas Jefferson, letter to Gideon Granger, 1800

The Battle of Freeman’s Farm

On this day in history, September 19, 1777, the Battle of Freeman’s Farm is the first of the Battles of Saratoga which culminated in the surrender of British General John Burgoyne’s army. The battles were a major turning point in the American Revolution that encouraged France and Spain to join the war on the American side.


In 1777, the British began an effort to divide New England from the middle and southern colonies. The plan was to send General Burgoyne down Lake Champlain from Quebec; Brigadier General Barry St. Leger would cut across New York from the west; and General William Howe would come from New York City up the Hudson River. The three groups would meet at Albany.


General Burgoyne left Quebec in June and reached Saratoga by mid-September, but St. Leger’s force was stopped at Fort Stanwix and turned back by Benedict Arnold. General Howe took the bulk of his forces to capture Philadelphia, instead of going to meet Burgoyne, leaving Burgoyne isolated. In addition, Burgoyne lost 1,000 men at the Battle of Bennington who were supposed to bring him support. Burgoyne had trouble getting supplies and communications across the vast wilderness and most of his Indian allies abandoned him after the loss at Bennington.


The American army under General Horatio Gates had dug in at Bemis Heights, about ten miles south of Saratoga. On the morning of September 19, Burgoyne decided to attack. Benedict Arnold understood that Burgoyne would attack the American left flank and ordered his men through the wilderness to meet him.


Colonel Daniel Morgan’s sharpshooters met the British near Loyalist John Freeman’s farm and the battle began. Morgan’s sharpshooters picked off nearly every British officer in the British vanguard, driving them back into the main British army, which began firing on their own men.


Fighting took place all day around the farm, with both sides variously winning or losing the battle. The battle finally went to the British when German Baron, Friedrich Adolf Riedesel attacked the American right flank. Darkness began to fall and the Americans retreated to their defenses at Bemis Heights.


Burgoyne won the first of the Battles of Saratoga, although it cost him 600 men, which he could not afford to lose, including most of his artillery soldiers. The Americans lost half that number. Following the Battle of Freeman’s Farm, Burgoyne was faced with a perplexing decision. Should he continue the battle, or wait for reinforcements? He quickly sent word to General Henry Clinton in New York, who had been left in command there with a small force to guard the city after General Howe left for Philadelphia.


Clinton quickly sent troops up the Hudson to distract Gates and hopefully pull him away from Burgoyne. Clinton’s help finally came too late though. Burgoyne went to battle again on October 7 and this time Gates’ army was victorious. Burgoyne was forced into retreat and surrendered his entire army on October 17th at Saratoga.


The victory caused celebration throughout the colonies, which were especially despondent after the capture of Philadelphia in September. France and Spain joined the war officially upon seeing that the Americans could truly stand up against the British army. Their involvement forced Britain into a worldwide war that reduced British numbers in America and eventually led to their defeat at Yorktown.


Jack Manning
Historian General
National Society Sons of the American Revolution


“[W]hat country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms.”
Thomas Jefferson

John Langdon dies

On this day in history, September 18, 1819, John Langdon dies. Langdon was a leader of the American Revolution from New Hampshire. He would be a member of the Continental Congress, a governor of New Hampshire and the first President pro tempore of the United States Senate.


John Langdon was born to a wealthy farmer in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. John and his older brother, Woodbury, both became sailors as young men, sailing out of Portsmouth, one of New England’s primary ports. By the age of 22, Langdon owned his first ship and began sailing to the West Indies and London. Over time, both brothers had their own fleets of ships and became some of Portsmouth’s most wealthy citizens.


As the American Revolution neared, Langdon’s business was particularly affected by British policies since he was involved in shipping and trade. This made Langdon a strong supporter of American rights and independence. He became involved in New Hampshire’s Committee of Correspondence and with enforcing the boycott on British goods. In 1774, he participated in the capture of ammunition and weapons from Fort William and Mary in Portsmouth to prevent the British from using them.


In 1775, Langdon was elected to the Continental Congress. He resigned in 1776 and returned to New Hampshire to oversee the building of several ships for Congress. He also became involved in importing weapons for the army and began serving in the New Hampshire congress, where he became Speaker of the House. In 1777, Langdon was personally involved in the Battle of Bennington, the Battles of Saratoga and, in 1778, the Rhode Island Campaign to take back Newport.


