Sunday, August 26, 2018

Episode 059: Taking Fort Ticonderoga




In the weeks that followed Lexington and Concord, neither side seemed to know what to do next.

Gen. Gage’s regulars entrenched themselves in Boston.  Worried that they would be unable to defend an assault, they pulled their soldiers out of Charlestown.  However, they warned the Patriot militia surrounding Boston that if the militia attempted to occupy Charlestown, they would burn it down.  So, for the time being, Charlestown became a no man’s land between the two armies.

Benedict Arnold

As word spread after Lexington and Concord, militia from neighboring colonies converged on Boston.  Some rushed to the scene, like Israel Putnam, who literally walked away from plowing his field in Connecticut heading straight to Boston on April 20th.  His son had to put away the plow and oxen left in the field.  Putnam had been an outspoken Patriot leader, who had herded a flock of sheep to Boston the year earlier, to feed the residents after the Boston Port Act had effectively ended all food imports by sea.  Now, Putnam, who would serve as a Major General, was there to fight.

Fort Ticonderoga (postcard, from Sutori)
Others took a little longer to arrive.  When word reached New Haven Connecticut, a young apothecary named Benedict Arnold decided it was time for decisive action.  A month earlier, the men of New Haven formed a new militia company and elected Arnold as their captain.

Benedict Arnold is going to be a major player in the war, so we might as well introduce him now.  In the spring of 1775, Arnold was 34 years old, married with three children.  He came from a prominent Connecticut family.  His great-grandfather, also named Benedict Arnold had been the Governor.  Arnold’s father had been a merchant.  He also became an alcoholic, leading to financial problems for the family.

Arnold had started life attending the best schools in the colony.  But his father’s business failures forced him to leave school early and take an apprenticeship as an apothecary.

At the outbreak of the French and Indian War, 14 year old Arnold attempted to enlist as a drummer, though his mother prevented him.  At 16, he finally joined a relief force to help relieve the British and Militia at Fort William Henry.  The Fort surrendered before they arrived, resulting in the Indian massacre of colonists at the Fort.  On hearing the news, Arnold’s regiment returned home without seeing any combat.

Arnold’s mother died in 1759, and his father two years later in 1761.  In 1762, Arnold borrowed money from some cousins to start a pharmacy and bookstore in New Haven. His business prospered and he soon repaid his loans.  He even bought back the house his father had been forced to sell years earlier.

Benedict Arnold, 1776
(from Wikimedia)
A few years later, he formed a partnership to buy three merchant vessels.  Arnold personally traveled throughout the colonies, the West Indies (what we now call the Caribbean) and Central America as a Yankee trader.  Things seemed to be going well for him until the Stamp Act threatened to destroy his bookstore and trade restrictions forced him to become a smuggler.

Arnold joined the Sons of Liberty in Connecticut and actively supported the Patriot cause from the beginning.  He also joined the local Masonic Lodge, and married Margaret Mansfield, the 17 year old daughter of the Sheriff.  They had three sons.

British restrictions on trade destroyed much of his business and he fell into debt.  Arnold lived the comfortable life of a merchant trader, but always had to be on the hustle for the next deal, and regularly had to worry about debt and financial troubles.  But in 1775, despite colonial trade embargos and British trade restrictions, he was doing well financially and enjoying a successful family and business.

Arnold Joins the War

When word of fighting arrived in New Haven on April 21, Captain Arnold assembled his Company to march to Boston.  The problem was, the Town Council would not release any gunpowder.  After several hours of bickering, Arnold had to threaten to attack the powder house and take the munitions by force before officials finally conceded and gave his company the powder they needed.  The guy preventing Arnold from taking the gunpowder was David Wooster, the head of the Connecticut Militia.  I mention Wooster here because soon he is going to become a general in the Continental Army and Arnold’s superior.  On this first day of heading off to war, Arnold was already making enemies that would make his life difficult in the future.

On the march to Boston, Arnold met up with Connecticut militia Col. Samuel Parsons, also a member of the Connecticut legislature.  Parsons was returning from Cambridge where he spoke with Arnold about the siege now underway.  The two men discussed the fact that the Provincial Army was going to need cannons if it wanted any chance of taking Boston by force.  Arnold told Parsons that there was a large number of cannons at Fort Ticonderoga in New York, which the British kept under only nominal guard.  Arnold had travelled to Ticonderoga on multiple occasions as a merchant.  He frequently visited the fort when heading to Montreal or Quebec for trade.  Through his visits had become quite familiar with the fort, its assets and its defenses.

Samuel Parsons
(from Journal of Am. Rev.)
Parsons continued on his way to Hartford.  There he met with Silas Deane, another legislator, who had served in the First Continental Congress.  On their own, the two men decided to allocate £300 to finance an attack on Ticonderoga.  They named Captain Edward Mott to lead the expedition, and recruited Heman Allen, brother of Ethan Allen to involve the Green Mountain Boys in fight.  As we discussed back in Episode 38, Allen was a well respected militia leader who had been fighting against New York for years.  He was living in what was then eastern New York, today Vermont, only a few miles from Ticonderoga.

Back in Hartford, Parsons and Deane ordered this force to take Fort Ticonderoga and acquire the cannon for the Provincial Army.  Parsons apparently decided on this course after leaving Arnold, as he did not discuss it with him.

Arnold and a company of the Connecticut Guard, marched on to Cambridge, where Arnold witnessed the chaos and confusion there.  Officers and men camped around the city with little purpose or direction. Within a few days, Arnold sought out Joseph Warren to discuss the idea of taking Fort Ticonderoga.  Arnold told Warren about the cannon and how poorly defended they were.

Massachusetts had already received intelligence and a similar recommendation from John Brown, a member of the Massachusetts Committee of Correspondence who had visited Ticonderoga and Montreal a few months earlier.  He had been there in an attempt to get Canadians to join the Patriot cause.  Unknown to the men now discussing the capture of Ticonderoga, Brown was already headed toward the Fort under Col. James Easton of the Pittsfield Massachusetts militia, as part of Parsons’ plan to take the fort.

Green Mountain Boys (from Britannica)
Unaware of the planned attack, the Massachusetts Committee of Safety considered Arnold’s proposal.  Despite the state of war, Arnold’s plan was still pretty controversial.  It was one thing for colonists to defend themselves against a British column bent on attacking them and seizing their property.  It was quite another to attack a distant British fort and seize British property.  Some colonial leaders still hoped that events would play out much like the Stamp Act Riots a decade earlier.  The colonists would show a little violence to prove they were serious, and the British would back down and compromise.  They were reluctant to do more than sit and wait to get a response from London before embarking on all out war against their King.

The other big issue was that fort Ticonderoga was in New York. They would have to invade another colony that had not sent any support troops to the army surrounding Boston. Such an invasion might convince New York to support the Loyalist side and send troops against the New Englanders.

