Sunday, September 29, 2019

Episode 116: American Terrorist in Britain




Last week I discussed some of the trouble Silas Deane had in France trying to get military supplies and French officers to America.

The Offer

Around the same time Silas Deane was trying to get the first ships out of port in November 1776, a man named James Aitken knocked on his door.  Aitken told Deane he had fought for the British under Lord Dunmore in Virginia the year before.  He had been treated poorly and now wanted to work for the patriot cause.  The 25 year old seemed dishevelled and tended to ramble on, but offered an interesting plan.

Aitken had developed a device that would allow the user to set it, then after a delay of several hours, it would burst into flame.  Aitken proposed to enter British dockyards, set multiple devices, and escape before the fires broke out, destroying the dockyard.  This would cripple British naval operations.

This seemed like a pretty daring and ambitious plan, but the risk really just fell on Aitken.  If he was willing to attempt this massive sabotage campaign on his own, why not let him try?  Deane gave the man travel expenses back to England and told him to contact his friend Edward Bancroft in London if he ran into trouble.

James Aitken

Aitken’s story begins in Scotland.  He was born in Edinburgh in 1752.  As the 8th of 12 children, he probably did not stand out much.  His father was a smith, meaning he had a decent trade, but still had difficulty supporting his large family.  In any event, his father died when James was only seven.  In an age when women did not typically work outside the home, his widowed mother could not support the family.
James Aitken (from Wikimedia)

There was no social safety net at the time, so the family was largely on its own.  Even for intact families, times were tough.  Edinburgh saw several food riots in the 1760s.  Poor harvests had increased food prices to the point where many were starving to death.

At age nine, James caught a break.  He was admitted to George Heriot’s Hospital, which despite the name, was a school.  It had been established more than a century earlier for young fatherless boys whose fathers had been town Burgesses.  A Burgess included craft workers such as James’ father.  The result was that James could get an education and sufficient food.  If he did well at his studies, he might even get a scholarship to the University of Edinburgh.

Unfortunately, James did not do so well at his studies.  He did learn to read and write and listened to many sermons by the Reverend John Erskine, who was a radical whig very sympathetic to the plight of the colonists in America.  By age 14, the administration decided that James was not university material.  Instead, they would apprentice him to a trade.  The school thought he should become a house painter.

Now in earlier centuries, a painter was a craftsman since few people knew how to make paint.  But by the mid-1700’s businesses were producing paint on a larger scale,  House painters did not make their own paint and therefore really need that much training.  There were already more painters than needed.  It does not seem like a good career goal for anyone at that time.  Forcing a boy into a seven year apprenticeship to learn how to paint a house was really more just about forcing him into involuntary labor for a long time.

Finally, at age 20, Aitken finished his apprenticeship and became a journeyman painter.  In 1772, his school gave him five pounds sterling to get him started in life and sent him out into the world.  Aitken showed no interest in working as a painter.  Even if he had, there just wasn’t much of a market for one.  He had expressed interested in becoming a military officer, but there was no way he could afford to buy a commission.  Instead, the young man hit the road and set out for London to seek his fortune.

Londoners, however, were not terribly fond of Scotsmen.  They considered them ill-mannered and as foreigners taking away jobs from Englishmen. Aitken did find a few jobs, but did not make enough to survive.  After a time, he embarked on a new career, highway robbery.  He purchased a pair of pistols and held up coaches on the roads in and out of London.  He also took up shoplifting and burglary.  Even a life of crime did not produce much, and always presented the danger of being hanged.  Continuing in this way would not end well.

The following year, 1773, Aitken decided to try his luck in America.  Since he was broke, he made arrangements to serve as an indentured servant.  A ship would pay for his passage, including food and clothing for the journey.  They would then auction him off for a period of years to someone willing to buy his indenture and pay for the journey.  Of course, conditions aboard ship were pretty terrible.  The food and water were poor and inadequate.  It was not unusual for a fair percentage of passengers to die from the poor conditions during the crossing.

Aitken reached Jamestown, Virginia he was auctioned off to a plantation owner.  The details of Aitken’s time in America are rather sketchy.  Much of what we know comes from his own accounts, in which he tried to appear much more impressive than was probably the case.

He went to work as a common field hand, working alongside black slaves.  In many accounts, slaves received better treatment than indentured servants.  This was because they represented a larger investment for the owner.  An owner could invest the time to train slaves in more skilled work since the slave would be around for life.  The indentured servant would only be around for a few years, meaning one had to get as much labor out of him as possible during the indenture period.

Hard work as a field laborer was not something Aitken would tolerate.  He spent his first few weeks in America sick, perhaps from his journey, or more likely from a range of diseases on the plantation.  Almost as soon as he was well though, Aitken ran away from his indenture.

This was no easy task.  Most of Virginia was set up to prevent slaves and servants from escaping.  Aitken’s clothing and accent would have identified him as a servant, meaning he would have to have a pass from his master.  Since he was literate enough, he could have forged such a pass.  Even so, most who tried to escape were unsuccessful.  It is impressive that he did make his escape on his first try in a strange land.

However, he did it, Aitken says that he found his way to Philadelphia, but could not find work or anything else to support himself there.  After a few months, he traveled to Perth Amboy, New Jersey and then New York City.  Aitken claims he then traveled to Boston in time to participate in the Boston Tea Party.  This is highly unlikely.  He likely made the claim only to enhance his reputation and association with the patriot cause later in life.  I’ve seen no good evidence that he made it to Boston at all, let alone participated in the Tea Party.

By early 1775, anti-Scottish sentiment swept over most of colonies.  Scots tended to be Tories, who became very unwelcome in the months leading up to war.  As I mentioned, Aitken also makes the claim that he fought for Lord Dunmore, the loyalist Governor of Virginia.  This could be as part of the force that fought the Indians in Lord Dunmore’s war of 1774, or perhaps with the loyalists fighting for the Governor in 1775.  Again, though, it is not clear at all whether Aitken was just making up his participation in events that he read about in the newspaper.

Whatever his actual activities, by 1775 Aitken found himself in North Carolina along with a number of Scottish loyalists looking for a friendlier location.  There was already a large Scotch population in the colony.  Once he arrived, though, Aitken decided to head back to England.  As ship captains were hard up for crewman, it would have been rather easy to find a job on a ship, even without experience.

