Sunday, April 28, 2019

Episode 094 War at Sea, Battle of Turtle Gut Inlet

When we last left the Continental Navy in Episode 84, Commander Esek Hopkins had completed the fleet’s raid on the Bahamas.  After returning, it found itself bottled up in Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island.  The British Navy kept the fleet from leaving.

Meanwhile, Hopkins had to deal with a host of criticism.  He could not afford to pay his crew.  Congress was upset because he ignored orders, going to the Bahamas instead of destroying the British Fleet off the Virginia and Carolina coasts.  He also ignored instructions to go destroy the British fleet in Nova Scotia.  That fact that those orders were insanely unrealistic even with a navy twice its size did not seem to enter into the debate.

Most of Hopkins’ crew abandoned him to go work on privateers.  That was where the action was, and where a sailor could make far higher pay and get a larger percentage of any prizes.  By the summer of 1776, Hopkins had ships he could not man, and criticisms he could not answer to anyone’s satisfaction. As a result, he did almost nothing.


In truth, privateers were the real naval force for the Continentals for the duration of the war.  On a privateer, a crew divided up the full value of any captured ship and cargo.  Navy crews only received one-third of the value of merchant ships, and one-half the value of warships.  Further the Navy often did not have the money to pay even that reduced value.  Some privateers earned more than $1000 on a single voyage, at a time when a private in the Continental Army earned $6/month.

The British also did not treat privateers differently than navy sailors.  Under the law, privateers could be hanged as pirates, but I guess sailors could have been hanged as traitors. In practice, when the British captured sailors or privateers, they generally treated them as prisoners of war.

On April 3 1776, the Continental Congress formally approved privateering and granting letters of marque to privateer ships.  Essentially this granted ship owners and crew free passage to a friendly port where a prize court in cities like New Providence, Philadelphia, or Baltimore could award the capture and allow them to sell their prize, usually at auction.  Of course, large numbers of privateers had been operating for over a year, either with the authorization of a particular colony, or just acting on their own authority.

American Privateer Jack Attacking a British Navy Brig
(From American War for Independence at Sea)
Continental privateers had to submit a bond to Congress, of between $10,000 and $20,000 depending on the size of the ship.  The bond required that they operate under certain rules, such as targeting only British ships, not looting the private belongings of prisoners, not killing or torturing prisoners, and returning all captured ships to a prize court for formal judgment that the capture was valid and to assess the value of the prize.

But compared to a navy, privateering just worked better.  New England especially was full of trained ship’s crews and merchant vessels.  Most of these vessels regularly travelled in dangerous waters before the war, and had carried some weaponry to fend off pirates.  It often only took adding a few extra guns to make the ship into a formidable attack vehicle.  Congress did not have to put out any money for ships or crew, the ships and crew aboard privateers got paid better and more regularly, and they performed the necessary function of capturing British ships and supplies, making life more difficult for the British and providing much needed supplies for the patriot cause.

In an earlier episode, I mentioned the capture of the Nancy in 1775, which provided the Continental Army with much needed munitions for the Siege of Boston.

By one count, over the course of the entire war, the Continental Navy had a total of 64 ships in operation, which captured 196 enemy vessels.  Privateers deployed 1697 ships, capturing 2283 enemy vessels.  Privateers captured the bulk of the 16,000 British who were taken prisoner at sea, compared to about 15,000 prisoners captured by the Continental Army over the course of the war.

Privateers did not limit themselves to the North American coast.  They operated throughout the West Indies, capturing British merchant ships trading with their own island colonies.  Privateers even patrolled the coast of Europe and England itself, occasionally picking off isolated ships that they could rush back to America.

Privateers often acted alone or in small groups.  There were no large squadrons of them and they could not attack the largest warships or fleets.  But privateers were so numerous that they continually harassed supply ships and smaller navy patrol ships.  This also made it difficult for the British to use their smaller ships to patrol the coast and stop smugglers. It allowed private shipping to import roughly 2 million pounds of gunpowder or saltpeter (an essential component of gunpowder) into North America.  Absent this effort, Washington would have been reduced to the use of spears or bows and arrows.

Shipping brought in all sorts of other military supplies and necessities critical to the prosecution of the war.  European powers, notably the French, Dutch, and Spanish, were willing to sell supplies to the Americans on the sly, but they were not willing to ship it to America.  Doing so would be an act of war against Britain.  But they would ship to their colonies in the West Indies and allow private American vessels carry the much-needed supplies to America.  The work of privateers in this effort was absolutely essential to the final American victory.

Washington’s Navy

Washington had also authorized the use of private ships to attack the enemy during late 1775 and 1776.  These were not authorized by Congress nor any other legitimate authority.  It was also before Congress had authorized any navy. Since many of the ships were manned by Continental soldiers, it may not be fair to characterize them as privateers, but they largely acted independently and worked to harass British shipping in New England.

When he first took control of the army, he rejected any proposals to mount any challenge to the British Navy.  Washington bought into the reputation that the British Navy held undisputed dominance of the high seas.  If large countries like France could not even challenge the British Navy, what hope did a few colonial merchant ships converted for war have?

Some of his officers though, had captained ships.  They knew that although they could not dominate the seas, they could easily pick off isolated transport ships, and even challenge some of smaller patrol ships.  Even if they could not control the Atlantic, they could make Britain’s control much more difficult.
John Glover (from Wikimedia)

One of the biggest army advocates for a navy was Colonel John Glover, commander of the 14th Regiment from Marblehead, Massachusetts.  Glover’s Regiment would play a key role in helping Washington to cross key waterways during critical battles of the war.  But in 1775, they were just another regiment surrounding Boston.  Washington, however, noted that Glover kept his regiment in exceptional order and discipline.

Before the war, Glover had owned and captained ships that traded with Europe and the West Indies.  Many of his soldiers had been sailors who followed their captain to war shortly after Lexington.  By fall 1775, Glover had convinced Washington to give it a try, and even leased the army one of his own ships, the Hannah, with his son Lt. John Glover, Jr. serving as first officer Washington eventually approved the leasing and use of eight converted schooners to harass the navy around Boston and attack any isolated ships they could find.

In the six months before the Siege of Boston ended, Washington’s Navy had captured a total of 55 ships, the Nancy captured by the Lee, being the most valuable.  Despite successes, Washington’s ships sometimes captured ships belonging to patriots.  Some the ships captured mistakenly.  Others they recaptured, meaning they were American ships that the British had captured, then recaptured by the Americans.  In both cases, the crew received no prize money.  In one case of recapture, the disappointed crew of the Hannah mutinied.  Washington had to put down the mutiny and punishing most of the crew with lashes.

