Monthly Archives: June 2018

The Battle of Machias is the first naval battle of the Revolution

The Battle of Machias is the first naval battle of the Revolution


On this day in history, June 12, 1775, the Battle of Machias is the first naval battle of the American Revolution. Citizens of Machias, Maine (then part of Massachusetts) captured the armed British schooner HMS Margaretta when it threatened their town.


After the opening shots of the Revolution at the Battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, American militia laid siege to the city of Boston, trapping the British army inside the city. British General Thomas Gage was forced to import supplies by sea since all land access was cut off. Loyalist merchant Ichabod Jones made a deal with Gage to sail to Machias, on the far northeastern part of present day Maine, to bring back a load of lumber to Gage, who needed it to build barracks for arriving troops.


Jones’ ships Polly and Unity left Boston, accompanied by the HMS Margaretta for security, arriving at Machias on June 2. The Polly and Unity went straight up the bay to Machias, while the Margaretta, under command of Midshipman James Moore, stopped to retrieve the guns from the wreck of the HMS Halifax, which had run aground in the bay earlier in the year.


When Jones arrived in the town, he explained to the citizens that he wanted to exchange his load of flour and other goods for a shipment of lumber. The citizens met on the 6th and voted against the transaction, not wanting to aid the British. Jones then called on Moore who brought the Margaretta within firing distance of the town. This caused alarm in the town and they voted again, this time to acquiesce in the transaction with Jones.


Jones, however, refused to do business with anyone who had previously voted against the deal, which made many citizens angry. Colonel Benjamin Foster, leader of the local militia, took matters into his own hands. On June 11, the militia attempted to capture Jones and Moore while they attended church. Moore got away to the Margaretta, but Jones ran into the woods where he hid for two days.


Meanwhile, Foster and the militia boarded the Unity and the Polly and demanded that Moore surrender the Margaretta. After some brief gunfire exchange, Moore sailed downriver and tried to get away. While running, his main boom and gaff were broken in high winds removing his ability to navigate. At this point, he commandeered another ship and took its boom and mast to replace his own, and also took the ship’s captain, Robert Avery, of Norwich, Connecticut, captive.


Back in Machias, the Unity was equipped for battle, along with another ship, the Falmouth Packet and the two ships set out after the Margaretta, under command of Jeremiah O’Brien, a local captain. On June 12th, the much faster Unity overtook the Margaretta and after several attempts, her crew was able to tie the two ships together. Shots were fired and several on both sides were killed, including the captive captain from Norwich. When Moore, captain of the Margaretta, threw several grenades onto the Unity, he was shot in the chest by Samuel Watts. Moore died a few days later from his wounds.


With their captain down, the crew of the Margaretta quickly surrendered. They were later turned over to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. Machias patriots went on to capture numerous British vessels during the war and many became part of the Continental Navy. Captain Jeremiah O’Brien served with distinction and has had five US Navy vessels named after him since. The Battle of Machias has the distinction of being the first naval battle of the American Revolution. Machias was later targeted for invasion in 1777, but the mission was a failure and the British failed to take the town.


Jack Manning

Treasurer General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution


“Republics are created by the virtue, public spirit, and intelligence of the citizens. They fall, when the wise are banished from the public councils, because they dare to be honest, and the profligate are rewarded, because they flatter the people, in order to betray them.”
Joseph Story (1833

Doctor Joseph Warren is Born

Doctor Joseph Warren is born


On this day in history, June 11, 1741, Doctor Joseph Warren is born. Warren was one of the key patriot leaders in Boston leading up to the American Revolution. Unfortunately, he was killed early on at the Battle of Bunker Hill, becoming a martyr for the American cause.


Joseph Warren was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts in 1741 to a farmer who died when Joseph was only 14 when he fell off a ladder while picking fruit from his orchard. Joseph attended Roxbury Latin School and Harvard College. After graduating, he taught school for a year and began studying medicine. Joseph eventually opened a medical practice in Boston and became involved in local politics. He became an intimate acquaintance of such other patriot leaders as John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Paul Revere and Dr. Benjamin Church.