After the war, Langdon continued in the New Hampshire legislature and served a few terms as governor. In 1787, Langdon was elected to attend the Constitutional Convention where he supported the new Constitution. He was a leader of the effort to ratify the Constitution in New Hampshire and served at the ratification convention. When New Hampshire became the 9th state to vote to accept the Constitution on June 21, 1788, the Constitution became the law of the land and the United States was officially created.


Langdon was elected one of New Hampshire’s first two senators to the United States Congress. He served in this position for two terms, from 1789 to 1801. During the first and second Congresses, Langdon was elected the first President pro tempore of the Senate, meaning he presided over the Senate’s sessions in the absence of the President of the Senate, who was also the Vice-President of the United States.


Langdon was involved in an interesting affair with a slave of George Washington’s in the late 1790s. Oney Judge, as she was called, had escaped Washington’s custody in Philadelphia and sailed to Portsmouth where she made a home for herself. When Burwell Bassett, Washington’s nephew, came to Portsmouth to bring her home, she refused. Bassett told Langdon over dinner that he was going to kidnap her. Langdon secretly sent word to Oney that she should go into hiding, which she did and avoided capture.


In 1801, Langdon began serving in the New Hampshire house again and spent several years as governor. He finally retired in 1812. He turned down an appointment by President Thomas Jefferson to serve as Secretary of the Navy in 1801, and again turned down an offer to run for vice-president with Jefferson in 1812. Langdon passed away on September 18, 1819 and was buried in North Cemetery in Portsmouth.


Jack Manning
Historian General
National Society Sons of the American Revolution


“No free government was ever founded, or ever preserved its liberty, without uniting the characters of the citizen and soldier in those destined for the defense of the state…such area well-regulated militia, composed of the freeholders, citizen and husbandman, who take up arms to preserve their property, as individuals, and their rights as freemen.”
Richard Henry Lee


US Constitution is adopted

On this day in history, September 17, 1787, the US Constitution is adopted by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. The Constitution was made to replace the failed Articles of Confederation, America’s first governing document. Today, the US Constitution is the oldest functioning constitution of any state in the world.


During the American Revolution, the Continental Congress created the Articles of Confederation as the first governing document of the unified colonies. Over time, the Articles proved to be too weak for the government to function. The Articles gave Congress authority over trade, foreign relations and war, but it did not give Congress sufficient power to compel the states to comply.


Representatives from several states met at Annapolis, Maryland in 1786 to discuss some of the failed aspects of the Articles. They wrote a letter to Congress and the states requesting that a new convention be held to revise the Articles so the government would be strong enough to function.


Delegates converged on the Pennsylvania State House, now called Independence Hall, in Philadelphia, in May of 1787. This was the same place Congress had met during the Revolution and created the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. The delegates, including such people as Roger Sherman, Elbridge Gerry, Alexander Hamilton, Ben Franklin, James Madison and Gouverneur Morris, chose George Washington to serve as President of the Convention.


Right from the start, the Philadelphia Convention did away with the idea of reforming the Articles of Confederation, instead choosing to write an altogether new constitution. The delegates debated the plan for four months, dealing with such questions as states’ rights vs. federal power, slavery, foreign affairs, the scope of presidential powers and the balance between the interests of small states and large states.


In the end, a single executive, the President, was chosen to enforce the laws of Congress, which would be made up of a lower house, the House of Representatives, with delegates apportioned by population, and an upper house, the Senate, where each state was represented equally. A Supreme Court and federal judiciary would judge all matters of controversy.


On September 17, 1787, the Congress adopted its final version of the new Constitution and 39 delegates signed the document. Over the next two years, each state held its own ratification convention and debated the merits and weaknesses of the Constitution. The Constitution required that 9 of the 13 states ratify it in order for it to become law. On June 21, 1788, New Hampshire became the 9th state to ratify and the Constitution became the law of the land.


The first Congress and the new government began meeting on March 4, 1789. George Washington would be inaugurated President in April. By the fall of that year, a bill of rights containing protections for many basic rights, such as freedom of speech, religion, assembly, the right to bear arms, and many others, was proposed for addition to the Constitution. The first ten amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, were added to the Constitution and became law on December 15, 1791.


Jack Manning
Historian General
National Society Sons of the American Revolution


Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote!”  Benjamin Franklin