The American Turtle Attacks the HMS Eagle

The American Turtle attacks the HMS Eagle


On this day in history, September 7, 1776, the American Turtle attacks HMS Eagle in the first naval attack ever made in a submarine. The Turtle, also called the American Turtle, was designed by David Bushnell of Westbrook, Connecticut in 1775. While a student at Yale in the early 1770s, Bushnell studied the use of underwater explosives and incorporated their use into a submersible ship that could attach explosives to British ships.


Bushnell's submersible was recommended to General George Washington by Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull. Washington provided some money for the sub's development, although he was skeptical. The Turtle, so named because of how it looked underwater, was 10x6x3 and had room for one man, who could propel the sub's propeller with his feet.


The sub had small windows in the top to let in light when it was not fully submerged, but when submerged, a naturally glowing bioluminescent piece of cork provided light!  It also had a water tank for ballast to enable the sub to submerge. It was made of wood and covered with tar with steel bands for reinforcement.


The Turtle was brought to Long Island Sound in the fall of 1776 for final testing with its volunteer operators. After western Long Island was taken over by the British, the Turtle was transported overland through Connecticut to New York Harbor which was still in American hands. General Washington gave permission for the Turtle's first mission on September 6. Sergeant Ezra Lee left at 11pm that night and pedaled for 2 hours toward British General William Howe's flagship, the HMS Eagle.


Early on September 7, Lee's first attempt to secure the explosives to the Eagle by boring a hole in the ship's side failed because he hit a metal plate probably used to secure the ship's rudder to the hull. When he made a second attempt, he was unable to keep the Turtle submerged and the sub floated to the surface. Realizing that he had failed and that he could be discovered, Lee gave up and headed back to safety.


British soldiers on Governor's Island saw the sub fleeing and rowed out toward it. Lee released his explosive "torpedo," hoping the soldiers would try to retrieve it. They didn't and the charge blew up in the East River, blowing plumes of water and debris sky high.


The Turtle's attack on the Eagle was the first recorded use of a submarine in naval warfare. George Washington wrote that the invention was ingenious, but contained too many variables to be controlled. The Turtle was used again in another attempt to blow up a British ship on October 5, but this one failed when the ship's watchman saw it coming. A few days later, the Turtle went down when the ship that carried it was sunk by the British off the New Jersey coast. Bushnell claimed to have recovered the Turtle, but no one is sure whatever happened to it.


Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution


"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)

The Worcester Revolt

The Worcester Revolt


On this day in history, September 6, 1774, the Worcester Revolt embodies the real beginning of the American Revolution. You have probably never heard of the Worcester Revolt, but this event that occurred 9 months before the fighting at Lexington and Concord probably deserves the title, the "Beginning of the American Revolution," more so than does the fighting of April 19, 1775.


The Worcester Revolt was one of a series of revolts in rural Massachusetts that took place as a result of the passage of the Massachusetts Government Act. This act was part of the Coercive Acts, or the Intolerable Acts, passed by Parliament in response to the Boston Tea Party. The Boston Port Act shut down Boston Harbor, but this did not affect the average person in the Massachusetts countryside where the majority of the population lived.


What got the entire countryside involved was the Massachusetts Government Act, which suspended all town meetings, placed a military governor in charge of the state, called for the royal appointment of all government officials and virtually shut down all self-government.


The citizens of Massachusetts had been governing themselves for 150 years. In rural Massachusetts, the state courts were the primary government bodies that had contact with the average person. These courts handled all local law enforcement and legal matters. When the Massachusetts Government Act was passed, alarm spread through the 95% of Massachusetts citizens who lived in these rural areas, who feared that royally appointed officials would mistreat them. This was especially alarming because so much of the population were farmers with large debts.


Creditors posed a constant threat to the livelihood of farmers, but when the courts were filled with locally elected judges, the farmers could breathe easy because the judges could be thrown out at the next election. The new wave of royally appointed officials would not have to go through re-elections and would have no reason to go easy on the debtors. Much of the population felt a very real threat that these judges would allow their creditors to foreclose on them.


