Sunday, June 16, 2024

AR-SP25 This Fierce People, with Alan Pell Crawford

Author Alan Pell Crawford discusses his new book - This Fierce People: The Untold Story of America's Revolutionary War in the South.  We talk about why the war in the south seems to be less known, and why it was more of a civil war than we see in the north.

This Fierce People: The Untold Story of America's Revolutionary War in the South,

by Alan Pell Crawford. 

Sunday, June 9, 2024

ARP315 Evacuation of Savannah

We return this week to the south, where the final contest for Georgia plays out in the summer of 1782.

General Nathanael Greene commanded the main southern army in South Carolina, still trying to dislodge the British from Charleston.  General Anthony Wayne brought the Pennsylvania line to South Carolina following the victory in Yorktown Virginia.  Greene kept the Continental reinforcements, but sent General Wayne to take command of the local forces in Georgia.

Georgia in 1782

When Wayne arrived in Georgia in January 1782, he only brought with him about 100 dragoons from the Pennsylvania line, along with a small detachment of field artillery.  He also had about 300 mounted South Carolina soldiers who had been fighting under General Sumter, as well as another 170 volunteers.

Anthony Wayne
The British force in and around Savannah was more than twice the size of Wayne’s force.  The British under General Alured Clarke.  His rank is questionable.  I’ve read some sources that say he was a brigadier by this time.  Others say he was still a lieutenant colonel.  It’s possible he held the temporary rank of brigadier in America.  It’s just not clear.  In any event, he was the ranking officer in charge of British troops in Savannah. 

The other real leader there was Royal Governor James Wright.  He had been governor since 1760 and had led the colony up until he was arrested in 1776 and had to flee to a British warship.  Wright returned to London where he lobbied for an invasion, which finally took place in December 1778.  By July 1779, Wright was back in Savannah.  He tried to retake control of the entire colony, but had been reduced to the area right around Savannah.

In addition to the 1200 or so regulars, the British also had around 500 loyalists, under the capable leadership of Thomas Burnfoot Brown, someone I’ve discussed many times in previous episodes.  Brown was probably the most dogged officer in fighting to keep Georgia British.  The British also had ongoing relations with the Creek Indians, whom they hoped might still come to their assistance.

Wayne found his Continental forces hopelessly outnumbered.  He hoped to raise an army of local militia, but found that almost impossible.  The patriot government in Augusta was proving completely useless.  The population was pretty sparse to begin with, and locals did not seem eager to volunteer for more military service.  Wayne also wrote to Greene in South Carolina, pleading for more soldiers, including his Pennsylvania line, which he had brought down from Virginia.  Greene rejected his requests, believing he needed all his soldiers to challenge the British garrison at Charleston.

Wayne tried to get creative. He convinced the patriot Governor John Martin, to issue an amnesty for any loyalist militia who would join the patriots.  That accomplished almost nothing.  Wayne reported one officer and 15 soldiers showed up for amnesty, but that was about it.

A Line of Siege

Lacking sufficient troops to attack Savannah, or even besiege it, Wayne had to satisfy himself with keeping the British bottled up in Savannah and cutting off communications with any loyalists still in other parts of the state, or the Creek Indian allies of the British.

Wayne spread out his men over more than 25 miles.  They would have been too thin to withstand any large sustained attack, but were able to prevent supplies or messages from passing easily between the British and the rest of the state.  Beyond that, he used his cavalry to raid the outskirts of Savannah to burn forage that might be of use to the enemy.

Wayne faced his first real conflict in February, when Creek and Choctaw warriors probed the Continental lines looking for a weak spot to break through and enter Savannah.  For several days, Indians would attack various points along the line, only to be driven back by stubborn enemy fire. Wayne was awake for days, riding up and down the lines to place reinforcements where needed and to encourage the men to hold their lines, neither advance nor retreat, but simply keep the enemy from getting through their lines.

Eventually the Indians attempted to deploy riflemen on both the right and left flanks of the American lines, while attacking in force at the center.. They hoped to stir enough confusion to punch a hole through the lines and get to Savannah.

Wayne’s scouts, however, detected the movements and attacked the Indians before they could get into position.  Wayne reported that he killed or captured a large number of Indians, as well as the supplies that they were attempting to bring to Savannah.  Perhaps a dozen Indians made it through the lines to Savannah, but most simply withdrew.  

Wayne treated the captive Indians well.  He tried to convince them that the war was essentially over.  The British in Savannah would not be there much longer.  Things would go worse for them if they did not make peace with the Americans before the war ended.  He eventually permitted many of his captives to return home and spread this message.

The British discovered that their Indian allies had been repulsed.  In response. Loyalist Colonel Thomas Burnfoot Brown led a force of loyalists and a few Indians out of Savannah to challenge the Continental lines.  The loyalists attacked with three companies of infantry and one company of cavalry, headed by a vanguard of Creek and Seminole warriors.

After receiving word of the enemy advance, General Wayne assembled a light core of his own, and marched four miles at night to set up an ambush.  Wayne’s Continentals hit the vanguard column of loyalists during their night march - shooting flares and attacking both sides of the column as they attempted to pass through a swamp. 

The surprised loyalists scattered after about five minutes of fighting.  Wayne ordered his men to run down the fleeing enemy and kill them. As the Americans were hacking the enemy with swords and bayonets, the main loyalist force charged forward to support its vanguard. The Americans appeared to be caught off guard.

Wayne, however, is prepared for this.  As the British advanced, a contingent of South Carolina militia cavalry led by Colonel Wade Hampton charged out of the woods.  The two sides collided, resulting in brutal hand to hand combat.  Men on horseback slashed at each other with their sabers.  The Continental infantry soon arrived brandishing bayonets.  Finally, Wayne personally led a final charge to break and scatter the enemy. By dawn the enemy survivors have fled the scene, leaving behind a field of the dead and dying.  

Struggling for Supplies

Following his victory in February, the Creek withdrew and the British and loyalists remained behind their defenses in Savannah.  

