Monthly Archives: March 2020

The Siege of Charleston begins

The Siege of Charleston begins

 

On this day in history, March 29, 1780, the Siege of Charleston begins, when the British advance to take the most important city in the south. After failing to defeat George Washington in the north and the entrance of France into the American Revolution, Great Britain decided to focus on the south where it was believed heavy Loyalist sentiment would help conquer the rebels in those colonies.

 

The southern strategy began with the taking of Savannah, Georgia, in December of 1779. The British Commander-in-Chief, General Sir Henry Clinton, sailed south from New York with 8,500 men and arrived south of Charleston on February 11, 1780. More troops arrived to raise the total British force to 14,000 men.

           

Continental Army Major General Benjamin Lincoln had around 3,000 men in Charleston. Rather than following George Washington’s strategy of evacuating the army from large cities when the enemy approached, Lincoln decided to leave his army in Charleston at the request of the city’s leaders to prevent it from falling into British hands. Lincoln established extensive defenses, including a "boom chain" and sunken Continental Army ships to block access from the sea. He built a defensive canal that ran the length of the peninsula on which Charleston was located. Another 1,500 Virginia soldiers arrived to bring Lincoln’s force to 5,500 men, but they were still vastly outnumbered by the British.

 

Charleston sat at the end of the peninsula between the Ashley and Cooper Rivers. General Clinton marched overland and, on March 29, crossed the Ashley River onto the peninsula. The Siege of Charleston was to last for the next six weeks. Within days, American outposts around the city were taken and British ships entered Charleston Harbor, trapping the small American fleet under Commodore Abraham Whipple.

 

When Lincoln refused to surrender, the British began a bombardment of the town that went on for weeks, killing soldiers and destroying homes and businesses every day. Letters were exchanged several times by Lincoln and Clinton demanding various terms for a surrender. On April 29, the British began to destroy the dam holding the water in the defensive canal, which was the last protection for the city. The Americans tried to defend the canal, but it was mostly drained by May 6, giving the British free access to the city. General Clinton demanded a full surrender, which was refused. He then began a massive bombardment of the city and threatened to destroy it. The civilian leaders convinced Lincoln to surrender to save the city, which he did on May 12.

 

5,300 soldiers were taken captive, destroying the Continental Army in the south, a high percentage of whom died in squalid British prison facilities during the next 2 1/2 years. The captives included Major General Lincoln, Commodore Abraham Whipple and Declaration of Independence signers Arthur Middleton, Edward Rutledge and Thomas Heyward, Jr.

 

The defeat at Charleston was a huge blow to the Continental Army. Congress would respond by sending Major General Horatio Gates with another large army that would be defeated at Camden, South Carolina. It was not until General Nathanael Greene arrived to take over the army’s operations in the south late in the year that things began to turn around for the Americans. Less than one year later, British General Charles Cornwallis would surrender at Yorktown, ending the major operations of the war.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

President General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

A man of abilities and character, of any sect whatever, may be admitted to any office of public trust under the United States.
Edmund Randolph

Benjamin Franklin writes about his studies in electricity

Benjamin Franklin writes about his studies in electricity

 

On this day in history, March 28, 1747, Benjamin Franklin writes about his studies in electricity to his friend Peter Collinson in London. This letter was the first in a series of letters Franklin wrote to Collinson and a few others that were eventually put into a book that made Franklin famous throughout the western world.

 

Peter Collinson was a merchant and botanist who was also a member of the Royal Society in London. The society’s mission was to encourage the study and dissemination of scientific knowledge to make the world a better place. In the 1740s, Collinson became a supporter of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia and the Library Company of Philadelphia, both of which were started by Benjamin Franklin. In this role, Collinson was responsible for buying books and equipment for these organizations and sending them to Philadelphia.

           

In 1743, Benjamin Franklin attended a lecture on electricity in Boston by Scottish doctor Archibald Spencer. Franklin was intrigued with the experiments he saw and wrote to Collinson to find out if he had learned anything about electricity. Collinson responded by sending Franklin an “electric tube,” which was a glass tube that could be used to transfer electrical charge. Franklin commenced a detailed study of electricity and was soon performing “tricks” such as making a woman’s hair stand on end, setting alcohol on fire and giving shocks with a kiss.