This was still months before Congress even knew about Washington’s Navy, and before it had authorized any Navy of its own.  When a Congressional delegation visited that fall, Washington discussed the problems of running both and army and navy.  The delegation agreed that Massachusetts should handle the court hearings for awarding prizes.  It also motivated the Continental Congress to create its own Navy.  That eventually led to the formal navy led by Esek Hopkins.

Washington’s navy never joined Hopkins’ navy.  Washington’s ships continued to operate under Washington’s command.

Massachusetts Bay

After Washington moved his army to New York, part of his informal Navy a continued to patrol around Boston.  Although the British had abandoned Boston in March, the Navy left a few ships around Massachusetts Bay, mostly to make sure British transports did not try to land there by mistake and get captured.

On May 17, the HMS Hope, a British supply ship filled with gunpowder and entrenching tools, attempted to sail into Boston Harbor, apparently still unaware of the evacuation.  The Franklin, a small six gun vessel from Washington’s Navy, discovered the ship before the British Navy did.  The Franklin’s captain, James Mugford sailed up and captured the Hope before they knew what was happening.  Captain Mugford then sailed his prize, five times the size of his own ship, into Boston.  This was the biggest prize for the patriots except for the Nancy a year earlier.

The British were pretty upset that this little privateer had captured a ship right under their nose.  When the Franklin and an even smaller ship, the Lady Washington sailed out of Boston two days later, the British sent 12 or 13 small ships containing a total of around 200 sailors and marines.  They hoped to board both ships and capture the crews.

The Lexington (from Wikimedia)
The British approached, pretending to be patriots, but fooling no one.  Both patriot ships began firing on the attackers.  The Franklin successfully fended off the boarding parties after intense hand to hand combat.  Captain Mugford received fatal wound from a lance as he attempted to chop off the hands of boarders with his sword.  Some accounts say the Franklin ran aground. The crew had to escape to land and form a line of battle to fight off the attackers.

Privateers were a major problem for the British, but privateers also often lost battles with British ships.  For example, a privateer named the Yankee Hero tangled with the HMS Melford (sometimes spelled Millford).  The Yankee Hero had been headed down the New England coast with only a partial crew, hoping to hire more sailors in Boston.  On June 7, 1776, the Melford spotted her and sailed to intercept.  The two ships engaged in a two hour gun battle before the Yankee Hero finally surrendered.  That meant the British took the ship as a prize and made prisoners of the crew.  Imprisonment often meant months or even years on a prison ship, usually ending in a slow death from starvation or disease.  Alternatively, crew members sometimes agreed to serve the British Navy to avoid that terrible fate.

John Barry

Privateers and Washington’s informal navy were not the only patriot resources at sea.  Although Hopkins and most of the Continental Navy were stuck in Rhode Island, several of Hopkins’ officers still actively engaged the enemy.  One of his captains, John Barry, commanded the Lexington.  Around this same time John Paul Jones received a commission as Captain of the Providence.  But the Providence was stuck in Rhode Island, so Jones’ story does not get interesting until much later.  For now, I want to take a look at Barry.

John Barry (from Wikimedia)
John Barry had been born in Ireland to a poor farmer who was kicked off his land while Barry was still a child.  He went to sea as a young boy, taking a job as a cabin boy.  Barry eventually moved to America, where he began work as an officer on merchant vessels between Philadelphia and the West Indies.  After a few years, he would captain merchant vessels as he developed a good reputation for running merchant ships.

Barry probably adopted Philadelphia as his home, because it was one of the few places in the British Empire where he could practice his Catholic faith openly.  At the outbreak of war, Barry was captaining the largest merchant vessels for prominent Philadelphia merchant Robert Morris.  In late 1775, when the Continental Congress created the new Continental Navy, Morris, then a delegate from Pennsylvania, helped Barry get a commission.  Barry accompanied Hopkins on his mission to the Bahamas, and acquitted himself well.

While Hopkins was stuck in Narragansett Bay, Barry kept the Lexington out at sea.  On April 7, 1776, the Lexington encountered the British sloop Edward.  After a lengthy sea battle, the Edward struck her colors and surrendered.  His capture of this war ship helped establish Barry as one of the early naval war heroes.  Barry sent the Edward and several other captured supply ships to Philadelphia during the spring and summer.

His success also drew the attention of British Navy.  In May two British ships, the  HMS Roebuck and Liverpool, chased the Lexington.  The ships engaged in a running duel lasting all day.  In the end, Barry gave them the slip and returned to Philadelphia.

Philadelphia Naval Defenses

Philadelphia, the largest city in the colonies, remained relatively impervious to attack by the British Navy.  Unlike the other major colonial seaports, Philadelphia was not on the coast.  A ship had to access it by sailing miles up the Delaware River.

The patriots had set up a series of alarm posts along the river, most of which had row galleys armed with cannon.  These proved surprisingly effective.  On a river, sailing maneuverability is limited.  These large rowboats could move in any direction to attack a ship.  Although they usually had only one cannon and could not easily sink a larger sloop, many of them used together could harass and attack any ship that tried to get up the river.

That is exactly what happened when Captain Barry escaped up river to avoid the Roebuck and Liverpool.  The two ships attempted to follow the Lexington up the Delaware River.  A smaller patriot ship, the Wasp, and 13 row galleys attacked the two British warships several miles down river from Philadelphia.  The two sides engaged in a four hour firefight, during which time the Roebuck ran aground.  The patriots did not have enough men or guns to take the ship.  The two British vessels remained overnight until the tide lifted the Roebuck off the sand bar.  They retreated back down to a point where the river widened greatly, giving them much better maneuverability.

After that encounter, the British did not attempt to move up the river again.  Instead, they remained down near the bay where they could intercept any traffic trying to enter or leave the river.

Battle of Turtle Gut Inlet

In June, just such a merchant vessel attempted to get past the British blockade.  The Nancy had made a run down to St. Croix and St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands.  She was loaded with gunpowder, and weaponry purchased in the French colonies, as well as rum and sugar.  By way of explanation, this Nancy was a completely different ship from the Nancy captured in New England several months earlier.  This ship was built in Wilmington Delaware in 1775.

Turtle Gut Inlet on NJ Coast (from Wikimedia)
Two British vessels, the Kingfisher and Orpheus, spotted the Nancy on June 28 and began a chase.  Unable to get past the British, the Nancy moved north, up along the New Jersey coast.  Around dusk, a fog settled in and the two British ships lost sight of their target.  The Nancy sailed into Turtle Gut Inlet.  This was a small waterway between two islands that today make up the Wildwood Beaches along the New Jersey shore.  In the early 20th century, engineers filled in this inlet to make Wildwood one long island instead of two smaller islands.  But in 1776, the Nancy could move into this inlet between the two islands.

