Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there! In honor of Mother’s Day, Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes will be welcoming historians and staff from the Washington Heritage Museums to tonight’s Rev War Revelry. WHM manages and operates the home and grave site of Mary Ball Washington, the mother of George Washington located in Fredericksburg, VA.
The relationship between George Washington and his mother has been of interest in historians. Their relationship was complicated and much debated by Washington contemporaries and historians today. Mary never remarried when her husband passed (rare for the time period) and mostly lived on her own in Fredericksburg. She also was not afraid to complain about her lack of resources and once applying to the Virginia General Assembly for financial support (to much frustration from George Washington). We will cover many of the myths and interpretations of Mary and her relationship with her son.
So grab a drink and join us as we discuss Mary Ball Washington, her relationship with her son George and what the Washington Heritage Museums are doing today to interpret and preserve her story. Our revelry tonight is previously recorded so we could spend time with the mom’s in our life, but as always we will respond to any comments and questions posted.
Tell me I am not the only one that randomly goes on a car ride to a random town in their home state to just “see what is there?”
Regardless, that is what I decided to do on a sunny late April Sunday afternoon. I ended up in Rockville, Maryland. The town astride I-270 today was also on a major thoroughfare during both the 18th and 19th centuries that brought armies from the area, like General Edward Braddock’s in 1755 or General Jubal Early’s in 1864.
However, a different historical sign attracted my attention on this excursion.
I read the title and the first line, Richard Montgomery…Born in Ireland. Served..” Which was all I could read as I slowly drove by, since it is near the court house and county government buildings. Even though it was a Sunday still not wanting to speed through. So…Naturally, I pulled over, as evidenced by the vehicle you see in the background!
I knew Montgomery, as the sign reads, died at the Battle of Quebec in a futile attempt to take the city for the American cause. He was the first general–Continental–to die in the cause of American independence.
On September 6, 1776 Thomas Sprigg Wootton, who hailed from Rockville, introduced legislation in the Maryland Constitutional Convention to separate the Frederick County into three. The upper or most western half, to become Washington County, named in honor of George Washington and the lower half, or most eastern, to be named Montgomery, in honor of Richard Montgomery. The remaining middle portion would retain the name Frederick. This may be the first recorded instance in the rebellious British colonies of names of counties, towns, or cities that did not refer to something in British history or famous persons. Another act of defiance at the beginning of the American Revolution!
With a random Sunday excursion one never knows what one will find. History is all around us, beckoning to be explored.
Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes guest historian Christopher of The British-American Historian blog.
Almost two years after debating a joint French-American assailment of Lord Cornwallis’ precarious position in Yorktown, Virginia over Washington’s grand plan to recapture New York long after being swept from the city and its environs as independence was officially declared in 1776, the implacable Washington prepared to reenter New York in triumph.
Eight years after making New York the center of the British war effort in the American Revolution, the massive garrison was greatly reduced and preparing for its final retirement from the new nation. The new commander in chief of North America, Sir Guy Carleton, arrived in New York on May 5, 1782 to relieve Sir Henry Clinton. Carleton won accolades for holding Quebec City when the Continental Army struck during a late night blizzard, an accomplishment that was all the more vaunted now that the British were losing territory that did not include Canada. Carleton lost no time in notifying Washington of his arrival in an affable letter sent on May 7th, 1782 in which Carleton wrote “if the like pacific disposition should prevail in this country, both my inclination and duty will lead me to meet it with the most zealous concurrence”.
A notable disruption in the growing amity was the unresolved Asgill Affair. Exasperated with wanton assailments of loyalists in New Jersey, a prominent rebel militia commander named Joshua Huddy was plucked from the provost in New York by an American member of the Associated Loyalists. The Associated Loyalists were presided over by William Franklin, the loyalist son of Benjamin who had endured arduous captivity before being exchanged. In response to the wanton execution of Joshua Huddy, Washington ordered a British officer to await reprise. Charles Asgill was selected, but pleas from the French along with Washington’s honorable disposition prevailed and the captain was spared.
