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John Paul Jones takes command of the Bonhomme Richard

John Paul Jones takes command of the Bonhomme Richard

 

On this day in history, January 10, 1779, John Paul Jones takes command of the Bonhomme Richard. John Paul Jones was born in Scotland and became a sailor at the age of thirteen. He eventually moved to Virginia and volunteered his services to the Continental Congress in the fall of 1775.

 

After a series of successful missions in American waters, Jones sailed for France on the USS Ranger to meet with America’s diplomats there, Ben Franklin, John Adams and Arthur Lee. Jones shared with them his plan to harass British ships in British waters and they gave him permission to proceed. The Ranger made some attacks on the British coast and captured a British warship, having an enormous psychological impact on the British people, making the people realize they were not safe even in their homeland.

 

After returning to France, Jones was given command of the Duc de Duras, a French merchant ship given to the Americans by King Louis XVI. Jones renamed it the Bonhomme Richard in honor of Ben Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack character, Richard Saunders (the French version was called Les Maximes du Bonhomme Richard). Jones had the ship outfitted for war and left at the head of a 5 ship convoy in August for another raid along the east side of Britain, spreading fear up and down the British coast.

 

On September 23, the fleet met a convoy of 41 merchant ships off Flamborough Head, escorted by the 50 gun HMS Serapis. An engagement began in which the Bonhomme Richard was severely damaged. Jones knew he could not compete against the greater firepower of the Serapis and succeeded in maneuvering close enough to tie the two vessels together. Both crews tried to board the other ship unsuccessfully and nearly half the crews of each died in the battle. When another ship in Jones’ convoy finally came to the Bonhomme Richard’s aid, the captain of the Serapis knew he could not win against both ships and finally surrendered.

 

Jones’ crew took over the Serapis and tried in vain to repair the Bonhomme Richard, which by this time had gaping holes through her body so large that you could see all the way through the ship. She was badly leaking water and sunk about 36 hours later. Jones took command of the Serapis and sailed her to the Netherlands where the British attempted to get him charged as a pirate. The attempt failed however when a flag, allegedly designed by Ben Franklin from a description he just received of the newly approved American flag, was raised over the vessel. This flag made the vessel a vessel of war and not a pirate ship and Jones escaped further trouble. The flag became known as the Serapis Flag, but is sometimes called the John Paul Jones flag as well.

 

After the war Jones served in the Russian Navy for a time, but retired to Paris where he died in 1792. He is considered America’s first naval hero for his actions in the war. His body was moved from France to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland in 1906 and the burial service was presided over by President Theodore Roosevelt.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

President General

2019 – 2021

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

“Oppressors can tyrannize only when they achieve a standing army, an enslaved press, and a disarmed populace.”
James Madison


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James Armistead, America’s slave spy gets his freedom

James Armistead, America’s slave spy gets his freedom

 

On this day in history, January 9, 1787, James Armistead, America’s slave spy gets his freedom from the Virginia legislature. Armistead was born into slavery in New Kent County, Virginia in 1748 in the household of William Armistead.

 

After Benedict Arnold’s treason, he was sent with 1,600 troops to Virginia in early 1781 to aid in Lord Cornwallis’ attempt to take over the southern states. Arnold’s troops burned Richmond and were performing raids across the colony. At this time, Armistead, at the age of 33, asked his owner if he could join the Continental Army. His owner agreed and James was assigned to the forces of the Marquis de Lafayette who devised a plan to put James in Arnold’s camp as a spy.

 

James posed as a runaway slave and gained Arnold’s trust. Since James knew the local area, Arnold put him in charge of guiding British troops through the local terrain. James used this close proximity to many British troops to listen to their conversation and gain intelligence about their movements, supplies, armaments and plans. James would write down the information in detailed reports and pass it on to other spies who would get the information to Lafayette.

 

After Arnold returned to New York, James moved on to the camp of General Cornwallis and performed the same actions. While in Cornwallis’ camp, James posed as a British spy, serving in the American camp and bringing back just enough intelligence to Cornwallis to earn his trust. This allowed him to travel back and forth easily between both sides and to report any information he found to Lafayette. Sometimes he would carry messages from Lafayette to other spies within the British camp as well.

 

In the fall of 1781, it was Armistead who found out that 10,000 soldiers were being ferried from New York to meet Cornwallis at Yorktown. Armistead’s intelligence was given to George Washington who was able to maneuver the French fleet into the harbor to prevent the reinforcements from landing, forcing them to turn around and return to New York. This gave Washington the advantage and opportunity to attack Cornwallis in Yorktown and bring the war to an end. If it hadn’t been for Armistead’s intelligence, the war may have turned out very differently.

