Sunday, November 28, 2021

ARP227 Fort Laurens

I know I mentioned last week that I was going to cover the Penobscot Expedition this week. However, I’m going to push that off until next week so that I can cover this week, the story of Fort Laurens, which chronologically, I probably should have covered a few episodes back.

Fort Laurens was a western outpost, about 80 miles west of Pittsburgh, in modern-day Ohio.  It was built as part of an effort to capture British-held Detroit.

Lachlan McIntosh

This effort was led by General Lachlan McIntosh, who I last talked about back in Episode 138.  The general from Georgia had faced continual frustrations in his efforts against British-controlled East Florida.  Much of his frustration came from the leaders of Georgia, and North and South Carolina, who refused to recognize Continental authority over State militia.  As a result, McIntosh could never mount a successful military mission in the south.  

The disputes with civilian leaders had boiled over in May of 1777 when Georgia President Button Gwinnett arrested McIntosh’s brother and tried to cut McIntosh out of the chain of command.  McIntosh killed Gwinnett in a duel.  Several months after that, General Washington transferred McIntosh up north, where he would not be subject to revenge attacks by other men in the Gwinnett faction.

McIntosh spent the winter at Valley Forge with the rest of the army.  Washington then gave him an independent command in Pittsburgh.  Initially his task was to launch an offensive against British-held Detroit.  But rather quickly his task took a less ambitious goal of simply trying to keep the Indian tribes in the Ohio Valley from rising up against the Americans.

The Squaw Campaign

In the months before McIntosh’s arrival in Pittsburgh, the situation with the native tribes had taken a turn for the worse. That prior winter, Colonel Edward Hand had command of the small frontier force at Fort Pitt.  In an attempt to quell a possible native attack being organized by British Governor Henry Hamilton in Detroit, Hand organized a group of several hundred militia.  His goal was take out a cache of weapons provided to Seneca and Cayuga warriors for a spring campaign.  

Since Hand did not have a significant force of Continentals, he had to raise a force of local militia.  Hand wrote about his goals in a letter to Virginia Colonel William Crawford, who he hoped could help to raise soldiers for the campaign: 

As I am credibly informed that the English have lodged a quantity of arms, ammunition, provision, and clothing at a small indian Town, about one hundred miles from Fort Pitt to support the savages in their excursions against the inhabitants of this and the adjacent counties, I ardently wish to collect as many brave, active lads as are willing to turn out, to destroy this magazine.  Every man must be provided with a horse, and every article necessary to equip them for the expedition, except ammunition, which, with some arms, I can furnish.

Colonel Hand's recruitment efforts raised about 500 Pennsylvania and Virginia militia from the region . He set out after the enemy’s cache of arms.  Rain and melting snow had flooded most of the area’s rivers, and had turned much of the land into a swampy mush.  He marched his men about 40 or 50 miles up the Beaver River.  The conditions made marching so slow that Hand quickly realized he would run out of supplies before they reached their target. He ended up calling off the mission, turned his men around and marched back toward Pittsburgh.

Edward Hand

On the return march, several scouts reported finding a small gathering of 50-60 Indians nearby.  They reported that these were likely Cayuga warriors gathering for an attack on nearby settlements.  The militia attacked the native camp.

As it turned out, they were not warriors preparing for an attack. They were not even members of a hostile tribe.  They were members of the Lenape, also known as Delaware, tribe.  The leader of the group was known only as “Pipe”. When the militia attacked, Pipe put up a defense, while telling his family, consisting of his wife, mother, and children to make a run for it. The militia killed Pipe, then chased down his family and massacred them as well.  They interrogated several prisoners and learned of another Indian gathering a few miles away.  The militia set out after that group, only to find about ten women and children collecting salt.  Most of them scattered, but the militia managed to run down and kill several women and at least one child from that group as well.

The militia returned to Fort Pitt with the scalps of their victims, along with two female prisoners.  Female Indians were known as squaws at the time, so that the mission became known as the squaw campaign.  The campaign’s commander, Colonel Hand expressed “mortification” at the killing of women and children.  The leadership considered the entire campaign to be an embarrassing failure. 

For the local Delaware Indians though, this was more than an embarrassment. It was a massacre of innocent people just going about their lives.  The most prominent Indian killed, Pipe, had been reputed to be friendly to the American cause and had been instrumental in keeping the Delaware neutral.

Following the killing of him and his family, the Delaware became decidedly more hostile, led by Pipe’s brother, known as Captain Pipe, or Hopocan.

Treaty of Fort Pitt

General McIntosh arrived at Fort Pitt only a few months after the Squaw Campaign. It’s unclear if McIntosh replaced Colonel Hand because of the massacre. But Hand was never sanctioned for his actions and went on to be promoted to general later in the war.  It seems more that McIntosh’s deployment was part of a larger effort to launch an offensive against British-held Detroit.

McIntosh had the difficult task of making peace with the Delaware Indians, who were related to the people who had been massacred only a few months earlier.  Now you may ask, why would Indians whose relatives were just victims of a massacre be willing to work with those same people? Well, for one thing, the “people” had changed.  Edward Hand was no longer in command, and the local militia were no longer the primary military force.  General McIntosh had brought with him about a thousand Continental soldiers to support his offensive against Detroit.

Fort Pitt
There are no detailed records of the treaty negotiations, but McIntosh must have distanced himself from the massacre, condemning the acts as the unfortunate actions of militia running amok.  The Delaware Indians had largely sided with the Americans, not because they had a particular love for American independence, but because it appeared that the Americans were more powerful in the region and had a better chance of winning.  That really hadn't changed. It probably appeared more so with the arrival of so many Continental troops at Fort Pitt. Joining the losing side in this war would only mean that the tribes would lose their land and be pushed further west.  By supporting the winning side, they had a chance of keeping their land and establishing an understanding with the new power that would control the region.  So the decision to work with the Americans was probably more of a matter of survival rather than one of ideology.

Up until this time, the Delaware had remained neutral.  Traditionally the Iroquois had negotiated treaties with the colonists on behalf of the Delaware.  But the Iroquois Confederation was itself divided by this war and was no longer an effective body for diplomacy.  The Delaware neutrality essentially meant that neither side would be permitted to enter their territory without being attacked.  Since this area had not been a particularly contentious piece of real estate, that policy had not really been challenged up until this point.  But since Gen. McIntosh was going to have to travel through Delaware territory to reach Detroit, he needed to reach an arrangement with the local tribes.

The native contingent that met with General McIntosh at Fort Pitt included three chiefs: White Eyes, John Killbuck, Jr., and Captain Pipe, whose mother and brother had been killed and scalped in the Squaw Campaign.  These chiefs wanted assurances that if they permitted the Continental Army to march through their lands on the way to Detroit, that the army would protect the Delaware from any British reprisals, and that the army would also provide some law enforcement to prevent settlers or militia from attacking the Indians again.

The American negotiators agreed to these terms.  They even discussed the idea of turning the Ohio Territory into a 14th state in the Union, with the Delaware as the leaders of that state.  Of course, such a step would require the approval of the Continental Congress, but that might be possible.

The result of the negotiations was the Treaty of Fort Pitt in September, 1778, granting the Continental Army access to the Ohio Valley.

Simon Girty

Ironically, while the Delaware Indians made a deal with the same side that had just attacked and murdered their women and children, one of those attackers was moving in the other direction.  A man by the name of Simon Girty had served as a scout and a translator on the Squaw Campaign.  

Simon Girty
Simon Girty is a pretty interesting character who deserves some background.  Girty was born in 1741 on the Pennsylvania frontier, in what is today central Pennsylvania.  His father, also named Simon Girty, was a poor Irishman, looking to establish his own farm.  

Although the family managed to make a living through farming and trading with local Indians, eastern land speculators claimed that Girty was illegally squatting on land that they owned. The agent for the land owners, George Croghan, burned the family farm, and had the sheriff throw the family into the street.  

The end of Girty’s father is a matter of contention.  One story says that Girty then fought a duel in which he was killed.  Another says that an Indian killed Girty in a tomahawk attack. In either case, the elder Girty was killed, leaving young Simon without a home or a father at age nine.

His mother married a man named John Turner, who had established his own farm, and raised Girty and his brothers as their new stepfather.  In the story where Girty was killed by an Indian, the story also says that Turner killed that Indian in revenge, before marrying Girty’s widow.

In 1754, when Girty was 13 years old, George Croghan, the same man who had the Girtys thrown off their farm, joined up with a Virginia militia colonel by the name of George Washington in the Ohio Valley. They killed some French soldiers there, starting a massive war.  The French, and their Indian allies made war all along the colonial frontier, attacking settlements.

Turner took his family to Fort Granville for protection.  He joined the local militia and served as a sergeant. In 1756, the fort commander went out on a patrol.  The patrol was ambushed and killed by a group of about 50 French soldiers and 100 Delaware Indians.  The French and Indian force then demanded the surrender of Fort Granville.  Sergeant Turner, then the most senior official at the fort, agreed to surrender and opened the fort’s doors to the attackers.

The attackers burned the fort and took the inhabitants as prisoners.  Sergeant Turner was condemned to be tortured and burned at the stake.  The Delaware burned and cut him for over three hours before someone put a tomahawk into his skull, thus finally ending his misery.  All of this was done with his wife and children, including Simon Girty, watching all of these events unfold.

The fifteen year old Girty was then separated from his mother and brothers, sent to live with the Mingo Chief Guyasuta. The Mingo were part of the larger Seneca tribe, then living in what is today western New York and Pennsylvania.  Guyasuta was the head of a village near the current town of Erie, Pennsylvania.  There, Girty became part of the tribe, learning the language and culture of the people who had adopted him.  

Guyasuta had actually accompanied George Washington on one of his early forays into the Ohio Valley.  But once war broke out, Guyasuta sided decidedly with the French.  It is believed that Guyasuta’s warriors played a role in attacking General Braddock’s forces on the Monongahela, and also took part in an attack on a British force led by General James Grant.  Grant was part of the larger Forbes Expedition to capture Fort Duquesne, on the site of what became Pittsburgh.  After the French gave up and left North America, Guyasuta continued the fight against the British, taking an active role in Pontiac’s War.