The city and Long Island were swarming with thousands of loyal “Refugees” who had fled from every rebellious colony to seek the king’s protection. Ranging from itinerant tenant farmers to some of the largest landlords in America such as Beverly Robinson and Frederick Philipse, Carleton’s task of evacuating the troops could not be fulfilled until such persons were safely resettled in the empire. While many of the men joined provincial regiments that saw combat in the south (playing a pivotal role defending Savannah and being routed at Kings Mountain) and performed prodigious woodcutting on Lloyd Neck for the insatiable demand for firewood, flocks of women and children crowded the city. A subset of the refugees were former slaves who had flocked to the British cause for the promise of freedom under Dunmore’s Proclamation and the Philipsburg Proclamation, a promise Washington would vigorously contest in negotiations.
Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes guest historian Werther Young.
I’m Too Sexy for My…Bavarian Fly
By Werther Young
Of all of the unique things that have managed to make it to the internet, a concise history of colonial men’s pants flies is surprisingly not one of them.
Our story begins in the Renaissance in, where else, France. King Henry III of France eschewed the old-fashioned dress and hose and embraced a new fashion, culottes, now known as “knee breeches.”
The fly of Henry’s pants was a simple affair, a rectangular panel sewn to the left side with buttonholes that buttoned over the right. This simple and practical design became known as the “French fly” and became almost universal in Western Europe over the next 60 years.
Over time, Ann Bonny’s “long” French fly was perfected into the “short” French fly. Anne’s fly extends from the inseam to the waistband. By merely sewing a few inches of the front seam together, the fly can be made shorter, removing a buttonhole and button or two.
These fly designs apparently did not reach into Eastern Europe, where presumably leather pants were as expensive as wool ones but lasted much longer, because they were never washed. Translating the French Fly into leather posed some problems, and so these leather pants had a different fly, essentially a hole in the center front with a panel buttoned over it that flipped or dropped up and down as necessary. This design caught on in the Alpine areas of central Europe, and especially in Bavaria under the label of “Lederhosen,” which is German for “leather pants.”
The Bavarian fly migrated further north, as in the Deutsches Museum in Berlin can be found a pair of enlisted trousers from the mid-1700s, with a half drop front fly; that is, it opens only the right side. This is essentially a cheaper fly, because it needs only one button to close, and does the same thing.
By the middle 1700s, the French fly had been around for over 150 years, and someone in France started a different fashion (and outdoing the Huns) by putting the two -opening Bavarian fly on culottes, thus making the culottes “a la Bavarois,” French for “like the Bavarians.” This was runway level high fashion for the time, and quickly spread among the well to do as the latest thing, with a new name, the “drop front” or “fall front” fly. Unfortunately, translating the design from leather, which does not unravel, to fabric, which does, made the Bavarian fly extremely complicated and therefore expensive. This of course added to its cachet, so much so that by 1775, it had reached the aristocracy even in the backwater of Colonial America.
Colonial Williamsburg has a fabulous collection of high-status men’s pants from the 18th century. A survey thereof shows the number of French flies waning into the 1770s, and the number of Bavarian drop front flies waxing beginning in 1775, reaching a height about 1800. Unfortunately, these are all very high-status garments, such as a pair of “button front breeches of cream-colored silk velvet, with repeat of small pink and green flowers self-covered buttons, those at knee embroidered with metallic silver thread. Silver galloon strap at knee.” But did the states and Continent really issue enlisted soldiers what amounts to hand made Givenchy trousers? Of course not.
The false idea that they did partially comes from a series of paintings done by Charles M. Lefferts in the early 1900s, later published as Uniforms of the Armies in the War of the American Revolution, 1775–1783. in 1926.
Measuring this man’s height against the known length of his musket makes him about 6’4 inches tall, the height of actors Clint Walker, Chuck Connors, Clint Eastwood, and the average NBA basketball player. If you look below the point of his vest, he is wearing drop front pants over his massive thighs. Curiously, he is also wearing a 1760s style skirted vest and long regimental coat. Are we to believe that Maryland issued its men old fashioned vests and coats, but high fashion breeches? Since Lefferts was born in 1873, he had no first-hand knowledge of his subject, we must look to period images.