Once back in London, Aitken chose a new profession: bounty jumping.  The army was looking to recruit soldiers following the news of Lexington and Concord.  Aitken signed up at least three times that year, each time using a false name.  He collected a signing bounty each time, then deserted a few days later.  This sort of thing could get you hanged if caught, but Aitken seems to have become comfortable with risking the hangman’s noose in order to get by.  He spent the rest of 1775 and 1776 engaging in a series of street robberies and burglaries across southern England, never staying in one place too long.

Adopting the Patriot Cause

Aitken, however, wanted to be more than a common criminal.  He supported the cause of the colonists in the war with Britain.  During this time, Aitken claims to have overheard a conversation in Oxford that changed his life.  Several men in a tavern were discussing the war.  One of them noted that the war depended on the British navy, and that the navy greatly depending on a few dockyards that dotted the coast of southern England.  If something happened to those dockyards, the navy would be devastated.

From that, Aitken finally saw his path to fame and fortune.  He would burn down all the main navy yards in Britain: Portsmouth, Plymouth, Chatham, Woolwich and Deptford.  Britain would end the war. Aitken would slip away to America where he would be hailed as a hero of the Revolution, perhaps even receiving a commission as an officer in the Continental Army.

Aitken with his
incendiary device
(from Wikimedia)
In early 1776, Aitken found work as a journeyman painter near the Portsmouth docks.  He spent much of his time drawing sketches of the dockyard defenses and designing devices that would start a fire after a time delay.

The idea of causing a fire in a dockyard was a realistic one.  While the navy had defenses against an enemy attack, they were not prepared for saboteurs.  Anyone could enter the dockyards without being searched.  Bringing in equipment to start a fire was quite possible.  One would have to start multiple fires all at once all over the dockyards to be successful though.  Otherwise, bucket brigades would probably douse the fire relatively quickly and limit its damage.

Further, even if he could destroy one dockyard, that would almost certainly put the others on alert.  These heightened defenses would prevent similar attacks in other dockyards.  The only way to pull off this sort of destruction would be to have a team of saboteurs hit all the dockyards on the same night.  However, Aitken had no ability to plan such an aggressive coordinated attack.  He planned to do everything by himself.

At first, he hoped he might get to Philadelphia to get the Continental Congress to back his plan.  But he had no money to get to America, even if that was possible given the trade embargo.  Instead, he opted to go to Paris to meet with Silas Deane, the American agent.  Aitken found a small sailboat that took him across the British Channel.  After several attempts he obtained an audience with Deane.  By this time, British agents were watching Deane’s residence at all times.  His valet was also a British spy.  None of them seemed to see Aitken as anything more than a commoner who was no threat to anything, or even worth reporting.

Deane was also skeptical.  Still, after two meetings and reviewing Aitken’s sketches for a time delayed firebomb, he sent Aitken back to England without any real assistance, but with the view, that sure, maybe this guy can destroy something.  He gave Aitken the equivalent of about three pounds stirling and a French passport so that he could return to Britain.  He also gave him the name of a local contact in Britain, Edward Bancroft.  Aitken claims that Deane gave him a promissory note for £300, though there is no good evidence of this.

The Attacks

Although Deane may have seen some small chance that Aitken might do some damage with his time delay devices, the execution of the plot was shockingly amateurish.

Aitken attempted to get several of the devices built to set his fires.  The device itself was rather simple.  It was a candle inside a tin box with small holes to let in air. When the candle burned low enough, it would open a lower compartment filled with turpentine or other combustibles to the open flame.  This would cause the box to explode and set on fire anything within a few feet of it.  Aitken attempted to have several built, but only ever got one of them completed.

On December 6, 1776, Aitken entered the main rope house of the Portsmouth dockyard, planning to set the time delayed fire there.  Since he only had equipment to start one fire, he planned to light the candle, then rush back to town and set his rented room on fire.  That way, firefighters would be busy putting out that fire when the alarm for the dockyard fire came.

Portsmouth Dockyard (1760 plans) (from Portsmouth Royal
Dockyards Historical Trust
)
He spent too long putting the combustibles in place, and soon found himself locked inside the rope house for the night.  After trying to find a way out, he eventually had to bang on the door until someone could get a key and let him out.  He had not set the fire and simply claimed to be a curious visitor who got stuck inside.  The guards apparently bought his story and let him go.

The next morning, Aitken tried again, but this time tried to set his room on fire before leaving for the dockyard.  His landlady immediately smelled smoke and confronted him.  After some argument, he left his room for the dockyard.  He spent the day having a few drinks and buying more matches.  In the early afternoon, he entered the rope house, which was already empty for the day.  He started three small fires, then walked out before they grew large enough for anyone to notice.

His fire damaged the rope house but did not spread beyond that. Aitken fled town hitchhiking to London over the next 24 hours.  Once there, he headed straight to the home of Edward Bancroft, Silas Deane’s agent in London.  Now you may recall from last week, Deane had been using Bancroft to send him information from London.  But Bancroft was a double agent, sending virtually useless information to Deane, and keeping British officials informed of everything that happened in France.

Aitken arrived at Bancroft’s door, telling him that Deane had promised him that Bancroft would give him a safe house and £300 to complete his missions in the other dockyards. This put Bancroft in a difficult position. If he helped Aitken, British officials might convict him of being part of this American plot.  If he did not, the Americans might suspect him of being the British agent that he was.  Bancroft sent him away but agreed to meet later.  At that other meeting Bancroft informed Aitken that he would be no part of this scheme.

With that, Aitken left, still determined to complete his self-appointed mission.  Without money, he had to turn back to petty theft to support himself.  He held up in Bristol for a while and began casing the Plymouth dockyards.  All the time, he was certain that a national manhunt would track him down and hang him.

In fact, though his fire at Portsmouth had destroyed the rope house, the damage was limited.  Investigators had no clue who did it, and were leaning toward it being accidental.  They had interviewed over a dozen suspects.  The investigation was leading nowhere.

Aitken though, saw himself as a one man destruction force.  In mid-January, he tried to set fires on three merchant ships and a warehouse in Bristol.  The fires did not work, but discovery of combustibles on the three ships alerted the town that they had an arsonist.  A few days later, Aitken set another fire which managed to burn several warehouses before locals could extinguish it

Once everyone realized there really was a serial arsonist, panic set in.  The government offered a £1000 reward, then doubled it to £2000.  Eventually the reward reached almost £3000  Witnesses started to put together the behavior of this strange Scotsman who had been lurking around Portsmouth and Bristol before the fires.  He became known as “John the Painter” as officials tried to track him down.  Lord Germain used the panic to push a bill through Parliament allowing officials to imprison suspected American combatants without trial.  The bill was aimed primarily at privateers, but the panic over arson helped shephard this bill through Parliament.

