Americana Corner

Emerging Revolutionary War checks in with Tom Hand and Americana Corner. Here is what has has been published on that blog for the month of October.

Benedict Arnold and the Perilous March to Quebec
October 4, 2022

Benedict Arnold’s expedition to the gates of Quebec City in the fall and winter of 1775 is widely regarded as one of the greatest military marches in history. Arnold, despite his sullied reputation due to his traitorous behavior later in the war, was one of America’s most gifted field commanders, and his tremendous leadership skills were put to the test on this perilous journey.
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Arnold’s Army Marches into Trouble
October 11, 2022

When Colonel Benedict Arnold’s army reached the Great Carrying Place on October 11, 1775, they had been moving north on the Kennebec River for almost three weeks and had advanced eighty-four miles. The American militiamen were on their way to assault Quebec City, the crown jewel of British Canada. The time originally estimated for the entire journey to Quebec was about twenty days, and the anticipated distance was 180 miles. Neither Arnold nor the men were aware they had another 300 miles to go.
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Benedict Arnold’s Army Reaches Quebec
October 18, 2022

After clearing the Height of Land, Colonel Benedict Arnold’s army on its way to capture Quebec City believed they were on the downhill slope to their destination, but their hardships were not finished. The area which they just entered was poorly mapped, and Arnold’s regiments paid the price for this lack of knowledge.
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Americans Commence Siege of Quebec
October 25, 2022

With the capture of Montreal by General Richard Montgomery and the presence of Colonel Benedict Arnold’s force of 600 men on the Plains of Abraham, Britain’s foothold in Canada had dwindled to about one square mile, the area within the mighty walls of Quebec City. Now the defenses of that fortress would be tested by a band of determined Americans.
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“Rev War Revelry” Convention Army Discussion

On October 17, 1777, British General John Burgoyne surrendered his joint British, Canadian, and Hessian and Brunswicker forces to patriot General Horatio Gates near Saratoga, New York. Over 6,000 soldiers, the number placed by one historian is 6,222, became captives of war. Under the terms of the convention agreed upon by Burgoyne and Gates, the vanquished army was to march to Boston, Massachusetts, board British ships, and sail to England, to await formal exchange and to not participate in the war in America further.

When news reached the Continental Congress of this concession, that political body demanded a complete list of the troops surrendered to ensure the terms of the convention was to be upheld. When this was not forthcoming by the British, Congress reacted by vowing to not adhere to the stipulations of the convention. Burgoyne’s forces would not head back to Great Britain to await an exchange that year. Instead, these men were to be confined in camps both in New England and Virginia for the duration of the war. This force came to be called the Convention Army.

This Sunday, March 6, at 7 p.m. EDT, join Emerging Revolutionary War on our Facebook page for the next historian happy hour, as Dan Welch and Phillip S. Greenwalt discuss the Convention Army and what happened after the pivotal battle of Saratoga in October 1777.

“This Sudden Expedition”: The Capture of Fort Ticonderoga – 246 Years Later

On this date in 1775, an early victory was secured for the American cause along the western shore of Lake Champlain in New York. Led by Colonel Benedict Arnold and Ethan Allen, over eighty men surprised and overwhelmed Fort Ticonderoga’s garrison, capturing the strategic stronghold and much needed supplies and cannon for the Americans. On May 22, the Pennsylvania Packet reported on the news received from the north:

On Wednesday evening last arrived here, John Brown, Esq; from Ticonderoga, express to the General Congress, from whom we learn, that on the beginning of this instant, a company of about fifty men, from Connecticut, and the western part of Massachusetts, and joined by upwards of one hundred from Bennington, in New-York government, and the adjacent towns, proceeded to the eastern side of Lake Champlain, and on the night before the 11th current, crossed the Lake, with 85 men, (not being able to obtain craft to transport the rest,) and about daybreak invested the fort, whose gate, contrary to expectation, they found shut, but the wicker open, through which, with the Indian war whoop, all that could, entered one by one, others scaling the wall on both sides of the gate, and instantly secured and disarmed the sentries, and pressed into the parade, where they formed the hollow square;  but immediately quitting that order, they rushed into the several barracks on three sides of the fort, and seized on the garrison [commanded by Captain William Delaplace], consisting of two officers, and upwards of forty privates, whom they brought out, disarmed, put under guard, and have since sent prisoners to Hartford, in Connecticut. All this was performed in about ten minutes, without the loss of a life, or a drop of blood on our side, and but very little on that of the King’s troops.

