Monthly Archives: September 2017

New Jersey patriot William Paterson dies

New Jersey patriot William Paterson dies


On this day in history, September 9, 1806, New Jersey patriot William Paterson dies. Paterson was a leading figure of the American Revolution in New Jersey. He helped write the US Constitution, the laws of the State of New Jersey and served as an Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court.


William Paterson was born in Ireland and immigrated to America as a child. He was enrolled at Princeton, where he graduated with a BA in 1763, delivering his class’ commencement address on the subject of patriotism. Paterson then studied law with Richard Stockton, a future signer of the Declaration of Independence.


Paterson began a law career and settled near New Brunswick, New Jersey. When the American Revolution began, Paterson became a leading figure of the revolt in New Jersey. He served several terms in the rebel New Jersey Provincial Congress, on the Council of Safety and at the New Jersey Constitutional Convention. In 1776, he was appointed New Jersey’s Attorney General, a position he held until the war was over, even turning down election to the Continental Congress to perform his duties. Paterson received a military commission from Somerset County, but never saw active duty.


After the Revolution, Paterson continued his legal career, but was appointed to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, where he made a national name for himself by promoting the "New Jersey" or "Paterson" plan, which advocated a legislative body based on equal representation for each state. The plan created much debate, but was eventually scrapped for the current one with a Senate based on equal representation and a House based on representation by population.


In 1789, Paterson became one of New Jersey’s first US Senators and helped write the Judicial Act of 1789, which created the federal court system. In 1790, Paterson resigned his Senate seat to become governor of New Jersey, where he codified New Jersey’s laws and revised its court system.


On February 27, 1793, George Washington nominated Paterson to the US Supreme Court, but the next day he had to rescind the nomination. Since Paterson had helped create the Judicial Act of 1789 as a Senator, his appointment to the Court would have violated Article 1, Section 6 of the Constitution, which forbids members of Congress from being appointed to a position created while they are in Congress until their term has run out. Even though Paterson had resigned his Senate seat, his term had not yet ended. A few days, later, on March 4, 1793, Washington re-nominated him and Paterson was confirmed to the Court by the Senate.


As an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Paterson traveled in a circuit of federal courts. His most well-known cases had to do with the trying of participants engaged in the Whiskey Rebellion of the early 1790s. Paterson was known for being a strong defender of states’ rights and the rule of law.


Paterson died on September 9, 1806 at the age of 60 on his way to Ballston Springs, New York, where he hoped to partake of the alleged healing powers of the area’s natural springs for ailments related to a coach accident in 1803. Paterson was at the home of his daughter in Albany when he passed away.


Cornelia had married Stephen Van Rensselaer in 1802. Van Rensselaer was the inheritor of a vast estate that made him the 10th most wealthy man in US history, and the 22nd most wealthy man in world history, with an estimated worth in today’s dollars of $68 billion! Paterson was buried at the Van Renssalaer estate and many years later was moved to the Albany Rural Cemetery.


Jack Manning

Treasurer General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution  


"The principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale." —Thomas Jefferson (1816)

Brigadier General Enoch Poor dies

Brigadier General Enoch Poor dies


On this day in history, September 8, 1780, Brigadier General Enoch Poor dies in what would be one of the great mysteries of the American Revolution. Did Poor die of typhus, or did he die in a secret duel  that was covered up by George Washington?


Enoch Poor was born in Andover, Massachusetts in 1736. As a young man he fought in the French and Indian War. He moved to Exeter, New Hampshire and became a shipbuilder. When the Stamp Act came along in 1765, Poor was at the lead of the opposition, being appointed one of the enforcers of the boycott on the sale of British goods.


Poor was again appointed to a committee to enforce a ban on British goods in 1770 and again in 1774. He served in the New Hampshire Provincial Congress and, after the Battle of Lexington, became the colonel of one of three New Hampshire regiments. Poor’s regiment was moved to Boston from Portsmouth after the Battle of Bunker Hill and he participated in the Siege of Boston.


