Sunday, February 23, 2020

Episode 137 Lambert Wickes Brings the War to Britain





Last week I talked about Benjamin Franklin coming to Paris and his efforts to bring France into the war with Britain.  Diplomacy and talk were not Franklin’s only tools.  Franklin and his fellow diplomats also attempted to bring the war directly to Britain, or at least just off shore in the waters around Britain.

Lambert Wickes

Franklin has crossed the Atlantic on an American warship, the Reprisal, captained by Lambert Wickes.  Captain Wickes had been a merchant ship captain in Maryland before the war.  His first notoriety came when he refused to deliver tea to Baltimore during the disputes between the colonies and Britain that eventually led to the Boston Tea Party.

Reprisal and Lexington (from FB Naval History & Heritage)
Wickes joined the Continental Navy in the spring of 1776, after Commodore Esek Hopkins had already made his raid on the Bahamas and gotten his fleet trapped in Rhode Island.  Wickes commanded a newly converted ship the Reprisal, which had been one of Robert Morris’ merchant vessels.  The new 18 gun navy ship had a crew of about 130 men.  Like most continental ships, it was large enough and well armed enough to capture any merchant vessel, but no match for a British ship of the line.

After patrolling in and around the Delaware River waters protecting Philadelphia, Wickes and the crew of the Reprisal saw their first action when the ship fought along with Captain John Barry and the Lexington against British warships in the Battle of Turtle Gut Inlet, a fight I discussed back in Episode 94.  Wickes’ brother, Lieutenant Richard Wickes was killed in that battle.

William Bingham

Congress next tasked Wickes to deliver a VIP, William Bingham to Martinique where Bingham was to serve as an American agent for Congress on the French colony.  Bingham is someone else I’ve failed to mention so far.  He came from Philadelphia merchant family. He began school at the College of Philadelphia (today University of Pennsylvania) at age 13 and graduated at 16. His father died the following year and Bingham took over his trading business.  He obviously had good political connections because in 1770, at age 18, the ministry in London appointed Bingham Consul to Martinique, a French colony in the West Indies.

William Bingham (from Wikimedia)
Despite his appointment, Bingham remained in Philadelphia, completing a masters degree.  I’m not sure what his duties were with the consulship, but if he even visited Martinique, he did not stay there very long.  In 1773, he took an extended trip to Europe, then returned to Philadelphia.

At the outbreak of war, Bingham stood with the patriots and resigned his consulship. Congress’ secret committee called on Bingham to go to Martinique and do what he could to help the cause.

Bingham’s status in the French colony of Martinique was essentially the same as Silas Deane’s was in France.  His cover was that he was a private businessman. His secret orders from Congress were to do whatever he could to get French military supplies to America, to collect any useful intelligence, sponsor privateers to attack British shipping, and do whatever else he could to provoke tensions between France and Britain.

Since the colonies were not as closely watched as France itself, Martinique became a key depot for the Americans.  France could ship all sorts of military supplies across the Atlantic to its own colony.  Then, if local officials mistakenly sold some which then got shipped to America, well, that was just some bureaucratic mistake.

I didn’t really mean to get onto a tangent about William Bingham, but he does play a key role in the arms trade between France and America.

Mission to Martinique

So anyway, Lambert Wickes had to get Bingham to Martinique.  On July 3, 1776, the Reprisal left Philadelphia with Bingham aboard.  As the ship traveled to the West Indies, it encountered three different British merchant vessels carrying trade goods.  Each time it captured a ship, Captain Wickes had to dispatch a prize crew to take control of the ship.  The prize crew would sail it back to a friendly port in America so that the ship and its cargo could be sold.  After sending off three prize crews, Wickes' own crew was getting rather short on manpower.  Some of the crew of the captured ships had agreed to join his crew, but he was also not sure how far he could trust those men, especially if they made up the bulk of his crew.

When the Reprisal caught a fourth ship, Captain Wickes was reluctant to give up any more of his crew and could not take the ship with them.  He said that since they were an Irish ship, they were not a legitimate target and he would allow them to go on their way.

Wickes would have no problems capturing Irish ships the following year.  The point of this excuse was to release the ship without revealing the weakness of his own crew.  The captured crew was happy not to ask too many questions and leave.  They were not going to argue that they should be taken prisoner.  They were happy to go on their way.

Port Royal Martinique (from Wikimedia)
On July 27, as the Reprisal entered St. Pierre Harbor in Martinique, it found the British ship HMS Shark already there delivering a protest from British Admiral James Young.  Wickes put Bingham in a rowboat so that he could get safely to shore then engaged the Shark in a short firefight.  The French broke up the fight by firing a few shots from their shore batteries, but not before the Reprisal had damaged the Shark.  The Shark left the harbor, only to return the next day with another complaint from Admiral Young.

After the battle, Wickes received compliments and congratulations from the locals.  The French authorities were equally friendly, allowing Wickes to put his ship in dock for cleaning, and allowing Bingham to take up residence and begin granting letters of marque to any privateers willing to attack British shipping.  Martinique officials had no problems letting privateers attack British shipping and return to French ports for protection and disposal of captured prizes.

Promotion to Captain

Over the next few weeks, the Americans hauled in quite a number of British prizes.  Wickes returned to Philadelphia in September, loaded with gunpowder and other supplies, and received commendations from Congress.

Shortly after his return Congress formalized the seniority list for its navy captains.  Wickes’ recent exploits helped his standing.  On October 10, Congress established the seniority of its twenty four captains.  Wickes ranked number eleven.

Just like seniority among army generals, seniority for navy captains was a contentious and political issue.  These captains had already been serving for many months.  Rearranging seniority upset many.  The most senior captain was James Nicholson.  You all remember the famous Captain Nicholson, right?  Of course not.  He had a very undistinguished career.  Some might even call it embarrassing.  John Barry, who I have mentioned and who had quite a career, was number seven on the list.  John Paul Jones was number eighteen.

Mission to France

Also in October, the secret committee tasked Wickes delivering another VIP.  He would carry Benjamin Franklin to France.  As I discussed last week, Franklin was traveling to take up his role as Commissioner to France.  At this time, Franklin was probably the most well known man in America.  Getting him and his grandsons safely past the British Navy was the top priority.

Congress ordered Wickes not to go looking for prizes and to get Franklin to Nantes as quickly as possible.  If he came across a prize and Franklin approved, he could capture it. Once Franklin was ashore, Wickes would be free to harass shipping in the English Channel and hopefully dispose of his prizes in French ports. All money from such prizes would support the new delegation in Europe.  Congress appointed Thomas Morris, brother of Pennsylvania delegate Robert Morris, to serve as the agent for all prizes.  Thomas Morris was already in Europe.

Franklin attempted to slip out of Philadelphia as quietly as he could, to avoid tipping off the British that he would be at sea.  He and his grandsons boarded the Reprisal at Marcus Hook, many miles downstream from Philadelphia.  The ship managed to sail out to open sea without encountering any of the British warships that regularly sailed around the mouth of the Delaware.

