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.”

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

The Forgotten Woman of Valley Forge from America’s Forgotten Ally

During the winter encampment at Valley Forge, as thousands of men huddled around drafty wooden cabins, with dwindling supplies, and battled boredom and disease, a relief effort was organized hundreds of miles away.

George Washington, ensconced at the Potts House in the heart of the Valley Forge encampment, was very aware of the dire straights that his forces were exposed to. Throughout the winter he sent missives, directly and through intermediaries, discreetly asking for more aid, for supplies, for changes to military bureaucracy. He even consented to a delegation of congressmen to visit Valley Forge and see first-hand the situation in the winter of 1777-1778.

In a proverbial sense, he did not leave any stone unturned to try and ease the plight of his forces or continue to stay abreast of British designs, less than twenty-miles away in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

After hearing of the contributions of the Oneidas and Tuscaroras at the Battle of Oriskany in New York, Washington sent a letter of invitation for the Native Americans to visit his army. Approximately 50 warriors along with supplies made the few hundred mile journey from upstate New York to eastern Pennsylvania. They left their villages on April 25 and arrived on May 15,1778 in Valley Forge. The leaders of the Oneida party dined with Washington. Five days later some of the warriors participated in the engagement at Barren Hill under the Marquis de Lafayette. Six of the warriors gave their life in service to their ally.

In 2007 historian Joseph T. Glatthaar published a book about the Oneidas and their contributions to the American victory in the war. The title, in part, is Forgotten Allies. A fitting testament to the service and sacrifice this tribe underwent in their partnership with the fledgling American nation.

In 2004 a sculpture was completed of Polly Cooper, Chief Skenandoah, and George Washington
(courtesy of King of Prussia Historical Society)

If the Oneidas were the “forgotten allies” than in the winter encampment at Valley Forge there was a forgotten woman that tramped south with her fellow Oneidas. Her name was Polly Cooper.

Along with the warriors, whom Washington wanted to serve as scouts, the Oneidas brought much needed supplies, including bushels of white corn. While the leaders dined at the Potts House, Cooper established a de-facto cooking show. She handed out the white corn to the soldiers and taught them how to use husks to make soup and ground grain to make it palatable.

This much needed food sources, along with an improved supply chain under quartermaster Nathanael Greene rounded out the bleak winter with the glimmer of hope for better supplies in the upcoming campaign season.

The Oneida, including Polly Cooper for her services, refused any and all payment. Friends help friends in need is what the Oneida told Washington and his officers. However, a tradition exists in the history of the Oneida nation. That story, passed down orally from generation to generation, highlights that Marth Washington, in her gratitude for what Polly Cooper did for the rank-and-file of the Continental army, presented the Oneida heroine with a shawl and bonnet.

Another account reads that Cooper was gifted a black shawl that she saw for sale in a store window. The Continental Congress appropriated the money for the clothing item and gifted it as their thanks to her. This shawl is still in the ownership of her descendants and has been loaned to the Oneida cultural center from time to time.

The black shawl that Polly Cooper received for her services to the Continental Army at Valley Forge
(courtesy of the Oneida Indian Nation
http://www.oneidaindiannation.org)

ERW Book Review: Washington’s End: The Final Years and Forgotten Struggle by Jonathan Horn

George Washington retired from public life at the end of his second presidential term on March 4, 1797. Twenty months and ten days later he died on December 14, 1799. In between Washington was also the first in the United States to be a former president, first to deal with securing his legacy as both a military hero and political figure, and having to see the country he sacrificed so much to create, lurch forward without him having an active part in it.

Until now, these years have been either excluded, glossed over, or an anti-climatic ending to a Washington biography. Until now. Joseph Horn, a former presidential speechwriter and the author of The Man Who Would Not Be Washington lends his talent to a new biography of Washington, examining those last few years in-depth.

The author has a valid point when he argues that, “for too long, the story of Washington’s last years has been squeezed into the margins of manuscripts, if included at all” (pg. 14). Channeling the method of famed Washington biographer Douglas Southall Freeman, Horn writes this biography in the “fog of war” style that affords the reader the opportunity to read the history “through the eyes of those who made it rather than through the hindsight of historians” (pg. 14).

