Amos Singletary, Anti-Federalist congressman

September 16, 2014

 

 

Amos Singletary, son of John and Mary Grelee Singletary, was the first white person born on September 16, 1721 in what is now the town of Millbury. Amos was born on his father’s mill lot, which is a tact of land of 116 acres lying along the shores of Singletary Lake of 600 acres.

In the old County-Bridge, or Providence street, burial place, there is a slate grave stone erected to his memory, on which there is inscribed, “Amos Singletary, died 1806.” Mr. Singletary was an important person in the early history of Sutton. All the education that he received was acquired at home. For four years he was a member of the provincial Congress. His name appears frequently in transactions between the town of Sutton and the state government during the time of the Revolutionary War. He was justice of the peace and quorum, and a bail commissioner. He was the father of two boys and seven girls and his son, Amos, was father of twelve children.

Singletary and his wife were members of the First Congregational Church. In 1743 a meeting was held in Richard Singletary’s home to start the second Congregational Church in the north part of Sutton, which became Millbury, Massachusetts, in 1813. This church then became the First Church of Millbury.

Amos Singletary was a staunch Anti-Federalist and is most remembered for his participation in the Massachusetts Ratifying Convention of 1788.

When Amos Singletary, the rough-hewn farmer from Worcester County, Massachusetts, rose before the state’s elected convention gathered in 1788 to decide on whether to ratify the Constitution, he spoke without benefit of any schooling. But standing behind the plow, he had developed a wealth of feelings and political instincts. Singletary may have appreciated that a written constitution was in itself a landmark event in the Western world, and he may have celebrated the fact that conventions of delegates elected by their constituents were charged with deciding on the wisdom of the document. These, after all, were breathtaking innovations in putting the power in the people–or, as was the case in Massachusetts, to give a say in political matters to about half the white adult males who qualified through property ownership.

But gnawing at Singletary’s innards was something born of his lifelong experience with the men of wealth in western Massachusetts. He, like most debt-ridden farmers tilling marginal lands in New England, had just left behind a wrenching, blood-filled civil insurrection born out of desperation. “These lawyers, and men of learning, and moneyed men, that talk so finely, and gloss over matters so smoothly, to make us poor illiterate people swallow down the pill,” he sputtered, “expect to get into congress themselves; they expect to be managers of the Constitution and get all the power and all the money into their own hands, and then they will swallow up all of us little folks, like the great Leviathan. Mr. President; yes just as the whale swallowed up Jonah. This is what I am afraid of.”

Gravestone of Amos Singletary in Millbury Cemetery

Sources:

1. Centennial history of the town of Millbury, Massachusetts, p. 36

2. Biographical notes provided by David Dunham

3. Ordinary Americans and the Constitution, by Gary B. Nash, Professor Emeritus of History, UCLA


The Landing at Kip’s Bay

September 15, 2014

 

 

The Landing at Kip’s Bay was a British amphibious landing during the New York Campaign in the American Revolution on September 15, 1776, occurring on the eastern shore of present-day Manhattan.

Heavy advance fire from British naval forces in the East River caused the inexperienced militia guarding the landing area to flee, making it possible for the British to land unopposed at Kip’s Bay. Skirmishes in the aftermath of the landing resulted in the British capture of some of those militia. British maneuvers following the landing very nearly cut off the escape route of some Continental Army forces stationed further southeast on the island. The flight of American troops was so rapid that George Washington, who was attempting to rally them, was left exposed dangerously close to British lines.

The operation was a decisive British success, and resulted in the withdrawal of the Continental Army to Harlem Heights, ceding control of New York City on the lower half of the island. The following day, however, the British and American troops fought the Battle of Harlem Heights, which resulted in an American victory.

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Landing at Kip’s Bay, artist unknown

The American Revolution had not gone well for the British military in 1775 and early 1776. At besieged Boston, the arrival of heavy guns for the Continental Army camp prompted General William Howe to withdraw from Boston to Halifax, Nova Scotia in March 1776. He regrouped there, acquired supplies and reinforcements, and embarked in June on a campaign to gain control of New York City.[6] Anticipating that the British would next attack New York, General George Washington moved his army there to assist General Putnam in the defensive preparations, a task complicated by the large number of potential landing sites for a British force.