Eager to protect his cargo, the captain of the Nancy, Hugh Montgomery, began unloading the ship, carrying the cargo to shore in small rowboats.  The crew made little progress getting the cargo off the ship overnight.  In the morning, the British ships spotted the Nancy again and moved in for another attack.

Also that morning, Captain Barry, aboard the Lexington, along with the Wasp and the Reprisal arrived on the scene to assist the Nancy.  Even so, the two British ships were much larger and had more guns than the three Continental ships.  They would not be chased off.  The British Navy could probably win a protracted battle.

Instead, the Continental ships harassed and distracted the British, while sending several of their longboats to help the Nancy’s crew unload the ship.  The Americans could not keep up the fight for very long.  The firefight resulted in one American sailor killed and another wounded before the Nancy decided to abandon its efforts to save the cargo.  It had removed about two-thirds of the cargo before abandoning the ship.

Rather than let it fall into the hands of the enemy though, Captain Montgomery laid a long fuse down to the ship’s hold, still carrying a great deal of gunpowder.  They could not keep it, but they also would not let it fall into enemy hands.

Seeing the Americans abandon ship, the Kingfisher sent a prize crew aboard the Nancy.  The British were aboard when the fuse finally hit the powder magazine causing a huge explosion.  A count of body parts after the fact, led to an estimate of 30 or 40 British officers and crew killed by the explosion.

Although the Americans lost their ship, the battle was widely considered an American victory.  The Continental Navy fought a successful holding action against larger British warships and saved much of the cargo. It enhanced Barry’s reputation and that of the new Navy generally.

Next Week: the Continentals surrender Canada following the Battle of Three Rivers.

- - -

Next Episode 95: The Battle of Trois-Rivières (Three Rivers)

Previous Episode 93: The Dave Mathews Band Breaks Up

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Further Reading

Resources to learn more about today’s topic.


American War of Independence at Sea:

Privateers and Mariners in the American Revolution:

Privateers of the Revolution:

The Whale-Boat Men of Long Island Sound, by Jackson Kuhl, Journal of the American Revolution (2013)

Overlooked Hero: General John Glover, by Michael Schellhammer, Journal of the American Revolution (2013):

The Yankee Hero:

Origins of Washington’s Fleet:'s%20Fleet.html

Commodore Barry:

John Barry: True Father of the American Navy, by Jodie Gilmore (2010):

Naval Engagements 1775-1783

Rolling on the River: Delaware in the American Revolution, by Kim Burdick (2017):

The Battle of Turtle Gut Inlet

Turtle Gut Inlet:

Turtle Gut Park,NJ: /towns/wildwood_crest_nj_revolutionary_war_sites.htm

Free eBooks
(from unless noted)

Journal of the Continental Congress, Vol. 4, Jan-June, 1776 Govt. Printing Office, 1904.

Naval Documents of the American Revolution (Vols. 1-9) (from ANRS at

Griffin, Martin The Story of Commodore John Barry, Philadelphia, 1908.

Howe, Octavius T. Beverly Privateers in the American Revolution, The Univ. Press, 1922.

Maclay, Edgar Stanton A History of American Privateers, D. Appleton & Co. 1899.

Meany, William Commodore John Barry, the Father of the American Navy, Harper and Brothers, 1911.

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)

Beeman, Richard R. Our Lives, Our Fortunes and Our Sacred Honor: The Forging of American Independence, 1774-1776, New York: Basic Books, 2013.

McGrath, Tim Give Me a Fast Ship: The Continental Navy and America's Revolution at Sea, Caliber, 2014.

Nelson, James George Washington’s Secret Navy, McGraw-Hill, 2008.

Patton, Robert H. Patriot Pirates: The Privateer War for Freedom and Fortune in the American Revolution, Pantheon, 2008 (book recommendation of the week).

Shomette, Donald G. Privateers of the Revolution: War on the New Jersey Coast, 1775-1783, Schiffer Publishing, 2016.

Willis, Sam The Struggle for Sea Power: A Naval History of the American Revolution, New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2016.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Episode 093: The Dave Mathews Band Breaks Up

As General Washington prepared for an expected British invasion of New York City in the summer of 1776, the overwhelming force of British regulars was not his only worry.  New York was filled with Tories.  It may have been the most pro-British of the 13 colonies.

Even before the Continental Army moved to New York, local patriots had forced the royal government out of the colony. Operating under Isaac Sears, who was an active leader in the Sons of Liberty, patriots had forced Royal Governor William Tryon to flee the city in 1775.  He could only rule over the colony from a British Navy ship in the harbor.  The New York Tories could not speak publicly about their views, but there were too many of them to lock up or banish from the colony.  So unlike Boston, where the relatively small numbers of Tories had been bottled up in the city along with the regulars, the Continental Army in New York found itself surrounded and intermingling with thousands of people who remained loyal to the King.  Most Tories had left the city itself, but Staten Island and Long Island had plenty.

Holy Ground Riots

Much of the Continental Army settled into the city.  For the Continental soldiers, who were mostly small town New Englanders, New York City was a culture shock.  The city had a pretty large red light district, known as the Holy Ground.  The name derived from the fact that Trinity Church owned most of the real estate in the neighborhood.

Of course, it’s not like Boston didn’t have prostitutes, it did.  But in puritan Boston, the prostitutes maintained a low profile.  In New York, soldiers and officers were shocked by the brazenness and the prostitutes actively plying their trade.  One young lieutenant commented on their “impudence and immodesty” After getting to know them a little better, he was even more shocked by their apparent brutality.

Holy Ground Brothel (from Revolutionary War Journal)
Even so, soldiers actively availed themselves of their services.  By some accounts there were as many as 500 women working in the Holy Ground area.  The district was nothing new.  It had been serving locals at least since the 1760s.  But the influx of thousands of young soldiers away from home caused business to boom.  In the evenings soldiers would head to the district to get drunk and get laid. Within weeks of arrival, syphilis began spreading throughout the ranks.  In the days before antibiotics, syphilis would often mean a slow and painful death.

It is not entirely clear whether the New York prostitutes were particularly pro-Tory, or whether the motive was money, or some sadistic pleasure.  But in April 1776, two Continental soldiers turned up dead, one of them brutally castrated, in one of the Holy Ground brothels.

