Sunday, February 17, 2019

Episode 084: The Continental Navy Raids the Bahamas




The Continental Congress had authorized a Continental Navy back in October of 1775, as I discussed back in Episode 75.  A real navy, though was more of a dream than a reality.  Aside from the ships that Arnold had captured on Lake Champlain, and a handful of ships George Washington had purchased or rented, which remained under army control, the Continental Congress had no ships.  Several colonies had launched their own ships, mostly to attack and capture merchant ships supplying the regulars.  Many privateers were raiding British ships as well.  This was actually quite helpful in capturing supplies and denying them to the British Army.  But none of this was under the command of Congress, and no colony nor privateer had anything that could go up against a British naval fleet or even one of its larger ships of the line.

That did not seem to discourage anyone.  Congress decided to start building a navy and wanted to put it to use as soon as possible.  Congressional delegate Stephen Hopkins of Rhode Island sat on the Naval Committee.  When it came time to select a fleet commander, Stephen thought is brother Esek Hopkins would be the best man for the job.

Esek Hopkins

On December 22, 1775, Congress appointed Esek Hopkins Commander in Chief of the Continental Navy.  Now I don’t know about you, but when I think Revolutionary war navy, I think John Paul Jones or John Barry.  Esek Hopkins is almost a non-entity in any book about the Revolution.  But he commanded the navy for over two years, and was the only man ever named Commander in Chief of the navy during the war.

Hopkins was born and raised in Rhode Island.  His great grandfather, Thomas Hopkins, had been one of the founding members of the Rhode Island colony.  Like many Rhode Islanders at the time, Esek lived most of his life at sea.  He captained a fleet of merchant ships and lived a pretty comfortable life as a merchant trader.  His life got even more comfortable when he married the daughter of another wealthy Rhode Island merchant.

Esek Hopkins (from Wikimedia)
During the French and Indian War, Hopkins captained a privateer ship, capturing numerous French and Spanish ships as prizes.  The fact that they were not actually at war with Spain at the time did not seem to bother anyone but the Spanish.  Hopkins grew even wealthier from all the prize money.

During the 1760’s Hopkins was elected to several minor posts in Rhode Island, though he seemed to resign them all after short periods, presumably because he returned to sea. His involvement in government probably came about more by the fact that his brother, Stephen Hopkins, was Governor of Rhode Island for much of the 1750’s and 60’s.

By the early 1770’s Esek was in his 50’s and ready to spend more time at home.  He served in he colonial assembly and clearly sided with the patriots as the split with Britain grew.  In 1772, his son was a leader in the force that sank the British ship Gaspee that I discussed way back in Episode 36.

Following the battle of Lexington, Rhode Island put itself on a war footing.  Hopkins serving in the colonial legislature at the time, helped with the development of colonial defenses and in October 1775, took a position as General in the Rhode Island Army.

During this time, he arranged a settlement with the captain of the British Navy ship Rose to provide the British ships with food in exchange for them not destroying the town of Newport.  He also began seizing the property and estates of several prominent Tories in the colony, turning over the confiscated property to the colonial government to help pay for the war effort.

Two months after becoming a general, Hopkins received Congress’ request in December 1775 that he become Commander and Chief of the new Continental Navy.  Some people refer to him as Commodore, others as Admiral, but whatever title you use, he was the head guy in charge of the navy, just as Washington was in charge of the army.  Despite the fact that he had only two months experience as an army officer, and zero experience in any navy, Hopkins accepted and prepared to travel to Philadelphia to assume his new command.

Launching a Navy

Now the term “navy” might be a bit much for what Commodore Hopkins commanded.  Individual colonies did not want to give up the ships they had outfitted to defend their own coastlines and harass British shipping.  Privateers were in no hurry to join a navy where they would have to take orders from someone else, and not be allowed to keep as much prize money as they currently enjoyed.

The Columbus (from Wikimedia)
So Congress spent much of the winter of 1775-76 purchasing merchant vessels and outfitting them as best they could to serve as combat vessels.  Congress had authorized building more ships, but they were nowhere near ready in early 1776 when Commodore Hopkins received his first orders to set sail.  His fleet consisted of eight ships.  The largest, the Columbus with 36 guns.  The next largest, the flagship Alfred had 24 guns, followed by the 16 gun Cabot , the 14 gun Andria Doria, and the 12 gun Providence.  The three smallest ships, the ten gun Hornet and the Wasp and Fly with 8 guns each were named after insects, supposedly because they were so small they could only serve to be a nuisance to the enemy in battle.  By comparison, a British ship of the line had at least 60 guns, and there were at least 130 ships of the line in the British Navy at the time.

The fleet left Philadelphia in February 1776.  If you have been paying attention, you may recall that British General Clinton was headed south at the same time.  Clinton had a contingent of British ships to meet up with General Cornwallis and another fleet.  The combined fleet planned to capture the Carolinas and restore Tory control of those colonies.  You may also recall that Lord Dunmore in Virginia had burned Norfolk in January and remained with another British fleet controlling the Chesapeake bay and operating out of Portsmouth, Virginia.

The Mosquito and Fly (from Navy History & Heritage)
Any of these fleets were more than a match for the 8 ships and 130 Marines commanded by Hopkins.  Dunmore had at least six naval vessels, most of which were much larger than anything the Continentals had, and also had at least 400 Marines.  Clinton and Cornwallis’ fleets consisted of dozens of ships and thousands of soldiers.  In just about any confrontation, the best case scenario for the Continental Navy would be to run away successfully and not be sunk or captured.

Despite the odds, Congress instructed Hopkins to go forth and take out the British navy.  His first mission was to take his fleet to the Chesapeake Bay and take out the naval fleet there.  After winning that fight, he should proceed immediately to the Carolinas to take out the huge fleet of the coast, which was probably 20 times the size of his fleet.  After defeating them, Hopkins was to proceed north and take out the fleet in Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island.  They even authorized him to break up his fleet of eight ships and send them to different locations in order to cover more territory.  While they were at it, I’m not sure why they didn’t just order him to sail over to London and capture the King.  The orders were so out of touch with reality, that Hopkins must have shaken his head in disbelief.

The instructions included a statement:

Notwithstanding these particular orders, which it is hoped you will be able to execute, if bad wind or stormy weather, or any other unforeseen accident or disaster disable you to do so, you are then to follow such courses as your best judgment shall suggest to you as most useful to the American cause and to distress the enemy by all means in your power.

Gadsden Flag (from Wikimedia)
Congress’ Marine Committee wrote these orders on January 5, so Hopkins must have had time to confer with the committee before setting sail in late February.  If he thought the orders were unrealistic, you would think he’d confer with them and get some changes to his instructions.  But there does not appear to be any evidence that he did so.

On February 17, Hopkins took his fleet out of Philadelphia and out toward the open seas.  Departure had been delayed a few weeks because the Delaware river was still frozen and the fleet could not get out.  As the ships set sail Hopkins instructed Lt. John Paul Jones to hoist the new flag, a yellow flag with a rattlesnake on it, and the phrase, “Don’t Tread on Me.”

South Carolina Delegate Christopher Gadsden had taken a copy of the flag home to South Carolina.  That was how the fleet and the defenders of Charleston Harbor would recognize each other as friends if the fleet made it there.  The flag is often known as the Gadsden Flag.

To the Bahamas

Apparently Hopkins had no intention of obeying his orders.  Some historians have indicated that perhaps he had secret orders, or made the decision once at sea given weather conditions and the position of the enemy.  But the facts don’t seem to bear out these theories.  Before leaving port, Hopkins issued orders to each captain that if they became separated from the fleet, that they should rendezvous at a small island called Abacco in the Bahamas, which seems really out of the way, like over 700 miles, for raids on the Chesapeake or the Carolinas.

Battle of Nassau (from Wikimedia)
Within two days, two of the fleet's smallest ships, the Hornet and the Fly got separated from the fleet.  Actually, it turned out that they crashed into each other and had to return to shore for repairs.  Hopkins took the remainder of the fleet straight to Abacco, where they arrived on March 1.  There, the marines captured some small local boats and used them to make their way inconspicuously toward Nassau, on the island of New Providence.  Nassau, then as now was the capital of the Bahamas.  Two forts defended the town but no garrison of regulars.  Defense relied on militia.  Since Nassau had been settled years earlier by many New Englanders, they were sympathetic to the patriot cause.