For the next few months, the lines remained pretty quiet.  The greatest challenge to Wayne’s army was deprivation.  He could not get any soldiers to join him. Wayne had been forced to leave his Pennsylvania Line in South Carolina. Since then, Greene had taken back some of the soldiers that had initially accompanied Wayne to Georgia.  He had managed to attract only about 90 Georgia militia to join his forces.  Greene also refused to provide ammunition or food.  Wayne was trying to keep his men from plundering the civilian population for food since they were trying to get their support.  The soldiers were struggling to feed and clothe themselves.

On top of all that, Wayne was suffering from an old leg wound that had never healed properly.  It caused him constant pain.  He also developed a hacking cough and a pain in his lungs that simply would not go away.  The cough caused a pain in his chest, the result of another earlier wound, to get worse.

Wayne attempted to get supplies from the main army in South Carolina, only to be told that his Georgia Army was on its own and had to find its own food.  Local farmers refused to sell anything in exchange for paper Continental dollars.  When Continental foragers took some supplies from a state depot, the civilian government complained that the Continentals were stealing their food.  Wayne’s response was a sort of sorry, not sorry letter that basically said he was sorry, that he had been under the mistaken impression that the people of Georgia wanted the army in their state to fight the enemy.

That spring was a particularly wet one, flooding swamps and making most roads nearly impassable.  Finally in May, the rains subsided and the land began to dry up a bit.  Life began to get a little more bearable.

Final Attack

Wayne went to sleep on the evening of May 24, the camp was woken shortly after midnight to Indian war whoops.  A group of Creek warriors scattered the Continental pickets and rushed into the camp.  Many of the Continentals panicked and ran into the woods.  Wayne quickly mounted his horse and called on his men to rally into formation.  He managed to form a line and led a charge into the enemy.

According to one account the Creek Chief Guristersijo rode out in front of his lines to confront General Wayne directly.  The two commanders, Guristersijo on a white horse, and Wayne astride his black stallion clashed.  Wayne slashed at the Chief, causing Guristersijo to fall off his horse. The Creek fired his rifle, causing Wayne’s horse to collapse.  With their chief dead, the Creek withdrew.  Wayne’s horse was dead, but he emerged from the fight largely unharmed.

At dawn the following morning, pickets reported a detachment of British infantry and cavalry approaching.  The British had hoped to coordinate an attack with their Creek allies.  Instead they found the Creek defeated and scattered.  The Continentals charged the enemy, forcing them to withdraw.  Wayne’s men chased the enemy column for several miles, back to the British lines at Savannah.  Although Wayne still did not have enough forces to overrun the entrenched lines, he allowed his cavalry to ride within sight of the British barricades.  They fired a volley as a reminder to stay behind their lines, then retire from the field.

A couple of days later, British General Clarke and Royal Governor Wright proposed to Wayne a cessation of hostilities as they awaited word of the peace negotiations taking place in France. General Leslie, who was in Charleston as the British commander of the southern armies, made a similar proposal to General Greene around this same time.  The American commanders did not agree to anything since peace negotiations were not really something military officers had the authority to discuss.  But it was clear that the British were ready to sit tight and wait rather than go on the offensive again.

Word also reached Leslie around this time that General Clinton in New York wanted to recall to New York about one-third of the 6000 soldiers in the south.  In response, Leslie suggested that Savannah be evacuated.  Before the leaders could decide on anything definitive, word reached Clinton that he was being sent home and that General Guy Carleton was taking command of all British forces in North America.

While awaiting further orders, the British in Savannah and the Continentals just outside the city essentially sat and watched each other for the entire month of June.  The British still outnumbered the Continentals, but clearly could not take any additional ground.  They knew the end was coming.  None of the British saw the need to become the last casualty in a lost cause.


Finally in July, orders arrived from General Carleton to abandon Savannah. With the orders came boats to move the armies and civilians to new locations.  Days before the evacuation, a loyalist contingent rode out under a flag of truce to ask for terms.  Wayne offered only that if they volunteered for service in the Continental army for at least two years, he would do his best to seek a civilian pardon for any past offenses, except murder.  It’s not clear if any accepted the terms.  Colonel Brown and the bulk of the loyalists, along with some Indians, prepared to leave the state with the rest of the British Army. 

The handover itself went pretty smoothly.  On July 10, the day before the British evacuation, Wayne issued orders to have the men dressed as respectable as they could, and issued orders that no one should enter the town ahead of the main army.  

The following day, July 11, the British garrison marched out of the city.  They moved to the south, boarding several boats to take them downriver to the Atlantic Ocean.  Most of the army moved to a temporary area around the lighthouse on Tybee Island.  They remained there for a little over a week.  Although General Carleton had provided ships for the evacuation, loading them took days. In addition to the armies, 2500 loyalist civilians and 4000 slaves were removed from Savannah.

On July 20, most of the regulars crammed aboard two sloops: the Zebra and the Vulture and left for the West Indies. The following day, Brown and the militia took another ship for St. Augustine.  Two days after that, the Hessians and the remainder of the garrison embarked on a ship that would stop in Charleston, then take them to New York.  

Departing with this last group was Royal Governor Wright.  He had served as Governor for 22 years.  As he left behind his governorship, he also had to abandon his 25,000 acres of plantations and many of his more than 500 slaves that he had accumulated over his decades of service.

On July 12, the day after the British left Savannah but were still in the area, preparing to board their ships, Lieutenant Colonel James Jackson led his Georgia militia into Savannah to take possession of the city.  The governor had made an agreement to allow loyalist merchants to remain in Savannah, providing a source of supplies for the population.  The loyalist merchants agreed to remain for at least six months, in exchange for pardons.  By all accounts, the return of Savannah to patriot control was without violence.  The following day, the Georgia Assembly met at Christ Church in Savannah for what was largely a symbolic session to reclaim full control of the state of Georgia.

General Wayne wrote to General Greene to inform him of the evacuation. Greene wanted Wayne to bring his soldiers to South Carolina right away, to step up the pressure on Charleston.  Greene was concerned that the Savannah garrison might be headed for Charleston, in hopes of once again going on the offensive.  Wayne was concerned about leaving before all the British had departed on their ships.  He was particularly concerned about reports that the loyalist Colonel Brown remained just a few miles away with 500 loyalist soldiers.  The last thing Wayne wanted was to march for South Carolina, only to have Brown’s loyalists sack Savannah and kidnap the civilian government.

