Monthly Archives: July 2018

Charles Thomson Resigns as Secretary of Congress

Charles Thomson resigns as Secretary of Congress


On this day in history, July 24, 1789, Charles Thomson resigns as Secretary of Congress. Charles Thomson is a little known, but important Founding Father from Pennsylvania. He served as the longtime secretary of the Continental Congress for its entire 15 years of existence until the adoption of the US Constitution.


Thomson was born in Ireland and orphaned on the trip to America when his father died at sea. He and his siblings arrived in Delaware penniless and were dispersed to various families, Charles to a blacksmith in New Castle. He eventually received an education and became a Greek and Latin teacher in Philadelphia.


Thomson met Ben Franklin who offered him a teaching position at the Academy of Philadelphia. The two became friends and political allies, often at odds with the Proprietary government of Pennsylvania. When the Stamp Act crisis arrived, Thomson was one of the leading proponents of boycotting British goods. He became a leader of Philadelphia's Sons of Liberty and was called the "Sam Adams of Philadelphia" by John Adams.


In 1774, Thomson was instrumental in bringing various factions together in Philadelphia to respond jointly to the Coercive Acts against the city of Boston. When the First Continental Congress met later that year, Thomson was passed over as a delegate to Congress for not being radical enough. When Congress met for the first time on September 5, however, they voted to make him their secretary. This was an effort to make the more moderate Pennsylvanians feel a part of the group by electing one of their own to this position.


As the Secretary of Congress, Charles Thomson saw the American Revolution unfold up close and personally more than any other person. He was the only person to serve in that body for the entirety of its existence; the only person to have made the personal acquaintance of every member over its existence; and the only person to listen to and observe every word uttered by anyone in that body for its existence.


Thomson signed off on documents, including the first copy of the Declaration of Independence; carried on correspondence with foreign diplomats; took minutes of every meeting; kept records of secret meetings; kept all the records and correspondence of Congress; and even designed the Great Seal of the United States.


When the new US Constitution was adopted in 1789, Thomson stepped down from his long time position on July 24, 1789, three months after the new government began operations. After this, Thomson retired to his estate, Harriton House, in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, where he devoted the remainder of his life to writing a history of the American Revolution and translating the Bible from the original Greek into English.


He destroyed his American history before he died, stating that he did not wish to bring shame to newly rising personages in the new republic for the acts of their forefathers. His translation of the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament) was the first English translation of the Septuagint published, taking him nearly 20 years to finish. Thomson passed away in 1824 and is buried at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.


Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution


The Sun of Liberty is indeed fast setting, if not down already, in the American colonies: But I much fear instead of the candles you mention being lighted, you will hear of the works of darkness. They are in general alarmed to the last degree.
Charles Thomson: letter to Benjamin Franklin, September 24, 1765

Roger Sherman dies

Roger Sherman dies


On this day in history, July 23, 1793, Roger Sherman dies. Sherman was undoubtedly one of the most influential Founding Fathers, even though he is little known today. Sherman was the only Founder to sign all four important founding documents, including the Articles of Association (1774), which boycotted English goods, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the US Constitution.


Roger Sherman grew up in Stoughton (now Canton), Massachusetts, the son of a cobbler (a shoemaker). Roger received little formal education, but did have access to his father’s library and that of a local minister who encouraged his private education.


When Roger was 20, he moved with his brother to New Milford, Connecticut, where they ran the town’s first general store. Roger became involved in local politics and became the town’s clerk, as well as the county surveyor. He also published his own almanac for a dozen years. In 1754, Sherman was admitted to the Bar of Litchfield, Connecticut.


Over the next 20 years, he served as a justice of the peace, a representative to the Connecticut assembly, a judge of the superior court, a state senator and a justice of the Superior Court of Connecticut. In 1761, Sherman left his law practice and moved to New Haven, where he opened a store catering to Yale students. He became New Haven’s mayor for a time and was a long time treasure of Yale College, as well as a professor of religion at Yale.


When the American Revolution broke out, Sherman served on Connecticut’s Committee of Correspondence. He was elected to the Continental Congress and served there for almost the entire war. While in Congress, Sherman served on the committees that wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. Thomas Jefferson wrote of Roger Sherman, "That is Mr. Sherman, of Connecticut, a man who never said a foolish thing in his life."


After the war, Sherman served at the Constitutional Convention where he addressed the convention 138 times. He was instrumental in the Great Compromise between the small states and large states, which gave the states equal representation in the upper house, the Senate, and representation based on population in the lower house, the House of Representatives. He was also responsible for introducing the 3/5ths compromise which counted slaves in southern states as only 3/5ths of a person for purposes of representation in the House. This was a measure to weaken the southern states’ voting power, not to denigrate slaves as is commonly thought.


