Monthly Archives: September 2015

The Battle of Edgar’s Lane

The Battle of Edgar’s Lane

On this day in history, September 30, 1778, the Battle of Edgar’s Lane takes place near Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, a small village 20 miles north of Manhattan island. During the summer of 1778, British General Henry Clinton was instructed to abandon the city of Philadelphia and return his army to New York City. France’s entry into the war conflated the American colonial revolution into a world war and Britain had to consolidate its activities in the colonies in order to defend its far flung empire.


New York was the central headquarters of British activity in the colonies and it would continue to be so in the future. George Washington’s Continental Army chased the retreating British army from Philadelphia across New Jersey and engaged them at the Battle of Monmouth, one of the largest and bloodiest battles of the Revolution. The British finally escaped in the night and made it back to the refuge of New York City. By the fall, Washington’s army had taken up winter positions about 40 miles north of New York City. Hastings-on-Hudson was a small village that lay roughly between the two armies, in a sort of no-man’s land, which was a frequent target of foraging parties for both sides.


Peter Post was the owner of Post’s Tavern in Hastings-on-Hudson. Peter himself was a patriot, but his customers were a mixed group of patriots and Loyalists. One evening in September, he overheard talk of a Hessian raiding party that would be coming through on a foraging mission. Peter informed the Continental Army and a plan was hatched to ambush the raiding Hessians.


Site of the Battle of Edgar’s Lane, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York


On the evening of September 30th, Post was at his farm north of town when the expected Hessians came riding by. They asked him if any rebel soldiers were in the area. Post directed the 80 Hessians right toward a waiting group of about 120 American dragoons hiding in the woods near the Edgar’s farm on Edgar’s Lane. As the Hessians rode into the ambush, the firing began. The Hessians dismounted their horses and began firing into the woods and chasing their attackers, but were surprised when the American force turned out to be much larger than they originally thought. Once they realized they had been led into an ambush, the Hessians turned and fled, chased by their American enemies down a ravine and toward the Hudson. The fleeing Hessians were forced into the river where many drowned and others were shot in the water. Only a few escaped. Later, after the American soldiers had left the area, the Hessians returned and beat Peter Post to near death, but he did survive and became a prominent landowner in the town after the war.


Hastings-on-Hudson would grow into an industrial town, but also become a place of getaway homes for the wealthy of New York. Hastings was the home of Florence Ziegfeld and his wife, Billie Burke, who played Glenda the Good Witch in the Wizard of Oz, as well as Frank Morgan who played the Wizard. The BF Goodrich Company was started here. Comedian Jonathan Winters once lived here; actress Ricki Lake was born here and tv news commentator Keith Olbermann grew up in Hastings-on-Hudson.


Jack Manning

Historian General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution


“Hence as a private man has a right to say what wages he will give in his private affairs, so has a community to determine what they will give and grant of their substance for the administration of public affairs.” Samuel Adams, 1772

British spy, Major John Andre, is sentenced to death

British spy, Major John Andre, is sentenced to death

On this day in history, September 29, 1780, British spy Major John Andre is sentenced to death by hanging for his role in the Benedict Arnold treason affair. John Andre was born into a wealthy Swiss family in London in 1750. He joined the military at age 20 and was sent to Canada in 1774, where he was captured by General Richard Montgomery at Fort St. Jean, but later released in a prisoner exchange.


Andre was not only a soldier. He was also an extremely talented artist, poet, singer and songwriter. For this reason, he was promoted quickly through the ranks after his release and became a chief staff member of General William Howe and General Henry Clinton after him. Because of his talents and charm, Andre became a favorite of the elite in New York and Philadelphia society circles.


In 1779, Andre became the Adjutant-General of the British army. This was one of the senior-most administrative positions, overseeing personnel issues and policies. In this role, Andre was given charge of the army’s intelligence program and this was how he became involved in the Benedict Arnold affair.


Arnold had grown disenchanted with Congress and his superiors and colleagues in the Continental Army and began negotiating with the British for favors, in exchange for information on American positions and plans. By 1780, a plan was hatched for Arnold to turn over the American fort at West Point, New York, a crucial spot controlling the Hudson River, to the British, in exchange for 20,000 pounds and a general-ship in the British army.