Warren was closely involved with several key events that led to the Revolution, including performing the autopsy on 11 year old Christopher Seider, who was killed during a riot a few days before the Boston Massacre. Warren participated on a committee that gathered depositions and put out a public report on the Boston Massacre itself. He was also the author of political articles and even wrote a patriotic song. Warren wrote the Suffolk Resolves, which encouraged the colonies to resist the Coercive Acts. He eventually became the President of the rebel Massachusetts Provincial Congress and a major general of the Massachusetts militia.


By mid-April 1775, the Massachusetts patriots were aware that General Gage was about to embark on a major mission to put down the growing rebellion, but they did not know the target of the mission. On the evening of April 18th, Warren received word from his inside spy, thought to be General Gage's wife, that the intended target was the arms supply at Concord.


Warren quickly dispatched Paul Revere and William Dawes to warn Concord. The following morning, after the first shots rang out and the British soldiers began their perilous march back to Boston, Warren joined in the fight and was nearly killed when a bullet flew through his wig. He then helped coordinate the Siege of Boston and participated in negotiating with General Gage.


By June, the patriots learned the British were going to send out troops to take the hills around Boston. On June 16, Colonel William Prescott and 1200 men took Breed's Hill and Bunker Hill on the Charlestown peninsula north of Boston to prevent the British from taking it. Now Major General Warren joined the men as a common soldier and helped prepare the defenses. On the 17th, the British began a major attack and on the third assault, General Warren was killed with a musket ball through the head. He was bayoneted numerous times, stripped bare and thrown in an unmarked grave.


Nearly a year later, the body was dug up by Warren's brothers and identified by Paul Revere who had given Warren a false tooth. Warren became an instant hero and martyr for the Revolutionary cause. He has been celebrated as one of the first to give his life in the fight for American freedom. Paintings and statues were created in his honor and numerous places are named for him.


Warren had four children when he died who were then raised by his fiancee Mercy Solley. Warren's younger brother and apprentice, Dr. John Warren, went on to serve as a medic in the Continental Army and later founded the Harvard Medical School.

John Hancock’s Ship Liberty is Confiscated

John Hancock's ship Liberty is confiscated


On this day in history, June 10, 1768, John Hancock's ship Liberty is confiscated for alleged smuggling. Many of the measures of Parliament with which the American colonies were in disagreement were created in order to raise revenue. Smuggling was a vast enterprise in the thirteen colonies and many of Parliament's measures were directed at reducing it. Smugglers evading customs officials and the taxes they enforced reduced the Royal Treasury's income.


On May 9, 1768, a ship owned by John Hancock sailed into Boston Harbor. The following day, the Liberty's goods were inspected and the customs officials suspected Hancock of smuggling. The reason was that the ship only carried 25 barrels of Madeira wine, but it had the capacity for much more. They alleged that Hancock must have unloaded the rest of the cargo during the night before the goods were examined, but they had no evidence. Two customs officials were stationed on the ship during the night and they said nothing was unloaded… at first.


This followed another incident in April during which Hancock's ship Lydia was boarded, also for suspected smuggling. In that incident, Hancock physically had the customs officials removed from the ship because they did not have a proper warrant. Suit was filed against Hancock, but later dropped because of the missing warrant. This may have made Hancock a marked man in the eyes of the humiliated customs officials.


A month after the original investigation into the Liberty's alleged smuggling, one of the customs officials changed his story, saying some cargo actually had been removed in the night and the officials were forced to remain silent. On June 10, the Liberty was impounded, along with a new shipment of goods already loaded on her. The Liberty was hauled into the harbor and placed under guard by the HMS Romney, a British warship. When the Liberty was confiscated, a riot broke out in Boston. The homes of several customs officials were destroyed, causing several of them and their families to flee to the Romney.


Two suits were filed against Hancock, the first led to the permanent confiscation of the Liberty, which was put into the customs service and later burned by angry Rhode Island residents the following year. The second suit alleged Hancock smuggled wine and charged him for lost customs revenue plus damages. Hancock was represented by a young attorney named John Adams who would one day be president. The suit was finally dropped for lack of evidence.