The soldiers rioted for days, destroying brothels and openly fighting in the streets with some of the locals.  The men tore down the brothel where the army had found the two dead soldiers, and damaged several others.  A few days later locals found the dead body of a prostitute dumped into an outhouse, presumably killed during the riots.

Washington ordered a curfew, punished drunkenness with public floggings, and did what he could to keep the army and the prostitutes separate.  He did not attempt to ban soldiers from visiting Holy Ground entirely.  Detachments sent to keep order there had trouble identifying soldiers since almost none of them wore uniforms.

The active rioting only lasted a few days before the fighting stopped. Business dipped a little for a short time, but soon returned to normal.  Soldiers continued to risk their lives for visits to the Holy Ground.

Tory Efforts to Organize

If the muted presence of Tories in the city was bad, it was even worse in some of the outlying areas like Long Island or Staten Island.  In many of the outskirts, Tories still spoke openly in favor of supporting the King and of forming militia units to support the regulars once they arrived.

There were still a few companies of regulars in New York.  These units, however, remained aboard ships in New York Harbor.  They did not attempt to establish permanent bases anywhere, not even on some of the islands that remained Tory strongholds.  There simply were not enough of them to protect against a patriot raid to capture or kill them.

Generals Lee and Washington both attempted to cut off interactions with the ships in the harbor.  Until Lee’s arrival, goods and information flowed freely between the fleet and the city.  The Continental Army made commerce a little more difficult.  But the fleet was able to get the food and supplies it needed from the surrounding islands.  There were plenty of Tories, as well as other merchants happy to sell for hard money.  The fleet also spread the word that the regulars were on their way, and that loyal colonists should prepare for their arrival as best they could.

Days after his arrival from Boston in April, Washington had written the local Committee of Safety to do what it could to disrupt communications between Governor Tryon aboard ship and the many Tory elements in the region. Two months later in June, Washington reported that little had changed and that the Royal Governor was still stirring up trouble.

Israel Putnam (from Wikimedia)
Concerned about Tory activity, Washington instructed General Israel Putnam, his second in command in New York, to arrest some of the key Tories in and around New York City.  He wanted it done quietly so as to avoid stirring up loyalist sentiments.  Putnam should arrest notorious leaders espousing opposition to the patriot cause, and send them to a prison set up in Connecticut for this purpose.

The patriots had rounded up quite a few Tories, but numerous others escaped their grasp.  Richard Hewitt was a prominent Tory living out on Long Island near Suffolk.  Fans of the AMC series, Turn, which is loosely based on events on Long Island during the Revolution, may know Hewitt as a British officer.  In fact, Hewitt was a native born New Yorker.

Putnam authorized the arrest of Hewitt, and deployed a group on horseback to go out to Hempstead in Suffolk County to arrest him.  Hewitt, however, rounded up a group of loyalists, who armed themselves and occupied his house.  When the patriots arrived, the two parties exchanged fire, in what is sometimes called the Battle of Hempstead Swamp.  It was hardly a battle though, involving a few dozen men at most, with no known casualties.  The patriot attackers realized they could not take the house and returned home empty handed.  Once the regulars arrived a few months later, Hewitt would raise a regiment of loyalist militia and would command them as a Lt. Col.

Another prominent Tory, Oliver De Lancey, lived on Manhattan, just north of town, in the area that is today part of Central Park.  De Lancey came from one of the wealthiest and politically powerful families in New York.  He had sat on the Governor’s Council for decades.  For many years, De Lancey tended to support colonial protests against taxes and other Parliament restrictions.  But when it came time to take up arms in support of the cause, De Lancey thought that was going too far, and spoke out against rebellion.  Now labelled as a prominent loyalist, he faced arrest.  In June, De Lancey fled his farm and escaped to the British fleet in the harbor.

When the regulars took the city, De Lancey would be one of the top loyalist militia officers, rising to the rank of major general.  What all this showed was that even before the British fleet arrived for the invasion, Washington could not control the region because of too much loyalist sympathy.  New York simply was not New England.

The Plot Against Washington

Patriots redoubled their efforts to arrest Tories after the discovery of a conspiracy to target George Washington.  The instigator of this conspiracy was probably Gov. Tryon.  But since Tryon was bottled up in New York Harbor, he had to rely on men still in the city.

One of those men was New York City Mayor David Mathews, whom Tryon had appointed in February 1776.  After the Continental Army occupied New York City, they left Mathews alone.  Mathews, in turn, probably tried to keep a very low profile.

Mathews was not just sitting around though.  There is good evidence, he was working with a band of men who planned either to assassinate Washington and some of the other top Continental officers, or possibly capture them and turn them over to the British.

As far as I know, David Mathews did not go by “Dave” nor was he really the leader of this band.  The group is probably better known as the Hickey Conspiracy or the Tryon Plot.  For some reason, I like calling it the Dave Mathews Band.  That really isn’t historically accurate though.

Gov. William Tryon
(from Wikimedia)
In any event, the conspiracy involved bribing several members of Washington’s Life Guard.  This was an elite group of soldiers that the Continental Army had established back in March 1776 in Boston to provide protection for General Washington.  They acted as his personal bodyguard.  The plan was to have these men, who had Washington’s trust, to turn on him and kill or capture him as soon at the British regulars began their attack on New York.

The conspiracy fell apart in June.  One of Washington’s guards Sgt. Thomas Hickey ended up in prison for passing counterfeit notes.  The Irish born Hickey had been a British regular who had deserted and then joined the Continental Army in Cambridge.  Despite his past position with the enemy, he was selected to join Washington’s Life Guards.

While in prison Hickey bragged to a fellow prisoner, Isaac Ketchum that he was part of a conspiracy to kill Washington and then defect back to the British army.  Ketchum turned prison snitch and revealed the information in exchange for his own release from prison.

Hickey faced a court martial.  He admitted to taking bribes, but claimed he never intended to go through with it.  He just wanted to take the money from gullible Tories.  The court martial did not buy his story.  It sentenced him to death.  On June 28, Hickey when to the gallows, the first Continental soldier executed by a court martial.  Most of the army and the city turned out to see the execution. It was supposed to be one of the most widely viewed executions up until that time in America.

According to some other accounts, Ketchum exposed only that Hickey was conspiring to desert to the enemy, not kill Washington.  Hickey was convicted of conspiracy and sedition, but the trial never heard testimony about any assassination plot. Whether Hickey was part of the assassination plot or not though, there did appear to be one.  A man named Samuel Fraunces testified before Congress after the war, that he had exposed the plot and was falsely accused of being part of the conspiracy and imprisoned for a time.

