Alexander Hamilton’s “First” Duel

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Lt. Col. Alexander Hamilton at Yorktown, VA by Alonzo Chapel

Alexander Hamilton has reappeared as a modern pop star with the wide success of the Broadway musical “Hamilton.” Due to this success, most people today know that Alexander Hamilton met his end in a duel with Aaron Burr on the banks of the Hudson River. But this was not Hamilton’s first involvement in a duel, nearly 26 years earlier Hamilton found himself embroiled in a feud with one of highest ranking Continental officers, Maj. Gen. Charles Lee.

It all started on June 28, 1778 at the Battle of Monmouth. The beginning of the battle had gone against the Americans and Lee, who was in command of the vanguard was ordering a retreat in front of the British. Washington, seeing the retreat rode ahead and encountered Lee. What was said between the men has been debated since that day, but what is not indisputable is that Lee took offense. Continue reading

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Review: American Dialogue by Joseph Ellis

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American Dialogue-cover“The study of history is an ongoing conversation between past and present from which we all have much to learn,” write Joseph Ellis in his new book, American Dialogue: The Founders and Us. The book serves as Ellis’s attempt to sit with several of the Founders and carry on that conversation, with “us,” the readers, as spectators. As John Adams so often did with his own books, we can engage in the conversation by writing notes in the margins and underlining passages, and we can even read the original works of the Founders ourselves. Knowing they were writing as much to history as to each other, they left behind a rich documentary legacy.

Ellis’s book plumbs these writings to explore four salient points that trouble the American present. “By definition, all efforts to harvest the accumulated wisdom of the past must begin from a location in the present…” he admits. The present he writes from and that we read from, he says, is “inescapably shaped by our location in a divided America that is currently incapable of sustained argument and unsure of its destiny.” Continue reading

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Phillis Wheatley: American Poet

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Title Page from Phillis Wheatley’s Book of Poetry

The American Revolution was loaded with contradictions, perhaps none more glaring than the notion of fighting for individual liberty while slavery was so deeply embedded in the rebelling colonies.  To truly understand the American Revolution, it’s necessary to wrestle with that reality.  The stories of some individuals help shed light on the experience of enslaved Americans during the war.

Phillis Wheatley was born in West Africa, likely in 1753, and then imported into the British colonies in 1761.  John Wheatley of Boston purchased her to assist his wife Susanna and daughter Mary as a house servant.  Like many slaves, she was given the last name of her owners; her first may have come from the name of the ship that brought her across the Atlantic.  Susanna and Mary noticed something in young Phillis and taught her to read and write, introducing her to the Bible and religion.  She published her first poem in 1767 and the 1770 poem “An Elegiac Poem, on the Death of the Celebrated Divine George Whitefield,” gave her some degree of fame.

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Book Review: Young Washington by Peter Stark

erw-book-reviews-11Peter Stark, Young Washington: How Wilderness and War Forged America’s Founding Father, Kindle ed., (New York: HarperCollins, 2018).

While traveling in southwestern Pennsylvania, outdoor writer Peter Stark discovered the region’s deep history and the central role it played in transforming George Washington from a callow young man on the make to the kind of leader who could forge a nation. Stark was not accustomed to thinking about Washington on those terms.  He decided to study the younger man in greater detail, retracing Washington’s steps as a surveyor and explorer, messenger for Virginia’s colonial governor, defeated commander at Fort Necessity, aide to General Braddock, commander in the Virginia militia, honorary brigadier during the Forbes Campaign, frustrated suitor of his neighbor and best friend’s wife, and prickly colonial frustrated with ill treatment at the hands of the British empire.  While Stark includes chapters that cover Washington’s early life and the circumstances that brought him to the frontier, Young Washington revolves around the period of Washington’s service just before and during the French and Indian War. Continue reading

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Revolution on the Ohio Frontier: Fort Laurens

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The Museum at Fort Laurens, Ohio

For much of the American Revolution, the British waged war on their rebelling colonists in the Ohio River Valley via proxy, relying on western Indian nations (Shawnee, Wyandot, Mingo, Chippewa, Ottawa, and others) to attack isolated American settlements and villages across the Ohio River.  The Continental Congress, already unable to meet the needs of its own army along the coasts, could offer little in the way of assistance. So, frontier defense largely fell upon the local militia.  They adopted a two-pronged strategy: 1) build forts and blockhouses along the frontier, giving settlers a place of safe haven when Indian raiding parties were about, and 2) preemptive raids against Native American villages in an attempt to disrupt their preparations for raids against the settlers.

In 1777, however, Congress realized that more aggressive measures were required: the war would have to be carried against the heart of British power at Detroit, from where the British coordinated, supplied, and rewarded Native American raids. With that in mind, Congress and Continental authorities at Pittsburgh began planning an offensive to capture the British post between Lakes Huron and Erie.  First, they would need to secure the continued neutrality of the Delaware Indian nation in the Muskingum River Valley, which today is in Eastern Ohio. Second, they would need to build a substantial network of forts capable of sustaining an overland offensive. Building a new fort in Delaware territory would serve both goals.

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“You shall be carried to the gaol of Fredericktown” (Part 2)

The first post in this series looked at the various prisons established in Frederick, Maryland to hold British, German, and Loyalist prisoners. We’ll wrap this up by examining a notorious trial that took place in 1781.

