Monthly Archives: April 2018

John Paul Jones Attacks Whitehaven, England

John Paul Jones attacks Whitehaven, England


On this day in history, April 23, 1778, John Paul Jones attacks Whitehaven, England, the only attack of the American Revolution on the British homeland and the first successful invasion of England in more than 700 years.


John Paul Jones sailed from Brest, France on the USS Ranger on April 10, 1778, on a mission to harass British shipping. He first sailed to the Irish Sea and captured or sunk a few ships. Then he decided to make a bold attack on the city of Whitehaven, a major port he used to sail from as a boy (he was born in nearby Scotland).


On the evening of the 22nd, Jones sailed to Whitehaven with the intention of burning a gigantic fleet of over 400 merchant ships grounded in the harbor due to the low tide. The ships were stuck in low water and anchored very close together. A fire could easily be spread by the wind through the rigging of the ships and burn the entire fleet.


Jones put 30 men into two small boats and rowed toward the shore. Two forts guarded the entrance to the harbor. Jones' boat headed toward the southern fort, while the other ship headed to the northern fort. Each ship was supposed to capture its fort, then set the nearby ships ablaze.


Heavy winds caused the short journey to shore to last for hours. The sun was already coming up on the 23rd when Jones reached his fort. He quickly captured the small security force and began to spike the cannons to prevent them from being used against them on their retreat. He sent the others to burn the ships, but their only light had gone out and they were forced to get a light from a nearby house. The small force boarded the nearest ship, called the Thompson, captured its crew and set the ship on fire. The under parts of the ship were soon in flames and Jones' sailors threw "matches" made of canvas and sulphur onto other nearby ships.


Unfortunately, one of Jones' crew snuck off and warned the townspeople, who soon came running to put out the fire. Jones and his men escaped with several prisoners, but the townspeople were able to put out the fire on the Thompson before it spread to other ships. None of the "matches" thrown on the other ships successfully caught fire either.


When the other boat from the Ranger landed at the northern fort, the sailors went into a nearby pub and helped themselves to the liquor. By the time they came out, the sun was already shining and their light had also gone out. Rather than getting another light and trying to set the ships ablaze, they abandoned their mission and rowed back to the Ranger.


After both boats arrived back at the Ranger, Jones sailed to the opposite side of the small bay and landed at Kirkcudbright, Scotland where he hoped to kidnap the Earl of Selkirk. The Earl was gone, however, so he took the Earl's silver dishes right off the breakfast table of the Earl's wife, just to prove he was there.


The entire Whitehaven raid caused little damage to the British mainland in the end. It did, however, have a major impact on the British consciousness. Britons realized their island was not safe from attack and that their navy was not invincible. Great strides were made across England to strengthen harbor defenses and increase the size of local militia groups to deal with future attacks. John Paul Jones was celebrated in America after the attack, but excoriated as a villainous pirate in England. He would go on to perform other exploits in the war, including the taking of the HMS Serapis at the Battle of Flamborough Head, and be celebrated as one of America's greatest naval heroes.


Jack Manning

Treasurer General
National Society Sons of the American Revolution


"Every new regulation concerning commerce or revenue; or in any manner affecting the value of the different species of property, presents a new harvest to those who watch the change and can trace its consequences; a harvest reared not by themselves but by the toils and cares of the great body of their fellow citizens." 

James Madison (1788)

Nathan Hale decides to join the American Revolution

Nathan Hale decides to join the American Revolution


On this day in history, April 22, 1775, Nathan Hale decides to join the American Revolution. Hale was from a New England family that dated back to the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He grew up in a large farming household in Coventry, Connecticut.


At the age of 14, he went to Yale College in New Haven, where he studied to be a school teacher. He took his first teaching job upon graduating in 1774 in East Haddam, but the following year took a job in New London at the age of 19. Hale was well-liked and known for his conscientiousness and, being college-educated, was held in high regard by the community. Nathan was the first schoolmaster in Connecticut to make regular classes for female students.


Nathan received word that the Revolution had broken out in Massachusetts at the school on April 22, 1775. That evening, the local townspeople had a meeting where Nathan asked to be let out of his contract because he considered it his duty to fight for his country. Hale received a lieutenant's commission in Connecticut's 7th Regiment, which left for Boston in September. There they joined the brigade of General John Sullivan and Hale was soon promoted to Captain of the regiment.