Alas, these are of little help. It is difficult to discern whether any of the men in period paintings are wearing French Fly pants, Bavarian drop front pants, or anything else. The most informative images, the von German drawings, are unfortunately from the side, and of no help.
Since information is so scarce, we must turn to the other reason we believe that rev war soldiers wore drop front pants. Klinger’s Sketchbook ’76. Page 9 shows a pair of Bavarian drop front breeches, based on George Washington’s uniform in the Smithsonian, and Lt. Col. Tench Tilghman’s uniform from the Maryland Historical Society. This is odd, because Washington’s uniform is from the 1794, 15 years after the war and at the height of the drop front craze. Tilghman was the scion of a blue blood family, owned half of Baltimore, was an aide to Washington, and hobnobbed with Lafayette. Even if his uniform can be dated to the war years, it is not only a high-status uniform, but one of the highest status possible in America at the time; his not wearing Bavarian trousers would be of greater note. Neither are evidence that any of the 13 colonies nor the Continent paid to make their enlisted men such high fashion trousers.
On Sketchbook page11, Klinger bases his Bavarian drop front overalls on unspecified plates in “Bernard’s History of England” and the images above. While these may establish Bavarian drop front flies supplied by the King George, it certainly does not necessarily mean that the colonies were doing so.
Surprisingly, two pairs of enlisted overalls are known to exist, mistakenly labelled as “Pantaloons,” and residing in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Department. These are exquisitely made, and probably military examples, but unfortunately European, and from 1793 and later.
No credible evidence exists that any of the 13 colonies nor the Continent issued its troops Bavarian drop front pants. This makes sense, as that design is difficult to make, does the exact same thing as the simple French fly, and fashionable pants do not really contribute much extra to Liberty. Additionally, with all but the highest status clothiers making French fly pants, retraining them to cut out and make the new design would seriously impede production, even assuming that patterns and training could be somehow provided from Georgia to Vermont at a time when the men could barely be supplied a musket or shirt. In the War of the Revolution, the colonists were by all indications wearing French fly breeches and overalls, not drop front ones a la Bavarois.
As 2022 winds down, Emerging Revolutionary War wanted to share one more round-up of what our good friends at Americana Corner were doing in this last month of the year. We hope to continue to partner with Americana Corner in the 2023 and bring new content and new enthusiasm for this critical period in American history to the forefront. To all our readers, thank you and we all at Emerging Revolutionary War hope you have a great ending to 2022 and a Happy New Year!
A few blog posts for light reading as you wind down December…
Washington Takes Command December 27, 2022
When it came to finding the right man to command the new Continental Army assembled around Boston, George Washington was the logical choice. John Adams quickly nominated Washington and Congress unanimously approved. As Adams stated, “This appointment will have a great effect in cementing and securing the Union of these colonies.”
George Washington Enters Politics December 20, 2022
As befitting a wealthy landowner in colonial Virginia, George Washington became active in the colony’s politics in the 1750s. He first ran for a seat representing Frederick County in the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1755 but lost the election. Interestingly, it was the only political race he would ever lose. Washington ran for that same seat in 1758 and was victorious, and he held this seat for seven years.
Martha Washington was our nation’s first First Lady and lived in the shadow of her larger-than-life husband George. However, most Americans do not realize that she was a very capable woman and, when given the opportunity, managed her own affairs quite well.
George Washington’s Life at Mount Vernon December 6, 2022
When George Washington resigned as Colonel and Commander of the Virginia Regiment in 1758, he returned to Mount Vernon to begin his life as a gentleman planter. Although in less than twenty years Washington would be called away by his country, his time between the French and Indian War and the American Revolution was a significant portion of this great man’s life.
Beginning on December 8, 1777, General George Washington and his Continental army left the environs of White Marsh to begin the movement toward their winter encampment. The rank-and-file crossed over the Schuylkill River and headed westward. Within three days the soldiers had trudged into an area called the Gulph on a December Thursday morning.
