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The Great Seal of the United States is adopted

The Great Seal of the United States is adopted

 

On this day in history, June 20, 1782, the Great Seal of the United States is adopted by the Continental Congress. Congress first appointed a committee to create the Great Seal on July 4, 1776, shortly after approving the Declaration of Independence. The committee consisted of Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.

 

The three men volunteered several designs based on biblical and classical themes. After consulting with artist Pierre Eugene du Simitiere, a design was chosen  with a female Liberty figure and a female Justice figure holding a crest and surrounded by small shields representing each of the 13 states for the obverse side (the front), while the reverse side held Moses parting the Red Sea. Congress was not impressed when it received the design on August 20 and tabled it. Several of the themes would eventually make it into the final design, however, including the Eye of Providence, the motto E Pluribus Unum and 1776 written in Roman numerals.

           

Not until March, 1780 did Congress address the Great Seal again by appointing another committee, this time consisting of James Lovell of Massachusetts and John Morin Scott and William Houston of Virginia. The second committee produced a new design, incorporating some elements from the first committee’s design, with the help of heraldry expert, artist and signer of the Declaration of Independence Francis Hopkinson. This committee’s design was also rejected by Congress, but again, elements of their design made it into the final Great Seal, including 13 stripes on a shield, 13 stars surrounded by a cloud of glory and the olive branch and arrows.

 

Two years later, in May of 1782, a third committee was appointed, this time consisting of John Rutledge and Arthur Middleton of South Carolina and Elias Boudinot of New Jersey. Rutledge was later replaced by Arthur Lee of Virginia. This committee relied on a young lawyer and heraldry expert named William Barton. Barton took elements of the first two committees and came up with a design that adhered more closely to traditional rules of heraldry. Elements of this design that made it into the final seal included the eagle and the unfinished pyramid.

 

Congress did not choose the third committee’s design, but instead, turned the creations of all three committees over to its long time secretary Charles Thomson on June 13. Thomson took elements from all three previous designs and made a few changes of his own, including removing the Liberty and Justice figures and using only the eagle and putting a banner in the eagle’s mouth. Barton again reviewed the design and made a few minor changes. The final design was presented to and approved by Congress on June 20, 1782.

 

The original die was cast within the next few months and first used on September 16, 1782. Charles Thomson, as secretary of Congress, kept the die and used it on official documents. It was adopted by the new United States government officially on September 15, 1789. The description of the seal has remained the same since it was adopted in 1782, but the die has changed slightly over the years each time the old one wore out and a new one was created. Such seals or flags often change in design because the "blazon," or the official description describes certain aspects of the design, but leaves others up to artistic interpretation. The current design was adopted in 1903 and all future die casts are to use the exact same design.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Treasurer General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

“To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead.”

Thomas Paine

 

 

The Americans retake Philadelphia

The Americans retake Philadelphia

 

On this day in history, June 18, 1778, Americans retake Philadelphia after the British army evacuates the city. Philadelphia was captured in September of 1777 by British General William Howe who was hoping to end the American rebellion by cutting off its head in Philadelphia. The Continental Congress, however, fled the city to York, Pennsylvania and continued to lead the rebellion from there.

 

After a massive British sea landing southwest of the city, George Washington and the Continental Army suffered thousands of casualties at the Battles of Brandywine and Germantown trying to save Philadelphia from capture, but to no avail. Thousands of patriots fled and nearly 20,000 British soldiers occupied the city.

 

General Howe, known for extreme caution, decided to wait out the winter in Philadelphia instead of attacking Washington’s army to the north of the city. The occupation was devastating for Philadelphia. Homes and businesses were ransacked or destroyed. Supplies of all kinds were in short supply. Piles of the dead lay around the city. Meanwhile, the top officers lived in luxury in the confiscated homes of patriots who had fled.

 

The Continental Army passed the winter at Valley Forge, starving and freezing in makeshift huts. The one advantage they had was that this hastily prepared army finally had some time to train. Washington and the newly arrived Prussian Baron, Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, instituted a strict regimen of firing and marching exercises that better enabled the army to fight against the British once the campaigns began again in 1778.

 

In October of 1777, the army of British Major General John Burgoyne was forced to surrender to American General Horatio Gates at Saratoga, New York. This surrender encouraged France to join the Americans by declaring war against Great Britain the following February, forcing Britain to redesign its entire war strategy. Large numbers of troops were sent from North America to the West Indies to defend British interests there. General Howe was replaced by General Sir Henry Clinton, who was ordered to abandon Philadelphia and return to New York as both cities were now endangered by blockade of the French fleet.