It is unclear if Girty was an active warrior, fighting under Guyasuta on these campaigns. He did not discuss this later in life.  However, being a young man in this twenties, and an adopted member of the tribe, he very likely did participate.  Following the end of Pontiac’s rebellion, the British demanded the return of all colonists held by the Indians.  Girty had spent more than seven years with the Mingo, but was returned to the British as part of this agreement.

Girty’s familiarity with both colonial and Seneca culture served him well.  He found work as a translator at the negotiations for the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1768.  Following the French and Indian War, Girty continued to live on the frontier, in what was official Indian territory, and in defiance of the British Proclamation of 1763.  He mostly made a living as a fur trader. He was decidedly living with other colonists though, including men like George Rogers Clark, Daniel Boone, William Crawford, and Daniel Morgan.

During Lord Dunmore’s war, Girty served as a scout for the Virginians and received a commission as a lieutenant in the Virginia militia.  Later, Girty served as a scout and a translator around Fort Pitt and joined what became the Squaw Campaign in that capacity.  

During that campaign, the massacre of native women and children had a profound impact on Girty.  He left the area shortly after the campaign ended.  He traveled to Detroit and offered his services to the British.

Fort Laurens

Meanwhile back at Fort Pitt, General McIntosh, having completed his treaty with the Delaware, began to establish the Continental presence in the region. He first established Fort McIntosh, about 25 miles down the Ohio River, northwest of Fort Pitt.  

In late 1778, McIntosh built Fort Laurens, named after then-President of Congress Henry Laurens.  The fort was about 80 miles west of Fort Pitt, in present-day Ohio.  By December, the log fort was completed enough for winter quarters.  Because of the difficulties in getting supplies to the fort, McIntosh took the bulk of his army back to Fort Pitt and Fort McIntosh for the winter. He left Continental Colonel John Gibson, commanding a garrison at Fort Laurens of less than 200 men.

McIntosh realized over the winter that marching a large force through hundreds of miles of wilderness was going to be difficult, to say the least.  He needed more than safe passage from the local Indians.  He needed their active support on the campaign.  He called on the Delaware to join the campaign against Detroit, and threatened them with loss of land if they refused to help. If the tribes complained that that was not part of their deal in the treaty, I think McIntosh’s response was something like I am altering the deal, pray I do not alter it further. This turned the local tribes against the Americans, and made them more disposed to favor the British.

Fort Laurens
Fort Laurens had tall timber walls over 15 feet high and six inches thick.  It would be nearly impossible to take the fort without artillery.  The local Indians, however, began to attack any foraging parties that left the fort, and any supply wagons attempting to reach it. 

In January, 1779, Simon Girty returned to help coordinate these attacks.  After hitting several supply wagons, Girty returned to Detroit for more reinforcements.  On February 22, he returned with enough men to begin a full siege of the fort.  It began when the fort garrison sent out a work detail of 19 men to collect firewood.  The loyalist and Indian force ambushed the work detail, then executed and scalped all of the men in view of the fort walls.

Over the next month, the garrison began to freeze and starve as they could not collect wood or food. Back at Fort Pitt, McIntosh got word of the attack and assembled a force of 500 soldiers to relieve the fort and to wipe out the attackers.  The relief force arrived on March 23. On seeing their arrival, the garrison fired their guns in celebration.  The gunfire managed to spook the horses carrying supplies, causing them to run off into the woods just as it was getting dark.  As a result, the relief column lost most of its own food supplies. 

Without sufficient food, McIntosh thought that he could not continue the winter campaign against a foe who would simply hide in the woods and ambush at will.  McIntosh opted to return to Fort Pitt, leaving a new garrison of just over 100 men, along with sufficient supplies for the next few months so they would not have to leave the fort. The Indians kept up their attacks on anyone trying to leave or approach the fort. 

At the same time, larger events were favoring the Americans.  Over that same winter, George Rogers Clark asserted American control of the Kentucky and Illinois territories and even captured the British Governor Henry Hamilton, who had left his headquarters at Detroit.  In New York, the Americans were beginning the Sullivan Campaign, which I will discuss in a few weeks, which would cripple the pro-British Iroquois as a major threat.

By the summer of 1779, McIntosh requested to be transferred back south, to take part in the fight to recapture Georgia from British occupation.  Colonel Daniel Brodhead took command of the forces at Fort Pitt.  Broadhead decided that Fort Laurens was only a liability.  He took a large column to relieve the garrison and return all the men back to Fort Pitt.  In August, the Continental finally abandoned Fort Laurens, and marched back to Fort Pitt, suffering several minor Indian attacks on their return back to Pittsburgh - just to remind them they were not welcome there. That was the end of Fort Laurens.


Simon Girty and several of his companions were labelled as traitors and had rewards put on their heads for their capture.  Girty would continue to fight for the British for the remainder of the war.  In October of 1779, he led a raid into what is today Kentucky.  There, he ambushed a group of Continental soldiers under the command of Colonel David Rogers, killing or capturing almost the entire 70 man unit.

While the Americans would make more minor forays into what is today Ohio, Fort Laurens was the only attempt to create a permanent presence in that region.  The area would remain under the control of the British-allied Delaware Indians through the end of the war.

- - -

Next Episode 228 Penobscot Expedition

 Contact me via email at

 Follow the podcast on Twitter @AmRevPodcast

 Join the Facebook group, American Revolution   Podcast:

 Join American Revolution Podcast on Quora 

American Revolution Podcast Merch!

T-shirts, hoodies, mugs, pillows, totes, notebooks, wall art, and more.  Get your favorite American Revolution logo today.  Help support this podcast.

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. You may also donate via Venmo (@Michael-Troy-20), Zelle, or popmoney (send to

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

An alternative to Patreon is SubscribeStar.  For anyone who has problems with Patreon, you can get the same benefits by subscribing at SubscribeStar.

Help Support this podcast on ""

Visit the American Revolution Podcast Bookshop.  Support local bookstores and this podcast!

Signup for the AmRev Podcast Mail List

* indicates required

Further Reading


“From George Washington to Brigadier General Lachlan McIntosh, 26 May 1778,” Founders Online, National Archives,

“To George Washington from Brigadier General Lachlan McIntosh, 7 June 1778,” Founders Online, National Archives,

General Edward Hand: The Squaw Campaign

Life and Myth of Simon Girty

Simon Girty:

Simon Girty:

Burke, Mike The Delaware Treaty of 1778, Sept. 26, 2018

Sterner, Eric “The Siege of Fort Laurens” Journal of the American Revolution, Dec. 17, 2019

Fort Lauren Museum:

Simon Girty War Party:

Free eBooks
(from unless noted)

Boyd, Thomas Simon Girty, The White Savage, New York: Minton, Balch & Co. 1928. 

Butterfield, Consul Willshire History of the Girtys : being a concise account of the Girty brothers--Thomas, Simon, James and George, and of their half-brother John Turner, Cincinnati: Robert Clarke & Co. 1890 (1950 reprint). 

McKnight, Charles Simon Girty : "The White Savage"; A Romance of the Border, Philadelphia: J. C. McCurdy & Co. 1880. 

Ranck, George Washington Girty, the White Indian, Fort Wayne: Prepared by the staff of the Public Library of Fort Wayne and Allen County, 1955. 

Thwaites, Reuben Gold (ed) Frontier defense on the upper Ohio, 1777-1778, Madison, Wisconsin historical society, 1912. 

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)*

Butts, Edward Simon Girty: Wilderness Warrior, ReadHowYouWant, 2017

Gidney, James B. & Thomas I. Pieper Fort Laurens, 1778-1779: The Revolutionary War in Ohio, Kent State Univ. Press, 1976.  Also read on

Hoffman, Phillip W. Simon Girty Turncoat Hero, American History Press, 2008.

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

ARP226 Tryon Raids Connecticut, 1779

Last week I discussed the fighting at Stony Point, New York in July 1779.  At the same time the British and Continentals were struggling over New York, the British also launched a series of coastal raids against Connecticut towns.  Part of the reason was to attack towns that supported the privateer ships that continually harassed British shipping in and out of New York, and throughout the region.

Both Stony Point and the Connecticut raids were also part of a larger strategy by British General Henry Clinton to draw out the Continentals from their defenses in the mountains of Northern New Jersey and New York.  The British still hoped to draw the Americans into a general action on terms favorable to the British.  Secretary of State Lord Germain, in London, continued to put pressure on the British commander to defeat the Continentals, despite the fact that he had taken away much of the army to fight in other parts of the empire.  Germain had also wanted to see many more coastal raids in New England to weaken the American morale for the continuing war effort.

Germain had promised to send Clinton another 6000 reinforcements in the summer of 1779, but those were still just promises. Clinton had to make due with the force he had, the majority of which were Hessians and local loyalist regiments.

Tryon’s Brigade

While Clinton was focused on Stony Point, he left Major General William Tryon in command of the force that would be raiding Connecticut.  Tryon, who we have discussed before, had been a colonial governor before the war, and remained the governor of New York, although martial law left him little to do in that capacity.  As an experienced regular officer he received a commission as major general in America to command troops.

William Tryon
This would not be Tryon’s first attack on Connecticut.  Back in 1777, General Tryon had led the raids against Danbury to destroy the American supply depot there.  That attack, which I discussed back in Episode 135 had led to the death of Continental General David Wooster and the wounding and promotion of Benedict Arnold to major general.

Ever since then, Tryon had been pushing for additional raids into New England, particularly nearby Connecticut.  Tryon had been a firm believer in the use of brutal force against civilians who dared to defy royal authority.  It had led him to fight the Battle of Alamance, before the war, in 1771 when he was still governor of North Carolina.  He had also used similar tactics against the Green Mountain Boys before the war, because they refused to accept New York’s control of the land that later became the State of Vermont.  