Howe’s troops began an unopposed landing on Staten Island in early July, and made another unopposed landing on Long Island, where Washington’s Continental Army had organized significant defenses, on August 22.[7] On August 27, Howe successfully flanked Washington’s defenses in the Battle of Long Island, leaving Washington in a precarious position on the narrow Brooklyn Heights, with the British Army in front and the East River behind him. On the night of August 29–30, Washington successfully evacuated his entire army of 9,000 troops to York Island (as Manhattan was then known).[8]

Despite showing discipline and unity during the evacuation, the army quickly devolved in despair and anger. Large numbers of militia, many of whose summertime enlistments ending in August, departed for home.[9] Leadership was questioned in the ranks, with soldiers openly wishing for the return of the colorful and charismatic General Charles Lee.[10] Washington sent a missive to the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia asking for some direction—specifically, if New York City, which then occupied only the southern tip of Manhattan Island, should be abandoned and burned to the ground. “They would derive great conveniences from it, on the one hand, and much property would be destroyed on the other,” Washington wrote.[11]

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Bronze statue of General George Washington as he might have appeared at the beginning of the American Revolution. This statue is the centerpiece of Washington Circle in Washington DC at 23rd St and Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

York Island was occupied principally on the southern tip (what would now be considered Lower Manhattan) by New York City, on the western tip by Greenwich village, and in the north by the village of Harlem. The sparsely-populated center of the island featured a few low hills, principally Indianburg and Crown Heights. Ferry services connected the island to the surrounding lands, with the primary ferry to the mainland of Westchester County (now the Bronx) crossing the Harlem River at King’s Bridge near the northern tip of the island. The island was bordered by two rivers, on the west by the Hudson River and on the east by the East River, which separated the island from Long Island.[12] Kip’s Bay was a cove on the eastern shore of the island, extending roughly from present-day 32nd to 38th Streets, and as far west as Second Avenue. The bay no longer exists as such, having been filled in, but in 1776, it provided an excellent place for an amphibious landing: deep water close to the shore, and a large meadow for mustering landed troops.[13] Opposite the bay on Long Island, the wide mouth of Newtown Creek, also surrounded by meadowlands, offered an equally excellent staging area.[14]

Washington, uncertain of General Howe’s next step, spread his troops thinly along the shores of York Island and the Westchester shore, and actively sought intelligence that would yield clues to Howe’s plans. He also ordered an attempt to be made on HMS Eagle, the flagship of General Howe’s brother and commander of the Royal Navy at New York, Admiral Richard Howe. On September 7, in the first documented case of submarine warfare, Sergeant Ezra Lee, volunteered to pilot the submersible Turtle to the Eagle and attach explosives to the ship; the submersible’s drill struck an iron band it could not penetrate, and Lee was unable to attach the required explosives. Lee was able to escape, although he was forced to release his explosive payload to fend of small boats sent by the British to investigate when he surfaced to orient himself. The payload exploded harmlessly in the East River.[15]

David Bushnell’s Turtle. Sgt. Ezra Lee attacked the Royal Navy’s HMS Eagle unsuccessfully in New York Harbor with the submarine. U.S. Navy Historical Center photo

Meanwhile, British troops, led by General Howe, were moving north up the east shore of the East River, towards King’s Bridge. During the night of September 3 the British frigate Rose, took advantage of a north-flowing tide and, towing thirty flatboats, moved up the East River and anchored in the mouth of Newtown Creek. The next day, more transports and flatboats moved up the East River. Three warships—HMS Renown, HMS Repulse and HMS Pearl—along with the schooner HMS Tryal, sailed into the Hudson.[16][17]

On September 5, General Nathanael Greene, recently returned to duty from a serious illness, sent Washington a letter urging an immediate withdrawal from New York. Without possession of Long Island, Greene argued, New York City could not be held. With the army scattered in encampments on York Island, the Americans would not be able to stop a British attack. Another decisive defeat, he argued, would be catastrophic with regard to the loss of men and the damage to morale. He also recommended burning the city; once the British had control, it could never be recovered without a comparable or superior naval force. There was no American benefit to preserving New York City, Greene summarized, and recommended that Washington convene a war council.[18] By the time the council was gathered on September 7, however, a letter had arrived from John Hancock stating Congress’s resolution that although New York should not be destroyed, Washington was not required to defend it.[19][20] Congress had also decided to send a three-man delegation to confer with Lord Howe — John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Edward Rutledge.[21]

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Depiction of the 1776 Staten Island Peace Conference. On the right stands Admiral Richard, Lord Howe. On the left, John Adams, Edward Rutledge, and Benjamin Franklin. Engraving by Alonzo Chappel, date unknown.

