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

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

"It is necessary for every American, with becoming energy to endeavor to stop the dissemination of principles evidently destructive of the cause for which they have bled." Mercy Otis Warren (1805)

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

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

"All men by nature are equal in that equal right that every man hath to his natural freedom, without being subjected to the will or authority of any other man; being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions."
John Locke

American victory at the Battle of Princeton

American victory at the Battle of Princeton

 

On this day in history, January 3, 1777, the American victory at the Battle of Princeton causes the British to withdraw from most of New Jersey, after this third decisive victory in ten days. George Washington surprised the Hessian garrison at Trenton on December 26 and took 1,000 captives. This was followed up on January 2 with a victory at the Battle of Assunpink Creek, where Washington was able to drive back three assaults from General Charles Cornwallis.

 

After this failure, Cornwallis decided to call off the attack until morning, even though some of his officers believed Washington would try to escape in the night. Washington took advantage of the decision, but rather than running, he decided to attack the British rear guard left at Princeton. He took his army east and then to the north in utter silence during the night, approaching Princeton at dawn.

 

In the morning, Washington dispatched Brigadier General Hugh Mercer to destroy a bridge on the post road between Trenton and Princeton to delay Cornwallis’ pursuit. When General Mercer arrived at the post road, he ran straight into 800 men under the command of Lt. Col. Charles Mawhood, marching south from Princeton. Mawhood ordered a charge on the rebels, who were mostly equipped with rifles and no bayonets. Unable to defend themselves against a bayonet charge, they were quickly overrun, trapping General Mercer. Thinking they had cornered George Washington, the British soldiers shouted, "Surrender you damn rebel!" When Mercer refused and charged them instead, he was bayoneted and left for dead, causing the rest of his men to scatter. Another 1100 militia appeared just then, but when they saw Mercer’s men fleeing, they began to flee as well.

 

At this point, George Washington arrived with yet more troops. Seeing the fleeing militia, Washington quickly rode his horse straight into the battle, rallying the troops and shouting, "Parade with us my brave fellows! There is but a handful of the enemy and we shall have them directly!" Following their leader, the Americans quickly gained control of the field. Now outnumbered, Mawhood ordered a retreat as his line began to dissolve under heavy fire.

 

Knowing that Cornwallis was approaching from the south, Washington retreated back to Princeton where his men quickly captured the remaining troops who had holed up in Nassau Hall at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton), surrendering themselves to a young Captain Alexander Hamilton.

 

Washington wished to continue attacking British outposts after three victories in ten days, but Generals Knox and Greene warned him that even though the Continental Army was newly inspired by the recent victories, they were worn out and greatly outnumbered. Following their advice, Washington moved north to Morristown and took up winter quarters. General Cornwallis and Commander-in-Chief William Howe abandoned southern New Jersey after these defeats, removing all of their men to New Brunswick which held substantial supplies and money reserves, taking up winter quarters there until the spring.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

"Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism."
George Washington (1796)

The Americans win the Battle of Assunpink Creek

The Americans win the Battle of Assunpink Creek

 

On this day in history, January 2, 1777, the Americans win the Battle of Assunpink Creek, otherwise known as the Second Battle of Trenton. This was the second victory for the Continental Army in a week, helping to revive the flagging spirits of the American revolutionaries.

 

On December 26, George Washington had crossed the Delaware River into New Jersey and staged a surprise attack against the Hessian garrison at Trenton, capturing nearly 1,000 soldiers. After the battle, Washington withdrew back across the river into Pennsylvania, anticipating a strong counterattack from the British.

 

General William Howe, the British Commander-in-Chief of North America was furious with the defeat at Trenton. He canceled Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis’ scheduled leave to Britain for the winter and ordered him to Princeton immediately. 8,000 troops converged on Princeton on January 2 and Cornwallis began marching them south toward Trenton, sending an advance guard ahead of the rest.

 

George Washington had faced a dilemma only a few days before. The enlistments of most of his men would expire on December 31st. He knew the whole war might be lost if the army were to dissolve now. He offered the soldiers $10 to stay on for another month and the vast majority decided to stay. Their money arrived from Congress on January 1st.

 

Washington’s men crossed back over the Delaware on the 29th and took up positions south of Trenton on Assunpink Creek. He also sent another line under the command of French Brigadier-General Matthias Alexis Roche de Fermoy north to delay the British advance from Trenton. When the advance line met the oncoming British, they took cover behind trees and in ravines, greatly delaying Cornwallis for much of the day. General Fermoy, who had become drunk, went back to Trenton and Colonel Edward Hand took over the line.