 

After the war, most Virginia slaves who had served in the Continental Army were given their freedom, but the law was specific that the slaves must have served as soldiers. Since Armistead did not serve as a soldier, but as a spy, the law didn’t apply to him and he returned to slavery.

 

In 1784, the Marquis de Lafayette learned that Armistead was still in slavery and personally wrote a letter of commendation for Armistead. This letter was presented by Armistead with a petition to the Virginia Assembly in 1786 asking for his manumission (freedom from slavery). For his valuable service, Armistead was granted his freedom by the State of Virginia on January 9, 1787.

 

After gaining his freedom, James took on the name Lafayette and went by James Armistead Lafayette thereafter. He married and eventually purchased 40 acres of land which he farmed and lived on until his death in 1830.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

President General

2019 – 2021

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

“The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of the rulers are concealed from them."
Patrick Henry, 1788


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General John Burgoyne’s play The Blockade of Boston is interrupted

General John Burgoyne’s play The Blockade of Boston is interrupted

 

On this day in history, January 8, 1776, General John Burgoyne’s play The Blockade of Boston is interrupted when colonists attack Charlestown. Unbeknownst to most, General John Burgoyne, the famous British General who surrendered his army at Saratoga, changing the course of the American Revolution, was also a mildly successful playwright.

 

Burgoyne published his first play, The Maid of the Oaks, in 1774. It was well received and soon opened at the Drury Lane Theater for a run of several nights to both good and bad reviews, but Burgoyne had established his name as a playwright. When Burgoyne was sent to Boston in May, 1775, he used his influence to have Faneuil Hall converted into a theater. One way bored British soldiers trapped in Boston spent their time was in producing plays twice a week on the upper level of Faneuil Hall, to the complete consternation of Boston’s Puritan population, which had outlawed theater performances since 1750, believing them to be instigators of "immorality, impiety and contempt of religion.

 

While in Boston, Burgoyne wrote The Blockade of Boston, a satirical play making fun of the colonists. No complete copy of the play has survived, but one diary account says George Washington was portrayed as an "uncouth countryman; dressed shabbily, with a large wig and long rusty sword." One line from an American character in the play reveals how the Americans were portrayed: "Ye tarbarrell’d Lawgivers, yankified Prigs, Who are Tyrants in Custom, yet call yourselves Whigs; In return for the Favours you’ve lavish’d on me, May I see you all hang’d upon Liberty Tree."

 

The Blockade of Boston was set to be performed at 9pm on January 8, 1776. Burgoyne was not even in town anymore, having left for London in December. Just as the play was about to begin, a group of 100 colonists under the command of Major Thomas Knowlton staged a raid on the British outpost in Charlestown, across the water from Boston. Several homes were burned and five soldiers were captured in the raid.

 

As shots rang out from the Fort on Bunker Hill, the soldiers back in Boston heard the commotion. One soldier, dressed in a costume and about to perform, rushed onto the stage and yelled out that the rebels were attacking. The audience of mostly soldiers believed the outburst was part of the performance and stayed in their seats. After some more pleading by the officer/actor, the crowd realized they were truly under attack and began to scramble to their posts.

 

Eyewitness accounts have the soldiers tripping over each other, jumping over the orchestra pit, stomping on violins, rushing to change from their costumes and wipe the makeup off their faces in order to get to their posts. The Americans had quite a laugh at the scene when it was reported in newspapers a few days later.

 

John Burgoyne would go on to publish 3 more successful plays in London, but would never become a well-known playwright. He is most remembered for his surrender at the Battle of Saratoga in October, 1777, the event that encouraged France to join the war on the side of the Americans.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

President General

2019 – 2021

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

"Patriotism is as much a virtue as justice and is as necessary for the support of societies as natural affection is for the support of families."
Benjamin Rush (1773)


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The first Electoral College is chosen

The first Electoral College is chosen

 

On this day in history, January 7, 1789, the first Electoral College is chosen. They would cast their votes for President on February 4 and would unanimously choose George Washington as the first President of the United States.

 

The election of 1789 was a unique one in American history. Only ten of the original thirteen colonies would vote in the election. North Carolina and Rhode Island had not yet even ratified the Constitution, so were not yet part of the United States. New York had ratified the Constitution, but a deadlock in the legislature prevented them from appointing their electors by the appointed date of January 7, meaning there were no electors to vote for president on February 4th from New York. At the time, each state was allowed to decide its own method of choosing electors who would then vote for President. Each state was given a number of electors equal to its number of senators and representatives in Congress.