At the site of 200 Continental Marines invading the city on March 2, the Bahama militia fired off a few shots and then almost immediately fled the smaller Fort Montague and took up defenses in the larger Fort Nassau.  That evening, Hopkins issued a public letter to the people of Nassau saying they were only there to collect stores from the forts belonging to the British government.  If the people put up no resistance, he would not burn the town nor loot any private property.  The locals apparently took up the deal.  The next morning, when the marines marched to the fort, the militia left, and the Governor turned over the keys to the fort.

The navy collected a large cache of military supplies, including 88 cannon, nearly 10,000 cannonballs, and 23 barrels of gunpowder.  It was so much stuff, that it took nearly two weeks to load it onto ships.  Part of the delay was the fact the the sailors and marines had also captured a large cache of rum and proceeded to get drunk for several days.  Even with that delay, they loaded everything onto their ships.

Map of New Providence (from Naval History & Heritage)
They even had to commandeer another local ship to carry it all home.  True to his promise not to take private property, Hopkins later returned the ship to its owners and paid for its use.  Unfortunately for the patriots, they missed out on what they needed most.  The Governor had removed about 150 barrels of gunpowder from Fort Nassau before the marines entered.  He secreted the barrels onto a civilian sloop which sailed away with the valuable cargo.

The Continental Navy also took the governor and a few other top leaders as prisoners of war and brought them back to North America.  While they were loading supplies, the Fly, one of the two ships that had gotten lost as they left Philadelphia, finally arrived.  The Captain reported that it had been able to catch up after making minor repairs.  The other ship the Hornet, had suffered greater damage and remained in port in South Carolina.

On March 18, the seven ships of the fleet, along with the borrowed merchant vessel set sail for Providence, Rhode Island.  There, they could offload the military supplies so that they could travel by wagon to General Washington in Cambridge.  They did not know it, but by the time they left the Bahamas, Washington had already broken the siege and the British had evacuated the city.

Battle At Sea (Block Island)

On the way back, on April 4, as the fleet passed the coast of Long Island New York, they encountered a British Navy ship, the Hawk, a small six gun tender ship which surrendered easily.  The next day, they encountered another ship, the Bolton with eight guns, and captured it as well.  The day after that, they sighted a larger ship the 20 gun Glasgow, along with a smaller tender ship.  The ships opened fire on each other, leading to a battle that lasted several hours.  The captain of the Glasgow, realizing he was outnumbered and outgunned, eventually made a run for it and escaped capture, leaving only the smaller tender ship as a prize.

The patriots took several casualties.  Captain Hopkins of the Cabot, Commodore Hopkins’ son, was seriously wounded, along with seven others on his ship.  Four men on the Cabot died in battle.  The Cabot, which had been the first ship in the assault, took the brunt of the casualties.  Overall the fleet suffered 10 killed and 14 wounded, with only one killed and three wounded on the Glasgow.

After this, the fleet continued on to Rhode Island where they offloaded their captured goods and Commodore Hopkins had the chance to send a report to Congress.

Investigations and Courts Martial

Initially, Hopkins received congratulations for his successful mission and enjoyed celebrations for the raid on the Bahamas.  But within days, the praise began to turn to criticism.  Why hadn’t the fleet been able to capture the Glasgow? It was a single 20 gun ship going up against seven vessels.

Now in all fairness, the Glasgow was a fast new well designed ship of war.  It was not a converted merchant vessel.  It also had a highly experienced crew going up against a patriot fleet that had never fought a sea battle before.  Just based on lack of experience, I have to give the patriots a break on letting this one escape.

The Alfred (from Museum of US Navy)
Others were not as forgiving though.  Two Captains, Whipple of the Columbus and Hazard of the Providence were accused of being insufficiently aggressive during the fighting, leading to courts martial of both men.  Amazingly, Whipple sat on the panel that court martialed Hazard, and Hazard sat on the panel that court martialed Whipple.  The courts acquitted Whipple but relieved Hazard of his command, leading to the promotion of now Captain John Paul Jones.

Next, Hopkins had to deal with his sailors.  Typically upon returning from a mission a crew would be paid.  But as usual, Congress was short on cash and making excuses.  Over 200 crewmen had to leave for medical care, smallpox among other things, ravaging the crew.  Hopkins could not recruit a new crew as any able sailor was making far more money aboard a privateer, plus he had a better chance of actually getting paid what he was promised.  So Hopkins could not set sail again as he could not recruit sailors for his fleet.

By May, Hopkins learned that many in Congress were upset by the fact that he had refused to follow orders and had not bothered to do anything about the British fleets in the Chesapeake and off the Carolina coast.  Southern delegates were already predisposed not to like a New England commander.  Ignoring the military needs of the southern States to bring back a bunch of arms to New England, and disregarding orders in the process, did not endear him to the southerners.

Congress wanted Hopkins to set sail again, to attack the British in the Chesapeake and also to raid Halifax.  But with Hopkins unable to raise a crew for his fleet, he could not comply with the orders.  The Continental Congress did not want excuses, it wanted results.  They soon called him back to Philadelphia for hearings related to Hopkins’ refusal to follow orders when he raided the Bahamas, and his failure to capture the Glasgow despite having a much larger fleet.

Many hoped the hearings would end in Hopkins being dismissed.  However, his supporters among New England delegations helped prevent dismissal.  Congress did censure him though, before returning him to command of the fleet, now based in Rhode Island.  I can’t image the censure did much for his morale, and it certainly left a mark on his reputation that weakened his command authority.

Conclusion

Hopkins would remain in command of the Navy until 1778.  I’ll discuss the reasons he left in a later episode.  But following his initial raid on the Bahamas, Hopkins accomplished very little.  He could never recruit enough sailors to man all of his ships.  He could not get the undivided support of Congress.  The British Navy now focused on keeping his ships locked up in Narragansett Bay.  There would not be any more major naval actions over the next few years.  Individual vessels would still harass the British, but they were really doing nothing more than what the privateers were already doing.

For those of you hoping for lots more stories of naval exploits, sorry, you’ll have to wait for the next war.

- - -

Next Episode 85: Dorchester Heights (available Feb. 24, 2019)

Previous Episode 83: Continental Congress Winter 1776



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Further Reading

Websites 

Rhode Island’s Esek Hopkins – Rodney Dangerfield of the American Revolution: http://www.newenglandhistoricalsociety.com/rhode-islands-esek-hopkins-rodney-dangerfield-of-the-american-revolution

Letter from Committee of Congress to Commodore Hopkins, Jan. 18, 1776:
http://amarch.lib.niu.edu/islandora/object/niu-amarch%3A101440

New Providence Expedition: http://www.awiatsea.com/Narrative/New%20Providence%20Expedition.html

Revolutionary War, Battle of Nassau: http://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/the-nassau-raid-americas-first-jointspecial-operation

Battle off Block Island http://www.awiatsea.com/Narrative/Battle%20of%20Block%20Island.html

Proceedings of a Court-Martial on John Hazard, Commander of the sloop Providence, May 8, 1776: http://amarch.lib.niu.edu/islandora/object/niu-amarch%3A99526

Proceedings of Court-Martial on Abraham Whipple, Commander of the Columbus, May 6, 1776: http://amarch.lib.niu.edu/islandora/object/niu-amarch%3A90046


Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

Journals of Congress, Vol 1, (contains minutes of First Continental Congress and first year of the Second Continental Congress.

Beck, Alverda (ed) The Letter Book of Esek Hopkins, Commander-in-Chief of the United States Navy, 1775-1777, Providence: Rhode Island Historical Society, 1932.

Field, Edward Esek Hopkins, Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Navy During the American Revolution, 1775 to 1778, Providence: Preston and Rounds Co., 1898.

Force, Peter American Archives, Series 4, Vol 4, Washington, 1837.

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

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

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

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

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

* This site is a registered Amazon Associate.  Please help support this site by purchasing any of these books, or any other Amazon product, via the links on this site.  If you start by clicking on a book link above and then browse to buy something completely different on Amazon, American Revolution Podcast will get credit for your purchase.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Episode 083: Continental Congress, Winter 1776




As I mentioned when I last focused on the Continental Congress back in Episode 75, Congress remained in continuous session after returning in September 1775.  Some members would come and go, but since congressional committees were effectively serving as both the legislative and executive branches, members had lots of work to do.

What I may not have made clear earlier was that everything Congress was doing was a secret.  Congress did not meet in open sessions.  From time to time they might make some public pronouncement, such as mourning the death of Gen. Montgomery in Canada, but no one outside of Congress had a good idea what they were doing.