After some debate though, the majority accepted that they were at war and that they needed take more decisive action.  The Committee of Safety agreed to back Arnold’s expedition to take Ticonderoga.  On May 3, they appointed Arnold as a Colonel in the Massachusetts militia and gave him £100 in hard currency, 200 pounds of gunpowder, and other ammunition, as well as 10 horses.  They also authorized Arnold to draw on their credit to pay for whatever he needed to complete his mission. They did not, however, give him any soldiers.  They gave him a few officers and told them to recruit soldiers in western Massachusetts, closer to the fort.

He ditched his old Connecticut Company, and set out with several other newly appointed Massachusetts Captains to raise new companies in western Massachusetts.  As Arnold began recruitment, the locals told him that a planned attack was already underway.  Several Connecticut Companies under Captain Mott had recently passed through town on their way to link up with Allen.

Arnold and Allen Fight for Command

By the time Arnold heard of this other group, Mott had already met up with Ethan Allen and the men were assembling local militia for the attack.  On May 8, the men formed a Committee of War, naming Allen as commander of the expedition, with Massachusetts Militia Col. Easton as second in command after the Green Mountain boys refused to serve under anyone but Allen.

Disturbed that he would be left out of the assault on Ticonderoga, Arnold ditched his captains who were still trying to raise soldiers, and rushed to Castleton. On May 9th, he met up with Allen, who was still assembling his force, about a day’s march from the fort.

Map showing Ticonderoga (from U-S-History)
Arnold apparently tried to waive around his commission and demand that Allen turn over his men and serve under his command.  The Green Mountain Boys, fiercely loyal to Allen, refused to serve under anyone but Allen, certainly not some stranger who showed up with no men, arms, supplies, nor anything but a piece of paper and his own uniform.

Eventually, the two reached some sort of compromise.  Arnold recalled later that the two men would share command.  Allen seemed to be more of the mind that, sure, you can come along with us and be there when we take the fort, but I’m running the show.

The force assembled totaled between 250 to 400 officers and men (accounts differ).  Most of them were Green Mountain Boys with their allegiance to Allen.  Some were Connecticut and Massachusetts Militia.  The soldiers made their way to the fort, approaching it from the opposite side of Lake Champlain.  They would cross the lake overnight and storm the fort before dawn. 

Unfortunately, the plan ran into problems at the outset.  Allen had sent ahead an advance party to acquire the ships necessary to cross Lake Champlain.  On their way, the men instead found a cache of alcohol and got drunk. When the main force arrived late in the evening of May 9th, there were no boats.  Finally, they found a small craft that could ferry the men over.  But by then it was getting dangerously close to dawn.  A daylight crossing would likely be spotted and they would lose the element of surprise.

Allen and Arnold decided to take the fort with the 83 men who had come over in the first two trips.  They had no time to wait for another round if they wanted to attack before daylight.

Fort Ticonderoga

You may recall that way back in 1759, the British, after several attempts, finally defeated the French at Ticonderoga.  The French blew up their Fort Carillon.  Because of the key location, the British built two new forts, a smaller one called Fort Ticonderoga, and a larger one a few miles north at Crown Point.

After the French ceded Canada though, the lack of any enemy in the area made the forts unimportant.  This region was home to the Iroquois, who remained close British allies, so these were now forts in middle of friendly territory.  When a fire destroyed Crown Point in 1773, the British did not bother to rebuild it, simply using Ticonderoga as the primary center of British authority in the region.

Capt. William Delaplace commanded the garrison of less than 50 officers and men.  Like many unimportant garrisons, many of the men were on the invalid list, meaning they were not capable of full duty.  They could be sick, old, or infirm.  They were capable of light work, but not hard marching and fighting that an active duty soldier might need to do.  Also in the fort were several dozen women and children, families of the soldiers.

The garrison had allowed the fort to fall into disrepair.  Several walls had collapsed and not been fixed.  Although Gen. Gage had sent warning a few weeks earlier to the commander to be on guard against a possible raid, it appears he had not taken much of any precautions.

The Attack

As Allen and Arnold approached the Fort just before dawn on the morning of May 10, they saw that the main gates were closed.  Without any artillery or scaling ladders, they had no way to enter.  Fortunately, there was a smaller door built into the main gates, large enough for people, but not horses or wagons. They found the door unlocked and rushed inside.

As with many incidents, there are conflicting stories about exactly what happened.  Part of the problem is that both Arnold and Allen tried to glorify their own roles in the matter.  Allen wrote extensively four years later, when memory of details may have faded a little.

Just inside the gate they found a sentry, who had been asleep.  He awoke as the men entered and fired a shot point blank at Arnold.  Fortunately for Arnold, the shot misfired.  In some accounts the sentry then dropped his gun and ran for the barracks, a second guard then appeared, whom Allen knocked down with his sword in a nonfatal blow.

The attackers forced the sentry to take them to the officers’ quarters as the rest of the raiding party moved into the Fort.  As they approached, a young lieutenant Feltham, who had been at the fort for little more than a week, heard them.  Rushing out of his room, he banged on the Captain Delaplace’s room to alert him.  The Captain did not come out.  Eventually, he forced his way into the Captain’s room, only to find the man slowly dressing himself in no particular hurry.

Feltham then rushed to confront the men moving up the stairs toward them.  Just out of bed, he was still carrying his pants in his arms as he called out to demand by what authority they had entered the King’s fort.

Allen Captures Ticonderoga (from Land of the Brave)
In his recollections, Allen responded famously “by the authority of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress.”  This was probably made up since at the time, Congress had not convened and they were operating under the authority of the Connecticut Provincial Army. Other witnesses reported him simply responding “come out of there you god-damned old rat,” which sounds more like something Allen would say.  After a few more minutes, Delaplace exited his bedroom in full uniform, prepared to turn over his sword to the invaders without a fight.  Other soldiers had gotten to the enlisted men before they could reach their guns.  They too, surrendered without a fight.

The Patriots took the Fort in about ten minutes without a death on either side.  The only injuries came to the British guard whom Arnold had banged on the head.  One American attacker suffered a minor bayonet wound from one of the sentries.  The British though had been caught completely by surprise and did not put up any sort of defense.

Eventually the rest of the invasion force under Seth Warner made it across the Lake and joined the attackers at Fort Ticonderoga.  Arnold immediately set about dealing with the prisoners and securing the Fort and its contents.  Allen insisted that the prisoners be sent to Connecticut since he was operating under Connecticut authority.  Arnold seems to have acceded to this demand without argument.  Allen also got Captain Mott, who had received the Commission from Parsons in Connecticut to conduct this raid, to name Allen as Fort Commander, thus giving Allen some authority against Arnold’s Massachusetts Commission.