 

Electors were chosen by the legislature in 5 states – Connecticut, Georgia, New Jersey, New York and South Carolina. Virginia and Delaware divided the state into districts and one elector was chosen by each district. Maryland and Pennsylvania chose electors by popular vote. In Massachusetts, two electors were appointed by the legislature, while the remaining electors were chosen by the legislature from a list of the top two vote receivers in each congressional district. In New Hampshire, a statewide vote was held with the legislature making the decision in case of a tie.

 

In the election of 1789, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Massachusetts had 10 votes each; Connecticut and South Carolina had 7; New Jersey and Maryland had 6; New Hampshire and Georgia had 5; and Delaware had 3, for a total of 69 votes. Maryland could have had 2 more votes, but two electors failed to vote in February. Virginia also could have had two more votes, but the election returns in one district did not come in in time and one elector failed to attend the vote in February.

 

Each elector was able to cast 2 votes for President and one of the votes had to be for someone outside of his own home state. There was no question that George Washington would be the first President, even before the electors were chosen. The country was unanimous in its choice. The only question that really remained was who would be Vice-President. At the time, Presidents and Vice-Presidents did not run together on a ticket as they do today. Instead, all of them were presidential contenders with the highest vote getter becoming President and the runner up becoming Vice-President.

 

In 1789, all 69 electors cast 1 vote for George Washington (the only President to win a unanimous electoral college vote, both in 1789 and in 1792).The remaining votes were split between John Adams, John Jay, John Rutledge, John Hancock and some others, with John Adams receiving the most, 34, making him Washington’s Vice-President.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

President General

2019 – 2021

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

No religious doctrine shall be established by law.
Elbridge Gerry


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John Gray, last living veteran of the American Revolution, is born

John Gray, last living veteran of the American Revolution, is born

 

On this day in history, January 6, 1764, John Gray, the last living veteran of the Revolution is born. Gray was born near Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington. His father was an acquaintance of Washington’s and was killed at the Battle of White Plains in New York on October 28, 1776. John reported that his first job as a boy was working for George Washington and that Washington often greeted him in public, shook his hand and encouraged him.

 

John was the oldest of 8 children and when his father was killed, the responsibility of providing for the family fell upon him. His family was very poor and often had only the rabbits John could catch as food to eat. Toward the end of the war, John joined the war and was present at Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown. He was only 17 years of age and served in the army for six months. After the war, he married and eventually moved to the Northwest Territory, into what is now Ohio and lived in Noble County for the rest of his life. He died on March 29, 1868 at 104 years, 2 months and 23 days old, surviving three wives and all but one of his four children.

 

Gray never received a veterans pension because his term of enlistment was too short, but about a year before his death, he was finally granted one by special act of Congress. At the time of his death, there was some controversy about exactly who was the last living veteran of the Revolution. Daniel Bakeman died in 1869, but was never able to conclusively prove that he had served in the war. (He married at 13 by the way and his wife was only 14!) George Fruits died in 1876 and was another contender, but there is now some question about whether he was mixed up with his father and actually died much earlier.

 

John was a lifelong Methodist and a lifelong tobacco chewer. He sided with the Union during the Civil War and regretted that his home state of Virginia joined the Confederation. He died at the home of his daughter, Nancy McElroy in 1868 and is buried in the McElroy Family Cemetery at Hiramsburg, Noble County, Ohio.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

President General

2019 – 2021

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

"Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves, therefore, are its only safe depositories."
Thomas Jefferson


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Benedict Arnold captures and destroys Richmond, Virginia

Benedict Arnold captures and destroys Richmond, Virginia

 

On this day in history, January 5, 1781, Benedict Arnold captures and burns Richmond, Virginia. Arnold began the Revolution with several distinguished victories on the American side, including his services at Fort Ticonderoga, Fort St. Jean, the attack on Quebec, the Battle of Valcour Island and the Battle of Saratoga. He was given command of Rhode Island during the British invasion there and was given command of Philadelphia after the British abandoned the city.

 

All of this makes it seem as if Arnold was quite the hero, but in reality, he was in constant conflict with his fellow officers, who took him to be an opportunist, seeking whatever type of glory, money and promotion he could at whatever cost. After moving to Philadelphia, he began consorting with Loyalists and married the daughter of a prominent Loyalist. Shortly after their marriage, Arnold began secret talks with the British about switching sides.

 

He was transferred to West Point, New York on the Hudson River and planned to surrender the post to the British for £20,000, but the plot was exposed when British Major John Andre was captured with papers containing details of the plot. Arnold escaped to New York City and was given a Brigadier General’s commission in the British army. He began to raise his own Loyalist troops and was sent to Virginia with 1600 men to aid General Cornwallis in his attempt to take over the Southern States.