Independence on the Horizon

Like the country at large though, most of Congress seemed to be moving toward acceptance of American independence.  Thomas Paine’s publication of Common Sense sped popular support for independence.  Even so, more conservative patriots in Congress, like John Dickinson, John Jay, James Wilson, and others refused to accept that independence would be the ultimate goal.

James Wilson is not a founding father you hear much about.  He mostly comes up in trivia questions as one of only six men to sign both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  He also would become one of the first Justices to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court.  He was a Philadelphia lawyer.  In 1774, during the First Continental Congress, Wilson had published a pamphlet with the exciting title of Considerations on the Nature and Extent of the Legislative Authority of the British Parliament.  Even at the time, it was not exactly a best seller, largely overshadowed by Thomas Jefferson’s A Summary View of the Rights of British America.

James Wilson (from Wikimedia)
The work did help establish Wilson as a credible legal scholar trying to protect colonial rights.  In the First Continental Congress, Wilson was probably considered a moderate.  By 1776 though, he was a conservative, not because his views changed, but because majority opinion had moved considerably to the left.  Conservatives in 1774 by 1776 were considered Tories and enemies of freedom.  Moderates in 1774 were, by this time, the new conservatives.  They were men like Wilson who still supported fighting against taxation, but were not quite ready to call for independence.

By 1776 though everyone was reading Paine’s Common Sense.  They watched New England and Canada dive into all out war, and they had heard the King’s declaration that the colonies were in rebellion, making clear he was not going to reign in Parliament and settle this dispute peacefully.  Very quickly, the choice was becoming submission or independence.  If you did not jump on the independence bandwagon, you were getting left behind.

In early 1776 Wilson attempted to get on that bandwagon by drafting An Address to the Inhabitants of the Colonies which I admit in the broad scheme of things is pretty forgettable.  It ended with a line about how their second wish would be to continue with Britain, but their first wish was freedom.  In other words, even the conservatives in Congress were reaching the conclusion that if they had to choose between independence and submission, they were willing to go with independence.

Many of the conservatives thought this address would be helpful.  But by the time it circulated through Congress, most thought it did not go far enough.  The independence faction was getting ready to push for an all out call for independence.  In the end, Congress tabled Wilson’s address without a vote and moved on to other things.  Even so, they still did not seem to be debating independence openly in Congress.  The movement still only showed itself in private letters and personal conversations among the delegates.

Peace Negotiation Attempt

The conservatives continued to hope that London would send a Peace Commission to negotiate a reasonable settlement to the crisis.  While this would happen in 1778, it was too little, too late by then.

Instead, in December 1775, Lord Drummond arrived in Philadelphia.  Drummond was a Scottish noble who had settled in New Jersey a few years earlier.  In 1774, he had traveled back to London to discuss possible peace overtures with Lord North.  No one asked him to do it.  He just appointed himself as a peace emissary to see if he could get the two sides talking toward some sort of compromise.

Drummond spoke with Prime Minister North about possible terms to end what was at that time, still just tension between England and the colonies.  Although he had no credentials to speak on behalf of anyone, he did have the most important thing in British government, family connections.  Drummond was a related to then Secretary of State Dartmouth, who helped him to connect with Dartmouth’s step brother, Lord North.

Much of what Drummond’s proposed ended up in the Conciliatory Proposition that Parliament sent to Congress in early 1775 and which I discussed back in Episode 50.  But North had been unwilling to provide any specific protections in that offer.  That, and the fact that it reached Congress after Lexington and Concord, meant it was too little too late.

Drummond did not give up though.  At the end of 1775, he returned to America in hopes of getting Congress to send peace commissioners to London.  Almost immediately the radicals arrested him for being a Tory.  They quickly paroled him on the condition he stay out of public affairs.  Drummond violated that condition by reaching out to some of the more conservative members of Congress, men like James Wilson, John Jay and James Duane, to discuss the idea of peace terms where the colonies would get certain limited protections from internal taxation.

His idea was that colonies would provide some reasonable contribution toward the cost of their military protection but would raise the money themselves, however they liked, and would have some constitutional protection that London could not shake them down for unlimited cash whenever it wanted.  Parliament would retain authority over trade, but would not use that as an excuse to raise cash through customs duties.  Obviously, there were a lot of details left to resolve, but some conservative members of Congress thought it might be the only chance they had to work out a deal instead of continuing a highly destructive war.

In the end, Lord Drummond got a couple of delegates to travel up to New York covertly to get a better idea of whether this really was a genuine back channel overture from North.  Was North trying to negotiate a peaceful solution? or was this just some guy trying to make a name for himself, trying to broker a deal nobody wanted?  At the time, Gen. Henry Clinton was on his way south, planning to retake the Carolinas.  He met with Drummond and other intermediaries on behalf of the delegates.  Clinton, though, was getting ready for war.  He was not even authorized to negotiate any peace settlement.  Clinton suspected they simply wanted to know his war plans or delay his mission and he blew them off.  With that, the Delegates returned to Philadelphia to get on with other matters.

Dunmore though, hopeful that the delegates would agree to go to London, sent a letter to Gen. Howe in Boston asking for safe passage.  He sent the letter to General Washington with the request that he forward it to Howe.  Instead, Washington opened the letter read it, and sent it back to Congress with a note that said he thought Dunmore was attempting to divide the patriot effort and that someone should do something about it.

When Dunmore returned to Philadelphia, he was arrested for violating the terms of his parole. In March, Congress debated sending a delegation to London, but decided against it. Dunmore agreed to leave the colonies and finally was allowed to sail to Bermuda in April.  In the end, nothing came of the attempted peace negotiations, although Drummond will be back for further attempts later in our story.

Blame for Canada

In January and February of 1776, Congress was mostly focused on the prosecution of the war.  The loss of most of the northern army on January 1 at Quebec was the first major defeat for the patriots.  It was hard to blame Gen. Richard Montgomery, who was by this time a national hero after dying in battle.  Similarly, Gen. Benedict Arnold, wounded in battle and struggling to maintain the siege of Quebec had hero status as well.  So, many in Congress looked to blame Gen. Philip Schuyler, commander of the Northern Army and in charge of overall strategy in that theater.

Schuyler had been trying to support the army in Canada, but was also focused on the Indian problem in New York.  British Indian Agent Guy Johnson was gathering up arms and ammunition and trying to convince the Iroquois and neighboring tribes that perhaps they should stop being neutral and help the King put down this rebellion.

Schuyler assembled 3000 NY militia in January, to make a show of strength against the Iroquois.  At the same time, he met with Iroquois leaders to assure them that the militia were not there to attack them.  Rather, they were just going to stop Johnson and the few foolish locals who had joined up with him.  The effort worked.  The militia captured cache of arms and ammunition that Johnson had assembled, and arrested about 100 Scottish Highlanders who were prepared to fight for King and country.  They dispersed anyone considering any organized effort against the patriot movement.  But all this effort also meant that for the month following the loss at Quebec, Schuyler was not giving his full attention to the problems in Canada.

David Wooster
(from Wikimedia)
In Montreal, Gen. David Wooster, got even more frustrated that his pleas for soldiers, guns, and money were falling on deaf ears back in Albany.  Wooster and Schuyler already did not like each other very much, but tried to be professional and work together as best they could.  But when Wooster publicly criticized Schuyler for paroling some Tories who were now causing him trouble back in and around Montreal, Schuyler decided he had had enough.  He dashed off a letter to Congress saying he could not work with Wooster anymore and that one of them had to go.

Before that letter even reached Congress, however, the delegates had come to the same conclusion.  One of them had to go.  Schuyler probably assumed that the junior Wooster would go.  But the delegates decided Schuyler would go.  Well, not actually go.  Congress instructed Schuyler to retain command of New York.  But they gave command of Canada to Gen. Charles Lee.  As you may recall, Lee was third in command of the Continental Army, behind only Artemas Ward and Washington himself.  Lee had been twiddling his thumbs in Cambridge and telling just about anyone who would listen how he could do a much better job than just about anyone anywhere.  Giving him an independent command in Canada, Congress thought, would give Lee a chance to put up or shut up.  The British looked like they would secure Canada within the next few months.  Perhaps Lee could do a better job than Schuyler.  Meanwhile they sent Schuyler from Albany to New York City, where he could prepare for the possible British invasion there.

Then, a few weeks, later, Congress reversed themselves.  Part of the reversal may have been objections raised by the New York Delegation, who saw their General being treated unfairly. I think Washington objected to the changes, though he seems so polite and accommodating in his written correspondence that it’s sometimes hard to tell.  But Washington really wanted Lee in charge of New York City.  He respected Lee’s ability to set up defensive lines and was sure the British would attack there once they left Boston.