Within a couple of weeks, Aitken was in jail.  His luck ran out after he robbed a local shop. The owner tracked him down.  When caught, Aitken had several of the stolen items on him, as well as various tools for use in his acts of arson.  The owner suspected he might be the arsonist.  While in jail, several witnesses identified him.  Officials were confident they had their man.  But they still did not know why he did it or whether he had accomplices.

The Trial

Because Aitken refused to talk, authorities tricked him into providing the information they needed.  They introduced a man as a possible witness who could not identify Aitken.  Afterwards, the man struck up a conversation with the prisoner and showed him some kindness.  He offered to come visit him in jail to talk more.  In their discussions, Aitken bragged about his visits to America, his meetings with Silas Deane and Edward Bancroft, and his work for the American cause.  The man he trusted turned out to be an informant working for the prosecution.

Aitken's trial
(from Wikimedia)
The trial began on March 6, 1777 and was by local standards a very long one, taking nearly seven hours.  The prosecutors indicted him for three offenses related to the fires in Portsmouth.  They did not indict him for the Bristol fires.  Some have said this was to avoid having to pay the rewards offered for the capture of the person convicted of those crimes.  The court had five prosecutors and nineteen witnesses.  Aitken was not entitled to a defense lawyer and had no information before the trial started about the evidence to be used against him.  The jury deliberated for about a second before finding him guilty, and the judge sentenced him to hang.

After his trial, Aitken figured that if he was going to hang, he might as well hang as an American hero rather than a common criminal.  He spent the next few days giving his story to men who would publish biographies of his life and sell them on the streets of London.  He told them he was an American agent, working for Deane and Bancroft.  Although Deane was safely in Paris, Bancroft was in London.  Of course he denied knowing anything about this, but the public now thought he might be an American spy.  The main thing that saved him from arrest was that the British government knew he was a double agent and still wanted to use him.  They ended up allowing him to “flee” to Paris where he could keep tabs on Deane and continue to provide intelligence to the British government.

On March 10, 1777, four days after his trial, officials took Aitken back to the Bristol dockyards, where they had assembled a gallows.  It was over 60 feet high, made from a ship’s yardarm, the tallest ever used in Britain.  After the hanging, they gibotted his body, which meant covering it with tar for preservation, then putting it in a cage and hanging it on public display.  There he would remain as a warning to anyone else who would try to interfere with the British war effort.

Next Week: We return to American as Washington’s Army begins its retreat across New Jersey with the British Army in close pursuit.

- - -

Next Episode 117: Retreat Across New Jersey

Previous Episode 115: Congress and French Diplomacy



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Further Reading

Websites

Jack the Painter: https://portsmouthdockyard.org.uk/timeline/details/1776-jack-the-painter

Hedbor, Lars D. H. “John the Painter, Terrorist for America” Journal of the American Revolution, May 1, 2016: https://allthingsliberty.com/2018/05/jack-the-painter-terrorist-for-america

George Heriots School: https://www.george-heriots.com/school/our-history

Death of an 18th Century Terrorist: John the Painter http://mikerendell.com/death-of-an-18th-century-terrorist-john-the-painter

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

Aitken, James The Life of James Aitken Commonly Called John the Painter, John Wilkes Publisher, 1777 (Google Books).

Dean, Silas The Dean Papers, Vol. 1, New York Historical Society, 1887.

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

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

Paul, Joel Richard Unlikely Allies: How a Merchant, a Playwright, and a Spy Saved the American Revolution, Riverhead, 2009.

Warner, Jessica John the Painter: Terrorist of the American Revolution, Thunder's Mouth Books, 2004 (book recommendation of the week).

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


Sunday, September 22, 2019

Episode 115: Congress and French Diplomacy




I’m stepping away from the war today to catch up on what the Continental Congress has been doing.  We last left Congress in early July 1776 after it approved the Declaration of Independence.

Yet even after approving the language of the Declaration on July 4th, Congress immediately turned to other business that same afternoon.  Congress voted on a diplomatic delegation to Pittsburgh to meet with Indian tribes, and held another vote on providing the Board of War with authority to hire employees to make more flints for the army and several other matters.  In other words, there was no time to rest on their laurels or even reflect much on independence.

Congress Signed the Declaration on August 2, 1776
(from Today I Found Out)
The delegates did not even get around to creating a final draft of the Declaration for several more weeks.  Most of them signed the copy that we today regard as the original on August 2.  In fact, thousands of copies had already circulated around the country and were already on their way across the Atlantic before anyone signed what we consider the “original” declaration.  Congress simply filed away the signed copy.  It did not make any formal attempt to send that, or any copy, to London.  This was a declaration to the world, not a petition to their former leaders.

Turning attention to other matters, the three most important ongoing committees in the fall of 1776 were the Board of War, the Committee tasked with drafting the Articles of Confederation, and the Secret Committee of Correspondence which handled foreign diplomacy,

Running a War

The late summer and fall of 1776 was a chaotic one for the War.  Congress watched General George Washington lose New York and New Jersey as his army eventually fell back to just outside Philadelphia by the end of the year.  In the north, Congress saw General Benedict Arnold lose the battle of Valcour Island, opening upstate New York for invasion.  Fortunately for the patriots, the British decided to hold off on that invasion until the following spring.  But things did not seem to be going well for the Continental war effort.

Aside from the day to day issues of running the army, one of the Board of War’s most contentious activities was promoting officers.  General Washington made some recommendations, but did not press too hard for fear of infringing on civilian control of the army.  After Washington started losing battle after battle during the British invasion of New York, Congress had less interest in his views anyway. Many were debating the idea of selecting a new commander for the army.

William Heath now a major
general (from Wikimedia)
State representation among generals also remained a bone of contention.  Although New England provided most of the soldiers, a disproportionate number of top officers came from southern states.  John Adams and others from New England had supported that tactic a year earlier to get the southern states on board with going to war, by this time, they wanted to see more New Englanders in top positions.

In August, Congress promoted four new major generals, all from New England: William Heath (MA), Joseph Spencer (CT), John Sullivan (NH), and Nathaniel Greene (RI).  Missing from that list was another New Englander, Benedict Arnold of Connecticut.  Arnold thought he deserved promotion, but all four who were promoted were already senior to him as brigadier generals, so he patiently waited for his turn.  Besides, at the time, he was preparing to fight the Battle of Valcour Island, after which Congress would certainly see the merit in promoting him.