The trip across the ocean was relatively uneventful.  As the ship got closer to France, it encountered a merchant ship.  With Franklin’s permission, Wickes seized the unarmed ship and forced the surprised crew of the George surrender.  He put aboard a prize crew and continued with both ships toward the French coast.  A few hours later, the LaVigne also came within range and was taken without a fight.

Nantes, France (from flickr)
The next day, November 28, they sighted the French coast.  Poor winds prevented them from reaching Nantes.  For the next four days, contrary winds prevented the Reprisal from reaching any destination.  Finally, the frustrated and seasick Franklin got Wickes to pay a fishing vessel to bring Franklin and his two grandsons ashore.  From there, they could make their way overland to Nantes, and then on to Paris.

With Franklin safely ashore, Wickes still had plenty of other worries.  He needed to get the Reprisal and his prize ships safely to port.  He still had most of Franklin's luggage.  He had to sell the prizes and the indigo he brought in his own hold to fund the new American commissioners.  He also still had the crews of the prize ships aboard.  Due to contrary winds, it would take Wickes another few weeks to reach the port of Nantes in late December.

Normally a naval vessel would return to a friendly port where a prize court would value the captured vessels and permit their sale.  A portion of the prize money would be distributed to the crew.  The crews of the captured vessels could be held as prisoners of war.  None of that was possible in France.

The French government was bound by the Treaty of Utrecht.  That 1713 treaty had ended the War of Spanish Succession.  Even though the treaty had been blown up twice by the War of Austrian Succession and the Seven Years War, both France and Britain still declared themselves bound by its trade provisions. Among them was the understanding that neither country would give safe harbor to any enemy warships.

Now I know that you are all thinking, finally we can get into an extended legal analysis of the Treaty of Utrecht and its application to 18th Century maritime law.  Unfortunately, I don’t have time for all that, but I have recommended a few books on my blog if you want to read more.

Suffice it to say that unless France wanted war with Britain, which it did not, it had to arrest Wickes and return the prize ships to their British owners.  Recall that in Martinique, Wickes’ experience with the French governor was that they could do pretty much whatever they wanted, since France was at least tacitly supporting the American cause.  In France, the government could not get away with playing fast and loose with its treaties.

British Ambassador Lord Stormont, whom I discussed last week, would regularly threaten war if the French supported ships in open warfare with British shipping.  French officials would spend the next couple of years playing a fine line of assisting American ships as much as possible, while avoiding a blatant and direct treaty violation that could lead to war with Britain.  That whole dance really got its start when the Reprisal arrived in Nantes.

Wickes delivered Franklin’s luggage and the indigo to a French agent for the American Commissioners.  A short time later, the two prize vessels appeared with different names written on them and new French owners.  Wickes had sold the ships and cargo on the sly to new French owners who bought them at a massive discount.  In doing so, they agreed to assume all risk for possible legal claims.  I could not find the purchase prices for these deals, but later ones were estimated to be sold at only 15% of actual market value.

Lord Stormont
(from Wikimedia)
French merchants who had property aboard the prize ships complained to Lord Stormont. Stormont, of course, immediately went to see Vergennes at Versailles to complain.  Foreign Minister Vergennes said he knew nothing about the matter but would look into it.  There was no real investigation.  Since the ships had different names written on them now and had new forged documentation of ownership, French officials determined that these must be different ships, and that the British must be confused.  Everyone knew this was BS, but neither Britain nor France wanted to press the issue to the point where it led to war.

In the meantime, the Loire River froze, locking in the Reprisal.  Wickes spent a few weeks on land, dealing with other matters, including attempts to buy new warships.  He also inspected one of the merchant ships that had attempted to bring supplies to America a few months earlier.  I mentioned this in Episode 115 and implied that it had returned to port because the French officer Du Coudray was being a bit of a wuss about his food and quarters.  Du Coudray feared just such criticism and asked Captain Wickes to look at the ship.  Beaumarchais had thrown it together in a hurry, knowing that an order to seize the ship was on its way.  Du Coudray showed Wickes that the ship had only about one quarter of the food needed for the voyage, that none of the officers were familiar with American ports, and that the ship itself was not seaworthy due the way the cargo had been loaded in haste.  Wickes concluded that it was appropriate to turn back.  It just goes to show there is always more than one side to every story.

Wickes stay in France could not last long though.  The Treaty of Utrecht barred enemy warships from using ports, except in cases of extreme emergency when they could stay for 24 hours.  Lord Stormont again complained to Vergennes who again was just shocked by this new information and ordered the Reprisal to leave France and not return.  Of course, it took quite a while for those orders to get delivered.  Besides the Reprisal was incapable of leaving until the river thawed.

In late January, the Reprisal sailed to the open sea.  Despite official pronouncements from Versailles, Franklin had written Wickes to assure him that French and Spanish ports would be open to his return,  The French government just wanted it to be kept quiet and have plausible deniability.  The Americans though, did not even want to do that.  In addition to disrupting commercial shipping, a secret goal of the American delegation in France was to provoke a war between Britain and France.  Although Britain and France hoped to avoid war, America definitely wanted to see that war begin.

Over the next few days the Reprisal captured three more merchant ships.  In each case, Wickes brought the officers aboard as prisoners, then sent a prize crew to take the ships back to France for sale.  A short time later, he found his real target, the Lisbon Packet.  This was not a private merchant ship.  This was the King’s ship, manned by the British Navy and armed, albeit rather lightly.  After a 45 minute battle, the crew of the Reprisal stormed the ship, named the Swallow, and took its crew prisoner.  With this prize, Wickes headed back to France.  Along the way, another merchant ship, came too close and fell prey as well.

Wickes took his five prize ships to Port Louis, France.  There he claimed the five ships were his, and that he was just putting into shore for some repairs.  Everyone knew this was a lie, but the French policy of willful ignorance was in play here.  Wickes also still had the five captains of his captured ships aboard as prisoners.  He agreed to release them on parole, on their honor not to escape or reveal to anyone that the Reprisal had captured their ships.  He did give them permission to lodge protests with the port intendant, but only because he knew those protests would be ignored.

Wickes tried to arrange for secret sales of his prizes and to figure out what to do with the captured crews.  Britain was holding a number of American privateers in British prisons. The commissioners hoped to arrange prisoner exchanges.  Franklin sent a letter to Lord Stormont suggesting just such an exchange.  Stormont, however, took a different approach.  He sent back the letter with a note that he would not engage in communications with rebels unless they were ready to beg for the King’s mercy.  He lodged more protests with Versailles about the captured British ships.

Wickes unloaded the ships to American agent Thomas Morris for sale.  The French port intendant, now feeling pressure to act, ordered the Reprisal to leave port within 24 hours.  He said nothing about the private merchant ships. That was just under investigation. Wickes was not ready to leave port. Instead, he pumped water into his hold then brought aboard ship inspectors to certify that the ship was taking on water and needed repairs before it could leave port.  He ended up delaying his departure for weeks.