So Lee went to New York City and Schuyler stayed in Albany.  However, he did not get Canada back under his command.  Instead, Congress promoted Brigadier General John Thomas to Major General and sent him to command Canada.   Thomas would replace Gen. Wooster, who just about everyone seemed to dislike by this point.  Wooster ended up returning to Connecticut and commanding the local militia.

All of this made very clear that Congress was not going to sit back and let Washington manage the army.  Congress would direct what Generals went where and maintained close control of the army.  Washington, determined not to become the next Cromwell, would make suggestions, or express concerns, but he would always follow Congress’ orders without complaint, even if he had personal misgivings.

Silas Deane Goes to France

To the extent delegates were looking at diplomacy, it was not with Britain.  Rather, they wanted better relations with France.  As I mentioned back in Episodes 71 and 75, France had already sent Bonvouloir to feel out the idea of better relations with the colonies.  Everyone realized that if they were going to defeat Britain militarily, they would need a major European power at least to supply them with guns, ammunition, and other supplies.  Ideally, that other power would go to war with Britain directly and force London to focus on problems beyond the colonies.

France, the age old enemy of Britain, was certainly the most obvious choice in such a plan.  To see if there was a possibility of making this happen, Congress sent its first envoy to Paris.  Of course, it could not be an official envoy.  The colonies were still governed by Britain.  If France recognized an envoy, that would be tantamount to recognizing American independence, which would probably force Britain to declare war on France.

Instead, the envoy would go posing as a private merchant, looking to make deals to buy trade goods to sell to the Indians in America.  Even that, of course, violated British trade laws, but I guess it was good enough cover to argue France was not getting involved directly in the war.

Congress’ first envoy to France was Silas Deane, a delegate from Connecticut.  Dean had been an active member of Connecticut politics for years, and had served as a delegate to the First and Second Continental Congress.  By all appearances, he was a committed patriot, strongly supporting the attack on Ticonderoga in the spring of 1775, and playing a major role in the creation of the Continental Navy.  He also performed a great deal of behind the scenes work on Committees of Correspondence.

Silas Dean (from Wikimedia)
Sadly for Mr. Deane, he had made some enemies back in Connecticut when he supported Connecticut’s Israel Putnam for major general rather that David Wooster, also from Connecticut.  And I’m becoming more and more convinced that Wooster was a pain in the butt for just about everyone associated with him.  He had lots of political friends in Connecticut, but just about nothing else going for him.  When Wooster only got offered a commission as a mere brigadier general in the Continental Army, he pouted and almost didn’t take it, preferring to remain a major general in the Connecticut militia.  It probably would have been much better for everyone if he had refused the commission.  But he did take it and would prove to be a disaster for the next year before he finally had enough and quit.

Anyway, Deane did not back Wooster, so Wooster’s political friends had Deane recalled from Congress at the end of 1775.  The delegates in Philadelphia valued Deane’s work and did not want to lose him. So they decided he would be a good choice to send to Paris and feel out any possible chances of an alliance, or at least assistance.  Like just about anyone who got a significant appointment during the war, Deane seemed highly underqualified.  He had never been further from his home in Connecticut than his visits to Philadelphia.  He did not speak French and had no real diplomatic experience.

Despite all that, on March 2, 1776, Congress commissioned Deane to go to France.  The Commission itself was rather vague, but Deane’s quiet discussions with other delegates were more specific.

They hoped he would able to purchase, on credit, arms, supplies, and uniforms for a 25,000 man Continental Army.  They gave him $200,000 in paper Continental currency to buy trade goods for Indians that Congress hoped to keep on their side during the war.  They also hoped he could make contact with the French foreign minister, the comte de Vergennes and begin discussions to see if France would recognize American Independence, if they declared independence, and to see if they would consider trade agreements or even an alliance.

Now all of this was a risky venture.  First, Deane had to cross the Atlantic and avoid the British Navy.  He was engaged in treason, meaning the British could have hanged him if they caught him.  Second, there was no guarantee the French might not decide it was to their advantage to stay on Britain’s good side and just turn him over the the British.

Even if none of that happened, Deane acted essentially as a private citizen in France with no diplomatic recognition.  Anything he bought on credit was on his personal credit, meaning he could possibly lose everything he owned and get tossed into debtor’s prison if Congress chose not to back his deals.

Despite the risks, Deane took the job and actually did pretty well at it.  He made contact with the French ministry through back channels and for the second half of 1776 covertly sent a continual stream of supplies to America.  This supply line grew considerably in 1777 and became critical to the war effort.

I don’t want to get into all the details now, but after several years, another envoy Arthur Lee, accused Deane of mismanaging French aid and pocketing some for himself.  Eventually, these charges were proven false, but not until long after Deane had died.  Sadly, he suffered from this damaged reputation even though he performed a critical service for his country.  But that mess is years in the future.  For now, Deane began the covert relationship between France and America that would make France America’s oldest ally.  I will definitely circle back to Deane in future episodes.

More Money

While I’m discussing Congress, I should also mention that in February 1776, Congress authorized the printing of another $4 million in paper currency to finance the war effort.  Everyone continued to question whether this money would ever be worth anything, leading to continued inflation.

- - -

Next Episode 84: Continental Navy Raids the Bahamas (available Feb. 17, 2019)

Previous Episode 82: Battle of Moore's Creek Bridge



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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. Also, see the very bottom of this page to see how you can support this podcast by making purchases you would make anyway on Amazon.  Thanks, Mike Troy


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Further Reading

Websites

Considerations on the Nature and Extent of the Legislative Authority of the British Parliament, by James Wilson:  http://www.constitution.org/jwilson/legislative_authority_british_parliament.html

An Address to the Inhabitants of the Colonies, by James Wilson: https://wisc.pb.unizin.org/jzps601s2017/chapter/james-wilson-an-address-to-the-inhabitants-of-the-colonies

Failure of a Mission: The Drummond Peace Proposal of 1775, by Milton Klein, Huntington Library Quarterly, Vol. 35, No. 4 (1972), pp. 343-380:  http://www.jstor.org/stable/3817055 (free to read online, registration required).

Letter from Thomas Lynch to George Washington, Jan. 16, 1776, discussing Lord Drummond:
http://amarch.lib.niu.edu/islandora/object/niu-amarch%3A99696

Franklin, Benjamin Report to Congress on forces in Canada, Feb, 1776: https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-22-02-0211

Silas Deane embarks on secret mission to France: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/silas-deane-embarks-on-secret-mission-to-france

Covart, Elizabeth "Silas Deane, Forgotten Patriot" Journal of the American Revolution (2014): https://allthingsliberty.com/2014/07/silas-deane-forgotten-patriot

Silas Deane Online Documents: http://www.silasdeaneonline.org/documents.htm

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

Journals of Congress, Vol 1, (contains minutes of First Continental Congress and first year of the Second Continental Congress.

Journals of the Continental Congress, Vol. 3, Sept. 21-Dec. 30, 1775, Washington: US Gov’t Printing Office 1905.

Journals of the Continental Congress, Vol. 4  Jan. 1 - June 4, 1776, ashington: US Gov’t Printing Office 1904.

Clark, George L. Silas Deane, a Connecticut Leader in the American Revolution, New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1913.

Force, Peter American Archives, Series 4, Vol 4, Washington, DC: 1837.

Lossing, Benson The Life and Times of Philip Schuyler, Vol 1 and Vol 2, New York: Mason Brothers,1872-73.

StillĂ© Charles,  Beaumarchais and the "lost million". A chapter of the secret history of the American revolution, Philadelphia: self-published, 1890.

Tuckerman, Bayard Life of General Philip Schuyler, 1733-1804, New York: Dodd, Mead & Co. 1903.

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

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

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

Isaacson, Walter Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, New York, Simon & Schuster, 2003.

McCullough, David John Adams, New York, Simon & Schuster, 2001.

Meacham, John Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, New York: Random House, 2012.

Montross, Lynn The Reluctant Rebels, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1950 (Book recommendation of the week)

Morgan, Edmund Benjamin Franklin, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.

Peterson, Merrill (ed) The Portable Thomas Jefferson, New York: Penguin Books, 1975.