Andre directed the intelligence effort with Arnold and met him clandestinely on the evening of September 23 near West Point. Arnold turned over papers detailing the defenses of West Point to Andre who hid them in his shoe and returned to New York. He was captured two days later by 3 inquisitive patriots who found the papers and turned him over to the Continental Army. Arnold escaped safely to the British army.


Andre’s case was unique because he held the title of general, but the rank of major. Generals were typically to be held and exchanged, but Congress had ruled clearly that anyone involved in spying was to be hanged. George Washington offered to British General Clinton to exchange Andre for Arnold, hoping to hang Arnold for his treason instead. Clinton, however, failed to respond and allowed one of his best and brightest to go to the gallows.


On September 29, a court was convened to decide Andre’s fate. General Nathanael Greene presided over the court, which also consisted of Generals Stirling, St. Clair, Lafayette, Howe, Steuben, Parsons, Clinton, Knox, Stark and others. The court ruled on the same day that Andre was guilty of spying for being behind enemy lines and wearing a disguise based on his own testimony.


Andre wrote a letter to George Washington requesting to be executed by firing squad, as this was considered to be more “gentlemanly,” but Washington refused the request. On the morning of his execution on October 2nd, Andre was said to be calm and resigned to his fate. He marched toward the gallows, acknowledging those whom he knew in the large crowd that had gathered.


After his death, Andre was buried at the foot of the gallows. In 1821, Andre’s body was removed to England and buried in Westminster Abbey as a hero, alongside other famous British citizens such as Geoffrey Chaucer, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, William Wilberforce, Charles Dickens and numerous kings and queens.


Jack Manning

Historian General
National Society Sons of the American Revolution


“The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the
departments in one, and thus to create whatever the form of government, a
real despotism.”
George Washington, Farewell Address, 1796


The Siege of Yorktown begins

The Siege of Yorktown begins

On this day in history, September 28, 1781, the Siege of Yorktown begins when George Washington leads the American and French armies out of Williamsburg to attack British General, Lord Charles Cornwallis.


In the summer of 1781, George Washington and his Continental Army in New York were faced with an important decision. Should they attack the British headquarters in New York City, or should they attack the army of Cornwallis in Virginia? 5,500 French soldiers had arrived in Rhode Island the year before and united with Washington’s army. French General, the Comte de Rochambeau recommended an attack on Virginia, but the decision was Washington’s to make.


A letter from French Admiral, the Comte de Grasse, inspired Washington’s final decision. De Grasse would arrive in Virginia from the West Indies with a fleet of French naval ships and more soldiers toward the end of August. Washington immediately decided to march south and join him. 7,000 French and American soldiers began the march from New York on August 19. Washington arrived in Williamsburg, Virginia, only 13 miles from Yorktown on September 14.


General Cornwallis had occupied Yorktown during the summer, on instructions from his superior, General, Sir Henry Clinton in New York, to build a deep water port on the Virginia coast. Cornwallis built up a series of defenses around the city and a few British ships in the river gave defense as well.


Admiral de Grasse arrived at the Chesapeake on August 30 and engaged a British fleet sent with reinforcements for Cornwallis on September 5 at the Battle of the Chesapeake. After a firm French victory, the British fleet departed, leaving Cornwallis to fend for himself.


As Washington marched out of Williamsburg on September 28, he led 7,800 French soldiers, 8,000 American Continental soldiers and 3,100 militiamen, for a total of almost 19,000 men. General Cornwallis had 9,000 soldiers within the defense works around Yorktown. Nearly a third of all the participants were German conscripts or Americans of German descent.


Over the next two weeks, the Americans waged an ever tightening ring of fire around Yorktown, moving closer and closer and confining the British more tightly. A continuous barrage of American fire power rained down on the city for weeks. Cornwallis held out hope that another fleet with reinforcements would arrive from New York, but when word arrived that a fleet would not depart from New York until October 12, Cornwallis knew he would not last that long.


On October 16, Cornwallis met with his officers and the decision was made to surrender. The following morning, a soldier with a white flag approached the Americans and the surrender negotiations began. On October 19, the official surrender took place. Lord Cornwallis refused to attend the surrender ceremony, sending his second, Brigadier General Charles O’Hara in his place.


O’Hara at first attempted to surrender Cornwallis’ ceremonial sword to General Rochambeau who refused it and directed him to give it to Washington. Since Cornwallis had sent his second, Washington also refused to take it and directed O’Hara to give it to his own second, General Benjamin Lincoln.