Poor’s regiment was absorbed by the Continental Army in 1775 and sent to join the invasion of Canada under General Richard Montgomery. The invasion failed and Poor’s unit eventually joined the Continental Army in New Jersey, where he was promoted to brigadier general. In 1777, Poor was involved in the Battles of Saratoga, where his heroism helped win one of the most significant battles of the Revolution. Poor spent the winter of 1778 at Valley Forge and he helped direct the retreat after the Battle of Monmouth. In 1779, Poor helped lead the Sullivan Expedition which wreaked havoc on the Iroquois villages of New York.


In 1780, Poor became part of the Marquis de Lafayette’s command. The Marquis had great respect for Poor and put him in charge of training a new light infantry corps. Poor was then given command of one of the new brigades, but he didn’t serve in this position long before his death, which would become one of the great controversies of the American Revolution.


According to the army surgeon, Poor came down with typhus on September 6 and died on September 8. But many historians doubt this official story, instead believing that Poor died as a result of a duel with a subordinate officer who challenged Poor’s decision to make a forced march when his officers were too tired to go any further. After several attempts to get him to stop, the officer told Poor he would have challenged him to a duel if he were not his superior. Poor took up the challenge, the two fought and Poor was mortally wounded.


But why would the incident have been covered up? First, dueling was illegal in the Continental Army. It would have been an embarrassment if the public found out that one of the army’s top generals was involved in a duel. Second, it would have been embarrassing if the British found out that one of the Americans’ top generals died in a duel with a subordinate. For this reason, some historians believe George Washington had the incident covered up and the typhus cover story was invented. There are family records that verify the duel story, but historians are divided about evenly about whether the event actually occurred.


Upon Poor’s death, George Washington wrote, "He was an officer of distinguished merit, one who as a citizen and soldier had every claim to the esteem and regard of his country." Both Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette attended the funeral in Hackensack, New Jersey, where Poor was buried. During the Marquis’ famed return to the United States in 1824, the Marquis visited Poor’s grave and, apparently moved with emotion, proclaimed, "Ah, that was one of my generals."


Jack Manning

Treasurer General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution  


"No power on earth has a right to take our property from us without our consent."

John Jay

The American Turtle Attacks the HMS Eagle

The American Turtle attacks the HMS Eagle


On this day in history, September 7, 1776, the American Turtle attacks HMS Eagle in the first naval attack ever made in a submarine. The Turtle, also called the American Turtle, was designed by David Bushnell of Westbrook, Connecticut in 1775. While a student at Yale in the early 1770s, Bushnell studied the use of underwater explosives and incorporated their use into a submersible ship that could attach explosives to British ships.


Bushnell’s submersible was recommended to General George Washington by Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull. Washington provided some money for the sub’s development, although he was skeptical. The Turtle, so named because of how it looked underwater, was 10x6x3 and had room for one man, who could propel the sub’s propeller with his feet.


The sub had small windows in the top to let in light when it was not fully submerged, but when submerged, a naturally glowing bioluminescent piece of cork provided light!  It also had a water tank for ballast to enable the sub to submerge. It was made of wood and covered with tar with steel bands for reinforcement.


The Turtle was brought to Long Island Sound in the fall of 1776 for final testing with its volunteer operators. After western Long Island was taken over by the British, the Turtle was transported overland through Connecticut to New York Harbor which was still in American hands. General Washington gave permission for the Turtle’s first mission on September 6. Sergeant Ezra Lee left at 11pm that night and pedaled for 2 hours toward British General William Howe’s flagship, the HMS Eagle.


Early on September 7, Lee’s first attempt to secure the explosives to the Eagle by boring a hole in the ship’s side failed because he hit a metal plate probably used to secure the ship’s rudder to the hull. When he made a second attempt, he was unable to keep the Turtle submerged and the sub floated to the surface. Realizing that he had failed and that he could be discovered, Lee gave up and headed back to safety.


British soldiers on Governor’s Island saw the sub fleeing and rowed out toward it. Lee released his explosive “torpedo,” hoping the soldiers would try to retrieve it. They didn’t and the charge blew up in the East River, blowing plumes of water and debris sky high.