During this sojourn Washington wrote a a flurry of orders and letters, finally selecting Valley Forge. His reasoning was explained in the general orders for that day while also observing another delay in order to honor a day of fasting and thanksgiving decreed by the Continental Congress. Washington began that general order on December 17, 1777 by acknowledging the thousands of men that were braving the weather, lack of sustenance, and the rigors of the 1777 campaigning season.
“The Commander-in-Chief with the highest satisfaction expresses his thanks to the officers and soldiers for the fortitude and patience with which they have sustained the fatigues of the Campaign. Altho’ in some instances we unfortunately failed, yet upon the whole Heaven hath smiled on our Arms and crowned them with signal success; and we may upon the best grounds conclude, that by a spirited continuance of the measures necessary for our defence we shall finally obtain the end of our Warfare, Independence, Liberty and Peace.“
The march resumed around 10 a.m. on December 19, a Friday, as the Continental army trudged out of the Gulph Mills area and on to their final destination for 1777; Valley Forge. The army would soon spread out to occupy over 7,800 acres of Pennsylvania countryside and spend the next six months resting, recuperating, surviving, and training.
To read more about the end of the 1777 campaign and the winter spent at Valley Forge, check out the book, by yours truly, Winter that Won the War, part of the Emerging Revolutionary War Series, published by Savas Beatie, LLC.
Sitting down to write on September 9, 1786 from Mount Vernon, George Washington addresses his letter to Virginian, veteran of the late revolution, and plantation owner John Francis Mercer. Mercer’s family had strong ties to Virginia and the Washington family, John’s father was Washington’s attorney for many years during the eighteenth-century. Even though John had married, moved, and settled in Maryland, the two continued to correspond, although this most recent response by Washington took much longer usual. When Mercer’s letter arrived to Mount Vernon several weeks earlier, Washington was able to do little as he was fighting a “fever.” Now, he sat down to reply, and although there were many topics on his mind in which he wished to discuss with Mercer, Washington’s feelings toward slavery were first on his mind.
At the time Washington composed his thoughts to Mercer, particularly on his plan to never purchase another slave, Washington owned approximately 277 slaves. Yet, he expressed his desire to slavery abolished through the gradual abolition of slavery. Washington was a man of principle, displayed time and again during the war, and his aversion to the institution only grew as Washington the man grew as well. And, his was not alone. Many founders of era, including many from the upper South, looked for gradual solutions to ending the institution, despite the modern historical narrative. In the end, Washington ensured the emancipation of his slaves following his wife’s death in his will.
Mount Vernon 9th. Sep 1786
Your favor of the 20th. ulto. did not reach me till about the first inst. – It found me in a fever, from which I am now but sufficiently recovered to attend to business. – I mention this to shew that I had it not in my power to give an answer to your propositions sooner. –
With respect to the first. I never mean (unless some particular circumstances should compel me to it) to possess another slave by purchase; it being among my first wishes to see some plan adopted by, [inserted: The Legislature by] which slavery in this Country may be abolished by slow, sure, & imperceptable degrees. – With respect to the 2d., I never did, nor never intend to purchase a military certificate; – I see no difference it makes with you (if it is one of the funds allotted for the discharge of my claim) who the the purchaser is  is. – If the depreciation is 3 for 1 only, you will have it in your power whilst you are at the receipt of Custom – Richmond – where it is said the great regulator of this business (Greaves) resides, to convert them into specie at that rate. – If the difference is more, there would be no propriety, if I inclined to deal in them at all, in my taking them at that exchange.