Congress also promoted 6 new brigadier generals in August, three from New England (James Reed, John Nixon, and Samuel Parsons), two from New York (Alexander McDougall and James Clinton) and one from Pennsylvania (Arthur St. Clair).  This led to push back from the southern colonies.  The Board had to bring more southern balance by naming four more southern generals in September, Adam Stephen of Virginia, Christopher Gadsden and William Moultrie of South Carolina, and Lachlan McIntosh of Georgia.  In October, they added William Maxwell of New Jersey and William Smallwood of Maryland.

Major General Nathanael
Greene (from Wikipedia)
Don’t worry, you won’t need to remember all of these names.  I’ll talk more about each of these new generals when they do something interesting.

Congress’ disappointment with the militia during the New York area fighting also persuaded many delegates of the need for a more professional and well trained standing army.  They accepted Washington’s recommendation of three year enlistments.  Up until this time, most enlistments had been a maximum of one year.  Three year enlistments allowed the army to rely on a core of trained Continental soldiers when things got tough.

One of the problems with a standing army, was that they were expensive.  Congress still had no taxing authority because they could not agree even on a general outline on how to collect taxes.  They were paying for everything with paper money, which was essentially a promise to provide real hard currency at some point in the future.  Churning out so much paper money already, combined with no plan after a year and a half on how to make good on all this paper, had caused serious devaluation.  Even with the amount they had produced, they did not have enough, even of that paper money to pay the army, or provide soldiers with the basic necessities of food, clothing, and weaponry.

The Board of War did its best to get what it could and to keep the Continental Army together even as the British pushed them out of New York and back toward Philadelphia.

Debating Articles of Confederation

Pressing war issues aside, Congress had been trying to put together Articles of Confederation since 1775, long before they started debating independence.  Without the Articles, Congress really had no basis for operating or doing much of anything.  It used some of the general rules of order the members knew from their colonial legislatures, but they were essentially making up everything as they went along.  There was no set of rules that gave Congress any authority to do anything, or how they should operate.

John Dickinson
(from Dickinson College)
On July 12, 1776, Congress began debate on a proposed draft from John Dickinson.  Dickinson did not participate in the debate himself.  He had left Congress to command a Pennsylvania Battalion deployed to New York to stop the British invasion there.

Congress would debate the matter on and off for the next year and a half, without reaching any consensus.  The big issues involved whether each State would continue to get one vote, or whether state population would determine representation.  Also, there was a debate over how to tax the States.  Some wanted it based on population, others on the combined wealth of a colony.  Finally there came a debate over competing land claims.  One of the biggest was whether to validate some colonial claims to land, many of which conflicted with other colonies.  Some of those claims reached all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

Some of these debates raised the slavery issue.  There was no debate on freeing them, but there were debates over whether slaves should be considered people for purposes of calculating population and whether to consider their value as property for purposes of taxation.  Slavery was becoming a contentious issue given all the recent talk about inalienable rights and all men created equal.  But all thirteen states still allowed slavery at this time.  With the many other issues regarding how to set up government, the idea of tackling such a major political, social, and economic issue would have to wait.

In late 1776, Congress would not even resolve the disputes over creating the articles.  It would take Congress until near the end of 1777 before it could agree on Articles of Confederation. I’m not going to get into all the debate details now.  That will be a future episode.  For now, suffice it to say that coming to any consensus on any of this was impossible.  Congress would argue about it, then put it aside when they needed to deal with more pressing issues, like how to keep an army fed and armed as the British regulars advanced on Philadelphia.

New French Delegation

Congress was eager to find allies in Europe to help with the war effort.  The colonies had a wealth of trade goods that British laws had kept from trading with Europe.  But now independent, America hoped to use this trade to tempt Europeans into trading for goods needed for the war effort.  John Adams had been working on a draft of such a treaty since at least March 1776.  On July 18, once Congress had completed its debate on independence, Adams submitted his model treaty for consideration.  Congress reviewed, debated, and amended the model treaty over the next two months.

Silas Deane (from Wikimedia)
On September 17, Congress approved its model treaty, which it hoped to shop around Europe and see if it could make any deals.  The following week, Congress adopted instructions for a delegation of Commissioners to go to Europe and use the model treaty as a basis for negotiations.  It formally appointed Silas Deane, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson as Commissioners.  As you may recall from Episode 83, Congress had already sent Deane to Europe where he was unofficially lobbying France and trying to get military assistance for the cause.  Franklin, who had spent years in London as a colonial agent, prepared for his new role as American diplomat.  Jefferson, begged off.  He had returned to Virginia where he would work on the new State’s legal code.

So for the third delegate, Congress turned to Arthur Lee, who you may recall from Episode 108 had been living in London and trying to compete with Deane in setting up arms deals for the Continental Army.  Lee and Deane already hated each other.  Franklin, who had known Lee when the two men lived in London, also did not much care for Lee.  So from the beginning, the delegation was not a united one.  It would take months for Franklin to cross the Atlantic and for Lee to learn of his new commission.  So for almost the rest of the 1776, Deane continued to operate in France on his own.

French Aid Stumbles

In mid August, French newspapers reported that America had declared independence. Deane, in France, never received direct word from Congress, nor even a copy of the Declaration to present to the court of Versailles.  Congress did try to mail him a copy, but it never arrived.  Arthur Lee also had come to Paris in August, only to find that Deane had already finalized about 3 million livres worth of military contracts.

Arthur Lee
(from Stratford Hall)
Lee, who had hoped to profit from some of these deals, began writing letters to his brothers in the Continental Congress, as well as his friend Samuel Adams.  Lee told them that France was not covertly selling these supplies in exchange for tobacco.  Rather, France was giving those supplies for free.  He alleged Deane was attempting to profit from the assistance by getting Congress to send payments which he could keep for himself.  Lee absolutely knew this was a lie.  He had spoken to French diplomats and other knowledgeable sources who confirmed these were sales, not gifts.  Lee just seemed to want to destroy Deane’s credibility with Congress and get him sent home.

Around this same time in London, the opposition in Parliament complained publicly that Silas Deane was openly meeting with foreign minister Vergennes and arranging for French covert arms shipments to America.  Deane’s agent, Edward Bancroft, reported this public information to Deane, who now feared that British spies knew everything he was doing.  Of course, he did not suspect that his own agent, Bancroft, was the double agent giving most of this information to the British.

