John Hancock’s Ship Liberty is Confiscated

John Hancock's ship Liberty is confiscated


On this day in history, June 10, 1768, John Hancock's ship Liberty is confiscated for alleged smuggling. Many of the measures of Parliament with which the American colonies were in disagreement were created in order to raise revenue. Smuggling was a vast enterprise in the thirteen colonies and many of Parliament's measures were directed at reducing it. Smugglers evading customs officials and the taxes they enforced reduced the Royal Treasury's income.


On May 9, 1768, a ship owned by John Hancock sailed into Boston Harbor. The following day, the Liberty's goods were inspected and the customs officials suspected Hancock of smuggling. The reason was that the ship only carried 25 barrels of Madeira wine, but it had the capacity for much more. They alleged that Hancock must have unloaded the rest of the cargo during the night before the goods were examined, but they had no evidence. Two customs officials were stationed on the ship during the night and they said nothing was unloaded… at first.


This followed another incident in April during which Hancock's ship Lydia was boarded, also for suspected smuggling. In that incident, Hancock physically had the customs officials removed from the ship because they did not have a proper warrant. Suit was filed against Hancock, but later dropped because of the missing warrant. This may have made Hancock a marked man in the eyes of the humiliated customs officials.


A month after the original investigation into the Liberty's alleged smuggling, one of the customs officials changed his story, saying some cargo actually had been removed in the night and the officials were forced to remain silent. On June 10, the Liberty was impounded, along with a new shipment of goods already loaded on her. The Liberty was hauled into the harbor and placed under guard by the HMS Romney, a British warship. When the Liberty was confiscated, a riot broke out in Boston. The homes of several customs officials were destroyed, causing several of them and their families to flee to the Romney.


Two suits were filed against Hancock, the first led to the permanent confiscation of the Liberty, which was put into the customs service and later burned by angry Rhode Island residents the following year. The second suit alleged Hancock smuggled wine and charged him for lost customs revenue plus damages. Hancock was represented by a young attorney named John Adams who would one day be president. The suit was finally dropped for lack of evidence.


It should be noted that no evidence has ever surfaced that Hancock was involved in any smuggling at all, even though he has that reputation. Of course, no records would have been kept about smuggling because it was illegal. Boston officials had already been calling for more security as they began enforcing the Townshend Acts. Boston had earned the ire of Parliament by issuing a circular letter calling for all the colonies to resist the Townshend Acts. The Liberty Incident only reinforced Britain's decision to occupy Boston with military troops in October, 1768, to enforce customs laws, protect officials and reign in the rowdy citizens. The occupation would lead to the Boston Massacre in March, 1770.   


Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution


“When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”

Edmund Burke, Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontentment

The Gaspee Incident Occurs

The Gaspee Incident occurs


On this day in history, June 9, 1772, the Gaspee Incident occurs near Providence, Rhode Island, when citizens burn the British revenue schooner HMS Gaspee and seize its crew. The Gaspee affair was one of a series of important events that lit the fuse to the American Revolution, but it is little known in comparison with other events such as the Boston Tea Party.


To understand the Gaspee Incident, one must understand Rhode Island's unique circumstances before the war. Rhode Island had always been a place of dissidents. It was founded by religious dissenters who were kicked out of Massachusetts for their religious beliefs. Rhode Island was later the first state to declare independence from Britain and the last of the original 13 colonies to accept the Constitution.


Because of its unique topography, Rhode Island developed an economy completely based on sea trade, illegal sea trade. Rhode Island is only 35 miles across and 49 miles long, but it has 420 miles of coastland. It has few natural resources, so an illicit trade in slaves, illegal rum and molasses developed. The taxes and trade restrictions of the previous years, including the Sugar Act, the Townshend Acts, and so forth hit Rhode Island's economy square in the face.


In 1772, the revenue schooner HMS Gaspee came under the command of Lieutenant William Dudingston. A revenue schooner was charged with boarding suspicious ships to look for smuggled goods and enforcing collection of customs taxes. Lt. Dudingston executed his duties zealously. Many merchants and sailors found their livelihoods threatened by Dudingston's activities. Ships were boarded, goods confiscated and livelihoods ruined.