Hale saw no military action in Boston and, when the British abandoned the city, he went with the Continental Army to Long Island to defend New York City. Hale's regiment did not see action here either when the British attacked and took the island, much to Hale's disappointment. After George Washington moved his army back to Manhattan, the General devised a plan to place a spy within the British ranks on Long Island to find out when and where they would move against Manhattan.


Nathan Hale volunteered for the mission, apparently because he felt that he hadn't done anything useful yet in the war. Hale was dropped off at Huntington, Long Island on September 12, 1776. Unbeknownst to him, the British would invade Manhattan and drive Washington out of New York on the 15th, making his mission unnecessary, but since Nathan didn't know it, he continued with his mission.


Nathan posed as a school teacher looking for work and gathered information on British troop movements and strength and eventually made his way back to Huntington where he was to be picked up. Accounts vary on how exactly Nathan was discovered by the British. Some accounts have a Tory relative, a local who recognized him or a British soldier who recognized him, giving him up. At some point, British Lieutenant Colonel Robert Rogers, knowing Hale was a spy, approached him at a tavern and pretended to be a patriot sympathetic to Hale's views. Hale told him his mission and Rogers captured him.


Hale was immediately sent to New York City and interrogated by General William Howe who, without trial or jury, sentenced him to death. On September 22nd, Hale was marched to a tree in an apple orchard in New York and given the opportunity to say some last words. History tells us Nathan's last words were, "I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country." For his bravery and love for his country, he earned a well-deserved spot in America's pantheon of heroes from the Revolutionary War.


Jack Manning

Treasurer General
National Society Sons of the American Revolution


"When right, I shall often be thought wrong by those whose positions will not command a view of the whole ground." —Thomas Jefferson (1805)

George Washington welcomed by the citizens of Trenton

George Washington welcomed by the citizens of Trenton


On this day in history, April 21, 1789, George Washington is welcomed by the citizens of Trenton, New Jersey at the Assunpink Creek Bridge as he travels to New York to be inaugurated president. The bridge was the site of Washington’s victory over the British known as the Second Battle of Trenton or the Battle of Assunpink Creek during the American Revolution.


After a devastating defeat and the loss of Long Island and Manhattan to the British in the fall of 1776, George Washington had led the Continental Army in retreat across New Jersey and into Pennsylvania. The Army entrenched on the western side of the Delaware River, but the British were unable to cross because Washington had commandeered all the boats on the eastern side of the river. British Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis was forced to set up a series of posts across New Jersey, while he waited for an opportunity to attack Washington.


Washington took the advantage and crossed the river in the middle of the night on December 25th and won a surprise victory against the British allied Hessians at Trenton. Washington retreated back across the river, anticipating a counterattack from Cornwallis. Hoping to continue the momentum from the victory at Trenton, Washington decided to cross the Delaware again and meet Cornwallis head on.


They met at the Assunpink Creek Bridge just south of Trenton on January 2, 1777. The Continental Army repelled Cornwallis’ attack 3 times at the bridge, forcing Cornwallis to withdraw and wait to attack again in the morning. Instead, Washington quietly withdrew his troops in the night and went to Princeton where he won another surprise victory. This series of surprise victories brought much needed encouragement to the Americans, whose hopes were waning after the losses in New York.


On April 14, 1789, Washington learned he was elected the first President of the United States. He left Mount Vernon two days later on his way to New York City for his inauguration. On the way, he traveled through such towns as Alexandria, Georgetown, Baltimore, Wilmington and Philadelphia. He was received with great celebrations in every city along the way.


On April 21, Washington arrived to a celebratory crowd at the Assunpink Creek Bridge where the citizens had erected a triumphal arch. Washington passed under the arch and into Trenton where church bells were ringing and girls dressed in white sang a song to "The Defender of the Mothers, The Protector of the Daughters." Washington then dined at the French Arms Tavern before continuing his journey.