In the fort were found about thirty barrels of flour, a few barrels of pork, seventy odd chests of leaden ball, computed at three hundred tons, about ten barrels of powder in bad condition, near two hundred pieces of ordnances of all sizes, from eighteen pounders downwards, at Ticonderoga and Crown Point, which last place, being held only by a corporal and eight men, falls of course into our hands.

By this sudden expedition, planned by some principal persons in the four neighboring colonies, that important pass is now in the hands of the Americans, where we trust the wisdom of the Grand Continental Congress, will take effectual measures to secure it….

The story of the capture of Fort Ticonderoga is as confusing as it is epic. Arnold, a Connecticut man, held a colonel’s commission to take the fort from the Massachusetts Committee of Safety, but he rode ahead to be part of the action without the men he was ordered to raise for the expedition; and Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys of the Hampshire Grants were anti-New York and in search of their own glory after being asked to join a separately organized assault on the fort by Colonel Edward Mott sanctioned by Connecticut.

Ethan Allen demands the surrender of Fort Ticonderoga in this dramatized illustration. NYPL

The irony of all of this is that each plan formulated by those involved was done entirely without the advice or consent of New York, the very colony whose boundaries the fort was within. This occurred all during the commencement of the Second Continental Congress when New York was still weary of escalating hostilities with the King. Regardless of the awkward and unconcerted circumstances, it is undeniable that the fort’s capture helped secure victory for the Americans during the siege of Boston when fifty-eight pieces of ordnance were transported to assist General Washington in driving the British out of the city. Whether or not Allen heroically demanded Capt. Delaplace to surrender, “In the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress!” as is remembered (he almost definitely did not), is an entirely different question.

“Rev War Revelry” Tackles Virginia 1781

Mention the following words to any casual student or enthusiast of the American Revolutionary War and we can almost guarantee what the first word(s) or topic out of their mouths will be.

Virginia.

1781.

American Revolution.

If you are thinking, Yorktown, or Siege of Yorktown or Surrender of Yorktown, then our rhetorical question above is correct.

Most people know about the Siege and Surrender at Yorktown, but Virginia was a hot spot of activity the summer leading up to Yorktown. With British troops, led by the likes of Benedict Arnold, William Phillips, Alexander Leslie, and lastly by Lord Charles Cornwallis in the Old Dominion throughout the year and American leaders like the Marquis de Lafayette and Baron von Steuben, Virginia saw very active campaigning ranging through most of the central and eastern parts of the colony.

That is why you need to tune in and Join Emerging Revolutionary War this Sunday, on our Facebook page, at 7p.m EST for the next “Rev War Revelry” as we discuss the events leading up to Yorktown in October 1781.

We will cover actions such as Spencer’s Ordinary, Green Spring, Gloucester Point and of course Yorktown.

ERW will be joined by historians J. Michael Moore, Kirby Smith and Drew Gruber. All three live and work in the “Historic Triangle” of Virginia. The three gentlemen all have researched, led tours and have written published works about this important period of the American Revolution.

Map by Michel du Chesnoy (1746-1804) 

This will be a precursor to ERW’s annual fall trip, when we will visit Gloucester Point, Spencer’s Ordinary, Green Sping and Yorktown (which we invite you to follow along with on our Facebook page).

“Rev War Roundtable with ERW” Talks Treason & Benedict Arnold

Benedict Arnold, the mere mention of the name seems permanently intertwined with the word “treason.” His name has even made it into popular vernacular, being called a “Benedict Arnold” as an insult. Yet, there is more to the man than just that infamous moment along the banks of the Hudson River in West Point, New York in 1780.

