This past Sunday’s Rev War Revelry was a great success! Thank you to all who watched live and watched the replay of ERW historians Vanessa Smiley and Kate Gruber and special guest Heidi Campbell-Shoaf, Executive Director of the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum in Washington D.C., discussing and interpreting women in Early American History.
A number of folks were interested in the resources that were shared during the program. We have compiled a list of those mentioned as well as additional resources to dive deeper into the stories of women during this pivotal time in American history.
Revolutionary Backlash: Women and Politics in the Early Republic by Rosemarie Zagarri
The Diary of Elizabeth Drinker: The Life of an Eighteenth-Century Woman by Elaine Forman Crane (editor)
Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin by Jill Lepore
Betsy Ross and the Making of America by Marla Miller
The Needle’s Eye: Women and Work in the Age of Revolution by Marla Miller
Women of the Revolution by Robert Dunkerly
Women of the Republic by Linda Kerber
Jane Bartram’s “Application”: Her Struggle for Survival, Stability, and Self-Determination in Revolutionary Pennsylvania by Wayne Bodie (article link courtesy of Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography)
DAR Library – A wealth of American Revolution resources! “The DAR Library collection contains over 225,000 books, 10,000 research files, thousands of manuscript items, and special collections of African American, Native American, and women’s history, genealogy and culture.”
Did the Battle of Moores Creek Bridge help keep the British away from the southern colonies during the first half of the war?
Months before its colonies officially adopted their Declaration of Independence, the British army was reaching a critical juncture in its war strategy: with the colonies in rebellion, where should they focus their attentions? The war was picking up steam and the British were looking for a stronghold in the colonies that would gain them resources such as men and supplies. They turned their eyes south.
The general impression of the southern colonies was that they were poorer and weaker than their sister colonies in the north. They also had been receiving word of heavy Loyalist sympathies in both the backcountry of South Carolina and the coastal areas of North Carolina, where large populations of German and Scottish immigrants had settled. Indeed, by the fall of 1775, Loyalist recruitment seemed to be quite successful. One evidence of this was at the First Battle of Ninety Six in November 1775, when nearly 2,000 Loyalists met a paltry force of not quite 600 patriots. Though this first Revolutionary War battle south of New England ended in a truce, British confidence was high.
The Royal Governor of South Carolina, Lord William Campbell, had fled the colonies by September 1775, leaving the colony mostly in the hands of the Patriots. That made the ultimate goal at this point in the southern colonies to capture the wealthy and strategic port of Charleston, South Carolina. Meanwhile, the Royal Governor of North Carolina, Josiah Martin, convinced British commanders to target key points along their route through his colony as they advanced on their mission. And as 1775 turned into 1776, plans were set in motion.
On January 10, Martin issued a proclamation calling on all subjects loyal to the Crown to take up arms against the rebellion in the colony. Authority was given to Loyalist leaders throughout the colony to recruit militia and gather all necessary provisions to muster in Brunswick, NC.
By mid-February, a contingent of several thousand loyalists was gathered at Cross Creek, NC, preparing to march towards their goal. Among those recruited were the famed Scotch Highlanders. Though not all joined the Loyalist cause, the Highlanders’ reputations as fierce warriors preceded the impending war in the colonies. This reputation may have stemmed from the Jacobite rebellion in the 1740s as well as British assumptions at the time that the HIghlands were a lawless land due their clan-based culture.
Loyalists weren’t the only militias stirring along the Carolina coast. Patriot militias had begun forming at the first news of Loyalists gathering as early as August 1775. In fact, some of those militias formed in Wilmington, NC became the foundation of the 1st North Carolina Regiment of the Continental Army and in February 1776, they were led by Colonel James Moore. At that time, they were joined by additional militiamen from the surrounding area, led by Alexander Lillington and Richard Caswell. Their goal was two-fold: protect Wilmington and prevent the Loyalist forces from reaching the coast.
