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Baron von Steuben arrives at Valley Forge

Baron von Steuben arrives at Valley Forge

 

On this day in history, February 23, 1778, Baron von Steuben arrives at Valley Forge. Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben was born in Prussia. He joined the army at 17 and saw extensive service during the Seven Years War in battles with Russia and Austria, during which he rose to captain and was made a personal aide to Frederick the Great.

 

When this war ended, the military was downsized and Von Steuben was let go. He took a job overseeing the household of the Prince of Hohenzollern-Hechingen, but continued to look for employment with foreign armies. He eventually became acquainted with the French Minister of War, who, in the 1770s was involved with France’s secret funding of the American Revolution.

 

The minister realized Von Steuben’s extensive knowledge of Prussian military techniques could be of great help to the Americans, so he recommended him to Ben Franklin and Silas Deane, the American ambassadors in Paris, who then recommended him to George Washington.

 

Baron von Steuben arrived in America in late 1777 and offered to serve in the army free of pay. By February, 1778, Congress sent word that he should join Washington at Valley Forge and he arrived there on the 23rd. George Washington was impressed with Von Steuben’s experience and knowledge and made him acting inspector-general. Von Steuben was horrified at the unsanitary conditions of the camp and immediately re-organized it with kitchens and latrines far from each other and with latrines on downhill slopes. He also introduced a thorough inventory system that reduced waste and fraud.

 

His most important contribution though, was in training the soldiers in proper battle techniques. He started with a group of 100 men and trained them efficiently how to march in tandem, fire effectively, reload their weapons more quickly and use the bayonet efficiently, training them over and over in military drills that started early in the morning. After the first 100 men were trained, they trained others who then trained others. Within weeks, the Continental Army was transformed from a group of farmers with varying levels of skills and training, into a formidable fighting force.

 

Washington was so impressed with the change in the troops that he made Von Steuben the permanent Inspector-General with a rank of Major-General. During the Battle of Monmouth, which was the first major battle after the winter at Valley Forge, Von Steuben’s techniques were proved when the army successfully fought the British toe to toe.

 

Von Steuben then prepared Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States, a training and organizational guide which was used by the US army until the War of 1812. Von Steuben became one of Washington’s top aides and was finally given his own troops to command. He was sent to the southern theatre to assist General Nathanael Greene and was present at the surrender of General Cornwallis at Yorktown. For his contributions, Baron von Steuben was considered a military hero and was awarded with some large tracts of land and homes in several states. He died at his home in upstate New York in 1794.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Treasurer General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

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

 

 

 

Christopher Seider, first casualty of the American Revolution

Christopher Seider, first casualty of the American Revolution

 

On this day in history, February 22, 1770, 11 year old Christopher Seider is the first casualty of the American Revolution. By 1770, the American colonists were in the midst of a boycott of British goods to protest the Townshend Acts, which taxed common items, such as tea, and increased the penalties for avoiding the customs duties.

 

Loyalists would often disregard the boycott of British goods and attempt to capitalize on the lack of goods for sale by continuing to import and sell them. One such Loyalist was Theophilus Lillie of Boston, the owner of a grocery store. Lillie was a known breaker of the boycott and on this particular date, patriotic citizens staged a protest outside his shop, hoping to shame he and his customers for supporting the tyrannical Parliament.

 

Just then, Ebenezer Richardson, an employee of the customs office came by and attempted to break up the rioters, who were throwing stones at Lillie’s store and carrying protest signs. Richardson was a hated figure himself for informing the Attorney General on the activities of the rebel patriots. When Richardson tried to tear down one of the protest signs, the crowd turned on him and began pelting him with rocks, at least one of which hit him in the head. Richardson ran off toward his house with the crowd chasing him.

 

Arriving at home, Richardson hid inside while the crowd pelted his house with rocks. Sometime in the fray, a young German immigrant boy joined in the crowd. Christopher Seider was from a poor family, but he lived in the home of and worked for Grizzell Apthorp, a wealthy widow. Most traditional sources say that Christopher was 11 years old, but new sources indicate he may have been only ten years old.