On April 23rd, Washington arrived at Elizabethtown, New Jersey, where he got on a barge headed for New York. Several dignitaries rode with him and a flotilla of small ships accompanied the barge to New York. The Spanish warship Galveston sat in New York’s harbor and fired a 13 gun salute when Washington passed. The Battery Fort on Manhattan’s southern tip fired a 13 gun salute in response and another when Washington landed. Thousands of people had come to welcome him into the city. New York Governor George Clinton met him at the pier and escorted him to the home prepared for him. Washington would be inaugurated one week later on April 30.


Jack Manning

Treasurer General
National Society Sons of the American Revolution


"There is but one straight course, and that is to seek truth and pursue it steadily." George Washington (1795)

Tensions in Virginia Lead to the Gunpowder Incident

Tensions in Virginia lead to the Gunpowder Incident


On this day in history, April 20, 1775, tensions in Virginia lead to the Gunpowder Incident in Williamsburg, Virginia, when Governor John Murray confiscates the colonists' gunpowder. Tensions with England had been increasing for several years, but when Boston was occupied, her port shut down and the Massachusetts Assembly disbanded in 1774, the colonists rose up in one accord to resist Parliament.


In September, 1774, the First Continental Congress brought representatives from twelve colonies together to form a joint response, one of which was to recommend that all the colonies organize their militias and store up arms and ammunition in case of war. As the Congress met, Royal Governor of Massachusetts, General Thomas Gage, confiscated the colonials' supply of gunpowder in Charlestown, in an incident called the Powder Alarm, which brought militia from all over New England to march toward Boston. When it was learned there had been no bloodshed, however, the incident died down.


Virginians organized their military companies and stored up ammunition as well, much of it in the public powder magazine in the capital, Williamsburg. Meanwhile, Lord Dartmouth, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, suggested that the governors of all the colonies should take action to prevent these growing supplies from being used against royal officers.


The incident that pushed Governor Murray to action may have been Patrick Henry's "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death" speech, delivered on March 23, 1775. All the soldiers in Virginia had been sent to Massachusetts after the Powder Alarm, but there were still several Royal Navy ships in the area. Governor Murray secretly brought 20 marines on shore on April 19 and ordered them to confiscate the gunpowder in Williamsburg the following night.


On the evening of April 20th, the marines began removing the gunpowder, but local citizens noticed and sounded the alarm. Peyton Randolph, the Speaker of the House of Burgesses and first President of the Continental Congress, had to persuade the gathering crowd not to burn the governor's mansion down. The local council demanded the return of the powder, explaining it was their property and not the property of the royal government. Murray said he took it because he didn't think it was safe where it was located because of rumors of a slave uprising. The crowd then began to disperse.


Word had spread into the rest of the colony, however, and militia groups gathered in numerous locations. Murray threatened to burn Williamsburg to the ground and release all the slaves in Virginia. On the 29th, a large force of 700 men at Fredericksburg was persuaded by Randolph not to march on Williamsburg. On May 2, about 150 men in Hanover County under Patrick Henry did march toward Williamsburg. Violence, however, was averted when Carter Braxton persuaded the government to pay £330 for the confiscated gunpowder.


The Gunpowder Incident happened the day after the Battles of Lexington and Concord began the American Revolution, but before word of these battles arrived in Virginia. This incident shows that the Revolution could have just as easily broke out in Virginia, or numerous other places in the colonies. The entire incident caused Governor Murray to fear for his safety and move onto a navy ship in the York River, effectively ending royal rule in Virginia. Efforts were made over the next year to reestablish royal governance in the colony, but Murray fled permanently in August the following year.


Jack Manning

Treasurer General
National Society Sons of the American Revolution


"Among the natural rights of the colonists are these: First a right to life, secondly to liberty, and thirdly to property; together with the right to defend them in the best manner they can." 

Samuel Adams

The American Revolution Begins

The American Revolution begins


On this day in history, April 19, 1775, the American Revolution begins when the first shots are fired at the Battles of Lexington and Concord. British troops had been occupying Boston for several years by this time, but their presence was increased after the Boston Tea Party in early 1773. This only angered the colonists, who began stockpiling weapons and ammunition for the anticipated fight to come.


In Boston, British General Thomas Gage received orders from London in April, 1775 to capture the rebels' arms and the leaders of the rebellion – specifically John Hancock and Samuel Adams. The patriots had already learned the British would be embarking on a major action soon. Patriot leaders fled Boston for safety. The city of Concord was warned that its weapons stash might be the target of the coming raid.