Sherman went on to serve in both the House of Representatives and the US Senate. Sherman has been called, "the most influential member of Congress." John Adams said of Roger Sherman, he is "an old Puritan, as honest as an angel and as firm in the cause of American Independence as Mount Atlas." Sherman passed away in New Haven in 1793.


Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution


Sad will be the day when the American people forget their traditions and their history, and no longer remember that the country they love, the institutions they cherish, and the freedom they hope to preserve, were born from the throes of armed resistance to tyranny, and nursed in the rugged arms of fearless men.

Roger Sherman

Minutemen defeated at the Battle of Minisink

Minutemen defeated at the Battle of Minisink


On this day in history, July 22, 1779, the Minutemen are defeated at the Battle of Minisink, one of the bloodiest battles per capita of the American Revolution. 1779 saw the launching of the Sullivan Expedition, an expedition led by General John Sullivan to defeat Loyalists and allied Iroquois Indians in western New York.


To try to stop the expedition, the British sent Joseph Brant, an English educated Iroquois, into the upper Delaware River valley. Brant’s mission was to gather supplies for the British army and discourage the gathering Sullivan Expedition if possible. Joseph Brant was a Mohawk leader allied with the British who has been called one of the greatest generals on the British side during the war.


The upper Delaware River valley was a sparsely populated area consisting of southeastern New York and stretching down the border between New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The area was heavy in farming and grazing and was a chief place for raising supplies for the war. It was also the frontier of English settlement at the time. Most of the interior beyond this area was Iroquois territory.


On July 19, Brant and around 90 Indians and Loyalists began terrorizing the Neversink River valley. The Neversink is the main tributary into the Delaware River. They burned homes, a church and a school, and destroyed the towns of Peenpack and Mahackamack, which are now the city of Port Jervis, New York, along with Fort Decker.


Survivors fled to nearby towns and the militia quickly gathered in Goshen. Citizens wished to pursue Brant immediately, but the cautious Lieutenant Colonel, Benjamin Tusten, advised against it, thinking they were outnumbered by the Indians. The citizens, however, overruled him. Tusten marched out and met together with militia from other local counties. About 120 minutemen chased Brant up the Delaware til they arrived at Minisink Ford on the 22nd.


Brant’s force was crossing the ford and the minutemen hoped to ambush him. When a soldier shot at an Indian scout, the surprise was ruined, however, and Brant quickly outflanked the minutemen. When the Indians attacked, many of the minutemen fled, while about 50, including Lt. Col. Tusten, rushed up a hill to get on better ground. The 50 men on the hill were quickly surrounded, but they held off their attackers for several hours. Eventually, the battle devolved into hand-to-hand combat and the outnumbered patriots were massacred. Only a handful escaped alive. Among the dead was the wary Lt. Col. Tusten. 48 patriots were killed out of 120, a 40% death rate, while the Indians lost less than 5 men.


In spite of the overwhelming Indian and British victory at the Battle of Minisink, the victory had little effect on the upcoming Sullivan Expedition. The expedition raised dozens of Iroquois villages loyal to the British and broke the back of Iroquois authority in the area once and for all. Many Iroquois starved or froze to death during the upcoming winter. When the American Revolution was finally won, many of the survivors fled the United States for British Canada, where their descendants live on reservations to this day.


Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

"Wisely, therefore, do they consider union and a good national government as necessary to put and keep them in such a situation as, instead of inviting war, will tend to repress and discourage it. That situation consists in the best possible state of defense, and necessarily depends on the government, the arms, and the resources of the country."
John Jay, Federalist No. 4, 1787

General Wayne Loses the Battle of Bull’s Ferry

General Wayne loses the Battle of Bull's Ferry


On this day in history, July 21, 1780, General Wayne loses the Battle of Bull's Ferry. Bull's Ferry was a ferry on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River in the vicinity of modern day West New York and North Bergen. The ferry was operated by the Bull family who had settled in the area much earlier.


During the American Revolution, the British operated a blockhouse in the area, which was then called Block House Point. This was a strategic location as it was located just across from the British main base in New York City. The area was used to raise cattle and gather firewood for the British army and the blockhouse housed approximately 70 Loyalist troops who guarded the cattle, chopped wood and watched out for patriot infiltrators.


