Frederick Muhlenberg elected first Speaker of the House

Frederick Muhlenberg elected first Speaker of the House

 

On this day in history, April 1, 1789, Frederick Muhlenberg is elected the first Speaker of the House of Representatives by the First Congress meeting in New York City. After the Constitution was ratified, the federal government of the United States made its first home in New York City. On April 1, 1789, the House of Representatives had enough members present to begin and elected its first officers. Frederick Augustus Conrad Muhlenberg, a Lutheran minister, businessman and politician from Pennsylvania, was chosen as the first Speaker of the House.

 

Frederick Muhlenberg was born in Trappe, Pennsylvania, a son of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, a Lutheran minister and the founder of the Lutheran church in America. Frederick studied in Germany with his brothers and returned to Pennsylvania in 1770, where he preached in Stouchsburg and Lebanon until 1774. In 1774, Muhlenberg moved to New York City to take a church there. When the American Revolution broke out, however, he returned to Pennsylvania for fear the British would take the city and his family would be in danger.

 

Back in Pennsylvania without a church to preach in, Muhlenberg entered politics and became a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1779. He became a representative to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 1780 and served as its Speaker for three years. In 1781, Muhlenberg purchased a home in Trappe and built a general store onto the side of the house where he lived for the next ten years. In 1787, he served as the president of the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention that ratified the US Constitution.

 

Muhlenberg’s election as the first Speaker of the House of Representatives gave him a great deal of power in shaping the new government. The First Congress, under his leadership, established many of the key departments of the United States government, such as the State Department, the US Treasury and the Department of War. The First Congress passed the first Naturalization Act, Patent Act and Copyright Act, set in place the plan to move the seat of government to Washington DC, built the First Bank of the United States and passed the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the US Constitution. Frederick Muhlenberg was the first person to sign the Bill of Rights upon its acceptance. Muhlenberg was elected to the House for the first four consecutive Congresses and served as the Speaker of the House for the First and Third Congresses.

 

Muhlenberg was not re-elected to the House in 1797 due to his vote for the Jay Treaty, a treaty intended to reduce tensions with England after the war. The vote was unpopular with many people who thought it was too favorable to England. After leaving Congress, he returned to Pennsylvania and held some minor political offices until his death on June 4, 1801 at the age of 51. He was buried in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which was then the state capital.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

President General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

"Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism."

George Washington (1796)

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

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

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

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

“The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which heaven itself has ordained.”
George Washington

The Siege of Charleston begins

The Siege of Charleston begins

 

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

 

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

           

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Jack Manning

President General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

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

Benjamin Franklin writes about his studies in electricity

Benjamin Franklin writes about his studies in electricity

 

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

 

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

           

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Jack Manning

President General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

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

Benjamin Franklin

Captain Abraham Whipple runs the USS Columbus aground

Captain Abraham Whipple runs the USS Columbus aground

 

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

 

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

           

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Jack Manning

President General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

“There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.”
John Adams

South Carolina becomes an independent state

South Carolina becomes an independent state

 

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

 

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

           

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Jack Manning

President General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

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