 

Christopher was on the way home from school when he joined the rioting citizens at Richardson’s house. At some point, rocks broke through the windows and Richardson’s wife was struck. Richardson panicked and, fearing for their lives, pulled the trigger on his gun and began firing into the crowd. Young Christopher was shot twice, in the chest and in the arm, and died that evening.

 

2,000 people attended Christopher Seider’s funeral , which was arranged by Sam Adams. The incident served to stir up Boston so much that the Boston Massacre would occur only 11 days later, when angry citizens harassing a group of soldiers were fired upon with 5 more casualties. Ebenezer Richardson was charged with murder for Seider’s death, but found innocent on grounds of self-protection. He was also given a promotion in the customs service. Seider is often considered to be the very first casualty of the American Revolution, five years and two months before the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Treasurer General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

“People crushed by laws, have no hope but to evade power. If the laws are their enemies, they will be enemies to the law; and those who have most to hope and nothing to lose will always be dangerous.”
Edmund Burke

Confederation Congress approves a new Constitutional Convention

Confederation Congress approves a new Constitutional Convention

 

On this day in history, February 21, 1787, the Confederation Congress approves a new Constitutional Convention to be held at Philadelphia beginning on May 14, 1787. The Articles of Confederation, which was the first governing document of the United States, had proved to be too weak for the government to function effectively.

 

Some of its weaknesses included that each state had one vote, regardless of size, giving disproportionate power to small states; Congress could not regulate interstate and foreign commerce, making it easy for states to undercut each other on import/export prices; there were no federal courts and no president; to pass a law, there had to be a 2/3 vote of the states; changes to the Articles required a unanimous vote; and Congress had no power to tax or raise money. It could only ask the states for money, and they usually didn’t pay.

 

Calls for changes to the system were made for years, but early in 1786, the state of Virginia requested that all the states get together at Annapolis, Maryland to come up with suggestions for changes to the Articles regarding matters of trade and commerce. The Annapolis Convention met from September 11 to 14, but with delegates present from only five states, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Four other states had appointed delegates, but they failed to arrive on time, while four others didn’t even appoint delegates.

 

The delegates, including Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Dickinson, all agreed that major changes were necessary to the Articles regarding trade, but there were so few representatives present that they didn’t feel they had the authority to act. Instead, they put together a proposal to Congress and the states that all thirteen states should meet the following May to make serious amendments to the Articles of Confederation that would permanently remedy its weaknesses.

 

Congress received the proposal and, though there were great differences between the members about how far the changes should go, they passed a resolution on February 21, 1787 that stated, "It is expedient that on the second Monday in May next a Convention of delegates who shall have been appointed by the several States be held at Philadelphia for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation."

 

The Convention met in May and, rather than modifying the Articles of Confederation, came up with an entirely new governing document – the Constitution of the United States, which took effect on March 4, 1789.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Treasurer General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

“I regard it (the Constitution) as the work of the purest patriots and wisest statesman that ever existed, aided by the smiles of a benign Providence; it almost appears a "Divine interposition in our behalf… the hand that destroys our Constitution rends our Union asunder forever.”

Daniel Webster

 

 

Colonel William Prescott is born

Colonel William Prescott is born

 

On this day in history, February 20, 1726, Colonel William Prescott is born. Prescott led the American troops at the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775.

 

Prescott made his home in Pepperell in northern Massachusetts. He served in King George’s War and in the French and Indian War in the provincial militia, after which he was offered a position in the Royal Army, which he declined. When the American Revolution drew near, Prescott was made a colonel over the town of Pepperell.

 

Word of the Battles of Lexington and Concord reached Pepperell on the morning of April 19, 1775. Prescott rounded up his men, but they arrived too late to join in the fighting. They joined the growing numbers of militia members that surrounded the British in Boston.

 

On the evening of June 16, Prescott was given the task of building defensive works on Bunker Hill in Charlestown, across the river from Boston, due to an impending British takeover of this high ground. Prescott took 1,200 men who worked through the night, building defensive works on the adjacent Breed’s Hill instead because it was a better position.