It should be noted that no evidence has ever surfaced that Hancock was involved in any smuggling at all, even though he has that reputation. Of course, no records would have been kept about smuggling because it was illegal. Boston officials had already been calling for more security as they began enforcing the Townshend Acts. Boston had earned the ire of Parliament by issuing a circular letter calling for all the colonies to resist the Townshend Acts. The Liberty Incident only reinforced Britain's decision to occupy Boston with military troops in October, 1768, to enforce customs laws, protect officials and reign in the rowdy citizens. The occupation would lead to the Boston Massacre in March, 1770.


Jack Manning

Treasurer General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

“There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.” 
John Adams

The Gaspee Incident Occurs

The Gaspee Incident occurs


On this day in history, June 9, 1772, the Gaspee Incident occurs near Providence, Rhode Island, when citizens burn the British revenue schooner HMS Gaspee and seize its crew. The Gaspee affair was one of a series of important events that lit the fuse to the American Revolution, but it is little known in comparison with other events such as the Boston Tea Party.


To understand the Gaspee Incident, one must understand Rhode Island's unique circumstances before the war. Rhode Island had always been a place of dissidents. It was founded by religious dissenters who were kicked out of Massachusetts for their religious beliefs. Rhode Island was later the first state to declare independence from Britain and the last of the original 13 colonies to accept the Constitution.


Because of its unique topography, Rhode Island developed an economy completely based on sea trade, illegal sea trade. Rhode Island is only 35 miles across and 49 miles long, but it has 420 miles of coastland. It has few natural resources, so an illicit trade in slaves, illegal rum and molasses developed. The taxes and trade restrictions of the previous years, including the Sugar Act, the Townshend Acts, and so forth hit Rhode Island's economy square in the face.


In 1772, the revenue schooner HMS Gaspee came under the command of Lieutenant William Dudingston. A revenue schooner was charged with boarding suspicious ships to look for smuggled goods and enforcing collection of customs taxes. Lt. Dudingston executed his duties zealously. Many merchants and sailors found their livelihoods threatened by Dudingston's activities. Ships were boarded, goods confiscated and livelihoods ruined.


In addition, there was conflict between Dudingston and the popularly elected Royal Governor, Joseph Wanton. Colonists typically viewed revenue officers as under civilian control, but Dudingston was a military officer. The Crown had authorized naval officers to act as customs enforcers, but the colonists didn't like this idea. A series of terse letters was exchanged between Wanton, Dudingston and Dudingston's superior officer, Admiral John Montagu about whether or not Dudingston had the authority to look for "pirates" within Rhode Island waters.


On June 9, 1772, Dudingston chased a small packet called the Hannah up Narragansett Bay. When the ships arrived near present day Warwick, the Gaspee became grounded in shallow water. The crew of the Hannah landed in Providence and told the citizens about the Gaspee. Word quickly spread and enterprising citizens realized their chance to exact vengeance on Dudingston had come. Picketers marched up and down Providence's streets telling people to meet at Sabin's Tavern.


Led by merchant John Brown, somewhere between 50 and 80 men sailed in longboats that evening, arriving at the Gaspee in the middle of the night. When sentries became aware of their arrival, Lt. Dudingston came out in his night-hat and demanded to know who was there. One of the attackers yelled it was the sheriff and he had come to arrest the crew of the ship for piracy. At that point, one of the attackers fired a single shot that hit Dudingston right in the crotch. The attackers then boarded the ship and took everyone captive. As they left the boat, they set it ablaze. After leaving their prisoners on the shore, the Providence men returned home, but the fire in the boat reached the powder magazine and the ship blew sky high. Not a trace of the ship has ever been found!


After the incident, Parliament was outraged and a Royal commission was set up to find the perpetrators and hang them. Even though everyone in Providence knew who was involved, the commission could not find one single person who would give them up! After months of investigating, the commission was forced to give up and the perpetrators never paid for their crime.


The Gaspee Incident, also called the Gaspee Affair, was significant because it actually helped promulgate communication between the colonies. Colonists everywhere wanted to know what was happening in Rhode Island because Parliament could do the same things to them no matter where they were. Correspondence flourished between the various Committees of Correspondence set up in different cities as a result of the Gaspee Affair. The same Committees of Correspondence would coordinate the activities of a full blown rebellion that was to begin less than three years away.