Continue reading “ERW Book Review: Washington’s End: The Final Years and Forgotten Struggle by Jonathan Horn”

George Washington’s Birthday Celebration

During George Washington’s lifetime and maybe because he was such a great man, he had two birthdays beginning in the 1750’s. Born under the Julian calendar, George was born on February 11, 1731/32. When the English Parliament decreed in 1750 that two years hence England would switch calendars and adopt the Gregorian, used by the majority of countries/states in Europe, there was a discrepancy. So, 11-days was added (some believe that the old calendar was off by a year and a eleven days thus the slash in “1731/32” above).

Regardless, Washington’s birthday was moved to what we, in the United States, are taught now, that it fell on February 22, 1732. Just don’t tell his mother, who believed to her dying day that he was born on the aforementioned date. And who argues with mothers?

What we cannot argue with is that certain birthdays were celebrated at Gadsby’s Tavern, in Alexandria (a city a young George surveyed and helped lay out), Virginia. On October 6, 1796, John Gadsby leased the City Hotel from John Wise and quickly became the epicenter of social and political discourse in Alexandria.

Today the Gadsby Tavern and Museum is open to the public and run by Historic Alexandria a department within the City of Alexandria. For more information and to plan your visit, a bite to eat, or celebrate a birth night ball like George click here.

The balcony where musicians would sit and play at Gadsby’s Tavern (author’s collection)
The hall at Gadsby’s Tavern, which can still be rented out today for celebrations and ceremonies. (author’s collection)

Tragedy After Success

On October 19, 1781, General George Washington had one of the ultimate highs in his military career. With the help of the French army and navy, Washington forced the surrender of British Lord Charles Cornwallis’ forces at Yorktown, Virginia.

To best sum up the impact of this momentous victory for the Americans in their cause for independence, British Prime Minister Lord Frederick North exclaimed when receiving the news:

“Oh God, it’s all over.”

But, weeks before North learned of the calamity in the Tidewater of Virginia, Washington dealt with his own calamity. One very personal. The death of his stepson.

John Parke Custis, affectionately known as “Jackie” or “Jack” as he got older, was one of two children that Martha Custis Washington brought into the marriage with George Washington on January 6, 1759.

Jack Parke Custis
John Parke Custis

The other child, Martha Park Custis, known as “Patsy” had died in 1773 of an epileptic seizure.

Now, seventeen days after the successful completion of the Siege of Yorktown, Jack Custis would be dead.

Custis had joined his stepfather as a volunteer aide-de-camp for the Yorktown Campaign and contracted “camp fever” a catch-all term for a whole litany of illnesses. With the disease quickly causing his health to fail, Custis had one last wish before leaving the lines at Yorktown. He wanted to see the surrender, so faithful attendants lifted Custis in a stretcher to the top of one of the redoubts.

From there Custis had a complete view of the proceedings, the crowning achievement of his stepfather.

To remove him from the scene of pestilence and in a hopeful attempt to save 26-years old life, Custis was moved 30 miles up the Tidewater Peninsula of Virginia to Eltham Landing, where his uncle, Burwell Bassett owned a plantation. His mother, Martha and wife, Eleanor Calvert Custis was summoned to his bedside.

Before Washington could arrive at the bedstead, Jack died on November 5, 1781. He was the last of five children Martha had given birth too. Martha was, understandably, slipped into a “deep and solemn distress.” Even the general exhibited some rarely seen emotion, And”clasping his [Jack’s] bereaved widow to his bosom and proclaiming that henceforth he regarded Jacky’s two youngest children as his own.”

Jack was buried in the family plot near Williamsburg, Virginia at Queen’s Creek.

The funeral was a week later and afterward Washington accompanied Martha and Eleanor back to Mount Vernon. George and Martha Washington would spend considerable energy in the pursuing years raising their late son/stepson’s children. Jack’s widow, Eleanor, would leave the two youngest children in the care of the Washington’s and by war’s end had remarried to a Dr. David Stewart of Alexandria in which the couple would have 16 more children.

But, all that was in the future. In the meantime, after leaving Mount Vernon in mid-November, George Washington had a revolution to see through to its successful conclusion.

The loss of his stepson, whose limited service in the war does not diminish the anguish felt by his family, put Washington in the company of countless parents whose sons had given their lives in the same cause.

And the war had approximately two years left in America.

 

Sources Used:

Ron Chernow’s “Washington, A Life”

George Washington’s Mount Vernon website – http://www.mountvernon.org – accessed October 18, 2015