With the British exposing the arms deal publicly, with Congress not communicating with Deane, and with America not shipping boat loads of tobacco to France to pay for the arms, the French government began to doubt whether Deane was even a legitimate agent of the American government. It also feared that British knowledge of its attempts at aid were about to lead to war between France and Britain. For a few weeks, the French government shut down the operation completely.  Only Deane’s heavy lobbying efforts convinced them to allow it to continue.

Even so, Deane and his French associate Beaumarchais could not seem to get anything done without British officials complaining to the French government to shut down their illegal exports.  Since the British had spies working in their offices, the British knew about all attempted shipments and were able to get the French government to shut them down before they could leave port. The French had to comply or else face the possibility of going to war with Britain.

French Generals

Without any guidance from Philadelphia, Deane was pretty much making up his job as he went along.  He tried to maintain a private trading business to hide his arms deals.  But that did not seem to fool anyone.  He tried to intervene when an American privateer landed in Spain with five British ships as prizes.  Since no one recognized the United States as a sovereign power, they also did not recognize Congress’ letter of marque authorizing the Captain to act as a privateer.  Without that letter, he was just a pirate who should be hanged.  Although Deane still had no official government authority, he got the French government to intervene and release the Captain and his crew.  Deane had to promise that American privateers would avoid using Spanish or French ports in the future.  I'm not sure anyone believed that promise, but it gave the French government cover to get Spain to release the American crew.

Deane also started making other commitments without any Congressional authorization.  France had been pressuring Lee to commission French officers to go fight in the Continental Army.  It was common practice in Europe for officers to serve in other armies when their country was at peace.  Officers gained valuable experience in command and battle.  Typically, an officer would be enticed by a higher rank than he had in his own army.  At the same time, the Continental Army would benefit from experienced officers and engineers who had professional training.

 General Johann de Kalb
(from Wikimedia)
Although he had zero authority to do so, Deane granted a commission as a major general in the Continental Army to the German-born French officer Baron Johann de Kalb, along with a 6000 livre advance and a promise of another 6000 to pay his expenses.

Even more disturbing than Deane’s decision to commission generals without the approval of Congress, was the fact that Dekalb’s main mission seemed to be to convince Congress to replace General Washington with the French General Victor de Broglie as commander in chief of the Continental Army.  Up until that time, de Broglie’s biggest accomplishment was losing the Seven Years War with Britain.

Although in the fall of 1776, many Americans were thinking about replacing Washington, It’s hard to imagine anyone thinking that putting a French general in charge of the army was an acceptable idea.  Deane simply sent a letter to Congress saying the French government thought it was a good idea, without giving his own opinion one way or the other.  But the simple act of passing along the proposal without comment, led many in Congress to conclude that Deane seriously thought this was a good idea.  Many in Congress began to question Deane’s judgment.

After Kalb’s appointment, many other French officers sought an audience with Deane, seeking commissions.  Most got turned away, but Deane did issue a few others, including another major general’s commission to a 19 year old Marquis named Lafayette.  In total, Deane issued about 60 commissions, including four major generals, all without any authorization from Congress.

British Interference

Deane, however, was still operating without any real guidance.  He had not received any word from Congress about anything.  The British had been pretty effective in intercepting or forcing the destruction of almost all messages between America and France.

British spies in France were able to keep close tabs on the activities of Beaumarchais and Deane as they purchased and stored military supplies bound for America.  By November 1776, the Roderigue Hortalez company, created by Beaumarchais as a front for the covert arms deals, was ready to load up three large supply ships in Le Havre France for its first shipment to America.

Beaumarchais (from Wikimedia)
This mission had the tacit support of the French government.  Recall back in Episode 108 that the French Minister, the comte de Vergennes, had put Dean and Beaumarchais in contact with each other. The French government, however, could not appear to support the Americans actively.  If the British discovered the plan to sell arms to America, the French government would have to disavow having any knowledge of it and shut it down. Everyone was trying to keep a low profile so British spies would not discover the plots.  Beaumarchais, worked in town under an assumed name as he oversaw the loading of supplies.

Things got delayed though when a French officer, Colonel du Cordray, who Deane had promised to make a major general, delayed coming to town.  He had received word that the British had taken New York and now feared the war might be over before he could arrive in America.  Finally, du Cordray showed up in early December, ready to sail.

In the meantime, Beaumarchais discovered a local production in Le Havre of his play The Barber of Seville.  He did not like the production and offered to assist as director of the play.  Soon word got out that Beaumarchais was directing his play at Le Havre.  This blew his cover and British agents quickly realized he was in town to load ships for America.

The British Ambassador, Lord Stormont, rushed to Versailles to demand Vergennes stop the departure of these ships, or he would consider it an act of war.  Vergennes had no choice but to order the ships seized.  He delayed getting the order to Le Havre for a couple of days, hoping the ships would get out of port before his orders arrived. But only one had left port by the time his orders made it there.

A couple of weeks later though, the one ship that had left port, returned to France.  A storm had destroyed part of its food.  Also, du Cordray thought his quarters were unacceptable, and demanded the Captain return to port.  By then, France had been forced to impose an embargo on all of Beaumarchais’ ships and so authorities seized the ship as soon as it returned to the harbor.  So no assistance would leave France in 1776 thanks to Beaumarchais’ ego over his play and Gen. du Cordray slowing down the operation with his reluctance to leave for America.

French aid would have to wait until Franklin and Lee arrived in France in 1777.  Franklin, Lee, and Deane would all have to learn to play nice with each other before they could then convince France to provide arms to America.  They never would discover that their secretary Bancroft was a British spy.  He would continue his work for London throughout the war. After the war, Bancroft moved to England but continued to correspond with Franklin.  It was only decades after everyone had died that Bancroft’s role as a spy became public knowledge.

Next Week: Dean lands himself in more hot water after he provides funding to a terrorist who promises to destroy shipyards in Britain on behalf of the American cause.