On September 10, British troops moved from Long Island to occupy Montresor’s Island, a small island at the mouth of the Harlem River. One day later, on September 11, the Congressional delegation arrived on Staten Island and met with Admiral Lord Howe for several hours. The meeting came to nothing, as Lord Howe was not authorized to grant terms the Congressional delegation insisted on. It did, however, postpone the impending British attack, allowing Washington more time to decide if and where to confront the enemy.[22]

In a September 12 war council, Washington and his generals made the decision to abandon New York City. Four thousand Continentals under General Israel Putnam remained to defend the city and lower Manhattan while the main army moved north to Harlem and King’s Bridge. On the afternoon of September 13, major British movement started as the warships Roebuck and Phoenix, along with the frigates Orpheus and Carysfort, moved up the East River and anchored in Bushwick Creek, carrying 148 total cannons and accompanied by six troop transport ships.[23] By September 14 the Americans were urgently moving stores of ammunition and other materiel, along with American sick, to Orangetown, New York.[24] Every available horse and wagon was employed in what Joseph Reed described as a “grand military exertion”.[25] Scouts reported movement in the British army camps but Washington was still uncertain where the British would strike. Late that afternoon, most of the American army had moved north to King’s Bridge and Harlem Heights, and Washington followed that night.[24][25]

General Howe had originally planned a landing for September 13, recalling the date of James Wolfe’s key landing before the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759. He and General Clinton disagreed on the point of attack, with Clinton arguing that a landing at King’s Bridge would have cut Washington off once and for all. Howe originally wanted to make two landings, one at Kip’s Bay and another at Horn’s Hook, further north on the eastern shore, but struck the latter option when ship’s pilots warned of the dangerous waters of the Hell Gate, where the Harlem River and waters of Long Island Sound meet the East River. After delays due to unfavorable winds, the landing, targeted for Kip’s Bay, began on the morning of September 15.[26]

Admiral Howe sent a noisy demonstration of Royal Navy ships up the Hudson River early on the morning of September 15, but Washington and his aides determined that it was a diversion and maintained their forces at the north end of the island.[24] Five hundred Connecticut militia under the command of Colonel William Douglas had erected a crude breastwork on the American line at Kip’s Bay,[2] but many of these farmers and shopkeepers were inexperienced and had no muskets. They carried instead homemade pikes constructed of scythe blades attached to poles. After having been awake all night, and having had little or nothing to eat in the previous twenty-four hours, at dawn they looked over their meager redoubt to see five British warships in the East River near their position.[27] As the militia at Kip’s Bay lay in their ditches, the British ships, anchored 200 yards offshore, also lay quiet. The day was oppressively hot. At about 10 am, General Sir Henry Clinton, to whom Howe had given the task of making the landing, ordered the crossing to begin. A first wave of more than eighty flatboats carried 4,000 British and Hessian soldiers, standing shoulder to shoulder, left Newtown Cove and entered the waters of the East River, heading towards Kip’s Bay.[3]

Around eleven, the five warships began a salvo of broadside fire that flattened the flimsy American breastworks and panicked the Connecticut militia. “So terrible and so incessant a roar of guns few even in the army and navy had ever heard before,” wrote Ambrose Serle, private secretary to Lord Howe. Nearly eighty guns fired at the shore for a full hour. The Americans were half buried under dirt and sand, and were unable to return fire due to the smoke and dust. After the guns ceased, the British flatboats appeared out of the smoke and headed for shore. By then the Americans were in a panicked retreat, and the British began their amphibious landing.[3]

Although Washington and his aides arrived from the command post at Harlem Heights soon after the landing began, they were unable to rally the retreating militia. About a mile inland from Kip’s Bay, Washington rode his horse among the men, trying to turn them around and impose some order on them, cursing furiously and violently. By some accounts, he lost control of his temper; he brandished a cocked pistol and drew his sword, threatening to run men through and shouted, “Take the walls! Take the cornfield!” When no one obeyed, he threw his hat to the ground, exclaiming in disgust, “Are these the men with which I am to defend America?”[28] When some fleeing men refused to turn and engage a party of advancing Hessians, Washington reportedly struck some of their officers with his riding crop.[29] The Hessians shot or bayoneted a number of American troops who were trying to surrender. Two thousand Continental Army troops under the command of Generals Samuel Parsons and John Fellows arrived from the north, but at the sight of the chaotic militia retreat, they also turned and fled. Washington, still in a rage, rode within a hundred yards of the enemy before his aides managed to get him off the field. More and more British soldiers came ashore, including light infantry, grenadiers, and Hessian Jägers. They spread out, advancing in several directions. By late afternoon another 9,000 British troops had landed at Kip’s Bay, and Howe had sent a brigade toward New York City, officially taking possession. While most of the Americans managed to escape to the north, not all got away. “I saw a Hessian sever a rebel’s head from his body and clap it on a pole in the entrenchments,” recorded a British officer.[30] The southern advance pushed for a half mile to Watts farm (near present-day 23rd Street) before meeting stiff American resistance. The northern advance stopped at the Inclenberg (now Murray Hill, a rise west of Kip’s Bay), just west of the present Lexington Avenue, under orders from General Howe to wait for the rest of the invading force. This was extremely fortunate for the thousands of American troops south of the invasion point. Had Clinton continued west to the Hudson he would have cut off General Putnam’s troops, nearly one third of Washington’s forces, from the main army, trapping them in lower Manhattan.[31]