On the evening of April 18th, Dr. Joseph Warren received word from his inside spy, thought to be General Gage's wife, that the soldiers would march out that night. Their target was indeed the ammunition and weapons in Concord. Paul Revere and William Dawes were sent out late that night to warn Lexington and Concord of the impending attack.


Around 9pm that night, the soldiers were awakened and told to assemble. 700 made their way across the Charles River. As they marched to Lexington, they became aware of warning signals in the distance and realized their “surprise” had been discovered. Around 4 am on the 19th, Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith sent word back to Boston that the militia was gathering and he needed reinforcements.


As the message from Paul Revere spread around the countryside, local militia groups gathered and marched toward Concord. The Lexington militia gathered early in the morning under Captain John Parker. Lexington was on the road to Concord and the army would have to pass through the town or march around it. When the British arrived around 5 am, about 80 men were arranged for battle, but Parker told them not to fire unless fired upon. The British marched right in to Lexington and formed a battle line. Both sides were under orders not to fire. To this day, no one knows who fired the first shot at the Battle of Lexington, but shooting soon rang out and eight Americans lie dead, while only one British soldier was injured.


The army marched on to Concord and split up to search the town. Unbeknownst to them, most of the ammunition had already been carried away. North of town, at the Olde North Bridge, a standoff developed between 95 British soldiers guarding the bridge and several hundred gathering militia. This time, a panicking British soldier fired the first shot. The overwhelmed soldiers began to run for their lives when the Americans began firing back. Several were killed or wounded on both sides at the Battle of Concord.


The fleeing soldiers joined their comrades in Concord, and began marching back to Lexington, followed by an ever growing number of Minutemen who continued firing on them. Just when these fleeing soldiers got to Lexington, they met the reinforcements of another 1,000 men under the command of Brigadier General Hugh Percy. Percy ordered the group back to Boston, but the march turned out to be a tortuous one.


By this time, a few thousand colonists had gathered and placed themselves at strategic points along the road back to Boston. The soldiers found themselves under constant fire for the next eight hours. Numerous soldiers were picked off during the march. Many thought their death was inevitable. By the time the British reached Menotomy (now Arlington) the officers had lost all control and soldiers began fleeing and committing acts of atrocity as the fighting spread from house to house. Several colonists were killed in their own homes or in taverns along the road. The fighting spread into Cambridge as the colonists continued the pursuit. Eventually the soldiers reached safety in Charlestown.


By morning, more than 15,000 colonists surrounded Boston. 73 British soldiers had been killed and 174 wounded the day before. 49 colonists were killed and 39 were wounded. The Continental Congress would soon appoint George Washington the Commander-in-Chief and the militia surrounding Boston would be transformed into the new Continental Army. The American Revolution had begun and would last another seven years.


Jack Manning

Treasurer General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution


"Stand your ground. Don't fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here."

Captain John Parker

Paul Revere makes his famous midnight ride

Paul Revere makes his famous midnight ride


On this day in history, April 18, 1775, Paul Revere makes his famous midnight ride to warn the countryside that the British Regulars were coming. Revere was one of the most well-connected and trusted patriots of the inner circle of patriot leaders in Boston.


Patriots in Boston were constantly watching British movements and listening to their conversations surreptitiously. In the days leading up to the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the patriots became aware that a major movement was being planned. They did not know the exact date of the movement, or the target, but common sense told them that the patriot leaders, John Hancock and Samuel Adams, might be the target, as well as a large cache of weapons and ammunition being stored in Concord.


Two days before the 18th, Paul Revere was sent into the countryside to share the latest intelligence with rural patriot leaders. One stop he made was in Lexington, where Hancock and Adams were staying with the Reverend Jonas Clark, having fled Boston for their own safety. Revere warned them that a major action was planned for the near future and that they may be the target. After this, he went on to Concord and warned the citizens that the arms cache might be the target. The citizens quickly went about moving the supplies to other locations.


On the evening of April 18, Paul Revere received a message from Dr. Joseph Warren that his inside spy had informed him the action would take place the following day and the target was the arms at Concord. Revere immediately instructed Robert Newman to place a prearranged signal in the steeple of the Old North Church to inform the inhabitants of Charlestown that the British would be making their trek by sea and not by land – hence the phrase, "One if by land, two if by sea." Revere then crossed the Charles River in a boat, arrived in Charlestown and set off for Lexington on a borrowed horse.