Tryon was a firm believer that the only way to crush the rebellion was to burn rebel towns and make these people suffer.  This put Tryon at odds with the military commanders, first General William Howe, and now General Henry Clinton, both of whom wanted to focus on military targets and not go after civilians.

Like many British officers, Tryon complained to officials in London that the commanders were not aggressive enough to win the war.  Tryon also wanted to resign as governor of New York and to get a commission as a major general in the regular army, not just a general in America.  In 1779, the king had approved his commission as major general in America, but had not allowed him to resign as governor and did not grant him the permanent commission in the regular army that he desired.

As part of his efforts to resign, Tryon also requested permission to return to England.  He cited various health and family reasons for wanting to do so.  Finally, in early 1779, Germain informed Tryon that General James Robertson would replace him in New York, allowing Tryon to return to England.  Tryon then changed his mind and asked to remain in America for a few more months.  His health and family issues suddenly evaporated, as the 1779 military campaign had begun to take focus.

The reason for Tryon’s change of attitude was that General Clinton seemed to have come around to the idea of raising civilian towns.  In February, 1779, Clinton approved Tryon’s raid on Horseneck Landing, Connecticut, which I discussed back in Episode 211.  By summer Clinton had approved Tryon’s proposals to take a larger force against the Connecticut coast.

Tryon’s 1779 attack would be a larger raid, with more men and hitting more towns. He assembled a force of 2600 soldiers, a mix of regulars, Hessians and loyalists for the coastal raids.  Commodore George Collier, recently returned from his Chesapeake Raid (see Episode 221) commanded the fleet which carried the soldiers across the Long Island Sound to the Connecticut shore.

General Tryon divided his force into two divisions.  One, primarily made up of British regulars and some Hessian Jaegers came under the command of Brigadier General George Garth.  Tryon personally commanded the other division, primarily consisting of loyalist regiments and supported by Hessians.  The fleet departed New York on July 3.

New Haven

The fleet took over a day to reach its first destination, New Haven Connecticut.  The locals in New Haven were preparing to celebrate independence day on July 5, the 4th having been a Sunday.  The British fleet arrived on the evening of the 4th.  A signal gun fired at 10 PM, at first sight of the British fleet.  By midnight, the fleet was at anchor.

Map of attack on New Haven
General Tryon actually had leaflets printed up ahead of time to inform the residents of New Haven that the town still lay within the “grasp of British power” and that the town had only been spared for so long because the British had been lenient with them.  However, the ungrateful, ungenerous, and wonton insurrection would be tolerated no longer.  Those who failed to remain in their homes and ready to proffer proof of their “penitence and voluntary submission” could expect to feel the wrath of the King’s soldiers.

At around 5:00 AM on July 5th, the British disembarked about 1500 men under General Garth on the western shore of New Haven Harbor.  They also landed four field pieces and then marched unopposed to West New Haven Green. A few locals, including a Yale professor, took a few pot shots at the soldiers, but nothing that really led to a full battle.  That same day, the other half of the force under General Tryon landed on the eastern shore of the harbor.

Yale University President Ezra Stiles observed the landings through a telescope from the steeple of the University chapel.  He began ordering the removal of some valuables from the school.  He also noted that some people turned out to oppose the British, some stayed home, and some Tories even turned out to join with the British.  Still others fled to other nearby towns.

By the afternoon, the British forces began plundering New Haven.  The soldiers plundered both patriots and loyalist houses.  There were stories of soldiers cutting the necklaces off of women’s necks, and stealing anything of value. They also burned homes and engaged in general destruction.

According to General Garth, he had orders from Tryon to destroy the town, but said that he only burned a few public buildings, sparing most of the private homes.  He also seized six cannons from a privateer ship in the harbor.

The following day, July 6, both divisions continued to plunder New Haven.  Again, there was no large-scale organized militia resistance, only a few pot shots from buildings, which were promptly burned.  By the end of the day, the British returned to their ships and sailed away.


On the morning of July 7, the fort near Black Rock in Fairfield, Connecticut fired its warning at the sight of the British fleet offshore.  The British disembarked and began the march toward the center of town.  The militia around Fairfield turned out to resist.  Given their small numbers, the militia could not pose much defense to the thousands of invading forces.  They tore up bridges and fired on the column from behind fences, but did not really slow down the British column.  The British took some casualties, chased off the attackers, and continued the march into Fairfield.

The attacks on the column annoyed the British to the point that Tryon allowed his troops to loot and burn the entire town.  The soldiers stole anything of value and burned what they could not carry away.  Many of the soldiers managed to find liquor and get drunk, yet continued their burning and looting well into the night.  Tryon later justified the destruction as retaliation for the militia who fired on his troops.

The destruction continued well into the night, with most of the town’s inhabitants having fled or in hiding.  The attackers got a few hours of rest.  The following morning, hearing rumors that a larger militia brigade was marching to confront them.  Tryon put his men back aboard their ships and sailed away.

According to Tryon’s records, they burned 83 houses, 54 barns, 47 storehouses, 2 churches, 2 schools, the courthouse and the jail.  From Fairfield, the British sailed back across Long Island Sound to Huntington, New York on Long Island.


The Burning of Fairfield had taken less than 24 hours, but was the end of six days and nights of sailing and raiding the coasts.  Tryon gave his men two days to rest and recover at Huntington on Long Island.  With the troops rested and ready for another attack, Collier ferried the army back across the sound, this time to Norwalk, Connecticut.

The soldiers arrived on July 10, but did not begin their attack until the following day.  As they had at the earlier attack, General Garth led his division up the west side while General Tryon led a second division up the east side.  The attackers began their march before dawn.

As with the raids of the two prior towns, the British landing met relatively little resistance.  A group of about 50 Continentals and militia under the command of Captain Stephen Betts made a stand on Grumman Hill, but had no real chance against more than 1000 attackers.  The Americans withdrew after a few volleys since they were in danger of being surrounded.

During his march, British General Garth commented on constant harassment from enemy fire by local militia.  The locals took shots at the column and then fled.  It was an annoyance, but did not really slow down the column.  The two British columns converged near the town green, and then faced another firefight from the north, where a group of Americans fired on them from an area simply known as “the Rocks”.  

Having dispatched the enemy, the British began to plunder and burn the town.  Reports indicate they burned 80 houses, 87 barns, 17 shops, 4 mills, and 2 churches. The British also seized or sank several ships in the harbor and took prisoners of some of the locals, most of whom would later die in New York prison ships.

The British did not linger in Norwalk.  Washington had deployed General Samuel Holden Parsons to Connecticut to challenge the British raids.  Parsons had assembled nearly 1000 Continentals and militia and was marching to Norwalk to challenge the British. Although the British still outnumbered this force by about 3-1, Tryon had no real interest in doing battle.  His mission, as he saw it, was simply to wreak havoc on the towns along the coasts.  His men completed their destruction within a few hours then returned to their boats and sailed away that same day.

Return to New York

Tryon had avoided a major confrontation, but the presence of General Parson made clear that the Continentals were preparing to confront further raids along the Connecticut coast.  Even so, after Tryon returned to his base at Huntington on Long Island, he prepared to launch an attack on a fourth town. Before he could do so, he received orders from General Clinton to return with his men to New York City.

Tryon considered his raids to be a great success.  On July 14, he reported the destruction that he had inflicted on the rebel towns.  He also reported that his force had suffered relatively few casualties: 26 killed, 90 wounded, and 32 missing.

Henry Clinton

General Clinton, however, was not pleased.  He saw the raids as primarily attacking civilians, something he termed as “making war on women and children.”  Not only did the commander find such raids dishonorable, he also believed that they harmed the overall war effort since regaining the support of the general population was critical to reasserting British governance over the colonies.

General Tryon supported the alternative view.  The only way the British would ever be able to reassert authority was to show the populace what life was like when they rejected the protection of the King’s peace.  Rebellious colonies needed to suffer in order to understand the power of the British government and understand why they needed to submit.

Clinton told Tryon that he had disobeyed orders by burning towns. This does not seem to be the case though. There is no record of Clinton giving any specific orders not to engage in such pillaging.  In fact, Tryon recounts Clinton telling him that Clinton knew that Tryon would burn towns unless Clinton gave him explicit instructions not to do so, and that he never gave any such instructions.  Tryon seemed to take this as turning a blind eye to what had to be done.  Tryon apologized for burning churches, which he characterized as “inadvertent.”  He also used the excuse that his soldiers had received gunfire from the buildings that they destroyed.  While this may have been true in a few cases, it does not seem plausible that nearly every building in Fairfield and Norwalk was used for enemy attacks.  Tryon and Clinton simply had very different views on how to prosecute the war.

In fact, Tryon’s position seemed to have more support from the ministry in London. Secretary of State Lord George Germain voiced regular support for wreaking destruction along the coasts.  Since Britain could not secure territory in New England, they could at least use the Navy to blockade their trade, and use the army to destroy coastal towns, just as Tryon had done.  

This strategy, backed by Lord Sandwich and the Board of Admiralty, believed that after years of misery and suffering the colonists would eventually break and would sue for peace and the return of royal authority, if only to bring an end to the destruction. There were certainly many moderates who disagreed with this strategy, but most of them were not in the ministry by this time.  The ministry had largely purged any moderates and was composed of hardliners. When Germain heard about the raids, he praised Tryon’s actions.

Given the support of officials in London, Clinton could not take any actions or even formally reprimand Tryon for his actions.  Clinton, however, also did not trust Tryon with another independent command after the raids. When General Cornwallis returned from England later in the year, Clinton favored him for command, while Tryon criticized Cornwallis for being too constricted to prosecute the war in a way necessary to win. In other words, Tryon believed Cornwallis also opposed waging war on the civilian population.

Months later, when Clinton and Cornwallis left for South Carolina, Tryon was the senior British officer.  However, Clinton left Hessian General Knyphausen in overall command, with Tryon only responsible for the few regulars who remained in New York.  Clinton simply did not trust Tryon in a position where Tryon had any discretion.