Prior to that turning point, Arnold was one of the greatest battlefield leaders the Americans had at that rank. His inspiring leadership on the field of battle at Saratoga led to a climactic charge and one of the greatest monuments to a leader on any hallowed ground. He survived the cold and assaults in Canada in the winter of 1776 as well.

After being a turncoat he was a menace in Virginia in 1781, raiding in Richmond and the Tidewater of Virginia. One of ERW’s historians will discuss Arnold’s role in the state capital of Virginia.

A lot to unpack and that is why this Sunday, at 7pm, live on our Facebook page, Emerging Revolutionary War historians will be joined by Dr. Powell, who spoke on the French and Indian War with us back in June, to discuss Benedict Arnold. So, bring those pre-conceived notions but an open mind to fully appreciate Arnold. This “Rev War Revelry” will discuss the before reasons for, and the after of his switching allegiances.

The Other Great Artilleryman

Mention the words “artillery” and “American Revolution” and what name instantly pops into your mind? Henry Knox.

Rightfully so.

Yet, like George Washington, Knox needed competent officers under him to successfully organize, train, lead, and develop the artillery arm of the Continental Army.

Enter John Lamb.

John Lamb
John Lamb

Born on the first day of 1735 in New York City, he was destined to rebel. The reason he was even born in New York City was due to the fact that his father, a convicted burglar had been sentenced for deportation to the colonies in the 1720s.

His early upbringing saw him become a prosperous wine merchant and he quickly ingratiated himself into the burgeoning patriot movement by becoming an integral part of the Sons of Liberty in New York City.  Continue reading “The Other Great Artilleryman”

The Battle of Groton Heights, September 6, 1781: The Fort Griswold Massacre

Part Three
Click here for parts one and two.

With British soldiers pouring into the fort, Colonel Ledyard ordered a ceasefire, and prepared to surrender Fort Griswold to the victorious British. However, the British disregarded the ceasefire and continuing pouring fire into the American garrison, killing or wounding nearly all of the fort’s defenders. “I believe there was not less than five or six hundred men of the enemy on the parade in the fort,” claimed American soldier Rufus Avery. “They killed and wounded nearly every man in the fort as quick as they could.”

battleofgrotonheights_giclee_p3y8

Maj. Stephen Bromfield, the ranking British officer after Montgomery fell, called out, “Who commands this fort?” Ledyard stepped forward and responded, “I did, sir, but you do now.” Another American, Jonathan Rathbun, watched Bromfield run Ledyard through the heart and lungs with Ledyard’s own sword:

     “…the wretch who murdered him [Ledyard], exclaimed, as he came near, “Who
    commands this fort?” Ledyard handsomely replied, “I did, but you do now,” at the same
moment handing him his sword, which the unfeeling villain buried in his breast! Oh, the
hellish spite and madness of a man that will murder a reasonable and noble-hearted
    officer, in the act of submitting and surrendering!”

Continue reading “The Battle of Groton Heights, September 6, 1781: The Fort Griswold Massacre”

Part Two: The Battle of Groton Heights, September 6, 1781: The Fort Griswold Massacre

For Part One, click here.

Lt. Col. Edmund Eyre’s battalion of 800 Regulars and Loyalists landed on the east bank of the Thames River, facing tangled woodlands and swamps. The New Jersey Loyalists, in fact, had so much difficulty moving the artillery that they did not participate in the assault on Fort Griswold.

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Model of Fort Griswold (author collection)

Eyre sent a Captain Beckwith to the fort under a flag of truce to demand its surrender. Ledyard called a council of war and consulted with his officers. The Americans believed that a large force of militiamen would answer the call, and that this augmented force could defend the fort. Ledyard responded by sending an American flag to meet the British flag bearer. The American told Beckwith, “Colonel Ledyard will maintain the fort to its last extremity.” Displeased by the response, Eyre sent a second flag, threatening no quarter if the militia did not surrender. Ledyard gave the same response even though some of the Americans suggested that they should leave the fort and fight outside instead.  Continue reading “Part Two: The Battle of Groton Heights, September 6, 1781: The Fort Griswold Massacre”

The Battle of Groton Heights, September 6, 1781: The Fort Griswold Massacre

Part One

Benedict Arnold
Benedict Arnold

After turning coat, Benedict Arnold received a commission as a brigadier general in the British army as part of the deal that he made in order to betray his country.