Allen’s men, however, had little interest in any efforts to organize the fort..  They discovered Captain Delaplace’s personal stash of 90 gallons of rum and proceeded to get drunk for several days.  They also began looting the fort for anything of value.  Arnold tried to stop this, only to find the men pointing their guns at him and telling him to back down.  Without any support from Allen, Arnold had no choice but to do what he could by himself and try to ignore the drunken looters all around him.  Allen’s only contribution was to give Delaplace a receipt for his rum so that Connecticut officials could reimburse him for the loss of his personal property.

Neither Allen nor Arnold wanted to leave the fort in control of the other, so neither would lead an attack on nearby Crown Point or Fort George.  Allen dispatched a smaller contingent of men under Seth Warner, to take Crown point, defended by only nine soldiers, and Fort George, defended by only two.  Like the raid on Ticonderoga, Warner and his men caught the garrisons by surprise and surrendered without any attempt to defend their forts.

After a few days, the men that Arnold’s captains had been recruiting in Western Massachusetts began to arrive.  Arnold finally had a small command independent of Allen.  At the same time, many of the Green Mountain Boys decided they had accomplished their mission and began to return home.  Allen’s force would remain intact for a few weeks longer, but would continue to hemorrhage soldiers as militiamen only stuck around as long as they wanted.

Still, the attack was a great success for the Patriots.  The main goal had been to secure artillery.  Forts Ticonderoga and Crown Point housed about 200 cannons, half of which were in usable condition for the Patriot cause.

- - -

Next Episode 60: Securing Lake Champlain

Previous Episode 58: Slavery and Liberty


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Further Reading:

Web sites:

Fort Ticonderoga Blog: http://www.fortticonderoga.org/blog

Ethan Allen Takes Fort Ticonderoga: http://www.historynet.com/the-first-american-victory-ethan-allen-takes-fort-ticonderoga.htm

Lake Champlain Maritime Museum: Revolutionary War,
http://www.lcmm.org/shipwrecks_history/history/history_revolution.htm

Bascom, Robert and James Holden “The Ticonderoga Expedition of 1775” Proceedings of the New York State Historical Association, Vol. 9 (1910), pp. 303-389: http://www.jstor.org/stable/42889435

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

Allen, Ethan A Narrative of Colonel Ethan Allen's Captivity, Burlington: H. Johnson & Co, 1838 (First written in 1779).

Arnold, Benedict Benedict Arnold's regimental memorandum book, Philadelphia: Collins 1884.

Bascom, Robert O. The Ticonderoga expedition of 1775; list of men with Ethan Allen, 1910

Chipman, Daniel Memoir of Seth Warner, Middlebury: L.W. Clark, 1848 (Also in this same volume is The Life of Ethan Allen by Jared Sparks).

Gilchrist, Helen Ives Fort Ticonderoga in history, Fort Ticonderoga Museum, 1920(?).

Hall, Hiland The capture of Ticonderoga, in 1775: a paper read before the Vermont Historical Society, Montpelier: Poland’s Steam Printing, 1869.

Hill, George C. Benedict Arnold: A Biography, Boston: E.O. Libby & Co. 1858.

Lincoln, William (ed) The journals of each Provincial congress of Massachusetts in 1774 and 1775, and of the Committee of safety, with an appendix, containing the proceedings of the county conventions-narratives of the events of the nineteenth of April, 1775-papers relating to Ticonderoga and Crown Point, and other documents, illustrative of the early history of the American revolution, Boston: Dutton and Wentworth, 1838.

Mott, Edward Papers relating to the expedition to Ticonderoga, April and May, 1775, 1860.

Trumbull, J. Hammond The origin of the expedition against Ticonderoga, in 1775: a paper read before the Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford: Reprint from Hartford Courant, 1869.

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

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

Borneman, Walter American Spring: Lexington, Concord, and the Road to Revolution, New York: Little, Brown & Co. 2014.

Hatch, Robert Thrust for Canada, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1979.

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

Phillips, Kevin 1775: A Good Year for Revolution,  New York: Penguin Books, 2012.

Randall, Willard Benedict Arnold: Patriot and Traitor, New York: William Morrow & Co., 1990 (book recommendation of the week).

Randall, Willard Ethan Allen: His Life and Times, New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1992 (book recommendation of the week).

Smith, Page A New Age Now Begins, Vol. 1, New York: McGraw-Hill 1976.

* 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 here and then browse to buy something completely different on Amazon, American Revolution Podcast will get credit for your purchase.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Episode 058: Slavery and Liberty




In 1773 and 1774, the people of Massachusetts submitted numerous petitions in defense of their rights and natural liberties.  Among these petitions were several submitted by slaves asking for an end to slavery.  The Governor and legislature rejected these petitions out of hand, if they considered them at all.  So, by themselves, they have little significance.  But they are part of a larger effort by slaves to demand reconsideration of their status in society.

The petitions give me an opportunity to talk about the status of slaves and how the Revolution began to change things.  I haven’t really discussed slavery much at all so far, and was reluctant to address it now.  Today, of course, there is near universal agreement that slavery was a bad thing. But coverage of the topic is still controversial in that failure to condemn the institution with sufficient vehemence is taken by some as somehow supporting that system.  So for the record, I’ll say at the outset that slavery, especially as practiced in the Americas, was particularly unjust, wrong, and immoral in my opinion.  The other reason I was reluctant to address it is there some really good specialized studies of American slavery that is a whole category apart from the revolution itself. My brief discussion today barely scratches the surface of this interesting topic.

That said, there were a few slavery issues during the early 1770’s that deserve attention.  Therefore, I am using this episode as a brief overview of the slavery as it existed at the beginning of the war.

Slavery in the British Empire

Just as there is a consensus today that slavery is wrong, As the colonies developed, there seemed to be a consensus that there was nothing wrong with slavery.  Before the Revolution, we find rather little debate over the notion of emancipation just about anywhere.  Slavery existed as as common practice throughout most of the world.  Few even seemed to question the practice.

George Washington and slaves (from Newslea)
The British made use of slaves throughout their empire, as did the French, Spanish, and Dutch.  Although there was not an active slave trade in England itself, many British subjects brought slaves into England from various colonies and were able to hold them in bondage.  There were no explicit statutes authorizing slavery in England, but there did not seem to be any effort to prevent the practice either.

In North America, there are a few examples of Europeans enslaving other Europeans early in the period of colonization, but these were very rare and ended quickly.  Attempts to enslave Indians failed, because Indians kept locally could run away too easily.  Shipping them to other parts of the world resulted in them dying off quickly, often before they could be sold.  So, enslavement of Africans became the norm.  There are also many examples of Indian tribes enslaving both white and black captives.  But in most cases, slaves eventually either left or became a part of the tribe.  They typically did not remain slaves, nor did their children.

Most slaves coming to America ended up in the Caribbean Islands or South America.  Only a very small percentage, less than half a million, ever came to the British colonies of North America over the entire history of the American slave trade.  Only a small percentage of that small percentage went to New England.