By July 25, all British and loyalists were aboard ships, though many of them still remained just off the coast.  Colonel Jackson’s militia had moved out to Skidaway Island, just south of town, to observe the departing fleet.  The British fired on the militia from their boats, forcing the Americans to retreat inland. The cannons destroyed the buildings on Delegal’s plantation, where the militia had first set up their observation post.  Although most of the British ships carrying regulars had left, those carrying Colonel Brown and the loyalists remained. They landed once again on Skidaway Island.  Wayne had to bring his Continentals down to confront them.  

The loyalists were not ready to take on the Continental Army by themselves. They reboarded their boats and sailed about 6 miles south to Ossabow Island, still in Georgia.   They remained there for some time before withdrawing finally to St. Augustine.  The skirmishing on July 25 would mark the last battle of the war in Georgia.

Even so, the loyalists in Florida were not done.  A few weeks later, they returned on a row galley to Ossabow Island.  They burned a ship being built there, as well as a plantation belonging to John Morel.  They also seized 33 slaves and 2000 pounds on indigo.  This was the first of several coastal raids by loyalists that would continue for several years.

Continentals Depart

Even before the British evacuation, the Georgia Assembly had begun using a law they passed in early 1782, confiscating the property of loyalists.  Land auctions began to provide desperately needed revenue.  Part of this was used to provide a large plantation for General Wayne, as thanks for his liberation of the state.

Wayne and his Continentals, however, did not hang around long.  In August, he returned to South Carolina to return to his command of the Pennsylvania Line around Charleston.  Wayne, however, could not take an active command.  During his march to South Carolina, he picked up a bad case of malaria.  By the time he reached Greene’s camp near Charleston, he was near the point of collapse.  The disease left him bedridden for several months.

Next week, we follow the Continental Army back up to South Carolina, where General Greene must still contend with his efforts to recapture Charleston.

- - -

Next Episode 316 South Carolina Skirmishing (Available June 16, 2024)

Previous Episode 314 The Great Seal

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Further Reading


Evacuation of Savannah

James Wright:

Lambert, Robert S. “The Flight of the Georgia Loyalists.” The Georgia Review, vol. 17, no. 4, 1963, pp. 435–48. JSTOR,

Lambert, Robert S. “The Confiscation of Loyalist Property in Georgia, 1782-1786.” The William and Mary Quarterly, vol. 20, no. 1, 1963, pp. 80–94. JSTOR,

Free eBooks
(from unless noted)

Coleman, Kenneth The American Revolution in Georgia, 1763-1789, Athens: Univ of Ga Press, 1958 (borrow only). 

Pennypacker, Samuel W. Anthony Wayne, Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co. 1908.  

Preston, John Hyde A Gentleman Rebel: Mad Anthony Wayne, Garden City, NY: Garden City Publishing Co., Inc. 1930. 

Stillé, Charles J. Major-General Anthony Wayne and the Pennsylvania line in the Continental Army, Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1893. 

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)*

Cashin, Edward The King's Ranger: Thomas Brown and the American Revolution on the Southern Frontier, New York: Fordham University Press, 1999. 

Coleman, Kenneth The American Revolution in Georgia, 1763-1789, Univ of Georgia, 1958 (borrow on 

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

Killion, Ronald G. Georgia and the Revolution Cherokee Publishing Co. 1975. 

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Sunday, June 2, 2024

ARP314 The Great Seal

We last looked in on the Continental Congress in Episode 307, just after the victory at Yorktown. Congress received the victorious General Washington.  It had also begun pushing off most of its work onto executive secretaries, particularly, the Secretary of Treasury - Robert Morris.

The Great Seal
Even so, Congress found itself in an ever-increasingly precarious position.  With the war coming to an end, states found it less important than ever to work together, or to support the army financially.  Congress had kept the government on life support mostly by receiving financial assistance from France.  But with North America becoming less important to the French war effort, and with the French government’s finances straining as well, Congress could not rely on much more help from that source. 

So, in early 1782, Congress decided to focus on another pressing issue: approving the country’s official seal.

The use of seals was an ancient practice, predating a time when most people could read or write.  A leader would place a seal on official documents to show that those documents had the authority of law.  While there was no necessity to have a seal, Members of Congress thought it was an important tradition to maintain for the new nation.

First Committee

The process of designing a seal ended up taking years. Congress first looked at the idea in 1776.  It appointed a committee of Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson to work on a design.  Each member of the committee suggested his own design.

Franklin's proposed design
Franklin wanted an image of Moses standing over the divided Red Sea, and drowning the Pharaoh. His suggested motto: Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God.  Jefferson suggested another biblical scene, with the children of Israel being led through the wilderness by cloud during the day and a pillar of fire by night.  On the reverse, Jefferson wanted images of Hengist and Horsa, the two brothers who supposedly led the Anglo Saxon invasion of Britain in the 5th century.  Adams wanted a reproduction of an Italian painting known as The Judgment of Hercules where the hero had to choose between a path of self-indulgence, or a more difficult path of honor and duty to others.

After none of their ideas seemed to gather a consensus, and all seemed to lack any good understanding of heraldry, the committee sought the help of a French artist living in Philadelphia,  Pierre Eugene du Simitiere.  His proposal included the symbols of six European nations that had populated North America, with a female representing liberty on one side and a soldier on the other side. Above them was the eye of providence in a triangle.  Below was the motto E Pluribus Unum (Latin for, out of many, one).

Du Simitière's original sketch & restored version
The committee reported their various suggestions to Congress.  The delegates generally seemed to prefer the du Simitière design with a few modifications.  This included removing the soldier and adding a second lady justice holding a sword.  They also simply added the wording “Seal of the United States of America” with 1776 in Roman numerals.  Even with the changes, Congress decided it was not impressed with the final choice and tabled the matter.

Second Committee

Congress forgot about the seal until 1780, when it appointed a second committee to consider a new design.  The members this time were James Lovell, John Morin Scott, and William Churchill Houston.  

Hopkinson Obverse
This second Committee did not each try to come up with their own designs.  Instead they consulted with Francis Hopkinson, a former delegate who was serving on the Admiralty Court of Pennsylvania at the time.  Hopkinson is credited with designing the US flag in 1777, and also worked with du Simitière to design a seal for the State of New Jersey.