By February 20, 1776, a clash between the British and Patriot forces was inevitable. British commander Donald MacDonald began to move his 1,600 men from Cross Creek towards his rendezvous point at Brunswick, only to find his way impeded along the Black River by Caswell’s blockade. On February 25, MacDonald had managed to get across the river and Caswell moved his 1,000 Patriots back to Moores Creek Bridge. There they set up defensive earthworks, prepped their two artillery pieces, and prepared for battle.
At 1:00 am on February 27, 1776, MacDonald’s second-in-command, Donald McLeod, led the British troops on their march towards the Patriot position. Arriving at an abandoned camp on the west side of the bridge around 5:00 am, a brief exchange of fire alerted the Loyalists to the Patriot sentries guarding the bridge, and ultimately, the Patriot forces lying in wait.
McLeod with 50 men attempted to cross the bridge and attack the Patriot defensive position, but the attempt was futile and disastrous. Heavy musket fire coupled with a barrage of two artillery units killed 30 almost immediately, including McLeod. The remaining Loyalists quickly retreated and the battle was over almost as quickly as it had begun.
So how important were these three approximate minutes of battle? This Patriot victory struck a huge blow to Loyalist recruitment in North Carolina – so much so that two months later, North Carolina’s delegates to Continental Congress were the first to vote for independence. And it created a rippling effect throughout the southern colonies, as one by one the royal governors were displaced and revolution took hold.
No longer could the British see the Carolinas as easy targets. They abandoned this initial southern strategy to focus their resources on the war in the northern colonies. For the next three years, significant battles and events that we learn about today took place, thanks in part to the dominating Patriot showing at the Battle of Moores Creek Bridge.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Battle of Moores Creek Bridge, I strongly encourage you to visit Moores Creek National Battlefield’s website as well as their very active Facebook page. Both offer a wealth of information and additional resources for folks to explore.
Two hundred and forty years ago, January 17, 1781, Brigadier General Daniel Morgan strategically manuevered his Colonial forces to defeat the British, led by Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton, at the Battle of Cowpens.
What can we learn from the Battle of Cowpens? Military strategy, yes. Historical knowledge, absolutely. But as we near the 250th commemoration of the American Revolutionary War, how do we turn the battle into relevancy for today’s modern society?
As historians, we can find meaning and connection to places and events at their face value. It’s a natural ability we have ingrained in our knowledge-seeking souls. What about those that can’t and don’t? How do we make them relevant to them so that our history is not forgotten?
The answers lie in the stories we tell and how we tell them. Instead of rehashing the specific details of the Battle of Cowpens, I’m going to try something a little different: think of a time when you were able to not only prove that someone’s opinion of you was wrong, you used it to your advantage to achieve a goal. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Now recall that a key element of Morgan’s strategy was his use of the British underestimation of the Colonial militia forces. Before the Battle of Cowpens, Tarleton, like many British commanders, believed that the militia were mostly untrained or inexperienced civilians that would flee in face of a real battlefield. To be fair, this was witnessed at several battles (Battle of Camden on August 16, 1780 immediately comes to mind) so it’s a fair assessment.
Using this knowledge to his advantage, Morgan set a trap. Putting his militia front and center of his second battle line, he ordered them to fire off two volleys at the oncoming British before falling back. The perspective fueled the British assumption that the militia were fleeing the battlefield, and Tarleton drove his men forward… and right into Morgan’s trap.
Perhaps if Tarleton had not underestimated the militia, he would not have found himself in the only successful double envelopment in the American Revolution. But more to the point, Morgan took strategic advantage of the British perception of the militia’s capabilities.
While this battle’s lessons learned are easily applied to modern military education, how can we apply them to our everyday civilian life, particularly the lesson that comes from Tarlton’s mistake and Morgan’s strategy relating to the militia? The motto “never assume” comes to mind first. At the very least, it compels the message “Don’t let what other people may or may not think of you prevent you from achieving what matters most to you.” I personally like the potential of “If someone doesn’t see value in your abilities, prove them wrong.”
What life lesson do you pull from the battle’s story?