Jack Manning

Treasurer General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution


James Madison Proposes the Bill of Rights

James Madison proposes the Bill of Rights


On this day in history, June 8, 1789, James Madison proposes the Bill of Rights to Congress. Acceptance of the US Constitution and been a long and arduous process. Many people were wary that it would create a federal government that was too powerful and no different than the one they just overthrew from England.


Federalists supported the new Constitution because a stronger federal government was necessary to hold the country together. Anti-Federalists were skeptical. They advocated a smaller and weaker government than what the Constitution called for and also wanted a bill of rights added with it. A bill of rights is a list of rights guaranteed to the people upon which the government cannot infringe.


Several states were split into camps of roughly equal Federalists and anti-Federalists. If some of the anti-Federalists did not switch sides and support the Constitution, its passage would be in jeopardy. To remedy the problem, Federalists offered a compromise. It the anti-Federalists agreed to support the Constitution, the Federalists would agree to support the adoption of a bill of rights during the First Congress. This persuaded enough anti-Federalists to support the Constitution and it became the law of the land.


James Madison, the chief architect of the US Constitution was slightly worried about all this talk of amending the Constitution. The Constitution explicitly stated that the government would only have authority over those things that were expressly given to it in the Constitution. Adding a list of rights that the government could not interfere with might imply that anything not listed was fair game for government interference. In addition, Madison worried that if the First Congress began altering the Constitution, they might alter it right out of existence.


Madison finally had to agree to the addition of a bill of rights, but he developed a strategy to keep himself in control of the discussion and the results. He sifted through the dozens and dozens of suggestions for amendments made by the states. He carefully chose 20 which were the most commonly desired, which fit nicely with the overall spirit of the Constitution and with his own vision for the government.


On June 8, 1789, Madison made a speech to Congress in which he proposed these 20 amendments to the Constitution. The rights included such things as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to keep and bear arms, the right to trial by jury, freedom from cruel and unusual punishment, freedom of the press, the right to have an attorney represent you and freedom from being tried for the same crime more than once.


Congress debated the amendments and sent twelve of them to the states for ratification. Ten of them were eventually ratified by the states. Since the Constitution requires 3/4 of the states to agree to any amendments, 11 votes were needed for each amendment. 11 votes were necessary because Vermont was already the 14th state by this time. On December 15, 1791, with Virginia's vote for approval, these Ten Amendments became law and were amended to the end of the Constitution. They are what we now call the Bill of Rights.


Jack Manning

Treasurer General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution


"The aim of every political constitution is, or ought to be, first to obtain for rulers men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue, the common good of the society." 
James Madison (1788)

British turned back at the Battle of Connecticut Farms

British turned back at the Battle of Connecticut Farms


On this day in history, June 7, 1780, the British are turned back at the Battle of Connecticut Farms by the New Jersey militia. The winter of 1779-1780 was a difficult one for Americans and British alike. Loyalist refugees congregated in New York were pushing for a great strike to finish off George Washington and his army encamped at Morristown, New Jersey. Lt. Gen. Sir Henry Clinton, commander of British forces in America, however, had embarked on a campaign to conquer the south.


While Clinton was away, the Loyalists pressed Lt. Gen. Wilhelm, Baron von Knyphausen, left in command in Clinton’s place in New York, to attack Washington. They told inflated stories of Washington’s weakness, brewing mutinies among the soldiers, desperate conditions due to lack of provisions and waning enthusiasm of the New Jersey militia, tired of years of war.


Knyphausen waited until winter was over and began a major campaign with the intent of destroying Washington’s camp with its 3500 men. Landing on the evening of June 6th at Elizabethtown across from Staten Island, 6,000 British soldiers began to march the 25 miles to Morristown, protected behind the Watchung Mountains. In order to reach the camp, Knyphausen had to get to a pass in the mountains that led through to Morristown. What he did not count on was the rise of the New Jersey militia.