* This site is a registered Amazon Associate.  Please help support this site by purchasing any of these books, or any other Amazon product, via the links on this site.  If you start by clicking on a book link above and then browse to buy something completely different on Amazon, American Revolution Podcast will get credit for your purchase.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Episode 082: Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge




The winter of 1775-76 was a tough one for the British in Boston.  After Gen. Thomas Gage returned to England, leaving Gen. William Howe in charge, the army did almost nothing.  Like Gage, Howe thought they needed to abandon the city.  The army had to take a position somewhere else that would give the army more room to maneuver.  While they decided exactly what to do, the army sat and rotted away.

Although reinforcements from England continued to arrive over the winter, hundreds of regulars died from smallpox, typhus, and other diseases.  A lack of fresh food also led to the spread of scurvy, which only made soldiers more susceptible to die from other diseases.  Aside from disease, everyone was desperate for food and firewood, third in command Gen. John Burgoyne got frustrated and returned to London where he could better criticize Howe’s command.  Second in command Gen. Henry Clinton remained in Boston, but also clearly was fed up with Howe’s leadership.  He did not want to sit in Boston for the rest of the winter, watching the army starve and die.

The British Move South

In January, Howe agreed to let Clinton take command of a contingent of soldiers to the southern colonies.  There, they thought that there was still a large loyalist contingent that could be rallied to serve the King.

Gov. Josiah Martin in North Carolina had been telling everyone that he could raise 10,000 loyalist soldiers to fight for the King, if only the army would send someone to rally them.  Governors of Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia all felt the same way. Martin and the other Royal Governors, of course, were stuck on navy ships offshore, because the patriots had forced them out of the colony.  But that did not dissuade them from the idea that the loyalists were just lying low, waiting for an opportunity to take up the fight.

Sir Henry Clinton
(from Wikimedia)
General Clinton took only a couple of companies of light infantry when he sailed from Boston.  Gen. Howe in Boston was happy to be rid of Clinton.  He did not, however, want to let any of his regiments leave Boston, despite the fact that they were just sitting around dying of hunger and disease.  Howe still feared the Continentals might attempt to take the city.  He needed to have sufficient forces to defend against such an attack.

Clinton’s plan was to meet up with seven regiments of Irish infantry, as well as an artillery unit, which London had deployed as reinforcements in America.  Leading this new force was a newly promoted Major General named Charles Cornwallis, who will play a big role in future events.  But for now, he was bringing a contingent of reinforcements and would serve as second in command to the more senior Major General Clinton in this expedition to the southern colonies.

Clinton left Boston on January 20, 1776, but only sailed as far are New York City.  There, he met with Gov. Martin of North Carolina, and Gov. Campbell of South Carolina in order to assess his chances in those colonies.  He also met with NY Gov. Tryon who had been Governor of North Carolina a few years prior.

The plan was to use Cornwallis’ regular regiments to rally loyalist regiments in the southern colonies.  They would restore power to the local governors, then rejoin Gen. Howe in the summer to recapture the northern colonies.

Recruiting an Army

Ahead of Clinton’s arrival in North Carolina, the British sent recruiters to enlist the loyalists who would fight with the small force of regulars due to arrive soon.  As they did in Canada, the British in North Carolina hoped to recruit from among the many Scottish Highlanders who had settled in the colony.  The Highlanders had shown fierce loyalty to the King and had a well respected reputation as warriors.

To recruit this new force, Clinton sent two officers ahead into North Carolina to recruit men.  Lt. Col. Donald MacDonald, who had a long battle record, from Culloden in 1745 to Bunker Hill the prior year, and Captain Donald McLeod, also a veteran of Bunker Hill.  Both men were Scots who spoke fluent Gaelic, like the Scottish settlers in western North Carolina.  MacDonald had a cousin who was a leader in the Highlander community of North Carolina.  Both men received brevet promotion, MacDonald to General, and McLeod to Lt. Col. to raise and command the new southern loyalist army.

Donald MacDonald
(from COADB)
Almost as soon as they arrived in North Carolina, patriot forces took them into custody.  However, they convinced their captors that they were simply retired officers looking to settle with friends and family in the colony.  Apparently, convinced, the patriots allowed them to proceed into the Highlander communities further inland.

The British officers worked with a local loyalist named Alexander McLean, who had authority from the Royal Governor Martin to commission officers to lead the new militia.  They moved to the area around Cross Creek (modern day Fayetteville) and began recruiting.  The officers had more to offer than simple appeals to loyalty.  They offered 200 acres of land to volunteers as well as 20 years of tax exemption.

They spread the word that all loyal men willing to fight for the King should meet at Cross Creek on February 5.  At the meeting, loyalists could not agree what to do.  Several hundred were ready to form up immediately.  Others were more cautious.  They did not want to make themselves targets for the patriots until there were British regulars to support them.  No one expected any regulars to arrive until at least early March.

By some accounts MacDonald recruited as many as 3500 men by mid-February.  It seems, however, that many of the men did not stick around after they found out that there were no British regulars, only the two recruiting officers.  Of further concern, they would have to fight their way to the coast, doing battle with their fellow colonists, before they could join the regulars, who might or might not be there by the time they reached the coast.  Remember, many of these men have been defeated and scattered for patriot forces only a few months earlier in the snow campaign that I discussed back in Episode 77.

In the end, well under 2000 loyalists stuck around and agreed to march to the coast under Gen. MacDonald. The loyalist army set off to march to the coast at Cape Fear.  There, they would meet up with the regulars arriving by ship and crush the Patriot forces in the colony.  That was the plan anyway.

The Patriot Forces

The problem was that none of this remained a secret.  Patriot leaders in North Carolina received word of Gen. Clinton sailing for North Carolina, and also of the recruitment of Scottish colonists around Cross Creek.

The North Carolina Provincial Congress called on its Continental regiment and supporting militia to confront the new loyalist militia.  They wanted to disrupt the recruiting before the force became too large.  They also wanted to prevent them from reaching the coast and joining up with the fleet of regulars that they expected would soon arrive.

The Continental Congress had just commissioned James Moore as colonel of the newly raised 1st North Carolina Regiment.  Moore was an experienced officer who had seen action in the French and Indian War and the Cherokee Wars.  He served in the colonial militia under Royal Governor Tryon and helped to put down the North Carolina Regulators at the Battle of Alamance a few years earlier.

But Moore was also a dedicated patriot.  He had led the mobs during the Stamp Act Riots.  He was a longstanding member of the Sons of Liberty and had helped to raise support for the people of Boston after Parliament closed their port in 1774.  He had served in the colonial legislature, but helped organize the North Carolina Provincial Congress when the Royal Governor shut down the colonial House of Representatives.  He was a member of the Committee of Safety, and helped to organize the new Continental regiment that he now commanded.  By mid-February, Moore had taken his 650 man regiment into the region and looked for an opportunity to attack.

Moore called on two militia regiments, one led by Col. Richard Caswell and another by Col. Alexander Lillington to cooperate in an attack on the loyalist brigade.  Caswell was primarily a politician, then serving as President of the Provincial Congress, and would go on to become the State’s first Governor.  But he was also a longtime militia officer.  He had fought alongside Moore at the Battle of Alamance.  Lillington was also a long time militia officer and colonial politician, having served along with the other two Colonels in the colonial army that crushed that Regulators at Alamance.  He had also been a leader in the Stamp Act riots, served in the Provincial Congress and with Moore on the Committee of Safety.  In short, all three Colonels were dedicated patriots, with military experience and knew each other well.

The Battle

Col. Moore had established his regiment within a few miles of the loyalist camp at Cross Creek.  He set up a defensive line along Rockfish Creek and awaited an attack. When Gen. MacDonald learned of the patriots force, he sent a messenger under a flag of truce, calling on them to to lay down their arms or “suffer the fate of an enemy of the Crown.”  Moore was not impressed by this bluster and sent back a message of his own that the loyalists needed to take an oath to support Continental Congress, or “be treated as enemies of the Constitutional Liberties of America.”  Clearly neither side was backing down.

Gen. MacDonald, however, had no intention of sending his inexperienced loyalist militia against an entrenched enemy.  They had almost no time to drill and many did not even have muskets.  MacDonald’s plan was to march his men to Cape Fear before engaging with the rebels.  So, he marched his men down back roads toward the coast, hoping to avoid a confrontation with the patriots.

Moore's Creek Bridge, 1904 (from The NC Booklet)
This route required MacDonald’s troops to cross Moore’s Creek. There, Lillington with about 150 patriot militia had dug in on the far side of the bridge, preparing to block the Loyalists.  After it became clear that MacDonald’s loyalists were headed for the bridge, Caswell brought another 850 or so patriot militia to the bridge to assist with its defense.  Caswell also had a small cannon and an even smaller swivel gun to supplement his infantry.