The bulk of the slave trade when to South American and the
Caribbean (from National Endowment for the Humanities)
Even in New England though, slavery was not particularly controversial anywhere.  It was the norm.  Today we think of slavery as a terrible infringement of liberty, and rightly so.  But the notion that all people were born with fundamental rights, including liberty, was not a common conception during the pre-enlightenment era.  Most people were born to live the life of their parents.  If your father was a tenant farmer living on rented land, that was what you would do as well.  If not required by law, a poor freeman’s options for life were pretty limited. Most people had no education and lived on subsistence wages that gave them few opportunities to change their station in life.

Many of the terrible conditions we associate with slavery, inadequate food, clothing and shelter, the threat of physical abuse if one did not satisfy the demands of one’s master, the inability to change jobs, were all things that many supposedly free commoners also experienced.  As a practical matter in daily living standards, an unskilled commoner’s life was not that far removed from actual slavery.

The spread of enlightenment ideas in the 1700’s made the slavery question more complicated.  Enlightenment thinkers held that all men were born free, with certain natural rights, liberty among them.  Even poor working people had at least a limited choice in what work they did and for whom they worked, even if exercising those choices could be risky for them.  Slavery did not even offer those basic options. How then, could one justify one subset of men born into servitude without liberty and without having done anything to deserve their status?  For most, the answer seemed to be not to think about it too much.

For those, however, who did start to think about the basic rights of man and the notion that there were some basic universal rights, slavery stood in stark contrast to those notions.  Enlightenment ideas almost necessarily brought one to the conclusion that slavery could not exist in a just society.  Making that idea a reality though, was not something that would come quickly or easily.

Pennsylvania Quakers

The first sizable group in North America that really questioned slavery was the Society of Friends, mostly in Pennsylvania, also known as the Quakers.  Historians can point to religious debates among Quakers going back to the 1600’s.  Even among Quakers though, it was not until the 1740’s that they began as a group to end participation in the slave trade, and free their own slaves.  As late as 1738, a Quaker meeting in Pennsylvania disowned one of its members, Benjamin Lay, for protesting slave ownership among its members.  It was not until 1774 that Quakers categorically forbade members from owning slaves or participating in the slave trade.  By that time, Quakers were the largest group leading the effort to end slavery.  For them, it became a fundamental moral and religious issue that combined with their enlightenment thinking.

Pennsylvania Abolition Society Seal (from PA Abolition Soc.)
Other non-Quakers also joined the movement.  Benjamin Rush, Philadelphia native who had studied medicine in Edinburgh and Paris, returned to his home ready to challenge slavery.  In 1773, he published An Address to the Inhabitants of the British Settlements in America, upon Slave-Keeping.  Rush's work challenged the practice as incompatible with enlightenment principles.  The following year, Rush founded the Pennsylvania Abolition Society in Philadelphia, with most of its early members being Quakers.  On his return from London, Benjamin Franklin also joined, becoming an early outspoken advocate of abolition.  Even so, both Rush and Franklin owned slaves for part of their lives.  Even people who questioned the practice felt the need to make use of slaves at times.  It was that pervasive.

Philadelphia became an early center of abolition.  It would eventually become the first State to pass a law explicitly abolishing slavery in 1780.

New England

Massachusetts would become a center of abolitionist sentiment in the early 1800’s.  But before and during the Revolution, it continued to support the practice with only minority opposition.

When the colonists began asserting enlightenment philosophy as a defense of their rights against Parliament, many began to think about how these ideals squared with the practice of slavery.  As early as 1764 James Otis, in his pamphlet in opposition to the Sugar Act, seemed to go out of his way to include blacks among those entitled to the rights of liberty:  “...the colonists, black and white, born here, are free born British subjects, and entitled to all the essential civil rights of such..“  Otis, though, seems to have been in a very small minority who were willing to grant both black and white colonists the same rights.

Advertisement for the sale of slaves,
Boston Gazette, 1768
(from Adverts 250)
Despite these very early and tentative first steps toward abolition, slavery remained a common practice throughout New England.  At some level, whites had to maintain the threat of brutal punishment to keep slaves in line.  In 1775, citizens of Charlestown passed by the gibbeted remains of a slave named Mark.  The slave had been hanged, twenty years earlier for attempting to kill his master.  His body remained on display for decades as a warning to other slaves.  Slavery in New England was pervasive, even if the population percentage of slaves remained much lower than the southern colonies.  Many wealthy men on both sides of the political debate on taxes owned slaves.  Even John Hancock owned slaves.

I also want to mention a largely forgotten event in New York in 1741, where colonists literally burned at the stake 17 slaves, and hanged 17 others who were accused of participating in acts of arson around town.  Again, colonists felt the need to use terror, with the absolutely horrific act of burning men to death, even with little evidence that they were guilty of the crimes accused, as a way of keeping order.  Some level of terror was critical to maintaining the slave system.

By this time, all slaves were of African descent, but not everyone of African descent was a slave.  a few Africans arrived in America as free men.  Most of these came as sailors on merchant vessels.  Others purchased their freedom or were the children of free blacks.

One of the problems for slave owners was motivating slaves to work.  Punishments might get a minimum of effort, but a motivated worker will put in extra effort.  Some owners promised slaves their eventual freedom if they met certain performance goals.  There are several notable cases in New England regarding contract disputes between a slave and master over freedom.  Courts did seem to allow slaves to bring such suits, and often awarded freedom to the slave.

Free blacks in New England tended to have the same rights as any other free men.  They participated in the militia.  In fact, some masters permitted their slaves to serve in the militia as well.  One of the militiamen wounded at Lexington was a slave named Prince Estabrook.

Despite these tentative first steps, Massachusetts was not ready to end slavery altogether.  In 1767, the colonial legislature considered bills to end slavery and the slave trade, but rejected both.  In 1771 the legislature finally passed a bill banning importation of slaves into the colony, but Gov. Hutchinson refused to sign the bill into law.

Around this same period, we see tracts being circulated more often, to end slavery or the slave trade.  If a majority was not yet ready to make the change, the debate was beginning happen.  In 1773, a group calling itself the “Sons of Affrica” petitioned Gov. Hutchinson to end the slave trade.  The Governor received another petition early in 1774 before leaving the colony.  He did not act on either of them.  When Gov. Gage arrived, he received another similar petition in the summer of 1774.  He also ignored it.

The calls for liberty and notions that colonists were at risk of becoming slaves themselves was almost laughable to the men and women held in actual slavery by these same colonists. Caeser Sarter, a Massachusetts colonist who has purchased his own freedom from slavery years earlier, wrote in a call to free the slaves in 1774 “I need not point out the absurdity of your exertions for liberty when you have slaves in your houses.”