The Massachusetts Government Act took effect on August 1, 1774. Citizens around the colony met and planned to actively resist the new officials. On August 16, when the Crown appointed officials arrived for the opening of the Courts in Berkshire County, 1,500 militia members showed up and forbade the court from opening. The same thing occurred in Springfield two weeks later.


British Governor and General William Howe was determined that the next scheduled Court would open at Worcester on September 6. He even wrote to his superiors in London that force may be necessary. On September 2, 4,000 patriots forced the Lieutenant Governor to resign in Cambridge and when a rumor spread that some patriots were killed by British soldiers, tens of thousands began to march to Boston. This incident, called the Powder Alarm, forced General Howe to reconsider his options.


On September 6, when the 25 royal officials arrived at Worcester, nearly 5,000 mostly unarmed civilians greeted them… in a town of 250 people. The militia had taken over the courthouse and the officials were escorted to a tavern where they were forced to resign their positions. The officials were then made to walk through the throng of protestors toward the courthouse, reciting their renouncements of their positions over and over along the way. General Gage's troops were nowhere to be seen.


The Worcester Revolt typifies the real American Revolution. A similar revolt took place in every single county in Massachusetts outside of Boston in the fall of 1774. It was these revolts that truly ended British rule in the colony and opened the door for citizens to form their own governments. Indeed, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress met for the first time in October following the revolts. This sequence of events wresting the government from British hands, truly by "the people," marks the real beginning of the American Revolution. The fighting at Lexington and Concord was merely the British government trying to get its lost authority back.


Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

"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)

The Continental Congress Meets for the First Time

The Continental Congress meets for the first time


On this day in history, September 5, 1774, the Continental Congress meets for the first time. The First Continental Congress met in response to Parliament's Coercive Acts, which were passed to punish the colonists for the Boston Tea Party. The Coercive Acts shut down the Massachusetts government and replaced it with a military dictatorship. It also shut down Boston harbor until the tea was paid for, made British officials immune from prosecution and required colonists to house British troops.


The Coercive Acts, or the Intolerable Acts, as the colonists called them, spread alarm across all the colonies, even though they were primarily aimed at Massachusetts. The other colonies realized that if Parliament would do this to Massachusetts, then none of them were safe from the same punitive measures. Colonists everywhere called for the election of representatives to attend a continent-wide congress to discuss a joint response to the Coercive Acts.


54 delegates convened at Carpenter's Hall in Philadelphia on September 5, 1774. The delegates had been chosen through various means in 12 colonies. The only colony not present was Georgia, which was more strongly Loyalist than the other colonies. Men such as George Washington, Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, John Dickinson, Caesar Rodney and Christopher Gadsden debated the issues for 7 weeks.


Some, such as Patrick Henry, wanted to declare independence immediately. Others, such as Joseph Galloway of Pennsylvania, wanted to reconcile with the King. Galloway presented a "Plan of Union" that called for the creation of an American parliament with a royally appointed President, as a way of retaining both sides' interests. Galloway's plan was popular, but it was discarded when a copy of the "Suffolk Resolves" arrived.


The Suffolk Resolves came from the county where Boston was located in Massachusetts. The Resolves contained strong language advocating a boycott of British goods, disobedience to the Coercive Acts, the resignation of anyone appointed under the Acts and the refusal to pay taxes until the Acts were repealed. The Suffolk Resolves also supported the creation of a separate government in Massachusetts until the Coercive Acts were repealed and encouraged all the colonies to raise troops in case of all out war.


The Suffolk Resolves drastically changed the course of the Continental Congress, which publicly endorsed them. By the time the Congress closed on October 26, Congress had written a letter detailing its grievances and requesting the King to address them. It also enacted a continent-wide boycott of British goods to begin on December 1 and encouraged each colony to set up its own enforcement regime to enforce compliance with the boycott.