General Israel Putnam had come north with some of his troops when the landing began. After briefly conferring with Washington about the risk of entrapment to his forces in the city, he rode south to lead their retreat. Abandoning supplies and equipment that would slow them down, his column, under the guidance of his aide Aaron Burr, marched north along the Hudson.[32] The forced march of Putnam’s men was so quick, and the British advance sufficiently slow, that only the last companies in Putnam’s column skirmished with the advancing British.[33] When Putnam and his men marched into the main camp at Harlem after dark, they were greeted by cheers, having been given up for lost. Henry Knox arrived later after a narrow escape made possible by seizing a boat on the Hudson and he too received an excited and enthusiastic greeting, and was even embraced by Washington.[34]

The British were welcomed by the remaining New York City population, pulling down the Continental Army flag and raising the Union Flag. Howe, who had wanted to capture New York quickly and with minimal bloodshed, considered the invasion a complete success. Not wanting to continue battling with the Americans that day, Howe stopped his troops short of Harlem.[35][36]

Washington was extremely angry with his troops’ conduct, calling their actions “shameful” and “scandalous”.[37] The Connecticut militia, who already had a poor reputation, were labeled cowards and held to blame for the rout. However, others were more circumspect, such as General William Heath, who said, “The wounds received on Long Island were yet bleeding; and the officers, if not the men, knew that the city was not to be defended.”[37] If the Connecticut men would have stayed to defend York Island under the withering cannon fire and in the face of overwhelming force, they would have been annihilated.[37]

The next day, September 16, the two armies fought the Battle of Harlem Heights.[38]

Notes

  1. McCullough, 1776
  2. McCullough, 1776, p. 210
  3. McCullough, 1776, p. 211
  4. Lengel, General George Washington, p. 154
  5. Brooks, Victor and Hohwald, Robert, How America Fought Its Wars, p. 64
  6. Schecter, The Battle for New York, pp. 85, 97
  7. Schecter, The Battle for New York, pp. 100, 118–127
  8. McCullough, 1776, pp. 188–191
  9. Gallagher, John. Battle of Brooklyn 1776, p. 158
  10. McCullough, 1776, pp. 201–202
  11. McCullough, 1776, p. 203
  12. See accompanying map.
  13. Schecter, p. 181
  14. Schecter, p. 182
  15. Schecter, The Battle for New York, pp. 171–174
  16. McCullough, 1776, pp. 203–204
  17. Grizzard, Jr., Frank E. George! A Guide to All Things Washington, p. 167
  18. McCullough, 1776, pp. 205–206
  19. McCullough, 1776, p. 206
  20. Middlekauff, The Glorious Cause, p. 354
  21. McCullough, 1776, p. 207
  22. McCullough, 1776, pp. 207–208
  23. McCullough, 1776, p. 208
  24. Fischer, Washington’s Crossing, p. 102
  25. McCullough, 1776, pp. 208–209
  26. Schecter, The Battle for New York, pp. 179–182
  27. McCullough, 1776, pp. 210–211
  28. McCullough, 1776, p. 212
  29. Middlekauff, The Glorious Cause, p. 355
  30. McCullough, 1776, pp. 211–213
  31. McCullough, 1776, p. 213
  32. Schecter, The Battle for New York, pp. 184–188
  33. Schecter, p. 191
  34. McCullough, 1776, pp. 213–214
  35. McCullough, 1776, pp. 212–213
  36. Matloff, American Military History, p. 65
  37. McCullough, 1776, pp. 214–215
  38. McCullough, 1776, p. 216

References

  • Brooks, Victor and Hohwald, Robert (1999). How America Fought Its Wars. Conshohocken, PA: Combined Publishing.,ISBN 978-1-58097-002-0
  • Grizzard, Jr., Frank E (2005). George! A Guide to All Things Washington. Mariner. ISBN 0-9768238-0-2
  • McCullough, David (2005). 1776. Simon & Schuster. pp. 188–216, ISBN 0-7432-2671-2
  • Fischer, David Hackett (2004). Washington’s Crossing. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 101–106. ISBN 0-19-517034-2
  • Middlekauff, Robert (2005). The Glorious Cause. Oxford University Press. pp. 353–6. ISBN 978-0-19-516247-9
  • Lengel, Edward (2005). General George Washington. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks. ISBN 978-1-4000-6081-8
  • Matloff, Maurice (1969). American Military History. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Chief of Military History. p. 65, ISBN 0-938289-72-1
  • Schecter, Barnet (2002). The Battle for New York. New York: Walker. ISBN 0-8027-1374-2

Major General David Cobb, Massachusetts statesman

September 14, 2014

 

 

David Cobb was a Massachusetts physician, military officer, jurist, and politician who served as a U.S. Congressman for the At-large District of Massachusetts.

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Born in Attleboro, Massachusetts on September 14, 1748, Cobb graduated from Harvard College in 1766. He studied medicine in Boston and afterward practiced in Taunton, Massachusetts. He was a member of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress in 1775; lieutenant colonel of Jackson’s regiment in 1777 and 1778, serving in Rhode Island and New Jersey; was aide-de-camp on the staff of General George Washington; appointed major general of militia in 1786 and rendered conspicuous service during Shays’ Rebellion.

  • Judge of the Bristol County Court of Common Pleas 1784-1796; member of the State house of representatives 1789-1793, and the Massachusetts Senate and served as Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and President of the Massachusetts Senate.
  • Elected to the Third United States Congress (March 4, 1793 – March 3, 1795), replacing Elbridge Gerry.

Cobb moved to Gouldsboro in the district of Maine in 1796 and engaged in agricultural pursuits; elected to the Massachusetts Senate from the eastern district of Maine in 1802 and served as president; elected to the Massachusetts Governor’s Council in 1808; Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts in 1809; member of the board of military defense in 1812; chief justice of the Hancock County (Maine) court of common pleas; returned in 1817 to Taunton, where he died on April 17, 1830. His remains were interred in Plain Cemetery.

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In 1976, David Cobb was honored by being on a postage stamp for the United States Postal Service.

Notes

  1. Porter, Joseph Whitcomb (July,–August, 1888), Bangor Historical Magazine Vol. IV Memoir of Gen. David Cobb and family of Gouldsborough, Maine, and Taunton, Mass, Bangor, ME, p. 2
  2. Porter, Joseph Whitcomb (July,–August, 1888), Bangor Historical Magazine Vol. IV Memoir of Gen. David Cobb and family of Gouldsborough, Maine, and Taunton, Mass, Bangor, ME, p. 6
  3. The Daughters of Liberty (1904), Historical researches of Gouldsboro, Maine, Gouldsboro, ME: The Daughters of Liberty, p. 22
  4. Porter, Joseph Whitcomb (July,–August, 1888), Bangor Historical Magazine Vol. IV Memoir of Gen. David Cobb and family of Gouldsborough, Maine, and Taunton, Mass, Bangor, ME, pp. 6–7

References


Congressional Resolution for first Presidential Election

September 13, 2014

 

 

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Saturday, September 13, 1788. — “Whereas the convention assembled in Philadelphia, pursuant to the resolution of Congress of the 21st of February, 1787, did, on the 17th of September in the same year, report to the United States in Congress assembled, a constitution for the people of the United States; whereupon Congress, on the 28th of the same September, did resolve unanimously, ‘That the said report, with the resolutions and letter accompanying the same, be transmitted to the several legislatures, in order to be submitted to, a convention of delegates, chosen in each state by the people thereof, in conformity of the resolves of the convention made and provided in that case:’ And whereas the constitution so reported by the convention, and by Congress transmitted to the several legislatures, has been ratified in the manner therein declared to be sufficient for the establishment of the same, and such ratifications, duly authenticated, have been received by Congress, and are filed in the office of the secretary; therefore.

Resolved, That the first Wednesday in January next, be the day for appointing electors in the several states, which, before the said day, shall have ratified the said constitution; that the first Wednesday in February next, be the day for the electors to assemble in their respective states, and vote for a president; and that the first Wednesday in March next, be the time, and the present seat of Congress the place for commencing proceedings under the said constitution.”

Source:

  • Journals of Congress, Vol. XIIL, p. 105

Virginia Declaration of Rights unanimously adopted

September 12, 2014

 

 

The Virginia Declaration of Rights is a document drafted in 1776 to proclaim the inherent rights of men, including the right to rebel against “inadequate” government. It influenced a number of later documents, including the United States Declaration of Independence (1776), the United States Bill of Rights (1789), and the French Revolution’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789).

The Declaration was adopted unanimously by the Fifth Virginia Convention at Williamsburg, Virginia on June 12, 1776 as a separate document from the Constitution of Virginia which was later adopted on June 29, 1776.[2] In 1830, the Declaration of Rights was incorporated within the Virginia State Constitution as Article I, but even before that Virginia’s Declaration of Rights stated that it was ‘”the basis and foundation of government” in Virginia.[3] A slightly updated version may still be seen in Virginia’s Constitution, making it legally in effect to this day.

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George Mason, author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights

It was initially drafted by George Mason circa May 20, 1776; James Madison assisted him with the section on religious freedom.[4] It was later amended by Thomas Ludwell Lee and the Convention to add a section on the right to uniform government (Section 14). Patrick Henry persuaded the Convention to delete a section that would have prohibited bills of attainder, arguing that ordinary laws could be ineffective against some terrifying offenders.[5] Edmund Pendleton proposed the line “when they enter into a state of society” which allowed slave holders to support the declaration of universal rights which would be understood not to apply to slaves as they were not part of civil society.[6]

Mason based his initial draft on the rights of citizens described in earlier works such as the English Bill of Rights (1689), and the Declaration can be considered the first modern Constitutional protection of individual rights for citizens of North America. It rejected the notion of privileged political classes or hereditary offices such as the members of Parliament and House of Lords described in the English Bill of Rights.

The Declaration consists of sixteen articles on the subject of which rights “pertain to [the people of Virginia]…as the basis and foundation of Government.”[7] In addition to affirming the inherent nature of rights to life, liberty, property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety, the Declaration both describes a view of Government as the servant of the people, and enumerates its separation of powers into the administration, legislature, and judiciary. Thus, the document is unusual in that it not only prescribes legal rights, but it also describes moral principles upon which a government should be run.[8]

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George Mason’s manuscript of the Virginia Declaration of Rights

Articles 1-3 address the subject of rights and the relationship between government and the governed. Article 1 states that “all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights of which . . . they cannot deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety,” a statement later made internationally famous in the first paragraph of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, as “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Articles 2 and 3 note the revolutionary concept that “all power is vested in, and consequently derived from, the people…”[9] and that “whenever any government shall be found inadequate or contrary to these purposes, a majority of the community hath an indubitable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to reform, alter or abolish it, in such manner as shall be judged most conducive to the public weal.” This latter concept effectively asserted the right of the people of Virginia to revolt against the British Empire.

Article 4 asserts the equality of all citizens, rejecting the notion of privileged political classes or hereditary offices – another criticism of British institutions such as the House of Lords and the privileges of the peerage: “no set of men, are entitled to exclusive or separate emoluments or privileges from the community, but in consideration of public services; which, not being descendible, neither ought the offices of magistrate, legislator, or judge be hereditary.”

Articles 5 and 6 recommend the principles of separation of powers and free elections, “frequent, certain, and regular”[10] of executives and legislators: “That the legislative and executive powers of the state should be separate and distinct from the judicative; and, that the members of the two first…should, at fixed periods, be reduced to a private station, return into that body from which they were originally taken…by frequent, certain, and regular elections.”[10]

Articles 7-16 propose restrictions on the powers of the government, declaring the government should not have the power of suspending or executing laws, “without consent of the representatives of the people”;[11] establishing the legal rights to be “confronted with the accusers and witnesses, to call for evidence in his favor, and to a speedy trial by an impartial jury of his vicinage,” and to prevent a citizen from being “compelled to give evidence against himself.”[12] protections against “cruel and unusual punishments”,[13] baseless search and seizure,[14] and the guarantees of a trial by jury,[15] freedom of the press,[16] freedom of religion (“all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion”),[17] and “the proper, natural, and safe defence of a free state” rested in a well regulated militia composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, that standing armies in time of peace, should be avoided as dangerous to liberty;[18] Article 8 protects a person against “being deprived of his liberty except by the law of the land” which later evolved into the due process clause in the federal Bill of Rights.

The following is the complete text of the Virginia Declaration of Rights:

A DECLARATION OF RIGHTS made by the representatives of the good people of Virginia, assembled in full and free convention which rights do pertain to them and their posterity, as the basis and foundation of government .

Section 1. That all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.

Section 2. That all power is vested in, and consequently derived from, the people; that magistrates are their trustees and servants and at all times amenable to them.

Section 3. That government is, or ought to be, instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security of the people, nation, or community; of all the various modes and forms of government, that is best which is capable of producing the greatest degree of happiness and safety and is most effectually secured against the danger of maladministration. And that, when any government shall be found inadequate or contrary to these purposes, a majority of the community has an indubitable, inalienable, and indefeasible right to reform, alter, or abolish it, in such manner as shall be judged most conducive to the public weal.

Section 4. That no man, or set of men, is entitled to exclusive or separate emoluments or privileges from the community, but in consideration of public services; which, nor being descendible, neither ought the offices of magistrate, legislator, or judge to be hereditary.

Section 5. That the legislative and executive powers of the state should be separate and distinct from the judiciary; and that the members of the two first may be restrained from oppression, by feeling and participating the burdens of the people, they should, at fixed periods, be reduced to a private station, return into that body from which they were originally taken, and the vacancies be supplied by frequent, certain, and regular elections, in which all, or any part, of the former members, to be again eligible, or ineligible, as the laws shall direct.

Section 6. That elections of members to serve as representatives of the people, in assembly ought to be free; and that all men, having sufficient evidence of permanent common interest with, and attachment to, the community, have the right of suffrage and cannot be taxed or deprived of their property for public uses without their own consent or that of their representatives so elected, nor bound by any law to which they have not, in like manner, assented for the public good.

Section 7. That all power of suspending laws, or the execution of laws, by any authority, without consent of the representatives of the people, is injurious to their rights and ought not to be exercised.

Section 8. That in all capital or criminal prosecutions a man has a right to demand the cause and nature of his accusation, to be confronted with the accusers and witnesses, to call for evidence in his favor, and to a speedy trial by an impartial jury of twelve men of his vicinage, without whose unanimous consent he cannot be found guilty; nor can he be compelled to give evidence against himself; that no man be deprived of his liberty except by the law of the land or the judgment of his peers.

Section 9. That excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Section 10. That general warrants, whereby an officer or messenger may be commanded to search suspected places without evidence of a fact committed, or to seize any person or persons not named, or whose offense is not particularly described and supported by evidence, are grievous and oppressive and ought not to be granted.

Section 11. That in controversies respecting property, and in suits between man and man, the ancient trial by jury is preferable to any other and ought to be held sacred.

Section 12. That the freedom of the press is one of the great bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained but by despotic governments.

Section 13. That a well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defense of a free state; that standing armies, in time of peace, should be avoided as dangerous to liberty; and that in all cases the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.

Section 14. That the people have a right to uniform government; and, therefore, that no government separate from or independent of the government of Virginia ought to be erected or established within the limits thereof.

Section 15. That no free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.

Section 16. That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practise Christian forbearance, love, and charity toward each other. Written by George Mason, and adopted by the Virginia Constitutional Convention on June 12, 1776.[19]

The Virginia Declaration of Rights heavily influenced later documents. Thomas Jefferson is thought to have drawn on it when he drafted the United States Declaration of Independence in the same month (June 1776). James Madison was also influenced by the Declaration while drafting the Bill of Rights (introduced September 1789, ratified 1791), as was the Marquis de Lafayette in voting the French Revolution’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789).

The importance of the Virginia Declaration of Rights is that it was the first constitutional protection of individual rights,[citation needed] rather than protecting only members of Parliament or consisting of simple laws that can be changed as easily as passed.

Virginia’s western counties cited the Declaration of Rights as a justification for rejecting the state’s Ordinance of Secession before the American Civil War. The delegates to the Wheeling Convention argued that under the Declaration of Rights, any change in the form of government had to be approved by a referendum. Since the Secession Convention had not been convened by a referendum, the western counties argued that all of its acts were void. This set in motion the chain of events that ultimately led the western counties to break off as the separate state of West Virginia.

Quotations derived from the Declaration

  • “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. —That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed” — United States Declaration of Independence (July 1776)
  • “Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions can be founded only on the common utility.” — Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789)
  • “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” (although the Virginia Declaration makes no reference to a “right to keep or bear arms”) — Second Amendment to the United States Constitution (December 1791)

Notes

  1. “Top Treasures Exhibit Object Focus”. Library of Congress
  2. Virginia Gazette, Purdie, July 5, 1776 supplement, page 1
  3. Pittman, R. “The Virginia Declaration of Rights; Its Place in History” (1955)
  4. John H. Garvey & Thomas C. Berge, Religion and the Constitution (2d. Ed. 2006), p. 45
  5. Randolph, Edmund. History of Virginia, page 255 (Virginia Historical Society 1970)
  6. We Hold These Truths . . . And Other Words That Made America, Paul Aron, Colonial Willamsburg and Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2008
  7. Preamble, Virginia Declaration of Rights
  8. Lieberman, Jethro (1987). The Enduring Constitution: A Bicentennial Perspective. West Publishing Co. p. 28. ISBN 0-314-32025-3
  9. Article 2
  10. Article 5
  11. Article 7
  12. Article 8
  13. Article 9
  14. Article 10
  15. Article 11
  16. Article 12
  17. Article 16
  18. Article 13
  19. George Mason (June 12, 1776). “The Virginia Declaration of Rights”

The Skirmish at Kennett Meeting House

September 11, 2014

 

 

September 11, 1777, began with a heavy fog, which provided cover for the British troops near Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania during General Sir William Howe’s campaign to take Philadelphia, part of the American Revolutionary War. General George Washington received contradictory reports about the British troop movements and continued to believe that the main force was moving to attack at Chadds Ford. At 5:30 a.m. the British and Hessian troops began marching east along the “Great Road” (now Route 1) from Kennett Square, advancing on the American troops positioned where the road crossed Brandywine Creek. The first shots of the battle took place at a tavern where the British were repulsed. The British called for reinforcements and ran down the road to take cover behind the stone walls on the Old Kennett Meetinghouse grounds.

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Skirmish at Kennett Meeting House, Oil on Canvas, 30 x 48, by Pamela Patrick White

When riflemen under General Daniel Morgan were dispatched to the Hudson River campaign, General Washington formed a new light infantry company of 800 men under the command of Brigadier General William Maxwell.

On the morning of September 11, Maxwell sent his men west on Nottingham Road scouting to find the British. Leading a company of men, Captain Porterfield preceded the other detachments with orders to deliver his fire as soon as met the enemy. The British were at the same time heading east on the same road. Their advance guard consisted of Ferguson’s Rifle Corps and the Queen’s Rangers, who were to encounter the Americans on their approach to the Kennett Meeting House. Porterfield and his men waited to ambush the enemy and as Porterfield shot and hit one of the Queens Rangers, the Battle of Brandywine began.

The battle was fought at mid-morning around the meeting house while the pacifist Quakers continued to hold their midweek service. One of the Quakers later wrote, “While there was much noise and confusion without, all was quiet and peaceful within.”


Private Lemuel Cook, last survivor of the 2nd Continental Light Dragoons

September 10, 2014

 

 

Lemuel Cook was one of the last verifiable surviving veterans of the American Revolutionary War. He was born on September 10, 1759, in Litchfield County, Connecticut to Henry Cook and his wife Hannah Benham. Enlisting in the Continental Army at the age of sixteen, Cook fought at Brandywine and in the Virginia campaign, and was present at Charles Cornwallis’ surrender. He received an honorable discharge signed by George Washington on June 12, 1784. Following the war, Cook became a farmer and married Hannah Curtis. They had seven sons and three daughters.

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Lemuel Cook died on May 20, 1866, at the age of 106 and was buried at the Root Cemetery in Clarendon, New York, with full military and Masonic honors.

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Grave of Lemuel Cook in Clarendon, New York

Cook was one of seven Revolutionary War veterans who, having survived into the age of photography, were featured in the 1864 book The Last Men of the Revolution (which gives many more details of his life). He was the last survivor of 2nd Continental Light Dragoons.[2]

Sources

  1. LEMUEL COOK – THE LAST REVOLUTIONARY PATRIOT AND PENSIONER – DEAD. Rochester Union Advertiser. May 22, 1866
  2. Sheldon’s Veterans Records
  3. “The Last Men of the Revolution” by Reverend E.B. Hillard, (1864) republished 1968 with additional notes by Wendell Garrett.
  4. Lemuel Cook at Find A Grave

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