Perhaps the most well-known case involving Loyalist prisoners in Frederick occurred in the summer of 1781. By this point in the war, enthusiasm for the American cause was on the wane in many communities. Conscription and heavy taxation to support the war effort were unpopular, especially as there was little battlefield success to boost morale. British forces were campaigning deep in Virginia and the Carolinas, giving hope to local Loyalists. Some Loyalists chose to declare their allegiance publicly, leading to a number of short-lived “uprisings” against American rule.[i] The Council of Maryland got wind of one such conspiracy in June, 1781, when orders were given to the lieutenants of the Frederick and Washington County militias to arrest a number of “disaffected and Dangerous Persons whose going at Large may be detrimental to the State.”[ii] Among those singled out for arrest were “Henry Newcomer and Bleachy of Washington County and Fritchy, Kelly, and Tinckles of Frederick County.” All these men had been connected to a supposed plot to raise a group of armed Loyalists in western Maryland, free the prisoners of war in Frederick, and march to support Lord Cornwallis in Virginia.

The details of the plot were uncovered by Christian Orendorff, an enterprising militia captain from the vicinity of Sharpsburg, in Washington County. His neighbor, Henry Newcomber, had confided to him one night that “we have raised a body of men for the Service of the King” to be commanded by a “Dutch Man” from Frederick named Fritchey. Orendorff feigned sympathy with Newcomber’s cause and soon met with Caspar Fritchey, who revealed more of the plot to him – including names of some of his co-conspirators. Captain Orendorff sent word to the authorities, who acted quickly to break up the insurrection and round up the ringleaders. Although Orendorff claimed that the Loyalists had recruited 6,000 men, only seven were brought to trial.

Photo431930.jpgFrederick’s 1752 Courthouse as depicted on the 1858 Isaac Bond Map. The Courthouse burned in 1861 and was replaced the following year. The former courthouse now serves as city hall. (Library of Congress)

The seven men condemned to stand trial – Peter Sueman, Nicholas Andrews, John Graves, Yost Plecker, Adam Graves, Henry Shell, and Caspar Fritchie[iii] – were singled out as the leaders of the plot. All were brought to Frederick under a heavy guard while a special court convened. Thomas Sprigg, serving as Lieutenant of Washington County, wrote to the Council that “[they Acknowledge themselves to be Captains that they have Misted and Admin’d the Oath of Allegeance to many persons, one of them to the Amot of 42 they Confess very freely they say they expect and deserve to be hang’d, and I pray God they may not be disappoint’d…”[iv]

On June 17th, 1781 a special court of oyer and terminer was called. Derived from old English law, these special courts were overseen by a panel of commissioners, and typically presided over serious crimes like treason. Among the judges were the local militia commander Col. James Johnson, Alexander Hanson (son of President of the Continental Congress, John Hanson), and Upton Sheredine. All were men with staunch patriot sympathies. It wasn’t a surprise, then, that the trial was a short one. Relying primarily on Orendorff’s testimony, the court found all seven men guilty of treason against the state of Maryland. For the crime of enlisting men for the service of the King, Judge Hanson handed down a grisly punishment:

“You, Peter Sueman, Nicholas Andrews, Yost Plecker, Adam

Graves, Henry Shell, John George Graves, and Casper Fritchie,

and each of you, attend to your sentence. You shall be carried

to the gaol of Fredericktown, and be hanged therein; you shall

be cut down to the earth alive, and your entrails shall be taken

out and burnt while you are yet alive, your heads shall be cut off,

your body shall be divided into four parts, and your heads and

quarters shall be placed where his excellency the Governor

shall appoint. So Lord have mercy upon your poor souls.”[v]

Four of the accused – Andrews, Shell, and the Graves brothers – were subsequently pardoned due to their “want of education and experience.” It appears that the court saw them as young men duped by the real leaders of the plot. The other three men were not so lucky.

new courthouse.jpgThe former courthouse square in Frederick, near where the county jail once stood. It’s likely that the executions took place very near this location in August 1781. The large brick structure is the 1862 courthouse (now Frederick’s City Hall).

While the plot and trial are well documented, the aftermath is not. Later historians cannot agree on whether the entire sentence of hanging, drawing, and quartering was ever carried out, or if the three men were simply hung. On August 28, 1781 the Baltimore Advertiser simply reported that “On Friday the 17th instant, Caspar Fritichie, Peter Sueman, and Yost Plecker, suffered Death in Frederick Town for High Treason.” Many family stories that have been passed down in the area, however, firmly state that the full punishment was meted out on the unlucky Loyalists. Today the only physical reminder of this “First American Civil War” in Frederick is a simple bronze plaque and a small sign near the courthouse where the executions likely took place. The episode, however, still sheds light on the darker side of Maryland’s Revolutionary story.

[i] A perfect example was “Claypool’s Rebellion” on the Virginia frontier. In June 1781 John Claypool of Hampshire County, Virginia led a large body of men in resisting efforts to tax or raise troops for the State of Virginia. After dozens of men took up arms alongside Claypool a body of militia was sent to put down the “rebellion.” For more information visit https://secondvirginia.wordpress.com/2015/06/17/claypools-rebellion/

[ii] Journal and Correspondence of the Council of Maryland, 1780-1781. p 467

[iii] John Caspar Fritchie was the father-in-law of legendary Civil War heroine Barbara Fritchie

[iv] Journal and Correspondence of the Council of Maryland, 1781. p 298

[v] Scharf. P 143

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Emerging Revolutionary War Series 2019 Releases

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In 2018, the inaugural two volumes, of the Emerging Revolutionary War Series published by Savas Beatie, LLC. Those first two volumes were; A Single Blow, The Battles of Lexington and Concord and The Beginning of the American Revolution and Victory or Death, The Battles of Trenton and Princeton.

In 2019, the series is set to release the next two volumes. The Winter that Won the War, The Winter Encampment at Valley Forge, 1777-1778 and A Handsome Flogging, The Battle of Monmouth, June 28, 1778. This past week, the covers of both were released by Savas Beatie so get a sneak peak below.

Both titles are scheduled for a release later this year. Stay tuned for updates!

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