Meanwhile in Versailles, Lord Stormont was livid, protesting these continued violations.  Vergennes first denied everything.  He said the Reprisal had been ordered to leave port long ago, that there had been no sale of the prize ships and that French officials were still investigating the matter.  Vergennes could not discuss the matter with King Louis until he got all the facts.

Wickes had arrived with his prizes in early February.  In mid-March Stormont was still complaining for action.  On May 22, the French ministry finally released its report.  The Reprisal had stayed in port longer than allowed due to the damage of the ship and the incompetence of local officials to enforce the order to depart.  They could find no records of the prize ships.  Sure, there were records of five other ships sold around that same time that seemed remarkably similar to the prize ships.  But each of those had different names, were painted a different color, and had papers saying they were different ships, so those could not be the prizes everyone was looking for.

Summer Assault

Meanwhile Wickes was not done.  He prepared for another voyage.  This time, he added two more ships to sail along with the Reprisal.  The Lexington had arrived, the same ship commanded by John Barry that Wickes and the Reprisal had fought with at Turtle Gut Inlet.  Barry now had a larger ship.  Captain Henry Johnson now commanded the Lexington.

Rounding out the fleet was the Dolphin under the command of Lieutenant Samuel Nicholson.  Wickes’ half brother Joseph Hynson actually purchased the Dolphin, at that time called the Rochefort, in Liverpool.  Hynson is a fascinating story himself.  He turned out to be a double agent working for the British.  Maybe I can get into his story in another episode.  He got the Dolphin to France where it became the third ship in Wickes’ fleet, which set out from France on May 28, 1777.

Even getting the fleet started was a challenge.  Most of the crew refused to go until they got their prize money from the previous captures, or for that matter the prizes captured on the trip to Martinique a year earlier.  Wickes came up with some money for the crew, but also had to supplement his crews with French sailors.

With the fleet underway, Wickes headed for the Irish Sea.  The fleet sailed up the west coast of Ireland and then into the Irish Sea from the north.  Over the course of this mission the American fleet took eighteen merchant vessels.  They sent most of them back to France.  A few sank.  A couple, which were smugglers, they let go on their way.

Reprisal escaping the Burford (from JAR)
The attacks, over the course of the next month, created panic in Britain.  Insurance rates skyrocketed.  Merchants chose to send their merchandise aboard French or other neutral ships.  British ship owners found themselves scrambling for business.  The navy deployed ships in search of what they called pirates, but could not seem to find them.

As the fleet sailed back toward France in late June, it spotted one more large merchant vessel and gave chase.  Only this time, the ship turned out not to be a merchant vessel but the Burford, a 74 gun British ship of the line.  There was no way the three American ships were even a contest for the Burford.  As they realized their mistake and fled, the British warship turned on them.  The fleet scattered in three different directions, leaving a prize ship for the British to seize and board.  The Captain of the Burford did not take the bait.  He continued after the largest ship, the Reprisal, letting the others go.

Aboard the Reprisal, Wickes made a dash for the French coast.  With the Burford gaining on him, the crew threw over everything they could to lighten the load, including all the cannon.  The Burford got within musket range of the Reprisal, but Wickes kept his ship in front, always avoiding giving the British a chance to fire a broadside.  After a harrowing twelve hour chase, the Reprisal reached the French coast and the Burford gave up the chase.

Expulsion

It took a few weeks for word of the attacks to reach London, and a few more for London to instruct Lord Stormont.  By early July, Stormont was threatening war at Versailles over flagrant treaty violations.  France was serving as a base for enemy ships.  Stormont told Vergennes that if something didn’t change, France and Britain really would soon be at war.

Comte de Vergennes
(from Wikimedia)
Vergennes was trying to avoid such a war, just as the Americans were trying to start one.  Vergennes still wanted to help the Americans but realized the British were near their breaking point.  He told Stormont, truthfully, that France had ordered the American fleet to leave in May and not return.  Of course, no one believed those instructions.  He also said they had only returned because they had been attacked by British warships.  Vergennes now ordered the American ships sequestered, which gave them time to make repairs in French ports.  Vergennes also seemed to have a really hard time figuring out what happened to the eight British prize ships that had entered French ports and then suddenly disappeared.  Again, there was nothing to return to British authorities except the crews.

France had recently arrested another American privateer, Gustavus Conyngham, who the British had termed the Dunkirk Pirate.  Conyingham’s story is another fascinating one I hope to cover in another episode.  The diplomatic arguing dragged on over the rest of the summer.  Meanwhile, Wickes repaired and rearmed his ships.

Finally, in September Wickes received orders from the Commissioners to return to America with supplies and important communications for Congress.  The British had hoped to catch the Reprisal after leaving port, but Wickes gave them the slip.  The Reprisal crossed the Atlantic with Wickes a returning national hero.

Sadly, this is where Wickes’ story ends.  On his return trip, off the coast of Newfoundland, the Reprisal encountered a massive storm at sea.  The ship sank and all hands were lost, except for one identified only as the ship’s cook.  Captain Wickes went down with his ship, cutting short the life of one of America’s bravest and most talented naval officers.

Next week, we head south for the battle of Thomas Creek in Florida.

- - -

Next  Episode 138 The Battle of Thomas Creek (available March 1, 2020)

Previous Episode 136 Franklin in Paris



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.
Thanks,
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

Websites

Seniority list for Continental Navy and Marines:
https://www.history.navy.mil/research/library/online-reading-room/title-list-alphabetically/o/officers-of-the-continental-navy-and-marine-corps.html

American Navy Captains 1776: https://bluejacket.com/usn_captains_1776.html

Foreign Fighters for the American Cause of Independence https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/foreign-fighters-american-cause-independence

Werther, Richard J. "William Bingham: Forgotten Supplier of the American Revolution" Journal of the American Revolution, June 7, 2017: https://allthingsliberty.com/2017/06/william-bingham-forgotten-supplier-american-revolution

Norton. Louis Arthur "Captain Gustavus Conynham: America's Successful Naval Captain or Accidental Pirate?" Journal of the American Revolution, April 15, 2015: https://allthingsliberty.com/2015/04/captain-gustavus-conyngham-americas-accidental-pirate

Werther, Richard J. “The ‘Hynson Business’ - The Story of a Double Agent” Journal of the American Revolution Feb. 12, 2019: https://allthingsliberty.com/2019/02/the-hynson-business-the-story-of-a-double-agent

Werther, Richard J. “Captain Lambert Wickes and ‘Gunboat Diplomacy, American Revolution Style’” Journal of the American Revolution Jan 3, 2019: https://allthingsliberty.com/2019/01/captain-lambert-wickes-and-gunboat-diplomacy-american-revolution-style

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

Naval documents of the American Revolution, Vol 6, Vol 7, and Vol 8, Department of the Navy, 1964.

Freschot, Casimir The compleat history of the treaty of Utrecht Vol 1 and Vol 2, London: A. Roper, and S. Butler, 1715.

Jones, Charles H. Captain Gustavus Conyngham, Pennsylvania Society of Sons of the Revolution, 1903.

