Sunday, May 31, 2020

Episode 151 St. Leger Expedition

For the last couple of weeks, our attention turned to Philadelphia.  But before that we were following General Johnny Burgoyne as his army moved into New York and reached the Hudson River.  Burgoyne has also sent a second force on a different route led by General Barry St. Leger.  Today we are going to take a look at St. Leger’s campaign.

St. Leger Leaves Montreal

I gave a little background about General St. Leger back in Episode 143. Barrimore Matthew St. Leger was an Irish born son of a noble protestant family.  He had extensive experience in Canada during the French and Indian War and had risen to Lieutenant Colonel by the beginning of the Revolutionary War.  On this mission, he had a temporary rank as brigadier general and an independent command.

St. Leger movements in green. (from Rev War US)
General Burgoyne had been moving the main army from Canada down Lake Champlain to Fort Ticonderoga and then on to the Hudson River, where he planned to move on Albany.  At that same time, General St. Leger would take his smaller force up the St. Lawrence River to Lake Ontario.  From there, his force would move east through the Mohawk Valley with the intent of linking up with General Burgoyne’s army at Albany.

St. Leger’s smaller force consisted of two regiments of British Regulars, about 80 German Jaeger’s and about 100 French laborers.  But the bulk of his army consisted of local loyalists and Native Americans.

Sir John Johnson

Accompanying St. Leger was Lieutenant Colonel Sir John Johnson.  For Sir John, this trip was a homecoming. He was the son of Sir William Johnson who I had mentioned in earlier episodes. William Johnson had been the Indian agent in the region for many decades.  Sir William was an adopted member of the Iroquois tribe and had an Iroquois mistress.  He was also a large landholder in western New York and a major general in the Tryon County militia.

Sir John had been born and raised in New York.  He had close relationships with the Iroquois as well as his fellow colonists.  At the age of thirteen Sir John had gone off to war with his father, in the French and Indian War.  He also helped his father with the treaty negotiations following Pontiac’s Rebellion.  In 1768 he was present at Fort Stanwix when his father, as British agent, negotiated a treaty with the Iroquois defining borders for both the natives and colonists.

Sir John Johnson
(from McCord Museum)
Sir John had also visited England for several years and was knighted by George III.  When Sir William died in 1774, Sir John inherited his father’s vast estate in the Mohawk Valley.  He also inherited Sir William’s command of the Tryon County militia.  Sir John also assisted his cousin Sir Guy Johnson who inherited Sir William’s position as Superintendent of Indian Affairs in North America.

Like his father, John Johnson was an outspoken Tory and a supporter of the King.  As the patriots began to take power in 1775, Sir John remained in New York but kept a low profile.  He had to abandon his estates and flee to Canada in early 1776, escaping a patriot militia party sent to arrest him.

From Montreal, he organized the King’s Royal Regiment of New York, sometimes called the “King’s Yorkers.” This loyalist regiment comprised mostly fellow New York Loyalists who had fled their homes when the patriots took over the state.  Now, these soldiers hoped to reclaim their homes and secure the colony for the King.  About 350 loyalists joined St. Leger in his effort to take back western New York from the rebels.

Joseph Brant

Also joining the expedition was Joseph Brant, also known as Thayendanega, a Mohawk Chief who was the brother-in-law of John Johnson’s father. Sir William’s Iroquois mistress / common law wife was Molly Brant, Joseph’s older sister.

Brant fought in several battles during the French and Indian war under the leadership of Sir William.  Since his father had died when he was an infant and his stepfather died when he was a young teenager, Joseph became close to Sir William.  He was about the same age as William’s son John, so the two men grew up together.

Joseph Brant, 1776
(from Wikimedia)
Brant attended in Indian school in Connecticut, where he learned the English language and customs.  He also taught the Mohawk language to a missionary.  He had planned to attend King’s College in New York (later Columbia University) but just after Pontiac’s Rebellion, relations between Indians and colonists were not the best.  Instead, he opted to return to upstate New York.  Brant fought in several more military campaigns under Sir William, mostly against tribes that defied Iroquois rule.  During this same period, Brant took an Oneida wife and spent time translating the bible into Mohawk language.  With the support of Sir William, Brant became a Mohawk Chief in 1774.

In 1775, Brant traveled to London to meet with Lord Germain.  Their talks focused on the colonial encroachment onto Iroquois land.  Germain promised Brant and the Iroquois the support of the British government against the colonial land grabs.  While in London, Brant met with King George III and joined the Freemasons.  Confident in the support of the government, Brant returned to America in 1776 with the British fleet that was headed to New York.  Brant fought at the Battle of Long Island.

After that, Brant made his way back to Iroquois territory.  There, he raised an army of about 300 warriors and 100 loyalists who opposed patriot movements in their territory.

After about a year of this, Brant participated in an Iroquois council to determine whether the Iroquois Confederation would remain neutral in the war between the British and colonists, or whether they would support the British government.  Brant was a strong supporter of the latter, arguing that sitting out the war would mean the government would be less inclined to protect tribal lands later.  The colonists were taking land.  The British government vowed to protect their land.  Brant thought supporting the British was an easy call.  The Council could not really come to any agreement.  In the end, some of the tribes, particularly the Mohawk and Seneca fought with the British.  The Oneida and Tuscarora for the most part threw in their lot with the patriots.

Brant departed the conference in time to bring hundreds of Mohawk warriors to the St. Leger expedition.  He caught up with the expedition after it had left Montreal.

With Brant’s arrival, the native warriors made up more than half of the roughly 2000 man force under St. Leger.  Because of the close relationships between native and colonial leaders like Johnson and Brant, there was a much better level of cooperation between the two groups than we would see in Burgoyne’s army.  St. Leger had little experience commanding native warriors, but relied on his colonial officers to keep the diverse collection of soldiers working and fighting together.

Indian Warfare in the Northwest

Before St. Leger’s army reaches its goal, I think it is important to give a little more attention to the role of Native Americans in the fighting.  As the examples of John Johnson and Joseph Brant provide there were many men who were comfortable living in both the provincial and native cultures. In many ways these two cultures were greatly intermingled.  Both relied on trade with the other.  There was a great deal of interaction.  Neither group lived in isolation of the other.  Many got along quite well and even intermarried.

Fort Detroit (from Detroit Public Library)
At the same time, there was a reasonable amount of fear and distrust of the other. Native tribes were continually in fear of settlers taking more of their land, despite treaties to the contrary.  Many settlers lived in fear of Indian attacks, sometimes as part of a larger campaign, other times just isolated renegades looking to rape and pillage.