 

The advance line was finally driven back to Assunpink Creek by twilight and the full British army began an attack on the bridge. Washington’s men held back three assaults from the British, felling hundreds of British soldiers in the process, causing Cornwallis to hold a council to decide what to do. Cornwallis had already lost 365 men to the Battle of Assunpink Creek by this point, while the Americans lost only 100. Some of his officers wanted to attack immediately, while others wanted to wait until morning. Cornwallis ultimately decided to wait until morning, believing the Continentals were already defeated, worn out and had nowhere to go.

 

Washington took advantage of the break. In the middle of the night, he withdrew most of his troops in silence and sent them north to Princeton, leaving 500 soldiers at Assunpink Creek to keep fires burning to make it appear that the army was still there. When Cornwallis arose in the morning, to his horror, Washington’s entire army was gone. They had marched to Princeton and taken over the 1,200 man garrison there, the third American victory in 9 days, forcing the British to withdraw from most of New Jersey and back to New Brunswick and New York City for the winter.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

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

 

 

Betsy Ross is born

Betsy Ross is born

 

On this day in history, January 1, 1752, Betsy Ross is born in Philadelphia. Betsy Ross was born Betsy Griscom, the 8th of 17 children born to Samuel Griscom, a prominent Philadelphia carpenter. The Griscom family were Quakers and Betsy’s great-grandfather was a personal friend of William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania’s "Holy Experiment."

 

As a teenager, Betsy’s father had her apprenticed to an upholsterer and this is where she met her first husband, John Ross. John was the son of an assistant rector at the Episcopalian Christ Church. The two eloped and Betsy was ex-communicated from the Quaker church for marrying outside the faith. She and John then attended Christ Church and started their own business making such things as furniture coverings, clothing, curtains, bedspreads, etc.

 

Once the war started, John joined the Philadelphia militia and in mid-January 1776, he was severely injured in an accidental explosion while guarding ammunition. Betsy nursed John, but he died from his wounds. The following year, Betsy married again, this time to Captain Joseph Ashburn. Their home was occupied by British soldiers that winter during the British invasion of Philadelphia and Betsy was called the "Little Rebel" by the occupying soldiers for her patriotic views. Joseph was captured on a mission to the West Indies in 1780 and died in the Old Mill Prison at Plymouth, England in March, 1782, Betsy’s second husband to be lost to the war. An old suitor of Betsy’s named John Claypoole happened to be at the Old Mill when Joseph died. John brought back word to Betsy that her second husband had died and the two started up a new romance. They married in 1783 and were married for 34 years.

 

According to legend, George Washington came to Betsy’s upholstery shop in May of 1776 with Robert Morris and George Ross, two other members of Congress. Ross was Betsy’s first husband’s uncle. It is believed General Washington and Betsy were personal friends since their pews were right next to one another at Christ Church. Betsy’s first husband, who had just passed away, had two uncles that signed the Declaration of Independence, George Ross and George Read. These personal connections may have had something to do with her being asked to make the flag.

 

Washington allegedly pulled out a drawing with thirteen stars and stripes and 13 stars in a circle from his pocket and asked Betsy if she could make a flag using this design. Betsy said she believed she could, but suggested one alteration to the design. Washington had used six-pointed stars in his design. Betsy showed them how she could make a five-pointed star by folding a piece of cloth and by using only one snip of the scissors. Washington and the others were impressed and gave her the task.

 

Some historians have doubted the authenticity of the flag story since it was not told until the 1860s by Betsy’s grandson, William Canby. There are other contenders for the prize of being the person who made the first American flag, such as Declaration of Independence signer Francis Hopkinson.

 

Betsy would make flags for the United States government for the next 50 years. Her sacrifice was great, having lost two husbands to the war. Her third husband was also injured at the Battle of Germantown and spent time in a British prison. You can visit the Betsy Ross house today in Philadelphia. This is the very house where Betsy had her shop when she was visited by Washington and asked to make the flag.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

"Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice?"
George Washington, Farewell Address, 1796

The Americans are defeated at the Battle of Quebec

The Americans are defeated at the Battle of Quebec

 

On this day in history, December 31, 1775, the Americans are defeated at the Battle of Quebec, the first major loss for the Continental Army during the American Revolution. The Continental Congress launched an invasion of Canada in September of 1775, trusting that the largely French speaking population would rise up against their British oppressors and join the Americans in their rebellion.

 

The first wave of the invasion was a success as General Richard Montgomery captured Fort St. Jean and Montreal. As Montgomery’s 1700 men marched up from the south, Colonel Benedict Arnold landed in Maine and began a march with another 1100 troops across the wilderness straight to Quebec City, the capital of the province. Arnold’s march was heroic, but, lacking adequate supplies, starvation and disease set in and many troops deserted, leaving Arnold with only 600 men by the time he reached Quebec City. Arnold attempted to get British Governor and Major-General Guy Carleton to surrender the city, but he refused, causing Arnold to withdraw to await reinforcements.