Paullin, Charles Oscar The Navy of the American Revolution: Its Administration, Its Policy and Its Achievements, The Burrows Brothers Co. 1906.

Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Alberts, Robert C. The Golden Voyage: The Life and Times of William Bingham, 1752-1804, Houghton-Mifflin, 1969.

Bowen Hassell, E. Gorden, Dennis Conrad, and Mark Hays Sea Raiders of the American Revolution: The Continental Navy in European Waters, Univ of the Pacific Press, 2004.

Clark, William Bell Lambert Wickes Sea Raider and Diplomat: The Story of a Navel Captain of the Revolution, Yale Univ. Press, 1932

Fowler, William M. Jr. Rebels Under Sail: The American Navy During the Revolution, Charles Scribern’s Sons, 1976

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

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


Sunday, February 16, 2020

Episode 136: Franklin in Paris




When we last left France back in Episode 115, Silas Deane was doing his best to procure arms and equipment for the Continental Army, as well as doing his best to convince France to support the American cause and go to war with Britain.

American Commissioners in Paris

Recall that Deane had arrived in France in May 1776 with quite a few obstacles in his way.  He had no diplomatic experience, and had never even been to Europe before.  He did not know anyone in France and did not speak French.  On top of that, he had prominent enemies among fellow patriots, like Arthur Lee attacking him from the outset.  He also managed to hire a British spy, Edward Bancroft, as his personal secretary.


Despite all these setbacks, Deane had managed to establish communications with the French Foreign Minister, Charles Gravier, comte de Vergennes.  With the tacit support of Vergennes, Deane had established a relationship with shell company called Roderigue Hortalez and Company run by playwright and international arms dealer Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais.  The men had managed to fill shiploads of supplies for America.  However, the British Embassy in France, headed by David Murray, Lord Stormont, managed to get the French government to seize most of those supplies.

Franklin at Court of Versailles (from Ben Franklin History)
France was still not completely on board with backing the patriots, at least not openly.  Even after learning of the Declaration of Independence, France did not want to start another war with Britain.  Open support of the United States would most certainly precipitate such a war.  Support for the American cause, however, was growing in France.  In addition to the possibly worthless paper money Deane was using in France, his other useful currency was his self-appointed power to hand out commissions in the Continental Army.  French officers seeking combat experience could go to America as generals or other ranks higher than they held in the French Army.  Many officers jumped at this opportunity.

By late 1776, Congress had voted to send Deane a little more help.  It appointed Arthur Lee and Benjamin Franklin as co-commissioners.  Both men arrived in Paris near the end of 1776.  As I’ve mentioned in earlier episodes, the new trio did not get along particularly well. Specifically Lee did not like Franklin or Deane and the feeling seemed mutual.

Lee had worked with Franklin when the two men were colonial agents in London before the war.  Lee was extremely dismissive of Franklin’s diplomatic skills and thought he would be a disaster.  Even worse, Lee attacked Deane’s covert aid setup, claiming that the French government was giving assistance to the Americans at no cost.  Deane’s trading company had made arrangements to ship military supplies to America in exchange for tobacco and other raw materials.  Lee indicated that Deane was going to skim those raw materials shipped to France for personal profit, taking advantage of the secretive nature of these transactions.  Lee knew his accusations were false, he had personally helped set up the terms with Beaumarchais and was upset that he had been cut out of getting commissions himself.  His attacks seemed to be a way to get Deane sent home under a cloud.  While Congress held investigations to get to the truth, Lee could take over as the key American in charge of French arms shipments.

Ralph Izard

Ralph Izard
(from Wikimedia)
Joining Deane, Franklin, and Lee, the three commissioners in Paris, was a fourth man, Ralph Izard of South Carolina.  Izard had been living in London for several years before leaving in 1776.  As an outspoken patriot, he no longer felt welcome there.  He moved to Paris, planning to return to South Carolina.

Before he could return, Congress appointed him Commissioner to Tuscany in early 1777.  Tuscany is part of modern day Italy.  The Grand Duke of Florence, however, refused to admit Izard to Tuscany, for fear that it would harm his relationship with Britain.  Izard then spent the next couple of years, living in Paris corresponding from there with Tuscan officials on diplomatic matters.

Izard and Arthur Lee got along, although Lee also convinced Izard that Franklin was not competent. So, Izard and Franklin did not get along at all either.  It seems that Izard thought that Franklin should consult with him and keep him more in the loop than Franklin cared to do.  The two would continue their ongoing feud in Paris until Izard was recalled a few years later in 1779.

Benjamin Franklin Arrives in France

Benjamin Franklin was the rockstar of the delegation.  He had hoped to stay out of the public notice until he had a chance to get a better idea of whether the French court would receive him as a minister. He landed on the French coast at a small coastal village called Auray with his two grandsons, William Temple Franklin and Benjamin Franklin Bache.  Despite landing in an inconspicuous port aboard a local fishing vessel, the French people mobbed Franklin and greeted him with enthusiasm.  By the time he reached Nantes a few days later, the city had arranged a grand ball in his honor.

Franklin’s reputation had preceded him.  He may have been the most well known person in France from North America.  Many of his writings, and accounts of his inventions and scientific experiments has preceded him. Frenchmen and women strained to meet the scientist and philosopher raised in the American wilderness.  Locals began producing images of Franklin for sale.  It became fashionable for people to have portraits on their walls.  His image appeared on coins, signet rings, and snuff boxes.  If bobbleheads had been invented, there definitely would have been a Franklin bobblehead.  Reprints of many of his older books, translated into French of course, flowed into bookstores all over the country.

Franklin dressed frontier style
(from B Franklin History)
Despite speaking almost no French, Franklin had little trouble with inclusion in French society.  He played into his “man of the wilderness” persona by wearing simple homespun clothing in the Quaker style.  In fashion-obsessed Paris where more complex was always better, this was almost shocking.  Franklin also refused to wear a wig when outdoors or when meeting with others.  This was the fashion equivalent  today of not wearing a shirt today.  It wouldn’t exactly get you arrested, but was seen as rather shocking for anyone other than the lowest of classes.  But these distinctions only played into the mythos and made Franklin even more popular.  This was a deliberate strategy.  He knew full well what he was expected to wear. When Franklin had visited Paris in 1767, he had purchased a wig and clothing to fit in with society.  On this trip, dressed as “plain American” Franklin stood out and turned heads with his nonconforming style.

After his stay in Nantes, Franklin made his way on to Paris.  With all the accolades along the way, it took him weeks to get to Paris.  Although he got attention, Franklin did not speak publicly about his purpose in coming to France.  His secretive nature only led to more speculation.  British Ambassador Lord Stormont spread the story that he was fleeing America with his two grandsons before the rebellion collapsed.

Meeting with Vergennes

While French society greeted Franklin warmly, the government was less enthusiastic.  Foreign Minister Vergenes ordered the arrest of anyone who suggested Franklin’s arrival presaged a treaty between France and America.  Vergennes was desperately trying to avoid triggering a war with Britain.  France simply could not afford a war and was not ready for one to begin.