 

On March 28, 1747, Franklin wrote the first letter to Collinson mentioning his experiments. In the letter, Franklin says he has become so absorbed with his electrical studies and the crowds coming to see his experiments that he hardly has time for everything else. He also states that he will write further about his studies in future letters.

 

Over the next few years, Franklin wrote a series of letters about his studies. In them, Franklin talked about discovering such things as positive and negative charge and that pointed objects conducted electricity better than blunt objects, the origin of his lightning rod idea.

 

Collinson recognized the revolutionary nature of Franklin’s studies and put several of them together in a book for others to take advantage of. Experiments and Observations on Electricity Made at Philadelphia in America took Europe by storm and quickly made Franklin a household name, especially in France.

 

This fame was part of the reason Franklin was later sent to France by the Continental Congress during the American Revolution. Franklin’s widespread fame and name recognition caused him to receive open doors by the French government to ask for help for the fledgling United States in its war against Great Britain.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

President General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

“Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on wahat to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.

Benjamin Franklin

Captain Abraham Whipple runs the USS Columbus aground

Captain Abraham Whipple runs the USS Columbus aground

 

On this day in history, March 27, 1778, Captain Abraham Whipple runs the USS Columbus aground. Whipple was one of the most prominent American seamen of the Revolution. He grew up in the heavily shipping-oriented city of Providence, Rhode Island and became captain of his own ship in his 20s. When the American Revolution drew near, Whipple led the expedition of citizens from Providence that destroyed the HMS Gaspee, whose captain had been harassing colonial shipping in Narragansett Bay.

 

In June, 1775, Rhode Island created the first American navy and Whipple was given command of the lead ship, the Katy. Within days, Whipple had fired the first shot of the war at a British vessel and taken the war’s first British prize when he captured the armed sloop Diana. Soon, Congress built its own navy and Whipple was appointed captain of the 24 gun frigate Columbus. His first mission was to sail with Commodore Esek Hopkins (his cousin) to the Bahamas, where they captured a large trove of military supplies and the Royal Governor of the colony.

           

Whipple then sailed the New England seas, capturing British ships. Eventually, he was given orders to oversee the outfitting of two new ships in Newport and to clean up the Columbus. On March 27, 1778, the Columbus was chased by a British squadron and forced Whipple to run her aground. Whipple and the sailors escaped, but the British burned the ship. Whipple then received orders to break the blockade of Narragansett Bay to take news of the American victory at Saratoga to France. Whipple successfully broke the blockade by stealth at night and damaged several British ships along the way.

 

After his successful return, Whipple was given command of a 3 ship squadron. In April of 1779, they came across a British fleet of 60 ships in the fog off Newfoundland, laden with supplies from Jamaica. Whipple’s small fleet didn’t have time to escape, so Whipple ordered them to raise British flags and sail along with the fleet. By this trick, his small fleet began capturing ships one by one through various subterfuges, until 11 ships were captured! When they returned to Boston with their prizes, valued at over a million dollars, Abraham Whipple became a celebrity to the point that songs were written about him.

 

Congress next sent Whipple to reinforce Major General Benjamin Lincoln at Charleston, South Carolina. When Whipple arrived there, his fleet was quickly blockaded by British ships in the harbor and could not get out. When the city was captured in May, 1780, Whipple was among the thousands of Americans taken prisoner. He spent the next 2 1/2 years as a prisoner and was finally released in late 1782. After the war, Whipple sailed to London on a merchant voyage and became the first person to raise the American flag there, and on a ship with George Washington’s head on the bow no less.

 

Whipple made an attempt at farming in Cranston, Rhode Island, but eventually moved to Ohio with his son-in-law. They became some of the original founders of Marietta, Ohio, and lived there for the rest of their lives. In 1801, Whipple made history yet again when he sailed the first merchant ship built on the Ohio River down the Mississippi to New Orleans and on to Cuba, laden with goods for sale from the Ohio River alley. This was the beginning of a lucrative trade from the Ohio valley to the rest of the world. Whipple finally passed away at the age of 85 in Marietta in 1819.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

President General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

“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

South Carolina becomes an independent state

South Carolina becomes an independent state

 

On this day in history, March 26, 1776, South Carolina becomes an independent state when it adopts its own Constitution, the second of the original 13 colonies to do so. South Carolina was the center of the American Revolution and the patriot movement in the south.