Phillis Wheatley (from Britannica)
Another slave, Phillis Wheatley, who had a very kind and encouraging master, wrote a book of poems, while living as a slave in Boston.  Her master allowed her to travel to Britain to obtain subscriptions to get her book published.  While there, she met with Lord Dartmouth, Benjamin Franklin, and leading anti-slavery advocates to discuss the issue.  The presence of a literate slave like Wheatley went a long way toward eliminating the racist notion that blacks were somehow inherently inferior and therefore not worthy of the same basic rights that enlightenment thinkers said belonged to all men.

As I mentioned, some black men, both free and slaves, served in various New England militia.  Unlike southern colonists, New Englanders did not seem concerned about a slave uprising, probably because slaves remained a relatively small percentage of the population.

When the New England militia came together to form the Provincial Army following Lexington and Concord, many of those bearing arms against the British were African American.  Black and white troops were not segregated as happened in later generations.  Black and white men served together side by side in the same units.

Just after the Boston Tea Party, the Town Meeting of Medford, Massachusetts issued resolves like many other towns.  Medford’s resolves though included several pointing out the hypocrisy of fighting for fundamental liberties while denying those same basic rights to others.  While it would still take years to enact, the abolition movement followed closely behind the logic that sparked the Revolution.

Massachusetts would also end slavery in 1781, following a court case that held the Constitution of 1780 had outlawed slavery when it declared that all men had a right to liberty.

Southern Views

In the South, where slave populations were much larger, the issue of slavery seemed harder to reform.  Virginia had essentially banned slave trade in 1772 by placing a prohibitive tariff on the importation of new slaves.  I’ve read some arguments that this had more to do with economic and social issues than moral ones.  Planter elites did not want smaller planters purchasing lots of cheap slave labor that would compete with their own plantations.

Still, many colonial leaders in Virginia, Washington and Jefferson among them, began to talk more about the implications of slavery in light of their views on liberty.  Clearly they were uncomfortable with the contradiction, even if they were not ready to lose their fortunes through immediate abolition.

In the South, where slaves often outnumbered free men, there was always the fear of a slave revolt.  A primary purpose of the militia was its capability of putting down such a revolt.  Typically, freed blacks could not participate in militia drills.  When the patriots in Virginia began forming their own militias, they permitted black freemen to participate, but not to carry guns.  They could serve as drummers or in other non-combat roles.

When hostilities broke out, Royal Gov. Lord Dunmore threatened to foment a slave uprising against the Patriots.  He would follow through on that threat in the fall of 1775 when he issued a Proclamation offering freedom to slaves who fled their masters to fight for the British.  I plan to get into that in more detail in a future episode.  But even in the spring of 1775, Dunmore made threats that made the Patriot planter class very nervous.

Somerset v. Stewart

South Carolina had the largest percentage of slaves in its population.  Ironically, the colony’s support for slavery may have helped drive it into support for Independence.  In 1771, a Boston customs official named Charles Stewart went to London with his slave James Somerset.  Somerset tried to use the trip as an opportunity to escape into freedom.  Stewart recaptured his slave and decided to ship him off to Jamaica where he would be sold.

Lord Mansfield
(from Accessible Archives)
Several anti-slavery activists in London helped Somerset to get his case before a friendly judge.  The Judge, Lord Mansfield, ruled that it was illegal in England for a man to sell a slave abroad as punishment for escaping service.  Therefore, he granted Somerset his freedom.  Based on the limited reasoning of the case, it would have been perfectly legal for Stewart to have recaptured his slave, taken him back to Massachusetts, and then sold him there.  So it was of rather little benefit to most slaves seeking freedom. The case, however, gained notoriety on both sides of the Atlantic.  Many slaves and masters in America mistakenly took it to mean that if they traveled to England with their slaves, they could be emancipated there.

Slave owners in South Carolina, therefore, grew nervous that Parliament might simply decide to emancipate their slaves in the colonies as well. Many slave owners became more inclined to fight for the rights of colonial governments to control their own internal affairs.  They wanted to see Parliament’s authority limited and therefore sided with the Patriot faction.

David Margrett Escapes

Word of the fighting in Lexington and Concord, and word from London that officials might consider fomenting a slave uprising among the patriots raised existing fears to near panic among the white elite in South Carolina.

David Margrett, a free black preacher based in Savannah Georgia, had been preaching to slaves in the Charleston area for some time.  Margett had lived in England, and had convinced an aristocrat to finance his ministry in America.  Margrett liked to preach on Exodus particularly, and the struggle of the Jews to escape slavery in Egypt.  Local whites did not like this uncomfortable topic.  Fears over a possible revolt led locals to decide it would be best to hang him.  Fortunately for Margrett, he got advance warning and was able to flee back to England.  Other prominent blacks were not so fortunate.

Hanging Thomas Jeremiah

In the 1800s, South Carolina, along with most other southern States, passed laws to prevent free blacks from living in the State.  They feared that a free black population might eventually form the leadership of a slave revolt.

But in 1775, no such laws existed, and a very small number of free blacks lived in South Carolina.  One of them was Thomas Jeremiah, a pilot in Charleston Harbor who prospered and began to acquire a small fleet of ships.  He even owned a few slaves of his own, to help run his growing enterprise.

None of this helped him though when two slaves accused him of encouraging them to rebel.  There is almost no record of Jeremiah’s trial or the evidence against him, but it appears to be extremely scant.  Several prominent white men of Charleston, including Patriot leader Henry Laurens and the Royal governor William Campbell thought he was unfairly railroaded.

Under South Carolina law, even though Jeremiah was a free man with property, as soon as he was accused of a crime, his race required that he be tried in slave court.  There, he was considered guilty until he could prove himself innocent.  He had no right to an attorney nor even to compel witnesses in his favor to appear.

Unsurprisingly, the court found him guilty.  No appeals were allowed, and he hanged.  The Governor considered offering clemency, but decided against it after his advisors warned that releasing Jeremiah would only result in his being lynched.

So while New England and the mid-atlantic colonies were at the very beginnings of a movement to apply notions of liberty to black slaves, the deep south’s fear of a slave uprising caused them to move in the opposite direction, seeing blacks as a threat to their way of life rather than brothers in the cause of liberty.

Obviously, this issue would only grow over time.

- - -

Next Episode 59: Taking Fort Ticonderoga

Previous Episode 57: Regulars and Provincials


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American Revolution Podcast is 100% free.  If you can chip in to help defray my costs, I'd appreciate whatever you can give.  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



Visit http://www.amrevpodcast.com for a list of all episodes.

Visit https://pod.amrevpodcast.com for free downloads of all podcast episodes.