- - -

Next Episode 116: American Terrorist in Britain

Previous Episode 114 Escape from Fort Lee



Click here to donate
American Revolution Podcast is distributed 100% free of charge. If you can chip in to help defray my costs, I'd appreciate whatever you can give.  Make a one time donation through my PayPal account. 
Thanks,
Mike Troy


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



Further Reading

Websites

Dickinson Draft Articles of Confederation. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/contcong_07-12-76.asp

Discussion of Dickinson Draft Articles of Confederation:: https://digitalhistory.hsp.org/pafrm/doc/draft-articles-confederation-john-dickinson-june-1776

The Model Treaty, 1776: https://history.state.gov/milestones/1776-1783/model-treaty

Arthur Lee: http://www.stratfordhall.org/meet-the-lee-family/arthur-lee

Beaumarchais and the American Revolution: https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/kent-csi/vol14no1/html/v14i1a01p_0001.htm

The Rise and Fall of Silas Deane: https://connecticuthistory.org/the-rise-and-fall-of-silas-deane-american-patriot

Ruppert, Bob America’s "First Black Ops" Journal of the American Revolution 2017:
https://allthingsliberty.com/2017/09/americas-first-black-ops

Roderigue Hortalez et Cie, a Very Helpful Trading Firm: http://w3r-us.org/history/hortalez.htm

Kite, Elizabeth S. “Preliminaries of French Secret Aid = 1775-1778" Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, vol. 46, no. 2, 1935, pp. 58–67, www.jstor.org/stable/44209191.


Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

Dean, Silas The Dean Papers, Vol. 1, New York Historical Society, 1887.

Ingraham, Edward D. (ed) Papers in Relation to the Case of Silas Deane, Philadelphia: Seventy-six society,  1855.

Lee, Richard Henry Life of Arthur Lee, Vol 1 & Vol 2, Wells and Lilly, 1829

Sparks, Jared The Diplomatic Correspondence of the American Revolution, Vol. 1, N. Hale and Gray & Bowen, 1829.

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

Dull, Jonathan Diplomatic History of the American Revolution, Yale Univ. Press, 1985 (book recommendation of the week).

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

Isaacson, Walter Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004

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

Paul, Joel Richard Unlikely Allies: How a Merchant, a Playwright, and a Spy Saved the American Revolution, Riverhead, 2009.

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Episode 114 Escape from Fort Lee




Last week, the Continental Army suffered what would be its worst lost in the first five years of the war.  The British took the last 3000 Continentals on Manhattan Island when they captured Fort Washington.  In terms of American losses, this was by far the greatest American loss up to this point in the war.

General George Washington took responsibility for the loss, but said his failure was that he relied on too heavily on the advice of his more junior officers, not mentioning in his report to Congress that he was on site three days before the attack began.  Others smelled blood in the water.  General Charles Lee, now second in command in the Continental Army after Artemus Ward resigned earlier in the year, attacked Washington and his leadership.

In a letter to Benjamin Rush, Pennsylvania delegate to the Continental Congress, Lee said that he had predicted the fall of Fort Washington and that he had left Washington saying “draw off the garrison, or they will be lost.”  There is, however, no evidence that Lee ever said that to Washington.  In fact, everything I’ve read about Lee in the days and weeks before the fall of Fort Washington said that he strongly supported reinforcing and defending Fort Washington. Lee seemed to think, probably correctly, that as Washington fell out of favor, he might be tapped to become the new commander of the Continental Army.

British ships passing between Forts Washington and Lee
(from Wikimedia)
He continued, in his letter to Rush, that he could probably save the day if Congress would give him dictatorial powers for just one week.  Then he bemoaned that this would probably never happen.  That final thought was correct.  Congress may have lost some faith in Washington, but certainly did not want a would-be dictator in command of the army.  Congress feared losing control of its own army almost as much as it feared losing to the British regulars.

Whatever the fallout was going to be over the loss, there was no time for recriminations in the days that followed.  The Continentals may have hoped that the British would not begin an invasion of New Jersey so late in the fighting season.  But that was not to be.

General Howe was uncharacteristically fast in following up his victory at Fort Washington with an assault on Fort Lee on the other side of the river in New Jersey. On the evening of November 19, only three days after Fort Washington fell, a contingent of about 5000 British and Hessians crossed the Hudson River at night.

Lord Cornwallis

Howe gave field command of British and Hessian forces in New Jersey to General Charles Cornwallis, Lord Cornwallis.  Now, I’ve mentioned Cornwallis a few times now, and he may be the best known British general in the American Revolution even though he never rose to Commander of North America.  His fame in the Revolution comes from his surrender at Yorktown, which effectively ended the war (sorry if that’s a spoiler).

I first mentioned Cornwallis back in Episode 82, when he came over from Ireland with reinforcements.  His first mission was as General Clinton’s second in command.  He participated in the failed attempt to capture Sullivan’s island in the harbor at Charleston South Carolina.  I somehow neglected to give him a background, despite his active leadership in the British invasions of Long Island and Manhattan. Since this is Cornwallis’ first independent command, it’s as good a time as any for a little background.
Lord Cornwallis
(from Wikimedia)

Charles Cornwallis was born in London in 1738 to an aristocratic family.  His father was an earl.  Like many aristocratic families whose heads served in the House of Lords, his family also controlled a seat in the House of Commons.  The Cornwallis family had controlled the seat for over 300 years.  Charles attended Eton College before buying a commission as an ensign in 1757, just after the Seven Years War began.  Despite the war, nineteen year old Cornwallis continued military studies on the Continent under Prussian officers, and at the military academy in Turin, in what is today Italy.  He did finally see action the battle of Minden in 1759. Shortly after that, he purchased a captaincy and received a brevet to Lieutenant Colonel  He led a regiment in several more European battles in the remaining latter part of the Seven Years War.

While away at war, his family saw to it that he got elected to the family seat in the House of Commons in 1761.  When his father died the following year, Charles inherited his title as earl, and moved from the House of Commons to the House of Lords.  Cornwallis’ politics were very pro-colonist.  He allied with the more radical whigs and voted accordingly  He was one of only five lords to vote against the Stamp Act in 1765.  He was a close ally of Lord Rockingham, who was the most pro-colonial Prime Minister of the era.

Despite his opposition to royal policies in Parliament, Cornwallis remained in the Kings good graces. He received a number of political appointments, including the Privy Council in 1770 and as constable of the Tower of London in 1771.  Part of this may be explained by the fact that, although Cornwallis voted with the radicals, he did not give long and contentious speeches against policies that the king favored.

In addition to politics, Cornwallis remained active in the military.  He received a commission as major general in late 1775, just before shipping out to America.  Cornwallis’ inherited wealth and position meant that he could have lived a comfortable life without having to serve in the army.  He did so out of a sense of duty.  He was also known as a commander who did not mind mixing with enlisted men and getting them motivated.  Many general officers at the time kept a strict distance from enlisted men.  Cornwallis was also a commander known for not relying on brutal lashings to maintain discipline.  Of course he used such punishments at times, but found that appealing to a unit’s sense of honor and pride often led to better results.  In this, he was forward-thinking and commanded some of the most highly disciplined and effective regiments in the army.