 

When Clinton took over from Howe in May, he immediately began planning the evacuation of the city. He did not, however, have enough ships to transport thousands of troops, horses, supplies and numerous Loyalists and their belongings who wanted to flee as well. Consequently, he ordered an overland march of the troops and allowed thousands of Loyalists to flee to New York on his ships.

 

The city was finally abandoned on June 18 and George Washington sent Major General Benedict Arnold, who had not yet committed his act of treason, into the city to become its temporary military commander. Congress returned shortly after. The Continental Army, meanwhile, came out of Valley Forge and chased Clinton’s army on its way back to New York, culminating in the massive Battle of Monmouth, a battle involving 25,000 men. The battle was essentially a draw, ending up with the British back in New York City and the Continental Army back at White Plains, New York, the exact positions they were in two years earlier before the New Jersey and Philadelphia campaigns.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Treasurer General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

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

 

 

Patriots lose the Battle of Bunker Hill

Patriots lose the Battle of Bunker Hill

 

On this day in history, June 17, 1775, patriots lose the Battle of Bunker Hill, the first major battle of the American Revolution and the bloodiest of the entire war. The Battle of Bunker Hill began when patriots surrounding Boston learned that British commanders were planning to break out and take the hills around the city. The very green and untrained militia was surrounding the city after chasing the British back to Boston after the opening shots of the war at the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

 

The British were planning to break out of the town on June 18, but a businessman from New Hampshire visiting the city alerted the patriots after overhearing the plan. At this time, the militia was under the command of Massachusetts General Artemas Ward. The Continental Army was only authorized in Philadelphia on the 14th and George Washington appointed its leader on the 15th. The events that unfolded on Bunker Hill and Breed’s Hill occurred several weeks before Washington arrived and took over.

           

On the night of June 16, 1200 soldiers entered the Charlestown Peninsula north of Boston under Colonel William Prescott. Prescott’s orders were to build fortifications atop Bunker Hill on the northwest part of the peninsula. Prescott disobeyed the orders and built atop Breed’s Hill instead, which was further south and closer to Boston. This defiance of orders was typical of American movements at the time since the militia was made up of units from different counties and cities with no established chain of command.

 

Across the water in Boston, British General Thomas Gage was informed of the American movements early on the 17th. He began preparing an assault on the peninsula, but the soldiers took their time and didn’t begin landing until late in the afternoon. By 3:00 the British began their first assault. American commanders had ordered their soldiers not to fire until the British were within close range in order to assure that every bullet would count since they were very low on ammunition.

 

The first British assault turned into a massacre as the Americans fired on them as they marched up the hill on Prescott’s position. Colonel John Stark repelled another attack on the left flank by British Major General William Howe. Dozens and dozens of British soldiers fell and the survivors were forced to retreat. A second assault had the same results. The British regrouped once again for a third assault, but this time the Americans on Breed’s Hill ran out of ammunition. British soldiers crawled over their own dead comrades to get to the top of the hill where hand to hand combat began. The British, who were better equipped with bayonets, finally drove the Americans back across Bunker Hill and across the Charlestown Neck.

 

The Battle of Bunker Hill was a victory for the British since they took the peninsula, but at an enormous cost, suffering over 1,000 casualties! 226 were killed and over 800 injured. A large chunk of Britain’s officer corps in North America was killed or wounded, including the entire field staff of General Howe. The Americans lost 115 killed and 300 wounded, including the President of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, Dr. Joseph Warren.

 

News of the battle shocked London to its core. It finally realized that the Americans were not the "rabble" they were thought to be, but a formidable fighting force. The battle also hardened Americans and persuaded many to join the revolutionary cause. The battle was a strategic stalemate, having no real value to either side, but to strengthen their resolve. George Washington would arrive in July and begin the task of forming the militia into an orderly and effective army. They would finally force the British to abandon Boston the following year.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Treasurer General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

"Let us animate and encourage each other. … A Freeman contending for Liberty on his own ground is superior to any slavish mercenary on earth."
George Washington (1776)

Mary Katherine Goddard is born

Mary Katherine Goddard is born

 

On this day in history, June 16, 1738, Mary Katherine Goddard is born. Mary would become one of the most prominent printers of the American Revolution and would print the first copies of the Declaration of Independence that contained the names of all 56 singers.

 

Mary Katherine was born in New London, Connecticut to a wealthy doctor and postmaster. When her father died, Mary’s mother moved the family to Providence, Rhode Island and lent her younger son, William, the money to open the Providence Gazette, the city’s first newspaper, in 1762. As the business grew, William traveled a lot, leaving Mary Katherine and their mother to run the paper.