Further Reading

Web Sites 

Rediker, Markus "The Quaker Comet Was the Greatest Abolitionist You’ve Never Heard Of" Smithsonian Magazine, Sept. 2017: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/quaker-comet-greatest-abolitionist-never-heard-180964401

An Address to the Inhabitants of the British Settlements in America, upon Slave-Keeping:
http://www.recoveredhistories.org/pamphlet1.php?catid=140

Mark and Phillis Executions, 1755: http://www.celebrateboston.com/crime/puritan-mark-and-phillis-executions.htm

Orrison, Rob A Negro Man" Prince Estabrook of Lexington:  
https://emergingcivilwar.com/2015/04/15/a-negro-man-prince-estabrook-of-lexington/

Phillis Wheatley: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/phillis-wheatley

The Rise and Fall of the Slave Trade in Massachusetts By Cliff Odle (Two Parts)

https://www.thefreedomtrail.org/educational-resources/article-rise-and-fall-of-slave-trade-part1.shtml

https://www.thefreedomtrail.org/educational-resources/article-rise-and-fall-of-slave-trade-part2.shtml

Anti-Slavery before the Revolutionary War by Sylvia R. Frey
https://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/origins-slavery/essays/anti-slavery-before-revolutionary-war

African Americans and the End of Slavery in Massachusetts (Mass Historical Soc):
https://www.masshist.org/endofslavery/index.php?id=61

For petitions in Massachusetts to end slavery:
http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/fourpetitionsagainstslavery.html

Somersett v. Stewart: http://www.accessible-archives.com/2012/11/case-of-somersett-from-freedoms-journal

David Margrett (PDF): http://wrap.warwick.ac.uk/42818/1/WRAP_Lockley_9670721-hi-160114-margrettblackatlantic.pdf

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

Reports of Cases Adjudged in the Court of King's Bench 1772-1774, Dublin: James Moore, 1790 (contains opinion in Somerset v. Stewart).

Hargrave, Francis, An Argument in the Case of James Sommersett, London: self-published 1772.

Moore, George Historical notes on the employment of Negroes in the American Army of the Revolution, New York: C.T. Evans, 1862.

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

Borneman, Walter American Spring: Lexington, Concord, and the Road to Revolution, New York: Little, Brown & Co. 2014.

Davis, David B. The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, New York: Alfred Knopf, 1999.

Glibert, Alan Black Patriots and Loyalists: Fighting for Emancipation in the War for Independence, Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2012.

Harris, J. William The Hanging of Thomas Jeremiah: A Free Black Man's Encounter with Liberty,  New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2009.

McManus, Edgar Black Bondage in the North, Syracuse: Syracuse Univ. Press, 1973.

Nash, Gary The Unknown American Revolution, New York: Viking Press, 2006.

Warren, Wendy New England Bound: Slavery and Colonization in Early America, New York: Liveright, 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 here and then browse to buy something completely different on Amazon, American Revolution Podcast will get credit for your purchase.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Episode 057: Regulars and Provincials




With blood spilled at Lexington and Concord, the colonists now needed their long dreaded standing army to besiege the British in Boston.  I thought now would be a good time to take a closer look at how the British and Provincial armies compared.

Life of a British Regular

In 1775, the British military was the envy of the world.  The navy probably got more respect that the army.  By European standards, the army alone was not particularly outstanding, certainly nowhere close to the largest.  But a long tradition of combat experience had made the army a well organized and effective force to assert British policy.

The regular army of 1775 had its roots in the English Civil War, a century earlier.  Like today, the army was divided into officers and enlisted men. The divide between the two groups was even greater than it is today.

British Light Infantry
(from British Battles)
Officers, for the most part, came from the aristocracy.  Some officers served in Parliament.  Many more had brothers, fathers, or cousins in important government positions.  Most officers obtained their rank by buying them.

To the modern audience, buying a military rank might seem like a form of corruption.  But there were valid policy reasons for the practice.  It ensured that officers were men of wealth and property, not the sort who might someday be inclined to start a revolution against the aristocracy.  It also served as a bond on the officers to do their duty.  If an officer behaved badly, he could be discharged from the army.  He would lose his commission entirely, without the chance to sell it.  Selling a commission at the end of a career could also provide a retirement bonus for the retiree.  This is where we get the term “selling out” though the phrase has taken on a much more negative connotation and meaning today.

The cost of a commission depended on rank and varied widely.  But even for the lowest commissions, the cost would be more than an average laborer could earn in a decade.

To avoid having the officer corps filled with incompetent but wealthy dilettantes, several reforms during the 1700’s tried to put some restrictions on the sales of commissions, including setting maximum prices for such sales based on the rank.  In the 1770’s an officer would typically offer the commission to the most senior officer of a lower rank in his regiment.  If that officer could not afford to purchase it, the officer would sell to the next senior officer.  Even with the reforms, money and connections often allowed some officers to push past their peers for faster promotion, without regard to merit.  Some aristocrats even purchased commissions for their young children, so that they would have seniority by the time they were actually ready to serve in active duty.

British Grenadier
(from Boston 1775)
Not all officers were wealthy.  Many who entered service did so because they were the younger brothers in an aristocratic family, meaning they would inherit nothing.  While the family might support that younger brother’s career, his children and children’s children might also decide to enter service.  As distance grew between the military line and the family line that inherited all the wealth, family support became less likely.  An officer’s salary would not allow him to save enough money to buy a promotion.  Many officers stagnated in junior positions of ensign or lieutenant for decades, mostly because they could not afford to buy a position in the next grade.

During wartime, when officer deaths might open up a great many positions, promotion would sometimes be possible without costs.  Many officers engaged in conspicuous acts of daring during battle in hopes it might get them a battlefield promotion, saving them a fortune.

Top officers, full colonels and generals, did not have to purchase their commissions.  Top ranks received commissions directly from the King, approved by the ministry.

At the other end of the social ladder, enlisted men were considered the lowest of the low. Almost all of them came from the peasant class of unskilled laborers.  A large number of them came from particularly oppressed regions including Ireland and Scotland. At this time, enlistments were limited to Protestants.  Although within a few years, wartime demands allowed the enlistments of some Catholics.  Large numbers of soldiers entered the ranks after being found guilty of a crime. Enlistment in the army often avoided a death sentence.

Unscrupulous military recruiters enlisted many other soldiers.  They would get young, naive, and often drunk men to agree to an enlistment in exchange for a small amount of money.  Sometimes, recruiters would use fraud, getting a potential recruit to “take the King’s shilling” a down payment on the signing bonus for enlistment.  One commonly mentioned technique would be to buy the potential recruit a beer, and to put a shilling secretly in the bottom of the mug.  If the recruit drank the beer and the shilling touched his lips, that was considered to be acceptance of enlistment.

British Recruiter (from British Battles)
In some cases, the army did not even bother with fraudulent recruitment.  It simply impressed soldiers.  That is essentially kidnapping.  Press gangs would grab young men and force them into the army. Impressment was more common in the navy than the army, but both services used it at times.

Once enlisted, a soldier typically would serve for life, although some enlistments limited terms to a mere 21 years. Occasionally soldiers who had become too old, infirm, or injured to serve in active duty would be granted dismissal with a pension. But these were small minority. Most military enlistments ended in death or desertion. During wartime, the army would sometimes recruit for shorter terms.  For example, once London determined it needed thousands of soldiers to put down the rebellion in America, it recruited for three year enlistments.