The Congress took the advice of the Suffolk Resolves and encouraged each colony to begin raising its militia and securing supplies and ammunition in the case that physical resistance became necessary. It also voted to send letters to other colonies such as Quebec, Nova Scotia, East and West Florida and Prince Edward Island, encouraging them to join in the resistance, although records indicate such a letter was only ever sent to Quebec.


Finally, the Continental Congress voted to convene again on May 10 if Parliament showed no movement toward its demands. Indeed, no movement was made and the Second Continental Congress met in May of 1775. They were in session only for a short while before word came that fighting had broken out at Lexington and Concord. Within a month, Congress would create the Continental Army and appoint George Washington its Commander-in-Chief… and the fight for independence would begin!


Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

"If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude than the animated contest of freedom – go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen!" 
Samuel Adams

Swamp Fox Wins the Battle of Blue Savannah

Swamp Fox wins the Battle of Blue Savannah


On this day in history, September 4, 1780, the Swamp Fox wins the Battle of Blue Savannah. Lieutenant Colonel Francis Marion was a continual thorn in the side of the British who occupied South Carolina. After a successful invasion captured Charleston in May of 1780, and much of the Continental Army's southern division was captured or killed at Camden in August, South Carolina was securely in British hands.


Marion, a 5 foot tall veteran of the Cherokee campaigns of the French and Indian War, led a guerrilla style offensive against the British in the area. With only a few dozen men, Marion led one of the few pockets of remaining resistance in the colony, staging numerous attacks on British troops and their Loyalist co-conspirators. Marion earned the nickname, the "Swamp Fox," for his ability to elude British troops through the swamps in his home area around the Pee Dee and Santee Rivers.


After the overwhelming defeat at Camden, Marion and his men freed 150 Maryland prisoners who were being taken back to Charleston. The soldiers believed the war was over, however, after their overwhelming defeat, and refused to join Marion. Marion then hid at a camp near Port's Ferry and learned that Loyalist troops under Major General Micajah Gainey were pursuing him.


Rather than flee from Gainey's 200 Loyalists, Marion and his 60 men decided to attack them head on. On September 4, Marion's advance scouts ran into Gainey's advance troops and routed them. Marion then performed a pretend retreat to trick Gainey into advancing and quickly routed Gainey's main body of men.


Gainey's troops scattered and Marion regrouped at Port's Ferry. The Battle of Blue Savannah, as it is called, served to break the back of Loyalist recruitment and military action in the Pee Dee and Santee Rivers area. It also encouraged the South Carolina militia to stand up and begin resistance again after the dreadful defeat at Camden.


By the way, a "savannah," in the local South Carolina vernacular of the time, referred to a depression in the ground filled with water to make a small lake or bay. There are several of these depressions, surrounded by ridges of sand in this area of eastern South Carolina. Geologists believe the features may have been created by meteorite strikes in the distant past. The shallow depressions would fill with water which had a blue hue, hence the name "Blue Savannah."


Today, the savannahs have largely disappeared due to agriculture and irrigation, but some of the depressions can still be seen by satellite, including the one where the Battle of Blue Savannah was fought. It sits roughly at the intersection of Highways 501 and 41 to the south of present day Marion, South Carolina.


Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

"If ever a time should come, when vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest seats in Government, our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin." 
Samuel Adams

The Battle of Cooch’s Bridge

The Battle of Cooch’s Bridge


On this day in history, September 3, 1777, the Battle of Cooch’s Bridge is the only battle of the American Revolution to take place in Delaware. It is also the first battle during which the American flag is flown.


British General William Howe landed 17,000 troops at Head of Elk, Maryland on August 25th, 1777, with the goal of capturing Philadelphia, the capital of the rebel Continental Congress. Over the next few days, while Howe unloaded troops and supplies, George Washington and the Continental Army reconnoitered the British army to gauge its strength and intentions.