The Siege of Yorktown was the last major land battle of the Revolution in the colonies, although skirmishes and smaller engagements continued for some time. The surrender at Yorktown took away Parliament’s desire to continue the war and peace negotiations began early in 1782, with the final Peace Treaty of Paris signed to end the war on September 3, 1783.


Jack Manning

Historian General
National Society Sons of the American Revolution


“[I]f we are to be told by a foreign power … what we shall do, and what we
shall not do, we have Independence yet to seek, and have contended hitherto
for very little.”

George Washington, 1796


Baylor’s Massacre takes place

Baylor’s Massacre takes place

On this day in history, September 27, 1778, Baylor’s Massacre takes place when dozens of Virginia militiamen are killed or wounded in a surprise attack as they sleep, in what is today River Vale, New Jersey.


26 year old George Baylor had served as an aide to George Washington before he was given command of the 3rd Regiment of Continental Dragoons. This unit was made up of about 120 Virginia militia and was tasked with escort duty and intelligence gathering. The unit was sometimes called “Mrs. Washington’s Guards,” because they were often called on to escort Martha Washington.


In the summer of 1778, Baylor’s unit was stationed at Paramus, New Jersey. On September 22nd, 5,000 British troops landed at Paulus Hook to engage in foraging operations to gather supplies for the army in New York and for the upcoming invasion of the South.


The American patriots were unsure what the British mission was, so they arrayed their forces in an arc across northern New Jersey to prevent the
British from marching up the Hudson. Baylor’s unit was part of this arc, and, on the evening of September 27, Baylor’s men were stationed at several farms along the Overkill Road in what is today River Vale, New Jersey. The soldiers camped out in six barns that evening, while the officers slept in the houses.


After hearing that American militia were in the area, British General Charles Cornwallis decided to go after them and began marching north. Major General Charles Grey went up another road and the two were to meet in north New Jersey. Along the way, Grey learned of the presence of Baylor’s men on Overkill Road from local Tories and decided to go after them immediately.


Grey ordered his men to remove their flints, just as he had done at the Battle of Paoli a year before, earning him the nickname, “No Flint” Grey. This would prevent the soldiers from discharging their guns, which would alert the patriots. The Regulars had to rely on their bayonets instead.


A 12 man guard was quickly surrounded and overcome, after which the Regulars proceeded to surround the barns and houses. The incident didn’t earn the name “Baylor’s Massacre,” for nothing. After being ordered to kill anyone they found, the British soldiers stormed the barns and homes, demanding the militia to give themselves up. As the startled soldiers awoke, most tried to surrender, but they were bayoneted even while surrendering. Dozens were wounded and about 15 killed. Many more were captured and a few escaped.


Colonel Baylor and his second in command, Major Alexander Clough, tried to escape the slaughter through the chimney of Cornelius Haring’s home where they were lodged. Both were caught though and stabbed. Clough perished, while Baylor survived. He died, however, a few years later as a result of complications from his wounds.


When farmer Cornelius Blauvelt went to his barn the morning after the attack, he found five Americans bayoneted to death and several others
wounded but still alive. All of the dead were buried in old tanning vats beside the river on Blauvelt’s property, the graves of whom were discovered in 1967.


Unfortunately for the patriots, there were indications that Blauvelt may have been complicit in exposing the location of the militia to the British, including the fact that Blauvelt was a known member of the New Jersey militia and none of his property was damaged or confiscated.


News of Baylor’s Massacre quickly spread around the colonies and back to England, inspiring outrage and revenge on the American side, and shame on the British side.


Jack Manning

Historian General
National Society Sons of the American Revolution


“A nation without its history is like a person without their memory…”

Quote attributed to Arthur Schlesinger


The Battle of Charlotte

The Battle of Charlotte

On this day in history, September 26, 1780, the Battle of Charlotte reveals to British General Charles Cornwallis that he will not have an easy time taking over North Carolina. After the British captured most of Georgia in 1779 and South Carolina in 1780, Cornwallis hoped mopping up the remnants of the Continental Army which had escaped to North Carolina would be an easy task.


Various small groups of Continentals and militia harassed Cornwallis’ movements from behind and before. Colonel William R. Davie had successfully attacked a Loyalist camp adjacent to Cornwallis’ main army at the Battle of Wahab’s Plantation on September 20th. He and 150 troops skirmished again with Cornwallis’ troops on the evening of September 25th and withdrew to Charlotte around midnight. Ordered to guard the city and slow down the British advance, Davie placed his men strategically around the small town.