As the rebellion grew, both sides attempted to get local tribes to ally with their side, or at least not join into an alliance with the enemy. As I mentioned earlier, Guy Johnson served as Superintendent of Indian Affairs.  Guy came to America from Ireland as a young teenager to join his Uncle William in the Mohawk Valley.  He married Sir William’s daughter whose mother was one of Sir William’s many Iroquois mistresses.

Guy is critical to British-Native relations in this region, but was sidelined for the coming events.  He had traveled to London a couple of years earlier along with Joseph Brant. He had gone because another British Indian agent in Canada, John Campbell, claimed jurisdiction as Superintendent there.  Guy went to plead his case to officials in London, but they upheld that Sir Guy’s authority covered only New York, not Canada.  When he and Brant returned with the British fleet to New York City in 1776, the patriots had taken over upstate New York.  Guy was asked to remain in New York City rather than go back to Canada for fear of getting into a leadership tussle with Campbell.  So Guy was stuck in New York City while the entire Burgoyne and St. Leger armies were deployed in upstate New York.

I mention all this to underscore the fact that native support was not simply an afterthought.  The British gave great attention to maintaining good relations with the native tribes in times of peace and encouraging their cooperation in times of war.  We mostly hear about the natives when they are serving alongside British soldiers, as they were in the St. Leger Expedition.  But this was only one small part of much larger British efforts to make use of their Indian subjects.

British agents in the western frontier had spent much of 1776 encouraging native tribes to attack colonists living in their territories.  Traditionally, warriors had avoided larger attacks on towns for fear that the British would send armies of devastation and take even more tribal land.  This had been a common trend as I’ve discussed previously.  See, Episode 15 the Anglo-Cherokee War, Episode 19 response to Pontiac’s Uprising, Episode 44 Lord Dunmore’s War, and Episode 102 The Cherokee War as examples.  Most tribes knew that going to war against colonists usually would end badly for the tribes.

But with the British government encouraging war now, many warriors were emboldened to act, at least in smaller raids.  A great many Shawnee, Mingo and Delaware warriors began attacking settlers in outposts throughout the Ohio Valley.  This includes modern day West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, and even parts of western Maryland and Pennsylvania.  The Americans had considered sending in armies of retaliation, but were concerned that doing so might only encourage the much larger numbers of warriors who had remained neutral to take up arms against the patriots.

By early 1777 Congress deployed newly promoted Brigadier General Edward Hand, who had fought with distinction in the Princeton campaign, to go to Fort Pitt in Western Pennsylvania.  They also deployed several regiments and much-needed munitions and supplies in preparation for raids into the Ohio Valley if necessary.

Around this same time, Lord Germain was sending orders to General Carleton about Burgoyne’s mission and orders to Carleton to encourage friendly tribes to engage in raids along the Pennsylvania and Virginia frontier so that the Continentals would have to divert more men and resources there and away from upstate New York.

In 1775 London had created civil offices for lieutenant governors for western outposts.  These  included Detroit, in what is today Michigan, Vincennes, in what is today Indiana, and Kaskaskia in what is today Illinois.  The main job of these officials was to encourage tribes in their areas to support the King and go to war against the rebels.

Sir Henry Hamilton
(from Wikimedia)
In June 1777, Henry Hamilton, who was stationed in Detroit, convened a council of tribes to encourage warriors to attack the rebels.  He provided weapons and gifts.  Some of these warriors went to Montreal to join up with Burgoyne and St. Leger, but most would attack outposts in the Ohio Valley.  To encourage this, Hamilton offered to pay for rebel scalps, a practice for which he later became known among the Indians as “hair buyer.”

While these attacks became a terror for settlers living on the frontier, they remained an irritant to the American war effort overall.  The Americans would eventually have to respond, but that will be at a later time.  I will cover those more in future episodes.

The patriots also attempted diplomatic efforts with various tribes, although they did not have the diplomats and ability to provide gifts and incentives that the British did.  As a result, the patriots focused mostly on encouraging only the tribes who lived most closely among them to ally themselves, or at least agree to remain neutral in the fighting.

General Philip Schuyler had spent a great deal of his command meeting and negotiating with the Iroquois and other tribes in upstate New York.  The patriots were on fairly good terms with the Oneida tribe, which was one of the smaller Iroquois tribes, but whose land would be the main area where St. Leger’s army would confront the Americans.

Fort Stanwix

The first target of the St. Leger’s army was Fort Stanwix, which the Americans had renamed Fort Schuyler.  The fort sits in what is today known as the town of Rome, NY.  British General Stanwix had built the fort during the French and Indian War to protect access to the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers from a western attack.  After the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1768, the fort was abandoned as it was inside Iroquois territory.

The unoccupied fort fell into disrepair over the next decade.  The patriots reoccupied the fort in 1776 as part of their efforts to prevent a British invasion from Canada.  By early 1777, the fort still was not in terribly good condition.  The garrison attempted to rebuild defensible walls and brought back cannons from Fort Ticonderoga to use for the fort’s defenses.

Peter Gansevoort

In May 1777, Continental Colonel Peter Gansevoort took command of the fort.  Gansevoort was a young officer in his twenties.  He had come for a Dutch family that had lived in New York for generations.  His brother served as a member of the New York Provincial Congress as a strong advocate for the patriot cause.

Peter Gansevoort
(from Wikimedia)
Before the war began, Peter had joined the Albany County Militia.  Because of his commanding presence and his family connections, General Schuyler had recommended him for a commission as a major in the Continental Army when it began in 1775.  Major Gansevoort participated in the Quebec campaign, but was one of the thousands of soldiers who fell ill and was lying in a sick bed in Montreal when General Montgomery launched the failed attack on Quebec.

After the withdrawal of the American forces in Canada, Gansevoort took command of Fort George in New York.  In November 1776, Congress promoted him to colonel and gave him command of the Third New York Regiment.  Gansevoort had recruited the regiment himself.  In May 1777, Gansevoort took command at Fort Stanwix, which again, the patriots had renamed Fort Schuyler, but I’m going to continue to call Fort Stanwix.

Gansevoort commanded a garrison consisting of his regiment plus other local militia and anyone else they could find, totalling about 550 soldiers at Fort Stanwix.  His second in command was Lieutenant Colonel Marinus Willett, who you may recall played a key role during the Peekskill Raid a few months earlier, see Episode 133.  The Americans had received intelligence about the British expedition to Lake Ontario, and expected that the expedition would attempt to take Fort Stanwix.

Siege of Fort Stanwix Begins

The fort received word of the loss of Fort Ticonderoga and the retreat of the Continental Army.  In June and July, there were several attacks near the fort, including two soldiers who were shot and scalped.  One of them, Captain Gregg, feigned death while being scalped.  After the raiding party had left, Gregg’s dog ran off and found help, getting two civilians fishing nearby to come to his rescue and bring him back to the fort.  A few weeks later, a group of Indians fired on a group of young girls picking berries in the woods, killing two of them.  These attacks were by warriors who had not joined the St. Leger expedition, but were operating on their own, preying on isolated individuals or small groups rather than larger or entrenched garrisons like the fort itself.

Fort Stanwix (modern reconstruction) (from Wikimedia)
Fort Stanwix was in Oneida territory.  The Oneida were friendly toward the patriots, and still maintained their neutrality in the war.  The Oneida were in regular communications with the fort garrison and were just as outraged by these attacks as the garrison itself.  It was believed that these attacks were from other tribes who were working in concert with the British who were scouting the territory.  However no one ever identified any of the attackers.

By July 27, 1777 St. Leger’s expedition had reached Lake Ontario and launched its force inland toward Fort Stanwix.  Less than a week later, on August 2, the advance of the column came within sight of Fort Stanwix.  They arrived just in time to see the last of a supply train enter the fort, raising the garrison’s numbers to over 700 defenders and with enough arms and ammunition to withstand a siege of up to six weeks.  The fort had sufficient food and ammunition, although limited gunpowder would restrict use of the cannons.

On the morning of August 3, General St. Leger demanded the surrender of the fort. After being refused, he began his siege.  Without sufficient cannons to take down the fort walls from a distance, St. Leger relied on his Indians to surround the fort and pick off defenders with their rifles.  Similarly, the defenders used rifles to pick off attackers, leading to a contest of sharp shooters over the following days.

The fort was in a good position to hold out, but ultimately, it would have to fall to the superior force unless a relief column came to its aid.  At this point General Burgoyne had chased most of the American forces to the Hudson River where the Americans were still trying to regroup and defend against this attack by the larger army. The Continentals did not have forces to spare to send to Fort Stanwix.

With neither side able to defeat the other in a direct attack, the two sides settled into a siege.

- - -

Next Episode 152 Fort Stanwix and Oriskany

Previous Episode 150 Howe Leaves New York

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Further Reading



Mary Brant:

Sawyer, William The Six Nations Confederacy During the American Revolution:

Henry Hamilton:

Peter Gansevoort:

Scott, John Albert. “JOSEPH BRANT AT FORT STANWIX AND ORISKANY.” New York History, vol. 19, no. 4, 1938, pp. 399–406:. JSTOR,

Bryce, P. H. “SIR JOHN JOHNSON: BARONET; SUPERINTENDENT-GENERAL OF INDIAN AFFAIRS 1743-1830.” The Quarterly Journal of the New York State Historical Association, vol. 9, no. 3, 1928, pp. 233–271. JSTOR,

Walker, Mabel Gregory. “Sir John Johnson.” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, vol. 3, no. 3, 1916, pp. 318–346. JSTOR,

Free eBooks
(from unless noted)

Anbury, Thomas Travel through Various Parts of North America, Vol. 1, William Lane, 1789.

Bird, Harrison March To Saratoga General Burgoyne And The American Campaign 1777,
Oxford Univ. Press, 1963

Brandow, John H. The Story of Old Saratoga; the Burgoyne Campaign, to Which is Added New York's Share in the Revolution, Brandow Printing, 1919.

Burgoyne, John A Brief examination of the plan and conduct of the northern expedition in America, in 1777, T. Hookham, 1779.

Clay, Steven E. Staff Ride Handbook for the Saratoga Campaign, 13 June to 8 November 1777, Combat Studies Institute Press, 2018 (US Army Website):.

Digby, William The British Invasion from the North: The Campaigns of Generals Carleton and Burgoyne from Canada, Joel Munsell’s Sons, 1887.

Hudleston, Francis J. Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne: Misadventures of an English General in the Revolution, Bobbs-Merrill Co. 1927.

Luzader, John Decision on the Hudson, National Park Service, 1975.

Nickerson, Hoffman The Turning Point of the Revolution; or, Burgoyne in America, (Houghton-Mifflin Co. 1928 (

Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe Historical Considerations on the Siege and Defence of Fort Stanwix, in 1776 [1777], New-York Historical Society, 1846.

Stone, William Leete (ed) Orderly book of Sir John Johnson during the Oriskany Campaign, 1776-1777, Albany: J. Munsell's Sons, 1882.

Stone, William L. Border Wars of the American Revolution, Vol. 1, Harper & Brothers, 1845.

Stone, William Leete, The Campaign of Lieut. Gen. John Burgoyne  and the expedition of Lieut. Col. Barry St. Leger, Albany, NY: Joel Munsell, 1877.

Tracy, Marion Emma Fort Stanwix and our Flag, Utica, N.Y., The Utica Deutsche zeitung printing house, 1914.

Walworth, Ellen H. Battles of Saratoga, 1777; the Saratoga Monument Association, 1856-1891, Joel Munsell’s Sons, 1891.

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)*

Boehlert, Paul A. The Battle of Oriskany and General Nicholas Herkimer: Revolution in the Mohawk Valley, History Press, 2013

Furneaux, Rupert The Battle of Saratoga, Stein and Day 1971.

Kelsay, Isabel Thompson Joseph Brant, 1743-1807, Man of Two Worlds, Syracuse Univ. Press, 1984.

Ketchum, Richard M. Saratoga, Turning Point of America’s Revolutionary War, Henry Holt & Co, 1997.

Logusz, Michael O. With Musket and Tomahawk, The Saratoga Campaign and the Wilderness War of 1777, Casemate Publishing, 2010.

Logusz, Michael O. With Musket and Tomahawk. Volume II: The Mohawk Valley Campaign in the Wilderness War of 1777, Casemate Publishing, 2012 (book recommendation of the week).

Luzader, John F. Saratoga: A Military History of the Decisive Campaign of the American Revolution, Casemate Publishers, 2008

Mintz, Max M. The Generals of Saratoga: John Burgoyne and Horatio Gates, Yale Univ. Press, 1990.

Mintz, Max. M. Seeds of Empire: The American Revolutionary Conquest of the Iroquois, NYU Press, 1999.

Ranzan, David A and Matthew J. Hollis (eds) Hero of Fort Schuyler: Selected Revolutionary War Correspondence of Brigadier General Peter Gansevoort, Jr., McFarland, 2014.

Watt, Gavin K. Rebellion in the Mohawk Valley: The St. Leger Expedition of 1777, Dundern, 2002.

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Episode 150 Howe leaves New York

In July 1777, General Howe remained in New York City after the Continentals and militia had pushed his army out of New Jersey six months earlier.  Everyone had expected him to begin to do something by this time.  Typically, campaigns began in the spring.  Most people expected Howe to capture Philadelphia, the largest city in American and the seat of the Continental Congress.  In June, the British had made a couple of feints into Northern New Jersey, resulting in the battle of Short Hills that I talked about back in Episode 140.

But all the real action was happening in upstate New York as General Burgoyne marched his army through the Hudson Valley.  In New York City, General Howe did not make any significant deployments anywhere, not toward Philadelphia, and not up the Hudson Valley toward Burgoyne.  He left everyone to wonder what he was waiting for, and where he would go?

Clinton Returns

On July 5, General Henry Clinton returned to New York from London.  Recall that General Clinton had sailed for London months earlier with the intent of resigning his commission.  General Howe had refused to make use of him and had him sitting in Rhode Island without sufficient forces to take any offensive actions.  When the King refused to accept his resignation, refused to give him the independent command that went to Burgoyne, and ordered him to return to serve as Howe’s second in command for another year, Clinton did as ordered, but was not happy about it.

Sir Henry Clinton
(from Wikimedia)
The day following his arrival in New York, Clinton met with Howe to discuss what he had planned.  Clinton had expected Howe to send a force up the Hudson Valley to support Burgoyne.  When he learned that there was no such plan, the two men argued over that and a range of other things.  Clinton accused Howe of bad mouthing him to people in London for incompetence in his Rhode Island command.  In response, Howe angrily accused Clinton of badmouthing him to people in London for the entire prior year’s campaign.

The two men went back and forth at each other for hours.  It ended with Clinton announcing that he still wished to resign once this campaign was over.  Howe responded that he would be happy to allow him to resign once Howe returned from Philadelphia.

In the meantime, Clinton would be left in command at New York City.  Howe would take the bulk of his army with him, leaving Clinton with a few thousand Hessians and loyalist militia.  Clinton was concerned that it was barely enough to defend New York City from an attack, let alone send any sort of relief force to assist Burgoyne’s army.  That, however, did not seem to be a concern for General Howe.

Heister Leaves

Another general who had clashed with General Howe was Lieutenant General Phillip von Heister, the commander of all Hessian Auxiliaries in America.  Heister had arrived a year earlier when the British were still in Newfoundland.  He had been part of the landing at Staten Island and the subsequent capture of New York City and the surrounding area.

Heister and Howe had never really gotten along well.  The 70 year old German general had performed well at the Battle of Long Island, but repeatedly clashed with Howe over issues of command and the use of the Hessians.  Heister thought that Howe mostly used the Hessians as cannon fodder, causing unnecessary casualties among his men.  The two generals also butted heads over how much independence the Hessians had over the command of British officers.

Phillip Leopold von Heister
(from Wikimedia)
After the capture of the Hessians at Trenton, Heister and Howe exchanged words and blamed each other over responsibility for the loss.  Howe sent word back to London that he could not work with the general and wanted him dismissed.

This was a touchy issue since the British most certainly did not want all of the Hessians to pack up and go home.  Dismissing their commander could have caused real problems.  Intead, officials in London conferred with the leadership in Hesse.  The Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel soon sent notice that General Von Heister was being recalled temporarily for reasons of his health and age.  In truth, despite the attempted face saving, everyone knew he was being blamed for Trenton and being removed from command as a result.

Heister boarded a ship for London in late June and eventually made his way back to Hesse-Cassel.  He would die later that same year a dejected and frustrated man.

The new commander of Hessian forces was General Wilhelm Von Knyphausen, who had been Heister’s second in command.  Von Knyphausen and much of his Hessian army would join General Howe on the Philadelphia Campaign.


On July 8, two days after his meeting with Clinton, Howe began boarding his army of somewhere between 16,000 and 18,000 soldiers, and another roughly 5000 civilians, aboard a fleet of 267 ships commanded by his brother, Admiral Richard Howe.  The army disembarked from Staten Island, where they had first landed almost exactly one year earlier.  Although the army began boarding ships on July 8, the fleet went nowhere.  Soldiers sat aboard ship for days in the sweltering July heat.  The temperature, the lack of fresh air or fresh food, and seasickness made the time aboard ship unbearable for the soldiers.

 General William Howe
(from Wikimedia)
A week later, on July 15, General Howe received word that General Burgoyne had taken Fort Ticonderoga.  To Howe, like many others, it seemed like the hardest part of Burgoyne’s mission was complete.  The Americans were scattering and Burgoyne should be well on his way to Albany.  Confident that Burgoyne would not need his help, Howe continued his preparations to set sale.  Two days later, he wrote Burgoyne to congratulate him on his success and to confirm that no one would be marching north to meet him.  Howe was confident that Burgoyne could complete his march without assistance.

Around this same time Howe also tried to send a little disinformation to the enemy.  He arranged for a letter to be captured by the Continentals discussing his plans to sail for Boston.  Howe figured that if they believed it, the enemy would move far away from both Burgoyne’s army and his own.  Washington believed none of it.  He was still certain that Howe would send a force up the Hudson river to assist Burgoyne.  Despite intelligence to the contrary, he did not think Howe was stupid enough to abandon Burgoyne in the wilderness of upstate New York with no support.
Finally, on July 20, after leaving his soldiers aboard ship for nearly two weeks, the fleet began to sail out of New York Harbor.  Over the next three days, foul weather and poor winds meant that the fleet went exactly nowhere.  By July 23, they still had not cleared Sandy Hook, New Jersey.  The fleet slowly made its way out to sea, trying to sail beyond the horizon so that no one on land could determine where they were headed.

Where did they go?

With the British fleet out of sight, the Americans had to figure out where they were going so that Washington could march his army to meet them.  Philadelphia remained the best guess for many, although Washington still was not convinced that the fleet was a ruse to get him to march south so that the fleet could return and sail up the Hudson river virtually unopposed.  The famous Culper Spy Ring would not be set up in New York for another year, so intelligence from the city was still sketchy.  Washington could not be sure that intelligence he did receive was genuine or disinformation from the enemy.

The Americans sent scouts to southern New Jersey to keep a lookout for the enemy fleet.  If they intended to sail up the Delaware River to Philadelphia, they should be sighted there first.  Watchmen set up posts at Little Egg Harbor, which is near modern day Atlantic City, and also at Cape May, New Jersey.  At the time, most of this area was uninhabited, except by Indians.  The pine barrens of southern New Jersey, or West Jersey as it was then known, were a largely impassable swampy forest full of dangerous wildlife and outlaws that made passage both slow and risky.  Even so, the teams maintained express riders ready to return to Philadelphia in the event that they sighted the fleet.

HMS Roebuck (from ArtNet)
Because of its remote and largely uninhabited location, Egg Harbor was a known port for smugglers to land goods.  This made it a dangerous area for members of either army.  In late July, a small heavily armed British expedition landed on one of the uninhabited barrier islands near Egg Harbor, where what is today Ocean City, New Jersey.  A couple of the British sailors took the opportunity to desert and found the Americans.  Alerted to the landing, local New Jersey militia captured the remainder of the landing party for interrogation.

It turned out the party was from the HMS Roebuck.  They had landed in search of rum smugglers.  The Roebuck was not part of the fleet, but rather an independent navy ship that had been assigned to the mouth of the Delaware River for many months.  The squad did not send any express riders.  However, rumors about the incident popped up in a Philadelphia tavern the following day. General Thomas Mifflin wrote to Washington that he heard a rumor that 70 ships had been spotted off Egg Harbor, headed for Cape May.  The rumor then metastasized to spread that the British fleet had already entered Delaware Bay.

Washington took the rumor seriously, but still waited for further confirmation.  He wrote back to Mifflin that it was still possible the British wanted to be seen there, then turn around and head back to New York to sail up the Hudson River.  By this time, Washington had moved his army to Flemington, New Jersey, about sixty miles from Philadelphia.  From there, he could still move north or south as needed.

Several days later, on July 30, the Americans at Cape May did spot part of the fleet and sent their express riders to Philadelphia.  Another group of sentries also reported sightings from Cape Henlopen, Delaware, and sent express riders to Philadelphia from there, alerting forces across Delaware as they rode.  Washington received notice the following day.

Alarm in Philadelphia

Philadelphia, of course, was focused on the potential invasion.  One delegate commented “Nothing is said or heard now except war and rumors of war.”  Congress voted to imprison and remove from the city several prominent city leaders who they thought would support the British occupiers.  Among those taken into custody were Governor John Penn and the Chief Justice of the colonial government.   The prisoners were taken west into the back country where they would be out of reach if the British occupied the city.  Congress also issued calls for the militia to turn out for all of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland

Late in the evening of July 31, General Washington arrived in Philadelphia with a small escort, riding ahead of his army.  He rented a room at City Tavern and consulted with members of Congress as to the defense of the city. It was at this time that he was first introduced to the Marquis de Lafayette, who would begin serving as his aide.

Of course, defenses had been well underway for months.  Because Philadelphia was not a coastal town, the only way for a ship to reach it was to travel up the Delaware River.  For the previous two years, patriots had been working to make the river impassable by the British Navy.  Naval ships had already threatened the city several times and been driven back.

Patriots had constructed two forts just below the city, Fort Mifflin sat on Mud Island, near the Pennsylvania side of the river, near where Philadelphia airport is located today.  Across the river in New Jersey, they constructed Fort Mercer at Red Bank.  Any ship passing up the river to Philadelphia would have to pass by the cannons of both of these forts. The Americans were also working on another fort with artillery at Billingsport, a few miles downstream of Fort Mercer.

Chevaux de frise (from Joel Campbell Blog)
The patriots also sunk rows of chevaux de frise into the river so that no ship could simply sail past the forts at full speed.  These were essentially large pointed sticks anchored below the waterline that would puncture the hull of any ship that did not steer clear of them.  There were safe paths through these traps that only local pilots knew.

Pennsylvania maintained a fleet of longboats with mounted cannons.  These boats hid in shallow waters behind islands.  They could row out and fire on ships, then row away before sailing ships could get in position to return fire.  There were a few larger ships as well, but nothing that compared to the larger British ships of the line.

The Americans also planned to use fire-rafts.  These were large wooden vessels, often older ships barely seaworthy or just wooden rafts built for this purpose.  They would be set on fire and set to float downstream.  They could bump into ships moving upstream and set them on fire.  That was the way the British had destroyed the Spanish Armada nearly two hundred years earlier.

As the river narrowed, larger warships had limited maneuverability and were at their most vulnerable.  With news of the fleet’s arrival, all defenses were activated and ready to go into action.

British Bypass the Delaware

Although the British fleet had been far out at sea for over a week, the Howe brothers wanted intelligence on American activities.  As I mentioned, the HMS Roebuck had been patrolling the Delaware Bay for months and actively collected intelligence.  The Roebuck sailed out to meet the fleet so that the ship’s commander, Captain Andrew Hamond could provide Admiral Howe and General Howe with information on the American positions. On the morning of July 30, Hammond informed the Howe Brothers that Washington’s Continentals had crossed the Delaware River and were marching to Wilmington Delaware.  This was not accurate.  Washington was still in New Jersey, miles north of Philadelphia.

Troop Movements 1777 (from Wikimedia)
Hamond did provide more accurate intelligence about the extensive Delaware River defenses that the fleet would have to defeat in order to reach Philadelphia by that route.  Even so, Hamond had a plan to land troops at New Castle Delaware, south of Wilmington.  From there, the armies could march up river, taking out the various river forts that were designed to attack ships, not withstand a land assault.  With the forts destroyed, the fleet could move up the river, take out the small ships and destroy the chevaux de frise and sail into Philadelphia.

Howe listened to the captain but then rejected the plan.  It seems clear that Howe, who knew about the river defenses long before he left New York City, had planned a different approach all along that he did not share with his officers.  Instead of fighting their way up the Delaware River, the fleet would continue to sail south into the Chesapeake Bay.  From there, the army could land in Northern Maryland and march overland to Philadelphia from the south and west.

Howe’s plan had the benefit of being unexpected and bypassing most of the long planned American defenses.  It was, however, unexpected because the plan had a number of problems with it.  First, it meant that the British Army would have to remain aboard ship for at least another couple of weeks.  The men were suffering miserably from their weeks at sea.  Man and animals were already getting sick and dying from the miserable conditions and quantity and quality of food available to them at sea.  This would only get worse if the voyage continued.

Also, it meant that the British would not land until at least the middle of August, and would have a much longer march to Philadelphia than if they had marched from New York City.  The overland march meant they would have to abandon their ships and not have the naval cannons for support.  The Americans would have plenty of time to call out the militia and and use natural defensive barriers to attack the army, just as was happening to Burgoyne’s army in upstate New York.  Even if successful, the campaign would certainly go well into September.  Having any time to help Burgoyne’s army in New York that fall would be completely out of the question.

British cartoon shows Howe Brothers plotting to get rich by
prolonging the war, Oct. 1777 (from British Museum)
Despite these concerns, Howe confirmed that would be his plan.  The fleet continued on its way further south, down the coast.  Except they did not sail directly south.  On August 1, American surveillance at Cape May reported seeing the ships sail away from the coast again, heading east, by northeast.  Washington feared that Howe had sprung his trap.  He had allowed his fleet to be spotted near the Delaware Bay so that Washington had committed most of his army to move south of Philadelphia.  Then, the fleet was going to dash back to New York and sail up the Hudson River to join up with Burgoyne.  Washington issued orders for all armies marching south either to halt, or reverse themselves and begin moving north again.

Much of the Continental Army had marched as far as Germantown, just northwest of Philadelphia. With word that the British might be headed back to New York, Washington ordered these men to march back to Coryell’s Ferry on the Delaware River, north of Philadelphia.  If the British were headed to New York, getting them across the Delaware into New Jersey again would be critical to marching his army north to confront them.

On August 10, Washington left Germantown himself, headed north, setting up his new headquarters in Neshaminy, a small village on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River, near Trenton. It had been more than a week since the fleet was last seen and no one knew what direction it was headed.  That same day, locals reported seeing the fleet off the coast of Maryland, moving south.  But these were unconfirmed reports and Washington was not confident enough to act on them.  Washington remained in Neshaminy, waiting for further intelligence. On August 21, three weeks after the fleet had last been seen, Washington held a council of war with his officer to guess where the fleet might be.  The consensus was that Howe was headed for Charleston, South Carolina and that he planned to recapture the southern colonies.

The next day however, Washington received confirmation that the fleet was, in fact, in the Chesapeake Bay.  With this information, Washington finally committed his army to marching south to meet the enemy south of Philadelphia.  On August 23, he marched his army through Philadelphia, an event I discussed in more detail back in Episode 141.

A few days later, he received word that the British were disembarking at the Head of Elk, Maryland.  Washington finally understood Howe’s plan, and could prepare his defense.

But before we get to that, next week, we will head north again as the British and Americans do battle at Fort Stanwix in upstate New York.

- - -

Next Episode 151 St. Leger Expedition

Previous Episode 149 Lafayette in America

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Further Reading


Mervine, William M. “Excerpts from the Master's Log of His Majesty's Ship ‘Eagle," Lord Howe's Flagship, 1776-1777.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 38, no. 2, 1914, pp. 211–226. JSTOR,

Sullivan, Thomas. “Before and after the Battle of Brandy-Wine. Extracts from the Journal of Sergeant Thomas Sullivan of H.M. Forty-Ninth Regiment of Foot.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 31, no. 4, 1907, pp. 406–418.

W. H. Moomaw. “The Denouement of General Howe's Campaign of 1777.” The English Historical Review, vol. 79, no. 312, 1964, pp. 498–512. JSTOR,

Free eBooks
(from unless noted)

Kauffman, Gerald J. and Michael R. Gallagher The British Invasion of Delaware, Aug-Sep 1777,, 2013 (Univ. Del. website).

Reed, John Ford Campaign to Valley Forge, July 1, 1777-December 19, 1777, Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1965 (borrow only)

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)*

Harris, Michael C. Brandywine: A Military History of the Battle that Lost Philadelphia but Saved America, September 11, 1777, Savis Beatie, 2014.

Kauffman, Gerald J. and Michael R. Gallagher The British Invasion of Delaware, Aug-Sep 1777,, 2013.

McGuire, Thomas J. The Philadelphia Campaign Vol. 1, Stackpole Books, 2006 (book recommendation of the week).

Reed, John Ford Campaign to Valley Forge, July 1, 1777-December 19, 1777, Pioneer Press, 1980 (orig. Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1965).

Taaffe, Stephen R. The Philadelphia Campaign, 1777-1778, Univ. Press of Kansas, 2003

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Episode 149 Lafayette Comes to America

In late July 1777, the Continental Congress was worried about the northern British Army that had just captured Fort Ticonderoga and was marching southward toward New York City.  The main Continental Army was still waiting for the larger British Army in New York City to make its move, most likely against Philadelphia.  At this same time, a nineteen year old boy arrived in Philadelphia, speaking almost no English.  He asked Congress to commission him as a major general in the Continental Army.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that the Marquis de Lafayette had received a commission at the end of July.  But how this came to pass deserves a bit more background.  Lafayette is probably one of the most recognized names from the Revolution.  How a teenager not only gained such a high military command command and became one of the most famous men of the era needs some explanation.

Lafayette’s Early Years

Lafayette obtained his position in French society in the traditional way.  He was born into an important family with great wealth and power.  His family had served the King since at least the twelfth century.  One of his ancestors had been Marshall of France during the Hundred Years War and had served under Joan of Arc.

His father had served as a colonel, killed in 1759 at the Battle of Minden when his son was less than years old. Fun fact, the British general in charge of the artillery that killed his father, was General William Phillips, who was now marching south in New York with General Burgoyne.  In 1781, Philips would die in Virginia while being bombarded by artillery under the command of General Lafayette.

Marquis de Lafayette
(from Wikimedia)
Lafayette’s mother was from an even wealthier noble family and had come with a dowry including extensive land holdings in Brittany.  When her husband was killed, the family title and fortune fell to their only child.

The boy was raised with the best private education French nobility could provide.  He was also raised with stories of French military glory.  In 1770 his great-grandfather, uncle, and mother all died, leaving Lafayette with an even greater fortune.  His estate produced the inflation-adjusted equivalent of well over $1 million per year to support him.  The boy was still only twelve years old.

His great-grandfather, before his death, had arranged for Lafayette to receive a lieutenant’s commission in the Black Musketeers, the unit responsible for the King’s security.  He had also arranged for Lafayette to marry into another noble family with a direct blood relationship to King Louis.  The marriage did not take place until 1774 when the couple were a little older.  By the time of their marriage Lafayette was sixteen and his bride Adrienne was fourteen.  Adrienne’s father, the Duc d’Ayen, was not only a wealthy noble, but also a general in the French army.  As a wedding gift, his new father-in-law promised Lafayette command of one of his cavalry companies when the boy turned eighteen.

Lafayette lived with his wife’s family and became close to the royal family, particularly Queen Marie Antoinette.  Although he had been raised in wealth and luxury, Lafayette was not comfortable with court life.  He wanted to fulfill his dreams of becoming a military officer.

Marie Adrienne Francoise
de Noailles (from Wikimedia)
The thought of fighting for the colonies came from a very unlikely source.  In 1775 King George III’s younger brother, the Duke of Gloucester, had visited France.  The Duke and his wife attended a dinner hosted by the Comte de Broglie, who was at the time Lafayette’s commander.  Captain Lafayette attended the dinner where the Duke criticized his brother’s handling of the American colonies and numerous other things.  The two brothers had been at odds for years.  The King had disapproved of the Duke’s marriage years earlier.

At the time of the dinner, word had only recently reached Europe about the battles of Lexington and Concord.  Both the Duke and de Broglie were also masons, and spent much of the evening talking about masonic notions of equality and the rights of man.  Lafayette listened attentively and said later that it was that night he decided to fight for the American cause.

In June 1776, as part of a general military restructuring to save money, Lafayette was moved to the reserves, meaning he had no military duties.  His career in the French army was going nowhere.  This only increased his desire to go fight in America.  Because of his age, he could not leave without the permission of his father-in-law, who refused to let him go.  Adrienne had just given birth to the couple’s first child.  The Duc d’Ayen did not want to see the boy get himself killed on some military adventure before the family even got started.  Lafayette also sought the support of his old commander the Comte de Broglie, who also counseled against going to America.

Going to America

None of this deterred him though.  Lafayette received an audience with Silas Deane and somehow convinced him to grant a commission as a major general in the Continental Army.  At this time, Lafayette was only 19 years old, and held a commission as only a captain in the French Army.  That commission was only the result of his family’s wealth and social status, not any actual military experience.

Lafayette, Dekalb & Deane in Paris
(From Wikimedia)
Even so, Lafayette convinced Deane to grant him a commission.  Part of it was his willingness to serve with no pay.  Lafayette also convinced Deane that his service would increase French public support for the American cause. Lafayette would encourage the French government to become more involved in the American cause.  Deane also granted General Johann de Kalb a commision as a major general as well.

By the end of 1776, news of the British capture of New York had reached France.  Officials feared that the rebellion might be crushed and that sending French officers to their aid might only start another war with Britain.  Besides, Lafayette’s wife was now pregnant with their second child.  His father in law still had no interest in letting Lafayette abandon his new family.

Instead, the Duc d’Ayen convinced Lafayette to go to London and visit the Duc’s brother who was at the time the French Ambassador to Britain.  Lafayette complied, gaining an introduction to British society.  On his three week trip, he met General Henry Clinton, Lord George Germain, and even had an introduction to King George III.

None of this changed his mind though.  When he returned to France, he did not go home.  Instead, he planned to use the ship he had purchased, to sail to America with General de Kalb and a number of other French officers ready to join the Continentals.

At Bordeaux, the men boarded the ship, now named Victoire.  In signing papers with French emigration officials, he used his name, Gilbert du Mortier, thinking the use of his better-known title Marquis de Lafayette would set off alarms.  He did send a note to his wife letting her know what he was doing.  Rather than sail to America though, the ship first docked at a port in Spain.  By this time Lafayette’s wife had received his note and alerted her father.  The Duc d’Ayen went straight to the King who issued orders that all French officers, especially Lafayette, should not go to America and should return to France if they had already left.

le comte de Broglie
(from Wikimedia)
Lafayette received word of these orders while in Spain and returned to Bordeaux.  Lafayette wanted to go to Paris, but was instructed to go to Marseilles where his in-laws were staying at the moment.  Lafayette planned to obey, until he got a message from his old Commander, the Comte de Broglie.

De Broglie thought he might convince the Continental Congress to give him full command of the Continental Army.  Remember, I discussed back in Episode 115 that the French thought that the Americans, without any trained officers, might be willing to hand over command of the Continental Army to French officers.  The American colonies would come under France’s control and would possibly end up becoming French colonies.

The Comte de Broglie wanted de Kalb, who was on Lafayette’s ship, to go to America and see if this was a possibility.  De Kalb had instructions to negotiate such an agreement with the Continental Congress.  Lafayette was not a part of these negotiations.  He was just the rich kid who was providing the ship to take them to America.  In fact, it was de Broglie’s aide, de Kalb, who had introduced Lafayette to Deane and helped him to get his commission, obtaining a major general’s commission for himself at the same time.  Also joining the ship was the Viscount de Maury, who had also been promised a commission as major general.

Broglie sent an aide to Bordeaux to tell Lafayette that the government actually did want him to go to America, but had to forbid it publicly in order to avoid war with Britain.  It is not clear that this was true.  In fact, there were many within the government who held differing views on how France should get involved, and no one was certain about the true feelings of the King or Foreign Minister Vergennes.

Arrival in America

With Broglie’s assurance, Lafayette pretended to depart for Marseilles, then set sail for America on April 20, 1777.  During the voyage, Lafayette got to know the other officers planning to fight in America.  He realized that not all of them had particularly ideological motives.  De Maury in particular seemed relatively hostile to the idea of a republic that would be independent of Europe.  In one diatribe to his fellow passengers, de Maury summed up his view of the Americans:
Fanaticism, insatiable greed, and poverty, these are unfortunately, the three causes that incessantly drive to these shores masses of immigrants, who come to slay the natives and destroy in a wasteful spirit, forests as old as the world itself; they drench a still virgin soil with the blood of the aborigines and fertilize it with thousands of corpses scattered over fields seized by force.  In this picture, which is only too true, do you see fewer horrors than could be shown in the continent which we are leaving.
French ships ordinarily did not sail straight to America.  Doing so risked seizure by the British Navy.  Instead, they would travel to a French colony in the West Indies, then make a quick dash to the continent from there.  Lafayette, however, was having none of that.  He wanted to sail directly to America. He was in a hurry to arrive.  Besides stopping at a French colony would give only another opportunity for government officials to stop them and send them home.  The ship Victoire had no significant cannons as defense.  If they had been stopped, they would have no chance of defending themselves.

Memorial in Bordeaux where Lafayette left for America
(from Wikimedia)
The gamble paid off, as the ship made it across the Atlantic without incident. After two months, the party landed in South Carolina in mid-June, 1777.  The crew first encountered a group of slaves working to collect oysters along the shore.  These men guided them to the nearest plantation owned by Major Benjamin Huger.

The landing party was met with barking dogs and guns pointed at them.  Huger thought they were a British landing party.  Once they convinced him of who they were, he invited them into his home and welcomed them.  After obtaining local pilots, the ship then made its way to Charleston.  Lafayette, de Kalb, and a few other officers opted to travel overland, some on horseback, some walking.

The group reached Charleston on June 17.  When the group first arrived after their march, they probably looked rather scruffy.  Many other French would-be officers had passed through Charleston.  Many had been failures, without any real military abilities, looking for opportunities in America.  At first, Charleston gave this group the cold shoulder.  But after their ship arrived the following day, they realized these were men of substance who could be a real help to the cause.  The group enjoyed eight days of feasts and celebrations with the town’s elite.

There, Lafayette donated most of the supplies he had brought with him to the South Carolina militia.  The French officers  met with John Rutledge, then President of South Carolina.  They also inspected the defenses with General William Moultrie.  Both men, like Lafayette, were also freemasons, which helped to create an instant bond between the men.

After that, the French officers made their way overland to Philadelphia, a trip taking many more weeks.  Along the way, they stopped in North Carolina to meet with governor Richard Caswell.


On July 27, the group finished its 650 mile journey to Philadelphia.  They arrived on a Sunday, when Congress was not in session.  Still eager to make contact, they sought out President John Hancock at his home.  Hancock blew off the group and said they should seek out Robert Morris, who headed the committee that dealt with French relations.

Johann de Kalb
(from Wikimedia)
On Monday morning, the French delegation put on their dress uniforms and presented their credentials to Congress.  Their welcome was less than expected.  The three would-be major generals were, in Lafayette’s words, “treated like dogs.”  They were left standing out in the street in front of Independence Hall for some time.  Eventually two delegates, Robert Morris and James Lovell (who spoke French) came to speak with them outside.  Morris informed them that Deane had exceeded his authority in offering them commissions as major generals.  Congress was interested in getting a few officers with engineering experience, but that was it. They gave the group, who had expected to be greeted as heroes, a nice thanks but no thanks and asked to leave.

Congress was simply in no mood for more French officers at this time.  The two french officers who had already received commissions as generals in the Continental Army, de Borre and Fermoy had both proven disasters.  You may recall General Fermoy had run away from the enemy at first site near Trenton, leaving his regiment on its own, and had just recently set his cabin on fire at Mount Independence, thus revealing the secret retreat from Fort Ticonderoga.

A few months before Lafayette had arrived in Philadelphia, Charles Tronson du Coudray had come with another commission from Dean promising to make him a major general as well.  Courdray had proven arrogant and demanding, insisting that he be made commander of artillery, along with an expensive salary.  American generals, who by this time had combat experience and were leading their armies, were offended by the idea that a bunch of Frenchmen could be given command over them.  Several of them, including generals Knox, Sullivan, and Greene, threatened to resign.

Washington and Lafayette Meet (from Wikimedia)
In late July, Congress was still in negotiations with du Coudray over what position he could get.  They were not interested in his leadership, but also did not want to offend France by telling him to pound sand.  In the middle of all this, these three additional would-be major generals showed up on Congress’ doorstep demanding their promised commissions as well.  So this background explains the cold shoulder that Lafayette and his companions received.  Congress was in no mood to have its army led by a bunch of French adventurers.

Lafayette was not ready to take no for an answer.  He met with several delegates, including Robert Morris who was focused on building an alliance with France. Lafayette convinced them of his ardor for the cause, but also made clear he would serve as a volunteer, without pay.  Not only that, he would pay the salaries of the French officers who served as his aides.  It also helped that Benjamin Franklin had sent a letter to Congress saying that given Lafayette’s position and his family’s importance in France, this commission was important to America’s relationship with France.  On July 31, three days after his arrival in Philadelphia, Congress changed its tune and agreed to assign the new volunteer major general to Washington’s staff.

A few days later, General Washington came to brief Congress on the British army, then approaching Philadelphia.  Washington and Lafayette met at a dinner and hit it off immediately.  The commander invited new officer to inspect the city defenses that evening, which thrilled Lafayette.  The two men walked and talked that evening.  One could almost hear them say I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Cont. Maj. Gen. Lafayette
(from Wikimedia)
For the other would-be generals, the beginning was not quite so smooth.  A few weeks after Lafayette’s appointment, Congress gave du Coudray a commission as Inspector General, which gave him his generalship, but left him outside the immediate command structure.  In doing so, Congress merely put off what was going to be a major confrontation for control of the Army’s artillery.  Du Coudray conveniently ended this potential confrontation a month later when his horse fell into a river and he drowned.

General de Kalb was offended not only by the rejection, but also the fact that Congress honored Lafayette’s commission despite the fact that Lafayette was a far lower ranking and less experienced officer.  De Kalb advised Lafayette to take his commission, even though the young man offered to resign out of protest for Congress denying a commission to de Kalb.  After his rejection, de Kalb simply asked that Congress pay for his return trip to France.

Over the next couple of months, Congress kept de Kalb cooling his heels.  During that time, de Kalb proved to be not quite so arrogant and argumentative as du Coudray.  Several members began to warm up to the idea of granting him a commission.  In mid-September, about the time du Coudray drowned and the British were moving in on Philadelphia, Congress offered a commission as major general to de Kalb. At that point, de Kalb put several conditions on his acceptance.  One being that he be given retroactive seniority to be ahead of Lafayette.  Another was an appointment of his aide as a major, and finally that his wife would receive a pension if he died during the war.  Finally, Congress accepted his terms.  By October, de Kalb joined Washington’s army in the field shortly before the army retreated to Valley Forge.

The Viscount de Mauroy never received his promised commission.  He returned to France, embittered by his experience and had nothing good to say about the Continental Congress or America generally.

Next week: General Howe begins his campaign to take Philadelphia.

- - -

Next Episode 150 Howe Leaves New York

Previous Episode 148 Murder of Jane McCrea

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

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Further Reading 


Continental Generals by Date of Commission:

Kite, Elizabeth S. “LaFayette and his Companions on the Victoire” Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, vol. 45, no. 1, 1934, pp. 1–32. JSTOR,

Kite, Elizabeth S. “LaFayette and his Companions on the Victoire(Continued).” Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, vol. 45, no. 2, 1934, pp. 144–178. JSTOR,

Kite, Elizabeth S. “LaFayette and his Companions on the Victoire (Continued).” Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, vol. 45, no. 3, 1934, pp. 212–245. JSTOR,

Kite, Elizabeth S. “LaFayette and his Companions on the Victoire (Continued)” Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, vol. 45, no. 4, 1934, pp. 275–311. JSTOR,

Letter, John Adams to Abigail Adams, August 24, 1777, Founders Online, National Archives,

Free eBooks
(from unless noted)

Adams, John Quincy Life of General Lafayette, Napis & Cornish 1847.

Crow, Martha Foote Lafayette, The MacMillan Company, 1918.

Headley, P. C. The Life of the General Lafayette, Marquis of France, General in the United States Army, etc., C. M. Saxton, 1860.

Howe, Archibald Murray Colonel John Brown, of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, the Brave Accuser of Benedict Arnold, Geo. H. Ellis Co. 1908.

Kapp, Friedrich The Life of John Kalb, Major-General in the Revolutionary Army, H. Holt & Co. 1884.

Lowery, Robert A Complete History of the Marquis de Lafayette, self-published, 1826.

Smith, John Spear Memoir of the Baron de Kalb, Maryland Historical Society, 1858.

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)*

Beakes, John De Kalb: One of the Revolutionary War's Bravest Generals,  Heritage Books, 2019

Leepson, Marc Lafayette, Lessons in Leadership from the Idealist General, Palgrave-MacMillion, 2011.

Aurichio, Laura The Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered, Knopf, 2014 (book recommendation of the week).

Unger, Harlow Giles Lafayette, Wiley, 2002.

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.