Sunday, November 11, 2018

Episode 70: Ousted Governors & Bermuda Powder Raid

Last week, I talked about how the southern colonies had all chased off their Royal Governors during the summer and fall of 1775.  It then occurred to me that I ought to do the same for the rest of the colonies to make clear the entire continent was up in arms.


Massachusetts, of course, was the epicenter of the rebellion.  I’ve already discussed that colony’s situation in past episodes. The siege of Boston that bottled up the regular army, also restricted the head of that army, Gen. Thomas Gage, who was also Governor of Massachusetts.  When the orders from London arrived in September to recall him, the Governor left, never to return.  I will talk about that more next week.   The bottom line is that outside of Boston, Britain had no control in the colony and the Governor had to leave.

New Hampshire

Gov. John Wentworth
(from Wikimedia)
In New Hampshire, Gov. John Wentworth faced increasing hostility from the local patriots.   He kept a low profile after Lexington and Concord.  On June 13, a mob surrounded his house in search of a loyalist militia officer.

After that, Wentworth and his family moved to the relative safety of Fort William and Mary.  Remember, that’s the fort which the militia had little problem capturing twice in one week the year before.  I discussed that back in Episode 51.

 It still had a small military garrison but also now had the backing of a Navy ship just offshore.  By August, the fort seemed threatened anyway, Wentworth sent his family to London and joined Gen. Gage in Boston.  The fort garrison left in September, leaving New Hampshire completely under patriot control.

Rhode Island

Rhode Island had an elected Governor, not appointed by the King, which assured some local popularity.  Even so, Gov. Joseph Wanton of Rhode Island was a Quaker and deemed too loyalist for the patriot population.

Wanton won reelection in May 1775, just weeks after Lexington and Concord, though his new Lt. Gov. Nicolas Cooke was a committed patriot. Wanton refused to raise an army to fight against the British in Boston, nor commission militia officers.  The patriot controlled Assembly did not impeach him.  It simply decided he was not Governor anymore and allowed Cooke to assume the duties of Governor.  Wanton remained in Rhode Island, maintaining a strict neutrality.  He continued to live in the colony as a private citizen until his death in 1780.


Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull was also elected.  Unlike Gov. Wanton in Rhode Island, Trumbull gave his full support to the patriot cause.  Several of his sons joined the Continental Army and he worked hand in hand with the patriots in his colony to further the patriot cause.  As a result, he continued in office for another decade.  He would be the only colonial governor to transition to state governor.  There was however no royal authority in the colony.

New York

New York was a little more complicated.  Although the patriots had largely taken over in the days following Lexington and Concord, the Royal Navy maintained a large presence in New York Harbor.  Several hundred regulars also remained in New York City. Royal Governor William Tryon had taken a trip to London in 1774.  He was still away when patriots took control of the colony. Unlike New England, New York still had a vocal and active loyalist faction during the summer of 1775.  Gov. Tryon returned to a divided New York City on June 25 1775.  That same day, Gen. Washington also arrived in the city, on his way to Boston to take command of the Continental Army.  Both men received separate welcoming committees.

New York City (battery at far left)
(from Library of Congress)
Tryon realized he had lost all political control, but attempted to serve the King as best he could.  He remained in the city, but under the constant protection of a small detachment of regulars.

On July 20, patriots under the command of radical New York leader Isaac Sears seized the contents of the Royal Armory at Turtle Bay.  They removed the munitions to Connecticut for use in the patriot cause.  The raid was an embarrassment to the Royal Navy still sitting in New York Harbor.  The British went on alert for future patriot efforts to size munitions.

On August 23, a raiding party under orders from the NY Provincial Congress, attempted to take control of twenty-one canon from the battery stationed at the southern tip of Manhattan.  British troops exchanged fire with one British regular killed.  The navy ship Asia fired several broadsides at the raiders.  The cannon fire damaged several buildings in Manhattan, resulting in many New Yorkers fleeing the city.  They feared it would become more of a battlefield in the future.

About that same time, the Continental Congress ordered the arrest of any royal officials who refused to support the patriot cause.  The NY Provincial Congress, however, refused to arrest Gov. Tryon.  Although patriots controlled the city, they feared the navy would level the city if they kidnapped the Royal Governor.

Gov. Tryon stuck it out until October, when he finally accepted that remaining in the city was just too risky.  On October 19, Tryon boarded the British sloop the Halifax.  He remained on board, attempting to perform his duties as Governor, and receiving guests.  He would sit in New York Harbor until the British invasion the following year.  At that point, he could return to the city with the tens of thousands of British regulars that occupied New York.

New Jersey

New Jersey patriots formed a Provincial Congress in May 1775.  Like New York, the State had both strong patriot and loyalist factions.