American Reaction

Of course, the patriots widely condemned the raids as proof that the British were unfit to govern. They were no better than barbarians who cared nothing for the citizens.  They were not trying to rule by consent, but rather by military force, the mark of a tyrant.  Patriot newspapers across the continent used the event as a way to encourage enlistments

The reason that General Clinton had supported the raids at all, even if not the level of destruction levied, was that he had hoped that the Continentals would be forced to deploy troops from the mountains around West Point to protect the Connecticut coast.  This would give Clinton a better opportunity to bring about a general action on favorable territory, or perhaps even allow him to capture West Point if Washington left it without too many defenders.

Washington had been under great pressure to deploy part of his army to Connecticut during  and after these raids.  Governor Trumbull sent Washington a series of letters imploring him to do just that.  Washington, however, refused to do so.  In early July, the British still held Stony Point.  He recognized that weakening his defenses around West Point would make him vulnerable there.  Washington did send General Parsons, but he mostly relied on Parsons to recruit local militia to provide any defense to the coastal raids.  

Washington was also more focused on retaking Stony Point, which I discussed last week.  The British had deployed thousands to capture Stony Point in May.  After doing so, they mostly pulled back to New York City, leaving only a few hundred men to defend the area.  Days after Tryon completed his Connecticut raids, Washington unleashed General Wayne and his forces to recapture Stony Point, which I also discussed last week.

In short, Washington had failed to walk into the trap that Clinton had hoped to set for him.  He sacrificed the Connecticut towns in order to keep the British in check along the Hudson River.  He even surprised the British by capturing Stony Point, albeit temporarily.  Although the Continentals did not hold it, the loss of the British outpost was cause for great celebration in America.  It meant that the attempts to use the coastal raids to crush American morale had little impact.  For the British, the lack of any strategic success did not convince them to give up entirely on the New England coast.

Next Week, the British continue their efforts along the New England coast with the Penobscot Expedition.

- - -

Next Episode 227 Fort Laurens

 Contact me via email at

 Follow the podcast on Twitter @AmRevPodcast

 Join the Facebook group, American Revolution   Podcast:

 Join American Revolution Podcast on Quora 

American Revolution Podcast Merch!

T-shirts, hoodies, mugs, pillows, totes, notebooks, wall art, and more.  Get your favorite American Revolution logo today.  Help support this podcast.

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. You may also donate via Venmo (@Michael-Troy-20), Zelle, or popmoney (send to

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

An alternative to Patreon is SubscribeStar.  For anyone who has problems with Patreon, you can get the same benefits by subscribing at SubscribeStar.

Help Support this podcast on ""

Visit the American Revolution Podcast Bookshop.  Support local bookstores and this podcast!

Signup for the AmRev Podcast Mail List

* indicates required

Further Reading


The Burning of Fairfield:

“To George Washington from Norwalk, Conn., Officials and Lieutenant Colonel Stephen St. John, 9 July 1779,” Founders Online, National Archives,

“To George Washington from Brigadier General Samuel Holden Parsons, 31 July 1779,” Founders Online, National Archives,

The Burning on Norwalk During the American Revolution:

Video: Prof. J. Freedman lectures on the invasion of New Haven.

Free eBooks
(from unless noted)

Hoadly, Charles (ed) The public records of the state of Connecticut, with the journal of the Council of safety and an appendix, From May 1778 to April, 1780 inclusive, Hartford, The Case, Lockwood & Brainard Co. 1895. 

Rankin, Edward E; Lombard, James K; Osgood, Samuel & Power, Horatio Centennial commemoration of the burning of Fairfield, Connecticut, by the British troops under Governor Tryon, July 8th, 1779, New York, A. S. Barnes & Co. 1879. 

Townshend, Charles H. The British Invasion of New Haven, Connecticut, together with some account of their landing and burning the towns of Fairfield and Norwalk, July, 1779, New Haven: Tuttle, Moorehouse, & Taylor, 1879. 

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)*

McDevitt, Robert Connecticut Attacked: A British Viewpoint, Tryon’s Raid on Danbury, Globe Pequot Classics, 2017.  

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

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

AR-SP14 Joseph Ellis - The Cause

On this special edition I speak with Joseph Ellis, historian and author of Founding Brothers which won a Pulitzer Prize for history, American Sphinx, which is a biography of Thomas Jefferson and which won the national book award and His Excellency, George Washington, which was a New York Times bestseller.

Michael Troy (MJT) Joseph Ellis, Welcome to the American Revolution Podcast.

Joseph Ellis (JE)  It's a pleasure to be here, Michael.

MJT:   So of course, you've written a bunch of really great books about the American Revolution. Your latest book is called The Cause, The American Revolution, and its Discontents, 1773-1783. A really fascinating book, I just finished it yesterday. I was trying to get through before our conversation, but really a fascinating book. You've written so many books about the American Revolution and the founding era. What do you find particularly interesting about that time period?

JE:   People asked me that question over time, because I have focused on what I call the American founding - the last quarter century of the 18th century. The American Revolution, as we call it, they called it the cause, is the first portion of that period. And so, without knowing that I was doing, I was writing the history of the American founding backwards. And I don't get to the start, which is this book until the end. For those who say, Well, why are you so fascinated with the American founding, the late 18th century? And I given my Willie Sutton answer. Willie was a bank robber who kept robbing banks and kept getting caught. And the police eventually, or the lawyers said, Willie, why do you keep robbing banks? And having to pay the price in jail? He said, because that's where they keep the money. It's not money, but it's the ideas and values on which the American Republic continues to be based, we hope continues. And so it's the mother lode, if you will. It's the big bang in the history of the American political universe. And we can never know enough about it, it seems to me. So my motives are presentistic in the sense that I think that Americans need to know how we got to be who we are.

MJT:  Your book is called The Cause. What, to you, exactly is the cause, and did it change over time?

JE:  The term exactly is difficult to apply, because the strength of the clause as the cause is its ambiguity and its ability to expand or contract over time. It's a kind of verbal canopy within which different sections of the American colonies and then states can come together. In apparent agreement. 

Initially, the term was the common cause. And that was a term used to describe all the other 12 colonies who come together to support Massachusetts in 1775, after the Boston Tea Party, and after the Coercive Acts are passed, which allowed Great Britain to impose military rule over Massachusetts, and especially Boston. So initially, the common cause means coming together, a Continental Congress is called to oppose British invasion, if you will. 

Over time, they dropped common and it becomes the cause. And in fact, if you want to be historically correct, nobody calls it the American Revolution during the time it's going on. It comes into existence later, in order to differentiate it from the French Revolution. But they simply call it the cause. The British call it the American rebellion. And in my treatment, here, it becomes this, as I say, verbal canopy in which people gather. 

They don't agree on what they're for. But they agree on what they're against: the attempt by Great Britain to impose their own will on the American colonies, without the colonists' consent, initially to tax them, then to legislate for them in all ways. And finally, to bring a military definition to the problem by occupying Boston and attempting to impose a military rule over that most intransigent of all the colonies.

MJT:  The founders themselves probably would have disagreed on an exact definition of the cause themselves, especially at the beginning of the war.  A lot of them were in it for very different reasons. And quite frankly, I don't think any of them were exactly sure where it was going.

JE:  Right. If you're from New England, and especially from Massachusetts, so like John and Sam Adams, when they go to the First Continental Congress, both of them say we have to keep silent for as long as possible because the rest of the colonies, especially the middle colonies, and especially New York and Pennsylvania, are wary of getting dragged into a war against Great Britain by these radicals up in Boston. They don't want to be pulled into the abyss and so one of the more prominent figures in the book is a guy called John Dickinson. People have seen the play 1776 probably remember him, he becomes famous as the guy who doesn't sign the Declaration. It's not quite fair to the guy. He's, as I read him here, one of the more prominent figures up through 75-76. 

There's a moderate faction. In my interpretation, it creates the framework for what is a prudent revolution. And those two terms would normally not be associated. But it's a group of people who are extremely reluctant to break with Great Britain. And so the phrase that Jefferson coins or uses in the famous document, the Declaration is prudence dictates that governments long established should not be abandoned for light and transient causes, unlike the French Revolution, or the Russian Revolution afterwards, the leaders of what we call the American Revolution, didn't want to be revolutionaries. They weren't all just intellectuals and philosophers. They were experienced statesmen and lawyers. They came at this decision much more apprehensively, much more cautiously, than what you think of as normal revolutionaries. 

MJT:  George Washington famously wrote at the First Continental Congress that no thinking man in America could be supporting independence. It really wasn't in a lot of people's minds at that time. 

I think you're right, you see three different factions, you have the John Adams faction, who really has kind of gotten fed up with the British and all the horrible things they've been doing. You've got the John Dickinson faction that's kind of in the middle that really wants to do something about this, but it's not quite sure that full independence is the right way to go. And then you have the conservative faction that also attended the Congress. Men like Joseph Galloway, who were upset about British policy, but there was no way they were going to go against the king.

JE:  Right, right. That's a good set of distinctions, I think Michael. People like Galloway are the ones and Hutchinson in Massachusetts, the ones who end up was loyalists. 

Adams is the man who believes that the moderates are waiting for a Messiah who will never come. They're waiting for George the Third to rescue the British government from the kind of blunder that Parliament has made in committing itself to some kind of military action in the colonies. 

In my interpretation here, and some British historians don't like this. I'm saying that the decision to militarize this conflict from a constitutional political conflict to a war is perhaps the greatest blunder in the history of British statecraft. This need not have happened, American history need not have taken the course it did.  Eventually, not just Parliament, but George the Third himself, steps across the line. 

So think of it this way and see if this doesn't sound eerily familiar. A newly arrived world power brimming over with confidence, sure of its own military and economic supremacy, having just acquired a third of a continent in North America during the French and Indian War, or the Seven Years War, as they called, it, steps into a quagmire. And once they do, they're in a war, which they really can't win.