By 1780, the focus of the war had shifted to the south and no more major battles were fought in the north, but smaller skirmishes were frequent, especially around New York City. The British had their main army holed up in New York and George Washington constantly shifted the Continental Army around the area to keep watch on them.


On July 20, Washington ordered General "Mad" Anthony Wayne to attack the blockhouse at Bull's Ferry and capture the cattle if possible. On the morning of the 21st, Wayne sent the dragoons (soldiers on horseback) under Henry "Lighthorse Harry" Lee to capture the cattle, while Wayne led an attack on the blockhouse itself.


Lee easily rounded up large numbers of cattle and drove them back for use of the Continental Army. Wayne, however, didn't fare so well. He started a cannon bombardment of the blockhouse that had little effect. The impatient soldiers under his command rushed on the blockhouse, but were unable to penetrate it, taking heavy casualties. Wayne eventually called the attack off, having suffered 15 dead and 49 wounded out of almost 2,000 soldiers. The British had only 70 men defending the blockhouse, but they held off the attackers, with only 5 killed and 16 wounded.


The Battle of Bull's Ferry became the subject of a satirical poem by British Major John Andre, the soldier who would later be executed for his role in the Benedict Arnold treason affair. Andre was a musician, poet and artist and he wrote a poem making fun of General Wayne for capturing a bunch of cows, but failing to capture the blockhouse, even though he had such superior numbers. The poem was called, "The Cow Chace," and mentioned by name many of the American players at the battle, including General Wayne, Colonel Lee, Brigadier General William Irvine, Wayne's subordinate and Colonel Thomas Proctor, the artillery commander.


Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

“Liberty must at all hazards be supposed. We have a right to it, derived from our Maker. But if we had not, our fathers have earned and bought it for us, at the expense of their ease, their estates, their pleasure and their blood.”
John Adams

Patriots destroy the Boston Lighthouse

Patriots destroy the Boston Lighthouse


On this day in history, July 20, 1775, patriots destroy the Boston Lighthouse. Boston’s lighthouse, also called Boston Light, is a still standing structure that was the first lighthouse ever built in what would become the United States.


Boston Light was built on Little Brewster Island in Boston Harbor in 1716. When the American Revolution came, the islands in Boston’s harbor were the site of several skirmishes between patriots and British soldiers and sailors. The British took over Boston Light in 1774.


Throughout the British occupation of Boston, the harbor was in British control. In July of 1775, local Massachusetts patriots decided to destroy the lighthouse to prevent the British from benefitting from its use. On July 20, Major Joseph Vose led a raid on the island with a small group of soldiers. Only a small British contingent guarded the lighthouse and they were quickly overrun. Vose burned the wooden parts of the lighthouse and captured the island’s provisions. Only two Americans were injured in the skirmish.


The British rebuilt the lighthouse within a matter of days and it was operational again by the 29th. George Washington issued orders for another attack on the lighthouse, which commenced on the morning of July 31st. Again, the small British guard was overtaken and the lighthouse burned to the ground. As the patriots escaped, they were attacked by British ships and a firefight began. One lucky hit on a British boat killed several sailors, raising the number of British casualties in the fight to 12. Only one American was killed in the fight.


The British abandoned Boston in March, 1776, when Washington fortified Dorchester Heights above the city with captured cannons brought from Fort Ticonderoga. After the evacuation, several British ships remained in the harbor for some time. On June 13, American patriots began firing on the remaining ships. As they left the harbor for good, the British set a timed charge in Boston Light, blowing up the lighthouse for good.


Boston Light was rebuilt in 1783 by order of the Massachusetts Legislature to its original height of 75 feet. This lighthouse is still standing today, although its height was raised to 98 feet in 1856. Boston Light was taken over by the federal government in 1790. The lighthouse was fully automated in 1998, but still has watchkeepers that man the site as tour guides. As such, it is the only manned lighthouse in the US under direction of the US Coast Guard.


Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

"Among the natural rights of the colonists are these: First a right to life, secondly to liberty, and thirdly to property; together with the right to defend them in the best manner they can."
Samuel Adams

Brigadier General Jacob Bayley is Born

Brigadier General Jacob Bayley is born


On this day in history, July 19, 1726, Brigadier General Jacob Bayley is born. Bayley was a farmer, soldier and local politician from Newbury, Vermont. Bayley was born in Massachusetts, but eventually migrated to northern New Hampshire. At that time, the territory now known as Vermont was part of the New Hampshire Grants, a disputed territory between New Hampshire and New York. It later became the state of Vermont.