Before they even got out of Elizabethtown, the first shots were fired at the British by militia who had been warned of their arrival. One of the main generals in charge, General Thomas Stirling, was wounded in the volley and taken out of the fight. Word spread quickly through the countryside and the militia gathered at Connecticut Farms. This was not a "farm," but a town, which is today called Union Township. The British attacked early on the 7th and the militia fought from houses, orchards and behind stone walls for several hours.


When reinforcements arrived, bringing their numbers to more than 3000 troops, the British drove the Americans out of the town. During the occupation, a number of civilians were killed, including the wife of Continental Army chaplain and Presbyterian minister James Caldwell, while she sat in her home. Rev. Caldwell was hated by the British for his fiery patriotic sermons and recruiting efforts and some believe his wife was targeted for assassination.


By this time, George Washington had heard of the advancing British and was preparing an assault, even sending his own personal guard ahead of him, which became involved in the fight. By this time, however, evening was approaching and Knyphausen stopped advancing. He became concerned that he would be trapped between Washington’s army on the high ground and the growing militia who were coming from every direction. He began a retreat in the night as a thunderstorm began, which also slowed Washington.


By morning, Knyphausen had destroyed most of Connecticut Farms and retreated back to Elizabethtown causing Washington to call off the pursuit. Skirmishes and maneuvering would continue for the next two weeks until Knyphausen and the returned General Clinton made another attempt at Morristown, this time reaching Springfield, the next town beyond Connecticut Farms, but once again they were repelled by the New Jersey militia and the Continental Army at the Battle of Springfield in the last major battle of the American Revolution in the north.


Jack Manning

Treasurer General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

"The liberties of our country, the freedoms of our civil Constitution are worth defending at all hazards; it is our duty to defend them against all attacks. We have received them as a fair inheritance from our worthy ancestors. They purchased them for us with toil and danger and expense of treasure and blood. It will bring a mark of everlasting infamy on the present generation – enlightened as it is – if we should suffer them to be wrested from us by violence without a struggle, or to be cheated out of them by the artifices of designing men."
Samuel Adams

New York Patriot Marinus Willet Seizes British Weapons

New York Patriot Marinus Willet seizes British weapons


On this day, June 6, 1775, Marinus Willett and a small group of Sons of Liberty confront British soldiers and seize five wagonloads of weapons as the Redcoats evacuate New York City.


Willet was born in Jamaica, New York, on July 31, 1740. His great-grandfather, Thomas Willett, had been the first English mayor of New York City, a position Marinus would hold as well in the early 1800s. After attending King’s College (now Columbia University), Marinus served as a lieutenant in the Seven Years’ War, joining in the attacks on New York’s Fort Ticonderoga and Fort Frontenac. He ended the war as a patient in the hospital at Fort Stanwix, New York, then under construction.


After his successful capture of British arms on June 6, Willett was commissioned as a lieutenant colonel on June 28, 1775, and participated in the Patriots’ ill-fated Canadian expedition, where he served as the commanding officer at Fort St. John. As colonial ire rose, Willett became a leader of the New York Sons of Liberty, but little is known regarding his activities with the group.


Also during the War for Independence, Willet earned the moniker Hero of the Mohawk Valley for his defense of the site of his earlier convalescence, Fort Stanwix, which guarded the portage path between the Mohawk River and Oneida Lake. Willett and his commanding colonel, Peter Gansevoort, worked to restore the fort to battle-readiness. The British arrived under Colonel Barry St. Leger and laid siege to Gansevoort and Willett’s forces on August 3, 1777.


While the British were away from their siege positions fighting the Tyron County militia en route to relieve Fort Stanwix, Willett led his men in a raid on the abandoned British camp. Although Willett succeeded in absconding with the enemy’s supplies, the British had managed to send the Tyron County militia into retreat. Willett then committed his greatest act of daring when, along with Major Levi Stockwell, he snuck past enemy positions to call for reinforcements. They are remembered for their bravery, although the British ended the siege before reinforcements arrived.


Jack Manning

Treasurer General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

“The present Constitution is the standard to which we are to cling. Under its banners, bona fide must we combat our political foes.” 
Alexander Hamilton (1802)