My assessment is at odds with some of the views that say, it was a miracle that the Americans won the war. And Washington himself lends credibility to that interpretation. When at the end of the war, he says, anybody who writes a real history of this war will be accused of writing fiction because nobody would believe we could win against the greatest army and navy in the world. And if you think about it, you know, here's a question, Michael, how many wars did Great Britain lose between 1750 and 1950? And the correct answer is one. So in some sense, looking back from that perspective, it's a miracle we win the war. 

But if you begin to understand what problems the British face in this war, and I try to help the reader understand that, it's going to be almost impossible for the British to win.  Though, it is possible for the Americans to lose it. And they almost do. It's a roller coaster ride for seven and a half years from 75 to 83, or 81. depending if you want to make your count the end of the war. 

Franklin thought that this shouldn't have happened. The proper direction of the British Empire should have been to accept America's terms, allow the colonial assemblies some measure of sovereignty, especially with regard to taxation, but keep them in the empire, bound together with the navigation acts, but let them have a good deal of political independence and continue to be part of the empire in what we now call the British Commonwealth. 

It doesn't go in that direction. Later on. That's the way Canada, Australia and New Zealand getting closed within the British Commonwealth. But the United States goes in a different direction. And so we have this 25-30 year compressed period of time, when the institutions and values of what comes to be the largest nation sized republic in the world is created.

MJT:  I think places like Canada and Australia have some thanks to us, because Britain learned its lesson in America,

JE:  The Canadians don't think of it that way. Because, you know, the War of 1812 puts them in a different frame of mind, I think, but it's true, we give the British a lesson which they learn into the next century, and therefore apply their definition of imperialism, more, at least in certain areas. Notice that they tend to apply it only in those places where the people are white and English-speaking. They don't apply it in the Middle East. They don't apply it in Africa, and they don’t apply it in India. But in the places we've mentioned it, you're welcome into the British Empire. 

MJT:  A lot of people will blame King George, individually, for this leading to revolution and independence. It was his speech in 1775, where he basically said, the colonies will either be in complete submission or independence, there's really no middle ground, that drove most Americans to independence. 

In some ways, the king was trying to be a good leader based on his precedents, which were, say the English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution, where the king broke with Parliament and was trying to work against Parliament. And in this case, he was backing Parliament, backing Parliament's authority, backing Parliament as the premier power of British Empire. And of course, that was no longer going to work for the colonies.

JE:  That's a good point and one that needs to get made. But to reverse it, in a way it's that he is enhancing his own monarchical power by claiming to be representing the interests of Parliament. It's a tricky thing that he's doing and no monarch after George the Third ever exercises the degree of royal power that he does. They limit him after this. And the other variable here is he comes to power himself, right after the British acquired this huge third of a continent. 

This should sound familiar to Americans, too. It's an early version of the domino theory. If we allow the Americans to secede or to be independent, what happens to Canada? What happens to Jamaica? What happens to Malta? What happens to India? In other words, He's fearful that any weakness and any willingness to compromise with the Americans will lead to the loss of the entire British Empire. And again, that should have a familiar ring to Americans.

MJT:  Oh, yeah, absolutely. And I think it's true. Every King stays in power, because he knows when to share power appropriately. And when to take power away appropriately. If you share too much, you end up descending into chaos and with almost nothing yourself, and if you try to take too much you end up getting overthrown. I think here are King George thought he was going one direction when in perhaps he should have gone the other. 

JE:  Later on, in some of his private correspondence. This is before it begins to lose his senses. He acknowledges that this was a mistake. And to some extent, the British Ministry by 1778, once the war has not gone as well, as they thought to put it mildly. They essentially offer the American colonies a deal. That's everything that the colonists said they wanted in 1775. We won't tax you will let your own legislatures do that. We'll even let you have a continental congress, for gosh sakes. As long as you stay with us in the empire, with the Navigation Acts and with trade going back and forth between the two parties. 

If they had made that offer in 75, we wouldn't have had a war, but it's too late. By then too many people have been killed. Too many women have been raped. Too many towns have been destroyed by the British Navy. And so it's just too late.

MJT:  I think that's right that you're talking about the 1778 Carlisle Commission, which gave us everything we wanted. But by that time, the Americans just didn't trust Britain. I think they were worried that yes, you promise this now. But 10 years from now, when France isn't in a war with you and things are different. You're going to come back in and try to claw back power from us.

JE:  It doesn't have to get to that if you've experienced the war directly. In the town of now-Portland, it was called Falmouth then, is burned to the ground by the British Navy firing early versions of cannons that were sort of like napalm into the town. 3000 people live there.  At Bunker Hill all the American Soldiers who have been wounded and lying on the ground are banned netted to death by the British soldiers coming up with so frustrated because their own losses were so high in that battle. If you lived in the countryside in New Jersey, and you owned a farm, and the British came through, especially if it was a Hessian or a loyalist unit, which were most cruel and barbaric. They raped all the women and hung the men and burned your house down. And so it wasn't because you sat down and read the Declaration of Independence about liberty. Your experience itself during this war is what shapes your convictions and Washington's the spokesperson for that, at least at a national level. 

One of the points of the book is to recover the rather barbaric character of the war itself, that most of our images of the war are shaped by artists like Trumbull and Charles Willson Peale and Gilbert Stewart and it's a kind of romanticized iconic view of the war as a kind of etiquette that we and the soldiers nicely lined up in prim uniforms. The war was much more savage than that it was face to face combat at the end with bayonets. In terms of casualty rates. More Americans died per capita in this war than in any war in American history, save the Civil War. If we had a Goya, instead of a Trumbull, if we had, what's the name of the photographer for the Civil War?

MJT:  Matthew Brady 

JE:  Matthew Brady, if we had a Matthew Brady, for this one, we would think of it and envision it quite differently. For those who experienced it directly, especially at the level of the Continental Army, it was a survival test.

MJT:  One of the big changes I saw in the cause was at the point of the Declaration of Independence.  Before that you hear most of the leadership talking about their rights as Englishmen, and that they're trying to preserve their rights as Englishmen. The Declaration of Independence, and before that, you see with I guess, Thomas Paine's Common Sense, but the spirit of 76 is that comes out, turns away from the rights of Englishmen and talks about universal rights, inalienable rights, right of all men natural rights given by God, which is a little bit different, and it opens their...

JE:  I'll say, it’s a truly a more expansive definition of rights. I mean, there are some Americans like Dickinson who retain, the lesser, that this is a violation of British law, the American argument initially, and Dickinson more than anybody else is one who makes it most clearly in ways that people read: that we're the conservatives.  The British are the radicals. The British are violating the rules of the British Empire as established under law, under the Glorious Revolution, and that we're the ones who are insisting that we have rights as Englishmen. And the argument the colonists make at that stage are that there is a plot afoot to enslave us. 

Now on the face of it, that's pretty hyperbolic. And it is. In fact, what Britain is saying, we have a plan afoot to consolidate our control over our North American empire. And that requires that you recognize that you're second-rate British citizens, i.e. colonists. The Americans characterize that as slavery. Because once they surrender control to Parliament, there's no guarantee as to what their rights are going to be after that. And in that sense, slavery is, is it well, an exaggeration, it's not totally crazy. 

Once you move from British rights to natural rights, you've expanded the political universe enormously. That's the reason why the term American Revolution isn't totally wrong. This is a war for colonial independence with a revolutionary agenda. Namely, that any form of government that is coercive rather than consensual is wrong. And all individuals possess rights as individuals that cannot be violated.

Adams is sitting in the Second Continental Congress and starting to get letters, including from Abigail, saying, by the way, the implications of our argument, the argument you're hurling at George the Third and Parliament are pretty interesting. Like, what about the property qualification to vote? What about the rights of women? What about slavery? And all of those huge things are implied in the agenda that we are creating in 76. 

It's the reason why, throughout American history, prominent figures like say, Lincoln it Gettysburg, you know, four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth in this continent a new nation conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Oh my goodness, think about the racial implications of that. And when Martin Luther King appears on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in August of, what is it 68? [1963]. And says, I've come to collect on a promissory note written by Thomas Jefferson. So that this is the big bang in the American political universe. And it occurs exactly the way you said, Michael. It's a shift from our rights as Englishmen to our rights as human beings. And boy, that is a huge, huge change.

MJT:  I think that's right. And I think that's one of the points that's often overlooked by people that look at the revolution. They criticize the founders for not ending slavery, not giving women the right to vote, all those things. But the founders are the people who first raise the bar to make that the goal at least I think, if you look in the 1740s, or 1750s, even Quakers owned slaves at that time. It just wasn't that controversial. And these notions of universal rights and natural rights to all is what opened up the argument for ending slavery, for giving women the right to vote, for all these things that came decades, sometimes generations later. 

JE:  Right. You and I are on the same page here. But let me assure you that there is a group of people and some of the professional historians who don't agree with us on this. I think that this is a prudent revolution. And if you believe that justice delayed is justice denied, then you're going to be frustrated with this revolution. Because, unlike the French Revolution, which attempts to embrace and adopt its full agenda immediately and therefore self-destructs and produces a monarch, or a dictator, Napoleon, the American Revolution is a cautious revolution, a prudent revolution. 

And if you say, well, they should have attempted to end slavery immediately. Any attempt to do that would have destroyed the unity necessary to win the war. Because the deep southern states, especially the Carolinas, and Georgia would not have participated. Same thing's going to happen at the Constitutional Convention. 

And if you say, well, they should have just called their bluff. Well, let me assure you, they weren't bluffing. They weren't bluffing in 1861. either. You're getting to the to the heart of a contemporary political controversy. All straight lines in nature, are you look again, and all straight lines, looking back to the past, when you see a direct connection between what you want to happen and what really did happen, question yourself again.  

The American Revolution creates the liberal agenda. But it differs its enactment for a long time. But when the women gather at Seneca Falls in 1848, they say, We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men and women are created equal. There is a strong strong connection here between every liberal achievement over the next two centuries, and the values created at that moment in '76.