In August 1781, George Washington decided to shift forces in order to attack the army of Lt. Gen. Lord Charles Cornwallis in Virginia. Washington began pulling troops from the New York area. Lt. Gen. Sir Henry Clinton, the British commander-in-chief in America, realized on September 2 that Washington’s tactics had deceived him, leaving him unable to mobilize quickly enough to help Cornwallis. Further, there was still a significant force of Continentals facing him in front of New York, and Clinton did not feel that he could detach troops to reinforce Cornwallis as a result.

Sir Henry ClintonInstead, Clinton decided to launch a raid into Connecticut in the hope of forcing Washington to respond. Clinton intended that this be a raid, but he also recognized that New London could be used as a permanent base of operations into the interior of New England. Clinton appointed Arnold to command the raid because he was from Connecticut and knew the terrain.

Arnold commanded about 1,700 British solders, divided into two battalions. Lt. Col. Edmund Eyre commanded a battalion consisting of the 40th and 54th Regiments of Foot and Cortland Skinner’s New Jersey Volunteers, a Loyalist unit. Arnold himself commanded the other battalion, made up of the 38th Regiment of Foot and various Loyalist units, including the Loyal American Regiment and Arnold’s American Legion. Arnold also had about 100 Hessian Jägers, and three six-pound guns. This was a formidable force anchored by the three Regular regiments. Continue reading “The Battle of Groton Heights, September 6, 1781: The Fort Griswold Massacre”

Two Patriots: One Slave and One Free; James Armistead Lafayette and James Forten

Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes back guest historian Malanna Henderson

Part One

 “It is not for their own land they fought, not even for a land which had adopted them, but for a land which had enslaved them, and whose laws, even in freedom, oftener oppressed than protected. Bravery, under such circumstances, has a peculiar beauty and merit.” – Harriet Beecher Stowe.

The words spoken by “the little woman who wrote the book that started this Great War,” so said Abraham Lincoln, according to legend, upon meeting Mrs. Stowe sometime in 1862, rang true for black patriots in the Civil War as well as those in the Revolutionary War.

The Smithsonian tome, The American Revolutionary War: A Visual History quotes a Hessian officer in 1777, as saying, “No regiment is to be seen in which there are not Negroes in abundance and among them are able-bodied and strong fellows.”

In every battle of the Revolutionary War from Lexington to Yorktown; black men, slave and free, picked up the musket and defended America; and yet, many historians as well as visual artists have omitted their contributions in the history books and their images on canvases depicting historic battles. The need for white historians to “overlook,” “underestimate,” and or “erase,” these sacrifices is a gross negligence that distorts and misrepresents American history; and furthermore, it continues to disenfranchise the patriotic heroes of the past and malign the self-image of millions of Americans today simply because of the color of their skin.

Black soldiers have always fought two wars simultaneously; wars declared by their government and the unspoken wars at home for liberty, equality and before the Civil War, for citizenship.

What kind of men fight for the liberty of others when their own liberty isn’t guaranteed?

True patriots: James Armistead Lafayette was one such person.

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James Armistead Lafayette (1760-1832) Blackpast.org

Slaves serving in the rebel military was a question that manifested itself early amongst the colonial government agencies. Their presence rankled many, while others welcomed them and praised their bravery. Some men of color had fought gallantly and with distinction as they stood alongside their white compatriots, defenders of liberty on the Lexington Green in April of 1775.

For instance, in the Battle of Bunker Hill, Peter Salem, a slave, served with courage under fire, as varying accounts reported. Salem was introduced to George Washington as “the man who shot Pitcairn,” the British Royal Marine Major who shouted to his men before Salem shot him down, “The day is ours.” Despite the competence and bravery of such men on the battlefield their exploits didn’t convert the wide-spread reluctance of most colonists to accept black men as soldiers.