In addition, there was conflict between Dudingston and the popularly elected Royal Governor, Joseph Wanton. Colonists typically viewed revenue officers as under civilian control, but Dudingston was a military officer. The Crown had authorized naval officers to act as customs enforcers, but the colonists didn't like this idea. A series of terse letters was exchanged between Wanton, Dudingston and Dudingston's superior officer, Admiral John Montagu about whether or not Dudingston had the authority to look for "pirates" within Rhode Island waters.


On June 9, 1772, Dudingston chased a small packet called the Hannah up Narragansett Bay. When the ships arrived near present day Warwick, the Gaspee became grounded in shallow water. The crew of the Hannah landed in Providence and told the citizens about the Gaspee. Word quickly spread and enterprising citizens realized their chance to exact vengeance on Dudingston had come. Picketers marched up and down Providence's streets telling people to meet at Sabin's Tavern.


Led by merchant John Brown, somewhere between 50 and 80 men sailed in longboats that evening, arriving at the Gaspee in the middle of the night. When sentries became aware of their arrival, Lt. Dudingston came out in his night-hat and demanded to know who was there. One of the attackers yelled it was the sheriff and he had come to arrest the crew of the ship for piracy. At that point, one of the attackers fired a single shot that hit Dudingston right in the crotch. The attackers then boarded the ship and took everyone captive. As they left the boat, they set it ablaze. After leaving their prisoners on the shore, the Providence men returned home, but the fire in the boat reached the powder magazine and the ship blew sky high. Not a trace of the ship has ever been found!


After the incident, Parliament was outraged and a Royal commission was set up to find the perpetrators and hang them. Even though everyone in Providence knew who was involved, the commission could not find one single person who would give them up! After months of investigating, the commission was forced to give up and the perpetrators never paid for their crime.


The Gaspee Incident, also called the Gaspee Affair, was significant because it actually helped promulgate communication between the colonies. Colonists everywhere wanted to know what was happening in Rhode Island because Parliament could do the same things to them no matter where they were. Correspondence flourished between the various Committees of Correspondence set up in different cities as a result of the Gaspee Affair. The same Committees of Correspondence would coordinate the activities of a full blown rebellion that was to begin less than three years away.   


Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution


“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

James Madison Proposes the Bill of Rights

James Madison proposes the Bill of Rights


On this day in history, June 8, 1789, James Madison proposes the Bill of Rights to Congress. Acceptance of the US Constitution and been a long and arduous process. Many people were wary that it would create a federal government that was too powerful and no different than the one they just overthrew from England.


Federalists supported the new Constitution because a stronger federal government was necessary to hold the country together. Anti-Federalists were skeptical. They advocated a smaller and weaker government than what the Constitution called for and also wanted a bill of rights added with it. A bill of rights is a list of rights guaranteed to the people upon which the government cannot infringe.


Several states were split into camps of roughly equal Federalists and anti-Federalists. If some of the anti-Federalists did not switch sides and support the Constitution, its passage would be in jeopardy. To remedy the problem, Federalists offered a compromise. It the anti-Federalists agreed to support the Constitution, the Federalists would agree to support the adoption of a bill of rights during the First Congress. This persuaded enough anti-Federalists to support the Constitution and it became the law of the land.


James Madison, the chief architect of the US Constitution was slightly worried about all this talk of amending the Constitution. The Constitution explicitly stated that the government would only have authority over those things that were expressly given to it in the Constitution. Adding a list of rights that the government could not interfere with might imply that anything not listed was fair game for government interference. In addition, Madison worried that if the First Congress began altering the Constitution, they might alter it right out of existence.


Madison finally had to agree to the addition of a bill of rights, but he developed a strategy to keep himself in control of the discussion and the results. He sifted through the dozens and dozens of suggestions for amendments made by the states. He carefully chose 20 which were the most commonly desired, which fit nicely with the overall spirit of the Constitution and with his own vision for the government.


On June 8, 1789, Madison made a speech to Congress in which he proposed these 20 amendments to the Constitution. The rights included such things as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to keep and bear arms, the right to trial by jury, freedom from cruel and unusual punishment, freedom of the press, the right to have an attorney represent you and freedom from being tried for the same crime more than once.


