Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes back guest historian George Kotlik
By 1775, King George III ruled over nineteen provinces in British North America. Six remained loyal to the Crown during the Revolutionary War. Historians have so far explored, in great depth, the various reasons why the thirteen original colonies rebelled. On the flipside, why did some colonies remain loyal? What role did colonial governors play in securing their province’s loyalty during the rebellion? In an attempt to answer these questions, this research will focus on British North America’s mainland colonial governors and general assemblies during 1775. Data on the backgrounds of each British colonial governor on the North American mainland was gathered from their respective biographies. Hereafter, each governor’s background is considered by colony, listed in alphabetical order. Each biography is brief and not meant to be comprehensive. There is not enough time or space in this paper to accomplish that end. Instead, the biographies help determine the type of individual who governed each province at the rebellion’s onset – a unique factor that I argue contributed, in whatever small way, to a colony’s political disposition during the American Revolution. In addition to looking at provincial executive leadership, I have also inspected general assemblies. General assemblies were an important aspect in this research due to the fact that the mere presence of an assembly influenced a colony’s political disposition in 1775. What’s more, colonial governors wielded the authority to dissolve assemblies. That connection, in addition to the assemblies’ influence on provincial loyalty, I argue, merits their inclusion in this study.
When I was in elementary school, my father who worked for the Department of Defense was tasked with a job in Wiesbaden, Germany. Located in the central part of the country, the town was located in the German province of Hesse. Never thought much of the connection between this province and the founding of the country whose government my father was actively employed with at the time. To cut myself some slack I was nine years old when we moved to Deutschland.
Fast-forward to graduate school and my studies focused on the social and military world of the Maryland Line and the American Revolutionary War in general. One does not have to do too much research to find “Hessian” in a publication about battles and campaigns from the conflict. Furthermore, one always hears a line similar to the following…
“Although known generally as Hessians, soldiers under this label actually hailed from multiple German principalities”
“Grouped together as ‘Hessians’ the mercenaries hailed from other German states besides Hesse-Kassel”
To be honest, never thought more of it, then a trip in December to Mount Vernon where a display in their museum showing the various German states brought the idea back to the forefront where the question lingered. With a few other projects, interruptions that 2020 brought, and my curiosity was subdued for the last nine months.
Until the term “Hessians” popped up again, fortunately, on a weekend, when I had time to go down the proverbial research rabbit hole.
Approximately 34,000 German soldiers were hired by King George III to augment the British army in their subduing of the rebellious colonies. Numbers range from 12,000 on the low-end to 18,000 on the high-end of that number consisting of soldiers from the Landgraviate (or Principality) of Hesse-Kassel. Chief among the reasons that this principality furnished 35% to 53% of the total soldiery could be attributed to the fact that Frederick II, ruler of Hesse-Kassel was an uncle to the British monarch. Secondly, 7% of the adult male population this small principality was already under arms and was ready for deployment; being well-supplied and equipped for foreign service.
Sharing a name with the larger landgraviate, was Hesse-Hanau, a semi-autonomous principality that did not wait for the British government to come calling for troops. After news reached the German state of the bloody engagement at Bunker Hill, the rule of Hesse-Hanau Landgrave William offered King George III a regiment of infantry. Volunteers also flocked to the chance of service in America, with many relocating permanently at the end of hostilities, rather than returning. Numbers from Hanau list 2,422 men who served the British in the American Revolution.
Continuing the familial connection, Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel, with King George III’s sister, Augusta married to the heir of Duke Charles I, the use of soldiers from this German principality was another guarantee. As early as 1775, the duke sent an offer of troops to King George III and 4,000 sons of Wolfenbuttel would cross the Atlantic.
In a controversial clause, the British government agreed to pay a certain fee for every soldier of Duke Charles’s killed in battle, with three wounded Wolfenbuttel soldiers equaling one killed. In return, King George III and his forces would be repaid for any soldier that deserted or fell ill outside what was listed as an “uncommon malady.”