Comte de Vergennes
(from Wikimedia)
Vergennes did hold a discreet meeting with Franklin on December 28, 1776, weeks after his arrival.  Silas Deane introduced Franklin and also attended, as did Arthur Lee.  At that meeting, Franklin outlined his agenda, which included not only more French military aid, but a treaty that would bring France into the war on America’s side.

At this time, it late December, France had received word that the British had attacked and occupied New York and New Jersey, with no effective resistance.  The Continental army seemed to be falling apart and American rebellion might come to an end at any day.  Although Washington’s successful attack on Trenton had just taken place, word of that event would not reach France for at least another month.  In light of all this, Vergennes was noncommittal to anything and urged Franklin to keep a lower profile.

Franklin realized that patience would be required.  However, keeping a low profile was not part of his plan.

Holding Court at Passy

Franklin borrowed an estate in Passy, a few miles outside of Paris.  Actually, today it is a neighborhood in Paris, but in 1776, it was a part of the countryside outside of Paris, between Paris and Versailles.
Jacques-Donatien
Le Ray de Chaumont
(from Wikimedia)

The owner of the home, Jacques-Donatien Le Ray de Chaumont, was a prominent aristocrat who was a big supporter of the American cause.  He served the King in several important positions, and was one of the wealthiest men in France.  In addition to owning several shipping companies, he built several factories, for making glassware and other products.  Among his products were portrait medallions made for European royalty.  Of course his works pumped out a great many Franklin medallions after his arrival.

Despite his wealth and status, Chaumont was an idealist who supported the patriot cause in America.  His home in the Loire Valley was more of a palace.  You can still visit the Chateau de Chaumont today. He kept the house in Passy as a place to stay near the Court of Versailles.  This was more than just a cottage though.  It was a grand mansion with a main house and two wings.  There were several outbuildings and gardens.  A large domestic staff tended to the estate. Chaumont allowed Franklin use of the Passy estate rent free along with food and use of the staff.  Franklin was living like a French nobleman.  Although he eventually began paying rent, Franklin would live there for nearly a decade.  Franklin continued to wear simple commoner clothing and hairstyle, but there was nothing common about the way he lived in France.

Franklin sent one of his grandsons, Benjamin Bache, age 7, to a nearby boarding school. He would visit his grandfather once a week.  Bache was the son of Franklin’s daughter Sally.  Franklin’s other grandson, William Temple Franklin, was the 16 year old son of Ben Franklin’s only son, William Franklin, former royal governor of New Jersey and at the time a prisoner of the patriots in Connecticut.  Temple, as he was known, would live with his grandfather and assist with his duties as part of the American delegation to the Court of King Louis.

As Franklin settled in, he added one of his lightning rods to the home.  He also quickly established his own wine cellar with more than a thousand bottles.  Franklin entertained all the time.  His fame was enough to draw French elites to his gatherings.  Chaumont’s wife often served as hostess at many of Franklin’s parties.  You might think that Chaumont would be nervous with his wife spending so much time with Franklin, who has a well earned reputation for womanizing.  Instead, he quickly realized that Franklin was going after his daughter, who was in her early twenties at the time.  The family stepped up efforts to marry her off to a marquis so that she would not be a temptation to Mr. Franklin.

Chateau de Chaumont (from Wikimedia)
Chaumont himself continued as a booster of Franklin and the American Revolution. As I said, he made medallions of Franklin and also hired an artist to paint his portrait.  Chaumont would invest part of his personal fortune in the purchase of military supplies to be shipped to America.  He also became an important political advocate for the American cause with the King.

Chaumont supported the ideology of the American Revolution, but he also hoped to profit from the arms trade, and perhaps be rewarded with land in America should the revolution succeed.  Sadly for Chaumont, that would not be the case.  He would lose a fair amount of his fortune, which the Americans never repaid.  During the French Revolution, the government would seize his lands in France.  Although he managed to survive the reign of terror, he would die in relative obscurity in France in 1803.

Just so we don’t end that point on too sad a note, Chaumont’s son, James Le Ray, did move to America after the American Revolution, married a Jersey girl, and settled in upstate New York.

Anyway, after Franklin’s first meeting with Vergennes, he realized he would need to be more patient and not push the Foreign Minister too far too fast.  Franklin held salons with France’s intellectual elite, not for political lobbying but simply to use his celebrity status to develop friendships with important members of the French establishment.

Franklin went beyond social settings to excite the French public.  The former printer and publisher fell into old habits after purchasing a small printing press.  He produced pamphlets for distribution to opinion leaders and newspaper editors.  Some were French translations of important documents, such as the Declaration of Independence or the Pennsylvania Constitution.  He was stoking public opinion about the idea of liberty.

He also revived his old habit of writing articles anonymously, or under a false name to affect public opinion.  One article claimed to be from the King of Prussia.  Britain had agreed to pay for any Hessian mercenaries who were killed in the war, but not for the wounded.  Franklin’s article pretended that the government recommended letting the wounded soldiers die rather than sending home cripples.  This is one example of many examples of Franklin's attempts to turn public opinion against Britain and in favor of the American cause.

This strategy confused the ministry.  Vergennes commented “I really do not know what Franklin has come to do here…. At the beginning we thought he had all sorts of projects, but all of a sudden, he has shut himself up in sanctuary with the philosphes.

Lord Stormont
(from Wikimedia)
Franklin, however, was playing the long game.  He knew that Vergennes was focused on the political realities of trying to weaken Britain while avoiding a direct war.  But Franklin also knew the power of a publicly popular cause with the nation’s elite.  Public support for the cause would help get the ministry on board with helping the cause of liberty in America.  Public relations was every bit a part of Franklin’s strategy along with actual diplomacy.

Franklin also began an ongoing competition with the British Ambassador, Lord Stormont.  The British official in France often had the advantage over Franklin and the American delegation. Among the many British spies in the American delegation, Edward Bancroft was sending weekly reports outlining not only what the Americans were doing, but their strategies for future activities as well.  When it suited his purpose, Stormont would often make these strategies public in an attempt to discredit or prevent them from happening. Some were simply made up stories, like Franklin’s supposed attempt to build some super-weapon using electricity.

Once when asked about one of Stormont’s pronouncements, Franklin retorted it is not a truth, it is only a Stormonter which was a play on the french word mentir meaning to lie.  The word Stormonter soon entered the public lexicon as a term for something that was not true.

More Commissions

Franklin followed Silas Deane’s lead in passing out commissions to European officers who wanted to serve in America.  As I’ve mentioned before it was rather common for officers to serve in the armies of other countries during peacetime.  It gave them experience and sometimes helped to improve relations between the armies of common allies.

I mentioned in earlier episodes that Deane had already provided a major general’s commission to a teen aged captain, the Marquis de Lafayette. Lafayette had not yet left for America and had an opportunity to meet with Franklin.  Lafayette was only one of many.  Over the months, Franklin, like the other American Commissioners, was swamped by men seeking commissions.