Congress debated the amendments and sent twelve of them to the states for ratification. Ten of them were eventually ratified by the states. Since the Constitution requires 3/4 of the states to agree to any amendments, 11 votes were needed for each amendment. 11 votes were necessary because Vermont was already the 14th state by this time. On December 15, 1791, with Virginia's vote for approval, these Ten Amendments became law and were amended to the end of the Constitution. They are what we now call the Bill of Rights.   


Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution


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

George Washington

British turned back at the Battle of Connecticut Farms

British turned back at the Battle of Connecticut Farms


On this day in history, June 7, 1780, the British are turned back at the Battle of Connecticut Farms by the New Jersey militia. The winter of 1779-1780 was a difficult one for Americans and British alike. Loyalist refugees congregated in New York were pushing for a great strike to finish off George Washington and his army encamped at Morristown, New Jersey. Lt. Gen. Sir Henry Clinton, commander of British forces in America, however, had embarked on a campaign to conquer the south.


While Clinton was away, the Loyalists pressed Lt. Gen. Wilhelm, Baron von Knyphausen, left in command in Clinton’s place in New York, to attack Washington. They told inflated stories of Washington’s weakness, brewing mutinies among the soldiers, desperate conditions due to lack of provisions and waning enthusiasm of the New Jersey militia, tired of years of war.


Knyphausen waited until winter was over and began a major campaign with the intent of destroying Washington’s camp with its 3500 men. Landing on the evening of June 6th at Elizabethtown across from Staten Island, 6,000 British soldiers began to march the 25 miles to Morristown, protected behind the Watchung Mountains. In order to reach the camp, Knyphausen had to get to a pass in the mountains that led through to Morristown. What he did not count on was the rise of the New Jersey militia.


Before they even got out of Elizabethtown, the first shots were fired at the British by militia who had been warned of their arrival. One of the main generals in charge, General Thomas Stirling, was wounded in the volley and taken out of the fight. Word spread quickly through the countryside and the militia gathered at Connecticut Farms. This was not a "farm," but a town, which is today called Union Township. The British attacked early on the 7th and the militia fought from houses, orchards and behind stone walls for several hours.


When reinforcements arrived, bringing their numbers to more than 3000 troops, the British drove the Americans out of the town. During the occupation, a number of civilians were killed, including the wife of Continental Army chaplain and Presbyterian minister James Caldwell, while she sat in her home. Rev. Caldwell was hated by the British for his fiery patriotic sermons and recruiting efforts and some believe his wife was targeted for assassination.


By this time, George Washington had heard of the advancing British and was preparing an assault, even sending his own personal guard ahead of him, which became involved in the fight. By this time, however, evening was approaching and Knyphausen stopped advancing. He became concerned that he would be trapped between Washington’s army on the high ground and the growing militia who were coming from every direction. He began a retreat in the night as a thunderstorm began, which also slowed Washington.


By morning, Knyphausen had destroyed most of Connecticut Farms and retreated back to Elizabethtown causing Washington to call off the pursuit. Skirmishes and maneuvering would continue for the next two weeks until Knyphausen and the returned General Clinton made another attempt at Morristown, this time reaching Springfield, the next town beyond Connecticut Farms, but once again they were repelled by the New Jersey militia and the Continental Army at the Battle of Springfield in the last major battle of the American Revolution in the north.  


Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution


"Our unalterable resolution would be to be free. They have attempted to subdue us by force, but God be praised! in vain. Their arts may be more dangerous than their arms. Let us then renounce all treaty with them upon any score but that of total separation, and under God trust our cause to our swords."

Samuel Adams (1776)

American Revolution artist John Trumbull is born

American Revolution artist John Trumbull is born


On this day in history, June 6, 1756, American Revolution artist John Trumbull is born. Trumbull was the son of Governor Jonathan Trumbull of Connecticut, the only Royal Governor to side with the patriots during the Revolution. Due to an accident as a child, John lost the use of one eye completely, which affected his painting style later on.


John went to Harvard in 1771 at the age of 15 where he met John Singleton Copley, an already accomplished painter who painted many Revolutionary War figures. John’s father had discouraged his study of art as being beneath the family’s station, but the meeting with Copley and seeing some of his works renewed John’s desire to become an artist and he began to study art in earnest.