Even so, the 1600 loyalist forces outnumbered the combined 1000 patriots defending the bridge.  Before Moore’s regiment caught up with them, MacDonald had a chance to destroy or capture the militia, and then force Moore to attack the loyalists from an entrenched position where they would again outnumber the Patriots.

On February 26, the loyalists marched within a few miles of Moore’s Creek Bridge.  Gen. MacDonald became deeply ill and had to turn over command to Col. McLeod.  As they did when they confronted Col. Moore’s Continentals, the loyalists sent a party under a flag of truce to demand the surrender of the patriot militia, offering full pardon if they surrendered and declared loyalty to the King.  Caswell said thanks but no thanks and told the young officer to return to his lines.

The loyalist officer returned, but not before the patriots had allowed him to get a good look at their defenses.  The officer reported back to McLeod that Caswell’s patriot militia had set their lines on the nearside of the creek.  This meant they could not use the creek as a natural defense, and could not quickly retreat if attacked.  With this bad position and with the loyalists outnumbering the patriots, McLeod decided to engage the enemy.

Meanwhile, back on the patriot lines, Caswell had also apparently decided that his deployment on the nearside of the creek was, in fact, a really stupid way to deploy his lines.  That evening, he moved his entire force over the bridge to the far side.  They also took up the planks of the bridge so that no attacking force could rush across it.  While the soldiers moved over to the far bank, they left their tents up and kept campfire burning on the near bank to confuse the attacking loyalists.

Movements to Moore's Creek Bridge (from Wikipedia)
McLeod marched his loyalists toward the patriot militia that night, planning to attack the camp around daybreak on February 27.  When they arrived, the loyalist advance force was not sure what was going on.  They saw the empty patriot camp on the near side and the defensive lines on the other side of the creek.  Since both sides were militia, without flags and uniforms, they were not entirely sure who they were facing.  A patriot called out and asked if they were a friend.  The loyalists replied they were friends to the King and both sides quickly realized they were facing the enemy across the creek.

Now. Gen. MacDonald, who was lying in a sickbed miles away had been trying to avoid any confrontation with the enemy.  Although his force was larger, they were raw untrained militia.  About half of them did not even have guns.  Many only had swords.  They expected to get muskets when they met up with the regulars.  Later, MacDonald said he never would have engaged in the battle, but that’s easy to say in hindsight.  But whatever the case. Lt. Col. McLeod opted to charge.

His forces tried to cross over the bridge in the face of enemy fire.  With the planks removed, they had to climb over the framing, allowing the patriots to shoot dozens of them as they slowly made their way over the bridge frame.  Col. McLeod bravely led the charge and made it over the bridge with a few men.  But not enough made it.  The patriots killed at least 30 loyalists, including McLeod.

The remaining loyalists decided that slowly climbing over the bridge in the face of enemy fire was not for them, and fled.  Caswell then had the patriot militia put back the bridge planks and crossed back over the creek to pursue the fleeing militia.

The patriots captured about half of the attacking force, with the other half scattering and presumably making their way home.  Caswell’s patriot militia also captured the main camp with all its supplies, including guns, ammunition and a large amount of gold that the British had been using to recruit volunteers.  The patriots also took the ailing Gen. MacDonald prisoner.  Only two patriots had been wounded in the battle, one of them dying a few days later.

The entire battle had only lasted a few minutes, although they spent most of the rest of the day tracking down loyalists who had fled the battle and were hiding all over the area.  Col. Moore arrived later that day, frustrated that he had missed the battle, but took command of the aftermath.

Aftermath

Moore agreed to allow most of the loyalist soldiers to return home, after taking an oath not to take up arms again against the patriot cause.  Those who refused the oath had to put up a bond and agree to leave the colony within 60 days.  Even those who escaped capture were subject to these conditions.  The patriots had captured Gen. MacDonald’s muster roles and knew the name of every man who had volunteered for the loyalists.

The officers became prisoners of war.  They sent British Gen. MacDonald north, where he would be exchanged a few months later for Continental General captured during the Battle of Long Island.

Col. Moore, did not fight in the battle, but received credit for the winning strategy.  Congress promoted him to brigadier general.

Battle of Brunswick

Gen. Clinton finally arrived at Cape Fear on March 12, along with Governors Martin and Campbell from North and South Carolina.  They heard about the loyalist defeat at Moore’s Creek Bridge, but had little to do until Gen. Cornwallis’ fleet arrived from Ireland.  The fleet would not begin to arrive until the end of April due to bad weather.  Cornwallis himself would not arrive until the beginning of May.

So Clinton had to spend about six weeks sitting off the coast, occasionally sending landing parties on shore to collect food for his troops.  Moore brought Continentals from the First and Second North Carolina Regiments to the coast, attacking Clinton’s raiding parties and firing cannon at the ships if they got too close to shore.  Similarly, Clinton’s ships would fire at any patriots that came to the shore line.

Not much came of these raids.  On April 6, a British raiding party caught a continental officer and five soldiers off guard at Brunswick Town North Carolina.  The captured all six Continentals and brought them back to the British fleet as prisoners.

Once Cornwallis arrived in May, the generals decided on a new course of action.  Both forces were tired and hungry from months aboard ship.  Clinton issued a general pardon for any rebels who would affirm their allegiance to the King.  But, like Gage’s similar offer in Boston, even those who might have been inclined to remain loyal feared the wrath of the patriots controlling the colony far more than the regulars who could not even gain a toehold on land.

On May 12, Cornwallis raided the coastal plantation of Col. Robert Howe, burning his home and stealing about 20 cattle.  They hit a few other coastal raids, including a return to Brunswick Town, where they burned most of the town.

But without the promised thousands of loyalist militia to support them, Clinton and Cornwallis could not hope to establish British control of the colony.  Knowing that they would soon have to return to Howe in a few months, they gave up on retaking North Carolina that year and moved on to South Carolina.  That will be the subject of a future episode.

Conclusion

The Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge is sometimes called the Lexington of the South.  I think that is a bit of an overstatement, but the battle did have some importance.  Although patriots had already taken control of the Southern colonies, the battle prevented any sort of loyalist counter-uprising that many strategists in London had hoped would turn the tide of the war.

Coming in February 1776, the patriots got a big morale boost following the failure to take Quebec in January and with the continuing standoff around Boston.  For North Carolinians, it sealed their fidelity to the patriot cause.  Less than two months later, North Carolina became the first colony to instruct its delegates to the Continental Congress to vote for independence.

In London, the loss was seen as a disappointment, but given that it was only loyalist militia, not regulars involved, it was not seen as that big of a deal.  Strategists saw it as a setback, but still hoped to rally loyalists to the cause under new leadership at some future date.  However, the British realized that retaking the South would not be easy.  They would not make another serious attempt to retake the Carolinas for four years.

- - -

Next Episode 83: Continental Congress Winter 1776

Previous Episode 81: Common Sense



Click here to donate
American Revolution Podcast is distributed 100% free of charge. If you can chip in to help defray my costs, I'd appreciate whatever you can give.  Make a one time donation through my PayPal account. Also, see the very bottom of this page to see how you can support this podcast by making purchases you would make anyway on Amazon.  Thanks, Mike Troy


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




Further Reading

Resources to learn more about today’s topic.

Websites: 

Rankin, Hugh F. "The Moore's Creek Bridge Campaign, 1776" The North Carolina Historical Review
Vol. 30, No. 1 (Jan., 1953), pp. 23-60 https://www.jstor.org/stable/23516672 (free to read with registration).

Moore's Creek National Battlefield: https://www.nps.gov/mocr/index.htm

Barefoot, Daniel W. Battle of Moores Creek Bridge, 2006: http://www.ncpedia.org/moores-creek-bridge-battle

Noble, M.C.S. "The Battle of Moore's Creek Bridge" The North Carolina Booklet, Vol. 3 No. 11 (1904). http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Gazetteer/Places/America/United_States/North_Carolina/_Texts/journals/The_North_Carolina_Booklet/3/11*.html

Smith, John L. Jr. "The Battle of Moore's Creek Bridge" Journal of the Am. Rev. 2014: 
https://allthingsliberty.com/2014/01/battle-moores-creek-bridge

Battle of Moore's Creek Bridge, Stats:
http://www.carolana.com/NC/Revolution/revolution_battle_of_moores_creek.html

Charleston Expedition Of Clinton In 1776, 2006:
http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/charleston-expedition-clinton-1776

Character Sketch: Important People from the Battle of Moores Creek Bridge:
https://www.nps.gov/mocr/learn/education/upload/Character-Sketch.pdf

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

Powell, William Chronolog of the American Revolution in North Carolina, Raleigh: North Carolina Dept. of Cultural Resources, Div. of Archives and History, 1975.

