Rounding out the year with a round-up from our friends at Americana Corner

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.”

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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.

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The Life of Martha Washington
December 13, 2022

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.

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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.

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The March in…on this date in 1777

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.

On Ending Slavery: George Washington to John Mercer

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.

Read more: On Ending Slavery: George Washington to John Mercer

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.

Gov. John F. Mercer, circa 1803.

Mount Vernon 9th. Sep 1786

Dear Sir,

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 [2] 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 £2500 to answer some calls of mine. – This sum was to be returned in twelve [3] 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

I am. Dr Sir

Yr. Most Obedt. Hble Sert

Go: Washington

(Letter courtesy the Gilder Lehrman Collection)

Review: Rebels at Sea, Privateering in the American Revolution by Eric Jay Doulin

“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].

Impactful.

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!

2022 Symposium Speaker Spotlight: Norman Desmarais

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.

Registration fee is now only $60 per person and $50 for OHA members and students. If you feel more comfortable attending virtually, the fee is $30. To register visit: https://shop.alexandriava.gov/EventPurchase.aspx

Braddock’s Defeat: An Evening with David L. Preston

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.

“Rev War Revelry” Nathanael Greene, Quartermaster

In March 1778, Major General Nathanael Greene finally consented to become the quartermaster for the Continental army then encamped at Valley Forge. He was loathe to give up his position as a line commander in charge of a division of infantry but with reassurances from General George Washington that he would retain his place and that his expertise was absolutely needed to revitalize the quartermaster department the Rhode Islander agreed.

His work over the next two plus years paid huge dividends. On Sunday, August 21, at 7p.m. EDT join Emerging Revolutionary War on our Facebook page for the next “Rev War Revelry.” Joining ERW will be the American Battlefield Trust’s Senior Education Manager, historian and author Dan Davis.

In reference to Greene’s role as quartermaster general at Valley Forge, Davis said, “Primarily remembered for his actions during the Southern Campaign, Nathanael Greene’s efforts at Valley Forge were critical in sustaining the Continental Army during a crucial period of its history.”

We look forward to a great discussion and hope you can join us for this historian happy hour!

One artist’s depiction of what the encampment at Valley Forge looked like

“If General Howe attempts…”

On December 19, 1777 a bedraggled, underfed, undersupplied, and hemorrhaging manpower, the Continental army trudged into their permanent winter encampment at Valley Forge. Located approximately 20 miles from Philadelphia, General George Washington’s army would recuperate, revitalize, re-train, and march out six months later a different military force.

Meanwhile, the British army, victors of Brandywine and survivors of Germantown ensconced themselves in the colonial capital of the rebellious colonies after its peaceful fall on September 26, 1777. Commanded by Sir General William Howe the British were better fed, better equipped, and in theory better suited to continue conducting military operations to quell the rebellion.

Which begs the question, why did Howe not attack Valley Forge?

Sir William Howe

Although historians have grappled with this, there are a number of reasons why Howe did not press the issue during the winter months, some range from personal to logistical to how warfare was conducted in the 18th century.

Was Howe frustrated at Washington for not taking the bait at White Marsh in early December 1777 to fight outside defensive works and envisioned the same reticence would be shown by the Virginian if the British attempted an offensive action toward Valley Forge?

Or was Howe simply a man of his time and war was not practiced in winter when there were so many variables one could not control, chiefly the unpredictability of Mother Nature?

Was Howe already worried about his reception and defense when he arrived back in England? Only willing to take a low risk-high reward gambit, which he attempted in May 1778 at Barren Hill?

One of his own soldiers, Captain Richard Fitzpatrick in a letter to Charles Fox penned the following;

               “If General Howe attempts anything but securing his army for the winter I shall
consider him, after what has happened in the north, a very rash man. But if he
lets himself be governed by General Grant I shall not be surprised if we get
into some cursed scrape.”[1]

Or does this one paragraph explain the main reason behind no winter campaigning, “what has happened in the north.” A clear implication to the disaster of the other field army operating in the northern American colonies, Burgoyne’s that capitulated at Saratoga in October 1777.

Although we will never know for certain, this is a question that has come up in conversations, at book talks, and around the national park at Valley Forge. This is a question Emerging Revolutionary War will grapple with on our second annual bus tour, which will include Valley Forge, this November. Check the link “Bus Tour 2022” on the black banner above to secure your ticket and partake in the ongoing debate on why Howe did not attack. Limited tickets remain.