Washington’s main force was camped near Wilmington, Delaware. Washington himself traveled to the nearby hills overlooking Head of Elk to spy on the British troops. The Commander of the Continental Army placed sentries and small groups of troops at various roads and bridges to watch for British movements and advances, since it was not known which way Howe would try to approach Philadelphia.


About 1,000 Pennsylvania and Delaware troops were placed under the command of Brigadier General William Maxwell, who had them divided between Iron Hill, the tallest hill in Delaware, near modern day Newark, and the nearby Cooch’s Bridge.


On September 2, British and German troops under the command of Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis took over Aiken’s Tavern about 5 miles east of Head of Elk and 3 miles south of Cooch’s Bridge. In the morning, an advance company of Hessian dragoons scouting the road north of the tavern were fired on by Maxwell’s light infantry. This brought a rush of German jagers, (light infantry) who engaged the militia.


Maxwell held for some time, but a German bayonet charge forced him to retreat. The jagers chased Maxwell back to Cooch’s Bridge where they made an heroic stand. Eventually, though, they ran out of ammunition and another bayonet charge forced Maxwell to retreat to General Washington’s camp at White Clay Creek. The Germans pursued them for a few miles, but turned back to shore up their gains.


The Battle of Cooch’s Bridge would be the only engagement of the American Revolution fought in Delaware. After driving off Maxwell’s troops, General Cornwallis occupied Cooch’s Bridge and Iron Hill, while General Howe made his headquarters at Aiken’s Tavern for the next week.


The Battle of Cooch’s Bridge also has the distinction, according to many historians, of being the first engagement during which the new American flag was flown. The flag was created on June 14, 1777 by the Flag Act of 1777. The act stated that the flag would have "thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation."


According to legend, Betsy Ross then created the flag at the request of George Washington. There is debate, however, about the accuracy of the Betsy Ross flag story, which you can learn more about at our Betsy Ross Flag page.


Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution


“If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”

James Madison (1788)

The Independence Hurricane hits the American Colonies

The Independence Hurricane hits the American Colonies


On this day in history, September 2, 1775, the Independence Hurricane hits the American colonies as the American Revolution is beginning. It would be the 8th deadliest Atlantic hurricane of all time and would portend victory in the battle against Great Britain to the patriots. After dumping rain for a week, the hurricane landed in North Carolina and continued up the coast through Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. The storm was particularly devastating to the region’s economy because it was harvest season. Many crops were still in the field and were completely destroyed.


In addition, the Continental Congress had enacted a ban on trade with Britain to take effect on September 10th. This meant a flurry of activity was taking place in every east coast port, as merchants and farmers tried to get out one last shipment before the trade ban went into effect. Ships and warehouses were overflowing with tobacco, corn, salt, sugar and other goods.


North Carolina suffered the worst effects of the Independence Hurricane, so named because it took place at the dawn of the War of Independence. The Outer Banks were destroyed and entire settlements swept away. Coastal cities were flooded, crops destroyed and many ships and their crews were lost. It is believed that over 200 people died in North Carolina alone.


As the storm continued to rage across the Chesapeake, towns such as Norfolk, Hampton and Yorktown had their ports destroyed. Warehouses full of goods were blown away. Ships were deposited on shore. The roof of the State House in Annapolis was blown away.


The hurricane sparked one of the first confrontations with the British in Virginia when the HMS Liberty was grounded at Hampton. Citizens boarded the ship, took its cargo, arrested the sailors and burned the ship. The HMS Mercury was grounded near Norfolk, but its captain had aimed its guns at the city and threatened to fire upon the town if the citizens boarded her. That ship survived and was refloated a week later.


The storm began to die out over Pennsylvania as it dumped loads of rain on Philadelphia and went back out to sea. One week later, the re-energized hurricane hit Newfoundland with a ferocity previously unknown to the colonists. Historians and meteorologists are not in agreement over whether this was the same storm as the Independence Hurricane, or if it was a second and distinct hurricane.