 

Prior to the war, patriots such as Christopher Gadsden, Thomas Lynch and John Rutledge had led the movement of resistance against Great Britain’s taxes. South Carolina even had its own "Boston Tea Party" when citizens threw a ship full of tea into the Cooper River.

           

South Carolina sent five representatives to the Continental Congress in 1774. Henry Middleton, a South Carolinian, served as a president of that Congress. Another South Carolinian, Henry Laurens, would serve as President of the Continental Congress for a year from 1777 to 1778.

 

In January, 1775, the Royal Governor of South Carolina, Lord William Campbell, dissolved the colonial assembly, forcing the members to meet on their own and form an extralegal government body. In March of 1776, this body adopted its own Constitution, along with the name "General Assembly of South Carolina." The new state’s president was John Rutledge and its first vice president was Henry Laurens.

 

South Carolina was the center of the Revolution in the south, with over 200 battles fought on its soil, more than any other state. The British made an early attempt to invade the south at Charles Town in 1776, but this attempt was driven back at the Battle of Sullivan’s Island, forcing them to retreat to the north and make another attempt to take the south later.

 

In December, 1779, the British southern strategy commenced with the capture of Savannah, Georgia. They quickly moved into South Carolina and began a siege of Charles Town in March, 1780, that lasted two months. Large American armies were captured at Charles Town and Camden and the coastal areas were quickly taken over.

 

The British attempted to raise a Loyalist army in the south, but this proved harder than they expected. Militia leaders such as Francis Marion and Andrew Pickens harassed the British with guerrilla techniques and gradually gained the upper hand. When Continental Army General Nathanael Greene arrived, the tide began to turn. Greene and the militia leaders gradually wore the British down and began taking control of the string of British forts in the back country. Eventually, the British were driven back into Charles Town alone on the coast.

 

After the Treaty of Paris was signed, ending the war, the British evacuated the city on December 14, 1782. This day is celebrated as "South Carolina Independence Day," to this day. The city of Charles Town was then renamed "Charleston" because the citizens thought it sounded less British!

 

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

 

Jack Manning

President General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

“The powers of Congress are totally inadequate to preserve the balance between the respective States and oblige them to do those things which are essential for their own welfare or for the general good.”
Henry Knox

The Americans win the Battle of Saint-Pierre

The Americans win the Battle of Saint-Pierre

 

On this day in history, March 25, 1776, the Americans win the Battle of Saint-Pierre as they fight with Loyalist Canadians near Quebec City. The Continental Congress tried to persuade the people of Quebec to join in the Revolution against England. In the fall of 1775, they sent an invasion force to drive the British out of Quebec. This was important not only to free the citizens of Quebec, but also to prevent the British from using the area as a staging ground for an invasion south into New York.

 

Montreal fell to the Americans under General Richard Montgomery in November and then moved on to Quebec City where the Royal Governor, General Sir Guy Carleton, was waiting. Montgomery met Colonel Benedict Arnold there and they surrounded the city. They staged an all-out attack on the city on the night of December 31 in a snowstorm and were terribly defeated. Montgomery was killed and Arnold injured.

           

After the battle, Arnold continued the siege on the city, which lasted until spring. On March 14, a Loyalist citizen named Jean-Baptiste Chasson crossed the St. Lawrence River to Quebec City and informed Governor Carleton that the Americans were building a cannon battery across the river at Pointe-Levis. This position would give the Americans the high ground over the river and control of the city’s harbor.

 

Carleton was waiting for reinforcements to come by way of the river so he immediately sent Chasson with a message to Louis Lienard de Beaujeu, the manager of Crane Island, which was north of the city in the river. Beaujeu had military experience from the French and Indian War and was instructed to raise a force to destroy the unfinished battery at Pointe-Levis. Beaujeu set about his task immediately and by March 24, had raised almost 200 men for the job.