 

Early on the 17th, British warships began bombarding their position. During the early stages of the bombardment, Prescott walked boldly on top of the defensive works, encouraging his men. British General Thomas Gage observed him through a telescope and asked who it was. An aide (who had once been married to Prescott’s sister) told him it was William Prescott. "Will he fight?" Gage asked. The aide replied, "Yes, sir; he is an old soldier, and will fight as long as a drop of blood remains in his veins." Later in the day, the British ground attack began.

 

It was at this time that Colonel Prescott made the famous statement, "Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes," hoping to preserve his precious ammunition. Three assaults were made by the Royal Army, resulting in a great slaughter of the British troops, half of whom were killed or wounded.

 

Prescott finally ordered a retreat when American position was overwhelmed. He was one of the last to leave and he and his remaining men were forced into hand to hand combat as they retreated. The Battle of Bunker Hill was technically a British victory because the Americans withdrew, but the victory was so costly to the British that they never recovered and eventually abandoned Boston.

 

Prescott was appointed a colonel in the new Continental Army. In early 1776, he was made a brigadier-general of the Middlesex County militia and became a member of the Massachusetts Board of War. He saw action during the campaign to defend New York City and in the 1777 Saratoga campaign, after which he returned to Massachusetts, where he was made a major-general of the Massachusetts militia.

 

In later years, Prescott served for several years in the Massachusetts Legislature. Both he and his brother served in the 1786 effort to suppress Shay’s rebellion. William Prescott died in Pepperell in 1795 at the age of 69.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Treasurer General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

Don’t one of you fire until you see the whites of their eyes.”

Col. William Prescott

 

 

Aaron Burr is arrested for treason

Aaron Burr is arrested for treason

 

On this day in history, February 19, 1807, Aaron Burr is arrested for treason. Aaron Burr was America’s third Vice-President under Thomas Jefferson. He is best-known today for killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel after some private comments Hamilton made disparaging Burr’s character were made public and Hamilton refused to retract the statements.

 

Less known is an incident Burr was involved in after his term as vice-president ended along with his political career due to the Hamilton incident. After his term, Burr went west to the American frontier and purchased land in the newly purchased Louisiana Territory, where he became involved in a scheme to either develop a new state in Louisiana or, more seriously, to conquer part of Mexico, apparently hoping to revive his political career.

           

This was illegal because Mexico was still a Spanish possession and only the United States government had the authority to make war or negotiate with foreign governments. Burr worked together with US General James Wilkinson who was the US Army Commander at New Orleans and the Governor of the Louisiana Territory. Together they developed their plans and raised a small privately funded army to accomplish their ends. They even negotiated with Great Britain, which considered aiding their plans, but eventually pulled out.

 

General Wilkinson eventually became nervous that the plans would fail and he could be implicated in a crime. He turned on Burr and wrote to President Thomas Jefferson about Burr’s plan and accused him of treason. In addition, some of Jefferson’s slave-holding supporters demanded that he do something about Burr because whatever territory Burr ended up controlling would be slave-free, since he was firmly against slavery. They did not want a slave-free territory in the south. Jefferson eventually charged Burr with treason, a charge which didn’t exactly fit the crime. Burr tried to escape to Spanish Florida, but was caught at Wakefield in the Mississippi Territory on February 19, 1807.

 

Burr was tried in a sensational trial in Richmond, Virginia beginning on August 3. He was represented by Edmund Randolph and Luther Martin, both former members of the Continental Congress. The evidence was so flimsy against Burr that four grand juries had to be convened before the prosecution could get an indictment. General Wilkinson, the chief witness for the prosecution, was found to have forged a letter, allegedly from Burr, stating his plans to steal land from Louisiana. This weakened the prosecution’s case and left Wilkinson in disgrace.

 

Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Marshall, oversaw the case and was pressured by Thomas Jefferson to make a conviction. Marshall, however, did not find Burr guilty of treason and he was acquitted on September 1. He was then tried on a more reasonable misdemeanor charge, but was acquitted of this charge as well.

 

After the trial, Burr’s hopes of reviving his political career were dead and he fled to Europe. For several years, he attempted to talk various European governments into cooperating with his plans to conquer Mexico, but he was rebuffed by all. Eventually he returned to the United States and resumed his law practice in New York, where he maintained a relatively low profile for the rest of his life.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Treasurer General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

"A right to property is founded in our natural wants, in the means with which we are endowed to satisfy these wants, and the right to what we acquire by those means without violating the similar rights of other sensible beings."

