Monthly Archives: March 2021

Eleanor Parke Custis Lewis is born

Eleanor Parke Custis Lewis is born

 

On this day in history, March 31, 1779, Eleanor Parke Custis Lewis is born. Known as Nelly, she is the granddaughter of Martha Washington and step-granddaughter of George Washington. Nelly was the daughter of John Parke Custis, Martha’s son from her first marriage. Martha had two children with her first husband Daniel Parke Custis, who died in 1757. John Parke Custis and his sister, Martha Parke Custis, were then raised by Martha and George Washington when they married in 1759. John was called "Jacky" and Martha was called "Patsy."

 

Both John and Martha died young, Martha from a seizure at the age of 17. John married young at the age of 18 and had four children, the youngest of whom was Eleanor Parke Custis, born on March 31, 1779, during the midst of the Revolutionary War. John served as an aide to George Washington at the Battle of Yorktown where he contracted "camp fever" and died at the age of 28. John’s wife could not raise four children by herself, so the younger two, Eleanor and her younger brother, George Washington Parke Custis, went to live with George and Martha at Mount Vernon and were raised by them for the rest of their youths.

           

Eleanor, who was known as "Nelly" in the Washington household, was ten years old when Washington became the first President of the United  States. Nelly and her brother went with the Washingtons to New York and Philadelphia and lived in the presidential mansions there. Nelly spent her teenage years as the daughter of a President and was known for entertaining the dignitaries and guests that came to visit President Washington.

 

Nelly returned to Mount Vernon with George and Martha after the presidency. In 1799, she married Lawrence Lewis, Washington’s personal secretary. Lewis was also a nephew of George Washington and became the executor of Washington’s will upon the President’s death only a few months after they were married.

 

Nelly and Lawrence received a gift of 2,000 acres next to Mount Vernon from the Washingtons upon their marriage. There they built a plantation and estate called Woodlawn Plantation, where they lived for the next 30 years. In 1830, they moved to a new estate called Audley, which Lawrence built on land he had purchased from Washington’s estate in Clarke County, Virginia. Nelly continued to live here until her death in 1852. She and Lawrence had 3 children that survived to adulthood. Nelly is buried at Mount Vernon near the tombs of George and Martha Washington.

 

Nelly was the author of a frequently referred to letter that answers the question, "Was George Washington a Christian?" Nelly was asked the question in 1833 by historian Jared Sparks. Nelly responded with a letter detailing Washington’s frequent church attendance and devotional habits and stated that questioning Washington’s Christianity was the equivalent of questioning his patriotism. The letter is usually viewed as quite authoritative on the subject because she lived with Washington for 20 years.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

President General

2019 – 2021

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

"Wisdom, and good examples are necessary at this time to rescue the political machine from the impending storm."
George Washington


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The New England Restraining Act is made law

The New England Restraining Act is made law

 

On this day in history, March 30, 1775, the New England Restraining Act is made law with the signature of King George III. The Act restricts the New England colonies from trading with any other country besides Great Britain or her colonies and prevents colonists from entering the North Atlantic fisheries. These measures were enacted as a punishment to the colonies for their ban on trade with Britain after the institution of the Coercive Acts and other resistance to Parliament.

 

Colonial relations with Great Britain had been deteriorating gradually since the Stamp Act of 1765. The Tea Act of 1773 brought things to a head with a small tax placed on imported tea. Though the tax was small, the colonists were firm in their belief that Parliament did not have the right to tax them since they had no representation there. Instead, they believed the proper bodies to institute taxes on them were their own elected legislatures.

           

The citizens of Boston responded to the Tea Act by dumping 42 tons of imported tea into Boston Harbor in December 1773, an act known as the Boston Tea Party. When news reached Parliament, it responded by passing the Coercive Acts, a series of acts to punish Boston which closed the harbor, shut down the Massachusetts government, moved trials of government officials out of the colony, required the housing of British troops on private property and extended the boundaries of French speaking, but British held, Quebec, which was viewed as a threat by the colonists.

 

Even though the Coercive Acts were focused on Massachusetts, all of the colonies saw the Acts as a precedent that could be extended to their own colonies. They responded with mass promises not to import any more British goods until the Acts were repealed. Most of the colonies began actively recruiting and training their own armies to confront Britain if the need arose. Most of the colonies sent representatives to the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia to deal with the crisis as one.

 

Parliament’s response to all this preparation was to pass the New England Retraining Act, which was signed by the King on March 30, 1775. This Act forbade Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut from trading with any other countries but Great Britain or her colonies. The idea was to strangle the colonists into a position of desperation so they would drop their opposition and consent to Parliament’s demands. The Acts also forbade them from using the North Atlantic fisheries off Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, a heavy blow to the colonists, who were dependent on the food and income from the fisheries.

 

The New England Restraining Act focused on the New England colonies because the rebellion was centered there. In April, however, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia and South Carolina were added to the Act when it was learned that they were also participating in the boycotts and raising armies. The Act, tough as it was, was never really enforced and never amounted to much because the war broke out in Lexington on April 19th, causing Britain to escalate to the point of making war on her own people.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

President General

2019 – 2021

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

"If we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, it is the responsibility of every American to be informed."
George Washington


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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

2019 – 2021

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

"Arbitrary power is most easily established on the ruins of liberty abused to licentiousness."
George Washington (1783)


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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

2019 – 2021

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

"It is very imprudent to deprive America of any of her privileges. If her commerce and friendship are of any importance to you, they are to be had on no other terms than leaving her in the full enjoyment of her rights." 
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

2019 – 2021

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

“I am determined to defend my rights and maintain my freedom or sell my life in the attempt.”
Nathanael Greene


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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

2019 – 2021

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

"No country upon earth ever had it more in its power to attain these blessings than United America. Wondrously strange, then, and much to be regretted indeed would it be, were we to neglect the means and to depart from the road which Providence has pointed us to so plainly."
George Washington (1788)

 


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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

2019 – 2021

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

"Wisdom, and good examples are necessary at this time to rescue the political machine from the impending storm."
George Washington

 

 

 

 


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