John graduated from Harvard in 1773 and taught school for a while back in his home town of Lebanon, Connecticut, where he also joined the militia. When the Revolution broke out, John was sent to join the Siege of Boston where he observed the Battle of Bunker Hill. Due to his drawing ability, he was given an assignment to draw a map of the British positions on Boston Neck. These drawings came to the attention of George Washington, who made John one of his personal aides. John continued to serve on Washington’s staff and on that of General Horatio Gates for a few years.


Trumbull eventually resigned and moved to London in 1780 where he studied art with the American born Royal painter, Benjamin West. Trumbull honed his skills with West and began work on an idea to paint a series of paintings based on the Revolution. While in London, Trumbull met Thomas Jefferson who invited him to France, where he was serving as an American Ambassador. Jefferson and John Adams encouraged Trumbull to continue with his Revolution paintings and helped him choose several more scenes to paint. Trumbull returned to London and finished much of the series, including his most famous painting, The Declaration of Independence, which shows the 56 signers with the Declaration.


Trumbull returned to the United States in 1789 and settled in New York City. He traveled extensively, meeting many Revolution figures, painting their portraits and visiting battle sites. He often painted scenes leaving off the heads of the figures, hoping to meet them and paint them in person, which he did on many occasions.


Perhaps Trumbull’s greatest achievement was receiving a commission from the US government to paint 4 gigantic murals in the US Capitol after its destruction during the War of 1812. President James Madison personally picked out the paintings, which were Trumbull’s The Declaration of Independence, The Surrender of General Burgoyne, The Resignation of Washington and The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis. It took Trumbull 8 years to finish the paintings. Unfortunately, many at the time were disappointed with his work, believing they were not as good as his smaller originals. Trumbull was in his 60s by this time and some historians believe he was not trained well for such large works.


Trumbull suffered financial problems his whole life and eventually sold a large trove of his paintings to Yale College in exchange for an annuity of $1,000 a year, which he lived on the rest of his life. Trumbull served as the president of the American Academy of Fine Arts for several years and finally passed away in New York in 1843. He was originally buried under the Art Gallery at Yale where his paintings were housed, a building which he personally designed. His remains were later moved to Street Hall when it replaced the older building.  


Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution


“Learning is not virtue but the means to bring us an acquaintance with it. Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful. Let these be your motives to action through life, the relief of the distressed, the detection of frauds, the defeat of oppression, and diffusion of happiness.”

Nathanael Greene

The Second Siege of Augusta Comes to an End

The second Siege of Augusta comes to an end


On this day in history, June 5, 1781, the second Siege of Augusta comes to an end when patriot forces under General Andrew Pickens, Colonel "Light-Horse Harry" Lee and Colonel Elijah Clarke capture Fort Cornwallis. Augusta was a small trading town on the Savannah River that was one of the important keys to holding the backcountry of Georgia and South Carolina.


The British first captured Augusta without a fight in January, 1779, but soon abandoned it when it was deemed indefensible from the numerous rebels in the area. After the fall of Charleston in May, 1780, British forces fanned out to capture inland patriot posts. Many patriot leaders were forced to surrender, including large numbers of rebel militia.


Augusta was again captured in June by Loyalist Lt. Col. Thomas Brown. Brown, like other Tory leaders familiar with the climate of backcountry Georgia and South Carolina, begged Lt. Gen. Charles Cornwallis to send reinforcements, but Cornwallis did not understand the strength of the rebel uprising in these colonies. Instead, with the surrender of large numbers of rebels, he seemed to believe the rebellion in the south was over and became focused on conquering North Carolina.


Those patriots which had not surrendered mounted an attack on Augusta in September, which was so bloody and awful that the besieged British soldiers were reduced to drinking urine and eating raw pumpkins, while numerous patriots ended up scalped or burned alive by Indians. The Americans nearly won the siege, but were driven off when reinforcements arrived from Fort Ninety-Six.


After the bloody siege of Augusta in September, Cornwallis finally realized that holding the backcountry was not going to be so easy and ordered the construction of a fort. Fort Cornwallis was built in such a way that the local soldiers deemed it impregnable. They were soon to find out otherwise.


In May of 1781, General Andrew Pickens, Colonel "Light-Horse Harry" Lee and Colonel Elijah Clarke led a second siege against Augusta. This time, the British were holed up in the "impregnable" Fort Cornwallis. The British had just over 600 soldiers between the fort and several other local posts, while the attacking patriots gathered over 1600 men.