Whoever exposed the plot, an assassination plot did seem to exist.  With the plot exposed, patriots arrested Mathews and 12 others suspected of being involved.  They shipped them off to Connecticut. Mathews was placed under house arrest in the custody of his brother in law, who was a Major in the Connecticut militia.  Several years later he escaped and returned to New York, by then under British control.  Mathews resumed his role as Mayor of New York City as well as the leader of Tory militia.  He remained in those roles until the British evacuation in 1783.

The patriots never prosecuted anyone else, even though Hickey allegedly claimed that over 700 men were part of the plot.  There simply was no evidence to convict anyone.  The Patriot leadership did not want the public to find out that Continental soldiers were plotting to kill their commander. Also, for civilians, there was still the problem that there were no treason laws on the books, except those laws for committing treason against the King.

Continental Defenses

As it turned out, the British were in no hurry to take New York.  The first of the invasion fleet did not begin to arrive until July.  Most of them would not arrive until August.

That gave the Continental Army almost all summer to improve and expand its defenses.  While they did use the time to build up fortifications, in many ways, time was not on their side.  Patriot forces grew to over 20,000, but most of them were militia from New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.  The Continental Army itself had grown again, but was under 10,000.  Militia were often untrained and sometimes uncooperative in following orders.  The Continental army was not much better.  Remember, most of Washington’s army left service at the end of their enlistments in December 1775.  Washington had to replace most of them with new recruits.  This meant that even the Continental soldiers often had about six months experience, and almost none in combat.

In May, Washington had to deploy General Sullivan, along with 3000 soldiers to Canada.  I’ll get into the details for that deployment in a couple of weeks, but this only weakened Washington’s forces in New York.  Disease also continued to wreak havoc with the army.  It was not unusual for one-third of the army to be too sick for active duty at any time.

Rather than focus on training and drilling, the army spent much of its time digging ditches and building forts and other entrenchments.  While defenses were important, the army needed more time training the soldiers to fight in battle.  That simply did not happen.

In Boston, Washington had regular intelligence about the enemy thanks to patriots who remained in Boston during the occupation.  He had no such intelligence network in New York, meaning he largely did not know what the loyalists were doing, nor could he control their communications with the British fleet.  He would eventually build a spy network, but he did not have one at this time.

Washington also would have benefited greatly from cavalry, which could have scouted Long Island and completed longer distance raids.  Connecticut volunteers had arrived in New York with horses.  However, since Congress had not authorized payment for the care and feeding of horses, the soldiers had to send them back to Connecticut.  Washington would not get a cavalry.

Nathaniel Greene

One of the most critical defenses for the patriots was the Gowanus Heights on Long Island.  Washington delegated authority for those defenses to General Nathaniel Greene.  Now I’ve mentioned Greene in several earlier episodes, but I have not really introduced him.  Greene was one of the original group of brigadier generals which Congress commissioned in June 1775.  He would be the only general besides Washington to serve as a general for the entire war.

Nathanael Greene
(from Wikimedia)
Greene was only 33 years old when he joined the Continental Army.  He came from a Quaker family in Rhode Island.  His family’s pacifist roots did not exactly predict a military career, but Greene was obsessed with the military from a young age.  He eventually left the Quaker community as a result.  Greene also developed a friendship with Henry Knox, well before the war began.  Greene was always looking to buy books on military strategy.  Knox’s bookstore in Boston was the only one in the region that carried a wide variety of such books.

Greene’s family made its money in commercial shipping.  When London began increasing tariffs and cracking down on smuggling, his business suffered.  Greene owned one of the ships seized by Lt. Dudingston of the Gaspee. Greene sued Dudingston personally.  There is some evidence that when the patriots raided and burned the Gaspee, that a local sheriff attempted to serve papers on Dudingston, before they shot him that is (See, Episode 36)

Greene helped form a militia unit in Rhode Island and hoped to be voted its commander.  The soldiers voted for someone else because Greene had a limp from a childhood accident that made him unable to march smartly.  Despite the disappointment, Greene remained in the regiment as a private.

As a private, Greene still had important personal and professional connections in the government.  As a result, after Lexington, the Assembly chose Greene to become a militia General and lead its regiments to Cambridge.  So, overnight promotion from private to general, not bad!

General Greene stood out in Cambridge for enforcing strict order among the Rhode Islanders, requiring camps be built in straight lines, men remain properly uniformed, and maintained regular drills.  This made the Rhode Islanders stand out among the chaotic camps around Cambridge, and brought Greene to Washington’s attention.  Greene, however, got his commission in the Continental Army primarily because Congress was making an effort to include as many colonies as possible in the leadership, and Greene was the highest ranking officer from Rhode Island.

Greene impressed Washington in Cambridge. Now Washington was putting more responsibility in the hands of this young general who had never even seen a real battle.  Greene had been back in Rhode Island during the Battle of Bunker Hill.  During the Battle of Dorchester Heights, Greene deployed along with Gen. Sullivan north of Boston, prepared to invade the city should the British attack Dorchester from south Boston.  Since that never happened, Greene sat miles away from the action.

Greene put great effort into the defenses on Long Island, though as we’ll see when we get to the battle, his inexperience left some serious gaps that the enemy exploited.  Green was sick and not in command by the time the British invaded. He joined much of his army in the hospital with what modern historians guess was typhoid.

By the end of the war, Greene would turn out to be one of the best generals in the Continental Army, and in my opinion, one of the most underrated.  But during the fighting in New York, his inexperience would show badly.

Greene’s inexperience, however, was the general rule, not the exception in the Continental Army.  This young army of recent civilians prepared to receive the largest British invasion force ever sent overseas.

Since General Howe is going to take until August before he begins his fight in New York, I’ll turn to some other area for the next few weeks.

- - -

Next  Episode 94: War At Sea, Battle of Turtle Gut Inlet

Previous  Episode 92: State Constitution, Part 2

Click here to donate
American Revolution Podcast is distributed 100% free of charge. If you can chip in to help defray my costs, I'd appreciate whatever you can give.  Make a one time donation through my PayPal account.
Mike Troy

Click here to see my Patreon Page
You can support the American Revolution Podcast as a Patreon subscriber.  This is an option for people who want to make monthly pledges.  Patreon support will give you access to Podcast extras and help make the podcast a sustainable project.  Thanks again!

Further Reading

Resources to learn more about today’s topic.