Hopkinson proposed a shield with 13 red and white diagonal stripes.  Above them would be a constellation of 13 stars.  Standing on one side would be an Indian warrior holding a bow and arrows.  On the other side was a woman holding an olive branch.  The motto Bello vel pace apparatus (meaning “prepared for war or peace”). 

Hopkinson Reverse
The reverse side had a woman seated in a chair holding an olive branch and a staff topped by a liberty cap.  The motto Virtute perennis, meaning “Everlasting because of virtue” and the Roman numerals 1776 were written across the bottom.

After discussions with the committee, Hopkinson removed the Indian, replacing him with a soldier.  They also shortened the motto to Bello vel paci (for war or peace).  The committee then presented this version to Congress.  Once again, Congress failed to approve the proposed seal and let the matter sit.

Third Committee

Two years later, in May of 1782, Congress appointed a third committee to revisit the issue.  Congress initially appointed John Rutledge, Arthur Middleton, and Elias Boudinot to the committee, although Arthur Lee replaced Rutledge at some point.  Once again, the committee relied on an outside consultant. William Barton took up the challenge this time. Barton came from a prestigious Philadelphia family.  The young man had recently begun his career as a lawyer.  Importantly for this job, he had studied heraldry in England for several years before returning to Philadelphia in 1779.

Barton Obverse
Barton’s initial suggestion of a rooster was rejected by the committee. His second design showed a shield with 13 red and white stripes broken up by a torch.  The shield was surrounded by a blue border with 13 white stars.  On one side was a maiden holding a dove.  On the other side was a soldier.  Above the shield was a helmet and above that was an eagle.  The motto above was In Vindiciam Libertatis (In Defense of Liberty) and below Virtus sola invicta (Only virtue unconquered).  For the reverse Barton suggested a pyramid of 13 steps and above that the eye of providence.  The mottos Deo Favente ("With God favoring") and Perennis (Everlasting).  The pyramid design was taken from one Hopkinson had designed earlier and was being used on the $50 Continental note.

Once again Congress reviewed the suggestions but did, once again, not give a final approval.  Instead, it turned over the results of all three committees to Charles Thomson, the Secretary of Congress. They asked him to come up with a final proposal based on all the work of all three earlier committees.

Barton Reverse
Thomson took Barton’s eagle and made it the main element of the front side. The eagle had a shield on his chest with 13 red and white stripes.  It also clasped an olive branch in one talon and a bundle of arrows in the other.  A ribbon containing the motto E Pluribus Unum was displayed on a ribbon above the eagle.  Above that was a circle with a blue field and containing 13 white stars.

For the reverse side, Thomson used Barton’s design of the 13 step pyramid, adding a triangle around the eye of providence and changing the mottos to Annuit CÅ“ptis Novus Ordo Seclorum (he favors new world order).  

Thomson submitted his proposals to Congress on June 20, 1782, without an actual design - just a written description.  Congress approved his suggestions that same day.  Thomson had a brass die cut made over the summer.  It saw its first use on September 16, when Thomson used the seal on an authorization to General Washington to negotiate an exchange of prisoners.

Thomson would continue to use the seal until 1789, when the newly elected President Washington asked him to transfer it to the Department of Foreign Affairs, which later became the Department of State.  The seal would be used for diplomatic documents.


The seal aside, there were some issues that Congress focused on during this time.  When London sent General Guy Carleton to take command of British forces in America, the new government hoped he might be able to work out a peaceful compromise with the Americans that might end the war quickly, but not necessarily with total separation.  Carleton quickly discovered there was little to no chance of that.  The Asgill Affair had soured relations between the two sides.  But even without that, there was little chance that the US would do anything that prevented its goal of complete independence.  It was also honor bound to remain in the war until Britain also came to peace terms with France.

Thomson Design
Carleton did find one issue that might provide Britain with an opening.  The independent Republic of Vermont had been in existence for four years by this time.  The Congress still refused to recognize it, knowing that doing so would probably cause New York to break from the Union.

Vermont, of course, was getting very frustrated by all of this.  In 1781, Vermont considered expanding its borders to several towns in New York and New Hampshire who expressed a desire to become part of Vermont.  Since New York and New Hampshire did not recognize Vermont’s sovereignty, the Green Mountain State saw little need to respect the sovereignty of New York and New Hampshire.  If there was a potential border war with its neighbors, then expanding its borders gave Vermont a better chance of defending itself.

Vermont also entered into negotiations with General Haldimand in Quebec, who sought to drive a wedge into the patriot cause by discussing British support for Vermont’s sovereignty.

Seeing this as a threat, Congress once again brought up the idea of recognizing Vermont as the 14th State.  In early 1782, a majority of seven states were ready to do so.  Under the Articles, such a measure would require nine states.  Two of those states in the minority, New York and New Hampshire, would have to acquiesce in some way, even if those nine votes had been reached.

Several of the other states also recognized that there were other separatist movements in their states that might cause future problems.  Virginia and North Carolina were particularly concerned about such movements in their own western lands.  They did not want to set a precedent that Congress could simply divide up states without the consent of the state being divided.

By spring of 1782, the controversy had at least subsided.  While this still was a festering issue, Congress ended up doing nothing of consequence, and just let the issue linger.

Party Time

Finances remained the biggest problem.  If peace did come soon, Congress was not sure who the army might react to being disbanded without pay.  If peace did not come soon, Congress was not sure how it could keep an army in the field.  News of the loss of the French Navy in the Battle of the Saintes made clear they would be getting no further support from the French Navy.

Minister Luzerne

Minister Luzerne, the French ambassador in Philadelphia informed Congress that not only was King Louis unlikely to send any money, or much of anything else.  The King also noted that he would no longer pay to support the American diplomats in Paris.  He also requested that Congress give Minister Benjamin Franklin the power to start settling accounts in France for all the loans that France had given to America during the war.

Congress, for years, had no money and no power to collect money.  Its loans from Europe were drying up and collectors were starting to come knocking.  Congress embarked on a begging campaign, sending two ministers, Joseph Montgomery of Pennsylvania and Jesse Root of Connecticut, to visit state legislatures in New England and pass the collections plate. They also sent John Rutledge of South Carolina and George Clymer of Pennsylvania to put pressure on the southern states.  The delegates hoped that an in-person appeal might have better luck.  It did not.  The efforts fell flat, collecting only enough payments to cover about one day’s worth of government expenses.  