General George Washington, Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, harbored the same common prejudices of the southern-planter ruling class of which he was a member. In July, he instructed recruiters “not to enlist any stroller, negro, or vagabond, or person suspected of being an enemy to the liberty of America.” Commanders in each colony and regiment made up their own minds. Some ignored his command. Their decision was based on need and experience. Those who had already served successfully with black militia and minutemen may have seen no cause to alter their regiments.

By December of 1776, Washington back-pedaled on his decision, allowing for black veterans of Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill to serve; but of the slave, he maintained his objection. However, some junior officers appreciated the contributions of blacks. Col. John Thomas wrote John Adams on October 24, 1775, “We have negroes, but I look upon them as equally serviceable with other men, for fatigue (labor); and, in action many of them have proven themselves brave.”

As the war raged on, the necessity for able-bodied men settled the question. White soldiers, who usually served for only a few months to a year, mustered out, died or were wounded; while others deserted. Black soldiers who expected to receive their freedom if they served were in the war for the duration. This was a positive factor for the commanding officers who had to re-train all new recruits. Around five-thousand blacks served in the Revolutionary War as soldiers. However, a vast unknown number provided a myriad of support services.

Another reason the colonials reconsidered enlisting blacks was the bold military tactic that occurred in November of 1775. Lord Dunmore, the last royal governor of Virginia, ratified a proclamation freeing all indentured servants and slaves of rebels if they would fight for the British. Thousands of people fled the plantations to gain their freedom. This single act struck a devastating blow on two fronts, it threaten their economic stability and increased the tension between master and slave, with the master fearing slave revolts and the permanent loss of their property. Moreover, it upset the social order. Enslaved men serving alongside whites put them on an equal footing in the battlefield, which violated the white supremacy dogma that governed current thought and practice.

Born into slavery on December 10, 1748, in New Kent, Virginia to owner William Armistead, James enlisted in the Revolutionary War under General Marquis de Lafayette in 1781. His owner was a patriot and most likely received the bonus James would have gotten for enlisting had he been free or white. Enlistment bonuses comprised of money, land or slaves.

By the time Armistead entered the war, the efforts of Benjamin Franklin and other colonial agents had secured a military and economic alliance with the French. A long-time imperial rival of British expansion, the French provided naval ships, money and personnel.

malanna-henderson-image-2

 

Marquis de Lafayette (born Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier) was a descendant of ancient French nobility. His father, a colonel in the French Grenadiers had died in the Seven Year’s War (known as the French and Indian War in America) when the young nobleman was only two years old. The political ideals of liberty and equality espoused by the colonials matched his beliefs and fired his military ambitions. Perchance, his yearning to play a role in America’s fight for independence from British rule may have been spawned by a desire to avenge his father’s death.

Since Lord Dunmore’s Proclamation, it was easy for Armistead to gain access in the enemy camps as a runaway slave seeking his freedom. While providing varied services to the British, he gained the confidence of Brigadier General Benedict Arnold, who by now had defected to the British. He charged Armistead with scouting, foraging and spying. Armistead was able to comfortably go between both camps, in essence becoming a double spy. He carried false and misleading information to the British but provided accurate intelligence on the movement of British forces and details of their military strategies to General Lafayette.

When Arnold left Virginia, Armistead was able to deceive General Charles Cornwallis as well, who rampaged through parts of Virginia and burned Richmond, the capital. He sent Colonel Banastre Tarleton to capture the entire legislative assembly, which included Daniel Boone, Patrick Henry and the governor. The plan was thwarted by an astute young man named Jack Jouett. Although, a few were apprehended, among them Daniel Boone; Jouett’s actions prevented the British from arresting the biggest prize: Governor Thomas Jefferson.

By early August, Cornwallis had made plans to establish fortifications in Yorktown, expecting reinforcements to increase his troops of approximately nine-thousand.