There are important stories often hidden in the threads of our American history. It won’t be a surprise to many that these stories desperately need to come to light. But sometimes research is scarce, with limited or hard-to-find resources to fully tell these stories to their fullest. One such example are the stories of the enslaved and free African-American people who helped build the nation, starting back even before the colonies fought for independence. America’s fight for freedom from Britain is oxymoronic considering an entire population of blacks were still kept in chains after the war. But their contributions to that fight should not go unnoticed.
The history of the construction of the British defense fortifications, including the Star Fort, at Ninety Six, South Carolina, has many layers of these diverse stories that make up the fabric of the site’s history. Lt. Colonel Nisbet Balfour set up an outpost at Ninety Six after the fall of Charleston in early 1780. In terms of fortifications – specifically the stockades and protections around the town and the jail – during this initial occupation, Balfour wrote to Cornwallis on June 24, 1780, “As to this post, it is so situated, that three small redoubts, well Abbattis [sic], I think, can easily defend it…”
Balfour also encouraged using slave labor, stating that “we have carpenters enough, and ammunition.” Balfour’s plan to construct fortifications was similar to a more extensive defense system suggested by Patrick Ferguson in his “Plan for Securing the Province of So. Carolina, &c.” dated May 16, 1780. Ferguson also recommended using slaves to construct the fortifications.
In fact, in that same June 24 letter to Cornwallis, Balfour writes that most of the labor that was used to construct the Ninety Six fortifications was from roughly 200 enslaved blacks that the British took from area plantations. Who were these 200 men? Were they promised freedom in exchange for their labor? We may never know. While research is underway to uncover the stories of these 200 individuals, very little primary resources remain. But we can still acknowledge that the British defense of Ninety Six relied heavily on the forced labor of these black men.
Work continued into the fall and winter of 1780 on the defense structures at Ninety Six, this time under Lt. Colonel John Harris Curger, including several field fortifications called abatis: defensive obstacles formed by felled trees with sharpened branches facing the enemy. The trunks are put deep into the ground, usually 4-5 feet, and is typically hard manual labor in the hard red clay of South Carolina. In a letter on December 29, 1780, Lt. Colonel Isaac Allen wrote to Cornwallis’s aide, Lt. Henry Haldane, of the hard work of the men constructing the abatis. And yes, those men were enslaved men. “I… have orderd [sic] the Abattiss [sic] cut, but Kings work like Church work goes on slow. The Poor naked Blacks can do but little this cold weather.”
Next up in the defense plan was the Star Fort itself, a large earthen redoubt whose remains are still the best-preserved earthen fort from the American Revolution. Once again, those approximately 200 enslaved men were used in its construction. Upon the completion of the fort, additional work included a network of ditches and trenches both for communication and transport of supplies.
By spring of 1781, the defenses were ready. Lt Colonel Cruger’s military force was nearly 600 but this was supplemented by a large number of Loyalist civilians in the town as well as several hundred enslaved African Americans from the surrounding country. Most likely, though it’s not known for sure, these were the roughly 200 men who helped build those very physical defenses.
But the hidden story of the enslaved at Ninety Six does not stop there, nor is their story solely on the shoulders of the British. During the Siege of Ninety Six in May and June of 1781, there are several instances that beg for more research. The first is from the morning of May 23, when Patriot forces had been digging trenches towards the Star Fort throughout the night. An attack by Loyalist militia from the fort pushed the Patriots back and they managed to capture not only the tools the Patriots were using, but “several Negro laborers abandoned by the Americans.” (Greene, 128)
It should come as no surprise that the Patriots were also using slave labor. James Mayson, a wealthy Patriot supporter living just a few miles from Ninety Six, described later how foraging parties were dispatched to the countryside to get food and supplies for Greene’s army, which included slaves “not earlier recruited by the British.”