Franklin had to reject most office seekers.  For some, he would give a form letter saying they were free to travel to America at their own expense and make their case there, but that he did not know enough to recommend them.  For others, he might make an offer.  One was a down on his luck baron named Von Steuben.  He had served in the Prussian Army during the Seven Years War as a captain.  He served at the headquarters of Frederick the Great, but never came to any prominence, nor could he rise in rank.  At the end of the war, he was discharged for unknown reasons.  Some have speculated it was for homosexual activity, though I’ve never seen any primary evidence to support this.  Whatever the reason, he was not able to get a position with any army in Europe.  As he fell deeper into debt, he got word of opportunities to fight in America and went to see Franklin.

Franklin in Paris (from Accessible Archives)
Whatever he said at the meeting clearly impressed Franklin.  Prussian military strategy and discipline was considered the finest in Europe.  Franklin was convinced that Von Stueben was the man to whip the Continental Army into shape.  It is not clear if Von Stueben puffed up his own resume or whether Franklin did it for him.  But suddenly in Franklin’s letter of recommendation, the former captain who worked in the Prussian Army headquarters became a Lieutenant General who served as Adjutant to Frederick the Great.  Washington and Congress relied on this letter to make Von Steuben the Continental Army’s Adjutant General.

Besides Von Steuben and a bevy of French officers, many others from around Europe came looking for commissions.  Casimir Pulaski was a Polish noble and cavalryman.  In 1772, he participated in the attempted kidnapping of the Polish King, who was planning to sell out the Polish Confederation to Russia.  After the Confederation collapsed and Poland was partitioned among the European powers, Pulaski found himself on the run, dodging charges of attempted regicide.  Something the kings of most countries took rather seriously.  Finding his way to Franklin, Pulaski received a letter of recommendation and boarded a ship for America.

For the next nine or ten months, Franklin made little effort to push the French government into doing much more.  He and the other commissioners spent most of their time winning over the French people, seeing just how much they could get away with in shipping covert military items to America, and waiting for events to unfold in such a way as to make a true alliance between France and America possible.

- - -

Next  Episode 137 Lambert Wickes brings the war to Britain

Previous Episode 135 The Danbury Raid



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.
Thanks,
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

Websites

Kite, Elizabeth S. “PRELIMINARIES OF FRENCH SECRET AID — 1775-1778.” Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, vol. 46, no. 2, 1935, pp. 58–67. JSTOR:
www.jstor.org/stable/44209191.

Fleming, Thomas “Franklin Charms Paris” American Heritage, Vol 60 Issue 1 Spring 2010:
https://www.americanheritage.com/franklin-charms-paris

Augur, Helen, “Benjamin Franklin and The French Alliance” American Heritage Vol 7 Issue 3, April 1956: https://www.americanheritage.com/benjamin-franklin-and-french-alliance

“Izard of South Carolina.” The South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine, vol. 2, no. 3, 1901, pp. 205–240. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27574958

Walton, Geri Benjamin Franklin Living in Passy, France, May 27, 2015:
https://www.geriwalton.com/benjamin-franklin-in-passy-france

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

Isham, Charles (ed) The Deane Papers, New York Historical Society, 1887.

Deas, Anne Izard (ed) Correspondence of Mr. Ralph Izard, of South Carolina, from the year 1774 to 1804; with a short memoir, Vol. 1, C. S. Francis, 1844.

Hale, Edward E. Franklin in France, Roberts Brothers, 1883.

Sparks, Jared (ed) The Diplomatic Correspondence of the American Revolution, Vol. 1,  Hale, Gray & Brown, 1829.

Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Desmarais, Norman America's First Ally: France in the Revolutionary War, Casemate, 2019

Isaacson, Walter Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, Simon & Shuster, 2003.

Schaeper, Thomas J. France and America in the Revolutionary Era: The Life of Jacques-Donatien Leray de Chaumont, Berghahn Books, 1995.

Schiff, Stacy A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America, Henry Holt & Co. 2005 (book recommendation of the week).

Schoenbrun, David Triumph in Paris: The exploits of Benjamin Franklin, Harper & Row, 1976.

Steell, Willis Benjamin Franklin of Paris, 1776-1785, Minton, Balch, & Co. 1928.

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


Sunday, February 9, 2020

Episode 135: The Danbury Raid




Danbury, Connecticut was a small inland village, about 25 miles from the shore.  The British had largely avoided Connecticut, which was filled with patriots and did not have any strategically valuable cities.  General Washington, always in need of towns near the action to serve as supply depots, thought Danbury would be a good choice.  Since it was not on the coast, it would not be subject to a naval attack. Its location was close enough to the expected fighting that would take place in upstate New York later that year.  It was more than a day’s march from the British lines around New York City area.

Once it became a depot of course, it became a target for the British.  As we’ve seen over the last two episodes, in the spring of 1777, British officers were restless to begin offensive operations again.  They had already raided Peekskill, NY and Bound Brook, NJ.  Now Danbury, Connecticut was in their sights.

Assembling the Expedition

Leading the expedition was General William Tryon. We, of course, have seen General Tryon many times in our story so far.  A quick refresher: although his father was not an aristocrat, Tryon had come from a good family with connections to aristocracy in Britain.  He purchased a commission in 1751 and served with distinction in the Seven Years War.  His wartime exploits allowed him to rise to lieutenant colonel by the end of the war.  After the war, he was able to get an appointment as lieutenant governor of North Carolina, thanks to family connections through is wife.  A year later, the governor died, leading to Tryon’s promotion to Royal Governor.  He almost immediately got into conflict with the colonists as he attempted to enforce the Stamp Act.  His conflicts with the colonists eventually led to the battle of Alamance that I discussed back in Episode 35.

Connecticut Militia rush to battle (from Today in CT History)
A few years later, Tryon got transferred to New York, where as Royal Governor of that colony, he got into more conflicts.  He took a hard line against the land dispute in the eastern part of the colony.  He attempted to capture and execute the Green Mountain Boys who were active in that region, as covered in Episode 38.  Tryon had to return to London in 1774.  When he came back to New York in 1775, he found politics had become so poisoned in the New York colony that he had to live aboard ship in New York Harbor.  Patriots had taken over New York City.

When the British recaptured New York in 1776, General Howe kept the city under martial law, leaving little for Tryon to do as governor.  Although he remained the nominal royal governor, Tryon returned to his military roots to be of more use.  He helped to raise a loyalist militia and received a temporary commission as brigadier general.  In spring 1777, Howe gave him a temporary commission as major general of the provincials in preparation for his new mission.

Along with Tryon, General Howe assigned two brigidier generals with more regular army experience to support the raid.  General James Agnew had arrived in Boston as a lieutenant colonel a few months after Lexington and Concord. I have not been able to find much information about Agnew before coming to America in 1775.  His grandfather was a baronet, but his father made the mistake of not being born first and did not inherit title or lands.  His father did get a military commission, rising to the rank of major.