Wright, Joshua G. Address delivered at the celebration of the battle of Moore's Creek Bridge, February 27th, 1857. Wilmington, NC, Fulton & Price, 1857.

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

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

Rankin, Hugh F. The North Carolina Continentals, NC Society of Cincinnati, 1971 (book recommendation of the week).

Russell, David Lee The American Revolution in the Southern Colonies, Jefferson, NC: McFarland Publishing, 2000.

* This site is a registered Amazon Associate.  Please help support this site by purchasing any of these books, or any other Amazon product, via the links on this site.  If you start by clicking on a book link above and then browse to buy something completely different on Amazon, American Revolution Podcast will get credit for your purchase.


Sunday, January 27, 2019

Episode 081: Common Sense




In January 1776 a new political pamphlet swept across the colonies.  Common Sense first appeared in Philadelphia as an anonymous pamphlet.  The first run of 1000 copies quickly sold out and numerous reprints began to pop up all over the continent.  Later editions named the author as Thomas Paine.  Many men at the time, as well as future historians, credit the publication of Common Sense as the catalyst that finally convinced the vast majority of Americans that they had to fight for complete independence from Britain.

Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine had been born in Thetford, England in 1737.  His father was a Quaker who made a living making stays.  There is a popular myth that Paine’s father was a corset maker. This is based on a misunderstanding. In the late 1700s and 1800s stays were solid reinforcements, usually made from whalebone, that were part of a corset. Some people thought they were talking about those kinds of stays. They were not.  The stays that the Paine family made were thick ropes that were used on ships.

Paine’s mother came from a fairly well off Anglican family. It appears that the family may have distanced itself from her after she married a Quaker.

Thomas received a good education, but left school at age 13 to begin work as an apprentice stay-maker.  That was more education than most working class children received.  It would have been extremely unusual for a working class student to attend school beyond the age of 13 or 14.  Many students left school at even younger ages to begin earning money for their families.

Thomas Pain (from Wikimedia)
Paine seemed impatient with the life of a simple working class craftsman.  At age 12, about the time he realized he would soon have to leave school and start work, he tried to run away and join a privateer, only to have his father drag him off the ship and back home.  At age 17, during Seven Years War, he took a job on another ship where he served for several months, though he did not seem to much like the life of a sailor either.  He spent a few more years making stays like his father, but clearly felt trapped in that life.

Later, Paine began work as an excise officer.  There, he collected taxes primarily on alcohol and tobacco, as well as the highly unpopular cider tax.  He had to investigate possible smugglers and ensure that merchants paid all appropriate taxes to the crown.  That was an ok job as a low level civil servant.  An excise officer made about £50 per year, though after paying taxes and upkeep on a horse, required for the job, substantially less was left over.  The life of a tax collector was also a lonely one, requiring regular travel and not one that lent itself to making friends.

Nevertheless, Paine settled into his working-class wife.  He got married in 1759, and his wife quickly became pregnant.  Sadly both wife and child died in childbirth the following year.  Paine was devastated.  He would remain single for the next decade.  When he married again, it would be to the daughter of a widow that he knew.  There is good evidence that the couple never lived together as husband and wife.

Paine took up an interest in politics, gravitating to the radical whig politics led by men like John Wilkes.  Without money or family though, there was no way Paine would ever have a career in politics.  He continued working as an excise officer, growing increasingly frustrated with his life.

He turned his attention to a labor movement to improve pay for excise officers.  In 1772 he wrote a pamphlet entitled Case of the Excise Officers, calling for better wages for excise officers which he had printed and distributed all over London, mostly targeting members of Parliament.  The pamphlet pointed out that excise officers often had to take second jobs to support their families, meaning they ended up neglecting their tax duties.  Their impoverished state left a strong temptation toward neglect and corruption.

Paine spoke from personal experience, years earlier, he had lost his job for stamping goods that he had not bothered to inspect, though he got the job back a short time later.  He held a variety of other jobs while working as an excise officer.  For a time, he worked as a school teacher.

In April 1774, though, his superiors fired him again.  This time, they accused him of smuggling untaxed tobacco which he sold in a tobacco shop that he ran on the side.  Speculation though, is that his superiors wanted him gone because of his continuing labor agitation for more pay and better working conditions.  Whatever the reason, Paine was out of work for good this time. He was in his late thirties and looking to start his life over again.

To avoid being thrown into debtor’s prison, Paine sold his house to pay off his debts, separated from his wife, and moved to London.  A short time later he made the acquaintance of Benjamin Franklin, still working as an American agent in London.  Franklin recommended he move to America and start a new life there.

Pennsylvania Magazine
(from Princeton Library)
Paine moved to Philadelphia, in November, 1774.  A few months later, he began work as editor of Pennsylvania Magazine in January 1775.  The magazine covered a little of everything, politics, science, business, and poetry.  He quickly gravitated to the radical politics of the patriots.  In his first months he possibly co-wrote an article entitled African Slavery in America, condemning american slavery (exact authorship of the article is disputed).  A month later, he became one of the founding members of Philadelphia’s Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage, the first abolition organization in America.

Later that same month, word arrived in Philadelphia of the fighting at Lexington and Concord.  Paine almost immediately put aside his focus on abolition and turned to the cause of independence.  Most Americans, including most leaders still did not believe the colonies should be independent.  If they did, they kept such treasonous and unpopular ideas to themselves.  Even after shots fired in Lexington, most patriots still hoped for reform that would bring the colonies back to an acceptable place within the British Empire.  Paine, however, became an early outspoken proponent of breaking all political ties with England.

He also took positions radical for the time, including support for women’s rights and attacking the concept of aristocracy itself.  In the weeks after Lexington, he wrote several articles for his magazine that advocated for independence.  Although his radical views had their critics, the magazine grew in popularity and along with it, Paine’s reputation among patriots.  Paine, however, was never one to allow his personal success to last very long.  He started to fight with his publisher and, by the summer of 1775, quit after requesting a raise that he did not get.

Common Sense

In the fall of 1775, he began writing a pamphlet on independence which hit the streets of Philadelphia on January 9, 1776.  Although the first edition left the author anonymous, Paine’s authorship quickly became common knowledge.  Part of the appeal of Common Sense was that it did not simply repeat all the arguments over English encroachments on traditional rights.  It went much farther, attacking fundamental assumptions of monarchy and colonialism.

The work began with the common social contract notion that all government is, at best, a necessary evil to allow people to live together in a society.  But then he went on to attack directly the idea of a monarchical government run by a man who had no legitimacy to rule over others, other than being the son of the previous ruler.  Similarly, aristocracy was based not on merit but on inheritance of power.  He pointed to the biblical story of how the Jews first demanded a king and the fact that while God did not see a king as necessary, allowed his people to have one.  Paine used this as evidence that a state of equality is God’s plan, and that kings are simply the result of people’s rejection of God’s plan.

Common Sense, first edition (from America in Class)
Next, Paine attacked the absurdity of a small island ruling an entire continent.  America completely dwarfed England in size.  The idea that Americans would allow themselves to be ruled by a tiny island made no sense.  America had already developed to the point that it does not need Britain anymore. To the notion that Americans owed some debt to England for developing the colonies, he pointed out that England had always operated the colonies from self interest, and had benefited greatly from the trade for centuries.  America owed Britain nothing.
Not content with those benefits, Britain now wanted to take even more from the colonies through taxation.  When America resisted this, Britain attacked America with military force, therefore destroying any loyalty which Americans might have been inclined to give.

Because America had evolved to the point where it could operate independently, Britain had become an impediment to Americans.  He argued that an independent America could conduct much more profitable trade directly with Europe if it could get out from under British trade laws and restrictions.  Even if Britain did back down on the current crisis, these same issues would return over and over.  The only way to stop that was to become an independent nation.

Going beyond a call for independence, Paine next turned to an explanation of what sort of government should rule America.  He presented a detailed plan for a convention to create the new government, with each colony electing five representatives and each colonial legislature sending two representatives to meet and create a new continental charter, essentially a constitution, which would define the government.

Continuing on, Paine lays out details that the charter should include.  It should protect basic freedoms and property including freedom of religion.  In the new government, each State would elect a delegation of thirty representatives.  Congress would then elect a President from a particular State, selected by lottery.  Each State would hold the presidency once until all State got a chance to have a President.  Then the lottery would start over.  Congress would pass all laws by a ⅗ majority.