I shall rely on your promise of Two hundred pounds in five Weeks from the date of your letter. – It will enable me to pay the work men which have been employed abt. this house all the Spring & Summer, (some of whom are here still). – But there are two debts which press hard upon me. One of which, if there is no other resource, I must sell land or negroes to discharge. – It is owing to Govr. Clinton of New York, who was so obliging as to borrow, & become my security for Â£2500 to answer some calls of mine. – This sum was to be returned in twelve  twelve months from the conclusion of the Peace. – For the remains of it [struck: this sum], about Eight hundred pounds york Cy. I am now paying an interest of Seven prCt.; but the high interest (tho’ more than any estate can bear) I should not regard, if my credit was not at stake to comply with the conditions of the loan. – The other debt tho’ I know the person to whom it is due wants it, and I am equally anxious to pay it, might be put of a while longer. – This sum is larger than the other
“Many believed then and have believed since that privateering was a sideshow in the war” Furthermore, “privateering has long been given short shrift in general histories of the conflict, where privateers are treated as a minor theme if they are mentioned at all” [pg. xviii].
Best-selling maritime historian Erica Jay Dolin penned the two lines above in his introduction to his latest publication, Rebels at Sea, Privateering in the American Revolution. Building on previous works that covered specific aspects of “do succeed in showing how it [privateering] contributed to the American victory. But none of these books offers a comprehensive picture of the full extent of privateering” [xviii].
A bold statement to make, crafting a comprehensive picture “of the full extent of privateering” but that is exactly what Dolin does in his work. Starting with how individual colonies then states moved to outfitting vessels to begin preying on British maritime trade and on occasion Royal British Navy ships. The best tabulation of how much British maritime trade was affected during the American Revolution comes from John Bennett Jr. first secretary of Lloyd’s of London, the largest insurance marketplace at that time. He concluded that 3,386 British vessels were captured, only a 1,002 were recaptured or ransomed, which leaves a net gain of 2,384 that remained in enemy or American hands [pgs. 161-162].
The ensuing chapters after the introduction pivot the reader through the life of a privateersman, including the travails faced. He circles back to this in another chapter detailing the British response, including what imprisonment looked like; either in a British land jail or on the infamous Jersey prison ship in Wallabout Bay, New York. Keeping the narrative flowing, Doulin gives snippets on some of the greatest triumphs of American privateersman and some of the greatest tragedies to befall these sailors on the high seas. Tidbits of interesting information, for example, did you know that the future dentist of George Washington cut his teeth as a privateer? (Okay, pun intended).
Sandwiched in between is the role of the French, America’s steady ally, after 1777, and how that country and its ports helped American vessels. Lastly one of the other admirable additions to this text is the plethora of pictures Doulin was able to find and include. Having the visuals certainly enhances the public history side of this publication.
Overall, this is a great read on a lesser viewed subject of the American Revolution. However, what the privateers did enabled eventual American independence. As John Lehman, the secretary of the navy under President Ronald Reagan once wrote.
“From the beginning of the American Revolution until the end of the War of 1812, America’s real naval advantage lay in its privateers. It has been said that the battles of the American Revolution were fought on land, and independence was won at sea. For this we have the enormous success of American privateers to thank even more than the Continental Navy” [pg. xviii].
Individuals come to life in this narrative. The cat-and-mouse of life on the high seas comes to life in this book. Join Doulin in an adventure on the high seas and understand the role of privateers in securing American independence in the process. Enjoy!
We are happy to welcome Norman Desmarais to our Third Annual Symposium on the American Revolution, co-hosted with Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, The Lyceum and Emerging Revolutionary War. This year’s theme is “The World Turned Upside: The American Revolution’s Impact on a Global Scale. We asked Norm to answer a few questions about their talk and their passion for history.
Mr. Desmarais is the author of The Guide to the American Revolutionary War series (six volumes about the war on land and seven volumes about the war at sea and overseas), as well as America’s First Ally: France in the American Revolutionary War and Washington’s Engineer: Louis Duportail and the Creation of an Army Corps. He is the former editor-in-chief of The Brigade Dispatch, the Journal of the Brigade of the American Revolution.
Norm translated the Gazette Françoise, the French newspaper published in Newport, Rhode Island by the French fleet that brought the Comte de Rochambeau and 5,800 French troops to America in July 1780. He also translated and annotated Louis-François-Bertrand du Pont d’Aubevoye, comte de Lauberdière’s journal, published as The Road to Yorktown: The French Campaigns in the American Revolution, 1780-1783 (Savas Beatie 2021). He has also completed the translation and annotation of Journal of a French Quartermaster on the March to Yorktown June 16—October 6, 1781 which hopefully will find a publisher before the conference.