The Royal Governor William Franklin remained in the colony throughout 1775 as did the loyalist, or at least more moderate General Assembly.  It may be because Franklin’s father was the famous patriot Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin might be able to lure his son to the patriot cause.  Gov. Franklin, however, remained a committed loyalist.

NJ Gov. William Franklin
(from Wikimedia)
In November, the NJ Assembly considered sending its own petition to the King seeking a peaceful solution.  The Continental Congress, which had already received the King’s rejection of its own Olive Branch Petition, sent a rebuke to the New Jersey legislature for attempting its own petition.  Without context, New Jersey’s effort might have seemed reasonable to many.  The King rejected the Olive Branch Petition because it did not recognize Congress as a legitimate entity.  But the King would have no such reason for rejecting a petition from the Royal Government in New Jersey.  The King though, had also made clear he was in no mood for diplomacy by this point.  The Continental Congress sent a delegation to the New Jersey Assembly, headed by John Dickinson, to talk them out of a petition.  Dickinson the moderate delivered the message that the time for talk was over and we had to fight now.  He argued the King had declared war and that New Jersey sending a petition at this point would make the colonies seem weak and divided.  Dickinson also carried the implied message that the Continental Congress would take the exclusive power of negotiating with London for the protection of colonial rights.  So this was a big step, and a surprising one for a man like Dickinson.  He did, however, convince the Assembly not to send a petition.

The New Jersey petition attempt indicated that the colony was not solidly on board with the patriot cause.  It may be another reason NJ patriots allowed the Royal Governor to remain in power.  That finally came to end early the following year when the New Jersey Provincial Congress finally put the Governor under house arrest in January 1776.  Later, they moved him to a prison in Connecticut.  Eventually, the patriots turned over the Governor to the British as part of a prisoner exchange.

Pennsylvania & Delaware

Pennsylvania, with an elected assembly, had a relatively smooth transition to the patriot cause.  The Penn family held the office of Proprietor, which acted as Governor, since the colony’s founding.  The King made no appointments.  The Penn family simply owned the colony.

Proprietor Thomas Penn, son of founder William Penn, died in London in March 1775. His nephew, John Penn had been running the colony in his father’s name for years.  John Penn seemed to support the patriot cause generally.  He carried the Olive Branch Petition to the King in 1775.  Penn stayed in London after delivering the petition.  He remained governor in name only until independence in 1776 ended the proprietorship of the Colony.  Delaware also fell under the control of the Pennsylvania Proprietor until its independence in 1776.


Maryland Royal Governor Robert Eden had been born in England, but he had married the daughter of Maryland’s proprietor and was well respected in the colony.  He had been supportive of colonial rights since taking office in 1769, but as governor could not support armed opposition to the King.

Sir Robert Eden
(from Wikimedia)
The patriot-backed Annapolis Convention took effective control of the colony in 1775, and asked Eden to step down. Though he refused to resign formally, he took no steps to prevent the Assembly from running the colony as they saw fit.  When the Continental Congress ordered his arrest in the fall of 1775, the Assembly refused, allowing him to remain as the nominal governor.  Eden stuck it out until June 1776, before finally boarding a British navy ship and returning to England.

Ok, so with that, the thirteen colonies that would found the United States were entirely or mostly under patriot control by the end of the summer of 1775.  It is not necessarily that the majority of Americans in each colony supported the patriot cause.  It seems more that the patriot factions were more active and organized in each colony.


I have not discussed the southernmost British colony in North America, Florida.  East and West Florida had become British at the end of the French and Indian War.  Spain gave the Floridas to Britain as part of the price of getting back Cuba.  Although the Spanish had a colony at St. Augustine for over 200 years, the European population of East Florida was tiny, about 3000 Europeans, 2000 of which lived in St. Augustine.  West Florida (capital Pensacola) had a population of about 6000, but was far more removed from the rest of the colonies.

Gov. Patrick Tonyn
(from Swanbourne History)
The British army kept one regiment at St. Augustine as its southern command.  But really no one was flocking to the colony in any great numbers.  Floridians did not seem to share the outrage of their fellow colonists to the north.  They had willingly paid the Stamp tax and other taxes that had created showdowns in the other colonies.  The small population of planters showed no interest in being a part of any rebellion.  The Royal Governor Patrick Tonyn served without interruption until the end of the war.

As a result, Florida remained firmly in the loyalist camp.  Over the course of the war, many loyalists, particularly from the southern colonies would flee to Florida, increasing its population to around 17,000.  But in 1775, Florida was a tiny backwater.  Gen. Gage even ordered part of the single regiment left in Florida to provide reinforcements for him in Boston.  As a result, the British military presence in Florida sunk to a token level of a couple of hundred men.