The Turtle’s attack on the Eagle was the first recorded use of a submarine in naval warfare. George Washington wrote that the invention was ingenious, but contained too many variables to be controlled. The Turtle was used again in another attempt to blow up a British ship on October 5, but this one failed when the ship’s watchman saw it coming. A few days later, the Turtle went down when the ship that carried it was sunk by the British off the New Jersey coast. Bushnell claimed to have recovered the Turtle, but no one is sure whatever happened to it.


Jack Manning

Treasurer General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution   


“We are either a United people, or we are not. If the former, let us, in all matters of general concern act as a nation, which have national objects to promote, and a national character to support. If we are not, let us no longer act a farce by pretending to it.” George Washington (1785)

The Worcester Revolt

The Worcester Revolt


On this day in history, September 6, 1774, the Worcester Revolt embodies the real beginning of the American Revolution. You have probably never heard of the Worcester Revolt, but this event that occurred 9 months before the fighting at Lexington and Concord probably deserves the title, the “Beginning of the American Revolution,” more so than does the fighting of April 19, 1775.


The Worcester Revolt was one of a series of revolts in rural Massachusetts that took place as a result of the passage of the Massachusetts Government Act. This act was part of the Coercive Acts, or the Intolerable Acts, passed by Parliament in response to the Boston Tea Party. The Boston Port Act shut down Boston Harbor, but this did not affect the average person in the Massachusetts countryside where the majority of the population lived. 


What got the entire countryside involved was the Massachusetts Government Act, which suspended all town meetings, placed a military governor in charge of the state, called for the royal appointment of all government officials and virtually shut down all self-government.


The citizens of Massachusetts had been governing themselves for 150 years. In rural Massachusetts, the state courts were the primary government bodies that had contact with the average person. These courts handled all local law enforcement and legal matters. When the Massachusetts Government Act was passed, alarm spread through the 95% of Massachusetts citizens who lived in these rural areas, who feared that royally appointed officials would mistreat them. This was especially alarming because so much of the population were farmers with large debts. 


Creditors posed a constant threat to the livelihood of farmers, but when the courts were filled with locally elected judges, the farmers could breathe easy because the judges could be thrown out at the next election. The new wave of royally appointed officials would not have to go through re-elections and would have no reason to go easy on the debtors. Much of the population felt a very real threat that these judges would allow their creditors to foreclose on them.


The Massachusetts Government Act took effect on August 1, 1774. Citizens around the colony met and planned to actively resist the new officials. On August 16, when the Crown appointed officials arrived for the opening of the Courts in Berkshire County, 1,500 militia members showed up and forbade the court from opening. The same thing occurred in Springfield two weeks later.


British Governor and General William Howe was determined that the next scheduled Court would open at Worcester on September 6. He even wrote to his superiors in London that force may be necessary. On September 2, 4,000 patriots forced the Lieutenant Governor to resign in Cambridge and when a rumor spread that some patriots were killed by British soldiers, tens of thousands began to march to Boston. This incident, called the Powder Alarm, forced General Howe to reconsider his options.


On September 6, when the 25 royal officials arrived at Worcester, nearly 5,000 mostly unarmed civilians greeted them… in a town of 250 people. The militia had taken over the courthouse and the officials were escorted to a tavern where they were forced to resign their positions. The officials were then made to walk through the throng of protestors toward the courthouse, reciting their renouncements of their positions over and over along the way. General Gage’s troops were nowhere to be seen.


The Worcester Revolt typifies the real American Revolution. A similar revolt took place in every single county in Massachusetts outside of Boston in the fall of 1774. It was these revolts that truly ended British rule in the colony and opened the door for citizens to form their own governments. Indeed, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress met for the first time in October following the revolts. This sequence of events wresting the government from British hands, truly by “the people,” marks the real beginning of the American Revolution. The fighting at Lexington and Concord was merely the British government trying to get its lost authority back.