Norm was inducted into the American French Genealogical Society French-Canadian Hall of Fame in 2015 and received the Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019 and 2020.
What first attracted you to the study of early American history?
Watching the Walt Disney television miniseries The Swamp Fox and Davy Crockett with Fess Parker and Buddy Ebsen as a youngster captured my interest. Later, during the nation’s bicentennial, I attended some reenactments and my interest blossomed in a different direction.
When I was going through a period of writer’s block and looking for a project for my first sabbatical, I was speaking with one of my friends who suggested I consider following one of my interests and that brought me into the Revolutionary Era.
What keeps you involved in the study of this history?
Continually learning about our nation’s history. The best way to learn is by doing, so I’m involved with reenacting which feeds my research and gives me opportunities to share my knowledge with the public and other historians. It’s an educational experience like no other.
Do you find these things are the same or different?
I think they’re different, but they are related. They use the same sources in different ways for different objectives—sort of a repurposing of information.
Why do you think it is important for us to study the Revolutionary Era?
People today go to great effort to do their family genealogy to discover their roots. Going back to the Revolutionary Era is sort of like doing our national genealogy and going back to our national roots. If we don’t know where we come from, we can’t understand where we’re going as family members or as a nation.
What do you think was the most significant foreign impact on the American Revolution?
The entry of France in the war. France began providing covert aid to support the war effort right from the beginning. However, once she officially entered the war, she could provide military assistance along with a lot of materiel the Continental Army needed so badly. French artillery helped win the battle of Saratoga which was key to France joining the war. Without French involvement, we could not have won at Yorktown. Three quarters of the allied force at Yorktown was French (army and navy).
What are some of the important lessons of the American Revolution do you think are still relevant today?
Logistics: Supplying and maintaining an army across an ocean is extremely difficult. Consider our experience in Vietnam, Syria and Afghanistan among others.
Morale: An army that has a will to fight for its independence, homeland or whatever can sometimes defeat a better supplied and trained army that has a lesser will to fight.
National support: Think of this as morale on the home front. If the populace of a nation doesn’t support the war effort, it’s going to be very difficult to win. Consider our experience in Vietnam and what Russia is experiencing in the Ukraine.
What was it about the American Revolution that elicited such global interest?
First of all, it was inspired by the ideological principles of the Enlightenment which introduced some novel ideas and ways of thinking that inspired Europeans.
Second, there was great resentment about the increasing expansion of the British empire and its dominance in world politics and economy.
Third, Britain pretty much controlled the trade routes between Europe and the West and East Indies, in other words, the lucrative sugar trade and the tea and spice trade. The rest of Europe wanted to minimize Britain’s power and to obtain a share of that trade. Then there were the lucrative fishing rights off the coast of North America.
Fourth, People began to realize that the power of the monarchy resided in the willingness of the people to be governed by the monarchy. As they realized this and acted upon it, there arose a series of revolutions for independence and changes of government.
Join us for our Third annual Emerging Revolutionary War Symposium on September 24, 2022. Emerging Revolutionary War is excited to continue our partnership with Gadsby’s Tavern Museum and The Lyceum of Alexandria, VA to bring to you a day-long Symposium focusing on the American Revolution.
On July 9, 1755, British regulars and American colonial troops under the command of General Edward Braddock, commander in chief of His Majesty’s Forces in North America, were attacked by French and Native American warriors shortly after crossing the Monongahela River while making their way to besiege Fort Duquesne in the Ohio Valley near modern-day Pittsburgh. The long line of red-coated troops struggled to maintain cohesion and discipline as Native American warriors quickly outflanked them and used the dense cover of the woods to masterful and lethal effect. Within hours, a powerful British army was routed, its commander mortally wounded, and two-thirds of its forces casualties in one the worst disasters in British military history.
Join us this Sunday evening at 7 p.m. for our latest Rev War Revelry as we sit down with historian David L. Preston to discuss his book and this critical event in America’s colonial history.