In addition to being a destination for fleeing loyalists, St. Augustine served as a prisoner of war camp during the Revolution.  Later in the war, the Spanish would begin looking at ways to recover Florida.  That is a topic for future episodes.

In 1775, Florida remained pretty quiet.  One exception to this came on August 7 when an armed sloop from Georgia called the Commerce discovered a British transport vessel named the Betsy was sailing to St. Augustine with a large supply of gunpowder.  The Commerce spotted the Betsy at night and came alongside her with only a few black crew members remaining above deck.  The watchman on the Betsy assumed it was a cargo ship run by slaves and did not alert the sleeping crew.  Once alongside, the Georgians captured the crew and unloaded around 170 barrels of gunpowder before making their escape.

The only other North American colony under British control was Canada.  I’ll get into more details about that when I discuss the invasion of Canada.  But for now, I’ll just say that like Florida, Canada remained pretty solidly in the loyalist camp.

Bermuda Gunpowder Raid

Britain also had a few island colonies in the area.  Today, I only plan to talk about one of them, the small island of Bermuda, where patriots conducted a raid over the summer of 1775.

As I mentioned in an earlier episode, Washington arrived in Cambridge to find that his army had almost no gunpowder at all, not even enough to fight one significant battle.  He immediately began a desperate search for powder anywhere he could find it, while trying to keep the shortage a secret.  If the British discovered the shortage, the regulars in Boston might simply march out and route continentals, who would probably be unable to shoot back for very long.

Bermuda (from Jrnl of Am Rev)
Washington was able to scrape up some munitions from other colonial stockpiles, and smugglers were making every effort to bring back powder from Europe.  But getting more powder was slow, and supplies acquired were small.  You can really feel for Washington’s position when your read some of his letters at this time.  He practically begs anyone to send anything.  The search for powder went anywhere in the world that could serve as a possible source.

Bermuda was a small relatively isolated British colony to the north of the West Indies.  It is a tiny island, actually a group of islands, totaling about 20 square miles of land.  Bermuda as a colony had developed on trade, well actually piracy for most of its history, hitting French and Spanish ships in the West Indies. Today we would call the pirates of the Caribbean.  The island also developed a strong ship building trade and became a major exporter of salt.  Much of the salt was collected from shallows on the nearby Turks Islands, which Bermuda had been disputing with the Bahamas for decades.

Bermuda’s governor George James Bruere, a former British Army officer had governed the Island for more than a decade.  Like any royal governor, he strongly supported the King and the government in London.  Gov. Bruere’s son, Lt. John Bruere died while storming Bunker Hill in June. Another son, Lt. George Bruere was wounded in the same battle.  This probably did nothing to endear Gov. Bruere to the colonial cause.

Slaves made up a majority of the island population.  The remainder were mostly British colonists who tended to support the patriot cause.  The colonists on Bermuda had gone through most of the same annoying attempts at taxation that had raised the ire of their fellow colonists in North America.  Bermuda also had close relations to the North American colonies for trade.  Bermuda Council President, Henry Tucker had two brothers living in Virginia, both of whom sided with the patriots. He was especially sympathetic to the cause.

The problem for Bermuda was one of geography.  Even though many on the island supported the patriots, they could not join the patriot cause because the British Navy could very easily cut off the entire island.  The island was completely dependent on outside trade for food. Bermudans imported nearly 90% of the food that they ate.  Almost all of this food came from the North American colonies.

Henry Tucker (Sr)
(from Bernews)
Once the Continental Congress banned all trade with the British West Indies, Bermuda had to find another source of food or face massive starvation.  Most of the other islands in the West Indies were also net-importers of food since they mostly grew cash crops.  So trading with other British islands wasn’t an option, and trade with anyone outside the British Empire was also banned.

Tucker had his brother in Virginia start a correspondence with Thomas Jefferson about the problems the island faced without trade.  Eventually Tucker’s father, also named Henry, travelled from Bermuda to Philadelphia to meet directly with Congress on the issue.  In informal discussions with Benjamin Franklin and Robert Morris on the Secret Committee set up to secure munitions for the Continental Army assured Tucker that if he could smuggle munitions to the patriots, they would be permitted to trade for food to bring back to Bermuda.  In July, the Congress passed a general rule stating that ships bringing munitions would be exempt from the trade embargo.  They did not single out Bermuda because they did not want to bring attention to them, but it was clearly done in response to Tucker’s negotiations.

Bermuda, of course, could not simply send the powder to the Continental Congress without getting in big trouble with London.  Instead, the two groups appear to have concocted a sham “raid” where the Continentals would take the powder while Bermuda officials closed their eyes, then provide secret compensation later.