 

When General Montgomery arrived in early December, he began to plan an attack on the city, although he was outnumbered, 1000 to 1800 men. Quebec City was one of the best fortified cities in America with its large, thick walls. Montgomery had little artillery, so he could not bombard the walls. Instead, he determined that he should wait for a snowstorm, when his advance would be hidden by the storm. On December 31st, a snowstorm hit and Montgomery made his move around 4am. Two companies led attacks on the western walls of the city as a feint, while the more serious invasion attempts would be made on the north and south of the city, one each led by General Montgomery and Colonel Arnold.

 

General Montgomery’s men followed along the southern wall of the city and entered through a palisade, but were quickly cut off by cannon and gun fire from a blockhouse. Montgomery was killed instantly with a shot through the head. A dozen others were killed as well, including several other senior officers. Only a few escaped, including a young soldier named Aaron Burr who would one day be Vice President. The remaining troops fled in disorganization after the senior officers were killed.

 

Colonel Arnold continued his attack on the north of the city. Arnold’s men made it into the city as well, but Arnold was shot in the ankle, taken off the field and replaced by Captain Daniel Morgan. Morgan’s men overtook the first barricade, but were soon surrounded and, after intense street fighting, forced to surrender. The battle ended by 10am. In all, about 80 Americans were wounded or killed and another 430 captured. The British lost only 5 dead and 14 wounded.

 

After the defeat, Benedict Arnold continued the siege on the city for another 5 months, sending word to the Continental Congress for reinforcements. Although a few reinforcements arrived, the remaining troops were so devastated with disease and poor conditions during the winter that General John Thomas, who replaced Arnold in April, ordered a retreat. The Americans retreated upriver, attempting to burn Montreal, and successfully burning Fort St. Jean, as they withdrew. The invasion of Canada was a failure. The Continental Congress would not try again to persuade its Canadian neighbors to join them in the fight for independence.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

"Where there is no law, there is no liberty; and nothing deserves the name of law but that which is certain and universal in its operation upon all the members of the community."
Benjamin Rush (1788)

Declaration of Independence signer Francis Lewis dies

Declaration of Independence signer Francis Lewis dies

 

On this day in history, December 30, 1803, Declaration of Independence signer Francis Lewis dies. Lewis was a New York delegate to the Continental Congress and a member of the New York Provincial Congress who saw more personal tragedy as a result of the American Revolution than most of the other Founders.

 

Francis Lewis was born in Wales and was orphaned as a young child. He was taken in by an aunt and uncle and was schooled at Westminster School in London. Lewis went to work at a London counting house where he learned about business. In 1735, at the age of 22, he sold all the property he had inherited from his father and invested it in merchandise. He moved to America and established mercantile houses in New York and Philadelphia with his goods, eventually becoming a financial success, traveling all over Europe and to Russia and Africa in his mercantile pursuits.

 

During the French and Indian War, Lewis served as a mercantile agent, supplying uniforms to the British army. In 1756, while he was serving as an aide to General Hugh Mercer at Fort Oswego on Lake Ontario, the Fort was captured by French General Louis-Joseph de Montcalm. Lewis was sent as a prisoner to France where he remained for several years until his release. Upon his release, Lewis returned to America and was rewarded with 5,000 acres of land for his service to the British government.

 

In 1765, Lewis retired from business, moved his family to his estate at Whitestone (now Flushing), New York and became involved in politics. He is believed to have been a member of the New York Sons of Liberty and served on several early committees of the fledgling New York state government.

 

In 1775, Lewis was elected to the Continental Congress. He was not allowed to vote for independence on July 2, 1776 due to his state’s reluctance to break from England, but he did sign the Declaration on August 2nd. Later that month, British General William Howe invaded Long Island. Lewis’ home was ransacked and burned and his wife captured. She remained in British custody for some time and was so poorly treated that she became severely ill. A prisoner exchange could not be conducted for some time because the Americans did not have a female prisoner of equal rank to exchange, but George Washington was able to finally arrange her release. Mrs. Lewis never recovered from her illness and died in 1779.

 

Most of Francis Lewis’ wealth was destroyed or spent during the war. He continued to serve in the Continental Congress as a delegate from New York until 1779 when he was appointed to oversee the Board of Admiralty. He signed the Articles of Confederation, America’s first governing document, in 1778. In his old age, Lewis became a vestryman at Trinity Church in New York City, where he was buried when he died at the age of 90 on December 30, 1803.

 

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

 

Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

“The Secret of Freedom lies in the people, whereas the Secret of Tyranny is in keeping them ignorant.”
Maximilien Robespierre