 

On March 24, Beaujeu sent 46 men forward to establish a base at Saint-Pierre, which they did in the home of a Loyalist. Local citizens who were favorable to the Americans became aware of Beaujeu’s recruiting activities and warned the soldiers at Pointe-Levis, who in turn told Colonel Arnold. Over 200 men were quickly sent to deal with the gathering Loyalist militia.

 

On the 25th, the Americans and Canadian sympathizers attacked the advance guard at Saint-Pierre. The Canadians were holed up inside the house which was their headquarters and came under musket and cannon fire. Eventually, most of them surrendered, while a few escaped and a few were killed. The battle is unique because neighbors and even some family members fought against each other on both sides since both groups were raised from the same towns.

 

Chasson was arrested and Beaujeu went into hiding after the rout. The Americans released many of the captives on the promise they would not take up arms again. The Americans continued the Siege on Quebec until May when Arnold’s replacement, General John Thomas, decided the effort was futile and began a retreat back to New York.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

President General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

"All men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree."
James Madison (1787)

The Toms River Blockhouse Fight

The Toms River Blockhouse Fight

 

On this day in history, March 24, 1782, the Toms River Blockhouse Fight leads to the capture of Captain Joshua Huddy, which brings the peace negotiations with Great Britain to a standstill. Toms River, New Jersey was a notorious privateering headquarters during the American Revolution. On March 16, patriot privateers from Toms River captured a boat belonging to Loyalist William Dillon.

 

Dillon complained to the Associated Board of Loyalists in New York City, which was under the direction of former New Jersey Royal Governor, William Franklin. The Board organized a retaliatory strike against Toms River, which was important not only for its privateering , but also for its salt works. Salt was a valuable commodity to both sides because it was used to preserve meat. The patriots had built a small fort (also called a blockhouse) at Toms River to guard the nearby salt works.

 

The Toms River blockhouse was square and made of logs stuck into the ground with points at the top. It had no door. The only way in was by climbing over the top with a ladder. Captain Joshua Huddy was appointed to lead the small garrison at the fort in February, 1782. Huddy was well known for his exploits during the war, including an escape from the British after being captured in 1780. When the raiding party arrived at Toms River on the morning of the 24th, a two hour gun battle ensued. Only 25 men defended the fort, while the Loyalist attackers had 4 times as many.

 

Many of the men in the fort died the Toms River Blockhouse Fight and the Loyalists burned nearly the entire town to the ground. Huddy was captured and taken to New York. Three weeks later, Governor Franklin turned him over to Captain Richard Lippincott who transported him to near Sandy Hook where he was hung on the beach. This hanging sparked an international incident known as the "Asgill Affair."

 

The Americans were outraged because Huddy had committed no crimes and didn’t even receive a trial. Under pressure from the citizens, George Washington chose a British prisoner by lot who was to be executed in the same fashion as Huddy, unless Captain Lippincott was turned over to them for trial for Huddy’s murder. The soldier chosen by lot was Charles Asgill, who was from among the British prisoners who surrendered at Yorktown.

 

The British were outraged at the planned execution because the Yorktown terms of surrender forbade such treatment of prisoners. The peace negotiations in Paris came to a stop. Asgill’s mother pleaded with King George III and King Louis XVI in France. Letters came from the government of Holland and the French foreign minister asked Washington to free Asgill.

 

The British delayed the execution by trying Lippincott themselves, but he was found innocent for obeying orders. British Commander-in-Chief, Sir Guy Carleton promised to investigate to determine who else was involved if Congress would free Asgill. Eventually, Congress succumbed to the pressure from Europe and granted Asgill his freedom on November 7, 1782. Washington pressed Carleton on the matter of further inquiries into who was involved, but the whole affair was forgotten when the preliminary peace treaty was signed only 3 weeks later.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

President General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

“We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again.”
Nathanael Greene

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

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

 

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

 

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

           

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Jack Manning

President General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

The question is, not what rights naturally belong to man, but how they may be most equally and effectually guarded in society.
Roger Sherman