The exact details of the raid are unclear.  But Bermuda had a powderhouse with over 100 barrels of gunpowder.  Like most powderhouses, it was built on a relatively isolated area near the coast since no one liked living near a building that was packed with explosives.  On the night of August 14, a group of men broke into the powderhouse and removed most of the barrels.  As this was thousands of pounds, it would have taken a large number of men to pull it off in matter of hours.

Harbor at St. George Bermuda
(from Wikimedia)
A ship with a Virginia registry The Lady Catherine took the powder back to Philadelphia, and presumably left the locals who had assisted with a supply of food or other items of value in trade.  Later, Henry Tucker’s brother, St. George, admitted that he had been among the crew that had seized the powder for the Patriots.

The Governor reported that both The Lady Catherine and another ship from South Carolina were spotted in the area, but neither had landed at a port on the island.  Presumably the crew used smaller boats to move the powder out to the ship at sea.  It turned out the South Carolina ship had nothing to do with the raid, but is mentioned in many of the contemporary accounts.

The raid was such a secret that even George Washington did not know about it.  For several months after the raid, Washington corresponded with the Governor of Rhode Island trying to develop plans for a raid of his own on Bermuda.  He even wrote a letter to the patriots in Bermuda in September asking for their cooperation in getting their powder to his army in Cambridge.  He did not know that the armory was by that time pretty much empty due to the successful raid by the crew of The Lady Catherine and that most of the powder was already on its way to his army.

Henry Tucker clearly was involved in the raid, but never got in trouble.  Possibly the fact that he married the Royal Governor’s daughter encouraged everyone to sweep the incident  under the rug.  After these events, Bermuda accepted that it had to side with Britain.  The Navy’s control of the seas meant that it would not get regular food imports unless the British allowed it.  As a British colony, many loyalists immigrated to the island during the war, tilting the population more to the loyalist side.  Later in the war, Bermuda made a fortune as a base for privateers raiding American merchant vessels.

- - -

Next Week Episode 71 Britain Prepares to Crush a Rebellion (available Nov. 18, 2018)

Last Week Episode 69 The South Joins the War

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.  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 for a list of all episodes.

Visit for free downloads of all podcast episodes.

Further Reading


NYC 1775:

East Florida as a Refuge of Southern Loyalists 1774-1785, by Wilbur Seibert:

British East Florida, 1763-1783:

The Bermuda Gunpowder Plot:

The Bermuda Gunpowder Raids, by Hugh T. Harrington, Journal of the American Revolution (2014):

Free eBooks
(from unless noted)

Dawson, Henry B. (ed) New York City during the American Revolution : being a collection of original papers (now first published) from the manuscripts in the possession of the Mercantile Library Association, of New York City, New York: Mercantile Library Association of the City of New-York, 1861.

Kaye, John Life And Corresponding Of Henry St.George Tucker, by John Kaye (1872).

Mayo, Lawrence Shaw John Wentworth, Governor of New Hampshire, 1767-1775, Cambridge: Harvard Univ Press, 1921.

Stuart, I.W. Life of Jonathan Trumbull Sen., Governor Of Connecticut, Boston: Crocker and Brewster, 1859.

Trumbull, Jonathan Jonathan Trumbull, Governor of Connecticut, 1769-1784, Boston: Little Brown & Co. 1919 (author is the great great grandson of the subject).

Whitehead, William A Biographical Sketch of William Franklin, NJ Historical Society, 1849.

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)*

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

Ketchum, Richard Divided Loyalties: How the American Revolution Came to New York, New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2002.

Marsh, Michael The Defining Story of Bermuda's Great Gunpowder Plot 1775, Yellow Toadstool Press, 2016 (book recommendation of the week).

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

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

* 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, November 4, 2018

Episode 069: The South Joins the War

By summer 1775, the war centered around Boston or New England, with some action out in New York around Ticonderoga.  Many in London thought the rebellion could be contained to New England.  However, just as they thought the New England problem was only the result of a few bad apples, the Ministry once again underestimated the geographic scope of the problem.  So today I will give an overview of the situation in the southern colonies.

Virginia Gov. Dunmore Flees

When we last left Virginia Governor Lord Dunmore in May 1775, he had tried to take possession of colonial powder.  This led to Patrick Henry, leading 1000 militia to confront him.  Although they resolved that incident without bloodshed, Dunmore realized he was no longer safe in Williamsburg.  In June, he relocated to his hunting lodge in York County.  After a few weeks, the militia again came looking for the Governor.  Following a brief firefight, Dunmore escaped with his family, but not before taking a shot in the leg.  Without any Regulars to protect him, Dunmore took refuge with the navy aboard the HMS Fowey.  He stayed on the Fowey for several weeks.  After confirming that Norfolk remained under Loyalist control, he set up a base of operations there.