The patriots began the siege on May 21 by taking an outlying stockade house and the secondary Fort Grierson, guarded by 80 men on the 23rd. All 80 of the captured men were killed by the militia, a bloody habit that had developed on both sides in the Southern war. This left Fort Cornwallis with about 500 men, defended by extensive defensive works and high walls. The patriots had only one cannon though and could not break the fort's defenses. Lt. Col. Lee advised the use of a "Mayham Tower," a tall tower on which sharpshooters could be placed to fire down into the fort. This strategy had been successfully used at the Siege of Fort Watson in April.


The 30 foot tower was brought near enough the fort to fire down into it on June 1. The firing from the tower made it nearly impossible to move within the fort. Brown attempted an all-out attack from the fort that night, but was repelled by the Americans' superior numbers. He then tried a ruse by sending a "deserter" out to try to set fire to the tower. The deserter told Lt. Col. Lee he could aim the guns on the tower just right so they would hit and explode the ammunition magazine in the fort. Lee was about to let him do it, but became skeptical and stopped it.


The patriots began planning a final assault on June 4, but General Pickens sent a surrender demand first. Lt. Col. Brown asked for one more day due to the fact that the 4th was King George's birthday. Pickens acquiesced and the entire fort surrendered on June 5, one of a series of losses for the British that would culminate in Cornwallis' surrender in October.   


Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

“There are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power, than by violent and sudden usurpations.”
James Madison

King George III is Born

King George III is born


On this day in history, June 4, 1738, King George III is born. He would become the 3rd longest reigning monarch of Great Britain and oversee the loss of Britain's American colonies during the American Revolution. George William Frederick was the grandson of George II of England. He became heir to the throne when his father died in 1751. As the heir-apparent, George lived a life of luxury as a child, but also received an intense education in politics, astronomy, chemistry, geography, history, music, math and law.


George II died on October 25, 1760 and George III claimed the throne at the age of 22, during the middle of the French and Indian War. Britain soon won the war, claiming vast swaths of North America from France. The downside of the victory was the great cost involved with governing such a huge territory. Parliament saw it as necessary that the Americans should pay for their own defense and government and began instituting a series of taxes to pay for it, turning the Americans against them.


George is viewed as a tyrant by most Americans due to the propagandistic nature of the Declaration of Independence and other incendiary language of the Founding Fathers, but this view is not really accurate. George was not a tyrant in the sense of an evil monster bent on pillaging and destruction for his own personal gain. Instead, George viewed the war with America as upholding the Constitutional rights of the people of England through their elected Parliament. George did not make the policies of Great Britain during the American Revolution, but instead assented to the wishes of various officers and committees of Parliament. The King of England did not have absolute power. Instead, most of the power rested in the hands of Parliament.


After the colonies were lost, Britain entered a protracted war with France during the time of the French Revolution and after. George held up the standard against France and was viewed as a hero to most Englishmen during that period.

His Majesty George III Resuming Power, 1789 by Benjamin West


George married Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz in 1761. By all accounts, they had a happy marriage. He was completely faithful to her and never had the usual string of mistresses common to other British monarchs. They had 15 children together.


George began to suffer from mental illness around 1765 and for periods of time he would be incapacitated and engage in bizarre behavior. The longest instance occurred in 1788, when he was known to talk nonsense for hours at a time. By 1810, the illness was permanent and George was completely deranged for the last ten years of his monarchy. His faithful wife Charlotte tended him until her death in 1818. Some historians believe George suffered from a disease called porphyria which can lead to mental illness. He finally passed away in 1820 and his son, George IV, who ruled in his place as Regent during the time of his father's illness, took the throne.


George III reigned for 59 years, longer than any other British monarchs with the exception of the present Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria. He is remembered for the loss of the American colonies, but also for standing against France during the years of the French Revolution. George is also remembered for being a patron of the arts and sciences. He collected artwork and books, encouraged agricultural science and oversaw England's Agricultural Revolution and the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution. Of course the one thing he is most remembered for though, is the loss of the 13 colonies in America.   


Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution


“People will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors.”

Edmund Burke