 

Thomas Jefferson was governor of Virginia at the time and had moved the capital from Williamsburg, on the coast, further inland to Richmond. Arnold’s fleet arrived in early January and proceeded up the James River. They were spotted, but they were overlooked by Jefferson, who was not expecting an attack so far inland. When it became apparent that the capital was in danger, Jefferson scrambled to get military supplies out of the city and called out the militia, while the government retreated to Charlottesville.

 

On January 5th, Arnold entered Richmond without a fight. The few hundred militia that had assembled fled before him. Arnold sent word to Jefferson that he would not destroy the city if he was allowed to take away local tobacco stores unaccosted, but Jefferson refused. Arnold then proceeded to destroy public buildings and private homes, causing great damage. Following the destruction of the city, Arnold’s men proceeded to Portsmouth where they set up a base and continued raids in the countryside.

 

General Cornwallis arrived in May and took over the operations and Arnold returned to New York where he was given command of an expedition which captured Fort Griswold and burned New London, Connecticut. When Cornwallis surrendered his army to George Washington in October, Arnold fled to London where he tried incessantly to get another military appointment, but was always rebuffed. He died a pauper in London in 1801 and was buried without a military service.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

President General

2019 – 2021

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

"Religion and virtue are the only foundations, not of republicanism and of all free government, but of social felicity under all government and in all the combinations of human society."
John Adams (1811)


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Samuel Nicholas leads the first US Marines mission

Samuel Nicholas leads the first US Marines mission

 

On this day in history, January 4, 1776, Samuel Nicholas leads the first US Marines mission aboard the USS Alfred. Samuel Nicholas was born in Philadelphia to a wealthy blacksmith. He attended Philadelphia Academy and was intimately involved with Philadelphia "high society." He became a member of the exclusive "Schuylkill Fishing Company," which was a fishing and social organization, at the age of 16. In 1766, he helped found the Gloucester Fox Hunting Club, one of the earliest hunting clubs in America.

 

Nicholas became the proprietor of a popular Philadelphia eatery called the Conestoga Wagon at some point in the early 1770s, probably because he was courting the owner’s daughter, Mary Jenkins, whom he later married. Nicholas also attended a Freemasons group that met at Tun Tavern. When the American Revolution began, Congress asked Nicholas to form several battalions of marines for its new navy, not because of any experience he had at sea, but because of his extensive associations in the city through its taverns. It was believed that a lot of good sailors and able fighting men could be found in them.

 

Nicholas was commissioned as a "Captain of Marines" on November 5, 1775 and received a written commission on the 28th, the first official appointment for the Continental Navy or Marines. Through December, Nicholas recruited and trained several hundred marines from his headquarters at Tun Tavern and formed them into 5 companies and two battalions. On January 4, 1776, they left Philadelphia on their first mission aboard the USS Alfred, along with Captain Nicholas, Admiral Esek Hopkins and First Lieutenant John Paul Jones aboard.

 

Commander Hopkins took the small fleet to New Providence in the Bahamas where Lord Dunmore, the Royal Governor of Virginia had transported a large store of weapons to be held safely from the rebels in Virginia. They arrived at New Providence on March 3 and Captain Nicholas led his 284 Marines in their first land attack the following day. They took the city of Nassau and two forts virtually without a fight and captured 88 cannons, 15 mortars and a large supply of other military items. The Battle of Nassau is sometimes called the most successful American naval venture of the Revolution. On the return mission, Nicholas’ men participated in the first sea battle involving the Marines when the Alfred ran into the HMS Glasgow, a British warship.

 

After returning to the colonies, Congress promoted Nicholas to Major, assigning him to recruit and train more marines. Nicholas and his men were sent to join George Washington during the British invasion of New Jersey and assisted him in the Battle of Princeton, the first time the Marines were put under command of the army. When the British evacuated Philadelphia in 1778, Nicholas was transferred back to the city to resume the training of more marines, even though he requested to be put aboard the new ship, USS America, being built in Maine, with some of his marines. Congress believed he was more valuable in his training and organizational role and ordered him to stay in Philadelphia, which he did until the end of the war.

 

Samuel Nicholas is considered the First Commandant of the US Marines for his role in forming this branch of the US military. He was buried in the cemetery at the Arch Street Friends Meeting House on his death in 1790 during the Yellow Fever epidemic of that year.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

President General

2019 – 2021

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

“The public cannot be too curious concerning the characters of public men.”
Samuel Adams (1775)


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