           

In 1767, William founded the Pennsylvania Chronicle in Philadelphia with several partners, including Benjamin Franklin. When the elder Mrs. Goddard died in 1770, Mary Katherine moved to Philadelphia and took over the publishing of the Chronicle. Mary moved again, this time to Baltimore, when William started the Maryland Journal in 1772.

 

By this time, William was heavily involved in politics. His pro-revolutionary and anti-Crown opinions drew the scrutiny of the Royal government. He even spent some time in jail for his incendiary opinions. Mary kept the papers going all the while. She, however, rarely printed her own opinions.

 

By 1773, the authorities were censoring the mail heavily. Some postal lines were completely blocked to prevent communication between the colonies. The mail difficulties eventually forced the Goddards to shut down the Pennsylvania Chronicle. This prompted William to create his own postal system with the advice and help of Ben Franklin, who had been the Crown’s chief Postmaster for North America. William’s system was eventually adopted and became the US Postal Service.

 

Mary Katherine became the new postmaster of Baltimore in 1775. She would continue publishing the newspaper, serve as postmaster, bind books, print almanacs and other books, and open a bookstore in the coming years. Her most famous claim to fame was printing the Declaration of Independence with the names of all 56 signers in January, 1777. Congress was meeting in Baltimore at the time because the British army was near Philadelphia. The original Declaration was printed by John Dunlap in Philadelphia with no signatures. The signatures were written on a copy in August of 1776 and it was this document that Mary Katherine reproduced with the typeset names, putting her own life at risk.

 

After the war, Mary Katherine and William had a falling out and she was forced out of the paper for reasons which are unclear. She continued selling books and dry goods for years and as postmaster until 1789 when she was forced out of this position as well.

 

When the new US government created its official post office in August of 1789, the first postmaster general appointed by George Washington, Samuel Osgood, immediately fired Mary and put a political ally in her place. Mary was told the position would require a lot of travel and since she was a woman she would not be able to handle it. Mary had been running the busiest post office in the country for years, but this didn’t matter to Osgood. The protests of hundreds of businessmen in Baltimore fell on deaf ears as well and Mary’s contribution to the post office came to an end. Mary Katherine Goddard remained in business until the early 1800s and passed away at the age of 78 in 1816, having made her mark in the printing industry and on the post office.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Treasurer 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)

 

 

 

George Washington Appointed Head of the Continental Army

George Washington appointed head of the Continental Army

 

On this day in history, June 15, 1775, George Washington is appointed head of the new Continental Army. Congress created the Continental Army on June 14 and began discussing who should be appointed as Commander-in-Chief. John Hancock hoped for the position, but the more experienced Washington was elected unanimously the following day.

 

John Adams pressed for Washington as the Commander, partly because he believed someone from Virginia should hold the position. Virginia was the most populous colony and the southern colonies would be more likely to support a Virginian. In addition, Washington's military experience from the French and Indian War was a decisive factor.

            

On June 16, Washington gave a short acceptance speech to Congress in which he expressed his grave reserves about his own qualifications for the position, but he accepted nonetheless and expressed his thanks for their trust in him. Washington then told them he would not take any salary during his time as Commander-in-Chief, but would only accept reimbursement for expenses. Washington then received his official commission on the 17th.

 

On the 18th, from Philadelphia, he wrote a letter to his wife Martha, informing her of his appointment and that he must leave for Boston immediately. He told her that he had not sought the position and had actually tried to avoid it, but that he felt duty bound to serve at the request of his countrymen. He also told Martha that he had updated his will and hoped to be home by the end of the year.

 

The following week, Washington left for Boston where New England militia were laying siege to the city. 6,000 British soldiers were trapped inside the city, while 10,000-15,000 militia, under the command of Massachusetts General Artemas Ward, surrounded the city. The militia was made up mostly of untrained farmers, merchants and artisans. They were underequipped and ill fed. Disease ran rampantly through their camps. Washington faced a formidable job of turning these regular citizens into an army that could defeat the vastly superior British army.

 

Much of these original militia members were absorbed into the Continental Army. They came from Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Hampshire. As the war progressed they would be joined by their brethren from the rest of the colonies and develop into a formidable force in their own right. One of Washington's greatest triumphs of the American Revolution was the turning of this ragtag bunch into a real army. Washington's reputation as a commander and leader of men in the army eventually led to his being elected the first President of the United States.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Treasurer General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

“I was summoned by my country, whose voice I can never hear but with veneration and love.”
George Washington

First American Flag is Officially Adopted

First American Flag is officially adopted

 

On this day in history, June 14, 1777, the first American flag is officially adopted by Congress. The Flag Act of 1777 specified that the new American flag would have "thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation."