Jack Manning

Treasurer General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution   


“Democracy will soon degenerate into an anarchy, such an anarchy that every man will do what is right in his own eyes and no man’s life or property or reputation or liberty will be secure, and every one of these will soon mould itself into a system of subordination of all the moral virtues and intellectual abilities, all the powers of wealth, beauty, wit and science, to the wanton pleasures, the capricious will, and the execrable cruelty of one or a very few.”
John Adams (1763)

The Continental Congress Meets for the First Time

The Continental Congress meets for the first time


On this day in history, September 5, 1774, the Continental Congress meets for the first time. The First Continental Congress met in response to Parliament’s Coercive Acts, which were passed to punish the colonists for the Boston Tea Party. The Coercive Acts shut down the Massachusetts government and replaced it with a military dictatorship. It also shut down Boston harbor until the tea was paid for, made British officials immune from prosecution and required colonists to house British troops.


The Coercive Acts, or the Intolerable Acts, as the colonists called them, spread alarm across all the colonies, even though they were primarily aimed at Massachusetts. The other colonies realized that if Parliament would do this to Massachusetts, then none of them were safe from the same punitive measures. Colonists everywhere called for the election of representatives to attend a continent-wide congress to discuss a joint response to the Coercive Acts.


54 delegates convened at Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia on September 5, 1774. The delegates had been chosen through various means in 12 colonies. The only colony not present was Georgia, which was more strongly Loyalist than the other colonies. Men such as George Washington, Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, John Dickinson, Caesar Rodney and Christopher Gadsden debated the issues for 7 weeks.


Some, such as Patrick Henry, wanted to declare independence immediately. Others, such as Joseph Galloway of Pennsylvania, wanted to reconcile with the King. Galloway presented a “Plan of Union” that called for the creation of an American parliament with a royally appointed President, as a way of retaining both sides’ interests. Galloway’s plan was popular, but it was discarded when a copy of the “Suffolk Resolves” arrived.


The Suffolk Resolves came from the county where Boston was located in Massachusetts. The Resolves contained strong language advocating a boycott of British goods, disobedience to the Coercive Acts, the resignation of anyone appointed under the Acts and the refusal to pay taxes until the Acts were repealed. The Suffolk Resolves also supported the creation of a separate government in Massachusetts until the Coercive Acts were repealed and encouraged all the colonies to raise troops in case of all out war.


The Suffolk Resolves drastically changed the course of the Continental Congress, which publicly endorsed them. By the time the Congress closed on October 26, Congress had written a letter detailing its grievances and requesting the King to address them. It also enacted a continent-wide boycott of British goods to begin on December 1 and encouraged each colony to set up its own enforcement regime to enforce compliance with the boycott.


The Congress took the advice of the Suffolk Resolves and encouraged each colony to begin raising its militia and securing supplies and ammunition in the case that physical resistance became necessary. It also voted to send letters to other colonies such as Quebec, Nova Scotia, East and West Florida and Prince Edward Island, encouraging them to join in the resistance, although records indicate such a letter was only ever sent to Quebec.


Finally, the Continental Congress voted to convene again on May 10 if Parliament showed no movement toward its demands. Indeed, no movement was made and the Second Continental Congress met in May of 1775. They were in session only for a short while before word came that fighting had broken out at Lexington and Concord. Within a month, Congress would create the Continental Army and appoint George Washington its Commander-in-Chief… and the fight for independence would begin!


Jack Manning

Treasurer General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution   


“National defense is one of the cardinal duties of a statesman.” 

John Adams (1815)

Swamp Fox Wins the Battle of Blue Savannah

Swamp Fox wins the Battle of Blue Savannah


On this day in history, September 4, 1780, the Swamp Fox wins the Battle of Blue Savannah. Lieutenant Colonel Francis Marion was a continual thorn in the side of the British who occupied South Carolina. After a successful invasion captured Charleston in May of 1780, and much of the Continental Army’s southern division was captured or killed at Camden in August, South Carolina was securely in British hands.


Marion, a 5 foot tall veteran of the Cherokee campaigns of the French and Indian War, led a guerrilla style offensive against the British in the area. With only a few dozen men, Marion led one of the few pockets of remaining resistance in the colony, staging numerous attacks on British troops and their Loyalist co-conspirators. Marion earned the nickname, the “Swamp Fox,” for his ability to elude British troops through the swamps in his home area around the Pee Dee and Santee Rivers.