Charlotte at the time consisted of about 20 houses with two intersecting main streets. The Mecklenberg County Courthouse sat at the intersection. The courthouse featured 8 pillars facing to the south with a low wall connecting them. Behind the wall was a common area where an outdoor market was held. Davie posted part of his men behind this wall, part to the north of the courthouse and the rest behind some nearby houses. He also posted two lines of cavalry to the east and west of the courthouse.


As the British army approached, Cornwallis sent the American Legion to scout out the area. The Legion’s commander, Banastre Tarleton, was ill, so command was given to Major George Hanger instead. Hanger had been ordered to move into the town cautiously because Cornwallis expected militia were close by. Instead, Hanger charged into town at full force and the Legion came under a hail of gunfire. When the first line of militia began to withdraw, Hanger mistook this as a retreat and charged all the harder, coming under crossfire from the men behind the houses.


Three different charges were made by the British and they suffered heavy casualties, including Major Hanger, who was wounded. Lord Cornwallis finally sent the light infantry to the rescue and Colonel Davie ordered his men to retreat. As they escaped north of the town, the British followed them and several more casualties occurred on both sides at Sugar Creek Church north of town. In all, the Americans had about 5 killed and 6 wounded, while the British had more than 50 dead or wounded.


The Battle of Charlotte was not a consequential battle of the American Revolution. Its main significance was that it opened General Cornwallis’
eyes to the fact that this war was not over, despite the victories in Georgia and South Carolina. Mecklenberg County was a hotbed of patriot sentiment in North Carolina and Colonel Davie and the local militia lived up to this reputation in the Battle of Charlotte.


Cornwallis had such a bad time in Mecklenberg County, in fact, that he later it called the area a “hornets’ nest,” which made the locals quite proud! The name was taken with such pride that the name was officially adopted. The city seal carries a hornet’s nest, local groups have the words “hornets” or “hornets’ nest” in their names, even pro-sports teams in Charlotte are still called “Hornets” to this day!


Jack Manning

Historian General
National Society Sons of the American Revolution


The natural cure for an ill-administration, in a popular or representative
constitution, is a change of men.”
Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 21


Ethan Allen is captured

Ethan Allen is captured

On this day in history, September 25, 1775, Ethan Allen is captured at the Battle of Longue-Pointe. After capturing Fort Ticonderoga in May of 1775, Allen led a few hundred of the Green Mountain Boys north to capture Fort St. Jean, which guarded the approach to Montreal. After arriving, the Boys learned that a large contingent of British soldiers was heading toward Fort St. Jean from Montreal and they were forced to call off their mission. The mission cemented Ethan Allen as a hero in the minds of Quebec patriots and as a notorious traitor in the minds of Loyalists.


In August, American General Philip Schuyler led an invasion of Quebec in which Allen participated. As he prepared to besiege Fort St. Jean, Schuyler sent Allen and Major John Brown north to recruit patriots into the militia and to distribute a proclamation encouraging the inhabitants to join in the rebellion against Britain. The mission succeeded in gaining several hundred soldiers.


Due to illness, the invasion was turned over to General Richard Montgomery by General Schuyler. As Montgomery besieged Fort St. John, he sent Allen to block any attempt to send reinforcements from Montreal. Allen was to camp across the St. Lawrence River from Montreal to block the reinforcements, while Major Brown guarded the road from Montreal to Fort St. Jean.


According to Allen, he and Brown met and made a plan to conquer Montreal, though this is disputed by some historians who believe Allen made up the story of Brown’s involvement when the plan failed. According to Allen, Brown’s men were to cross the St. Lawrence above Montreal and his own men were to cross below and then attack the town simultaneously.


On the evening of the 24th, Allen crossed and landed at Lonque-Pointe, but for some unknown reason, Major Brown failed to cross above the city leaving Allen to face the British alone. Most of the residents were friendly to Allen, but one escaped to Montreal and told British Governor and General Guy Carleton of Allen’s presence. Carleton had only a few soldiers available because the rest had gone to Fort St. Jean, but he quickly raised 200 militia to fight against the notorious Allen.