Cornwallis also took his duty as an officer seriously.  Although in the House of Lords Cornwallis had aligned politically with the colonists, when war broke out, he was determined that he would do his duty and crush the rebellion.  He volunteered to serve under Clinton in South Carolina and continued in that service in the multiple battles to capture New York.  Despite serving under Clinton, Cornwallis had won the trust of General Howe, who gave him the independent command in New Jersey.

Cornwallis would pursue Washington with an aggressiveness that Washington had not yet experienced.  Washington had to fight a rearguard action to keep the British in check long enough to keep his men on the move toward Philadelphia.  As Howe wanted, Cornwallis doggedly pushed the Continentals back, but never attempted to encircle and capture the enemy army.

Fall of Fort Lee

Along the New Jersey side of the Hudson River, the Continentals had posted guards by the river to prevent an uncontested landing.  But they left gaps in their lines.  One of them was at the cliffs just a few miles north of Fort Lee called Lower Closter Landing.  The Americans thought that would be an impossible landing point for the enemy.  With the assistance of three New Jersey Tories, the British learned of a trail led up the cliffs that the army could use.  It was only about four feet wide, over wet, slippery, and sometimes pretty steep rocks.  But the army could ascend there, without alerting the enemy.

British ascending the NJ cliffs at Lower Closter Landing
(from Wikimedia)
One Hessian soldier who participated in landing noted that a few men armed only with rocks could have stopped the entire advance on that trail.  But there were no guards at all.  The landing force climbed up to the top of the cliff, about 440 feet above the river, and assembled their lines of battle before dawn, completely undiscovered.  By the morning of November 20, the engineers had built lifts out of wood and rope that allowed them to pull up several small field artillery pieces to accompany the infantry.  Even without confronting any enemy, the pace was slow.  The soldiers struggled to get men, cannon, and other equipment up the treacherous cliff during a heavy rain that fell through the night and morning.

After the British had established a perimeter, and began sending out scouting parties, the locals discovered their presence in New Jersey.  General Washington received an alert to the presence on the New Jersey side of the river sometime that morning. This time there was no indecision about what to do.  Fort Lee was not built to defend against a large assault by land.  The fort walls were simply dirt embankments surrounding a small area about 250 square feet.  It had never been designed to withstand an assault or siege of any size.  The fort was built to provide support to the cannon along the Hudson River and little else.

Washington immediately sent notice to evacuate the 2000 man garrison in and around Fort Lee. Most of the garrison still there were local militia. Fort Lee was even less defensible and smaller than Fort Washington.  General Washington could not afford to have another huge chunk of his army taken prisoner.

Before receiving word of the crossing, the American forces did not seem to be on very high alert.  General Nathanael Greene was sleeping in that morning when an express messenger rode into the fort to alert him of the imminent attack.  Greene had been spending the past few days trying to remove munitions and provisions just in case the British would attack.  After losing so much at Fort Washington, the Continentals could not afford to risk the loss of more munitions and supplies.  Unfortunately, the lack of horses and wagons made the attempt to remove supplies in a timely fashion impossible.

By the time word reached the fort, the British were almost on top of them.  Cornwallis had assembled a force of 5000 British and Hessian soldiers into two columns by 1 PM.  He ordered his army ahead at the quick time on the six mile march to Fort Lee.

American Defenses on the Hudson (from Wikimedia)
The scene at the fort was one of chaos. Some men chose to ignore the news and continued eating breakfast.  Others dropped everything and fled into the woods.  Still others thought this was a good time to break into the fort’s stores and begin looting, particularly the rum.

General Greene managed to get most of the garrison into two columns and march toward where Washington was waiting a few miles from the fort.  After getting the bulk of the garrison to Washington, Green returned to the fort to gather more stragglers.  In getting the men away, the Continentals abandoned the massive stockpile of guns, ammunition, tents, and food still stored at the fort.  There was no time to pack up any wagons, even if they had wagons.

The British arrived to find the fort almost empty.  They captured about 100 stragglers.  Most were not in the fort itself, but hiding in the forest nearby, some passed out from drunkenness after breaking into the stores of rum left behind. None of the remaining defenders fired a shot.  The attackers found food still cooking on fires as the defenders had fled so rapidly.

The Hessians saw the dust cloud of the retreating army a few miles away toward Hackensack.  They started to pursue and harass the retreating column, but General Cornwallis ordered them back.  They were under orders to take the fort, not to pursue the enemy any further.  The 2000 man garrison from Fort Lee, joined by another 2000 men who had been in the field under Washington, all retreated together, back to Hackensack, where they collapsed for the night.  Washington posted sentries along the Hackensack River, but the British did not pursue them.

The fall of Fort Lee meant another embarrassing loss for Washington.  He had not lost a large number of men.  His failure, however, to secure a timely evacuation of arms and supplies meant another loss of items the army desperately needed, not only for battle but even just to keep an army in the field.  The British reported capturing cannon, munitions, tons of forage, flour, and biscuits.  Not satisfied with the windfall, the British and Hessians raided nearby estates, looting more items and capturing over 1000 head of cattle.

Pursuit Across New Jersey

Washington watched the remnants of his army stagger into camp after dark and under a light rain. Soldiers who remained with the army had to endure the cold November nights without winter uniforms, blankets, tents, or even much food.  Many militia simply gave up and went home.  Most others figured the end was near.  Although 2000 from Fort Lee met up with Washington’s contingent of about 2000 in Hackensack, Washington reported a few days later that his force was at most 3000 men, meaning the rest had deserted.

The next morning, November 21, the first British and Hessian forces approached Hackensack. They were met with return fire from the Continental lines.  The British had expected that the Americans would simply continue to run as they approached.  But the Americans held the line at the Hackensack River.

Movements across NY and NJ
(from Wikimedia)
Rather than press an attack, Cornwallis opted to wait and bring up reinforcements.  He paused for a few days awaiting additional units which would give him a total of over 10,000 soldiers to pursue the Americans.  While he waited, the Americans gave up the town and retreated further south in good order.