Bayley served in the local militia and in the French and Indian War where he rose to the rank of colonel. After the war, Bayley became one of the founders of Newbury, Vermont on the Connecticut River. He also served in several local offices, including as a judge and as a justice of the peace.


When the American Revolution broke out, Bayley was appointed to Vermont's Council of Safety to coordinate the war effort. He also became a brigadier general of the Vermont militia. In 1776, Bayley was made commissary general of the Continental Army's Northern Department, an important position charged with procuring supplies and transporting them for the army.


Bayley was partly responsible for what became known as the Bayley-Hazen Military Road. The Continental Congress had tried a failed invasion of British Quebec early in the war and plans were constantly thrown around for another such invasion. Part of the reason for the first failure was the difficulty in transporting troops and supplies across the northern wilderness to Canada.


Consequently, plans were made to build a road from Newbury, Vermont to St. John's near Montreal. Bayley was one of the project's chief supporters and he finally convinced George Washington to fund the road. Washington sent Bayley 250 pounds to begin construction in 1776. The project was very costly, however, and Bayley spent much of his own fortune on it, for which he was never reimbursed.


After building the road only a few miles, the project was called off due to rumors of a British attack. The road was continued on and off several times for the next 3 years, but it only ever stretched about 54 miles. It was eventually abandoned due to the great expense and to local opposition from residents who feared the British would use the road to stage an invasion.


Bayley commanded a division at the Battle of Saratoga where his connections with local Indians proved invaluable in helping the Americans win the battle. During the war, many Vermonters wanted to remain part of the British Empire, but Bayley steadfastly refused to go along.


After the war, Jacob Bayley continued in local politics, serving as town selectman in Newbury and as a judge. He passed away in 1815 and was buried in Newbury's Oxbow Cemetery.


Jack Manning

Secretary 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

Captain John Paul Jones Dies

Captain John Paul Jones dies


On this day in history, July 18, 1792, Captain John Paul Jones dies. John Paul Jones was America's first naval hero for his exploits during the American Revolution. He was born in Scotland and began working as a sailor at the age of 13. Jones was soon serving on merchant and slave ships bound for America and the West Indies.


At the age of 20, Jones was on a voyage when the captain and first mate died during a yellow fever outbreak. After successfully leading the ship into harbor, the ship's owners were so grateful that they made him the captain. He made two successful voyages as captain before his career took a turn.


Jones had a sailor flogged for insubordination who died a few weeks later. He was arrested for the man's death and imprisoned for a time, having his reputation permanently tarnished. Sometime later, Jones killed a sailor involved in a mutiny on his ship. He refused to sit for a court martial and fled Scotland for America.


Jones had a brother living in Virginia who died around this time and Jones took over his brothers' affairs. After meeting several local politicians, Jones went to Philadelphia where the new United States Navy was just being formed. Jones was appointed first lieutenant of the Navy's flagship, USS Alfred.


After Alfred's initial voyage to the Bahamas, Jones was given command of the USS Providence. In six weeks, he captured 16 British ships. He went on to command a series of ships, wreaking havoc on the coast of British Nova Scotia and on British shipping.


In 1777, Jones was sent to France to assist the American commissioners there, Ben Franklin, John Adams and Arthur Lee. Jones became endeared to France and eventually set sail for England itself. Jones captured a number of British merchant ships, made the only American land attack on England in the war, captured the HMS Drake and tried to kidnap the Earl of Selkirk.


Jones terrorized the English coast and earned the reputation of a "pirate" in England. In 1779, he engaged the HMS Serapis in battle. Both ships were severely damaged. The Serapis surrendered, but Jones' own ship, the Bonhomme Richard, sank a few days later. Jones then sailed the captured Serapis into port.


As the American Revolution came to a close, but with his reputation tarnished from friction with America's political leaders, including John Adams, Jones looked for employment elsewhere. He served for a time in the navy of Empress Catherine II of Russia, fighting in their war against the Ottoman Turks in the Black Sea. Once again, though, disagreements and accusations stopped his advancement and Jones retired to France.


John Paul Jones lived in France for the rest of his life after 1790. He tried to regain employment in Russia and also with Sweden, but this never succeeded. In 1792, Jones was appointed US Consul to the Dey of Algiers, but he never fulfilled his mission. Jones passed away on July 18, 1792 in Paris. Jones' body was removed to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis in 1913. He is considered America's first great naval hero and is often called the "Father of the US Navy."


Jack Manning

Treasurer General
National Society Sons of the American Revolution


“I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast; for I intend to go in harm's way.”
John Paul Jones