When he heard news of this stipulation, Frederick the Great of Prussia, supposedly snickered that “cattle tax” on all the soldiers passing through Prussia en-route to British service “because though human beings they had been sold as beasts.”
Ansbach-Bayreuth under Margrave Charles Alexander, deeply in debt, gave the British cause 2,361 soldiers to subdue the rebellion in North America to help rescue his finances. This proved unsuccessful in the long run as he would eventually sell his dual margraviates to Prussia in 1791 and life off the sale in England.
Waldeck, under Prince Frederich Karl August had three standing regiments ready for foreign service as part of their governing structure. One of these regiments helped in the defense of Pensacola, along with companies being stationed in Mobile and Baton Rouge, probably the move diverse, geographically, of any of the German regiments in the American war. Waldeckers, numbering 1,225, served in the various theaters of the American Revolution.
Five battalions from Hanover, the ancestral lands of King George III’s family saw service in Minorca and Gibraltar which freed British troops in those duty stations for service in North America.
Anhalt-Zerbst, in 1777, agreed to send 1,160 men to buttress British forces in North America, including garrisoning New York City in 1780.
From Saratoga to Yorktown, from Quebec to New York City, these German mercenaries aided the cause of the British, providing much-needed manpower in an attempt to recover the rebellious American colonies. However, the cause of freedom from King George III that prompted the rebellion resonated with thousands of these German soldiers, who decided to stay after the war or after exchange when captured, or walked away in service. In fact, slightly over 50%, around 17,300 actually returned to their German home principalities upon the conclusion of the war in 1783.
An introduction to another aspect of how the American Revolution had far reaching international complications and commitments.
A few weeks ago, heading to the airport after the first Emerging Revolutionary War symposium, fellow ERW historian Rob Orrison made a pit stop in a residential neighborhood in Prince William County, Virginia.
To the average traveler to the Ronald Reagan International Washington National Airport this slight detour would not be normal. Yet, for two historians of early American history, these detours are rarely common.
This particular detour took us to a portion of the King’s Highway that has been preserved by the Prince William County Historic Preservation Division. Along this stretch soldiers in the French Army under Comte de Rocambeau and Continentals under General George Washington traversed on their way to Yorktown to entrap the British under General Lord Charles Cornwallis.
Thus, one king’s soldiers, King Louis XVI took a route named for monarch to assist rebels in trapping the ground forces of another king, that of Great Britain by using a road named for the British monarch. Interesting to think about the naming of the road in those terms.
Portions of this route are still preserved today, other sections have been modernized and blacktopped to be Route 1.
Below are a few photos I snapped, including the size 14 Nike shoe belonging to yours truly, re-enacting marching down the thoroughfare like the patriots of 1781.
When one studies British General Thomas Gage and his performance leading up to Lexington and Concord you must step back and put yourself in Gage’s position. A man that believed not only in Royal authority over the American colonies, but also in the basic rules of law. Gage was not anti-American by any means.
In November 1763, Gage was placed in overall command of British forces in the American colonies and settles in New York. At this time Gage was well respected by most American colonists. Of course, this all changed in 1774 when Gage was sent north to Boston to become the Royal-appointed Governor of Massachusetts and enforce the highly unpopular Port Bill that closed the port of Boston among other harsh actions. He was walking into a situation that most historians today argue was a no-win situation. Continue reading ““Acts of a Rude Rabble…” General Gage, Lord Dartmouth and Ignorant Orders”→
His name might not be too familiar, but he has the distinction of signing three of the most important documents of the American Revolutionary period; the petition to King George III of 1774, the Declaration of Independence, and the United States Constitution. His name?
Born in the colony of Maryland on September 18, 1733 in the county of Cecil, the young Read was shortly thereafter on the move. His family, while George was an infant, resettled in New Castle, Delaware. When of school age, he attended Reverend Francis Allison’s Academy in New London, Pennsylvania, and one of his classmates was Thomas McKean, a future Signer of the Declaration of Independence as well. George moved on to study law in Philadelphia under the tutelage of John Moland. In 1753, George was admitted to the bar and the next year had settled back in New Castle, Delaware to practice. Continue reading “Six Signers Signing”→
Emerging Revolutionary War is honored to share the post below by guest historian Kerry Mitchell
Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Richard Henry Lee, George Mason, Patrick Henry…when thinking about the period before and during the American Revolution these names come up as some of the great Virginians who were involved in the founding of our nation. While these men were great on their own accounts, there were other Virginian men who helped shaped our nation. Thomas Blackburn of Prince William County is one of these who history tends to glance over even though during the 1760s and 1770s, he was an important figure in American history.