The Continentals pulled back to the Passaic River.  There they put up another defensive line.  Washington could not stand against the superior British force against him, but he could force them to fight for every piece of ground that they took.  The Continentals crossed the Passaic River over the Acquackanonk Bridge.  Once across, they destroyed the bridge in hopes of slowing down their pursuers.

In British occupied Hackensack, the locals initially greeted the British and Hessians as liberators.  But the Hessians especially began looting the town. General Cornwallis focused on building up stocks of food for his army.  This quickly put a stop to the political goal of getting the locals back to supporting the King.  Even without this behavior, as the British moved further south and away from New York, they found the locals to be increasingly hostile.

General Howe was fairly content.  He now had full control of Manhattan.  The capture of Forts Washington and Lee gave him a few more victories to report back to London.  Cornwallis was slowly but steadily pushing the enemy out of New Jersey, thus liberating another colony for the King.  As the Howe Brothers began thinking about settling into winter quarters, they felt they had accomplished most of what they wanted.  They had proven the Americans could not stand up to the British Army, which seemed to be able to move about at will.  The winter would give the Americans time to think about their predicament.  They would probably be ready to sue for peace before another campaign would begin in the spring.

Cornwallis, however, in his first independent command, was not ready to shut down for the winter quite yet.  After a few days of collecting stragglers and supplies around Fort Lee, Cornwallis assembled his column and marched out in pursuit of the fleeing Continental Army.  It was late November.  A cold driving rain fell on both the fleeing Continentals and their pursuers.  Muddy roads made the movement of wagons and equipment difficult.  It was more of a problem for the British since the Continentals had already abandoned most of their equipment.

The Continentals destroyed all bridges as they marched down the west bank of the Passaic River.  The regulars shadowed them a few days behind along the east bank. As the British moved south, they encouraged locals to take advantage of Howe’s offer of amnesty.  Many did so, in order to protect their property.  Most patriots had fled ahead of the British arrival.  While there was some clear hostility, or at least coldness to the British arrival at some farms and villages, most locals who remained appeared to side with the British as they marched through towns along the east coast of New Jersey.

This was critical to the British war plans.  The British would never have enough regulars or Hessian auxiliaries to occupy all of America.  They had to rely on local Tories to keep areas under the King’s authority once the army moved on to another area.  Cornwallis tried to limit looting and pillaging of the locals.  Soldiers were always eager to supplement their lives through pilfering food or valuables.  Even the army itself had to commandeer supplies along the way to feed and shelter its men.  Cornwallis, still had to struggle to keep plunder of potentially friendly locals from getting too out of control, or those locals would not remain friendly.

In many of their reports, British officers tended to blame the Hessians for all of the looting.  But given the number of regulars who were subjected to lashings or other punishments, it seems clear that many British soldiers could not resist either.  Beyond the soldiers, many civilians, former slaves, and other camp followers marched behind the army, looting and pillaging whatever they could find.

Of course, Washington’s army was guilty of many of the same crimes.  Starving Continentals and militia, many without food, shoes, or blankets, availed themselves of opportunities to acquire whatever they needed, however they could.  Being on the run, Washington had a hard time attracting any new recruits to what looked like a lost cause.  He was lucky to hold on to the soldiers he already had.

The Continental Army reached Newark where it remained for a few days.  Washington hoped that local militia would rally around the army and give them enough men to make a stand.  His army marched into Newark on November 23 or 24, and remained there until November 28.  He sent a note to Congress in Philadelphia, warning them that the British might pursue the army that far and take the city before the end of the year.  Some in Congress, not realizing the state of affairs, were shocked and panicked at the idea that the British might soon get to Philadelphia.

On November 28, Cornwallis’ force entered Newark as the last of the Continentals retreated south out of the other end of town.  As Cornwallis’ regulars moved south, Washington’s Continentals once again retreated further south to New Brunswick. Washington had failed to rally any militia. The Continentals were in no position to engage in a sustained battle.  Both armies continued to move across New Jersey toward Philadelphia.

Next week: I want to step away from the battlefield.  I’m going to take a look at what the Continental Congress thought about recent events as well as diplomatic efforts.

- - -

Next Episode 115: Congress and Diplomacy

Previous Episode 113 The Fall of Fort Washington



Click here to donate
American Revolution Podcast is distributed 100% free of charge. If you can chip in to help defray my costs, I'd appreciate whatever you can give.  Make a one time donation through my PayPal account. 
Thanks,
Mike Troy


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



Further Reading

Websites

Gen. Wilhelm Von Knyphausen: http://www.mountvernon.org/digital-encyclopedia/article/wilhelm-von-knyphausen

Col. Johann Rahl (sometimes spelled Rall) : http://www.revolutionarywararchives.org/rall.html

Letter from George Washington to John Hancock, 27 November 1776, Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-07-02-0159

Fleming, Thomas "The Enigma Of General Howe" American Heritage, Vol. 15, Issue 2 (Feb. 1964): http://www.americanheritage.com/content/enigma-general-howe

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

The Detail and Conduct of the American War, under Generals Gage, Howe, Burgoyne, and Vice Admiral Lord Howe, (original reports and letters) The Royal Exchange, 1780.

Carrington, Henry Battles of the American Revolution, 1775-1781, A.S. Barnes & Co. 1876.

Drake, Samuel A. The Campaign of Trenton 1776-77, Lee and Shepard, 1899.

Force, Peter American Archives, Series 5, Vol 3, Washington: St. Claire Clarke, 1837.

Johnston, Henry The Campaign of 1776 Around New York and Brooklyn, Long Island Historical Society, 1878.

Martin, Joseph Plumb The Adventures of a Revolutionary Soldier, 1830 (This is a copy of the original print, but in poor quality.  You can borrow a better quality copy or listen to a free audio copy of the book) or see below in "books worth buying" section.

Stryker, William Battles Of Trenton And Princeton, Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, 1898.

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

Atkinson, Richard The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777, Henry Holt & Co. 2019

Daughan, George C. Revolution on the Hudson: New York City and the Hudson River Valley in the American War of Independence, New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 2016.

Dwyer, William The Day Is Ours: How a Ragged Rebel Army Stood the Storm and Saved the Revolution,  Viking, 1983.

Fischer, David Hackett Washington’s Crossing, Oxford Univ. Press, 2004.

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

Lefkowitz, Arthur S. The Long Retreat, The Calamitous American Defense of New Jersey 1776, Upland Press, 1998.

McCullough, David 1776, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005.

Schecter, Barnet The Battle for New York, New York: Walker Publishing, 2002.

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.