James followed in his father’s path by joining the army.  As I said,I have not found his military records, but having risen to lieutenant colonel without having lots of family money or political connections must have meant he was an impressive officer.  Agnew did not get much chance for distinction in America until the Battle of Long Island a year after he arrived  Some time after that, he was promoted to brigadier general and assigned command of his own brigade.

The third general for this mission was William Erskine.  Like Agnew, his grandfather had a title, in this case a Scottish lord and peer.  Also like Agnew, his father had the problem of an older brother getting the family title and land.  Erskine’s father did manage to get a gig as deputy governor of Blackness Castle in Scotland.  He also had a military career, rising to colonel.

Erskine joined his father’s regiment at the age of fourteen, in time to serve in both the War of Austrian Succession and the Seven Years War.  For his service, Erskine also rose to lieutenant colonel by the end of the Seven Years War, and received a knighthood as well.   He shipped out to America as a staff officer with General Clinton in early 1776.

British Landing in Connecticut (from Westport)
After the Battle of Long Island, Erskine perhaps realized that Clinton’s feud with General Howe meant that serving under Clinton meant being sidelined in unimportant posts.  He got himself transferred to serve as Lord Cornwallis’ quartermaster.  Erskine accompanied Cornwallis to Trenton after the Americans captured the town.

He developed a reputation as a fierce fighter during the Forage War in New Jersey over the winter.  Erskine was not in agreement with General Howe’s view of treating rebels decently.  He developed a reputation of engaging in fierce combat and taking no prisoners.

In April 1777, about the same time General Cornwallis was preparing his raid on Bound Brook, Generals Tryon, Agnew, and Erskine prepared for their own raid against Connecticut.  Earlier, General Howe had received intelligence about the supply depot at Danbury from Indian Agent Guy Johnson.   It would take at least two or three days to march British soldiers from their lines at New York City and another two or three days to march back.  That would give the patriots too much time to react and organize an attack on the column.  Instead, they opted to cross Long Island Sound, land at Norwalk, Connecticut, and try to make a one day march to Danbury from there.

Although General Tryon was supposed to be the head of a provincial army, the British were not ready to trust provincial forces with this raid.  Howe deployed about 1500 regulars, drawn from seven different regiments.  Another 300 or so provincials from the Prince of Wales American Regiment led by Montfort Browne. You may recall Browne was the Governor of the Bahamas, captured during the naval raid there in March 1776.  He had recently been exchanged for captured Continental General Lord Stirling and was now a colonel commanding a regiment of loyalist provincials.  Overall though, Howe had probably 3000 provincials under his command at this time.  The fact that he only sent 300 on this raid to supplement 1500 regulars indicates the typical preference to rely on regulars as much as possible.

With support, the entire British contingent numbered over 2000.  They used twelve transport ships to bring the soldiers across Long Island Sound, along with a hospital ship and a number of smaller ships.

Long Island Sound

Long Island sound, the waterway between Long Island and Connecticut had been a problem for some time.  Patriots raids across the water from Connecticut had been a regular headache for the British.  Also, the British had fostered a black market trade across the sound, trading hard currency and manufactured goods for food and other raw materials.  This trade was not allowed by either side.  But since the British received much needed supplies, they tolerated it.  The trade also led to a group of outlaws and pirates in the area that controlled much of the coast.  Any British raid would have to be a large one, if only to prevent smaller groups of soldiers from getting attacked by criminal gangs.

On April 22, the fleet moved out of New York City.  The British sent another fleet up the Hudson River as a diversionary force to confuse the Americans.  If the British hoped the movement by sea would be faster than marching, they would be disappointed.  The fleet sailed up the East River to Hell Gate, on the edge of the Long Island Sound on the first day.  There, the troops waited aboard ship for two days for strong headwinds to shift.  They finally set sail again on April 25th, landing on the Connecticut coast between Norwalk and Fairfield at around 5PM.

March to Danbury

It took hours to disembark all the men and supplies, the troops finally began their night march at around 11PM.  By midday the following day, April 26th, the column was at Reading, about nine miles from Danbury.  The men were exhausted.  They had been aboard ship for nearly three days, where sleeping was difficult at best.  They then marched all night and all morning, meaning even those who had been able to sleep aboard ship had probably been awake more than 24 hours straight, and had marched about twenty miles already.  Some accounts indicate they may have rested for a short time during the night.  But if they did, it was only for a few hours.

British movements to Danbury
(from Wikimedia)
The speed and surprise of the night march paid off with the fact that they had only faced small scattered resistance from a few local militiamen, nothing that really even slowed down the column.

Danbury only had about fifty Continental soldiers and maybe one hundred militia in the area, no match for the column headed their way.  By late afternoon on the 26th, the British reached Danbury.

Alerted by a messenger, Sybil Ludington, the Americans had attempted to evacuate stores from Danbury ahead of the column’s arrival.  But given the short notice, large amount of supplies, and lack of manpower, they had removed little before the British got to the town. The British quickly scattered the Americans.  Seven riflemen inside a home attempted to hold off the British.  However, the regulars rushed the house and burned it down with the men still inside.  They then set about destroying whatever they could find.  In addition to buildings the British destroyed thousands of barrels of food, as well as tents, shoes, and other military supplies.  They burned at least 19 personal residences.

By late that night, the British had destroyed most of what they sought to destroy.  It was dark and raining.  The men were exhausted.  The army camped for the night, with plans to complete the destruction the following day.

Battle of Ridgefield

Word of the British column had spread quickly across the region.  Patriots attempted to respond.  But most were too far away.  Even in Peekskill, New York, General Alexander McDougall deployed his Continentals in case the British column attempted to march back overland to New York City.  For the most part, most Continentals and militia were too far away to react.

The largest group of soldiers nearby was at Fairfield, a few miles up the coast from where the British had landed.  The local commander, General Gold Selleck Silliman of the Connecticut militia, received word of the British landing during the night, hours after the British had begun their march inland. General Silliman quickly assembled a force of about five hundred militia and one hundred Continentals in pursuit of the column.

Militia Defenses at Ridgefield (from Conn History)
Later that same night, probably early in the morning of April 26, word reached New Haven where two generals received the news. General David Wooster, you may recall, had been a commander at the Quebec campaign.  His continual battling with Benedict Arnold, Philip Schuyler and other top officers had embittered him.  When Congress failed to promote him or grant him command, he had left Quebec to return to Connecticut as a major general of the militia.

Also in town was his old adversary, General Benedict Arnold.  Arnold was also embittered, having recently been passed over for promotion to major general as well by several officers who were his juniors.  Arnold had returned to Connecticut to deal with a few personal matters.  By most accounts, he was then on his way to Philadelphia to tender his resignation to Congress.

Whatever, resentment the two generals harbored against each other or the Continental Congress, on hearing of the invasion, both leaped on their horses and galloped toward the enemy.  The two generals caught up with Silliman and his soldiers some time on the evening of the 26th, about the same time that Tryon and his regulars were burning Danbury.  The Patriots reached Bethel at around 11:00 PM, about two miles south of Danbury.  There was a pouring rain.  The leaders decided not to attack that night, but planned a response for the following day.