MJT:  I think that's exactly right. People kind of assume that because they use the term United States in the Declaration of Independence that there being a union of states was kind of a given. And it really, really wasn't even until after the passage of the Constitution, it was not a given that the states would remain united.

JE:  That's right in the late 18th century. Again, your listeners need to know this. The term United States was a plural noun. They didn't say the United States is this in the United States are. Pluribus was dominant over Unum. There's a deep reason for that they didn't read political treatises, well some of them did to come to this conclusion. But the average ordinary American, was born living out his or her live and died within a three day horse ride. The perception of ordinary citizens was local, not continental or national. 

Hamilton wrote this series called the Continentalist - said, we need to think continentally. If you served in the Continental Army, this was natural for you. If you served in the Continental Congress, this was natural, because you were looking at the broader picture. But that wasn't true for the vast majority of the American citizenry. And this holds true just as you said, Michael, through the Constitution, and even through Washington's presidency. 

One of the reasons at Washington, when the first things he does is that I'm going to visit all the states personally, because they don't think of themselves as part of a union. They think of themselves as residents of a town or a county, or at most a state.  So we're reading back and nationalism that didn't exist at that time. In that sense, the achievement of especially Washington over time as the symbol of United America, Washington's achievement is even greater than we realize because Washington created the nation, the union that Lincoln saved, and it didn't exist before him. 

MJT:  Right and it didn't even exist for him earlier in his life, he grew into it as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army. You look back to the French and Indian War, Washington considered himself a Virginian. And he was almost apoplectic when the British decided to give Pittsburgh to Pennsylvania rather than Virginia.  He was very much the provincialist and that way, you see it even in 1775, when it comes up to New England, the way he speaks of the New Englanders, at least in private letters is not exactly...

JE:  He gets himself into trouble with the press there. And because he talks about the New Englanders, as ruffians and New England militia are sort of pissing in the water, literally and shooting their guns in the air. And so his comments are inappropriate.  

Though, one of the reasons he's chosen to be head of the Continental Army is that he's a Virginian and they need Virginia in the conflict. Adams said that we picked him to be the commander in chief because he was the tallest man in the room. That's a bit of a joke. 

The war for Washington is an educational experience. He traveled beyond Virginia only once in his life. As a young man, he went to Barbados with his brother when his brother was ill.

MJT:  He got smallpox as thanks.

JE:  Smallpox, right. He caught smallpox there, and therefore he's immune for the rest of his life. It's an educational experience in multiple senses. I say, Jefferson went to William & Mary, Adams went to Harvard, Washington went to war, both in the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. 

Prior to that, as you were saying earlier, you read his letters on slavery, he just talks about blacks and slaves as if they're animals, as if they're part of you know, his cows and his sheep. And he has no moral sense of that whatsoever. That changes dramatically during the war. When he goes north, he experiences different points of view. But in addition, at any given point, between 5% and 15% of the Continental Army, is African American.  His manservant, Billy Lee is with him throughout the war, and with him every day of the week.  He's listening to Hamilton to Lafayette to another man that ought to be better. And everything, John Laurens, who's telling them that this war is based on principles, which are incompatible with slavery, and you got to face up to this, and we should begin to do it during the war by recruiting more black troops. They do recruit in the Rhode Island regiment, which is almost entirely African American, what becomes the elite combat unit in the Continental Army. 

So he sees black people doing things that before he couldn't imagine. You want him to be completely educated, you want him to take the right action, before he dies. And he doesn't, just looking strictly at Washington, and I written a biography of Washington, twenty years ago. It's an educational process that stops just short of complete commitment to the view that..  Although he does say to Jefferson at one point, if this is after the war, during the 1790s, if the sectional split between North and South leads to war, I will be siding with the North, which is interesting. He's the only Virginian that I know of it says that.

MJT: He did really become a national leader at a time when there really weren't any of them. I always felt like the Revolution really did give birth to the abolition movement, that it's not something that really pre-existed the Revolution other than a real few oddballs, talking about it.

JE:  Well, they weren't oddballs. They were Quakers mostly. And then the Evangelicals of their day. Interestingly, the Methodists and Baptists, they initially take the strong position, not against slavery, per se, but against the slave trade, especially Benezet whose starting in the 1740s and 50s. From their point of view, it's a totally moral question. These are all God's children, etc, etc. 

But it is the Revolution that creates the more much more expansive agenda. The first abolitionist society in the world is created in Philadelphia in 1776. And so you're right, the abolitionist movement begins with the war and with the values of the Revolution, and then instead of condemning them for failing to go all the way at that moment, I think we should go back and recognize that they begin the discussion and the argument that we're continuing to have as a people

MJT:  I've read, as late as the 1750s, of a Quaker being kicked out of his meeting for talking about abolition.  He was in favor of abolition and they kicked him out. So even as late as that, and I think it wasn't until the early 1770s, that Quakers finally made it. You couldn't be a Quaker and have slaves.

JE:  That's right. Different Quaker meetings, made decisions at different times. But by the time you get to '76, if you're a Quaker, you can no longer have slaves or else you're, you're alienated from the meeting. Washington later on is told by a lot of his Quaker friends or people residing in Virginia: you need to free your slaves, you need to free your slaves. But watching this, where were you when I needed you, because the Quakers sit out the war as their pacifists. It's not just Washington, but the Quakers are spokesmen for an abolitionist agenda. And they're dismissed by a lot of American statesmen at the time, because their failure to commit to the cause at the time that it was in most peril.

MJT:  Sure, they were not only pacifists, they were they believed in the divine right of kings that could never be questioned as a matter of religion. 

/ / 

MJT: But I mean, that just goes to show how uncontroversial even slavery was before the Revolution.  It wasn't even a matter of serious debate. We've cut sometimes forget that slavery existed in all 13 colonies, and that half of them ended slavery shortly after the war.

JE:  At the very end of the war, Vermont, where I'm currently located, is the first in 1777. It's not even a state yet. They won't let us in at that time. It ends slavery. And of course, there's like five slaves in the entire state.  Throughout the other northern states over the next 10 years, gradual emancipation plans are established. 

But only 10% of the African American population lives north of the Chesapeake. And so 90% lives further, South. Virginia has the largest slave population at 300,000. South Carolina, as a percentage is the largest- 60% of South Carolina is African American. 

As long as the issue is slavery, there's a consensus that it has to end. It's incompatible with the cause. But if the question then becomes what happens to the freed slaves, you've got real problems, because in the north, all the states create segregated communities. You can't vote if you're African American. You can't serve in militia or in juries. And in the southern states, because the numbers are so large, it becomes impossible to imagine a free black population. Let's say Tidewater, Virginia, Virginia is 40%, African American.  In Tidewater, it's 80%. And that's where Washington and Jefferson are. 

The discussion there is really revealing because it is very difficult for people in the late 18th century to imagine a truly biracial or multiracial society. They can imagine a nation-sized Republic. They can imagine a secular state that has no religious establishment. Those are huge imaginative leaps. They have a very difficult time. Now some of them can.  Among the leaders, Washington eventually can I think Hamilton can. But for the ordinary American populace, it is unimaginable to have a genuinely multiracial society. And I would say that it's like 80% to 90% of the white population at the end after the war, can it 80% to 90% believes that African Americans must be separated. And in some cases, Jefferson would say they have to be moved elsewhere. The word he uses expatriation. 

I think, again, this is a very rough guess that if you tried to poll people in the 21st century, American whites, there's still a significant minority - but significant minority of the white Americans who do not believe that Martin Luther King's dream is anything but a nightmare. So that the racism legacy comes out of the founding. And we're still dealing with it in a profound way.

MJT:  I always felt that, in some ways, it wasn't racism that led to slavery. It was slavery that led to racism, in that we see a move backwards on the issue in the early 1800s. Where people are trying to rationalize the idea of all men are created equal with the institution of slavery. And you end up with the justifications that people like, Senator Calhoun from the South Carolina

JE:  A good Yale boy. Yeah, yeah. 

MJT:  Called slavery, a positive good

JE:  You don't get that argument in the 18th century. That becomes the antebellum argument of the southern states.

MJT:  But that argument comes into existence because they're trying to counter the argument of all men are created here. And their argument then is: well, slaves aren't men.

JE:  That's right. The argument that the southern states are going to adopt is that we're in, we endorse the values the American Revolution, we have rights of property, and slaves or property. There's a professor at William and Mary named [Thomas] Dew in the 1840s, who makes this case, very prominently, I'm afraid to say, that, in the Declaration, Jefferson changes the trinity, that is the Lockean trinity: life, liberty, and property. That's John Locke's definition of the human rights that are eternal and omniscient. He changes it from life, liberty, and property, to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Now he gets that phrase from Mason, George Mason, who's using it in the Virginia constitution. But Mason says life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness, at least at a rhetorical level, Jefferson takes the property argument out of the hands of the South. Again, what Pursuit of Happiness means is been argued for the rest of American history. But the Declaration, as Jefferson wrote it, was designed to avoid allowing that kind of argument to be made in Virginia, at least. 

There's a great, now deceased, but late, great Yale historian named David Brion Davis, who probably in his time is up until fairly recently was the great historian of slavery worldwide, and America as well. And he coined the phrase, it's an awkward phrase, but one that bears scrutiny and thought. The phrase is, the perishability of revolutionary time

What he means is that there was a moment starting in the 1770s, into the 1780s, where if you'd experienced the war and experienced the cause, you internalized a set of values, which, as long as they were alive, were going to lead to the end of slavery, and to a larger degree of equality in the society. If you experienced, and it wasn't just you sat down and read the Declaration. You didn't have, you know, if you were a black, you didn't have to read the Declaration of Independence, by the way to think you ought to be free. It creates this airburst, and this moment, this explosion, which you would lived through it, you carried a set of convictions, that once that generation passes, it fades. 

For us who are interested in the American Revolution as a groundswell of values. And that's what we both are interested in. Notice that this is, as I've said, at the start the big bang in American political history, and going back to recover that is really important. The antebellum south is going to claim, and the Confederacy is going to claim, in 1861, that they're adopting the values of the American Revolution. 