Thomas Jefferson

Lord Dunmore dispatches note of "inexpressible mortification"

February 18, 1776 : Lord Dunmore dispatches note of “inexpressible mortification”

 

From Norfolk, Virginia, Royal Governor John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore, dispatches a note to William Legge, 2nd Earl of Dartmouth, expressing his “inexpressible mortification” that British Major General Sir Henry Clinton had been ordered to the “insignificant province of North Carolina to the neglect of this the richest and powerfully important province in America.” Dunmore was facing expulsion from Virginia at the hands of the Patriots and was deeply insulted that the army chose to defend its claims to the less significant colony of North Carolina instead of the economically and politically vital colony of Virginia.

 

Having departed New York on February 12, General Clinton met with Governor Dunmore in Hampton Roads, Virginia, on February 17 while en route to Cape Fear, North Carolina; he was forced to remain in Hampton Roads until February 27 due to stormy weather. Clinton finally reached North Carolina on March 12, by which time the North Carolina Loyalists had been routed at Moore’s Creek Bridge on February 27. The royal governors of North and South Carolina met Clinton to give him the bad news, but Commodore Peter Parker and Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis had not yet arrived from Cork, Ireland, to support Clinton in his efforts to suppress the American rebellion. After waiting until May 31, 1776, for the last of the contingency to arrive from Cork, Clinton contemplated moving the British forces to the Chesapeake Bay, since North Carolina had already fallen to the Patriots, but Parker convinced him to head instead for Charleston, South Carolina.

 

Abandoned again, Dunmore returned to England after the publication of the Declaration of Independence in July 1776. The county named in his honor in 1772 was renamed Shenandoah County in 1778. His hunting lodge, Porto Bello, where he first fled the Patriot uprising, remains on the National Register of Historic Places for York County, Virginia.

 

Clinton, Parker and Cornwallis attacked Fort Sullivan outside Charleston to no avail and retreated to New York City.

 

http://www.history.com

 

Jack Manning

Treasurer General

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

 

 

The House of Commons passes the Stamp Act

The House of Commons passes the Stamp Act

 

On this day in history, February 17, 1765, the House of Commons passes the Stamp Act. The Stamp Act would be one of the primary points of contention between the American colonists and Parliament in the years leading up to the Revolutionary War.

 

The Act placed a small tax on 54 separate items, all things made of paper, such as contracts, wills, playing cards, newspapers, almanacs, etc. The Act was part of Prime Minister George Grenville’s plan to reduce the massive debt incurred by the British treasury during the French and Indian War. All the money raised by the Act was to be used within the colonies to pay for the expenses of British soldiers stationed there after the end of the war.

 

The colonists did not object to paying taxes. They did, however, have a strong opinion about who could tax them. English law provided that people could only be taxes by their elected representatives. Since the colonies had no representatives in Parliament, Parliament could not legally tax them. Instead, they believed the proper bodies to lay taxes on them were their own elected colonial legislatures.

 

Parliament did not respond to the formal protests from the colonial governments, so the citizens began to take things into their own hands. Newspapers and citizens published anti-Stamp Act letters and pamphlets and mob violence broke out in numerous places against government officials involved with implementing the Act. The violence became so severe that by November 1, 1765, the intended start date of the Act, not a single stamp distributor was left in the colonies. Every single one had resigned, except for the one from Georgia and that was because he did not arrive until January. When he did arrive, he resigned the next day.

 

Many localities in the colonies then passed non-importation agreements, refusing to import British goods until the Act was repealed. This put an enormous amount of pressure on British merchants who began to suffer and lay people off because they could not pay their debts. These merchants began to pressure Parliament to repeal the bill. A change in administration made Lord Rockingham Prime Minister and he immediately began pushing for a repeal. The Stamp Act was finally repealed on March 18, 1766, causing rejoicing and celebrations both in England and in the colonies.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Treasurer General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

"Idleness and pride Tax with a heavier Hand than Kings and Parliaments. If we can get rid of the former, we may easily bear the Latter."
Benjamin Franklin (1765)