Arnold and Sillman took about four hundred soldiers to Ridgefield.  There, they would set up a defensive position which the British would have to contend with on their march back.  Although they did not have enough men to defeat the 2000 British soldiers, they hoped at least to delay the column until more militia could reach the area  On their way to Ridgefield, they met up with another one hundred militia heading to the battle, giving them a total force of around five hundred.  Wooster took another two hundred soldiers to harass the enemy’s rear as they marched back to the coast.

Arnold's Defense at Ridgefield (from Hamlet Hub)
Back in Danbury, General Tryon received word of the patriot encampment and prepared to face them the following morning.  The British column got on the move early, knowing that delay only provided time for more patriot militia to join the fight.

After the column got underway, Wooster and his harassing force attacked the rear of the column.  They managed to capture about forty prisoners and escape back into the woods.  As the column approached Ridgefield, Wooster’s force struck the rear again.  This time, Tryon had supported his rear with three cannon the British had carried with the column.  The Connecticut militia took cover and were reluctant to charge cannons.  Wooster chastised them by saying  "Come on my boys! Never mind such random shots!"  A few seconds later, Wooster took a random shot to the stomach.  He had to be carried from the field back to Danbury, where he died from his wounds five days later.

The British column pushed on to Ridgefield where they encountered Arnold’s defensive force.  Remember, the British still had more than three times as many soldiers as the Americans.   Tyron tried a direct assault on the the town, supported by artillery and with overwhelming force.  He had sufficient forces that he could also send flankers against both sides of the American lines.

Arnold remained on the front lines, encouraging the men to hold.  The British targeted Arnold. They could not hit him, but managed to shoot his horse nine times.  As the horse collapsed, Arnold found himself trapped underneath his dead or dying horse.  As he struggled to free himself, a British soldier rushed up and said Arnold was his prisoner.  Arnold responded “not yet” pulled a pistol and killed the soldier.  He then managed to free himself and escape

The Americans rallied again a few miles to the south, joined by two militia artillery units who just arrived on the scene.  The march became a smaller version of the return from Concord, where the British column was taking pot shots from behind every wall and tree.  More and more militia were arriving on scene and making it harder for Tryon’s column to continue its march.

When they got within a few miles of their ships, the naval commander waiting for them deployed a few hundred marines to assist with the withdrawal.  Arnold attempted to rally the militia to charge the marines.  His attempts once again made him a target. The British killed his new horse and also shot a hole through his jacket collar.  Miraculously, Arnold himself remained unhurt.  Seeing his horse fall though, convinced most of the militia to flee the field.  Arnold had to get away himself to avoid capture.

With the patriot militia scattered, the British column was able to reach the coast, board the ships and sail back to New York.

Aftermath

Although the raid successfully hit its target and returned, the British lost 154 killed and wounded as well as another 40 captured.  The Americans suffered an estimated 20 killed and 80 wounded.  The heated response was enough to convince Howe and his successors not to attempt any further inland raids into Connecticut.

Gen. David Wooster
(from Today CT Hist)
One of those American deaths, as I mentioned, was General Wooster, who died a few days after the battle.  His last words were allegedly  "I am dying, but with a strong hope and persuasion that my country will gain her independence."  He went from being an unpopular general to part of the honored dead.  In June, Congress voted to build a monument in his honor.  They never got around to building the monument though.  It would be nearly eighty years before the Freemasons of Connecticut got around to building one for him instead.

General Arnold’s performance also roused support for him in Congress.  They finally promoted him to major general.  While the honorific was nice, it didn’t mean much in terms of command.  Arnold went from being the most senior brigadier general to being the most junior major general. It did not change anything in the chain of command.  Congress also awarded Arnold a new horse.

On the British side, Tryon’s success led to a permanent command as major general in America, as well as a full colonelcy in the regular army.  He also took command of British troops on Long Island.  Generals Erskine and Agnew rejoined Howe’s main army and would ship off with the rest of the army as Howe began his Philadelphia campaign a few months later.

- - -

Next Episode 136 Franklin in Paris

Previous Episode 134 Battle of Bound Brook


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.
Thanks,
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

Websites

The Danbury Raid (Battle of Ridgefield) https://revolutionarywar.us/year-1777/the-danbury-raid

The Burning of Danbury https://connecticuthistory.org/the-burning-of-danbury

McKay, Ian Danbury Raid: https://www.connecticutsar.org/danbury-raid

The Danbury Raid https://www.myrevolutionarywar.com/battles/770425-danbury-raid

Dacus, Jeff “Again the Hero, David Wooster’s Final Battle” Journal of the American Revolution, June 19, 2018: https://allthingsliberty.com/2018/06/again-the-hero-david-woosters-final-battle

Was a son of Gen. Wooster slain at the Battle of Ridgefield? http://web.cortland.edu/woosterk/rumor.html

“To George Washington from Major General Adam Stephen, 22 April 1777,” Founders Online, National Archives https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-09-02-0226

“From George Washington to Brigadier General Samuel Holden Parsons, 23–25 April 1777,” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-09-02-0236

“To George Washington from Brigadier General Alexander McDougall, 25 April 1777,” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-09-02-0250

“To George Washington from Brigadier General Alexander McDougall, 27 April 1777,” Founders Online, National Archives: https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-09-02-0273

“From George Washington to John Hancock, 28 April 1777,” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-09-02-0278

“John Adams to Abigail Adams, 2 May 1777,” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/04-02-02-0176

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

Case, James Royal An Account of Tryon's Raid on Danbury in April, 1777, Also the Battle of Ridgefield and the Career of Gen. David Wooster, Danbury Printing Co. 1927.

Dawson, Henry B. & Chappel, Alonzo Battles of the United States, by Sea and Land, Vol. 1, Johnson, Fry, & Co. 1858.

Deming, Henry C. An oration upon the life and services of Gen. David Wooster, Press of Case Tiffany & Co. 1854.

Hill, George Benedict Arnold: A Biography, E.O. Libby, 1858

Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Brumwell, Stephen Turncoat: Benedict Arnold and the Crisis of American Liberty, Yale Univ. Press,  2018.

Darley, Stephen Call to Arms: The Patriot Militia in the 1777 British Raid on Danbury, Connecticut, CreateSpace Independent Publishing, 2015 (book recommendation of the week).

Maxwell, Larry A. Sybil Rides: The True Story of Sybil Ludington the Female Paul Revere, the Burning of Danbury and Battle of Ridgefield, 1775 Productions, 2018

Martin, James Benedict Arnold: Revolutionary Hero, New York: NYU Press, 1997.

McDevitt, Robert Connecticut Attacked: A British Viewpoint on Tryon’s Raid on Danbury, Rowman & Littlefield Publishing, 1974.

Nelson, Paul D. William Tryon and the Course of Empire: A Life in British Imperial Service,
Univ. of NC Press, 1990.

Randall, Willard Benedict Arnold: Patriot and Traitor, William Morrow & Co. 1990.

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.