Lord Dunmore
(from Wikimedia)
In early June, about the same time Dunmore sought protection aboard the Fowey, Patriots broke into the Williamsburg armory, taking 400 guns. In July, Dunmore reported to London that Patriots had taken over the Governor’s residence in Williamsburg and converted the capital into a barracks for patriot militia.  As Dunmore put it: “the People of Virginia manifest open Rebellion by every means in their power, and declare at the Same time that they are his Majesty's Most dutyfull subjects.

Although the patriots controlled Williamsburg, the Third Virginia Convention, effectively now the patriot-run government in the colony, met again in Richmond.   It ordered the creation of two military regiments, appointed Patrick Henry the commander of Virginia’s new patriot army, and enforced the trade restrictions supported by the Continental Congress.

The Battle of Hampton

In late August and early September, mother nature impacted the war through what became known as the Independence Hurricane.  The storm devastated coastal communities in the southern colonies, killing hundreds.  It moved out to sea, leaving only rain for Philadelphia and Boston, but destroyed much of British-controlled Newfoundland.  The storm destroyed about 25 ships, mostly British navy and supply ships.   Among them was a British supply ship called the Liberty, which ran ashore near Hampton, Virginia.  Local patriots looted the ship of all supplies and then burned it to the water line.

British Cartoon showing Viginia loyalists
forced to join the Virginia Association
(from Wikimedia - Orig. British Museum)
Dunmore had set up his headquarters just across the river from Hampton, at Norfolk.  He took the raid on the Liberty as an affront, and demanded the rebels return their stolen supplies.  They said they would return the supplies when Dunmore returned their runaway slaves, which he refused to do.

While the British could not control much land in Virginia, they could control the seas.  They had enough ships to launch raids along the coast and up rivers capturing or destroying rebel property.  With this force, Dunmore raided Hampton.  It would be the largest town in Virginia that the Navy ever attempted to raid.

To prevent such an action, patriots had sunk several ships at the mouth of the Hampton River, blocking any larger ships from passing over the wreckage.  Patriots in Williamsburg also sent a regiment to defend Hampton.

On October 26, the British Navy exchanged fire with patriot militia at the mouth of the Hampton river.  After sunset, they attempted a night raid to break up the blockade on the river. The next morning two small British warships and some smaller support ships made their way to Hampton, unleashing the Royal Marines to destroy the town.  On earlier raids, the British relied on the locals fleeing in terror as a relatively small number of marines sacked the town.  At Hampton though, the Virginia militia from Williamsburg defended their ground.  The regiment included riflemen who could pick off marines on the ground, or any sailors aboard ship who might try to fire a cannon.  The two sides exchanged fire from protected defenses, with neither willing to risk a full on charge against the other line.  As a result, there were only a handful of casualties on either side.

The patriots also captured two small landing craft, taking 10 British prisoners and killing one.  Eventually, the British pulled back down the Hampton River and across the James River to Norfolk.  For Dunmore, the raid was a frustrating failure that only encouraged the patriot cause in the colony.

North Carolina Gov. Martin Flees

North Carolina Governor Josiah Martin also came under attack by patriots shortly after word of Lexington and Concord reached the colony.  Following that attack in late April, Martin sent his family to stay with relatives in New York, while he relocated to Fort Johnston, a small fort near the mouth of the Cape Fear River.  By May, patriots controlled the colony.

Mecklenburg Resolves

Having taken control, people wanted to proclaim their freedom from British rule. North Carolina often brags that it produced the first “Declaration of Independence” more than a year before Congress came around to releasing the famous declaration in 1776.  It refers to the Mecklenburg Resolves.  In late May 1775, after receiving word of the fighting in Lexington and concord, the Committee of Safety in Mecklenburg County North Carolina issues a set of resolves.  Now just about every revolutionary committee on the continent was issuing resolves around this time.  Everyone was stirred up by the fighting and wanted to define what they were fighting for.  Mecklenburg stands out though as one of the first calling rather clearly for independence.

NC Gov. Josiah Martin
(from NCpedia)
The Mecklenburg Resolves proclaimed that all British civil and military authority in the colonies was now null and void, with that power passing to the Continental Congress.  Until such time as Congress could produce a whole new legal code, the Resolves went on to set up a militia, which would also perform the duties of civil government.

This really was a radical step to take, long before even the Massachusetts Provincial Congress was willing to nullify all British rule.  For this reason, many claim that history should praise Mecklenburg for its leadership on independence.