After the overwhelming defeat at Camden, Marion and his men freed 150 Maryland prisoners who were being taken back to Charleston. The soldiers believed the war was over, however, after their overwhelming defeat, and refused to join Marion. Marion then hid at a camp near Port’s Ferry and learned that Loyalist troops under Major General Micajah Gainey were pursuing him.


Rather than flee from Gainey’s 200 Loyalists, Marion and his 60 men decided to attack them head on. On September 4, Marion’s advance scouts ran into Gainey’s advance troops and routed them. Marion then performed a pretend retreat to trick Gainey into advancing and quickly routed Gainey’s main body of men. 


Gainey’s troops scattered and Marion regrouped at Port’s Ferry. The Battle of Blue Savannah, as it is called, served to break the back of Loyalist recruitment and military action in the Pee Dee and Santee Rivers area. It also encouraged the South Carolina militia to stand up and begin resistance again after the dreadful defeat at Camden.


By the way, a “savannah,” in the local South Carolina vernacular of the time, referred to a depression in the ground filled with water to make a small lake or bay. There are several of these depressions, surrounded by ridges of sand in this area of eastern South Carolina. Geologists believe the features may have been created by meteorite strikes in the distant past. The shallow depressions would fill with water which had a blue hue, hence the name “Blue Savannah.”


Today, the savannahs have largely disappeared due to agriculture and irrigation, but some of the depressions can still be seen by satellite, including the one where the Battle of Blue Savannah was fought. It sits roughly at the intersection of Highways 501 and 41 to the south of present day Marion, South Carolina.


Jack Manning

Treasurer General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution   


“If the Freedom of Speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” 

George Washington

The Battle of Cooch’s Bridge

The Battle of Cooch’s Bridge


On this day in history, September 3, 1777, the Battle of Cooch’s Bridge is the only battle of the American Revolution to take place in Delaware. It is also the first battle during which the American flag is flown.


British General William Howe landed 17,000 troops at Head of Elk, Maryland on August 25th, 1777, with the goal of capturing Philadelphia, the capital of the rebel Continental Congress. Over the next few days, while Howe unloaded troops and supplies, George Washington and the Continental Army reconnoitered the British army to gauge its strength and intentions.


Washington’s main force was camped near Wilmington, Delaware. Washington himself traveled to the nearby hills overlooking Head of Elk to spy on the British troops. The Commander of the Continental Army placed sentries and small groups of troops at various roads and bridges to watch for British movements and advances, since it was not known which way Howe would try to approach Philadelphia.


About 1,000 Pennsylvania and Delaware troops were placed under the command of Brigadier General William Maxwell, who had them divided between Iron Hill, the tallest hill in Delaware, near modern day Newark, and the nearby Cooch’s Bridge.


On September 2, British and German troops under the command of Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis took over Aiken’s Tavern about 5 miles east of Head of Elk and 3 miles south of Cooch’s Bridge. In the morning, an advance company of Hessian dragoons scouting the road north of the tavern were fired on by Maxwell’s light infantry. This brought a rush of German jaegers, (light infantry) who engaged the militia.


Maxwell held for some time, but a German bayonet charge forced him to retreat. The jaegers chased Maxwell back to Cooch’s Bridge where they made an heroic stand. Eventually, though, they ran out of ammunition and another bayonet charge forced Maxwell to retreat to General Washington’s camp at White Clay Creek. The Germans pursued them for a few miles, but turned back to shore up their gains.


The Battle of Cooch’s Bridge would be the only engagement of the American Revolution fought in Delaware. After driving off Maxwell’s troops, General Cornwallis occupied Cooch’s Bridge and Iron Hill, while General Howe made his headquarters at Aiken’s Tavern for the next week.


The Battle of Cooch’s Bridge also has the distinction, according to many historians, of being the first engagement during which the new American flag was flown. The flag was created on June 14, 1777 by the Flag Act of 1777. The act stated that the flag would have "thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation."


According to legend, Betsy Ross then created the flag at the request of George Washington. There is debate, however, about the accuracy of the Betsy Ross flag story, which you can learn more about at our Betsy Ross Flag page.


Jack Manning

Treasurer General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution  


"There is but one straight course, and that is to seek truth and pursue it steadily." George Washington (1795)