On the way, Revere was discovered by a British patrol, but he escaped to the north and made a round-about ride to Lexington. He arrived in Lexington around 12:30 that night and informed Hancock, Adams and the local militia the British were coming. Revere was joined by William Dawes, another rider sent by Warren and Dr. Samuel Prescott as they rode on to Concord. Along the way, however, they ran into another British patrol that scattered the group. Prescott got away and rode on to Concord. Dawes got away, but fell off his horse and walked back to Lexington.


Revere was captured, a fact unknown to most Americans. He was ordered to divulge any information he had at gunpoint. He calmly told them that 500 Americans would be there with guns shortly. Just then, shots were heard from Lexington (it was actually the militia congregating). The shots spooked the soldiers and they rode off, leaving Revere behind with no horse. Revere then went back to Lexington, and helped get some belongings of Hancock out of the town and joined the Revolution.


On the morning of the 19th, the American Revolution would break out when the British soldiers marched into Lexington. Through the rest of the war, Revere would frequently be called on to deliver messages as far as New York and Philadelphia. He would also serve as a lieutenant colonel of artillery in the Massachusetts Militia and as Commander of Fort Independence in Boston Harbor.


Jack Manning

Treasurer General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

"We should be unfaithful to ourselves if we should ever lose sight of the danger to our liberties if anything partial or extraneous should infect the purity of our free, fair, virtuous, and independent elections."
John Adams (1797)

Benjamin Franklin dies

Benjamin Franklin dies


On this day in history, April 17, 1790, Benjamin Franklin dies in Philadelphia. Franklin is one of the most well-known and beloved Founding Fathers of the United States. Ben Franklin was born in Boston to a tallow chandler, meaning his father made candles and soap from "tallow" or animal fat. Ben had 16 brothers and sisters.


Ben had less than two years of formal schooling as a boy and was apprenticed to his older brother James who owned a printing shop. This is where Ben learned the skills printing and writing that would later make him rich. Franklin ran away to Philadelphia at 17 and eventually began his own printing business. He purchased the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1729 and began printing his Poor Richard’s Almanack in 1732, which made him a fortune and gave him the ability to retire at the age of 42.


After his retirement Franklin became involved in studying electricity. His experiments and findings helped shaped our modern understanding of electrical currents. He even coined such terms as positive and negative charge, battery, charging and discharging and conductor. His writings about electricity were put into a book by a friend in England and Franklin quickly became a household name.


Franklin’s first political offices were as Clerk of the Pennsylvania Assembly and as Deputy Postmaster of Philadelphia. He later served on the Common Council of Philadelphia, as a Justice of the Peace and as an Alderman. In 1753, he became the Deputy Postmaster General for all of North America. Franklin served in the Pennsylvania House for several terms and served as the agent of several colonies in London.


Once the Revolutionary War broke out, Franklin was elected to the Continental Congress where he served on the committee to write the Declaration of Independence. In what was probably his most important role, Franklin served as America’s Ambassador to France from 1778-1785. It was during this time that Franklin persuaded King Louis XVI to join the Revolution on the American side, involvement that proved crucial to the American victory.


After the Revolution, Franklin served three terms as governor of Pennsylvania. In one of his last acts of public service, Franklin served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. He encouraged the other members to sign the US Constitution, even though it wasn’t perfect. During the Convention, he famously spoke these words:


"In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for Divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of superintending providence in our favor… Have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need his assistance? I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth – that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the Ground without his Notice, is it probable that an Empire can rise without his Aid?… I therefore beg leave to move that, henceforth, prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven and its blessing on our deliberation be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed to business."


Jack Manning

Treasurer General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution


"If by the liberty of the press were understood merely the liberty of discussing the propriety of public measures and political opinions, let us have as much of it as you please: But if it means the liberty of affronting, calumniating and defaming one another, I, for my part, own myself willing to part with my share of it, whenever our legislators shall please so to alter the law and shall chearfully consent to exchange my liberty of abusing others for the privilege of not being abused myself."
Benjamin Franklin (1789)