The reality though is that the Mecklenburg Resolves were not that significant at the time, at least not outside of Mecklenburg.  They did not get much press or publicity.  Most members of the Continental Congress never even heard of them at the time.  Therefore, they had little impact on the overall movement toward independence.

What does make them interesting is that it shows that the southern colonies did have a significant radical patriot faction among them that was ready for independence by the summer of 1775.  It also shows that people even outside of radical New England were fast reaching the conclusion that compromise with the King and Parliament really was not an option.  Protection of liberties in America would require a clean break.

Tryon Resolves

Mecklenburg was not unique in its expression of outrage of British behavior in Massachusetts.  Nearby Tryon County issued its own set of Resolves a few months later.  Like Mecklenburg, Tryon also condemned the actions of the British in Massachusetts.  It also agreed to form a military organization to resist attacks on their liberty.  Tryon did not go so far as to explicitly void all government and laws, but it did make clear they were ready to go to war with the British authorities.

These resolves showed that the patriot movement in the south was alive and growing.  Soon, actual fighting in the south would reinforce those sentiments.

Capture of Fort Johnston

Governor Martin could find barely enough Tories to provide himself with a personal guard, let alone raise an army to take on the Patriot militia in the colony.  Gov. Martin set up a base of operations at Fort Johnston on the coast. From there, he sent out messengers to inform slaves that he was willing to arm them and allow them to fight for their freedom.

Fort Johnston (from
The North Carolina Committee of Safety under the command of Cornelius Harnett and John Ashe kept tabs on Martin’s activities.  Given the large number of slaves in the colony, the possibility of a slave revolt was something that really kept the white colonists up at night.  Upon learning about his attempts to arm the slaves, they moved to capture the Governor and prevent any attempt to start a slave revolt.

Martin was prepared for this. He removed the fort’s cannons and positioned them along the shore, where they sat under the protection of the naval ship HMS Cruizer.   On July 18, several hundred patriot militia stormed the fort and burned it to the ground.  They were unable to capture Martin or the ship’s guns, as storming the guns looked like suicide.  Martin took up residence aboard the Cruizer and remained at sea.  The handful of British regulars at the fort also escaped and joined the main British force in Boston.  Martin remained off the coast.  He sent reports to his superiors that he still believed he could raise a large force of loyalists to retake the colony, but could not organize such a force without help from a large force of regulars that the militia could rally around.  For now he sat and waited.

SC Gov. Campbell Arrives

When word of Lexington and Concord reached South Carolina, patriots had already effectively taken control of the government and the colonial arsenals.  Lt. Gov. William Bull nominally led the colony as the Governor had resigned and returned to London in 1773.  Bull was loyal to the crown but did not seem to put up any resistance to anything the patriots did.

On June 14, 1775, the patriots effectively formed a new government for the colony in the new Council of Safety.  It first focused on military matters in the colony, but soon took on pretty much all executive authority.

Gov. William Campbell
(from Wikimedia)
A few days later, on June 18, a new Royal Governor, William Campbell arrived.  Campbell was a member of Parliament and also a career naval officer.  During the French and Indian War he had visited South Carolina and married a local woman.  This may have motivated him to seek the governorship there when it became available.

No one seemed to know how to respond to the new governor’s arrival.  The Patriots had not officially overthrown the colonial government.  They were essentially ignoring it.  Gov. Campbell met a reception of patriot militia at the dock.  He did not get any of the usual welcomes or celebrations attending a new royal governor, but they didn’t arrest him for force him to leave either.

Campbell assumed the governorship, but knew he had no real control over the colony.  A few days later, the patriots sent him an address that informed him that they were all still loyal subjects of the crown but that the had taken up arms to defend attacks on their life, liberty, and property.  Campbell was not sure how to take the idea that his supposedly loyal subjects were in armed active rebellion.  His response indicated he could not know of any legitimate government in the colony other than the one appointed by the King, but could not speak to the immediate disputes having just arrived.  Simply by receiving and responding to the address though, Campbell lent legitimacy to them.

In reality, Campbell would have to decide whether to leave, or likely face imprisonment, as he had no plans to join the rebellion, even though most of his wife’s family were patriot leaders.  For the moment, he stalled and said he must get instructions from London.  Meanwhile, he watched the patriots form military districts, raise and train armies, and run all aspects of colonial government.