I'm from Virginia, originally. My wife is from Mississippi. They've got plausible claim here, in the sense that the Confederacy in 1860-61 is pretty much the kind of government that we get, after the Revolution, the Articles of Confederation. And they can claim, and do claim, that they're fighting to defend themselves against an invasion by a hostile force. And Lincoln becomes George the Third, and that their issue at stake is really their own right to control their states and states rights.

MJT:  I guess rewriting history is nothing new for them either. Because right before the Civil War, they were claiming that the federal government and all the Founding Fathers opposed any ability to control slavery, and Lincoln actually made his political rise in 1860. With the Cooper Union speech where he specifically dispels that myth, he goes through and looks at votes and speeches of all the Founding Fathers and said no, they oppose slavery, in the Northwest Territory.

JE:  That's right. And he becomes a historian, really does. He does his own research. I'm thinking of writing about this in the next effort I make. There's a Methodist minister, who is writing against slavery. And he coined this phrase, and this is where Lincoln gets it. In the Cooper Union, a house divided against itself cannot stand. Slavery is a contradiction of the values on which this republic is based. That's what Lincoln argues. 

Now notice, Lincoln doesn't say, it gives him the power to end slavery in the Deep South. It only gives him the power to end slavery in the incoming territories. So he's prepared to accept that the founders isolated slavery in the deep south, and hoped it would die a natural death. They didn't foresee the cotton gin. They didn't foresee the cotton kingdom. Jefferson thought it would die a natural death because he believed that slave labor couldn't compete with free labor.  They were wrong about that. But Lincoln was right to go back and say the south's claim one of the founders is misguided.

MJT:  Getting back to the revolution for a minute, because we're moving way off.

JE:   Yeah. That's what the book is really about. Yes.

MJT:  But it set the tone for all these future events. The reason the Americans were really able to win was because so many of the common people were committed to the cause, as you call it, right, we see a General Gage and this was a general view of all the British they seem to think that you could take 5000-man army and conquer North America without a problem because trained, regular soldiers can fight a million uncoordinated civilians. 

JE:  Yeah, one British officer backing up, the officer clubs in London says, Give me 500, not 5000 men and I can walk across America and castrate all the males.

MJT:  To be fair, they’d done this in Ireland and Scotland and places like that, where a very small number of regulars really control a much larger population. But New England proved different. I mean, General Gage came over in 1774, ready to enforce the Intolerable Acts. And the people found them intolerable. And they rose up and he remember marched out to break up a town meeting, I think, in 1774, which was against one of the new laws, and was met by militiamen and rifles, a lot larger number of men with muskets, than he had regulars and he had to cut and run. And he ended up basically being trapped in Boston, even before Lexington, because the people just would not stand for it.

JE:  Once the British Army moved outside of Boston, who was in it was an enemy territory.

MJT:  Yeah,

JE:  There's one event that I think I enclosed in the book as a General Leslie who's told to go to Salem, and take ammunition out of the ammunition depot there. And so he takes a small regiment of about 800 guys marching out there. And the Minutemen live up to their names, and they are standing at the bridge, there's 4000 of them, okay, 4000. And Leslie comes to the bridge and says he has orders to cross the bridge and take the ammunition out of the ammunition depot there. The militia commander says, You may walk across the bridge, and then simply walk back. But if you attempt to take any of the ammunition, we will kill every one of you. And so Leslie does that he marches up, and then he marches out and through the 4000, back to Boston. 

That's a picture of especially in New England, of what impossible situations they face. Like if you're a judge, and you say you're going to continue to be loyal to the King, they come to your house, and they have a noose around the tree in front of your house. And there's 5000 of them - 5000 of them! You are required to sign a pledge that you will not abide by British law. That's New England, and New England is really hostile throughout the war in terms of the territory, the land outside of Boston, and then eventually in Boston itself. 

You've raised a question that I hope the book attempts to answer. The reason the British can't win the war, is that they can win every battle and still lose the war. And they almost do that. And one Admiral British Admiral said, it's like a ship going through the ocean and behind the ship, the wake closes over where you've been. 

Why is it that the countryside is so staunchly patriotic? It goes like this. In 1775, the Continental Congress creates this organization called the Continental Association. This is a multifaceted thing. Every colony, every town in the colony, every county in the colony, every hamlet in the county is urged to create committees of Safety and Inspection. So there's thousands of these committees. Each of them has five or six or 10. In some cases in Philadelphia, the like 50 people on them. 

They come to your house, and initially that you have to sign a pledge to say that you're not going to purchase British goods that are a violation of the importation agreement or non-importation agreement. But then after '76, they come to your house, you're standing at the doorway and a woman comes that you know, is your neighbor, okay? She says, oh, Micheal, we'd like you to sign this commitment to the cause. And we'd be pleased to have you join us in our commitment. And if you say I'm sorry, I'm not sure I can do this, she'll say, Oh, that's okay. Take your time. I'll be back next week. She comes back the next week. You say I'm not sure. And she says, Well, I'm really sorry, Michael, but your name will now be published in the newspaper as person guilty of treason. And you will not be able to go to church you will not be able to buy material goods from into local merchants and not be able to come to the dance next week. And that's the way it's going to be. And then we're going to come back again and say, Is it time for you to change your mind? And if you say, No, it's time for you to move because otherwise you're going to get well they're not going to kill you this is going to burn your house down. 

There is a huge loyalist diaspora during an after the war because unlike the French Revolution of the Russian Revolution, they don't kill them. They don't send them to the guillotine. They just banish them. But what that creates is on the ground control. So that once the British Army comes through, everybody is quiet and everything and then when they leave, if you've sided with them, you better go with them. Okay? So like the when they evacuate Philadelphia, there's 3000 loyalists to go with them. When they evacuate later New York, of course, they have to do the same thing. Same thing in Charleston and Savannah, it becomes impossible for Great Britain to control territory. 

This is why what you said much earlier,  this is not going to be like a war against Scotland or Ireland. This is a continent, okay? This is not just coastal at this stage. They can never win the war. In order to really win the war, they need at least 100,000 troops, and they have to be there permanently. It'd be like a Northern Ireland a hundred times all over again. And eventually they just cut their losses. But it's this local control that creates that political situation.

MJT:  It took them a while to understand that I think first they realize, okay, New England's ungovernable, we'll just cut them off and raid the Mid Atlantic colonies and isolate New England. And they, they do the shock and awe and they take over New York and New Jersey. And they realize that yeah, people will give lip service to loyalty. But as soon as Washington crosses the Delaware, it's all over.

JE:  The initial British strategy is to isolate New England. That's the seat of the rebellion, they think, the real source. So we're going to invade New York. Howe and his army will come up the Hudson, another British army will come down from Canada, on the Hudson corridor, and they'll seal off New England. Then those two armies together, which by then will be almost 40,000 troops, 35,000 to 40,000 will march across New England from west to east, devastating everything.  The navy will be bombarding the coast. And that'll be the end of it. 

I think if they had succeeded in that the army would have been annihilated. I think that the New England militia would rally and you would have been in enemy territory for a prolonged period of time. I think the war might have ended earlier. Now that's a hypothesis that I've never heard anybody else make. But if if they had succeeded in doing what they thought they were going to do a New England. Now I'm committed New Englander.  New England would have killed them all.

MJT:  Yeah, a good analogy might be the Americans in Vietnam, they could march anywhere through the town they wanted, but they were had to watch their back every second that somebody would shoot them.

JE:  I'm afraid there's truth in that, yes.

MJT:  So they took the Mid Atlantic states, they realized that was uncomfortable. And then they tried strike three, and they invaded the southern colonies and did the same thing there.

JE:  The southern strategy, good for a while. But the southern campaign was particularly vicious because the loyalists are really barbaric down there, and they generate, they're terrorists, and they generate, in the patriot side, an equally barbaric response. And so if you live in South Carolina or Georgia, Boy, I tell you, you know, one army comes through and then the other army comes through and foraging things and it's impossible to survive and it creates almost a tribal culture down there. It's almost like the early coming to the Hatfields and McCoys. The southern war is particularly barbaric. But in the end, the same thing happens when the British when it sounds great, except it generates a backlash at the local level and militia recruits increase. When they lose, it's worse. So if they win, they lose. If they lose, they lose.

MJT:  In that sense, the war was lost before it was started, as you said at the beginning, because the people were just committed to not being ruled in this way. 

But in another sense, the British did hope to win and I think this was their biggest chance of winning, was to let America collapse. In other words, this became a test of wills. The Americans weren't fighting the British at that point. They were fighting starvation and the lack of money to keep an army in existence. And the army almost collapsed several times there were mutinies. There were times when it dwindled down to a few thousand men. Keeping the army in the field was the key to winning the war. And they almost lost it on that basis alone several times.

JE:  You are right on target, sir. We need to realize, as the 21st century American, support for the Continental Army started to decline almost immediately after the Declaration of Independence. Washington believed starting at the Boston siege in '75-'76, that we could have, the population of the United States permitted the army of at least 80,000, he says, All I want is 60,000. 

He never got more than 12,000 to 15,000, because whereas there was willingness at the local level to serve in the militia, because this was where you lived. That wasn't in a willingness to serve in the Continental Army. And if you did serve, you serve for only one year, so that by the time you learned how to be a soldier, you left. 

Washington and Hamilton believed that if they've been given what they asked for and what they needed. They could have won the war in two years. And I think that's, at least in retrospect, true, but they never got it. And in fact, the Continental Army was kept on life support. The tragedies of Valley Forge become the new normal. Every winter, the army declines in size from 10,000 to 12,000, to 3000 to 4000, as the one-year recruits leave, and the new ones haven't arrived. 

If Generals Howe or Clinton had violated the sort of custom, namely, you don't fight in the wintertime - 18th century armies don't fight at one time, they take that off - if they had violated that they could have destroyed the Continental Army in any given year. But they don't do that. 

