The Journal of Nicholas Cresswell, Part 1



Nicholas Cresswell from the Frontispiece of his Memoir (Library of Congress)

For some Englishman, the political conflict between the United Kingdom and its American colonies was an afterthought that should not interfere with their plans to build a future based on American wealth.  Nicholas Cresswell was one such person.  He traveled to the colonies on the eve of the American Revolution and returned home in 1777, having kept an extensive diary of his travels, experiences, thoughts, and conditions in America during the war’s first years.  Along the way, he met some of the most colorful and interesting people who played prominent roles in the war: George Rogers Clark, Delaware Indian leaders White Eyes and Killbuck, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, William Howe, Robert Rogers, and Charles Lee to name a few.  Since its publication, Cresswell’s journal has become a touchstone for historians looking for insight into those people, how a loyal Englishman like Cresswell saw the world and the Americans around him interpreted events.  In particular, he recounts the feelings and treatment of loyalists trapped in America during the war.  With that in mind, reviewing Cresswell’s diary might help spread the word about a worthwhile primary resource.

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ERW Weekender: Ninety Six, The Site That Has It All

Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes historian Vanessa Smiley to the blog.

The thing about Ninety Six National Historic Site is that it’s unassuming exterior hides a wealth of history. It’s also nowhere near a major highway, meaning you have to want to get there if you’re thinking of visiting. And when you do get there, you will realize that there’s more history per acre than its demur entrance lets on. Located in the back country of South Carolina, Ninety Six has a history that speaks to the stories of Native Americans, the American frontier of the 18th century, and the American Revolution.

Entrance to the park
(courtesy of Ninety Six NHS, NPS)

The site at Ninety Six holds a treasure trove of study on these subjects. Native American, mostly Cherokee, activity was heavy in the area long before European settlers arrived. One of the earliest backcountry trading posts, established by Robert Gouedy in 1759, made Ninety Six a hotbed of trading activity thanks to its location at the crossroads of twelve different roads and paths, linking the area to nearly all parts of the colonies.

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March Presentations

Emerging Revolutionary War (ERW) would like to highlight from time to time some of the lectures, presentations, talks, and events that our historians are apart of.

This month, ERW historians are giving the following presentations:

Bert Dunkerly

March 27th: “The Brown’s Island Explosion Victims” at the Virginia Forum, Richmond, Virginia

Kate Gruber

March 13th: “Tenacity: Women in Jamestown and Early Virginia” Shenandoah Lyceum Lecture Series, Harrisonburg, Virginia. For more information click here.

Travis Shaw

March 29th: “Lord Dunmore.” Aldie, Virginia

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ERW Weekender: Boston Massacre: 250 Years and 1-Day Later

Crispus Attucks. Every American school child learned that name in a social studies or history class in grade school. On the night of March 5, 1770, Attucks, an African-American was one of the six Bostonians that was killed by British soldiers.

Known in American history as the “Boston Massacre” the tragic event was used as fodder by the Sons of Liberty and pro-revolutionary minded individuals to propel the colonies toward rupture with Great Britain.

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“The First Blood Spilt to Freedom”: Dangerfield Newby, the Boston Massacre, and Crispus Attucks 250 Years Later

Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes back guest historian Kevin Pawlak

Every quest for liberty has its first martyr. Two-hundred and fifty years ago this evening, the cause of American liberty gained its first five when British soldiers fired on a crowd of Bostonians in an event immortalized as the Boston Massacre.

Boston Massacre depiction

The first to fall at the end of the British muskets was Crispus Attucks, a mariner of mixed African and Native American heritage. Bostonians paraded Attucks’ remains alongside the four other victims to a common grave but Attucks’ popularity did not grow until the next century when abolitionists used him as a symbol of patriotism. Abolitionists emphasized and stretched Attucks’ role. To supporters of abolition, Attucks was a household name.

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The Bloody Massacre

A detail from Paul Revere’s print of the “Bloody Massacre.” This widely circulated image gave the impression that the British soldiers fired in unison on command into a peaceful assembly. (Library of Congress)

“Fire if you dare, G-d damn you, fire and be damned!” the crowd of hundreds of Bostonians yelled as they pressed in around the nine British soldiers guarding the Custom House in Boston on the evening of March 5, 1770. The violence that was about to erupt in downtown Boston had been brewing for almost two years when British regular soldiers first entered Boston in 1768. It had gotten especially bad after February 22, 1770, when Christopher Seider, an 11-year-old boy, was killed while protesting with a group in front of the home of a loyalist. Thousands of Bostonians turned out for the boy’s funeral and the tension and distrust between the civilians and the British soldiers grew larger.

The presence of British regular troops in the streets of Boston enraged colonists, who now felt they were being occupied by a foreign army. It was just eleven days after Seider’s death, on March 5, 1770 when Private Hugh White of the 29th Regiment of Foot took up a sentry post outside of the Custom House on King Street in downtown Boston. The Custom House had taken on symbolic meaning as the center of British taxation. As a young wigmaker’s apprentice, Edward Garrick, passed the sentry, he yelled at a British officer that he had not paid his bill for a wig. The sentry, White, reprimanded the young man. The two engaged in a heated conversation when Private White swung his musket at Garrick, hitting him on the side of the head.

Word traveled through the streets about the altercation and a large mob began to descend on the lone British sentry at the Custom House. As the mob of people began to grow larger and larger, the sentry called for reinforcements. Seven British soldiers of the 29th Regiment of Foot, under the command of Captain Thomas Preston, marched to the sentry’s defense with fixed bayonets. As the nine British soldiers stood guard near the steps to the Custom House, passions enflamed and dozens more people joined the crowd surrounding the soldiers. Bells began ringing in the city and more people came out of their homes and into the streets. The crowd was estimated to have grown to as many as 300 or 400 people. They were yelling at the soldiers, shouting profanities and insults at the soldiers. Others threw rocks, paddles, and snowballs at the besieged men. One of those protestors near the soldiers was a former slave named Crispus Attucks. The crowd continued to hurl verbal abuse and challenged the soldiers repeatedly to fire their weapons. Preston’s men loaded their muskets in front of the crowd.

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Interview with Tom Chaffin, author of Revolutionary Brothers, Thomas Jefferson, the Marquis de Lafayette, and the Friendship that Helped Forge Two Nations

Last week, Emerging Revolutionary War‘s Phillip S. Greenwalt wrote a review of the above mentioned book. To find that review click here. Recently, through email, Emerging Revolutionary War had a chance to interview the author. The questions and his responses are below.

Tom Chaffin, author
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