Battle of Bloody Point

Even while patriots were taking control of the colonies, the Royal Navy maintained control of the Atlantic, as well as many bays, harbors, and rivers.  South Carolina though, made plans to take on the British at sea.  In July, the Council of Safety learned that the British were sending a shipment of gunpowder to Savannah to supply the Cherokee.  The British hoped to use several local tribes against the rebels.  The Council deployed two barges to intercept the transport ship.  On their way, they were pleased to meet up with a small schooner from Georgia named the Liberty, not to be confused with the British ship Liberty that wrecked in Virginia which I just discussed, nor Benedict Arnold’s Liberty on Lake Champlain, nor John Hancock’s ship Liberty that the British captured in Boston, or any other of the roughly 1.2 million other ships named Liberty during this time period.  Georgia patriots had launched the Liberty in search of merchant vessels violating Patriot trade bans.  The Captain agreed to work with the South Carolina barges to capture the British supply ship.

Mouth of Savannah River at Bloody Point
The British supply ship, the Phillippa, carried the ammunition for British regulars in Florida, as well as for the Cherokee.  On July 7, the British convoy anchored near the mouth of the Savannah River to await a pilot to take them upriver.  The Americans discovered them there the next day.  The following evening, July 9 at around 2:00 AM, the British attempted to move upriver.  The Liberty moved to attack.  The stunned Phillippa did not put up any resistance and obeyed instructions to anchor at Cockspur Island.  The Captain Richard Maitland, also had the bad luck to be the captain of a load of tea in 1774, that the Patriots had seized shortly after the Boston Tea Party.

Now on this trip, Maitland surrendered the Phillippa at Cockspur Island, where a regiment of South Carolina provincials rode out and took possession of the ship, capturing 16,000 pounds of gunpowder, as well as lead and shot for making musket balls.  South Carolina divided up the valuable cargo, sending one fourth of the powder to Philadelphia.  From there it would travel overland to Cambridge where Washington’s Continental Army was in desperate need.  A prize crew sailed the Phillippa back to Savannah with Georgia’s share of the cargo.  Maitland eventually filed a protest with the Georgia Supreme Court to get his ship back, though no one expected that to happen.  The patriots ignored the crown appointed courts as much as they ignored the crown appointed governor.  I think Maitland mostly filed his claim so that he could get a return of his bond money, held by the Board of Trade.  The powder would take weeks to reach Washington in the fall, but was a much needed supply for the Continental Army.

Capture of Fort Charlotte

A week later, emboldened South Carolina patriots seized Fort Charlotte, a small fort on the Savannah River still commanded by less than a dozen British regulars.  On July 12, the Fort surrendered without resistance.  The Council of Safety again took much of the powder to be shipped to the new Continental Army in Massachusetts.  All Governor Campbell could do was watch.

Fort Charlotte (from Historical Marker Database)
The Council of Safety also began demanding that colonists take oaths of loyalty to the new assembly.  Those who did not were threatened with expulsion from the colony.

By September, Gov. Campbell had reached the conclusion that there was little he could do to restore royal authority without a large number of British regulars.  There was some chance that Germans living in the interior of the colony, whom I discussed way back in Episode 35, might rally to the King.  But any organization of loyalist troops would require the presence of military regulars for them to rally around.  Campbell decided he needed to leave.  He boarded the HMS Tamar and remained in Charleston Harbor.


Despite Gov. Campbell’s lack of leadership, some backcountry loyalists took their own initiative. The town of Ninety-Six, which began as a settlement at the 96th milepost on a trail leading to the Keowee Indian village, had built a fortified town there.  There was a small fort with a few pieces of artillery as well as powder and ammunition.  Moses Kirkland served as a captain in the local militia and as the town’s representative to the Provincial Congress.  He had been an outspoken supporter of colonial rights and opposed British treatment of the colonies.  But for Kirkland, outright rebellion and treason was a step too far.

As a captain in the militia, he had participated in the capture of Fort Charlotte a few days earlier.  While riding back to Ninety-Six, he learned that his commander, Maj. James Mayson intended to force all the men to take an oath of allegiance to the Association and to support the Continental Congress.  After they arrived the Fort, Kirkland spoke forcefully against the oath and convinced his entire militia company to refuse it.  They then met with Col. Thomas Fletchall, who commanded a loyalist militia for the area.  Kirkland and most of his men joined Fletchall and returned to take control of Ninety-Six, which now also contained munitions captured at Fort Charlotte.  The loyalist militia arrested Maj. Mason for theft of the King’s property, but released him a few hours later on bail.  Thanks to Kirkland, Ninety-Six remained in loyalist hands, for now.  The backcountry would remain in contention and Kirkland would go on to become a prominent loyalist officer.


Georgia was the last colony to make serious movement toward rebellion.  After receiving word of Lexington and Concord on May 10, patriot groups seized a powder magazine in Savannah the next day.  But colony-wide, royal authority under Royal Governor James Wright remained in control.  Wright, although London born, had lived in the colonies for most of his life and remained on pretty good terms with the people.  He would not be mistaken as being sympathetic to the patriot cause though.  Wright, who had been Governor since 1760, staunchly enforced royal policies, including being the only governor to oversee the sale of stamps during the Stamp Act crisis.