Allen realized he did not have enough time to ferry all his men back to safety so he made a stand instead. Many of the Canadian militia with Allen quickly fled when they realized a fight was about to occur, leaving Allen with only 50 men. The two sides fought in the early morning hours of September 25, but the Americans were finally overcome. About 30 were captured, including Allen.


Allen spent the next 2 ½ years imprisoned, mostly on prison ships because the British were afraid to execute him and make a martyr of him because of his reputation. He was finally exchanged for British Colonel Archibald Campbell, who would later lead the invasion of Georgia. After his release, Allen was taken to Valley Forge where he met with George Washington and was received with great honors.


Allen returned to Vermont where he continued serving in the war effort and in politics. He also became a successful author, publishing A Narrative of Colonel Ethan Allen’s Captivity, which became extremely popular, and Reason: the Only Oracle of Man, which condemned the Bible and exalted human reason, a work which tarnished his hero status in the eyes of many.


Jack Manning

Historian General
National Society Sons of the American Revolution


“[I]f the citizens neglect their duty and place unprincipled men in office,
the government will soon be corrupted…”
Noah Webster (1823)


Chief Justice John Marshall is born

Chief Justice John Marshall is born

On this day in history, September 24, 1755, Chief Justice John Marshall is born, the longest serving Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court in history. Appointed by President John Adams, Marshall was one of the last surviving members of the founding generation when he died in 1835. He was particularly known for making the Supreme Court a co-equal branch of government with the Presidency and with Congress and establishing the principle that the Court has the final say on what is “Constitutional.”


John Marshall was born in rural western Virginia to a father who worked as a surveyor for Lord Fairfax. Marshall’s father saw that his children were well-educated, often using books from Lord Fairfax’s library to teach them. As a young man, Marshall joined the Culpeper Minutemen of Culpeper County, Virginia and fought in the American Revolution. He later served in the 11th Virginia Regiment of the Continental Army.


After his service in the army, Marshall studied law with George Wythe and became a lawyer in 1780. In 1782, he was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, where he served for 9 of the next 14 years, during which time his reputation as a lawyer continued to grow. In 1788, he helped lead the Federalists in securing the vote to accept the US Constitution at the Virginia Ratification Convention. In the late 1780s, he spoke in several prominent cases before both the Virginia and US Supreme Courts.


Marshall turned down appointments from George Washington to be the US Attorney General and the Ambassador to France. President John Adams, however, was successful in appointing Marshall as one of the commissioners to France. That mission ended in the scandal known as the XYZ Affair, during which the commissioners were asked to pay bribes to deal with French officials, but refused. The affair made Marshall quite popular at home.


In 1799, Marshall was elected a member of the House of Representatives from Richmond, Virginia. The next year, President Adams successfully appointed Marshall his Secretary of State. When Adams lost the 1800 election, he chose Marshall in a last minute flurry of appointments to be the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. John Adams later said that was the best decision of his entire life.


Marshall served as Chief Justice for 34 years, the longest service of any chief justice. Marshall used his position of influence to cement Federalist policies into law, which supported a powerful central government. He was often at odds with President Thomas Jefferson and his Democrat-Republican party, which favored states’ rights and small government.


Marshall’s policies helped establish the Supreme Court as an equal branch of the federal government, giving it authority to review the actions and laws of the President and Congress and deem them “unconstitutional.” The Marshall Court helped establish that the government must obey the Constitution and that federal law supersedes state law. His Court gave Congress large leeway in deciding what was “necessary and proper” to do its duties; helped define Congress’ role in regulating interstate commerce; established the idea that corporations have the same rights as individuals; and ruled that the Bill of Rights was only intended as a restriction against the federal government.


Marshall served on the Supreme Court right up to his death on July 6, 1835. His other accomplishments include writing and publishing a 5 volume
biography of George Washington; serving as the first president of the American Colonization Society, which settled freed American slaves in Liberia; and serving at the 1829 Virginia Constitutional Convention. When he died in 1835, he was one of the last surviving leaders of the founding generation.


Jack Manning

Historian General
National Society Sons of the American Revolution


“If men through fear, fraud or mistake, should in terms renounce and give up
any essential natural right, the eternal law of reason and the great end of
society, would absolutely vacate such renunciation; the right to freedom
being the gift of God Almighty, it is not in the power of Man to alienate
this gift, and voluntarily become a slave.”

John Adams, Rights of the Colonists, 1772