In today's modern military, officers typically have a healthy respect for the enlisted men serving under them. In 18th century Britain, this was most certainly not the case. With few exceptions, officers treated their soldiers with contempt, or at best condescension. However recruited, enlisted men lived much like slaves.  Soldiers would do their duty and follow orders because they knew officers would punish them if they behaved otherwise.

A soldier's flogging (from Irish Garrison Towns)
Punishments were frequent and brutal, for even minor infractions. A common punishment was a public lashing, which could range from dozens of lashes to thousands, depending on the severity of the crime and the depravity of the officer making the decision.  Compare this with Massachusetts which limited lashes to a maximum of 39.  Colonists were horrified at the cruelty of military punishments.

Officers also used other painful or humiliating punishments.  It was not uncommon for a soldier to die from a punishment that was not necessarily meant to be fatal.  The army also handed out the death penalty frequently and for relatively minor offenses, including petty theft.  Any attempt to desert, especially in time of war, typically called for the death penalty.  While commanders could show clemency and set aside a death penalty, executions were common.

Pay for both officers and enlisted men was inadequate.  Many officers came from independent wealth and could afford to finance their lifestyles independently of military pay. Some officers enhanced their pay by ripping off their own soldiers.

An infantry private earned 8 pence a day, though soldiers never saw that much.  Regimental officers would deduct money for food, uniforms, and other necessities. Regimental paymasters would deduct money for their services.  After deductions, which varied widely by regiment, a private could expect to receive about 18 to 20 pence per week.  That is roughly about $15 a week in today’s inflation adjusted money.

In some cases, depending on officers and the duties they required, enlisted men could supplement their pay by taking jobs in the local community. Some also supplemented their meager food rations by growing their own vegetables or by fishing.

Any supplemental work, of course, took the backbench to their primary duties. Soldiers typically spent about 3 hours a day grooming themselves, polishing their buttons and weapons, powdering their wigs, and taking care of their uniforms. Failure to do so could subject them to punishment.  Drill, guard duty, fatigue duty, and numerous other requirements filled out their days. Leaving enlisted men to their own devices only left them time to get drunk or in fights.

Looking good was of prime importance.  Smelling good was not a requirement. Soldiers rarely bathed, and wore the same clothes everyday. Despite having their pay docked for a clothing allowance, uniforms often had to last as long as two years before they would get a replacement.

Enlisted soldiers did get married. Wives received a food allowance, but little else from the army. Many women earned extra money washing clothes, cooking food, or other domestic chores for officers or civilians. Children received a food allotment as well. However, the child's allotment only lasted until age 14. At that time a boy had the option of enlisting himself and joining the regiment as a soldier, or he would have to leave camp. Similarly a girl would be expected to get married to someone in the regiment at age 14, or she too would have to leave camp.

British Camp Followers (from tvtropes)
When a regiment shipped to a new location, the army would not always pay for the transport of wives and children.  For most enlisted men, this meant they would have to leave their families behind.  Some records show that a regiment would sometimes transport a few wives but not all, leaving it to officers to decide which men got to bring their wives and which would be separated.  If a soldier died in battle, his widow and children were often left to fend for themselves.  The government often would not even pay for their travel home from enemy territory.

Despite terrible treatment, regulars often did take pride in their regiments.  Many regimental leaders went to great lengths to remind their men of the heroic acts of those who had served in the regiment before them in prior wars.  Regiments carried these badges of honor and encouraged current soldiers to live up to that reputation.  Many enlisted men worked hard to earn promotion to corporal or sergeant, which provided them a little more money and prestige.  Non-commissioned officers were responsible for the behavior of their men.  If the private got in trouble, his NCO could be demoted back to private as well.

As a result of the terrible treatment, enlisted men often did not always feel a strong patriotic loyalty to the army or Britain in general.   Desertions were common, and not just for fear of battle.  Many soldiers simply wanted a better life after experiencing the rigors of the regular army.  Prisoners captured in battle often frequently gave up intelligence to the enemy, sometimes even agreeing to fight for the enemy in hopes of securing better treatment for themselves.

What separated a professional army from others was its courage in battle.  It is not natural for men to stand in line shoulder to shoulder and calmly walk forward as people shoot at them.  But that was the only way to bring concentrated fire against an enemy and win the field.  If a soldier fell, no one would stop to help him.  Soldiers would simply close ranks and continue on.  Following orders and calmly doing one’s duty under fire was possible only from months or years of drill followed by battlefield experience.

British Regiment of Foot (from British Battles)
Success in battle also required fire control.  When someone is shooting at you, the natural instinct is to shoot back.  Inexperienced soldiers would often want to fire from hundreds of yards away.  The inaccuracy of muskets at that time made hitting even a line of men at that distance quite improbable.  Reloading could waste 20-30 seconds.  Also, stopping to fire during an advance could break up the line and lead to chaos.  Experienced soldiers knew to maintain lines at all costs.  They would march to just within firing range, maybe 50 yards, wait for an enemy to fire, then charge the line so they could attack hand to hand before the enemy could reload.

Field officers had to lead by example.  They ignored enemy fire and calmly ordered soldiers to advance across the battlefield. Showing any reaction to enemy bullets flying around one was considered an act of cowardice that would quickly turn a line of soldiers into a fleeing rabble.  Officers and men standing in line, apparently unconcerned by incoming fire and returning fire at a rapid rate of three rounds per man per minute would hopefully quickly convince the other side to retreat, thus granting a battlefield victory.

Modern armies attempt to adhere to the motto of “no man left behind.”  Modern soldiers even go to great efforts to remove the bodies of their dead before leaving a field of battle.  There was no such concept in the armies of the 1770’s.  Soldiers frequently left dead and wounded behind.  There was more of an effort to rescue wounded officers.  But the thinking in an 18th century army was that soldiers were expendable.  Compassion for a comrade in battle was a weakness that would quickly weaken the line as a fighting force.  After a battle, soldiers would make some effort to help the wounded when possible.  But it was not the primary concern that it is in most modern armies.

The British army had no professional medical corps to tend to the wounded, nor did it have any organized religious corps for the men.  After a battle, commanding officers would try to do their best for the dead and wounded.  But too often, the dead and wounded simply were not a priority.

The Provincial Army

The new Provincial army of New England had evolved from the British militia system that had existed since the first British colonists landed in North America.  Almost all free men between the ages of 16 and 50 served in local militias.  Royal governors granted commissions to officers.  Everyone in the militia had to supply their own arms and ammunition, and usually show up for drill four times each year.  In times of war, or imminent war, militia might drill more frequently.

Militia would sometimes fight local battles on their own, often against Indians.  Other times, they would supplement and fight alongside regulars when fighting came to their colony.  Sometimes militia would travel with regulars to neighboring colonies, but this was not the norm.  Militia typically remained close to home, fighting when needed and quickly returning to civilian life when hostilities ceased or fighting moved to another theater.  Militia might also capture runaway slaves, or when needed in rare instances, put down a slave rebellion.  At a time when professional police did not exist, militia might also provide law enforcement functions when needed, capturing suspected criminals or restoring order when it became too much for the sheriff.

Militia in battle (from Journal of American Revolution)
When the colonies began to break with Britain, they could not rely on royal governors to appoint officers.  In the republican spirit of the times, enlisted men voted for their officers and NCO’s.  If an officer failed to meet the men’s expectations, they could dismiss him and elect someone else.  As a result, patriot officers were on much friendlier terms with the enlisted men.  The men lived and worked together.  An officer might be in command of his brother, son, or cousins.  This made the chain of command far less certain.  An officer could punish a soldier for doing something everyone thought wrong, such as stealing or shirking duty.  But if the consensus was that an officer was too overbearing or exacted too harsh a punishment, he could find himself out of a job.

A great many officers did not get overly concerned about presentation.  Most soldiers wore civilian clothing and did not seem terribly concerned about keeping their camps, clothes, or even themselves very clean.  As there were almost no women present at the siege of Boston, the men had no one to clean and sew for them.  As a result, they wore clothes for weeks or months until the filthy rags literally fell off them.  Some officers did require their men to maintain themselves with good appearance, but these seem to be more the exception than the rule.

General officers received appointments from the Provincial Congress.  By the summer of 1775, all the colonies had provincial congresses operating in opposition to royal authority.  Each colonial Congress, though, had its own army.  The Massachusetts Provincial Congress called for a New England Army of 30,000 to besiege Boston after Lexington and Concord, with just under half coming from Massachusetts.  Three other armies, from New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode Island joined the siege of Boston.  There was, however, no way to force officers and men from one colony to obey orders from a leader in another.  Officers had to convince units that orders made sense and were reasonable.

The result was chaos.  Top officers would meet in conference to try to coordinate strategy, but there was no top down command structure nor any real enforcement of discipline.  Units could come and go at will.  Many soldiers after a few days or weeks wanted to return home for planting season, or maybe just to get their clothes cleaned.  Entire companies might decide they had better things to do and simply leave. Leaders eventually convinced a core of units to commit to remaining on duty until the end of the year.  That helped a little, but many continued to come and go despite their agreement.

Militiaman
(from Hist of Am. Wars)
That enlisted men thought they had a say in things proved greatly frustrating for many officers.  But it also meant that the committed soldiers were there to fight for reasons beyond mere obedience to a superior.  They would often fight aggressively or take their own initiative without orders.  This meant that soldiers or junior officers could second guess orders that made little sense given what was in front of them at the moment.  Sometimes, this could lead to chaos.  But given the inexperience of many general officers, this disobedience often benefited the cause.

Most units also came from the same town.  Since they elected their officers, they often already had a longstanding shared respect for their leaders.  Good behavior came about from the fact that your fellow soldiers were your friends, neighbors, and even relatives.  A soldier would not want to develop a reputation as a coward or shirker among his peers.  These informal relationships helped to keep the Provincial soldiers in line.

Most New England militia had participated in at least weekly drills for the prior year, anticipating the need for a fight.  As a result, the militia in 1775 were much better trained that most traditional militia, though still not as well trained as the regulars.

While a more professional Continental Army would develop over time, in the spring of 1775, the small highly professional British Army in Boston faced a much larger group of amateurs surrounding them.  Some Patriot officers had experience fighting in combat during the French and Indian war.  Many though, had no practical experience in combat.  They had drilled militia.  Some had read a few books on military strategy.  Very few had much if any any practical experience.

What held everyone together was the shared view that they needed to stand up against British tyranny.  Unlike British enlisted regulars, patriot soldiers voluntarily put themselves under the command of their officers in order to further the cause of protecting their freedom.  They each had a personal motivation to further the cause.

- - -

Next Episode 58: Slavery and Liberty

Previous Episode 56: The Shot Heard Round the World


Click here to donate
American Revolution Podcast is 100% free and completely ad free.  If you can chip in to help defray my costs, I'd appreciate whatever you can give.  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



Visit http://www.amrevpodcast.com for a list of all episodes.

Visit https://pod.amrevpodcast.com> for free downloads of all podcast episodes.

Further Reading

Web Sites: 

A Soldier of the King: http://www.americanrevolution.org/britsol.php

Join the British Army (Student project on 18th Century Enlistment) http://umich.edu/~ece/student_projects/soldier/index.html

Garrison Life in the 18th Century: http://www.heritage.nf.ca/articles/exploration/garrison-life-18-century.php

Officers in the 17th and 18th Centuries: http://www.historynet.com/league-of-gentlemen-officers-of-the-17th-and-18th-centuries.htm

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

Abbatt, William (ed) Memoirs of Major-General Heath, New York: William Abbatt 1901 (originally published by William Heath, 1798).

Bolton, Charles (ed) Letters of Hugh, Earl Percy, from Boston and New York, 1774-1776,  Boston: Charles E. Goodspeed, 1902.

Curtis, Edward E. The Organization of the British Army in the American Revolution, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1926

Dana, Elizabeth Ellery (ed) John Barker diary - The British in Boston, 1774-1776, 1924.

French, Allen (ed) A British Fusilier in Revolutionary Boston, by Lt. Frederick Mackenzie, Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1926.

Frothingham, Richard History of the Siege of Boston, Boston: Little Brown & Co. 1903.

Williamson, John A Treatise of Military Finance, London: The Military Library,  1796.

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

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

Berkovich, Ilya Motivation in War: The Experience of Common Soldiers in Old-Regime Europe,  Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2017, 2017,

Borneman, Walter American Spring: Lexington, Concord, and the Road to Revolution, New York: Little, Brown & Co. 2014.

Bunker, Nick An Empire on the Edge, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.

Chandler, David (ed) Oxford Illustrated History of the British Army, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Hogg, Ian V. and Batchelor, John H. Armies of the American Revolution, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall Inc. 1975 (book recommendation of the week).

Philbrick, Nathaniel Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution, New York: Penguin Books, 2013.

Phillips, Kevin 1775: A Good Year for Revolution,  New York: Penguin Books, 2012.

Raphael, Ray & Marie The Spirit of ‘74: How the American Revolution Began, New York: The New Press, 2015.

Smith, Page A New Age Now Begins, Vol. 1, New York: McGraw-Hill 1976.

Spring, Matthew H. With Zeal and With Bayonets Only: The British Army on Campaign in North America, 1775-1783, Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 2010


Urban, Mark The Fusiliers: The Saga of a British Redcoat Regiment in the American Revolution, New York: Walter & Co. 2007.

* 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 here and then browse to buy something completely different on Amazon, American Revolution Podcast will get credit for your purchase.