Thomas Brown
(from Jrnl of Am Rev)
After establishing a shadow patriot government in July 1775, the Council of Safety asserted authority, leaving Gov. Wright in the same feckless position as his fellow southern royal governors.  The Council focused on enforcing the trade embargo that the Continental Congress had approved, tarring and feathering several violators.  Georgia also worked with South Carolina to get more gunpowder to the Continental Army in Boston.  Around this time, the George patriots launched the Liberty, which, as I described earlier, would capture the British ship Phillippa, in South Carolina.

On July 7, the Patriots tested Gov. Wright, by getting him to declare a day of prayer and fasting.  While not overtly patriotic, it was a nod to the power of the Patriots in the colony.

Despite the organization and activity of the Georgia patriots, the colony likely held a majority of loyalists.  In August, Thomas Brown, who lived on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River just upriver from Augusta, openly denounced the patriots and called on loyalists to form their own association.

Patriots from Augusta captured him and attempted to force him to swear adherence to the Patriot Association.  They ended up beating Brown nearly to death, scalping him and breaking his skull, also burning the bottom of his feet.  Brown survived and would go on to form the King’s Rangers, one of the most effective Loyalist Regiments of the Revolution.  In 1775 though, after threatening an attack on Augusta, Brown and his loyalists withdrew into the backcountry and awaited the arrival of British regulars.

Royal Gov. Wright stuck it out in Savannah, and avoided direct confrontation with the Council of Safety.  Clearly though, he was not in charge.  When a small British fleet arrived in January 1776, Wright finally fled the colony aboard the HMS Scarborough.

- - -

Next Episode 70: Ousted Governors and Bermuda Powder Raid

Previous Episode 68: Congress' Olive Branch Petition

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.  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 for a list of all episodes.

Visit for free downloads of all podcast episodes.

Further Reading


The Independence Hurricane:

Lord Dunmore's Navy in Hampton Roads, 1775-1776, Part I: The Battle of Hampton,
By Matthew Krogh (2016):

Lord Dunmore's Navy in Hampton Roads, 1775-1776, Part II: The Road to Great Bridge, by Matthew Krogh (2017):

Battle of Hampton:

Mecklenburg Resolves, text:

Tryon Resolves,

Bloody Point:

Cohen Sheldon S. "The Philippa Affair" The Georgia Historical Quarterly Vol. 69, No. 3 (Fall, 1985), pp. 338-354: (free to read with registration).

Capture of Fort Ninety-Six, July 17, 1775:

Lynch, Wayne "Moses Kirkland and the Southern Strategy" Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution, Vol. 10, No. 2.3, April 2015:

NC Gov. Josiah Martin:

Cornelius Harnett:

John Ashe:

Fort Johnston:

Fort Charlotte:

NC Lt. Gov. William Bull:

Gov. William Campbell:

Battle of Bloody Point, Capture of the Phillippa:

Dunkerly, Robert M. "Chaos in the Backcountry: Battle of Ninety Six" Journal of the American Revolution, 2013:

Cann, Marvin L. "Prelude to War: The First Battle of Ninety Six: November 19-21, 1775" The South Carolina Historical Magazine Vol. 76, No. 4 (Oct., 1975), pp. 197-214: (payment required)

GA Gov. James Wright:

Revolutionary War in Georgia:

Free eBooks
(from unless noted)

Chesney, Alexander (Jones, E. Alfred and Siebert, Wilbur H. eds) The Journal of Alexander Chesney: a South Carolina loyalist in the revolution and after, Columbus Ohio State University, 1921.

Drayton, John Memoirs of the American Revolution: from its commencement to the year 1776, inclusive, as relating to the state of South-Carolina, and occasionally refering [sic] to the states of North-Carolina and Georgia, Vol. 1, Charleston: A.E. Miller, 1821 (see also, Vol. 2).

Eckenrode, H.J. The Revolution in Virginia, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. 1916.

McCrady, Edward The History of South Carolina in the Revolution, 1775-1780, London: Macmillan & Co. 1901.

Millspaugh, Arthur C. Loyalism in North Carolina during the American Revolution, University of Illinois-Urbana (Masters Thesis) 1910.

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)*

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

Russell, David Lee The American Revolution in the Southern Colonies, Jefferson, NC: McFarland Publishing, 2000 (book recommendation of the week).

Williams, Tony Hurricane of Independence, Naperville: Sourcebooks, 2008.

* 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.