Schenawold, Harry Holy Ground, 2015:

O'Reilly, Edward “Profligate, abandoned, and dissipated”: NYC’s Last Colonial Mayor, 2015:

Shattuck, Gary "Plotting the ‘Sacricide’ of George Washington" Journal of the American Revolution, 2014:

Washington’s Life Guards:

"Irishman Thomas Hickey executed for plotting against Washington" Irish Echo,

Moran, Donald N. The Scoundrel Who Saved the Continental Army,

Free eBooks
(from unless noted)

Flick, Alexander C. Loyalism in New York During the American Revolution, New York, The Columbia University Press, 1901.

Force, Peter American Archives, Series 4, Vol 5, M. St. Clair & Peter Force, 1837.

Mather, Frederic The Refugees of 1776 from Long Island to Connecticut, (1913).

Johnston, Henry The Campaign of 1776 Around New York and Brooklyn, (1878).

Tomlinson, Abraham; Dawson, Henry B. New York city during the American revolution : Being a collection of original papers (now first published) from the manuscripts in the possession of the Mercantile library association, of New York city by New York (N.Y.). Mercantile Library Association;
Privately printed for the Association, 1861.

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)

Bliven, Bruce Under the Guns: New York, 1775-1776, New York: Harper & Rowe, 1972.

Daughan, George C. Revolution on the Hudson: New York City and the Hudson River Valley in the American War of Independence, New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 2016.

Ellis, Joseph Revolutionary Summer: The Birth of American Independence, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013.

Fleming, Thomas 1776: Year of Illusions, New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1975.

Golway, Terry Washington's General: Nathanael Greene and the Triumph of the American Revolution, Henry Hold & Co. 2004.

McCullough, David 1776, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005.

Meltzer, Brad & Mensch, Josh The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington, Flatiron Books, 2018 (book recommendation of the week).

Schecter, Barnet The Battle for New York, New York: Walker Publishing, 2002.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Episode 092: State Constitutions, Part 2

Last week we looked at the first five colonies to produce state constitutions.  Today we will continue that look at the remaining colonies, beginning with Pennsylvania and continuing on in the order in which states adopted their first constitution.

So far, the colonies we reviewed followed a similar pattern.  A royal governor refused to let the legislature meet to discuss issues, typically the flashpoint being appointment of delegates to the First Continental Congress in 1774.  The local patriots would get in a snit about this and form their own quasi-legislature to get work done.  Over the next two years or so, the royal government would become increasingly irrelevant until the provincial government took over and formed its new constitution.  That pattern generally continues through each colony.


Pennsylvania followed a similar path, but with a slightly different dynamic.  As a proprietary colony, Pennsylvania did not have a royal governor.  Way back in 1691 King Charles II had granted Pennsylvania to William Penn as his personal property.  Penn ruled as governor until his death in 1718, at which time he willed Pennsylvania to his three sons.  By 1775 Pennsylvania passed to William’s grandson John Penn, with his cousin, also named John Penn holding a minority 25% stake in the colony.

Because the proprietors were not royal appointees, they did not have to worry much about the King replacing them for their policies.  Sure, the King could tear up the colonial charter if things got too out of hand, but the Penns were not just political appointees.  They literally owned the colony. At the same time, Governor Penn did not have to listen to the people or face reelection.  He would remain governor until death, unless of course there was some sort of revolution that overthrew the entire political structure by force.
Gov. John Penn
(from Wikimedia)

Pennsylvania also had a legislature dominated by Quakers and other pacifists.  These groups opposed armed revolution on religious grounds.  Even though Quakers had become minority of the colonial population, they retained control of the legislature, mostly because legislative districts were not evenly divided based on population, and greatly benefitted Quaker communities in and around Philadelphia.

In 1774, it came time to pick delegates for the First Continental Congress.  When Governor Penn dragged his feet on the issue, local patriot committees, known as Associators, voted to meet as a provincial committee in July 1774. They met for the purpose of choosing delegates to the Continental Congress, choosing a mix of conservative and radical delegates, reflecting divisions within the colony.

That fall, voters sent a more radical group of representatives to the Assembly, but the radical committees still operated separately from the colonial Assembly.  After Lexington, the Associators converted themselves into militias ready to go to war.  The Assembly, still full of moderates, gave them quasi-legal status under a Committee of Safety which helped finance and regulate the new radical militias.

These moves made for incremental reform.  In 1775 and early 1776, the Quakers as a group began to remove themselves from politics, not wanting to be attacked as Tories, but also not wanting to support a war.  Radicals took their places in government, shifting the colony radically to the left.

In May 1776, the Second Continental Congress encouraged all colonies, who had not already, to set up Provincial Congresses if the traditional legislatures were not meeting the needs of the public.  The radicals in Pennsylvania took this opportunity to call for a Provincial Congress in June.  Only people approved by Associator committees could vote for delegates and one of the conditions was that voters had to repudiate formally any allegiance to the King.  Therefore any moderates and conservatives could not vote.

The radical Committee of 100 pressured the Pennsylvania Assembly to withdraw its instructions to Pennsylvania delegates to the Continental Congress to reject independence.  The Assembly continued to assert power.  It did withdraw its instructions, but did not instruct to vote for independence either.  The delegates were left to do whatever they wanted. The internal fighting in the Assembly became such a problem that they stopped meeting entirely by August.

The radical convention in July set about creating a new constitution for Pennsylvania, but also began to engage in a series of rather radical power grabs.  They disarmed any Pennsylvanians who had not joined the Associators.  They implemented price controls, created offenses against the State, compelled citizens to take loyalty oaths, and assumed control of the courts and elections.

Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776
(from Rollins College)
The new constitution, which took effect in September 1776 was the first written after the Declaration of Independence and was by far the most radical of all the colonies.  First, it granted the vote to all free men 21 or older.  It eliminated any property requirements, thus allowing the rabble to choose legislators.  It also created a single body legislature to make all laws.  There would be no upper house, though the people would elect an executive council, that would run the government. The Assembly and Council would elect a president annually to serve as the head of the Council.  But the president had no independent authority outside of the council.  There was no single chief executive.

The constitution set term limits for legislators.  They could serve no more than four out of every seven years.  Legislators also could not pass laws in a single session, except in emergencies.  Legislatures would have to publish a law, then wait until after the next annual election before they could enact it.

It also required that all legislators take a religious oath: “I do believe in one God, the creator and governor of the universe, the rewarder of the good and the punisher of the wicked. And I do acknowledge the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine inspiration.”  This permitted the seating of member of just about any Christian sect, but not beyond that.

A bill of rights that guaranteed freedom of worship, and protected the civil rights of all who acknowledged some belief in God.