As the Siege dragged on into June, there is one more hidden story that deserves additional research to discover the identities of the enslaved men who risked their lives for the British military garrisoned at the Star Fort. As the heat of the early Carolina summer sapped water supplies, Lt Colonel Cruger needed to get water from a nearby stream, Spring Branch, to keep their supply up. But Patriot marksmen were at the ready to prevent this from happening. Turning to the enslaved in their midst, a handful of them were ordered to strip out of their clothing and go at night to the stream to file buckets. They apparently succeeded. A British lieutenant by the name of Hatton would later recall that their naked bodies were indistinguishable “in the night from the fallen trees, with which the place abounded.”
These are just snippets of hidden stories at just one site of the American Revolution. And that’s only during one specific time in Ninety Six’s history; additional stories exist for both before and after the war, during the French and Indian War, and during the Regulator movement, as well as stories of enslaved Natives from the time of early settlement in the region.
How many stories are yet untold? Who were these men and women who currently remain nameless? For these stories aren’t just tidbits of historical facts – they represent real people who experienced real emotions and a real existence at the time when our nation was first figuring out what it wanted to be. The stories of black Loyalists and Patriots deserve to be told and in doing so, will add a new layer of complexity and understanding to the story of America during the Revolutionary War and beyond.
Government Documents Greene, Jerome A. Historic Resource Study and Historic Structure Report, Ninety Six: A Historical Narrative. National Park Service: Denver Service Branch of Historic Preservation, 1978.
Manuscripts & Papers Ann Arbor. University of Michigan. William L. Clements Library. Patrick Ferguson, “Plan for Securing the Province of So, Carolina, &c,” May 16, 1780.
Ann Arbor. University of Michigan. William L. Clements Library. Nathanael Greene Papers. James Mayson to Greene, May 29, 1781.
Washington. Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress. British Public Record Office. Cornwallis Papers. Balfour to Comwallis, June 24, 1780. BPRO 30/11/2 (1)
Washington. Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress. British Public Record Office. Amherst Papers. Thomas Anderson. “Journal of Thomas Anderson’s” 1st Delaware regiment [May 6, 1780-April 7, 1782].”
Books and Pamphlets Haiman, Miecislaus. Kosciuszko in the American Revolution. New York: Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences in America, 1943. Reprint; Boston: Gregg Press, 1972.
Mackenzie, Roderick. Strictures on Lt. Col. Tarleton’s “History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781, in the Southern Provinces of North America.” London: Printed for the Author, 1787.
Stedman, Charles. The History of the Origin, Progress, and Termination of the American War, Volume 2. London: Printed for the Author, 1794.
Ward, Christopher. The War of the Revolution, Volume 2. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1952.
Weigley, Russell F. The Partisan War: The South Carolina Campaign of 1780-1782. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1970.
After hearing about a few research deals thanks to the COVID-19, I decided to search for those deals and more to compile into a list for safe keeping. It can be tough as a
researcher to not be able to physically go to an archive or library in order to get the resources we need to do our work. This is also a great time for amateur researchers to whet their whistle! Maybe the resources below will help fill some gaps during our stay-at-home orders.
JSTOR has expanded their free read-online access from the usual six articles per month to 100 articles per month through June 30, as well as additional expanded access for those who have paid accounts (such as through an academic institution). Learn more at this link.
The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History has opened some of their resources for families and teachers for free. It includes study guides, lesson plans, and lectures but also includes access to 70,000+ primary source documents from their collection. Learn more at this link.
Smithsonian did not seem to have additional free resources but they still have a great online archive collection for research purposes, as well as additional resources for researchers in general. Learn more at this link.
National Archives has a great variety of free resources. For example, they have listed some virtual programs in a newsletter to help folks take advantage of available resources right from home. Meanwhile, the NA’s social media has stated that behind the scenes, staff have been working on digitizing more of their collection to make it available during their closures. Learn more at this link and follow them on Facebook here.
Ancestry – Whether you have a paid or free Ancestry account, you can take advantage of their free access to a plethora of National Archives records, plus they have roughly two dozen research guides.
Project MUSE has worked with participating publishers to provide content for free temporarily. Most of the resources are available through the end of June. Definitely check it out.
Looking for additional generic resources? Check these out too: