Sunday, January 30, 2022

Episode 236 Diplomatic Offensive

When we last left the Continental Congress in Episode 222, the delegates had received word that Spain had joined with France in the war against Britain.  Delegates thought this would be the final nail in the coffin for Britain, and that Congress could come to peace terms that would recognize American Independence.  

I talked about the efforts by Congress to come up with a set of negotiable and non-negotiable terms on which to settle the war.  With the entry of Spain into the war in 1779, many leaders hoped that Britain would be willing to bring the war to a quicker end.  

New French Minister

The fall of 1779 would prove to be a major shift in Congress’ diplomatic relations with Europe.  Earlier in the year, it had ended the three-man delegation in France.  Originally Silas Deane had gone to France on his own. He had been joined by Benjamin Franklin and Arthur Lee.  Eventually, Congress recalled Deane over false allegations made by Arthur Lee.  Congress sent John Adams as Deane’s replacement.  By early 1779, Congress gave full authority to Benjamin Franklin in France, making the roles for Adams and Lee redundant.

In the late summer of 1779, France sent a new minister to America.  French minister Conrad Gérard, who had served in that role for just over a year, had requested to return to France, citing health reasons.  Gérard had proven popular with the delegates, mostly working behind the scenes in private meetings.  He had also developed a relationship with George Washington.  

But with the war in Europe growing larger, the diplomatic post in America was a bit of a backwater.  Gérard had also grown tired of the continuing fights over Silas Deane.  Gérard had made abundantly clear that the charges Lee had leveled against Deane were false.  A big part of Lee’s charges was that early French loans to America were actually gifts that did not need to be repaid.  Gérard stressed emphatically that these were, in fact, loans, and did need to be repaid. While trying to remain neutral in what was an internal American political squabble, Gérard was clearly a supporter of Deane.  While I discussed the Deane affair back in Episode 193, it’s important to remember that the battle was still raging.  Congress only finally dismissed Deane in August 1779, from having to remain in Philadelphia for the hearings against him, and the parties were still fighting over compensation.

Minister Luzerne
Gérard had been in the middle of that fight.  He also was dealing with a host of other issues between the two allies that had led to some tensions.  Gérard had had enough.  He remained on good terms with most leaders of Congress, but was eager to go home.  While the various factions in Congress were polite to him for purposes of maintaining the alliance with France, there were some in Congress, particularly the Arthur Lee faction, were happy to see him go.  As John Dickinson put in a letter, “We have dismist [sic] him with as honourable Testimonial, respecting is public and private Conduct, as we could give.”  Gérard would, officially at least, return to France with the good wishes of Congress and the American people.  

Gérard’s replacement Anne-César de La Luzerne had recently arrived in Philadelphia, taking over his duties.  Luzerne came from a French noble family.  He had spent most of his life in the military, rising to the rank of major general.  He had briefly served as a diplomat in Bavaria, before being assigned to the United States in 1779.  Luzerne was welcomed into Philadelphia society, and we will get into his exploits in future episodes.

John Adams, Minister to Britain

During this transition period with the French Minister, Congress also continued to focus on its diplomatic initiatives.  One of the most important was selecting the person who would lead the direct treaty negotiations with Britain.

John Adams
The selection of a chief diplomat was a contentious one.  As we saw when Congress spent months debating the terms of a possible peace treaty, the delegates did not agree and often had widely-conflicting interests.

New England was focused on its border with Canada and the fishing rights of Newfoundland.  The southern states were much more interested in their western border with Spain, and navigation of the Mississippi River.  The chief treaty negotiator would have a huge influence on which interests received priority.

The New England delegates wanted John Adams to receive the appointment.  Adams had recently returned to Massachusetts from France, after Congress gave full authority to Franklin to serve as minister plenipotentiary with France.  Adams’ services were no longer needed in France, so he returned home on the same ship as the new French minister, Luzerne.  Adams had returned to his private law practice, but also worked on a new constitution for Massachusetts, the one state that had not adopted a Constitution since declaring independence.

Adams and Franklin had not gotten along particularly well in France.  The two men had very different styles of diplomacy.  Adams tended to be all business, while Franklin understood that going to parties and being part of the Paris social scene was an important part of the diplomatic process.  Neither Franklin nor Adams liked Arthur Lee very much.  Lee had also seemed to be disliked in most of the European courts.  On top of that, many in Congress thought that Lee’s false attacks on Silas Deane had created a diplomatic incident that had hurt relations with France.  As a result, Lee would also be recalled to America and not given any new position, but he still had supporters in Congress and remained a point of contention.

Congress voted to give Franklin full ministerial powers in France.  No longer would diplomatic relations be handled by a dysfunctional and divided committee.  Franklin would be in charge of all major decisions. 

The recall of Lee and the appointment of Franklin, however, left a minority in Congress rather upset.  New Englanders and much of the Virginia delegation tended to support Lee, especially in the ongoing dispute with Silas Deane.  The fact that John Adams of New England was also losing his position in France rankled mostly this same minority within Congress.

It was in this backdrop that Congress began debate over a minister to open negotiations with Britain.  As usual, delegates were divided.  Six states wanted to select John Adams to be the chief negotiator.  Five states wanted to select outgoing President John Jay for the position.  After some debate, the two sides reached a compromise.  Adams would get the position as minister plenipotentiary to Great Britain to negotiate terms of peace.  Jay would get the consolation prize, being appointed minister to Spain.

Adams had not sought out the position to which Congress appointed him.  In fact, he was happy to be home in Massachusetts again, with his family and working on the state constitution.  But when he received the appointment, Adams prepared to return to Europe.  He would sail back to France because, even though he was tasked with negotiating with Britain, the ministry in Britain had not agreed to receive American delegates.  In London, Adams was still a traitor to the crown and would be subject to arrest.  Adams would have to get some diplomatic recognition in order to travel to Britain, and British authorities were not there yet.  So, Adams was returning to France.

After a return home of only about three months, Adams boarded the same ship that had brought him from France to Massachusetts, for his return trip to France.  Adams never made it to Philadelphia, but had received his written instructions from Congress and dutifully returned to diplomatic service.

Adams’ return journey to Europe proved rather difficult.  They managed to avoid any British warships, but the vessel that carried him, the Sensible, sprang a pretty bad leak only a few days after leaving port.  The crew had to man two pumps day and night to keep the ship afloat.  Even Adams’ son, John Quincy, had to take a shift at the pumps in order to keep from sinking.  

Given the ship’s condition, they would have been in no position to put up a fight or escape a British warship.  The captain opted to avoid any British contact by sailing further south to Spain. The ship arrived safely in late December 1779.  From there, Adams, his two sons: John Quincy and Charles, his aides, and the rest of his delegation had to ride mules through rocky and treacherous terrain, over the mountains that separate Spain and France.  Finally after arriving in France, the delegation was able to board coaches for the rest of the ride to Paris.  Adams finally arrived in mid-January 1780.

Jay to Spain

During this same time John Jay accepted his appointment as Minister to Spain and prepared for his own journey.  Jay had planned to resign from Congress and to return home to New York and resume private practice.  Congress’ decision to send him to Spain was met with mixed feelings.  It would be a challenge, and being a Minister would mean better pay than he would receive as a delegate to Congress (one of his reasons for resigning) but Jay had no diplomatic experience and was taking on a very difficult job.

John Jay

Spain had not agreed to become an ally of the United States.  Spain was allied with France.  France was allied with the United States, and all three were at war with Britain.  That did not mean that Spain recognized American independence.  It did not.  

Spain and the US fought a common enemy, but did not fight together.  Spanish officers in America had instructions not to work directly with the American military.

While Spain stood by its traditional ally, France, and hoped to take advantage of the weakness of its traditional enemy, Britain, Spain was reluctant to support an independent United States.  We cannot forget that Spain was the largest colonizer in the Americas.  Supporting a precedent for American colonies breaking away from their mother country and declaring independence would destroy Spain's economy.  Further, an independent United States might inevitably push further west, threatening Spanish land west of the Mississippi River.

Congress had attempted to send Arthur Lee as a delegate to Spain in 1777.  Spain had refused to receive him, at that time worried about provoking a war with Britain.  Spain had a lot to lose in a war, particularly in its American colonies.  Wars were expensive and risky.  Spain had been caught unprepared when the Seven Years War began, resulting in its loss of Cuba and other territories.  The Spanish economy also relied heavily on treasure ships full of silver and other valuables to be shipped from America to Spain each year.  Open war threatened  the ability to transport those valuable resources.

Spain had, of course, provided some covert military aid, and also allowed American ships to use its ports throughout the empire, hoping the ongoing rebellion would weaken Britain.  But it was reluctant to jump into another war.  Once Spain entered the war in 1779, at practically the begging of Frence, it was still reluctant to get too close to the United States.  Spain’s primary focus seemed to be to use Britain’s distraction to retake Gibraltar, Minorca, and the Floridas.

After Spain declared War in 1779 The Governor of Cuba, Diego Jose Navarrow sent a memorandum to other Spanish officials in America trying to define Spain’s relationship to the United States.

There is no positive order of political basis for the United States of America to be seen or considered under any other concept but that of neutrality, since, not acting as subjects of Great Britain, they do not deserve our hostility; and not openly being friends of the Spanish nation, they should not benefit from our war efforts. Thus you will observe with them, their ships, and [their] vassals the orders issued last November 6, limiting aid to them to what may be demanded by the right of hospitality.

In other words, Spain and the United States were not enemies, but they were not allies either.

The United States, of course, was overjoyed that Spain entered the war against  Britain.  But the Continental Congress still had its own concerns.  It did not particularly want Spain to regain control of the Floridas, which would put them in possible future conflict with the United States.  It also had potential disputes over navigation on the Mississippi River.  Of even greater concern to many delegates was that France’s treaty with Spain recognized Spain’s interest in fishing rights off Newfoundland.  That was something New Englanders wanted for themselves.

It was in the fall of 1779, during the debate to send a minister to Britain, that Congress decided, once again, to send a minister to Spain.  After giving Adams the post with Britain, Congress offered the diplomatic post with Spain to Jay.

Accepting the appointment, Jay submitted his resignation as President of Congress. In his place, Congress selected Samuel Huntington of Connecticut as the presiding officer.  Huntington began his term in October, just after Jay’s resignation.

For his mission to Spain, Congress provided Jay with his instructions: First, beg for money.  Congress hoped to get a loan of 5 million.  The Congress also hoped to acquire a port in Spanish Territory on the Mississippi River, and full navigation rights of the river.  More broadly, Jay was to attempt a commercial treaty with Spain, similar to that with France, allowing trade between the two countries.

Jay left for Europe only a couple of weeks after his appointment.  French minister Gérard was returning to France, and Jay would accompany him.  Gérard and Jay set sail for France aboard the Confederacy a ship of the Continental Navy commanded by Captain Seth Harding.  Jay’s wife also accompanied him.

The trip did not get off to a good start.  A storm hit the ship several days out, causing it to lose its main mast.  The damaged ship was able to make it to the French island of Martinique in the West Indies, where Jay and Gérard had to find a new passage to France.  The Governor of Martinique provided them with space on a ship headed for France.  In the end, the ship ended up sailing directly to Spain to avoid the British Navy.  Jay arrived in Cadiz in January of 1780.

The Court of King Carlos III refused to recognize Jay’s credentials.  The Spanish Court did, however, permit him to remain in Spain and to meet with some key officials in the government.  I’ll leave the details about Jay’s years in Spain for a future episode, but Jay’s career as a diplomat had begun.

Laurens to the Netherlands

Meanwhile, Congress had one more important appointment to make that fall. In October, 1779, Congress sent a delegate to the Netherlands.  They chose Henry Laurens to be the first American Minister to that country.

Henry Laurens

The Netherlands was a tricky diplomatic situation.  The Dutch Republic, as it was known, was ruled by a group of nobility, who essentially cooperated with one another on matters of national policy.  In truth, the leaders of the local states, known as stadtholders, were all members of one noble family, the House of Orange.  By the 1770’s almost all the states were ruled by a single member of that family, William V.

Traditionally, the Netherlands tended to ally itself with Britain in wars against France and Spain. In this case, the Netherlands remained neutral.  It did not formally recognize American independence, 

Since the rebellion in America began, Dutch merchants were selling arms and gunpowder to the colonies.  Dutch ports received American ships.  Dutch bankers had provided the Americans with loans.  I mentioned in a recent episode that the Dutch had given protection to John Paul Jones after he captured the British ship Serapis, and had allowed him to repair and sail his new prize away from a Dutch port.  So, even if the Dutch government officially remained neutral, it tolerated a great deal of business that benefited the American cause.

Congress hoped to build an alliance with the Netherlands.  But the primary goal of Lauren’s mission was to secure cash.  Congress hoped to secure a desperately needed loan of $10 million in specie to help shore up the economy and to continue the war effort.  Dutch bankers seemed willing to underwrite such a loan, but it would take negotiation.

Congress appointed Laurens to the position in October, about a month after the appointments of Adams and Jay.  Laurens then traveled to Charleston to put his affairs in order before leaving for his new mission.  He hoped to catch a ship to France in January 1780, but could not find one leaving Charleston. 

After a few months, he traveled to Wilmington, North Carolina, on word that a ship there was bound for France.  That ship did not leave either, but Laurens had managed to get out of Charleston before the British began to lay siege to the city, something I will discuss in a future episode. By June of 1780, more than six months after his appointment, he found himself back in Philadelphia, still trying to find a way to get to Europe.  With his plantations in South Carolina having fallen under British control, Laurens tried to resign his appointment, by this time unsure how he could support himself in Europe. Congress, however, rejected his resignation.

Since he had been unable to make it to Europe, and since John Adams was already over there and without much to do until the British agreed to begin negotiations, Adams went to the Netherlands in place of Laurens to obtain the needed loans.

In place of seeking loans, Congress encouraged Laurens to begin efforts for a treaty of amity and commerce between the United States and the Netherlands.  

Finally, in August of 1780, Laurens found a small, but relatively fast ship, the Mercury, to take him to Europe.  The ship sailed up the coast just off Newfoundland, in hopes of making a quick dash across the Atlantic.  Several days out, a British warship spotted the Mercury and gave chase.  While trying to outrun the British, Laurens threw overboard most of the important papers that he had with him to avoid them being captured.

One of the chests he had originally planned to keep was a chest that contained some private papers.  He ended up throwing it overboard as well, but only after the British were practically on them.  The chest did not sink as planned, and British sailors were able to recover it.

Among Laurens’ papers was a draft treaty created by William Lee (Arthur Lee’s brother) who was also serving as an American Agent in Europe.  Lee had worked with several Dutch officials unofficially to draft a treaty.   Neither Congress nor anyone in the Netherlands had ever received it, so it was not an official document of any time, merely the product of discussion between a few men who were not authorized to do anything.  Laurens had probably gotten if from Richard Henry Lee or Francis Lightfoot Lee - two other Lee brothers serving in Congress.  It had no real importance. 

Even so, the British would use it as a basis to go to war with the Netherlands.  As for Laurens, he was now a British prisoner.  Because he was not part of the military, he was not subject to any agreement regarding captured officers.  He was taken first to Newfoundland then shipped to London where he would serve time in the Tower of London, awaiting royal justice as a traitor to the crown.

Next Week, King George III attempts to rally flagging political support in London to continue the war against his rebellious colonies.

- - -

Next Episode 237 The King's Speech 

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Further Reading


“From George Washington to Conrad-Alexandre Gérard, 12 September 1779,” Founders Online, National Archives,

“To Benjamin Franklin from John Jay, 26 September 1779,” Founders Online, National Archives,

La Luzerne, Anne-César De

John Adams appointed to negotiate peace terms with British

“To John Adams from James Lovell : Confidential, 27 September 1779,” Founders Online, National Archives,

“To John Adams from James Lovell: Confidential, 28 September 1779,” Founders Online, National Archives,

“To Benjamin Franklin from Arthur Lee: Two Letters, 26 September 1779,” Founders Online, National Archives,

Richard B. Morris Richard B. “The Jay Papers I: Mission To Spain” American Heritage Magazine, Volume 19, Issue 2, Feb. 1968.

“To Benjamin Franklin from the Continental Congress: Instructions, [14 August–16 October 1779],” Founders Online, National Archives,

“Commission to the Minister Plenipotentiary to Spain, 29 September 1779,” Founders Online, National Archives,

“From John Jay to Robert R. Livingston and Gouverneur Morris, 29 September 1779,” Founders Online, National Archives,

“To John Adams from James Lovell, 1 October 1779,” Founders Online, National Archives,

The Netherland in the American Revolution:

Dutch Participation In The American Revolution:

Ruppert, Bob “Henry Laurens’ 15 Months in the Tower” Journal of the American Revolution, Sept. 23, 2015.

Free eBooks
(from unless noted)

Journals of Congress, Vol. 5, Philadelphia: Claypoole, 1782. 

Jay, William The Life of John Jay: with selections from his correspondence and miscellaneous papers, New York, J. & J. Harper, 1833. 

Lee, Richard Henry (ed) Life of Arthur Lee, LL. D., joint commissioner of the United States to the court of France, and sole commissioner to the courts of Spain and Prussia, during the Revolutionary War, Vol. 1 & Vol. 2, Boston: Wells and Lilly, 1829.  

Meng, John J. (ed) Despatches and instructions of Conrad Alexandre Gérard, 1778-1780; correspondence of the first French minister to the United States with the Comte de Vergennes, The Johns Hopkins Press, 1939. 

Pellew, George John Jay, Boston, New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Co. 1890. 

Wallace, David D. The Life Of Henry Laurens, New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1915. 

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)*

Burnett, Edmund Cody, The Continental Congress, Macmillan Co. 1941 

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

Montross, Lynn The Reluctant Rebels, Harper & Brothers, 1950. 

Paquette, Gabriel (ed) & Gonzalo M. Quintero Saravia (Editor) Spain and the American Revolution: New Approaches and Perspectives, Routledge, 2019. 

Stinchcombe, William C. The American Revolution and the French Alliance, Syracuse Univ. Press, 1969 (or view on 

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

ARP235 Fort Wilson

Philadelphia in 1779 was feeling the ravages of war.  A year after the British occupation had ended, locals were still struggling to clean up the city.  The economy was in a state of collapse.  Militia were sick of being called out continually for one action after another.  Goods were scarce and the poor were starving.

Republicans and Constitutionalists

I’ve covered some of the divisions in Philadelphia between the radical patriots, who pushed through a new constitution in 1776, and the more moderate patriots, who were reluctant to declare independence, in Episode 97.  Over the next three years, the divisions continued to keep Philadelphia in separate camps.

James Wilson Home 3rd & Walnut, Philadelphia
Following the British occupation of Philadelphia in 1777-78.  The radicals pushed for more punishment against collaborators who had worked with the British during the occupation.  To the radicals, these people were either loyalists, or simply greedy enough to throw the patriot cause under the bus if it served their personal interests.  After getting over the initial phase of wanting to hang all of these people, the radicals turned to the idea that many of these rich people needed to fork over their wealth in order to support the war effort.

Traditionally Quakers had controlled Pennsylvania.  Patriots, however, had pushed this group out of power due to their loyalist nature and refusal to support the war.  Even so, many patriot leaders, men like James Wilson or Robert Morris, both reluctant signers of the Declaration of Independence, did not want the state to devolve into what they saw as chaos and anarchy as power in the state transitioned.

These wealthier patriots formed the Republican Society in January of 1779.  Their goal was to support the cause of independence, but at the same time, maintain a familiar economic, class, and social structure that allowed elite families to run the state.  The Society opposed the Constitution of 1776 that had allowed pretty much any adult male to vote, regardless of property, and which had given much more political power to the less populated counties on the Pennsylvania frontier, meaning less power for those in and around Philadelphia.

The result of the 1776 Constitution was a massive power shift turning over political power to radicals, who were quick to confiscate or tax the property of the wealthy and who seemed to suspect the loyalty of all men of property.

Charles Willson Peale
The Republican society tried to serve as a check on this growing radicalism.  It opposed the Constitution and wanted certain reforms to protect property rights and to reduce the influence of the radicals.

In April, a few months after the creation of the Republican Society, the radicals formed their own Constitutional Society.  Their goal was to protect the radical Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776, and to make sure that the poorer working people continued to play a dominant role in the politics of the state.  The society elected Charles Willson Peale as its Chairman. President Joseph Reed was a Constitutionalist, as were many other members of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania.

The Constitutionalists viewed the Republicans as counter-revolutionaries.  Even if these republicans were not loyalists (and they suspected that many of them secretly were) they were trying to subvert the democratic gains of the 1776 Constitution and put all real political power back into the hands of a few elite families. 

Price Fixing and Shortages

The Constitutionalists controlled the state government at this time.  They dominated the legislature and the executive council.  But if they wished to remain in power, they would need to keep the voting public happy.  And the voting public was not particularly happy.  Since the British had evacuated Philadelphia in the spring of 1778, the city had been left a mess. Buildings and streets had to be repaired and cleaned.  There were shortages of everything.  Food and firewood were in short supply.

On top of all of that was the high inflation caused by the proliferation of Continental dollars, and the legal requirement that everyone accept the paper money.  Prices soared everywhere in 1779, of course hurting poorer workers with the inability to feed their families when wages did not keep up with inflation.

Many of the poor in Philadelphia had been part of the patriot militia who had fought in the Philadelphia campaign and who had been forced to remain outside the city during the British occupation. Their military responsibilities had made their economic situations even worse.  Upon returning to work in the city after the British evacuation, inflation was preventing them from being able to feed their families.

These men tended to place the blame for their situation on the merchants.  Wealthy merchants, many of whom had worked with the British during the occupation, still had food and supplies, but were unwilling to sell them at a reasonable price.

Many of the radicals, trying to organize, held a town meeting in May of 1779, calling for more affordable food and supplies.  The militia then took it upon themselves to form a mob and arrest merchants who refused to sell necessities at a fair price.  A broadside posted around town captured the feeling of many:

For our Country’s Good!

The Depreciation of our money and the high prices which everything is got to, is one and the same thing.  We ask not who introduced this evil, how it arose, or who encouraged it.  In the midst of money we are in poverty, and exposed to want in a land of plenty.  You that have money, and you that have none, down with your prices, or down with yourselves.  For by the living and eternal God, we will bring every article down to what it was last Christmas, or we will down with those who opposed.

We have turned out against the enemy and we will not be eaten up by monopolizers and forestallers.

[signed] Come on Cooly

On their own, militia members began arresting merchants and throwing them in jail for price gouging.

At the town meeting on May 25, the people passed resolutions in condemnation of Toryism and monopolizing.  They called for the formation of committees to look into cargo imports and ensure that the contents were sold at a reasonable price.  They also formed a committee to set prices at a reasonable level.

President Joseph Reed 

The militia continued their enforcement of these price restrictions, throwing more merchants in jail the following week for refusal to sell goods at reasonable prices. Many of the men jailed were also suspected Tories.  A few had been tried and acquitted for collaboration during the occupation.  The militia nevertheless thought they were guilty and arrested them again.

This movement had been a popular uprising, not led by the radical government.  However, the radical Supreme Executive Council quickly took up the cause.  It asked for a list of those people who were jailed, so that “justice” could be done to them.  They needed to retake control of the situation or risk being pushed aside.  Many of those arrested were tried, and most acquitted, to the frustration of many radicals.

The Executive Council’s action did have its intended short term effect of curtailing more street arrests by the militia.  The price-fixing committee got to work setting prices for goods and inspecting imports as well as warehouses and homes to prevent hoarding. The committee also expanded its jurisdiction into controlling housing rentals.

The committees were not really part of the government.  It was an extra-legal committee formed at the town meeting.  So its ability to enforce its decrees were questionable. The committees held public meetings to listen to complaints.  They did not take direct action against the accused but simply publicized their actions and left it to them “to make their peace with the public.”  Merchants realized that failure to keep the public happy could lead to further violence.  

For merchants subject to these restrictions, the response was predictable.  Many tried to smuggle their goods out of the city to sell them at market value in other jurisdictions.  Others tried to hide what they had. They stopped importing more items that they would have to sell at a loss.  Some attempted to get around price-fixing by selling the goods at the required price, but requiring an exorbitant price for the barrel that it came in to make up the difference.

The committee tried to bring these resistance efforts to light.  It also began requiring permits for the export of goods out of the city, in order to prevent merchants from trying to get a better price elsewhere.  In July, the efforts almost created an international incident after the committee seized flour that the French had purchased and ordered shipped to the French Army.  Ambassador Gerard had to intervene, receiving an apology and permission to ship the flour to America’s allies in the field.

A second town meeting was held on July 26 to discuss how to continue the efforts.  The Chair of the price fixing committee General Daniel Roberdeau gave a speech trying to tie the price fixing efforts to the patriotic cause, but also noting that violence would play into the enemy’s hands by creating the disorder that the loyalists claimed could only be solved by British rule.

The town meeting doubled down on the policy of restricting the sale of just about any goods to the amount they cost at the beginning of the year.  In a year of hyper-inflation and requiring merchants to accept the increasingly worthless paper money, this made shortages even worse.  The committee called for new elections to the price-fixing committee and also read the names of merchants who were suspected of continuing to sell goods at higher prices. The elections held a week later, would elect the more radical ticket by a more than 80% margin.

Three prominent opponents of the price-fixing policies attempted to address the meeting.  General John Cadwalader, along with Robert Morris and James Wilson, who had both served in the Continental Congress, attempted to address the meeting on behalf of merchants, but were shouted down.

The Republican Society attempted to make more public the concerns of the merchants.  They compared price fixing to a tax since it deprived merchants of their property without being justly compensated.  In September, a group of eighty merchants and traders signed a protest against price fixing, pointing out that it was making the scarcity problems even worse.  They called for a return to free markets and free trade in order to bring back the goods to the city, which were needed.

The merchants, however, simply did not have the political power to do anything.  The public was clearly and overwhelmingly in support of the price fixing policies, and continued to blame the shortages on the greed of recalcitrant merchants.  

The Militia Takes Action

Over the course of the summer, prices continued to soar and shortages got even worse.  No one would import anything into the city that they knew they would have to sell at a loss. The suffering poor continued to direct their wrath at the wealthy merchants, who they associated with Tories.  These were enemies of the people, enriching themselves on the suffering of others.  

On August 29, a new broadside appeared in the streets of Philadelphia: 


The time is now arrived to prove whether the suffering friends of our country, are to be enslaved, ruined and starved, by a few over-bearing Merchants, a swarm of Monopolizers and Speculaters, an infernal gang of Tories, &c. &c. Now is the time to prove, whether we will support our Committee or not, whether we shall tamely sit down and see the resolves of the Town-meeting and Committee, violated every day before our faces, and the Delinquents suffered to go unpunished; the case is just this, your opponents are rich and powerful, and they think by their consequence, over-awe you into slavery, and to starve you in the bargen. But I say it a shame and disgrace to the virtuous sons of Liberty, while the ALMIGHTY is fighting our battles without, to suffer those Devils of all colours within us, to overturn all that God and Man has done to save  us. My dear friends, if our Committee is overturned, our Money is inevitably gone, the British Tyrant will then think his Golden bribe has not been misapplied. But I call upon you all, in name of our Bleeding Country, to rouse up as a Lyon out of his den, and make those Beasts of Pray, to humble, and prove by this days conduct, than any person  whatever, though puffed like a Toad, with a sense of his own consequence, shall dare to violate the least Resolve of our Committee, it were better for him, that a Mill-stone was fastened to his neck, and he cast into the depth of the Sea, or that he had never been born, Rouse! Rouse! Rouse! And COME on WARMLY

The ending words “come on warmly” were meant as a direct contrast to the ending of the broadside released in May that ended with “come on cooly.”  The earlier ending meant that the issue should be resolved through the legal process and without resorting to violence.  The latter ending was suggesting a more violent response.

A few weeks later, the price control committee simply gave up.  It announced on September 27 that it could not keep the city supplied with goods at fixed prices.  Starving militiamen decided it was time to take matters into their own hands.  They asked Peale, who was a militia officer and head of the radical Constitutional Society, to lead them, but he refused. Militia began organizing on their own, mostly without the cooperation of the officers. They formed a committee of privates, with each company sending a representative, to coordinate their actions.  

There were calls to rid the city of the “unamerican elements.”  Some targets were the wives and children of loyalists who had fled the city to remain with the British in New York.  Other targets were Quakers and suspected Tories who had collaborated with the British but had not been convicted of anything.  Also targeted were merchants who refused to abide by price controls for goods that the population needed to survive.

Militia began arresting merchants that they believed were hoarding goods, or charging too much for them, and simply throwing them in jail.  They marched the men through the streets of Philadelphia, playing the rogue’s march, a tune normally used to march a dishonorably discharged soldier out of the army.

Battle of Fort Wilson

Things came to a head when the Committee of Privates called for a mass action on Monday October 4.  It asked Peale and some other radical leaders to attend a meeting at Burn’s Tavern.  Peale went with the intent of calming the situation and talking the militia out of any rash actions.  The militia, however, would not be dissuaded with words.  Peale and the other radical leaders left the meeting in frustration.  The militia remained at the tavern, drinking and planning next steps.

A few hours later, the militia marched into the streets of Philadelphia, looking to arrest those responsible for the suffering of the people.  The grabbed John Drinker, a wealthy Quaker merchant who was known for refusing to accept Continental paper money and who refused to abide by the price controls.  They arrested three other merchants as well.  

The militia broke into the homes of several other merchants, looking to arrest them, but finding them conveniently gone.  By this time, many merchants or others who might incur the wrath of the mob had gone into hiding.

That afternoon, the militia, about 200 strong, marched their prisoners through the streets in carts, trying to shame and ridicule the men.  

James Wilson
James Wilson was a prominent lawyer in town.  Although he was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, he had represented quite a few prominent loyalists in court, helping to acquit them. He was well aware that he was a potential target of the mob and had sent a request for protection to the Assembly.  The Assembly referred his request to the Executive Committee, which did nothing.  Wilson then sent his pregnant wife and children to stay a few blocks away at the home of Robert Morris, and barricaded himself in his home, with seventeen of his friends, including Morris, prepared to defend it against any attack.  Commanding this small company of notables was Continental Major General Thomas Mifflin. 

Several militia officers tried to route the militia away from Wilson’s house, a solid brick building at the corner of Third and Walnut Streets, but the men refused to be turned away, threatening the officers with bayonets.

The militia began to march past Wilson’s house, with the eighteen defenders manning muskets at all the windows.  Inside the home, Captain Robert Campbell, a Continental officer who was in Philadelphia as an invalid, called on the marchers to move on.  One of the militia turned and fired at Campbell, killing him instantly.  This set off an intense firefight on both sides.

The militia ran for cover, leaving five dead or wounded bodies laying in the street.  General Mifflin, inside the house, had once been a popular militia leader, but his decision to join the Republican society made him an enemy of the radicals.  He also called on the militia to disperse.  His call was met with a gunshot which, fortunately for him, missed its mark.

A group of militia armed with sledge hammers knocked down the back door and entered home, only to be met with musket fire from the stairs.  The defenders shot one of the attackers. While the attackers managed to grab and bayonet a defender, David Chambers, a militia colonel and member of Pennsylvania’s Supreme Executive Council.  The defenders drove the attackers back out the back door and barricaded the doorway against another attack. 

The militia kept up fire but did not attempt another assault on the house, apparently waiting for a field cannon to be brought to the location.  Before the artillery could arrive, President Joseph Reed rode up to the house, pistol in hand, and accompanied by city troops under the command of Major Lenox.  The troops arrested twenty-seven of the militia as the rest scattered. 

Shortly after the arrival of Reed, General Benedict Arnold also arrived on site.  Arnold and the radical President Reed, of course, were in the midst of a major political fight of their own.  Arnold noted “Your President has raised a mob and now he cannot quell it.”

When it was over five dead and fourteen wounded militia lay in the streets.  In the house Campbell lay dead, while three other defenders were wounded.  


Wilson and the other prominent defenders of what was now called the “battle of Fort Wilson” had to leave town or go into hiding for fear of reprisals.  Wilson went to Robert Morris’ country home. The day after the attack, another group of militia from Germantown threatened to march on the city unless the militia who had been arrested were released.  Reed rode up to Germantown to confront the militia there, leaving Timothy Matlack, secretary of the Executive Council, in charge of the prisoners.  Matlack, faced with a local mob, opted to release the prisoners.  Instead, the radical leadership in Philadelphia required the Republican defenders of Fort Wilson to post bail and face trial.

These actions seemed to diffuse the immediate crisis.  In March 1780, the Executive Council issued a general pardon to everyone on both sides who had participated in the action.  The class divisions within the city remained on edge, but the leaders managed to diffuse a descent into mob rule.

Next week, the Continental Congress attempts to establish more foreign alliances and sends more ministers to Europe.

- - -

Next Episode 236 Diplomatic Offensive

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Further Reading


Daniel Roberdeau:

Diestelow, Kevin “The Fort Wilson Riot and Pennsylvania’s Republican Formation” Journal of the American Revolution February 28, 2019,

Alexander, John K. “The Fort Wilson Incident of 1779: A Case Study of the Revolutionary Crowd.” The William and Mary Quarterly, vol. 31, no. 4, Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1974, pp. 589–612, 

Ireland, Owen S. “The Ethnic-Religious Dimension of Pennsylvania Politics, 1778-1779.” The William and Mary Quarterly, vol. 30, no. 3, Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1973, pp. 423–48,

Pennsylvania Tax Laws in Force During the American Revolution

Smith, C. Page. “The Attack on Fort Wilson.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 78, no. 2, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1954, pp. 177–88,

Rosswurm, Steve, et al. “EQUALITY AND JUSTICE: DOCUMENTS FROM PHILADELPHIA’S POPULAR REVOLUTION, 1775–1780.” Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies, vol. 52, no. 4, Penn State University Press, 1985, pp. 254–68,

Free eBooks
(from unless noted)

Alexander, Lucien Hugh James Wilson, Nation-Builder (1742-1798), The Boston Book Co. 1907 (originally published as a series of articles in The Green Bag Feb-May 1907). 

Reed, William B. The Life and Correspondence of Joseph Reed, Vol. 2, Philadelphia: Lindsay and Blakiston, 1847. 

Wilson, James The Works of the Honourable James Wilson, L.L.D., Late One of the Associate Judges of the Supreme Court of the United States, and Professor of Law in the College of Philadelphia, Vol. 1, Philadelphia, Bronson and Chauncey, 1804. 

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)*

Foster, A. Kristen. Moral Visions and Material Ambitions: Philadelphia Struggles to Define the Republic, 1776 – 1836. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2004. 

Nash, Gary B. The Unknown American Revolution; The Unruly Birth of Democracy and the Struggles to Create America, New York: Penguin Books, 2005.

Rosswurm, Steven. Arms, Country and Class; The Philadelphia Militia and the “Lower Sort” during the American Revolution. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1987 (or on 

Smith, Page James Wilson Founding Father 1742-1798, Univ of NC Press, 1956 (or on 

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

ARP234 Siege of Savannah

The British had captured Savannah at the end of 1778.  Although they briefly retook control of most of the lightly populated state, the Continentals and militia quickly forced them back into a small area around Savannah.  We last left the two southern armies in Episode 223, when the Americans attacked the British rearguard at Stono Ferry, only to be repulsed.

Targeting Savannah

General Washington saw the British occupation of Savannah as a threat to the southern states, most particularly the largest town in the region: Charleston, South Carolina, where the British had almost succeeded in a rather small and ill-conceived attack on the city.  Washington personally kept his primary attention on New York City, which he still saw as the key to winning the war. Washington had lost the city in 1776, and probably also saw it as a personal point of honor to win it back militarily.  Even so, there was no serious chance of retaking New York, even after the British draw-down there, until he could get some naval support.  Since that was not going to happen anytime soon, Washington did what he could to support General Benjamin Lincoln in his efforts to recapture Savannah.

Attack on Savannah
Washington deployed Brigadier General Charles Scott along with several regiments, to reinforce Major General Lincoln’s southern army.  Scott, who had been on furlough in Virginia at the time, forwarded the regiments to General Lincoln, but personally remained in Virginia, trying to recruit more troops and assisting with defenses following the Collier-Mathew Raids in the Chesapeake that I discussed back in Episode 221.  

Washington also allowed Brigadier General Lachlan McIntosh to return from duty in western Pennsylvania to resume a command in Georgia.  McIntosh had left the south in 1777, after killing Georgia President Button Gwinnett in a duel.  McIntosh was eager to get back to his home state of Georgia and joined up with Lincoln as soon as he could.

With the reinforcements, General Lincoln had about 7000 men under his command, more than double the 3000 or so British soldiers in or near Savannah.  However, the majority of these soldiers were militia.  Lincoln was reluctant to try to get militia to storm well-entrenched British regulars.  General Lincoln to get some support from the French.

For months, Washington had been badgering French Minister Conrad Gerard, hoping to get the French fleet under Admiral d’Estaing to support an attack on New York, or barring that, to support the southern army in an attack on Savannah.  Since the French fleet had arrived in the summer of 1778, it had proven to be not very helpful, passing up an attack on New York, pulling out of an attack on Newport, Rhode Island, then spending the winter in Boston getting repairs to the fleet before leaving the continent for the West Indies.  

Admiral d’Estaing, of course, had received more reinforcements and had taken the islands of St. Vincent and Granada in the early summer of 1779 (see, Episode 224).  By late summer, d’Estaing was looking to pull much of his fleet out of the West Indies, before hurricane season hit and posed a threat to his fleet.

In late August, a substantial French fleet, which included more than 20 ships of the line and over 4000 French soldiers, left the West Indies for the Georgia coast. d'Estaing sent a ship to Charleston to let the Americans know that he was ready to participate in a joint attack on Savannah.  Almost immediately, General Lincoln set out from Charleston with 1000 of his best soldiers to launch the cooperative effort to recapture Savannah. He also called on General McIntosh, by this time in command of American troops at Augusta, to raise as many men as he could for the attack on Savannah.

The Fleet Arrives

The arrival of the French fleet caught the British by surprise. The French captured the British 50-gun ship Experiment, and the 24-gun ship the Ariel, as well as several supply ships off the Georgia coast.  Aboard one of the captured ships was Brigadier General George Garth, on his way to succeed General Augustine Prevost as military commander.  The captured ship also held £30,000 for the Savannah garrison’s payroll. 

French Fleet
Several other British ships moved upriver closer to the main British defenses at Savannah.  By September 9, d’Estaing was offloading French soldiers at Tybee Island, at the mouth of the Savannah River, and about fifteen miles from the city of Savannah.  A British outpost there fired on the French fleet.  However, after the French began landing soldiers on the island, the small garrison fled and rejoined the main British force at Savannah.

Over the next few days, the French took several small islands near the mouth of the Savannah River, and drove British pickets back into the city.  On September 12, d’Estaing made contact with Continental General Casimir Pulaski, who had moved to Savannah as part of the army under General McIntosh from Augusta.  Pulaski informed d’Estaing that they were still awaiting the arrival of the main army under General Lincoln, who were still marching to Savannah from Charleston.

Lincoln’s force had made it to Purrysburg, South Carolina, right on the Savannah River and about 15 miles north of Savannah. He began moving his soldiers and equipment across the river, but did not want to proceed toward the city until he received word that the French had arrived.  Lincoln had not received any word about the French fleet since he had left Charleston, where he had only received a rather vague assurance that the French were going to move against Savannah.  Lincoln was concerned about moving back into Georgia if the French fleet had not arrived as promised and disembarked its army on the other side of Savannah.  Otherwise, the British might attack his inferior force and defeat it before the French were ready to go.

So, at this point, the Americans were awaiting word of the arrival of French forces, while the French were awaiting word of the arrival of American forces. During this time, Admiral d’Estaing sent a messenger to British General Augustine Prevost at Savannah, calling on him to surrender to French forces.  General Prevost asked for a day to consider his position, which d’Estaing granted, since he was awaiting the Americans under Lincoln anyway.  

British Defenses

In fact, Prevost had no intention of surrendering.  He had a force of about 2500 men in Savannah, who were pretty well entrenched and supported by cannons.  He had sunk a damaged British frigate, the Rose, along with several smaller ships, in the Savannah River at a point where it narrowed.  This created an obstruction that would prevent the French from sailing their fleet up to the city.  Prevost also removed cannons from several ships that had made it back to Savannah and used the artillery from those ships to bolster his defenses against a land attack.  In addition to his combat troops,  Prevost had more than a thousand escaped slaves who had been doing whatever they could to support their British liberators.  Although Prevost would not use these men in combat, he did put them to work constructing even stronger fortifications in and around the city.

Prevost’s request for a day to consider was simply a delaying tactic.  He wanted more time to build up his defenses. He was also still awaiting the arrival of 600 soldiers under Colonel John Maitland who had still been holding out at Stono Ferry in South Carolina.  

The following day, Colonel Maitland’s reinforcements arrived.  Maitland’s march to Savannah was pretty impressive by itself.  His British outpost could not sail down the coast due to the presence of the French Navy.  It could not march overland because of the Continentals.  Instead, Maitland moved his force quietly over a series of coastal islands, marching his men through swamps, with many of them, including Maitland himself, sick with malaria.  After several days, the force managed to reach Savannah.

With the arrival of Maitland’s reinforcements, Prevost informed d’Estaing that - thanks for the offer, but the British force did not intend to surrender without a fight.  The French were going to have to take the city from them.

Prevost had received the time he needed to put in place the defenses as best he could.  He had consolidated his force in and around Savannah.  His engineers created two concentric lines, with each flank against the Savannah river.  The British had placed artillery, constructed abatis and earthen defenses, and blocked the river.  Although the French and Americans outnumbered the British force of just over 3000 soldiers, Prevost’s men had good defensive positions, and held out hope that a British relief fleet from the West Indies would break the siege.

The Siege Begins

Several hours after d’Estaing sent his surrender demand to Prevost, Lincoln’s army arrived at Savannah.  Lincoln and d’Estaing met that afternoon to discuss a plan of attack. But first, there was a minor tiff.  Lincoln was upset because d’Estaing’s surrender demand had called on the British to surrender to the French forces outside the city, not to the combined French and American forces.  Many Americans took this as a slight against American honor.  d’Estaing might have responded by saying that maybe if the Continentals had actually shown up by the time he might have issues his request, he might have had cause to call for surrender to both armies.  But he was more diplomatic than that, and simply said it was an oversight and that any further communications would reference both the French and American forces.

Given the state of British defenses, the allies opted for a traditional siege.  After the battle, several British officers noted that, had the French stormed the city immediately following the fleet’s arrival, they probably would have been successful in taking the city.  The British defenses were not ready, and the defenders simply did not have the numbers.  But with the arrival of Maitland’s reinforcements, and several days to construct better defenses, storming the city seemed like a dangerous strategy.  Even if it had been successful, it would have been a costly victory.

With the British having effectively blocked the river, d’Estaing could not bring his fleet to bear on Savannah.  Instead, he opted to bring his army and artillery overland for a siege of the town from the southwest.  The British would have their backs against the river and could be reduced over time.  It took more than a week to get the artillery in place. Lack of horses and carts, rainy weather, and difficult terrain made the effort difficult and time-consuming.  The American forces under Lincoln moved their forces down toward Savannah, taking positions alongside the French.  The American also kept patrols on the other side of the river, to prevent any more loyalist reinforcements from joining the British.

By September 23, the French and American had gotten their first cannons in place and began to dig their first line of entrenchments.  When the British saw the enemy beginning to dig in, they launched an attack against the French entrenchments.  The French repulsed the attack and began to pursue the retreating attackers. This drew the French soldiers out of their trenches, and subjected them to British artillery fire. They took several dozen casualties before retreating back into their own entrenchments.

Map of Savannah Battlefield

It took another week and a half for the first line of entrenchments and cannon placement to be complete, so that the artillery attack did not begin until the night of October 3.  American and French cannons began their attack, mostly hitting homes inside Savannah, not doing much damage to the enemy defenses.

As seemed to be the norm in these operations, the French and Americans did not get along.  General Lincoln found d’Estaing arrogant and unwilling to communicate everything that was happening.  The Admiral found the American forces of mostly local militia to be disorganized and ill-disciplined, and simply did not trust them to be effective in combat.

As the main siege was still being constructed, the Americans came across a small fleet of mostly loyalists trying to join the British defenses.  General Pulaski’s cavalry captured a portion of them, but there was still a fleet of five ships with about 140 loyalists and regulars aboard.  Most of the ships were armed with cannons, and could not be taken by local land forces.

Colonel John White of the Georgia militia had only one other officer and three soldiers with him, but he decided to bluff.  Overnight, he had his men build a series of campfires and make as much noise as possible giving the impression that he had a force of hundreds of men.  The next morning, he sent a messenger out to the loyalist fleet demanding their surrender.  The British force agreed. White had them come ashore, unarmed.  He told them he was keeping his men at bay because many of them wanted to massacre the loyalists.  He brought out his three soldiers and said that they would serve as guides to bring the prisoners to the main army, where they would be held and guaranteed protection as prisoners of war.  The bluff worked, and the five men took 141 prisoners.

The artillery attack continued for about a week.  With the British defenses set up to resist artillery, most of the damage fell on the town, killing a few soldiers but also several civilians.  The attacks also started several fires, which threatened to destroy the city.  General Prevost sent a request to remove women and children from the British army out of the city, but because he had refused to allow Continental General Lachlan McIntosh’s wife to leave along with them, the request was denied.

Storming the City

Under a traditional 18th century siege, the attackers would dig a series of zig zag lines, moving ever closer to the defenses while maintaining artillery fire.  Eventually, the cannons would be so close that the enemy would have to surrender or be destroyed.  It is usually the safest way for a larger force to oust an entrenched enemy.  

Assault on Springhill Redoubt
The problem with sieges is that they could take a very long time, often many months.  The French simply did not have that kind of time.  Admiral d’Estaing was still worried that a hurricane might take out his fleet.  There was also the danger that the British fleet under Admiral Byron in the West Indies could sail up and take out the French.  Many of the French sailors who had been aboard ship for several months were beginning to die of scurvy.

No longer willing to wait, d’Estaing decided to launch a pre-dawn attack on the morning of October 9.  Two French columns would lead an assault against the center of the British line with a third column held in reserve.  A small force of American militia under General Isaac Huger would attack on the right as a feint.  A larger American force led by General Lachlan McIntosh and Colonel John Laurens would attack on the left.

The attack, however, did not go as planned.  An American deserter crossed over to the enemy and revealed the entire plan of attack.  The American and French forces began to deploy around midnight, but due to weather and other problems, were not in position until after dawn.  A heavy fog had made movement particularly difficult.

When the assault did begin the defenders were prepared.  The loyalist militia that had garrisoned the primary target, the Springhill redoubt, had been replaced by some of the best British regulars.  The defenders ignored the feint attacks and focused on the primary assault.  The rising sun dispelled the fog, revealing the attackers in open field, where they could be cut down by British infantry and artillery.

Admiral d’Estaing personally led the attack and suffered two battle wounds.  The French line began to falter under heavy fire and started to withdraw. A regiment of French soldiers of African descent, raised on the French island that is today Haiti, fought with notable ferocity and bravery at this battle, taking considerable casualties.

Casimir Pulaski, hit in battle
General Pulaski, whose cavalry had been held in reserve so that they could charge into any breach that revealed itself, mounted a charge in an attempt to stem the French retreat.  In the process, Pulaski took a cannon full of British grapeshot and fell off his horse, wounded and unconscious.  Several men from Colonel Laurens’ column managed to reach the Springhill redoubt, but not in enough numbers to hold it.  Several men were killed trying to plant the American flag on the redoubt.  Laurens’ brigade suffered about 50% casualties.  

The actual fighting only lasted for about an hour, but it was intense and devastating.  The French and Americans lost about 1000 killed or wounded.  The British reported suffering only about 150 casualties.


After the battle, the attackers called for a truce to gather their dead and wounded.  Prevost permitted the truce.  General Pulaski was taken to a nearby hospital ship. He never regained consciousness and died from his wounds after two days.

General Lincoln wanted to continue the siege.  Officials from South Carolina requested that the French come to Charleston.  However, d’Estaing would not remain.  After burying his dead and tending to his wounded, the Admiral put his men and artillery back aboard ship and returned to the French islands in the West Indies. The French fleet had originally planned to sail north where Washington hoped to cooperate in an assault on New York.  After the loss at Savannah, d’Estaing determined that his army was in no condition to continue the campaign.

Unlike the departure at Newport, Rhode Island a year earlier, the French departure did not cause American bitterness.  The French had fought a bloody battle in the field. While the Americans would have preferred to continue the siege, they understood why the French would not. 

With the French departure, General Lincoln withdrew his army to the north, across the Savannah River, and into South Carolina.  He returned to Charleston, where he attempted to raise another army, once again encouraging local leaders to raise several regiments of slaves, only to have such proposals, once again, rejected by State leaders.

Southern loyalists were encouraged by the fact that Britain managed to hold Savannah against a combined allied attack. Loyalist recruitment picked up.  Both sides expected a new British offensive against Charleston in the coming months.

Next week, radicals in Philadelphia attack moderate patriot political leaders culminating in what became known as the battle of Fort Wilson.

- - -

Next Episode 235 Fort Wilson

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Further Reading


“To John Jay from Benjamin Lincoln, 5 September 1779,” Founders Online, National Archives,

Siege of Savannah:

Siege of Savannah:


Siege of Savannah, parts 1 and 2:

Smith, Gordon. "Siege of Savannah." New Georgia Encyclopedia

Davis, Robert S. “Black Haitian Soldiers at the Siege of Savannah” Journal of the American Revolution, Feb. 22, 2021.

Six men captured 141 British

“From George Washington to Major General Benjamin Lincoln, 26 October 1779,” Founders Online, National Archives,

“To George Washington from Major General Benjamin Lincoln, 7 November 1779,” Founders Online, National Archives,

Free eBooks
(from unless noted)

Hough, Franklin B. The Siege of Savannah, Albany, NY: J. Munsell, 1866. 

Jones, Charles C. The Siege of Savannah, in 1779, Albany, NY: J. Munsell, 1874. 

Jones, Charles C. The History of Georgia Vol. 2, Boston: Houghton & Mifflin Co. 1883: 

McCall, Hugh The History of Georgia, containing brief sketches of the most remarkable events up to the present day, (1784), Atlanta: A.H. Caldwell, 1909 reprint. 

Peck, John Mason Lives of Daniel Boone and Benjamin Lincoln, Boston: C.C. Little and J. Brown, 1847. 

Steward, T. G. How the black St. Domingo legion saved the patriot army in the siege of Savannah, 1779, Washington, DC: The Academy, 1899. 

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)*

Campbell, Archibald Journal of an expedition against the rebels of Georgia in North America under the orders of Archibald Campbell, Esquire, Lieut. Colol. of His Majesty's 71st Regimt, 1778, Ashantilly Press, 1981. 

Hall, Leslie, Land and Allegiance in Revolutionary Georgia, Univ. of Ga Press, 2001.  

Martin, Scott Savannah 1779: The British Turn South, Osprey Publishing, 2017. 

Mattern, David B. Benjamin Lincoln and the American Revolution. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1998.

Russell, David Lee. The American Revolution in the Southern Colonies. McFarland & Company, 2000. 

Ward, Christopher The War of the Revolution, Macmillan Company, 1952. 

Wilson, David K. The Southern Strategy: Britain’s Conquest of South Carolina and Georgia 1775-1780, Univ. of S.C. Press, 2005. 

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.