It also protected the right of pacifists not to be forced to bear arms, though they might be required to pay the State some compensation if they did not heed a call to arms.  It guaranteed basic due process, right to counsel, to confront witness, to have a speedy jury trial, and a right against self-incrimination.  It also granted jury trials in civil suits.

The constitution also recognized a right against search and seizure without specific warrants, a right of free speech and free press, the right to bear arms, and the right to assemble to petition or instruct their representatives in government.  It also included a right to move between states and for people to “form a new state in vacant countries, or in such countries as they can purchase.”

The new Constitution would remain in place until 1790.


The royal colony of Maryland followed the most common pattern.  The royal governor shut down the legislature in 1774.  Patriots created their own quasi legislature known as the Annapolis Convention to run the colony.  The Convention met nine times over the next two and a half years, selecting delegates to the Continental Congress, supporting trade restrictions in early sessions.  After Lexington, delegates voted to create their own army.  They also began calling themselves the Association of Freemen.  In July 1776 they agreed to create their own Constitution, which they did at a Convention that fall.  They completed their work in November.  Again, the constitution took effect without any ratification by public vote.

Royal Gov. Robert Eden
(From Wikimedia)
The Constitution itself was pretty traditional. It created a House and Senate as well as a governor elected by both houses.  Voters elected their representatives directly each year but voted for electors who would choose senators every five years.

Property requirements limited voting, though free blacks who met those requirements could vote.  Only Christians, though of any sect, could hold office.

A declaration of rights included freedom of speech and press, freedom of worship, the right to maintain a militia, and basic due process rights.

The Maryland Constitution remained in place until 1851, though it saw numerous amendments.  The constitution allowed the legislature to pass amendments, as long as they passed through two different sessions.  One of the early amendments took away the right of free blacks to vote in 1809.

North Carolina

North Carolina followed the traditional colonial route to statehood and created a pretty traditional constitution.  The Royal Governor refused to call the Assembly into session in 1774 because he knew they would cause trouble.  Patriots formed a Provincial Congress which met in August to choose delegates to the First Continental Congress and to support colonial boycotts.  The Provincial Congress met five times over the next two and a half years, each time getting more aggressive and eventually creating its own army.

The Provincial Congress began work on a temporary constitution in April, but never could pull the trigger on enacting it.  It was not until October 1776 that the people elected a more radical group of delegates who enacted the new constitution.  The Congress declared the constitution in force as of December, without any sort of popular ratification.

NC Constitution, 1776
(from UNC)
Like most other colonies, North Carolina's constitution began with a declaration of rights, guaranteeing the right of the people to create their government and elect representatives, separation of powers, due process, protection from warrantless searches, freedom of the press, right to bear arms, the right of assembly, the freedom of worship, and others.

The Constitution divided the legislature into a House and Senate, both subject to annual elections.  To vote or hold office one had to be a freeman and own a certain amount of land.  Voters also had to be at least 21 years old.

The legislature held the power to appoint judges and other court officers, as well as generals and field offices of the state’s army and militia.  The legislature also elected a governor for one year terms, and limited to serve no more than three out of six years.  The legislature also elected a seven person Council of State to advise the Governor.

The Constitution banned clergyman from serving in the legislature or Council of State.  It also mandated that “no person, who shall deny the being of God or the truth of the Protestant religion, or the divine authority either of the Old or New Testaments, or who shall hold religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the State, shall be capable of holding any office or place of trust or profit in the civil department within this State.”  It also barred the establishing of any specific state church or denomination.

The Constitution also banned debtors prison, established a public school system, allowed foreigners to become citizens after one year, and barred the private purchase of Indian lands.

North Carolina’s Constitution remained in place until an 1835 constitutional convention made numerous amendments, including the direct election of the Governor.


Georgia was one of the last colonies to jump on the patriot bandwagon.  It did not send delegates to the First Continental Congress in 1774.  When a provincial congress met in January 1775 to decide whether to send a delegation to the Second Continental Congress, they could not agree to a delegation.

Following Lexington, Georgia patriots began organizing militarily and seized colonial gunpowder.  A second provincial congress met in July 1775.  It finally approved a delegation to the Continental Congress, and set up a standing Council of Safety to enforce colonial trade bans with Britain.  By the end of 1775, the Provincial Congress had control of most of the colony, forcing the Royal Governor to flee in January 1776.

Georgia Constitution of 1777
In May 1776, the Congress drafted a rudimentary constitution, simply called “Rules and Regulations” which created a President and Council of Safety selected by the unelected Provincial Congress, to run the colony.  It also appointed a Supreme Court and gave the President authority to appoint lower magistrates.

At the same time, the Provincial Congress began work on a more permanent constitution, which it enacted in February 1777.  The new constitution created a unicameral legislature, meaning it was not divided into two houses.  The people elected legislators annually, with the vote limited to free white males with property.  The legislators would then select a governor and council from among its own members.  The Governor could only serve for one term out of three.

The Georgia Constitution lasted only twelve years, until the State created a new one based more closely on the then newly adopted US Constitution.

New York

New York’s Tory population contributed to the colony’s slow trajectory toward independence and statehood.  The Royal Assembly had sent delegates to the First Continental Congress in 1774, thinking it would slow down radical call for boycotts against Britain.  When that backfired, the Assembly rejected the Congress’ recommendations and refused to send delegates to the Second Continental Congress in 1775.

The New York radicals then held a provincial convention in New York City in April 1775 to choose their own delegates to the Continental Congress.  The convention lasted only three days to select delegates.  It did not attempt to govern the colony.  The radicals only created a Provincial Congress after Lexington, when they met in May to begin organizing militia and taking control of the colony’s weaponry.  Otherwise, the Congress was quite moderate.  It instructed its delegates at the Continental Congress to seek an accommodation with Britain, and opposed the patriot invasion of Canada.  A second Provincial Congress, which met from December 1775 until May 1776 fought with General Charles Lee, whom Washington had sent to organize New York for a possible invasion.  A third Congress which met in May and June of 1776 instructed its Continental Congress delegates to oppose independence.

Announcement of NY Constitution of 1777 (from Newsday)
Finally in July 1776 the Provincial Congress convened in White Plains to create a state constitution.  It also allowed its delegates to support independence belatedly at the Continental Congress.  In August, the Congress tasked a committee to write a constitution, but after the British Army invaded New York, the task of drafting a constitution got delayed.  The finished draft did not arrive until March 12, 1777.  The Provincial Congress approved the Constitution without a popular vote.  It went into effect in April.

The New York Constitution differed from earlier state constitutions.  It started off with its own declaration of independence, which quoted liberally from the Continental Congress’ declaration.  It created a legislature divided into an Assembly and Senate.  Assemblymen served one year terms.  Senators served four year terms.  It limited the right to vote to adult male property owners.