Even the delegates personally were broke. They had no money to pay themselves either.  One member of Congress, John Witherspoon, wrote to a friend that he had to leave Congress because he could no longer support his own expenses in attending it.

Of course, like Americans today, when you are dead broke, deep in debt and see no way out, there is only one thing you can do: throw a raging kickass party!

Luzerne saw the American cause as stumbling, both with France and due to its own inability to fund the war.  He believed that the leaders needed a morale boost and also to show the world that France and Americans were still close allies.  The excuse he found was the birth of the Dauphin.  King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette welcomed their first child into the world in October 1781.  This was a big deal in France because the King and Queen had been married for eleven years without producing a child. In America, where monarchy was not really something to be celebrated anymore, Congress had passed a resolution in May, congratulating the king on his impressive act of procreation, but then moved on with other things.

Luzerne, however, latched onto the event as an excuse to throw a massive party in Philadelphia to celebrate the King of France.  He sent out more than a thousand invitations to officers, politicians and prominent citizens all around Philadelphia, and beyond. Generals Washington and Rochambeau were invited.

Luzerne built a pavilion next to his house on Chestnut Street. He put Captain Charles L’Enfant in charge of designing the pavilion and the area around it.  Years later L’Enfant, would be called on to design the entire city of Washington, DC   

Luzerne’s party got Philadelphia to close surrounding streets to traffic on July 15 so that the party could spill into the streets.  It was good that they did so because more than 10,000 Philadelphians turned out just to watch the party from the streets.  Music welcomed the guests, who enjoyed dancing into the evening.  At 9:00 PM, the music paused so that everyone could enjoy a display of fireworks.  The banquet began at midnight and the champagne flowed freely.  The party finally broke up a little before dawn, as everyone made their way home.

A few people questioned the propriety of throwing a lavish party when money was so tight.  But Luzerne had funded the party with his private finances.  Several questioned whether a republic should be celebrating the continuation of a monarchy.  But overall, it proved to the world that America was still closely allied with France and that Britain would not succeed in its attempts to divide that alliance.

Purple Heart

Another first that summer took place in the army.  Military commendations in this era were rare.  Officers would occasionally receive some token of appreciation in the form of a sword or a coin struck for a particular victory.  It was almost never that enlisted men were recognized with anything more than an extra ration of rum or a kind word.

General Washington sought to change that.  He recognized that many men had served through the many difficult years of the war without any special recognition.  Enlisted soldiers, who had sacrificed so much for their country, should receive recognition.

As part of his General orders on August 7, Washington announced that 

Honorary Badges of distinction are to be conferred on the veteran Non commissioned officers and soldiers of the army, who have served more than three years with bravery, fidelity and good conduct, for this purpose a narrow piece of white cloath of an angular form is to be fixed to the left arm on the uniform Coats. Non commissioned officers and soldiers who have served with equal reputation more than six years are to be distinguished by two pieces of cloth set on parallel to each other in a simular form

Washington then added in his orders, 

should any who are not entitled to these honors have the insolence to assume the badges of them they shall be severely punished. On the other hand it is expected those gallant men who are thus designated will on all occasions be treated with particular confidence and consideration.

These white badges were permitted simply based on length of service. For those soldiers who merited special notice, Washington’s orders continued: 

The General ever desirous to cherish virtuous ambition in his soldiers, as well as to foster and encourage every species of Military merit, directs that whenever any singularly meritorious action is performed, the author of it shall be permitted to wear on his facings over the left breast, the figure of a heart in purple cloth, or silk, edged with narrow lace or binding. Not only instances of unusual gallantry, but also of extraordinary fidelity and essential service in any way shall meet with a due reward. Before this favour can be conferred on any man, the particular fact, or facts, on which it is to be grounded must be set forth to the Commander in chief accompanied with certificates from the Commanding officers of the regiment and brigade to which the Candadate for reward belonged, or other incontestable proofs, and upon granting it, the name and regiment of the person with the action so certified are to be enrolled in the book of merrit which will be kept at the orderly office. Men who have merited this last distinction to be suffered to pass all guards and sentinals which officers are permitted to do.

The first recipient of the Purple Heart was Sergeant Elijah Churchill of the Second Continental Light dragoons.  Churchill had led a raid on Long Island that previous fall, using whaleboats to defeat a superior force, capturing 300 prisoners and destroying enemy supplies. 

Badge of Military Merit
The second recipient was Sergeant William Brown, who was part of a forlorn hope at Yorktown.  He and his men pushed into the British redoubt just before the main army under Colonel Alexander Hamilton charged. Their goal was to sow confusion among the defenders.  All of them expected to die.  Brown was badly wounded but had managed to survive.

The third recipient, Sergeant Daniel Bissell was a Continental soldier who deserted in 1781 and joined the British in New York. There, he served under Benedict Arnold.  Unbeknownst to almost everyone, Bissell had done all this in an effort to serve as a spy for General Washington, a role he performed for more than a year.

As far as we know, these were the only three purple heart awards that were given during the American Revolution.  That award, of course, is remembered in the military to this day.

Next week, we head south for the British evacuation of Savannah.

- - -

Next Episode 315 Evacuation of Savannah 

Previous Episode 313 Crawford Expedition

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Further Reading


Great Seal:

Great Seal of the United States:

“Motion Concerning Documents on Vermont, 3 April 1782,” Founders Online, National Archives,

“Continental Congress Motion on Vermont, 5 December 1782,” Founders Online, National Archives,

“General Orders, 7 August 1782,” Founders Online, National Archives,

The first Purple Hearts awarded by Gen. Washington to Three Connecticut Soldiers

Free eBooks
(from unless noted)

The Great Seal of the United States, US Dept. of State, 2003. 

Journals of the Continental Congress 1774-1789 Vol. 22, Jan 1 - Aug 9, 1782. Washington: GPO, 1914.

Patterson, Richard S. The Eagle and the Shield: A History of the Great Seal of the United States, Dept. of State, 1976. 

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)*

Fleming, Thomas The Perils of Peace: America's Struggle for Survival After Yorktown, Harper Collins, 2007.  

Montross, Lynn The Reluctant Rebels, Harper & Brothers, 1950 (borrow on

Patterson, Richard S. The Eagle and the Shield: A History of the Great Seal of the United States, Dept. of State, 1976 (on 

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Sunday, May 26, 2024

ARP313 Crawford Expedition

Back in Episode 310, we covered the ongoing war in the west, when militia from around Fort Pitt massacred a Christian community of Moravian Indians and whites at Gnadenhutten, in what is today Ohio.

The militia were upset over repeated attacks on their homes and settlements by various groups of Indians who were being encouraged in such attacks by the British at Detroit.

Planning an Offensive

General William Irvine took command at Fort Pitt just weeks after the Gnadenhutten Massacre.  He had to deal with the fallout from those events, but could not do much about it.  His tiny Continental Garrison was no threat to anyone.  In fact, he feared he and his garrison would be attacked by local militia if they did not share the anti-Indian sentiments that were widely held.

Crawford Expedition
The basis for those sentiments was the fact that the region was in a constant state of alert.  War parties from what is today Ohio, Michigan and Canada, regularly traveled to the area around Fort Pitt where they killed, and often tortured, murdered, and mutilated isolated families on the small farms in the area.  The British and the Indians knew that settlers would continue pushing westward into Ohio unless they could be intimidated by the hostile reception they met. Instead, however, the raids only inspired a series of revenge raids into Ohio.

General Irvine had developed what he hoped would be a plan to put an end to this problem. After he had received orders to take command of Fort Pitt, but before actually taking command, Irvine wrote to Washington with his assessment.

It is, I believe, universally agreed that the only way to keep Indians from harassing the country is to visit them. But we find, by experience, that burning their empty towns has not the desired effect. They can soon build others. They must be followed up and beaten, or the British, whom they draw their support from, totally driven out of their country. I believe if Detroit was demolished, it would be a good step toward giving some, at least, temporary ease to this country.

The Continentals had embarked on the Sullivan Expedition in New York to wipe out Indian villages there a few years earlier.  That did not really end the fighting.  The British in Quebec continued to provide support for Indian and loyalist raids into New York.  Quebec was too large to take.  But Detroit was a much smaller outpost.  If they could remove the British from Detroit, perhaps the Indians would not get stirred up so much.  The problem was crossing Ohio to get to it.

Irvine believed that a Continental army of 2000 men, with five cannons and sufficient supply wagons, could take Detroit and leave a path of destruction through Ohio that would at least greatly reduce the attacks in the region.

William Irvine

While Washington liked the idea of taking Detroit.  Raising an army, however, was out of the question.  Following Yorktown, it had become impossible to get more recruits, supplies, or much of anything. Washington was struggling just to keep an army in the field around New York.  The struggle to feed his army was almost more than he could handle.  With no threat of an imminent offensive by the enemy, a war-weary Congress had given up on trying to get the states to contribute more to the war effort.  There was no way they would contribute to an offensive in the west that had no impact on the security of their home states.  If there was going to be any action, it would have to be locally sponsored.

The local militia around Fort Pitt were still highly motivated to take action.  The action at Gnadenhutten had done nothing to slow down raids.  On May 8, an Indian war party came across the home of a Baptist minister.  Although he was not home, the Indians killed and scalped his wife and children.  Everyone knew that the raids would continue if they did nothing.

About 500 men answered the call for militia.  All of them were volunteers.  They had to provide their own arms, ammunition, and everything else they would need. Their only compensation would be whatever they could plunder from the enemy.  Even so, the men believed in the necessity of countering this ongoing threat, and were willing to lend their support.

William Crawford

Militia Colonel David Williamson had led the militia who had attacked Gnadenhutten a few months earlier.  He would probably be seen as the obvious choice to lead this expedition. General Irvine believed that Washington’s orders prohibited him from leading his small Continental garrison on this expedition.

When the men voted on an officer to lead the expedition, Williamson was up there, but came in a close second.  The militia selected William Crawford to lead them.  

William Crawford
Crawford was an experienced frontiersman.  He had grown up on the Virginia frontier.  Early in life, he had teamed up with a teen-aged George Washington to work on several surveying projects.  Crawford, along with Washington, also joined the Braddock campaign back in 1754 and the Forbes Campaign to capture Fort Pitt from the French in 1758.  When Washington returned home to Mount Vernon, Crawford remained on the frontier, working as a surveyor, farmer, and fur trader.  He regularly had to deal with both friendly and hostile Indians.  In 1774, he fought as a major in Lord Dunmore’s War in what is today West Virginia.

When the Revolution began, Crawford took a commission as a lieutenant colonel in the 5th Regiment of Virginia.  A short time later, Crawford became colonel of the 7th Virginia, replacing Colonel William Daingerfield, who resigned. It’s not clear why Daingerfield resigned, but I have to assume it was because he got no respect.  Colonel Crawford took several other commands during the war, and raised another Continental regiment among the frontiersmen of 1777.  He fought under Washington in the Philadelphia Campaign, specifically at Brandywine and Germantown.

When the Army went to Valley Forge, Crawford was transferred to Fort Pitt, where he served under a series of commanding officers there over the next few years.  Due to frustrations, perhaps related to lack of promotion, or to the dearth of funding, or support that Congress gave to the western armies, Crawford retired in 1781.

Despite his retirement, Crawford turned out for service in 1782 when the militia prepared for its raid into the Ohio Territory.  By some accounts, General Irvine encouraged Crawford to lead the expedition and encouraged the militia to vote him into command.  It could be that Irvine, as well as others, did not trust Williamson after Williamson had led the Gnadenhutten Massacre.  It could also be that Crawford’s decades of experience on the frontier, and his years of command in the Continental Army simply inspired greater confidence in the men.

The Expedition

Crawford’s substantial force of 500 militia was not substantial enough to threaten Detroit itself.  He and Irvine decided their target would be a series of Indian towns along the Sandusky River. This would take them deeper into Indian Territory than any Patriot force had gotten during the Revolution, about 175 miles west of Fort Pitt and about 100 miles south of Detroit.

Although the expedition was made up of militia, two Continental officers also went with the group. John Knight served as surgeon on the expedition.   The other volunteer officer was known as John Rose.  In actuality, he was the Baron Gustave von Wetter-Rosenthal, a Russian aristocrat who fled to America after killing a man in a duel.  Rose had fought in the Quebec campaign and was, at the time, serving as General Irvine’s aide-de-camp.

Crawford Expedition Map
The militia left Fort Pitt on May 25, 1782.  They hoped their raid would be a surprise, but that hope was quickly dashed.  The militia were highly undisciplined. Men would leave the column and would fire their guns at wild game during the march.  Rose also noted that Colonel Crawford was not very commanding and often got into arguments with other officers about what actions to take.  A number of the militia lost faith in the mission and deserted before they reached any of their targeted destinations.

Despite the problems, the expedition kept up a pretty good pace.  In just over a week, they arrived near Upper Sandusky, a Wyandot village deep into Ohio country.  On arrival, they found the town abandoned.  The Wyandots had moved about 8 miles to the north.

Although scouts had reached the town, the main army was stills some distance away.  Crawford held a council of war.  Many men believed the town’s abandonment meant that the Indians knew about their approach and were planning an attack.  Many wanted to turn around and go home before it was too late.  Another group under Colonel Williamson wanted to march to the abandoned town and burn it.  Crawford did not want to divide his force, so he took the entire column toward the town and camped overnight.

Before they marched very far, scouts reported a large war party of Native Americans advancing on their position.

The Indians

It turns out that the expedition was no surprise at all for the enemy, and it had nothing to do with the lack of discipline among the militia.  Spies had reported the expedition before it had even left Fort Pitt.  A week and a half before the militia even got started, Major Arent Schuyler DePeyster was aware of the expedition and planning to attack it.  He assembled an army that consisted of a great many Shawnee, Delaware, Mingo, and Northern Wyandot warriors, as well as others, referred to generally as “Lake Indians” by the British.  Also with the group was a company of loyalist cavalry from Butler’s Rangers, the group that had been raised in upstate New York but had been pushed out of there by the Americans.

One of the war chiefs leading this group was a Delaware known as Captain Pipe.  He had grown up in what is today central Pennsylvania.  Pennsylvania settlers had forced his people west into Ohio.  Over the years, he attended several conferences and treaty negotiations at Fort Pitt.

When the Revolution began, Captain Pipe advocated to keep the Delaware neutral and out of the war.  He maintained this view even after General Edward Hand led an expedition into Ohio in 1778, with William Crawford part of that expedition.  The soldiers killed his wife and children.  Despite this, he still granted another Continental force under General Lachlan McIntosh permission to pass through his territory a few months later in another failed attempt to reach Detroit.  When McIntosh tried to compel the Delaware to join him in an effort to destroy Detroit, the Delaware refused, Captain Pipe moved his people further west, where the British held more influence.  Finally, in 1781, when a patriot raid under Colonel Daniel Brodhead destroyed his village again, Captain Pipe firmly allied with the British

Another commander was Dunquat, a Wyandot also known as the Half-King.  Unlike Captain Pipe, Dunquat was a firm British ally from the beginning of the war.  He led a group of mostly Wyandot and Mingo warriors on multiple raids against the American frontier as early as 1777. He had led attacks against Fort Henry and Fort Randolph earlier in the war, and was probably a key leader in the continual raids into western Pennsylvania.  

Dunquat had also been particularly protective of the Moravian communities in Ohio.  He had made efforts to move them to safer locations during the war, and was likely particularly outraged when the Fort Pitt militia massacred them only a few months earlier.

Also with the Indians was Simon Girty.  I’ve discussed his background before, but as a reminder Girty grew up on the Pennsylvania frontier.  When he was a teenager at the outbreak of the French and Indian War, his town was raided by Indians who killed his stepfather, and took him prisoner.  He was eventually adopted into the Mingo tribe under great Chief Guyasuta.  After Pontiac’s rebellion, the Mingo were forced to return all of their white captives.  They returned Girty, who did not want to leave and tried to return several times.  When that proved impossible, Girty made a living on the frontier, working as a trapper and a translator.  During this time, he got to know William Crawford.

He acted as a scout during Lord Dunmore’s War in 1774.  At one point, he served under Crawford.  After Virginia Soldiers massacred Indian women and children during Dunmore’s War, Girty left the service and moved into Indian territory.  With the outbreak of the Revolution, he offered his services to the British in Detroit.  He had fought alongside Captain Pipe and Dunquat for many years, taking an active role in attacks on frontier forts and settlements. He strongly supported the attack on the Crawford Expedition in Ohio.

Battle of Sandusky

On June 4, 1782, a group of militia scouts under John Rose encountered a group of Delaware warriors under Captain Pipe.  They fought a running retreat as the outnumbered militia slowly fell back while fighting off the attackers.  Just when it looked like the militia scouts might be overrun and massacred, Crawford showed up with reinforcements to push back the Delaware.  

Crawford’s militia drove the Delaware back out of the woods and into an open prairie. There, Captain Pipe linked up with Dunquat’s Wyandot warriors.  This led to a three and a half hour battle between the two groups.  As it got dark the Indians withdrew.  That day, both sides lost five killed.  The Americans also had 19 wounded to the Indians’ 11.  

Both sides spent a sleepless night, clutching their weapons and fearing a night attack.  There was no attack, although men on both sides took time to scalp fallen enemies and steal their clothing and other personal items.  Fifteen militiamen deserted during the night, fleeing back to Fort Pitt. 

Battle of Sandusky
The next morning, fighting resumed.  The Indians were firing from 200 to 300 yards away with muskets, meaning there was little chance they would hit anyone.  Militia leaders believed the Indians were holding back because they had suffered heavy losses the day before.  In fact, the Indians were simply amusing the enemy, while waiting for reinforcements.  The Americans also observed that Butler’s Rangers were fighting alongside the Indians.  Even so, Crawford believed he could launch a night raid after dark and surprise the enemy. 

As the Americans watched the Indians fire at them from a distance, a group of about 140 Shawnee warriors slipped around the American line, effectively surrounding their camp.  Rather than attack after dark, the Americans decided, at that point, it would be better to slip away and retreat once the sun went down.  

That night, many of the militia rode off on their own, leaving the larger army divided.  The men also left behind many of their wounded, wanting to make a faster escape.  Crawford did his best to collect the wounded and keep the militia together in a single unit, but saw all that falling apart.

The following morning, the Americans had returned to the abandoned Wyandot village that they had found a few days earlier.  About half the militia had fled, reducing their numbers to less than 300.  A smaller group of Indians attacked the force, causing more of the militia to flee.  Colonel Williamson managed to mount an organized defense that drove off the attack, but leading to another three militia killed and eight wounded.

Over the next week, small groups of militia made their way back to Fort Pitt.  The main force under John Rose reached Mingo Bottom, just west of Fort Pitt, on June 13.  Indian pursuers managed to capture and kill a few stragglers.  In total, the militia suffered probably between 70 and 150 casualties.  We have that big spread, because numbers on frontier battles are just terrible.


There are no good numbers on exactly how many militia were killed outright or captured during the retreat.  We only have a few stories from survivors.  A scout named John Slover was captured with two other soldiers.  They were taken to a Shawnee town where they were forced to run a gauntlet. One of the prisoners was painted black, meaning the Shawnee had marked that man for death.  The men were badly beaten in the gauntlet.  The man marked for death was torn up with tomahawks and had his heart stuck on a pole outside of town.

Slover also recognized the bodies of three other prisoners.  These were Major McClelland, as well as Colonel Crawford’s nephew and his son-in-law.  The heads of these men were also stuck on poles just outside the village. Slover and the other prisoner were separated and sent to different villages.  They were expected to be burned at the stake.  Slover managed to escape on a stolen horse, which is the only reason we have his story.

Colonel Crawford and Dr. Knight got separated from the main army during the retreat.  When a larger band of Delaware encountered them, Crawford and Knight surrendered.  Several other men with them fled into the woods. The Indians chased them down, killing and scalping them.

Crawford was taken to a Wyandot village where he met up with Simon Girty. Girty informed him that the Indians wanted revenge for the Gnadenhutten massacre and were not inclined to show mercy.  The following day, Captain Pipe arrived.  He ordered Crawford and several other prisoners painted black and carried to another town.  Four of the prisoners were tomahawked to death and scalped during the journey.  When they arrived at the new town, all the other prisoners, except Crawford and Knight, were tomahawked to death and scalped.  The warriors taunted Crawford by slapping his face with the scalps of his former comrades.

Crawford execution
The Indians wanted to make Crawford’s death a spectacle.  Captain Pipe, accompanied by a group of Delaware warriors, gave Crawford a "trial" with Girty serving as interpreter.  They asked if Crawford played any role in the Gnadenhutten Massacre, which Crawford truthfully denied. Another Delaware woman recognized Crawford as a leader from a 1778 campaign in which Captain Pipe’s brother and mother had been killed.  Even if he hadn’t been at Gnadenhutten, he was an Indian killer and was condemned to death by fire.  

The following day, more than 100 Delaware gathered to observe Crawford’s fate.  Captain Pipe and Dunquat were both present, as was Simon Girty and another British agent.  Girty offered to pay a ransom to save Crawford, but it was refused.  

Crawford was first stripped naked and beaten.  Warriors shot him with blanks, burning his skin with the powder residue.  They cut off his ears and pressed burning coals against his skin.  They forced him to walk across burning coals.  Crawford begged Girty to shoot him and end his misery, but Girty could not interfere.

After several hours, Crawford lost consciousness.  The Indians scalped him and put hot coals on his head.  The pain caused him to revive briefly.  He was forced to walk a bit more before his body was finally pushed into a fire and burned.  Again, the only reason we have this account is because Dr. Knight witnessed it.  The following day, Knight was bring carried to another village for execution.  Along the way, he managed to bash his captor with a log and escape into the woods.  After weeks of making his way through the woods, he managed to make it back to Fort McIntosh.


The failure of the Crawford Expedition only emboldened Indian attack from the Ohio territory.  We’ll get into some of those in a future episode.  

Next week, we return to Philadelphia as the Continental Congress adopts the Great Seal.

- - -

Next Episode 314 The Great Seal 

Previous Episode 312 Huddy-Asgill Affair

 Contact me via email at

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Further Reading


William Crawford:

Brown, Paul Reconstructing Crawford’s Army of 1782

Quaife, M. M. “The Ohio Campaigns of 1782.” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, vol. 17, no. 4, 1931, pp. 515–29. JSTOR,

The Crawford Campaign, 1782: American Strategy:

The Crawford Campaign, 1782: Birth of an Expedition:

The Crawford Campaign, 1782: Rout, Retreat, and Recovery

The Crawford Campaign, 1782: Captivity, Torture, and Execution:

Burning Colonel Crawford:

Free eBooks
(from unless noted)

Boyd, Thomas Simon Girty, The White Savage, New York: Minton, Balch & Co. 1928. 

Brackenridge, H. H. Narratives of a late expedition against the Indians: with an account of the barbarous execution of Col. Crawford, Philadelphia: Francis Bailey, 1783. 

Butterfield, Consul W. An Historical Account of the Expedition Against Sandusky Under Col. William Crawford in 1782, Cincinnati: R. Clarke & Co. 1873. 

Butterfield, Consul W. The Washington-Crawford Letters, Cincinnati: R. Clarke & Co. 1877. 

Butterfield, Consul W. History of the Girtys, Columbus: Longs College Book Co. 1950. 

Paul, James A Narrative of the Wonderful Escape and Dreadful Sufferings of Colonel James Paul, after the defeat of Col. Crawford, when that unfortunate commander, and many of his men, were inhumanly burnt at the stake, Cincinnati: Spiller, 1869. 

Stone, William L. ”Journal of a Volunteer Expedition to Sandusky, from May 24 to June 13, 1782The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 1894.

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)*

Brusman, Denver and Joel Stone (eds) Revolutionary Detroit: Portraits in Political and Cultural Change, 1760-1805, Detroit Historical Society, 2009 (borrow on

Glickstein, Don After Yorktown: The Final Struggle for American Independence, Westholme Publishing, 2015. 

Sterner, Eric The Battle of the Upper Sandusky, 1782, Westholme Publishing, 2023. 

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.