Nonetheless, this hurricane wreaked havoc on the fishing industry of Newfoundland. It is estimated that over 700 ships went down, carrying nearly 4,000 sailors. The entire Newfoundland fishing industry and fleet was destroyed in a single day. Coastal cities were flooded with a 30 foot surge of water, destroying all of the warehouses and facilities for preparing the fish. For weeks and months after the storm, fishing nets brought in bodies with their catch.


The destruction of the Newfoundland fishing fleet was, ironically, viewed as a good omen in the lower 13 colonies. In a day where storms and other acts of nature were viewed as the vengeance of God, many colonists viewed the destruction at Newfoundland as verification that their condemnation of Great Britain was just. The fishing industry was very lucrative to Great Britain and the storm had caused a devastating blow to the British economy.


The Independence Hurricane was the 8th most devastating Atlantic hurricane on record and wreaked havoc across the eastern seaboard. Ironically, it may have played a unique role in the American victory during the Revolution, by encouraging the patriots that their cause was just!


Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution


"It is the press which has corrupted our political morals — and it is to the press we must look for the means of our political regeneration."
Alexander Hamilton (1804)

McCulloch’s Leap

McCulloch's Leap


On this day in history, September 1, 1777, McCulloch's Leap goes down as one of the greatest escapes of the American Revolution, when Major Samuel McCulloch jumps over a 300 foot cliff from attacking Indians to safety.


Fort Henry had guarded the small village of Wheeling from Indian attack, in what was then part of Virginia, since 1774. The Ohio Valley tribes, aligned with the British, began a new campaign against the frontier settlements in the summer of 1777. Fort Henry was fortified and prepared, having received intelligence that it would be a target. On August 31, a party of 200 Mingo, Wyandot and Shawnee attacked the village and the fort. Most of the 25 or so families from Wheeling got to the fort safely.


Several messengers were able to get away and inform other nearby forts that Fort Henry was under attack. Captain Van Swearingen soon arrived from nearby Cross Creek with forty men on horses. They successfully fought their way to the fort, swelling its number of defenders. Other reinforcements arrived from Fort Shepherd and Fort Holliday.


On September 1, Major Samuel McCulloch arrived from Fort Van Metre with another 40 men. As they raced to the gate of the fort, the Indians attacked in full force. As some of the men were forced into hand-to-hand combat, McCulloch waited till the last to make sure they were all inside the fort. With the Indians getting very near the open doors, the settlers inside were finally forced to close the gates, leaving McCulloch alone on the outside.


McCulloch took off in the direction of nearby Wheeling Hill being pursued by the Indians. He was not fired upon because the Indians wanted to take him alive. Every Indian knew McCulloch, who was a notorious and feared Indian fighter on the frontier.


As McCulloch galloped along the crest of the hill, a 300 foot precipice on one side and a band of Indians chasing him from behind, he was confronted with another group of Indians to his front, who were just arriving to help with the siege of the fort. Now surrounded and with no way of escape, McCulloch knew his capture would mean the most excruciating torture. He made an instant decision to go over the edge of the precipice. Dying on the way down would be easier than being tortured at the hands of the Indians.


McCulloch held the reigns with his left hand and his gun in his right hand and spurred his horse over the edge. It is said that they did not hit ground until half way down the hill, which is nearly vertical. The rest of the way, they slid down the almost 90 degree hill, being pummeled with branches and stones until they hit bottom, but McCulloch's horse never lost his footing.


At the bottom of the hill lie Wheeling Creek. The stunned Indians watched McCulloch cross the creek and ride away in amazement. The Indians continued the siege of Fort Henry only for another day or so. With the reinforcements that had already arrived and those that McCulloch would likely bring back with him, continuing was futile and they gave up the mission. McCulloch's Leap has gone down as one of the bravest escapes of the American Revolution and, indeed, in all of the history of warfare.


Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution


“The same prudence which in private life would forbid our paying our own money for unexplained projects, forbids it in the dispensation of the public moneys.” Thomas Jefferson (1808)