 

There is much controversy about who actually designed the flag. The two main candidates are Francis Hopkinson, a New Jersey signer of the Declaration of Independence, who was on the Naval Board at the time, and Betsy Ross. Both stories are unconfirmed though and have points that speak for their truth and against them.

 

Hopkinson submitted a bill to Congress for "creating the new US flag." The bill, however, was denied by Congress. Later Hopkinson changed the bill and asked for payment for creating the new US Navy flag. Were there two separate flags, one for the Navy and one for the Army? Some evidence suggests this. Hopkinson was also an artist and an expert in heraldry (flag design). In spite of this, there is no evidence of any drawings Hopkinson submitted to Congress.

 

The Betsy Ross flag story is more well-known. Again, though, there is no contemporary evidence for the story. The story comes entirely from Betsy's grandson William Canby, and a few other relatives, all of whom stated many years after her death that they heard Betsy tell the story from her own mouth.

 

This legend goes that George Washington, George Ross (Betsy's late husband's uncle) and Robert Morris approached her secretly in May or June of 1776 and asked her to make the flag. Circumstantial evidence supports the story. Betsy and George Washington sat in pews next to each other at church and Washington was known to visit Betsy socially and professionally, using her tailoring services. George Ross was a family member who had been in Congress. Due to lack of concrete evidence, however, we will never know for sure who designed the first American flag.

 

The Flag Act of 1777 did not specify the pattern for the stars, the number of points on the stars, the width of the stripes or the canton (the blue field) or whether a white or red stripe should be first. This caused a proliferation of flag designs with the stars especially being in many different patterns.

 

The Flag Act of 1794 added two stars and stripes for the new states of Vermont and Kentucky. This was the only official United States flag to ever have 15 stripes. The Star Spangled Banner Flag of Francis Scott Key fame was made in this design, but again, the 1794 act did not specify the pattern of the stars.

 

The Flag Act of 1818 finally determined that the stripes would remain at 13 for the original colonies. It also added five stars, bringing them to 20, for recently inducted states. This act also set the rule that a new star would be added for each new state to be added. The new star would be added on the July 4th after the state was added to the Union. The last time the US Flag was changed was with the addition of Alaska, the 50th state, in 1960. June 14 is celebrated across America as Flag Day in honor of the adoption of the first official US Flag.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Treasurer General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

“The right of petition . . . is essential to the very existence of government; it is the right of the people over the Government; it is their right, and they may not be deprived of it." 
John Quincy Adams 

The 1st Rhode Island Regiment is disbanded

The 1st Rhode Island Regiment is disbanded

 

On this day in history, June 13, 1783, the 1st Rhode Island Regiment is disbanded. The 1st Rhode Island Regiment was the Revolution’s only regiment to have units made up entirely of African Americans. The regiment was not all black, but was at one point at least ¾ black. The regiment had white officers and other white, Indian and mulatto members, but it was unique in that it had entire units made up of former slaves, while other regiments with blacks were more integrated.

 

The use of slaves or former slaves in the American Revolution was controversial. Many whites did not like the idea of arming slaves because they thought it might encourage a rebellion. Under direction of the Continental Congress, George Washington issued an order early on forbidding the service of blacks in the Continental Army.

           

Nearly simultaneously, Governor Murray of Virginia issued an order granting freedom to any slaves that would leave their masters and join the Royal Army. As the war progressed and the states found it hard to fill their quotas of soldiers, voices began to rise advocating the use of slaves and free blacks. By early 1776, Washington had changed the order to allow free blacks with former military experience. The following year he allowed all free blacks.

 

In 1778, Rhode Island’s capital Newport was occupied by the British. The rebel legislature could not fill its quota of soldiers asked for by Congress. Rhode Island Brigadier General James Mitchell Varnum recommended to General Washington that slaves be taken into the ranks. Washington sent the request to Governor Nicholas Cooke. In February, the Rhode Island Assembly voted to allow all slaves to join the 1st Rhode Island Regiment. They were to be granted their freedom for their service and their owners would be compensated by the government.

 

Around 200 blacks eventually joined the Regiment, which saw its first celebrated action at the Battle of Rhode Island in August. The green African American regiment fought valiantly in an effort that allowed the besieged American troops to retreat with few casualties, while inflicting serious casualties on their attackers.

 

The "Black Regiment," as it was called, was commanded by Colonel Christopher Greene, a cousin of General Nathanael Greene. Colonel Greene and many of his black soldiers were killed by Loyalists near Groton, New York in 1781. The Regiment did not see a lot of action since the main theater of the war shifted to the south, but they did play a role in the Battle of Yorktown. The regiment was disbanded at Saratoga on June 13, 1783, having served for five years of the war.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Treasurer General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

"The principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale."
Thomas Jefferson (1816)