Thomas was born in Prince William County around 1742 to Richard and Mary (nee Watts) Blackburn. Richard Blackburn was a native from Ripon, England who came over in the early 1700s and settled in Gloucester County, Virginia before moving to Prince William County in 1733. In addition to being a carpenter and farmer, Richard was involved in Prince William County politics and served as a Justice of the Peace. Not much is known about Thomas’s early childhood. He inherits his family home and farm, Rippon Lodge in 1760. That same year he marries Christian Scott with whom he has six children with. By 1762, Thomas receives a captain’s commission from the governor. With the French and Indian War ending it is unclear to what extent he served. We do know that in September 1766 he was serving as a Justice of the Peace for Prince William County. In 1772, Thomas was elected to be one of the Prince William representatives to the House of Burgesses.
Thomas’s election to the House coincided with the brewing unrest brewing between the colonists and Great Britain. After the Boston Tea Party and Britain’s passage of the intolerable Acts, Thomas was amongst the group of members who drafted the resolution that would call for a day of prayer and fasting for the people of Boston. Lord Dunmore believed the resolution was an insult to King George III and he dissolved the House on My 26th. Thomas was among the 22 ex-members who met at Raleigh Tavern and decided they would support a continental boycott of British goods. He went back to Prince William County to have the resolution passed by county leaders (which they did on June 6th). From 1774-1776, Thomas served in the first four Virginia conventions and involved himself in many committees dealing with the unrest. He was part of the committee offering George Washington the command of Virginia’s militia and as well as the committee with George Mason and Henry Lee II raising troops to defend Virginia. In the spring of 1776, Thomas lost his seat to attend the 5th Virginia Convention to Cuthbert Bullitt.
After losing his seat to Bullitt, Thomas was appointed as a Lt. Colonel of the 2nd Virginia State Regiment. After being passed over for a promotion, Thomas gave in his resignation on June 10, 1777. While he was out of the army officially, Thomas did not stay out of the fight for long. He rejoined the Virginia Militia as a volunteer. He fought at the battle of Germantown, Pennsylvania in October 1777. During this battle, he was wounded in the leg which ended his military career. He returned to Rippon Lodge in Woodbridge, Virginia to continue farming and entertaining his many friends. This included George Washington whom Thomas became related to through marriage when his daughter, Julia Ann, married George’s nephew, Bushrod Washington. On July 7, 1807, Thomas passed away at Rippon Lodge where he is buried in the family cemetery.
*Originally from New York, Kerry Mitchell is currently the Historic Interpreter at Rippon Lodge Historic Site, part of Prince William County’s Historic Preservation Division. She has a B.A. in Historic Preservation from the University of Mary Washington, a M.A. in American History from George Mason University and a graduate certificate in Museum Collection Care and Management from The George Washington University. She has previously worked at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, Reston Historic Trust, and the Fire Island National Seashore.*
With the visit of the L’Hermione to the east coast of the United States this summer, there has been a heightened interest in the Franco-American alliance that won the American Revolution. The French rebuilt the L’Hermione not only for its beauty but also its historical significance. Most importantly, its mission and the passenger it contained when it arrived in Boston in the fall of 1780.
The spring of 1780 was a low point in the American cause of independence. Stagnation in the north between Washington and British commander General Sir Henry Clinton combined with devastating defeats in the Southern Theater caused low morale among the patriots. Cornwallis had complete control over the Southern colonies and no standing American force seemed to be able to stop his movements. Continue reading ““Our clocks are slow” L’Hermione, Lafayette and the Franco-American Alliance”→