[1] Urban, Mark. “Fusiliers: The Saga of a British Redcoat Regiment in the American Revolution (Walker & Company: Manhattan, 2007).

“That his northern laurels would be turned into southern willows” Major General Horatio Gates Arrives to take command in North Carolina, July 25, 1780

Opportunity knocked for Horatio Gates with the fall of Charleston, South Carlina in May 1780. A devastating loss for the Americans, with nearly 6,000 men of the Southern Army under Benjamin Lincoln surrendered to Sir Henry Clinton. Unless something wasn’t done soon, the entire southern colonies could fall and the revolution along with it. Congress needed someone who could inspire men to join the war effort and a trusted leader with a positive record. Washington put Nathaniel Greene’s name forward, but Congress in a rare move went against Washington’s wishes and appointed Horatio Gates as commander of the Southern Department on June 13th

Major General Horatio Gates, ca. 1794 by Gilbert Stuart

The road from his victory at Saratoga to the Southern Department wasn’t an easy one for Gates. He sought independent field command and many believe he wanted Washington’s position as commander in chief. His allies in Congress and the Continental Army lobbied heavily on Gates’ behalf and were able to have Gates appointed to the powerful Board of War (the defacto Department of Defense). Though an important role (and serving as Washington’s civilian superior), Gates believed he belonged in the field.  Though his role in the famous “Conway Cabal” is still debated today, he was implicated via letters in criticizing Washington’s leadership. Whether his involvement was real or not, the relationship between him and Washington (and Washington’s inner circle) was seriously damaged. Due to the situation, Gates resigned from the Board of War and accepted appointment as department commander of the Northern Department. In this role he was responsible to look after the New York Highlands and watch from British incursions from Canada or New York city. Gates was unhappy in this role and proposed another American invasion of Canada. Washington and Congress disagreed and rejected his plans. He disliked his task of dealing with enemy native tribes in the region and dragged his feet in following orders. Finally, that fall, Gates took command of American forces in New England with his headquarters in Boston. Though excited by this appointment, he quickly realized that this post was not where the action would be. The British left Boston in 1776 and since the city was peaceful and not a welcome place for a man seeking glory and military action. Finally, after much frustration, Gates asked to return to his farm in Virginia and arrived there by December 1779. Gates found himself a hero without an army and continued to brood over his situation.

Continue reading ““That his northern laurels would be turned into southern willows” Major General Horatio Gates Arrives to take command in North Carolina, July 25, 1780”

‘Timely and Handsome’: Transformation of the Continental Army at Valley Forge (Virtual Event)

April 19th in American Revolutionary War history is usually remembered as the day the “shot heard around the world” happened in the towns of Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts. For the 2022 edition of that day, Emerging Revolutionary War invites you to turn your attention to Valley Forge and a virtual event hosted by the Valley Forge Park Alliance.

Starting at 7 p.m. EDT, Emerging Revolutionary War historian, Phillip S. Greenwalt will present a virtual talk entitled, ‘Timely and Handsome’: Transformation of the Continental Army at Valley Forge. A synopsis of the talk is below.

“As spring began to blossom over Valley Forge, Baron von Steuben’s drilling of the Continental army was in full effect. Although the men and officers of Washington’s army had become proficient on the drill field, there was still the simple question of how would they fare against the British in the upcoming campaign season? A month prior to the end of the winter encampment on June 19, 1778, a small-scale action, at Barren Hill, by a detachment of the Continental army would prove a snapshot into possible future battlefield behavior. The signs were promising. This talk will focus on the training of von Steuben, the composition of the Marquis de Lafayette’s force that marched out of the encampment in middle of May, the action at Barren’s Hill, and the insight this small scale action showed about the transformation of the army during the winter at Valley Forge.”

To register for the event, click here. The link will take you to the Valley Forge Park Alliance website. To learn more about this important aspect of the Valley Forge encampment, Emerging Revolutionary War invites you to click the link on the title bar at the top of this blog labeled “2022 Bus Tour” and secure one of 14 remaining tickets to attend the November 11-13, 2022 tour that will cover Valley Forge and Monmouth.

Reenactors portraying Continental soldiers being trained at Valley Forge
(courtesy of Valley Forge Park Alliance)