Finally, Paine directly attacked the idea that Britain’s military was too powerful.  He noted that America’s resources would allow it to build a larger navy than Britain’s if only Americans would step up and get it done.

He also noted that while the colonies were united at the moment, over time divisions would arise. Therefore, now was the best time to seek independence.  Otherwise, the feeling of unity might fade and prevent America from becoming a continental power.  He also noted that America’s untapped wealth from western lands could help pay for the costs of the fight for independence.   Declaring independence was also the only way to get help from Europe.  At the time, Europe viewed the rebellion as an internal British matter.  By declaring independence, America could seek help from Europe in its fight for liberty.  In other words, America should seek independence and seek it right away.

Popularity

Common Sense quickly became the most popular reading material in America, and quickly spread to England and Europe as well.  The first 1000 copies sold out right away.

Paine immediately got into a fight with his publisher.  Paine had hoped to use the profits of the first printing to buy supplies for the soldiers fighting in Quebec.  But the publisher told him there were no profits.  Paine then fired his publisher and found another.  Meanwhile the original publisher continued to print more copies for sale.  Publishers all over the continent also began reprinting the pamphlet, there were at least 25 printings in the first year.  Estimates of first year sales range from 100,000 to 500,000 copies, not bad at a time when few American newspapers had circulations over 1000.  Even if these estimates are inflated, there is no doubt the pamphlet quickly became known to just about everyone in the colonies.

Pamphlets like these were commonly read aloud to groups at taverns or other public places.  George Washington had Common Sense read aloud to the army around Boston and commented that it worked wonders convincing the men of the army to remain in support of the cause.  Washington also noted that the pamphlet had persuaded him to support independence. John Adams celebrated the publication as finally moving the American public to favoring independence.  Almost all patriot correspondents in early 1776 reference Common Sense and its impact on moving the public mind in favor of independence.

Certainly, the writing, in both style and substance had a big impact on its popularity.  But the timing of its publication probably also contributed to its success.  Paine’s attack on the monarchy came around the same time that Americans were learning that King George had declared the colonies in a state of rebellion and for them to be crushed militarily.  His notions of American military power came just months before Washington successfully drove the entire British Army out of Boston.  Paine’s ideas hit at just the right time to convince people in light of other events that America could and should be independent.

Criticism

Of course, such a controversial work was not without critics.  One of the most famous criticisms was entitled The deceiver unmasked; or, Loyalty and interest united: in answer to a pamphlet entitled Common sense.  Charles Inglis, the author, was an Irish born Anglican rector of Trinity Church in New York.

Inglis points out that government is what makes society, with all its benefits, possible.  Without government men would be reduced to a state of nature where they would constantly be at war with one another.  While conceding that no government created by men can be perfect, the British government was the best on earth, leading to the quality of life that all colonists enjoyed at the time.  Monarchy was the best form of government for a large empire, and with proper checks, was the best protection against anarchy.

Charles Inglis (from Wikimedia)
He goes on to argue that the quality of life under the Britain’s hereditary monarchy was measurably better in almost every way than governments with elected leaders. He uses Poland as an example of the misery in countries with elected leaders, not mentioning that the Polish King was elected by only a small number of aristocrats.  As a preacher, Inglis also seems to have taken deep offense at Paine’s use of the Bible to criticize monarchy, and spends several pages attacking the point.  For example, Paine noted that the first monarchical governments were run by heathens.  Inglis properly points out that early democracies were also developed by heathens.

Inglis also attacks Paine for saying that Lexington was a turning point, one that requires Americans to reject the King.  He points out that the King had not approved of the events that resulted in battle, nor did he even know about it until months afterwards.  In fact, he notes that the colonies would not exist but for British protection.  There is little doubt that some other European power would have taken control of North America absent the protection of Great Britain.  Even though the colonies had matured, removal of that protection would only invite war and invasion from powers much more tyrannical that Britain had ever been.

The suffering of the time was not the result of British tyranny, it was the result of colonial resistance, leading to the state of war that existed at the time.  The cost of such a war would be far more than any taxes the colonies ever paid.  Taxes were also far lower than the cost of maintaining an independent military to protect the continent in the future.  He then goes into great detail about the costs of building and maintaining an independent military, not only to fight Britain, but other powers should Britain decide to walk away.  Colonial taxes, he says, would be nothing compared to those costs.  Britain and her colonies had a mutually beneficial relationship.  This move toward war and independence would only destroy all that.

Instead, Inglis pleads with the people of America to come to their senses and negotiate a compromise with Britain to return to the harmonious era they had long enjoyed.

Common Sense Prevails

The attacks on Common Sense by Inglis and others seemed to fall on deaf ears.  Paine’s pamphlet clearly won the debate in the court of public opinion.  His popularity grew along with it.  Paine refused all royalties on the publication, asking that any profits be sent to support the Continental Army.  This act only increased his public image, though most publishers simply sold the pamphlet and kept the money.

Paine continued to write articles and letters through much of 1776. Some time after the Declaration of Independence, he enlisted in the Continental Army and became an aide to Gen. Nathaniel Greene.  He would continue to write inspiring propaganda for the army, including his famous 13 part series of articles entitled The Crisis which I will discuss in future episodes.

While I won’t get into all the details now, Paine continued to seek controversy.  Several of his future works, called on government to adopt socialism and provide aid to the poor.  He also directly attacked religion generally.  He eventually moved to Paris to participate in the French Revolution.  There, he served in France’s revolutionary legislature then spent some time in prison for not being sufficiently revolutionary.  He almost died during the reign of terror, but was eventually rescued and returned to America.  He found his views on most things rejected and reviled by Americans and died in relative obscurity.

But despite his future troubles, in 1776, Paine noticeably moved public opinion in favor of independence.  Common Sense is probably one of the most well known revolutionary pamphlets from the era.

- - -

Next Episode 82: Battle of Moore's Creek Bridge

Previous Episode 80: The Knox Expedition




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Further Reading
Resources to learn more about today’s topic.

Websites: 

Paine, Thomas Common Sense (full text) https://www.gutenberg.org/files/147/147-h/147-h.htm

'Common Sense' and the American Revolution, by Harvey Kaye: http://thomaspaine.org/aboutpaine/common-sense-and-the-american-revolution-by-harvey-kaye.html

Reactions to Common Sense:
http://americainclass.org/sources/makingrevolution/rebellion/text7/text7.htm

Lepore, Jill "The Sharpened Quill: Was Thomas Paine too much of a freethinker for the country he helped free?" The New Yorker, Oct 16, 2006: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2006/10/16/the-sharpened-quill

Paine, Thomas The Case of the Excise Officers, 1772: http://www.thomaspaine.org/essays/other/case-of-the-excise-officers.html

Paine, Thomas African Slavery in America, 1775: http://thomaspaine.org/deattributed/african-slavery-in-america.html

Raphael, Ray "Thomas Paine's Inflated Numbers" Journal of the American Revolution, March 20, 2013: https://allthingsliberty.com/2013/03/thomas-paines-inflated-numbers

Inglis, Charles, The Deceiver Unmasked; or, Loyalty and interest united: in answer to a pamphlet entitled Common sense:  https://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/evans/N32756.0001.001

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

Journals of Congress, Vol 1, (contains minutes of First Continental Congress and first year of the Second Continental Congress.

The Pennsylvania Magazine, Vol. 1, Philadelphia: 1775.

Conway, Moncure The Life of Thomas Paine, Vol 1 and Vol. 2, New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1908.

Conway, Moncure (ed) The Writings of Thomas Paine, Vol. 1 1774-1779,  New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1906.

Audiobook: Paine, Thomas Common Sense, 1776:

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

Beck, Derek, Igniting the American Revolution 1773-1775, Naperville, Ill: Sourcebooks, 2015.

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

Foner, Eric Tom Paine and Revolutionary America, New York: Oxford University Press, 1976 (Book Recommendation of the Week).

Kaye, Harvey J. Thomas Paine and the Promise of America: A History & Biography, New York: Hill and Wang, 2006.

Kean, John Tom Paine: A Political Life, London: Bloomsbury, 1995

Nelson, Craig Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations, New York: Viking, 2006.

* This site is a registered Amazon Associate.  Please help support this site by purchasing any of these books, or any other Amazon product, via the links on this site.  If you start by clicking on a book link above and then browse to buy something completely different on Amazon, American Revolution Podcast will get credit for your purchase.