General Washington, in the meantime, had joined forces with Comte de Rochambeau to recapture New York. With intelligence supplied by James Armistead, they learned that Cornwallis was in Yorktown waiting for military support. French Admiral de Grasse, with a fleet of about twenty-eight naval ships, was on his way to the Chesapeake from St. Dominick (present-day Haiti). A plan to surround Cornwallis by land and sea appeared possible. The French naval fleet, along with the Washington’s Continental and Rochambeau’s French forces, headed to the enemy’s headquarters. Once Washington reached Yorktown, General Lafayette’s regiment joined him. Thus, Armistead’s accurate and meticulous reports were vital to the American victory that culminated in Yorktown on October 19, 1781.

 

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(http://www.mountvernon.org/preservation/maps/map-the-siege-of-yorktown/)

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The surrender of the British forces at Yorktown, Painting by John Trumbull (US Capitol) (http://www.mountvernon.org/preservation/maps/map-the-siege-of-yorktown/)

 

Later Cornwallis met the Marquis at his headquarters and was flabbergasted to find his spy James Armistead present.

The Treaty of Paris in 1783 severed ties from Britain, the mother country, and established America as an independent nation. That same year, the Act of 1783 was passed freeing slaves who had fought in the Revolutionary War on their masters’ behalf. However, it excluded slave-spies. Ergo, James Armistead, who risked his life by providing information to help win the freedom of many, was himself denied freedom. Was his life in less danger operating under subterfuge as a spy amongst the British than it would have been, had he served as a soldier on the battlefield? I think not. Had his espionage been discovered, he surely would have had to forfeit his life.

After the war, Armistead was returned to slavery. Even his own master didn’t have the legal right to free him because of the Act of 1783, omitting slave-spies from emancipation.

When learning of his compatriot’s status, the Marquis penned a certificate to the Virginia legislator in October of 1784 imploring them to grant Armistead his freedom, declaring:

“This is to Certify that the Bearer By the Name of James Armistead Has done Essential Services to me While I had the Honour to Command in this State. His Intelligences from the Ennemy’s Camp were Industriously Collected and More faithfully deliver’d. He properly Acquitted Himself with Some Important Commissions I Gave Him and Appears to me Entitled to Every Reward his Situation Can Admit of. Done Under my Hand,” Richmond, November 21st 1784.

The legislator didn’t act upon the request straightaway. However, again in 1786, James Armistead applied for his freedom and it was duly granted on January 9, 1787, with a fair compensation to his master, William.

In honor of his benefactor, James Armistead added Lafayette to his surname. After emancipation, he moved a short distance south of New Kent, near Richmond, Virginia and acquired forty acres of less than suitable farmland. He married and had a family. He even owned slaves. History doesn’t tell us if he bought enslaved relatives to free them or if they were bought to farm his land as field hands.

It wasn’t until 1819 that he applied to the state legislature for financial assistance to ease his poverty. This time, the response was immediate; he received $60 and an annual pension of $40 for his service during the Revolutionary War.

Unlike James Armistead Lafayette, many blacks who worked as laborers, guides, messengers and spies were not as fortunate. Whether they were pressed into service or willingly answered the call, most neither received their freedom nor wages for their behind-the-scene contributions to the war.

In 1824, the Marquis de Lafayette visited the United States and was lauded as a hero of the American Revolutionary War in Richmond with festivities and a parade. Spying Armistead in the crowd, it is said he halted the procession, dismounted from his horse and embraced his old comrade.

 

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End Notes

References:

  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Alan Steinberg Black Profiles in Courage: A Legacy of African-American Achievement. (New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc.1996) pages 32-34.

 

 

 

  • Col. Michael Lee Lanning (Ret.) Defenders of Liberty: African Americans in the Revolutionary War. (New York: Kensington Publishing Corp. 2000) pages 45-46; 130

 

 

 

  • Smithsonian The American Revolution, A Pictorial History. (New York: DK Publishing, First Edition 2016)

 

  • Harry M. Ward, For Virginia and For Independence: Twenty-Eight Revolutionary War Soldiers from the Old Dominion, Chapter 26 “Spy”, pages 155-159.