Unlike most other constitutions, New York created a governor elected by the people rather than the legislature.  He would also serve a three year term. The Governor had power to revise laws passed by the legislature and to end a legislative session.  He appointed judges and other government officials, without even approval from the legislature.  In other words, New York would have a strong executive, not easily under the legislature’s control.


Now, you would think Massachusetts, which was front stage in the early fighting and a leading proponent of Independence would have been a leader in creating a Constitution as well.  But it did not get around to creating one until 1780,

Instead, a Provincial Congress ran Massachusetts for six years, from 1774 when Governor Gage shut down the Assembly, until 1780 when it finally adopted a new constitution.  During that time, the Provincial Congress pretty much operated like the old colonial assembly, except it did not bother to seek the approval of the Governor for anything.

The state did try to enact a constitution in 1778. It was the first state to submit its proposed constitution to the people, and the people rejected it.  In 1779, it held another convention and once again submitted it to the people who this time approved it.  The Constitution finally became effective in October 1780.  Since this was so much later than the other colonies, I’m not going to spend a lot of time on its details now.  But it is the only constitution to remain in effect to this day, never having been replaced.

Connecticut and Rhode Island

I’ve yet to mention Connecticut and Rhode Island constitutions.  That is because they never created ones in this era.  Connecticut did not write a constitution until 1818. Rhode Island waited until 1843.  Not coincidentally, these were also the only two colonies that had elected governors during the colonial era.  As a result, the voters happily operated under their colonial charters, even after they became independent states.  They had no interference from Britain in the administration of their government.


Now I know going through every State is a lengthy and sometimes repetitive process.  But I think these first attempts at self-government say a great deal about what the people, or at least the patriot leaders in each state, wanted.  Most of the colonies kept government structures largely similar to what they had in the colonial era.

The biggest change for most was giving more authority to the legislature and having a relatively weak chief executive who would be dependent on the legislature, not the other way around.  Most made an effort to create a bill of rights, in an attempt to identify and protect the rights which had forced them to seek independence from Britain.

These Constitutions typically were not about making major social, economic, or political changes.  They largely kept the existing systems intact, other than removing the authority of the King over its government.  They moved that sovereign authority to the people, but did not give the people much direct control over the government.

Few extended the right to vote beyond those who already had it under the colonial system.  Those that did often took back those rights within a few years.  None of the Constitutions ended slavery. The Massachusetts Constitution did not explicitly ban slavery, though the State Supreme Court interpreted it to end slavery three years after its enactment.

Overall, the framers of these constitutions did not want to reinvent the system.  They wanted to make sure the system under which they had always thrived before the recent troubles remained largely the same.  They did not want the King or Parliament to start eroding the power they had enjoyed as neglected colonies.  But neither they largely did not want to share power with the poor, women, native Americans, or blacks.

Even though the republican ideals on which the constitutions were based led to the intellectual conclusion that they should expand power to the whole people, it would take generations for the government structure to live up to that ideal.

Next Week: We return to New York, where Gen. Washington has to deal, not only with an impending invasion, but with Tory conspirators plotting his murder.

- - -

Next  Episode 93: The Dave Mathews Band Breaks Up

Previous  Episode 91: State Constitution, Part 1

Click here to donate
American Revolution Podcast is distributed 100% free of charge. If you can chip in to help defray my costs, I'd appreciate whatever you can give.  Make a one time donation through my PayPal account.
Mike Troy

Click here to see my Patreon Page
You can support the American Revolution Podcast as a Patreon subscriber.  This is an option for people who want to make monthly pledges.  Patreon support will give you access to Podcast extras and help make the podcast a sustainable project.  Thanks again!

Further Reading


Birth of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania:

Constitution of Pennsylvania, 1776:

Maryland Constitutional Conventions:

Constitution of Maryland, 1776:

North Carolina Provincial Congresses:

NC Government During the American Revolution - 1774 and 1775:

NC Government During the American Revolution - 1776:

Constitution of North Carolina, 1776:

1776 Rules and Regulations of the Colony of Georgia:

Constitution of Georgia, 1777:

Constitution of  New York, 1777:

Homans, George C. “John Adams and the Constitution of Massachusetts.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, vol. 125, no. 4, 1981, pp. 286–291. (free to read online with registration).

Constitution of Massachusetts 1780:

Fea, John The Pennsylvania Constitution VIDEO, C-span, 2017.

Free eBooks
(from unless noted)

The proceedings relative to calling the conventions of 1776 and 1790: the minutes of the convention that formed the present constitution of Pennsylvania, together with the charter to William Penn, the constitutions of 1776 and 1790, and a view of the proceedings of the Convention of 1776, and the Council of Censors, John S. Wiestling, 1825

Proceedings of the conventions of the province of Maryland, held at the city of Annapolis, in 1774, 1775, & 1776, J. Lucas & E. K. Deaver; Annapolis, J. Green, 1836.

Candler, Allen (ed) The Revolutionary Records of the State of Georgia, Vol. 1, Franklin-Turner Company, 1908.

Frothingham, Louis Adams, A Brief History of the Constitution and Government of Massachusetts, Harvard Univ., 1916.

Lincoln, Charles Z. The Constitutional History of New York from the Beginning of the Colonial Period to the Year 1905: showing the origin, development, and judicial construction of the constitution, Vol. 1, The Lawyers Cooperative Publishing Co., 1906.

Nash, Frank The North Carolina Constitution of 1776 and its Makers, Univ. of North Carolina, 1912.

Schouler, James, Constitutional Studies, State and Federal, Dodd, Mead & Co., 1897.

Thorpe, Francis Newton The Federal and State Constitutions, Colonial Charters, and Other Organic Laws of the State, Territories, and Colonies Now or Heretofore Forming the United States of America, Comp. and Ed. under the Act of Congress of June 30, 1906. (Vol 1-7) Govt. Print. Off, 1909.

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)

Adams, Willi Paul The First American Constitutions: Republican Ideology and the Making of the State Constitutions in the Revolutionary EraRowman & Littlefield, 2001.

Broadwater, Jeff George Mason, Forgotten Founder, Univ. of NC Press, 2006

Fleming, Thomas 1776: Year of Illusions, W.W. Norton & Co., 1975.

Tarr, G. Allen Understanding State Constitutions, Princeton Univ. Press, 1998  (book recommendation of the week).

Ryerson, Richard Alan The Revolution Is Now Begun: The Radical Committees of Philadelphia, 1765-1776, Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1978.