In 1778-79, the Continental Congress forwards a request for $8 million to support the army that is pay food, the state's give them $338,000. The Continental Army is the core of the nation, if there is a nation, that's what it represents. But they don't want to support that. They view that as a standing army - as what we're against. And in that sense, that's the reason Washington says it's almost a miracle that we win the war.  He calls it a standing miracle. I don't know what a sitting miracle or lying miracle would look like. And the British were correct to say, well, maybe we can't win it, but they'll lose it. 

Now lose it after you can't get past the time the French are in the war in '78. If they lost it early in New York, the entire Continental Army captured, they would have sent Washington and all members of the Congress over to London, they would have been in a show trial, they'd all been executed, hung, and their heads cut off and put on spits. If they lose the war later, that wouldn't have happened. They would have simply been folded into what becomes an early version of the British Commonwealth. 

But neither things happen. The army doesn't go out of existence. Yorktown is at the end of the war, that crucial battle. And if you want to look at luck, if you want to look at what Washington calls Providence. As I say, in the book, luck is evenly divided into Battle of Yorktown, the Americans in French have all the good, and the British have all the bad. And that's the last major battle in the war.

MJT:  That always seemed like an odd campaign to me because the British had essentially decided after 1778 that they weren't going to engage in major offensive operations. They were going to hold a few major cities. They were going to basically cut off the Americans and maybe take some potshots at them from the coast. But they were basically going to sit it out and wait till the Americans just descend into chaos and rot and beg for the British to come back in. But then you have General Cornwallis that does this huge inland march through the Carolinas and Virginia and ends up getting his whole army captured,

JE:  Cornwallis is a fascinating figure here. And he goes on. He's the one soldier that comes out of this, British officer, with his reputation intact because they think he's the British Hannibal, and therefore the other ones gets made into scapegoats, especially the Howes, but not Cornwallis. He's he has a great career in India. Now after that, as a British General. 

There is this thing that happens in 1779, European powers Austria, Russia, Italy, get together in Austria and they come up with this. They say the entire European economy is being ruined by this ongoing war in the Americas. So let's exert our European power. It's a very Eurocentric view of itself, and establish the rule that this war should end. And as it ends, the country to controls that area gets that area. There's is a doctrine called uti possidetis, which means keep what you control. 

So the Brits think, Well, okay, let's get control of Virginia and everything south of it. So that when - and what controlled means is an arguable question here. But if our army can successfully in a southern strategy, destroy the American army and the American militia, the ending is forced upon us, we will be able to claim everything, including Virginia, south of the Chesapeake. Washington knows this, the Americans know this. And that's the reason he sends General Greene south. 

I think Greene's tactical war in the south is the most brilliant tactical performance by an American general throughout the war. Greene says I will lose my way to victory, because he understands the name of the game not to win battles, to prevent the British from controlling any of the territory. There is a moment there when it looks like the Continental Army is going to simply go out of existence. It's dissolve. People leave and they're not replaced. And it's at that moment that Yorktown happens. And it's pretty much a French operation. 

Later in the 20th century, when the American Expeditionary Force arrives in Paris, the aid to general Pershing, who obviously was a West Point educated military historian says, Let Lafayette know we have arrived. We're paying you back for what you did for us.

MJT:  After Yorktown, the British have pretty much given up at that point. The government falls. Lord Rockingham comes in place. And it's really only fighting over terms of the treaty that stretches the war out for another year or so. In the end, the British seem to give up an awful lot - all the western lands, Northwest Territory where they still had people that they're going to pull all their troops out of the major cities that they've occupied for years. They're even giving fishing rights off of Canada. Why did they want to give up so much, or are willing to give up so much just to end this silly war?

JE:  Good question, Michael. It is the most lopsided diplomatic achievement in the history of American statecraft. Now, they've got some pretty good people representing them. Benjamin Franklin is, you know, Prometheus, as far as I'm concerned, and they've got John Adams, they've got [John] Jay. 

There's this meeting in the Versailles library, where Jay meets with the Spanish diplomat, because France has a treaty with Spain and therefore we have to listen to what the Spanish want. They have a map of North America. Count Aranda is his name, puts his finger on Lake Erie and draws it straight down to what is now the Florida Panhandle. He says everything east of that is yours. Everything west of that is ours. Jay says I don't need to draw a line. And he points to the Mississippi. And he says everything east of that is ours. Everything west of that is yours. 

Now he doesn't have cell phones. So he can't call back, because he's under no instructions one way or the other on this matter. But he says that the western third of the North American continent is non negotiable, as is independence. 

And your question is why did the Brits agree to this? The short answer is the Americans have incredible leverage. Why? the Americans are willing to continue the war. Okay, you don't agree to this. Let's keep going. The Brits are just not politically willing to do that anymore.  The has lost support. The Parliament - no longer does George the third control the Parliament. They've lost 50,000 men. There's no end in sight. Let's cut our losses. I think, I'm probably pushing this further than it can be. But think of us getting out of Afghanistan. It's an endless war. There's no winning in sight. Let's end it.

MJT:  We weren't looking for terms. We just left. 

JE:  That's right, because you can't negotiate those terms when you lose. 

MJT:  One other thing I liked about your book, at the end of every chapter, you put in a little profile about some interesting person from the war. I thought that was very....It put a new dimension on the things that What made you come up with that?

JE:  I thought that there were people who didn't directly influence the direction that history went but whose lives were very much shaped by it and who were interesting. And I wanted to make sure that there was a woman's voice there. I wanted to make sure that there are several women I wanted to make sure there was some African American voices there. 

In that case, I chose Billy Lee, who was Washington's manservant throughout the war and probably saved his life more than once. And on the other side, an African American slaves also from Mount Vernon named Harry Washington, who ended up going over with the British and eventually being evacuated to Nova Scotia and eventually returning to Sierra Leone where we had originally been imprisoned. So that these are, in this case, to African Americans. One chooses the American Revolution and the other chooses the British side. Harry's not leading an insurrection.  Harry just wants to be free, okay, and the British provide them with that opportunity. 

Roughly the same number of black soldiers, African American soldiers served with the British Army  to 8000-10,000 as served with the Continental Army, though in the Continental Army, they're combat troops. This war is the last war until Korea that the continent the American army is a genuinely interracial army. 

MJT:  The men even fought in integrated units, 

JE:  Integrated units. That's the word I'm looking for. Thank you, Michael. Yes,

MJT:  I felt bad for Harry Washington. He takes the British sides and ends up rebelling against the British himself over issues of taxation without representation.

JE:  He gets back to Africa, and he helps lead a rebellion against the rich for taxing them without their consent. This is too good to be true. You know, It's unbelievable.

MJT:  So now that you finished with this book, and I do urge everyone to go out and get it. Are you working on anything new?

JE:  I am, it's always good to sort of know where you're going after you're finished - as you're finishing a project. I've developed a bit but not fully at all the question of could the founders have ended slavery or put it on the road to extinction? I'm thinking of a book entitled American Tragedy: Why the founders failed, because they did fail in the end. And I guess the question I got in my mind, was it a Greek tragedy, Michael? Or was it a Shakespearean tragedy? A Greek tragedy means it was inevitable. The gods had willed it. Or was it a Shakespearean tragedy? With great leadership was it avoidable? Could would could history have taken a different path there? I suspect it's a Shakespearean tragedy. 

But I also suspect we're asking a heck of a lot of the founding generation. But we asked a lot, who said they could ever established the first nation sized republic in world history? Who says we could have a genuinely secular society in terms of no religious establishment. Who said we could do away with the definition of sovereignty sort of as divided sovereignty, what we call federalism? There are a lot of things that were impossible to do that they did. How come this, which was also virtually impossible, they failed at? And so I'll be writing about that.

MJT:  Sounds fascinating. Yeah. I've always wondered if John Laurens had lived and become a major leader in South Carolina. He was a staunch abolitionist by the end of  his life. 

JE:  Oh yeah, John Laurens is a figure that I don't do a portrait of him or profile because he's in the book a lot. He is a young man who believes that the American Revolution is a war to end slavery. It must be that. And he is the an archetypal idealist, and he keeps risking his life in battles over and over and over again. He's almost got a suicidal impulse. And finally, at the end of the war - Yorktown has happened, but the Treaty of Paris hasn't been signed - in 1782. He leads this this attack on a British foraging unit and runs right into a volley and sit in the heart and dies. 

If John Laurens had lived, he would have been another Hamiltonian figure. I mean, he's of that statute, and Hamilton was his best friend and vice versa. But he went down. And there's a lot of leaders that went down in the war because they were leaders. And that's what happens. And that's why Washington says - Washington should have gone down and a lot of times in life - Monongahela, the battle of Manhattan.  In order to be successful as a leader you have to survive.

MJT:  If you're an officer, you have to put your life on the line every day. If you don't put your life on the line, you're considered a coward. And if you do put your life on the line, you may lose it. Okay, well, we seem to have lost Dr. Ellis. Joseph Ellis, thanks again for appearing on the American Revolution Podcast.

Unfortunately, Mr. Ellis’ connection failed just as we were concluding the interview. So I didn't have a chance to thank him in person for his time and for a very enjoyable conversation.

- - -

 Contact me via email at

 Follow the podcast on Twitter @AmRevPodcast

 Join the Facebook group, American Revolution   Podcast:

 Join American Revolution Podcast on Quora 

American Revolution Podcast Merch!

T-shirts, hoodies, mugs, pillows, totes, notebooks, wall art, and more.  Get your favorite American Revolution logo today.  Help support this podcast.

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. You may also donate via Venmo (@Michael-Troy-20), Zelle, or popmoney (send to

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

An alternative to Patreon is SubscribeStar.  For anyone who has problems with Patreon, you can get the same benefits by subscribing at SubscribeStar.

Help Support this podcast on ""

Visit the American Revolution Podcast Bookshop.  Support local bookstores and this podcast!

Signup for the AmRev Podcast Mail List

* indicates required

Further Reading

Other books by Joseph Ellis: