Marquis de Lafayette commissioned a Major General by the Second Continental Congress

July 31, 2013

On July 31, 1777, 19-year-old French aristocrat Marie-Joseph Paul Roch Yves Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, accepted a commission as a Major General in the Continental Army—without pay.

During his service as the Continental Congress’ secret envoy to France, Silas Deane had, on December 7, 1776, struck an agreement with French military expert, Baron Johann DeKalb, and his protégé, the Marquis de Lafayette, to offer their military knowledge and experience to the American cause. However, Deane was replaced with Benjamin Franklin and Arthur Lee, who were unenthused by the proposal. Meanwhile, King Louis XVI feared angering Britain and prohibited Lafayette’s departure. The British ambassador to the French court at Versailles demanded the seizure of Lafayette’s ship, which resulted in Lafayette’s arrest. Lafayette, though, managed to escape, set sail and elude two British ships dispatched to recapture him. Following his safe arrival in South Carolina, Lafayette traveled to Philadelphia, expecting to be made General George Washington’s second-in-command. Although Lafayette’s youth made Congress reluctant to promote him over more experienced colonial officers, the young Frenchman’s willingness to volunteer his services without pay won their respect and Lafayette was commissioned as a Major General.


Marquis de Lafayette inspecting his command of Light Infantry in 1782 by Henry Alexander Ogden; Bridgeman Art Library

Lafayette served at Brandywine in 1777, as well as Barren Hill, Monmouth and Rhode Island in 1778. Following the formal treaty of alliance with Lafayette’s native France in February 1778 and Britain’s subsequent declaration of war, Lafayette asked to return to Paris and consult the king as to his future service. Washington was willing to spare Lafayette, who departed in January 1779. By March, Franklin reported from Paris that Lafayette had become an excellent advocate for the American cause at the French court. Following his six-month respite in France, Lafayette returned to aid the American war effort in Virginia, where he participated in the successful siege of Yorktown in 1781, before returning to France and the further service of his own country.


Lafayette with George Washington at Valley Forge by John Ward Dunsmore, circa 1907


This Day in History – July 31

The Masonic Grand Lodge of Massachusetts is founded

July 30, 2013

The Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, commonly referred to as the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts and abbreviated GLMA, is the main governing body of Freemasonry within Massachusetts, and maintains Lodges in other jurisdictions overseas, namely Panama, Chile, the People’s Republic of China (meeting in Tokyo, Japan), and Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba.

It is considered to be the third oldest Masonic Grand Lodge in existence (after the United Grand Lodge of England (which dates its own existence from the formation of the Grand Lodge of England in 1717), and the Grand Lodge of Ireland (1725)), interpreting the 1733 warrant, creating Henry Price the Provincial Grand Master of New England, as the creation of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts.


Seal of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts A.F. & A.M.

Price’s successors as Provincial Grand Master, Robert Tomlinson, Thomas Oxnard, Jeremy Gridley and John Rowe, were all appointed (in 1736, 1743, 1755 and 1768 respectively) by the Moderns’ Grand Master in London. The Provincial Grand Lodge, which, due to the American Revolution, held no meeting during the period 1775 to 1787, finally merged with its counterpart Antient Provincial Grand Lodge, created in 1769 by the Grand Lodge of Scotland. On the date of that merger, March 5, 1792, the newly created body first exercised its new sovereign powers by electing a Grand Master in the person of John Cutler, and by adopting the name The Grand Lodge of the Most Ancient and Honorable Society of Free and Accepted Masons of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Freemasonry in Massachusetts dates to the early 18th century, and the foundation of its Grand Lodge is wound through with the threads of the (then) ongoing disputes between the Moderns and the Antients.

After the formation of the Premier Grand Lodge of England (later referred to as the Moderns) in 1717, and the amalgamation of individual Lodges into that body, Lodges and Masons in the Boston area asked one Brother Henry Price to go to London, and petition the Grand Lodge for a Warrant in order to be considered regular, in accordance with a regulation dated in 1721.


Grand Lodge building in Boston

Price did so, and returned in the spring of 1733 with more than just a Warrant for an individual Lodge – he was made the “Provincial Grand Master of New England and Dominions and Territories thereunto belonging” by the Grand Master, The Right Honorable and Right Worshipful Anthony Browne, 6th Viscount Montague.

This Provincial Grand Lodge was historically known as St. John’s Grand Lodge, and chartered numerous Lodges in the Colonies. The first one, which was chartered in Boston in 1733, was known and recorded as First Lodge in the English rolls of 1734, and is now known as St. John’s Lodge.


  1. “The Builder” magazine, October 1918

Edward Rutledge of South Carolina, signer of the Declaration of Independence, opposed independence from Great Britain

July 29, 2013

June 29, 1776, South Carolina’s Edward Rutledge opposes independence but would later sign the Declaration of Independence.

In 1776, Edward Rutledge, one of South Carolina’s representatives to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, expresses his reluctance to declare independence from Britain in a letter to the like-minded John Jay of New York.


Edward Rutledge, youngest signer of Declaration

Contrary to the majority of his Congressional colleagues, Rutledge advocated patience with regards to declaring independence. In a letter to Jay, one of New York’s representatives who was similarly disinclined to rush a declaration, Rutledge worried whether moderates like himself and Jay could “effectually oppose” a resolution for independence. Jay had urgent business in New York and therefore was not able to be present for the debates. Thus, Rutledge wrote of his concerns. In addition, South Carolina’s leaders were unsure that the time was “ripe” and instructed their delegates to oppose the Resolution for Independence.

Rutledge was born in Charleston, to a physician who had emigrated from Ireland. Edward’s elder brother John studied law at London’s Middle Temple before returning to set up a lucrative practice in Charleston. Edward followed suit and studied first at Oxford University before being admitted to the English bar at the Middle Temple. He too returned to Charleston, where he married and began a family in a house across the street from his brother. As revolutionary politics roiled the colonies, first John, then Edward served as South Carolina’s representative to the Continental Congress. Neither Rutledge brother was eager to sever ties with Great Britain, but it fell to Edward to sign the Declaration of Independence and create the appearance of unanimity to strengthen the Patriots’ stand. At age 26, Edward Rutledge was the youngest American to literally risk his neck by signing the document.

He served as a captain of artillery in the South Carolina militia, and fought at the Battle of Beaufort in 1779. The next year he was captured by the British in the fall of Charleston, and held prisoner until July 1781.


San Antonio Chapter of the Texas State Society of the Sons of the American Revolution

Colonel Joseph Habersham, Georgia statesman

July 28, 2013

Joseph Habersham was an American businessman, Georgia politician, soldier in the Continental Army, and Postmaster General of the United States.

Born on July 28, 1751, in Savannah, Georgia, to James Habersham and Mary Bolton, he attended preparatory schools and Princeton College and became successful merchant and planter.


3rd United States Postmaster General

He was a member of the council of safety and the Georgia Provincial Council in 1775 and a major of a battalion of Georgia militiamen and subsequently a colonel in the 1st Georgia Regiment of the Continental Army. He had to resign from the army after he served as Lachlan McIntosh’s second in the controversial duel that killed Button Gwinnett.

He and his brothers, James Jr. and John, were active in Georgia politics. Some older references state that Joseph was a delegate to the Confederation Congress in 1785, but this may stem from confusion with his brother John, who was a delegate at that time.[1] Joseph served as Speaker of the Georgia House in 1785 and was a member of the Georgia convention in 1788 that ratified the U.S. Constitution.[2]


John Habersham, Continental Congress, 1785

He served as mayor of Savannah from 1792 to 1793 and then was appointed Postmaster General by President George Washington in 1795 and served until the beginning of Thomas Jefferson’s administration in 1801. When Habersham created the office of first assistant postmaster-general in 1799, Abraham Bradley, Jr. was appointed to the office. In 1802, Bradley named one of his sons, Joseph Habersham Bradley (later a notable Washington, D.C. attorney), after his former superior.[3]

Habersham died on November 17, 1815. He was buried at Colonial Park Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia.


Grave of John Habersham at Colonial Park Cemetery

Habersham County in Northeast Georgia, from its creation in 1818, is named in his honor, along with numerous sites and streets throughout the state.

Joseph Habersham was also a Savannah Freemason. He is recorded as a Masonic member of Solomon’s Lodge No. 1, F. & A. M. at Savannah, Georgia. Solomon’s Lodge No. 1, F. & A. M. at Savannah was founded by renowned statesman, philanthropist and Freemason James Edward Oglethorpe on February 21, 1734. Joseph Habersham’s father James Habersham, both of his brothers, and his noted descendant, the Savannah Painter, Richard West Habersham (the intimate friend of Samuel F. B. Morse inventor of the telegraph) were all Freemasons and members of Solomon’s Lodge.


  1. Mark Boatner, Encyclopedia of the American Revolution, 2nd ed., p. 474. Joseph Habersham’s entry the in American National Biography makes no mention of service in the Confederation Congress.
  2. Frances Harrold, “Habersham, Joseph”; American National Biography Online, February 2000.
  3. Bradley, Charles S.; Columbia Historical Society (1903) [May 12, 1902]. “The Bradley Family and Times in Which They Lived”. Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Washington, D.C.. 6. Washington, D.C.: Columbia Historical Society.

Colonel John Neville, central figure in the Whiskey Rebellion

July 27, 2013

John Neville was an American military officer, land speculator, and state official who served in the American Revolutionary War and, as a tax collector, was a central figure in the Whiskey Rebellion. He was the father of Presley Neville.

Born on July 27, 1731, in Virginia, he served with British General Edward Braddock during the French and Indian War, and fought in Dunmore’s War in 1774. Commandant at Fort Pitt when the Revolutionary War began, Neville served in several regiments of the Virginia Line, rising to the rank of colonel and seeing action at Trenton, Princeton, Germantown, and Monmouth. At the end of the war he was awarded a brevet promotion to brigadier general.

After the war Neville was an inspector of revenue under the excise laws, which the newly formed United States Congress imposed on distilled spirits to help pay for the cost of the Revolutionary War. There were two methods of paying the whiskey excise: paying a flat charge or paying by the gallon. The tax effectively favored large distillers, most of whom were based in the east, who produced whiskey in volume and could afford the flat fee. Western farmers who owned small stills did not usually operate them at full capacity, so they ended up paying a higher tax per gallon. Thus, large producers ended up paying a tax of about 6 cents per gallon, while small producers were taxed at about 9 cents per gallon.[1]

Events climaxed in 1794, according to Alexander Hamilton, when shots were fired at Neville and a U.S. Marshal he was escorting through the area to summon to court farmers who had not paid the tax. On July 16, 1794, a group of men surrounded the Neville mansion, demanding to see the US Marshal. The confrontation led to Neville’s shooting of one of the protesters. This further angered the people, and the next day, over 500 again surrounded the home. At least one more protester died, and Neville’s home, “Bower Hill”, was burned to the ground.

This incident persuaded President George Washington to take the drastic action of leading a militia force of 13,000 men into western Pennsylvania to squelch the uprising. This response marked the first time under the new Constitution that the federal government had used a strong military presence to exert authority over the nation’s citizens. In 1802, the tax was repealed.


Woodville, Neville’s home

Neville built two mansion-style homes near Pittsburgh. The first, “Bower Hill”, was burned in 1794 during the Whiskey Rebellion, and the second, “Woodville”, survives today; owned by the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, it is a National Historic Landmark.

He died on July 29, 1803, is buried in Pittsburgh’s Allegheny Cemetery.


Neville Island, Pennsylvania, is named after Gen. John Neville.


  1. National Park Service, Friendship Hill National Historic Site: The Whiskey Rebellion

Nicholas Brown, Sr., Co-Founder of Brown University

July 27, 2013

Nicholas Brown, Sr. was a Providence, Rhode Island merchant who co-founded the College in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, which was renamed Brown University after Brown’s son Nicholas Brown, Jr. in 1804. He was born on July 26, 1729 to James Brown II and Hope Power Brown.

According to Sotheby’s a desk-and-bookcase crafted by John Goddard of the Newport tradition and originally owned by Nicholas Brown, Sr. sold in June 1989 for $12,100,000, the highest price ever paid for a piece of American furniture at that date.[1]

In 1764, Nicholas Brown, Sr. joined his brothers John Brown and Moses Brown, a prominent abolitionist, and several others as an original fellow or trustee for the chartering of the College in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (the original name for Brown University).[2] Brown was an active supporter of the College and of the First Baptist Church in America throughout his life. Upon his death on May 29, 1791, Rev. Dr. Stillman, of Boston gave a eulogy on Nicholas Brown:

He was the affectionate husband, the tender father, the compassionate master, the dutiful son, the loving brother, and the steady, faithful friend. He took much pains, by reading and by conversation, to inform his mind, and had acquired much general knowledge. But religion was his favorite subject. To Christianity in general, as founded on a fulness of evidence, and to its peculiar doctrines, he was firmly attached. * * * He was a Baptist from principle, and a lover of good men of all denominations. Blessed with opulence, he was ready to distribute to public and private uses. In his death the college in this place, this church and society, the town of Providence, and the general interests of religion, learning, and liberality have lost a friend indeed.[3][4]

Nicholas Brown, Sr. was also a known slave trader. Brown’s involvement in the Triangular Trade in African slaves and financial contribution to the early years of Brown University’s development are addressed in the official “Response of Brown University to the Report of the Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice.”


Nicholas Brown, Jr.

Brown’s son, Nicholas Brown, Jr. (1769–1841), was a Providence, Rhode Island businessman and philanthropist. He graduated from the College of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations in 1786, and became such a great benefactor to the school that it was renamed Brown University for him in 1804.


  1. [1] Property of the Goddard Family
  2. [2] The Charter of Brown University
  4. The History of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations: Biographical, Volume 6, by the American Historical Society, Inc., 1920. Pages 188 – 191

Major General Henry Knox, soldier and government leader

July 25, 2013

Major General Henry Knox

July 25, 1750-October 25, 1806

Robust Henry Knox had a lifelong interest in the military. Born in Boston, Knox enlisted in a local military company at the age of eighteen; eventually promoted to major general in the Continental Army, he took part in most of the major battles of the Revolutionary War, and became a close friend and advisor to George Washington. After the war, on March 8, 1785, the Congress made Knox Secretary of War, to be paid a salary of $2,450 a year. President George Washington asked his friend Knox to remain in this position throughout his presidency.

Knox was a generous, amiable man, who enjoyed life’s luxuries. He weighed more than 300 pounds, as did his somewhat intimidating wife; in New York they were commonly known as the “largest couple in the city.”


Henry Knox was born in Boston to William Knox and Mary Campbell Knox on July 25, 1750. His parents were pioneers from North Ireland. Henry was the seventh of ten children. William Knox was a shipmaster, carrying on trade with the West Indies. Suffering from financial difficulties and all the mental stress and burdens that go with money woes, William died at the age of fifty. Henry gave up school and became the sole support for his mother. He became a clerk in a Boston bookstore, and eventually opened one himself. He was an avid reader, fond of history, but his main interest later settled on artillery.

Knox supported the American cause, and as early as 1772, he became a member of the Boston Grenadier Corps. He was a volunteer in June 1775 at the Battle of Bunker Hill. He served under General Ward, in charge of the colonials around Boston. In 1775, Washington arrived in Boston, taking command of the army. There he met and developed a friendship with Knox, a friendship that would last a lifetime. Washington realized the need of artillery in the American forces and found Knox to be well versed on the subject. Washington asked his opinion on what the army should do. The thought of Knox was to use the cannon from the captured Fort Ticonderoga. Thus, Knox was commissioned a colonel, placed in charge of artillery, and given the task to bring cannon from Ticonderoga to Boston. By way of ox sleds, Knox successfully brought fifty cannon to the city.

In March 1776, Washington seized Dorchester Heights (the key to Boston) and Knox placed the cannon in position there. Howe realizing the danger of an impending American bombardment, withdrew his troops from the city. On March 17, he embarked his troops for Halifax. Boston was entered the following day by triumphant Americans.

After the capture of Boston, Knox helped place Connecticut and Rhode island in proper defense, in preparation for the return of the British. Washington took his forces to defend New York. Knox joined the army there, as the British fleet arrived in New York, with men numbering 30,000. The American forces numbered about 18,000 with very little experience. Knox had 520 officers and soldiers to handle his (approximately) 120 cannon…with little experience as well. The American forces were so outnumbered, they were forced to retreat which did not end until the crossing of the Delaware River at Trenton on December 8, 1776. The Americans had seized all the boats along the Delaware, so the British were unable to follow. With severely reduced forces, who were scantily clothed and poorly armed, the American troops were depressed. Washington did not give up hope, and Knox followed his lead — the would be no reason for despondency. It was on Christmas night that Washington made his famous trip across the Delaware, directed by Knox, to surprise the Hessian forces at Trenton, capturing 1000 men as well as supplies. The American army of 2500, the captives and stores were all carried back across the Delaware. This event gave a much needed boost to the American morale. Knox, himself, was promoted to brigadier-general as a result of his service.

At the same time, Washington was under the threat of losing his army to the expiration of enlistments. The troops had not been paid, so Washington wrote to his friend Robert Morris, a Philadelphia banker, for aid. $50,000 was sent to Washington and a massive departure of the troops was averted.

Washington was now in a position to make another strike against the British. The army crossed the Delaware once more into New Jersey. Cornwallis withdrew a portion of his troops and pursued Washington. Washington was located between the Delaware and Trenton. Thinking the Americans were trapped, Cornwallis planned their capture for the morning. Washington had other plans: the Americans built blazing fires to deceive the British and made their escape, marching to Princeton. On January 3, 1777, Washington attacked the British army, but they were driven back. Washington rallied the troops…and the British in turn, were driven back and defeated. Knox and his men rendered aggressive service, earning him a commendation from the Commander-in-Chief. The American army went into winter quarters at Morristown, New Jersey.

Knox had a commission while the army was in winter quarters at Morristown: he was sent to Massachusetts to raise a battalion for the artillery. He was also given the task of creating an arsenal, and Knox did so at Springfield. It became a valuable source in the production and repair of arms for the remaining years of the Revolution.

Knox was almost displaced of his position in charge of artillery by a Frenchman named Ducondray, secured by Silas Deane, the American Minister to France. Ducondray interviewed with Washington and then headed to lay his credentials before Congress. Washington wrote Congress on behalf of Knox on May 31, 1777: “General Knox, who has deservedly acquired the character of one of the most valuable officers in the service, and who combating almost innumerable difficulties in the department he fills has placed the artillery upon a footing that does him the greatest honor; he, I am persuaded, would consider himself injured by an appointment superseding his command, and would not think himself at liberty to continue in the service. Should such an event take place in the present state of things, there would be too much reason to apprehend a train of ills, such as might confuse and unhinge this important department.” Generals Green and Sullivan supported Washington, and Ducondray was permitted to join the troops under Washington as a volunteer. He was to prove his ability as an engineer, but not given any preference over Knox. Unfortunately, in the late summer of 1777, Ducondray was riding a spirited horse in search of Washington in Chester County, Pennsylvania. As he was about to enter a flat bottom boat to cross the Schuylkill River, he lost control of the horse, the horse and rider plunged into the river and Ducondray was drowned.

Knox was involved in fighting at both the battles of Brandywine and Germantown. He had a limited number of cannon. At Brandywine he placed them well near Chadds Ford, but the British forced a retreat. The Americans held them in check at Birmingham Meeting House and were able to retreat to Chester.

At Valley Forge, Knox was invaluable in organizing and erecting forts to safeguard the winter encampment from British attack. In the Weedon Orderly Book under January 3, 1778 at Valley Forge there is written of a General Court Martial, of which Colonel Scammel was President: “Capt. Courtley of artillery appeared before the Court, charged with leaving his Hoitz in the field in the action of Brandywine in a cowardly unsoldierly like manner. The Court having considered the charge and evidence are of opinion that Capt. Courtly is guilty of the charge exhibited against him and do sentence him as he has ever supported the character of a brave man to be reprimanded by Gen. Knox in presence of all the artillery officers.” “The Commander in Chief is indeed from a state of all the evidence to disapprove the sentence and orders Capt. Courtley to be discharged from his arrest without censure.”

Knox was given permission to leave Valley Forge for a time to visit his family in Massachusetts, but particularly to speed supplies for the army from the New England states. Knox returned and immediately began to assist Steuben in his drilling of the troops, particularly the artillery men. The troops left Valley Forge on June 19 and headed for battle at Monmouth.

Much later, Knox was sent as a representative of Washington to secure aid from the northern states in what Washington hoped would be the last campaign of the war. January 1, 1781, from New Windsor, Washington wrote Knox: “…You will generally represent to the supreme executive powers of the States, through which you pass, and to gentlemen of influence in them, the alarming crisis to which our affairs have arrived, by a too long neglect of measures essential to the existence of the army, and you may assure them, that, if a total alteration of system does not take place in paying, clothing and feeding the troops, it will be in vain to expect a continuance of their service in another campaign. Knox was successful.

Eventually, the British army was forced in siege at Yorktown. Knox had placed the artillery in fine strategic position. After the surrender of Cornwallis on October 19, 1781, Knox was advanced to major-general, an honor well earned.

In 1782, Knox was stationed at West Point and remained there with the troops until the agreement was made for the British to evacuate New York. In the fall of 1783, Knox was able to leave as they followed the British out of New York. On December 4, the officers assembled at Fraunces Tavern to take final leave of their Commander-in-Chief. Knox stood by Washington. Washington withdrew and Knox returned to Boston, well-received.

Knox was elected Secretary of War by Congress in 1785, and in 1789 he was appointed Secretary of War in President Washington’s new cabinet. Knox found his service as Secretary of War to deal with growing unrest in the western frontier of the little country. When a treaty was finally reached, the leadership of Knox was manifested in his aid in promoting law and order.

Knox officially wrote to the President on December 28, 1794: …”After having served my country nearly twenty years, the greatest portion of which under your immediate auspices, it is with extreme reluctance, that I find myself constrained to withdraw from so honorable a station. But the natural and powerful claims of a numerous family will no longer permit me to neglect their essential interest. In whatever situation I shall be, I shall recollect your confidence and kindness with all the power and purity of affection, of which a grateful heart is susceptible.”

Washington accepted Knox’s resignation with regret. Timothy Pickering, who was Postmaster General at this time, was appointed the successor to Knox as Secretary of War and took office January 2, 1795.

General Knox and his family settled on an estate at Thomaston, Maine in 1796, which he called “Montpelier.” He was engaged in various types of businesses during the latter part of his life such as: brick-making, cattle-raising and ship-building. He entertained numerous guests and gave some time in service to his state in General Court and Governor’s Council. Washington desired to appoint Knox as a Commissioner to St. Croix, but Knox declined.

Knox died unexpectedly in 1806. He was buried in Thomaston.


Abridged from the article by Charles William Heathcote, Ph.D., The Picket Post, Valley Forge Historical Society; July 1956


Lieutenant Colonel John Robinson, hero of the Revolution and participant in Shay’s Rebellion

July 24, 2013

John Robinson was a Massachusetts militia and Continental Army officer from Westford, Massachusetts during the American Revolutionary War. On April 19, 1775, during the Battle of Concord, Robinson was the second highest ranking officer in the field after Colonel James Barrett. Robinson marched next to Major John Buttrick at the head of the American column which advanced on and defeated the British Regulars at the Old North Bridge that day. Robinson would later fight at the Battle of Bunker Hill, serve under General George Washington during the Siege of Boston and, in 1786, would take part in the agrarian insurrection known as Shays’ Rebellion.


Robinson’s house in Westford, Massachusetts, c. 1902

Robinson was born July 24, 1735 in Topsfield, Massachusetts in 1735. At age 29 he married Miss Huldah Perley of Boxford, Massachusetts, the niece of French and Indian War Major General Israel Putnam of Pomfret, Connecticut.

Soon after migrating from Topsfield to Westford in search of open farmland, Robinson was appointed to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, or second in command of the Minuteman regiment commanded by Col. William Prescott of Pepperell, Massachusetts. [1]

The exact manner in which Robinson was alarmed on the early morning of April 19, 1775 has been lost to history. Most documents relay the story of an unknown, lone alarm rider rousing the officer and his family in the dead of night. [2] However, historian David Hackett Fischer asserts that the township as a whole was alerted by the firing of an alarm signal from the nearby village of Carlisle, a Northern precinct of Concord, thereby creating a more general internal alarm throughout the vicinity. [3] Regardless, once roused, Robinson moved in haste to join his fellow Minutemen. Robinson, Rev. Joseph Thaxter, and a handful of Westford Minutemen rode on horseback and arrived at Concord in time to participate in the engagement at the Old North Bridge.

Robinson and his companions, having traveled by horse, arrived before the companies of Westford militia and minutemen who traveled on foot. Only a very small number of Robinson’s regiment were present as the Americans prepared to attack the small British force holding the Old North Bridge. The militia and minutemen present at that time were almost entirely of Col. James Barrett’s regiment of Middlesex militia and Col. Abijah Pierce’s regiment of Middlesex minutemen. As he had no command present on the field, Robinson requested permission from Major John Buttrick (who had been designated second in command by Barrett and charged with leading the advance) to march at the head of the American column at Buttrick’s side. Recognizing Robinson’s superior rank, Buttrick offered command of the column to Robinson, despite the fact that it was not Robinson’s regiment. Robinson declined and asked to accompany Buttrick as a volunteer.[4]

Buttrick and Robinson led the column, side by side, from a hill near Buttrick’s farm down to the North Bridge. The first shot fired by the Regulars splashed into the Concord River, fired either accidentally or as a warning to the oncoming Americans. The British then fired several more shots, killing Captain Isaac Davis of Acton who commanded the leading company in the American column. Another of these shots sent a ball through Robinson’s coat, just under the arm, severely wounding an Acton volunteer behind Robinson. [5] Buttrick gave the command to commence fire, resulting in 12 British casualties (three of them fatal). The British retreated almost immediately after the Americans opened fire.[6]

Robinson fought from the redoubt on Breed’s Hill under the command of Col. William Prescott of Pepperell, Massachusetts. His bravery and valor in outflanking a charge of British regulars along a low fence on Breed’s Hill was noted by Prescott in an August 25, 1775 letter to Continental Congressman John Adams. “I commanded my Lieut Coll. Robinson…with a detachment to flank the enemy” Prescott related, “who I have reason to think behaved with prudence and courage.” [7]

Col. Robinson commanded a regiment of over 400 militiamen at Cambridge under the authority of General George Washington during the Siege of Boston from late 1775 to March 23, 1776. [8] His official tenure ended soon after Henry Knox’s famous display of captured Fort Ticonderoga artillery brought to a close the British occupation of Boston and forced the wholesale evacuation of Royal forces from the colony. However, the mirth of the Royal retreat was short lived for the Robinson family. The unsanitary conditions of Cambridge camp life brought about a scourge of diseases which were quickly spread throughout New England by the returning soldiers. Almost immediately, these diseases were to have devastating effects on both soldier and citizen alike. In a period of less than two weeks, between the days of August, 30 and September 9, 1775, three of John Robinson’s daughters, all under the age of ten, would perish from camp fever.

In 1786, Robinson took up arms against the Massachusetts Courts in the post-war farmer’s revolt later known as Shays’ Rebellion. Little is known of his actual role in the rebellion, his great-Granddaughter Olive Ann Prescott, describing his action as “an honest mistake” yet noting that he always had fought “with an innate hatred of injustice wherever found”.[9] It is known that he acted in concert with Job Shattuck of neighboring Groton, MA, a notable leader in the uprising who Robinson had commanded in Prescott’s militia and at the Regimental camp at Cambridge. On September 12, the day on which the Middlesex County Court in Concord was forced to adjourn by an armed mob of Shaysites, “The number at 11 o’clock was about seventy, but increased in the afternoon to about two hundred and fifty, by the arrival of others from Worcester county; and from other towns in Middlesex, among whom Col. Robinson of Westford was conspicuous.”[10]

He passed away on June 13, 1805.

The John Robinson elementary school in Westford, Massachusetts is named in his honor, as is the Col. John Robinson chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution of Westford, Massachusetts.


  1. Hodgman, 105.
  2. Prescott, 5.
  3. Fischer, 146.
  4. Galvin, 142 and 149.
  5. French, 66-68.
  6. Galvin, 151-152.
  7. Letter by William Prescott
  8. Lacroix, 2.
  9. Prescott, 13
  10. Shattuck, 125.


  • Fischer, David Hackett (1994). Paul Revere’s Ride. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195088476.
  • French, Allen (1942). Historic Concord, a Handbook of its Story and its Memorials. Concord, Massachusetts: Cambridge Press. OCLC 2971315.
  • Galvin, John R. (1989). The Minute Men: The First Fight: Myths and Realities of the American Revolution. Washington: Pergamon-Brassey’s International Defense Publisher. ISBN 9780080367330.
  • Hodgman, Edwin R. (1883). History of the Town of Westford. Lowell, Massachusetts: Morning Mail Press. OCLC 5080621.
  • Lacroix, Daniel P. (2004). A Brief History of Westford’s Role During the Revolutionary War. Westford, Massachusetts: Westford Historical Society.
  • Prescott, Olive Ann (1896). Colonel John Robinson. Lowell, Massachusetts: Lowell Mail Print. OCLC 17488249.
  • Shattuck, Lemuel (1855). Memorials of the Descendants of William Shattuck. Boston: Dutton and Wentworth. OCLC 423584629.

Major John Clark, George Washington’s Philadelphia Spy

July 23, 2013

Major John Clark was an American spy for George Washington, primarily responsible for running the intelligence network in and around Philadelphia during the British occupation of that city during the Revolutionary War.

Clark was responsible for operating one the most notable spy rings organized and run by the Continental Army during the war, one which prevented the destruction of Washington’s army at least three different times.[1]

He originally came to the attention of George Washington during the evacuation of Long Island and Manhattan. He had been used to travel across Long Island Sound and scout troop movements on Long Island.


Drawing of General Washington conferring with one of his agents.

His most important assignment occurred during the period September to December 1777 when despite a serious injury to his shoulder he was asked by Washington to obtain information about General Howe’s activities in Philadelphia. He set up a group of informants and couriers and sent 30 detailed reports to Washington that allowed the Continental Army to react to British movements. He even set up a hoax and offered to inform on the Americans to General Howe. Howe who decided to accept his offer from this Quaker Loyalist under a false name offered him rewards. His courier who delivered the messages walked around Philadelphia acquiring a lot of information. When Washington learned of this hoax he prepared a false report of the Continental Army’s strengths and planned movements. This was delivered to Howe. In December with his wound still not healed and having not seen his wife in over a year he asked Washington to be released. Washington, thankful of his service, agreed and introduced him to Henry Laurens, who gave him a desk job as auditor of Army expenses. He never did release names of informants or couriers and sank into respectable obscurity.


  1. Hastedt, Glenn P. (2003). Espionage: A Reference Handbook. ABC-CLIO. pp. 2.


  • Hastedt, Glenn P. Espionage: A Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 2003. , ISBN 1-57607-950-3.
  • Rose, Alexander Washington Spies

Daniel Carroll, signer of the Articles of Confederation and Constitution

July 22, 2013

Daniel Carroll was a politician and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. He was a prominent member of one of the United States’ great colonial Catholic families, whose members included his younger brother Archbishop John Carroll, the first Catholic bishop in the United States and founder of Georgetown University; and their cousin Charles Carroll of Carrollton, who signed the Declaration of Independence. Daniel Carroll was one of only five men to sign both the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution of the United States.

Carroll was a planter who supported the cause of American independence, risking his social and economic position for the Patriot cause. As a friend and staunch ally of George Washington, he worked for a strong central government that could secure the achievements and fulfill the hopes of the Revolution. Carroll fought in the Convention for a government responsible directly to the people of the country.[1]

Carroll Street in Madison, Wisconsin is named in his honor.[2]


Daniel Carroll

Carroll was born in Upper Marlboro, Prince Georges County, Maryland, on July 22, 1730, the oldest son of Daniel Carroll, a native of Ireland, and Eleanor Darnall Carroll, of English descent. He spent his early years at his family’s home, a large estate of thousands of acres which his mother had inherited. (Several acres are now associated with the house museum known as Darnall’s Chance, listed on the National Register of Historic Places). Carroll was sent abroad for his education. Between 1742 and 1748 he studied under the Jesuits at the College of St. Omer in Flanders, established for the education of English Catholics after the Protestant Reformation. After his return to Maryland, Carroll gradually joined the Patriot cause. A planter, slaveholder and large landholder, he was concerned lest the Revolution fail economically and bring about not only his family’s financial ruin, but mob rule as well.

At the time, colonial laws excluded Catholics from holding public office. Once these laws were nullified by the Maryland constitution of 1776, Carroll was elected to the Senate of the Maryland legislature (1777–81). At the end of his term, Carroll was elected to the Continental Congress (1781–84). In 1781, he signed the Articles of Confederation. His involvement in the Revolution, like that of other Patriots in his extended family, was inspired by the family’s motto: “Strong in Faith and War”.


Arms of Carroll

One of three commissioners appointed to survey the District of Columbia, Carroll owned one of the four farms taken for it; Notley Young, David Burns, and Samuel Davidson were the other landowners. The capitol was built on the land which Carroll transferred to the government. On 15 April 1791, Carroll and David Stuart, as the official commissioners of Congress, laid the cornerstone of the District of Columbia at Jones Point near Alexandria, Virginia.[3]

Carroll was an active member of the Constitutional Convention. Like his good friend James Madison, Carroll was convinced that a strong central government was needed to regulate commerce among the states and with other nations. He also spoke out repeatedly in opposition to the payment of members of the United States Congress by the states, reasoning that such compensation would sabotage the strength of the new government because:

“the dependence of both Houses on the state Legislatures would be compleat …. The new government in this form is nothing more than a second edition of [the Continental] Congress in two volumes, instead of one, and perhaps with very few amendments.”[1]

He wanted governmental power vested in the people, and he quaffed James Wilson on his career and campaigning for popular sovereignty. When it was suggested that the President should be elected by the Congress, Carroll, seconded by Wilson, moved that the words “by the legislature” be replaced with “by the people”. He and Thomas Fitzsimons were the only Roman Catholics to sign the Constitution, a symbol of the advance of religious freedom in America during the Revolutionary period.

Carroll spoke about 20 times during the debates at the Constitutional Convention and served on the Committee on Postponed Matters. Returning to Maryland after the convention, he campaigned for ratification of the Constitution, but was not a delegate to the state convention.

Following the Convention, Carroll continued to be involved in state and national affairs. He was a key participant in the Maryland ratification struggle. He defended the Constitution in the pages of the Maryland Journal, most notably in his response to the arguments advanced by the well-known Anti-federalist Samuel Chase. After ratification was achieved in Maryland, Carroll was elected as a representative from the sixth district of Maryland to the First Congress. Given his concern for economic and fiscal stability, he voted for the assumption of state debts by the federal government.

He later was elected to the Maryland Senate. He was appointed a commissioner (co-mayor) of the new capital city, but advanced age and failing health forced him to retire in 1795. Interest in his region kept him active. In the last year of his life, he became one of George Washington’s partners in the Patowmack Company, a business enterprise intended to link the middle states with the expanding West by means of a Potomac River canal.

Daniel Carroll died on July 5, 1796, and is buried at Saint John the Evangelist Catholic Church Cemetery in Forest Glen, Montgomery County, Maryland.


Daniel Carroll grave site


  1. Robert K. Wright, Jr.; Morris J. MacGregor, Jr. (1987). “Daniel Carroll”. Soldier-Statesmen of the Constitution. Washington D.C.: United States Army Center of Military History. CMH Pub 71-25.
  3. “Daniel Carroll”, Catholic Encyclopedia

General Jonathan Moulton, a legend of Colonial New Hampshire

July 21, 2013

General Jonathan Moulton played an important role in the early history of New Hampshire, and many tales of his adventures would become legendary.

Jonathan Moulton was born in the town of Hampton, New Hampshire, on July 21, 1726. He spent much of his childhood as an apprentice to a cabinetmaker. In 1745, he left the cabinetmaker trade and was appointed as a captain of a ranger company in the New Hampshire Militia. In the same year, he was with the New England army under the command of William Pepperrell that took Fortress Louisbourg from the French. For the rest of King George’s War, Moulton fought against the Ossipee Indians that were allied to the French around Lake Winnipesaukee until they were killed or driven to Canada. During one winter scout from Dover, New Hampshire, Capt. Moulton and his men ambushed six Ossipee warriors on the ice of Lake Winnipesaukee. Five of the warriors were killed in the first volley and the sixth ran away, followed closely by Moulton’s massive black dog that attacked and killed the fleeing warrior. The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle ended the war in 1748. It would be only six years until the next war between Britain and France.

After the end of the war in 1749, Jonathan married Abigail Smith. Together they were to have eleven children. Also during this time, Moulton opened a store in Hampton and started importing goods from Europe and the West Indies to sell.


The General Moulton House

With the resumption of the colonial struggle in 1754, with the French and Indian War, Moulton once again served as a captain in the New Hampshire Militia and was elected to the New Hampshire General Court.

After the end of the French and Indian War, Moulton was granted large tracts of land on the north side of Lake Winnipesaukee in the towns of Moultonborough (named after himself), New Hampton, Tamworth, Center Harbor and Sandwich, by the governors Benning Wentworth and John Wentworth.

In 1764, with the wreck of the mast-ship St. George off the coast of Hampton, Moulton and many of the other town residents salvaged many of the goods aboard her for their own profit.

In the early morning hours of March 15, 1769, Moulton’s mansion burned to the ground. This fire helped to start one of the most interesting legends about him as the “Yankee Faust.”

During the events that led up to the American Revolution, Jonathan Moulton was elected as moderator of the Hampton town meetings, chosen as a member of the Committee of Safety, appointed as a delegate to the patriot assembly at Exeter, New Hampshire and commissioned as the Colonel of the 3rd New Hampshire Regiment of Militia.

On September 21, 1775, his wife Abigail died of smallpox. A year later, he married Sarah Emery and would father four more children.

For the first two years of the American Revolutionary War, Col. Moulton’s regiment guarded the 18-mile seacoast of New Hampshire against British invasion. But in the fall of 1777, he marched with his men to the Battle of Saratoga in New York and the defeat of Lt. General John Burgoyne’s British army invading from Canada. Col. Moulton and the 3rd New Hampshire Militia served in Gen. John Stark’s brigade during the battle.

After the end of the American Revolution, Moulton continued his role in the New Hampshire militia. On March 25, 1785, he was created Brigadier General of the 1st Brigade of the New Hampshire Militia.

Jonathan Moulton died at the age of 71 on September 18, 1787. Two years later, in 1789, General George Washington stopped and paid his respects to General Moulton’s widow Sarah on his tour of the new United States of America.

During his life Jonathan Moulton was a controversial figure in the Province of New Hampshire and later the state.

In the first legend, in which Jonathan’s house burns down, it was said that he had made a Faustian deal with the devil and had outsmarted him by saying that he would sell his soul to the devil if the devil would fill his boots up with gold coins on the first of every month. Jonathan found the largest set of boots in all of the Province of New Hampshire. The next month the devil returned to fill up the boots with gold, but no matter how many gold coins he poured in the boots they would not fill. Jonathan had cut off the soles of the boots and put the boots over a hole in the floor, and all the gold coins fell into the basement of the house. The devil, after being outsmarted by Jonathan, burnt down his house in revenge. The gold coins disappeared.

In the second tale, the ghost of Moulton’s first wife Abigail appears on his wedding night and takes the ring off the finger of his new wife Sarah as the two are in bed together.

In a final legendary story, a pallbearer at Moulton’s funeral opened his coffin to find it empty, replaced by a box of gold coins with the devil stamped on them. Jonathan Moulton was in fact buried without a tombstone, and the site of his grave is now unknown.


A marker (not a gravestone) commemorating General Moulton in the Pine Grove Cemetery.


Dr. Joshua Clayton, physician, soldier, statesman

July 20, 2013

Dr. Joshua Clayton was an American physician and politician from Mt. Pleasant in Pencader Hundred, New Castle County, Delaware. He was an officer of the Continental Army in the American Revolution, and a member of the Federalist Party, who served in the Delaware General Assembly, as Governor of Delaware and as U.S. Senator from Delaware.


Clayton was born near Wyoming, Delaware, son of John Clayton and Eleanor Edinfield on July 20, 1744. John Clayton was a miller and the grandson of another Joshua Clayton, a Quaker, who came from Lincolnshire, England in the late 17th century. The younger Joshua Clayton went to medical school at, what is now, the University of Pennsylvania from 1757 until 1762, and then began a medical practice in Middletown, Delaware. He became close friends with Richard Bassett, and in 1765, married his adopted daughter, Rachael McCleary.

Clayton acquired a portion of Richard Bassett’s Bohemia Manor estate, and in 1773 built their home, Locust Grove. It is now known as the Dickey Farm, and is on the Choptank Road, two miles west of Mt. Pleasant in Pencader Hundred, to the northwest of Middletown. There they had three children who lived to adulthood, Richard, James Lawson and Thomas. Their religious affiliation is unclear, but they were almost certainly members of the Bethel Methodist Church by the time of their deaths.

During the American Revolution, Clayton served in the Bohemia Manor militia, where he had been commissioned a major. He was also an aide and surgeon to General George Washington at the Battle of Brandywine and at Valley Forge.

Following this Clayton served in the House of Assembly in the 1778/79 session, and again from the 1780/81 session through the 1783/84 session. He was back again in the 1785/86 session, and the 1787/88 session. He was chosen President of Delaware by the Delaware General Assembly on May 30, 1789 and served as President until January 15, 1793. Under the provisions of the new Delaware Constitution of 1792 he became the first popularly elected Governor of Delaware and continued to serve in that capacity until his term ended, January 19, 1796.

This new state Constitution was the major political development of these years. With the new U.S. Constitution in place, it was necessary to revise the somewhat experimental Delaware Constitution of 1776. Under the initial leadership of John Dickinson, delegates provided for a real Governor, elected by popular vote and no longer sharing executive authority with the Privy Council. The other major change was to expand the voting franchise by eliminating the property ownership requirement.

Two years after his term ended, Clayton was chosen by the Delaware General Assembly to fill the vacant seat in the United States Senate caused by the resignation of U.S. Senator John M. Vining. He began his term January 19, 1798 and served until his death on August 11, 1798, while still in office. During this term, he served in the Federalist majority in the 5th Congress, during the administration of U.S. President John Adams.

During Clayton’s tenure it was determined that a new courthouse was needed in Kent County. Since the General Assembly had moved from New Castle in 1777 it had shared the county courthouse with the county officials. They wished to continue to do so in the new building. The county commissioners responsible for erecting the building agreed, but asked for “an appropriation for the completion of the building.” In response, on June 2, 1788, a committee of the General Assembly reported that “in their opinion such is the situation of the treasury, together with loud complaints of public creditors and their duty to constituents, that the prayer of the memorial cannot be complied with at this time.”

A few days later, though, “all moneys arising from marriage and tavern licenses were appropriated to completing the court-house,” and “on July 29, 1791, a bill introduced by Kensey Johns was passed providing for a lottery to raise one thousand pounds for furnishing the court-house.”

However, when the building was nearly complete and being occupied by the General Assembly…

“on May 3, 1792, it is said that Sheriff John Clayton, by order of the Levy Court, entered the Assembly rooms with drawn sword, and demanded their use for the workmen. The General Assembly there-upon adjourned to the tavern of Thomas Hale, at Duck Creek Cross-Roads and continued their session.”

The next day, the State House adopted the following resolution:

“Whereas, John Clayton, who declared he spoke the sentiments of the people of Kent County hath, as one of the Commissioners for completing the Court-House in Dover, insulted the Legislature of this State by denying them the use of the chambers heretofore occupied by the General Assembly for holding their sessions, requiring them to be delivered up for the use of workmen employed about the building, in consequences of which both houses have adjourned the sessions to Duck Creek Cross-Roads; therefore, “Resolved unanimously, That in the opinion of this General Assembly the Legislature of the State ought not to be subject to the caprice of any individual in the State, and that it will not be proper for them to hold their sessions in the town of Dover until the Levy Court of Kent County, or some other proper authority shall, by an explicit act, appropriate to their use the Chambers in the said Court-House agreeable to the intention heretofore expressed.”

“The State Senate failed to concur in the resolution, and pending further action the difficulty was reconciled, and beginning with the next session, November 1792, the General Assembly occupied the State-House, and have continued to the present time (1888).” [1]

Clayton died at Mt. Pleasant in New Castle County on August 11, 1798, after being stricken with yellow fever while at the United States Congress in Philadelphia. He was first buried at the Locust Grove Cemetery in Pencader Hundred, New Castle County. Later his remains were moved into the Bethel Church Cemetery at Chesapeake City, Maryland. They were moved again to an unknown location in 1965 upon a widening of the nearby Chesapeake and Delaware Canal.


Clayton’s son, Thomas Clayton was a U.S. Senator, and his nephew, John M. Clayton was also a U.S. Senator as well as U.S. Secretary of State.


  1. Scharf, John Thomas. History of Delaware 1609-1888. 2 vols..
  2. elected to fill vacancy caused by resignation of John M. Vining


  • Conrad, Henry C. (1908). History of the State of Delaware. Lancaster, Pennsylvania: Wickersham Company.
  • Martin, Roger A. (1984). History of Delaware Through its Governors. Wilmington, Delaware: McClafferty Press.
  • Martin, Roger A. (1995). Memoirs of the Senate. Newark, Delaware: Roger A. Martin.
  • Munroe, John A. (1954). Federalist Delaware 1775-1815. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University.
  • Rodney, Richard S. (1975). Collected Essays on Early Delaware. Wilmington, Delaware: Society of Colonial Wars in the State of Delaware.
  • Scharf, John Thomas (1888). History of Delaware 1609-1888. 2 vols. Philadelphia: L. J. Richards & Co. ISBN 0-87413-493-5.
  • Wilson, Emerson. (1969). Forgotten Heroes of Delaware. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Deltos Publishing Company

Massachusetts begins the ill-fated Penobscot Expedition

July 19, 2013

The Penobscot Expedition was an American naval expedition sent to reclaim Maine, which the British had conquered and renamed New Ireland. It was the largest American naval expedition of the American Revolutionary War and is sometimes thought the United States’ worst naval defeat until Pearl Harbor.[6] The fighting took place both on land and on sea, in what is today Castine, Maine.

In June 1779, British Army forces established a series of fortifications centered on a fort located on the Majabigwaduce Peninsula in Penobscot Bay, with the goals of establishing a military presence on that part of the coast and beginning a new colony to be known as New Ireland. In response, the state of Massachusetts, with some support from the Continental Congress, raised an expedition to drive the British out.

The Americans landed troops in late July and attempted to establish a siege of the British fort in a series of actions seriously hampered by disagreements over control of the expedition between Commodore Dudley Saltonstall and General Solomon Lovell. The operation ended in disaster when a British fleet under the command of Sir George Collier arrived on August 13th, driving the American fleet to total self-destruction up the Penobscot River. The survivors of the American expedition were forced to make an overland journey back to more-populated parts of Massachusetts with minimal food and armament.


Britain defending New Ireland from the Penobscot Expedition by Dominic Serres

Following partially successful raid of Machias in 1777, as well as General John Burgoyne’s failed Saratoga campaign, British war planners looked for other ways to gain control over the rebellious New England colonies, while most of their effort was directed at another campaign targeted at the southern colonies. Lord Germain, the Secretary of State responsible for the war effort, and his under-secretary, William Knox, wanted to establish a base on the coast of the District of Maine (which was then a part of Massachusetts) that could be used to protect Nova Scotia’s shipping and communities from American privateers and raiders.[7]

Opportunity arrived when John Nutting, a Loyalist who had piloted Sir George Collier’s expedition against Machias, came to London with the idea of establishing a British military presence in Maine. In September 1778, Nutting left for New York carrying orders for Lieutenant General Sir Henry Clinton to assist with the establishment of “a province between the Penobscot and St. Croix rivers. Post to be taken on Penobscot River.”[8] It was Knox’s idea to call this province New Ireland.[6] Unfortunately for the British, Nutting’s ship was captured by an American privateer, and he was forced to dump his dispatches, putting an end to execution of the idea in 1778.[8]

Nutting reached New York in January 1779, but General Clinton had received copies of the orders from other messengers. Clinton had already assigned the expedition to General Francis McLean, who was based in Halifax, so he sent Nutting there with Germain’s detailed instructions.[9]

McLean’s expedition set sail from Halifax on May 30, 1779, and arrived in Penobscot Bay on June 12. The next day McLean and Andrew Barkley, the captain of the naval convoy, identified a suitable site at which they could establish a post.[10] On June 16, his forces began landing on a peninsula that was then called Majabigwaduce (now Castine), between the mouth of the Bagaduce River and a finger of the bay leading to the Penobscot River.[6] The troops numbered approximately 700: 50 men of the Royal Artillery and engineers, 450 of the 74th Regiment of (Highland) Foot and 200 of the 82nd (Duke of Hamilton’s) Regiment.[1] These began to build a fortification on the peninsula, which jutted into the bay and commanded the principal passage into the inner harbor.

The principal works, called Fort George, was in the center of the small peninsula, with two batteries outside the fort to provide cover for the Albany, which was the only ship expected to stay in the area. A third battery was constructed on an island south of the bay in which Albany was harbored, near the mouth of the Bagaduce River. Construction of the works occupied the troops for the next month, until rumors came that an American expedition was being raised to oppose them,[11] following which efforts were redoubled to have works suitable for defense against the Americans prepared before they arrived.[12] Albany’s captain, Henry Mowat, who was familiar with Massachusetts politics, took the rumors (which were followed by reports that a fleet had left Boston) quite seriously, and convinced General McLean to leave additional ships that had been part of the initial convoy as further defense. Some of the convoy ships had already left; orders for armed sloops North and Nautilus were countermanded before they were able to leave.[13]

When news of this reached the American authorities in Boston, they hurriedly made plans to drive the British from the area. The Penobscot River was the gateway to lands controlled by the Penobscot Indians, who generally favored the British. Congress feared that if a fort were successfully constructed at the mouth of the river, all chance of enlisting the Penobscots as allies would be lost. Massachusetts was also motivated by the fear of losing their claim over the territory to rival states in any post-war settlement.[14]

To spearhead the expedition, Massachusetts petitioned Congress for the use of three Continental Navy warships—the 12-gun sloop Providence, 14-gun brig Diligent, and 32-gun frigate Warren—while the rest of over 40 ships were made up of ships of the Massachusetts State Navy and private vessels under the command of Commodore Dudley Saltonstall. The Massachusetts authorities mobilized more than 1,000 militia, acquired six small field cannons, and placed Brigadier General Solomon Lovell in command of the land forces. The expedition departed from Boston on July 24 and arrived off Penobscot Bay that same day.

On July 25, nine of the larger vessels in the American flotilla exchanged fire with the Royal Navy ships from 3.30 p.m to 7.00 p.m. While this was going on, seven American boats approached the shore for a landing but turned back when enemy fire killed an American-allied Native warrior in one of the boats.[15] On July 26, Lovell sent a force of Continental Marines to capture the British battery on Nautilus Island (also known as Banks Island),[16] while the militia were to land at Bagaduce. The marines achieved their objective but the militia turned back when British shot overturned the leading boat, drowning Major Daniel Littlefield and two of his men.[17] Meanwhile, 750 men under Lovell landed and began construction of siege works under constant fire. On July 27, the American artillery bombarded the British fleet for three hours, wounding four men aboard HMS Albany.[18]


Image of Brigadier General Peleg Wadsworth

On July 28, under heavy covering fire from the Tyrannicide, the Hunter and the Sky Rocket, Brigadier General Peleg Wadsworth led an assault force of 400 (200 marines and 200 militia)[19] ashore with orders to capture the British fort. They landed on the beach and advanced up the bluff leading to the fort. The British pickets, who included Lieutenant John Moore, put up a determined resistance but received no reinforcement from the fort and were forced to retire, leaving the Americans in possession of the heights. 8 British troops were captured.[4] At this point, Lovell ordered the attackers to halt and entrench where they were. Instead of assaulting the fort, Lovell had decided to build a battery within “a hundred rods” of the British lines and bombard them into surrender.[20] The American casualties in the assault had been severe: “one hundred out of four hundred men on the shore and bank”,[21] with the Continental Marines suffering more heavily than the militia. Commodore Saltonstall was so appalled by the losses incurred by his marines that he refused to land any more and even threatened to recall those already on shore.[19]

On July 29, 1 American was killed.[22] On July 30, both sides cannonaded each other all day.[23] On July 31, 2 American sailors belonging to the Active were wounded by a shell.[22] On August 1, Lovell ordered a night assault on the Half-Moon Battery, next to Fort George, whose guns posed a danger to the American shipping. The Americans opened fire at 2.00 a.m. Colonel Samuel McCobb’s center column, comprising his own Lincoln County Regiment, broke and fled as soon as the British returned fire. The left column comprising Captain Thomas Carnes and a detachment of marines, and the right column comprising sailors from the fleet, both kept going and stormed the Battery. As dawn broke, the Fort’s guns opened up on the captured battery and a detachment of redcoats charged out and recaptured the Half-Moon, routing the Americans, who took 18 prisoners with them. Their own casualties were 4 men missing (who were killed) and 12 wounded.[24] The siege continued with minor skirmishing. On August 2, militiaman Wheeler Riggs, of Falmouth, was killed by an enemy cannon shot that bounced off a tree before hitting him.[22] On August 4, Surgeon John Calef recorded in his journal that several men were wounded in exchanges of fire.[25] On August 5, one American-allied Indian was killed and another man captured.[22] On August 7, 100 Americans engaged 80 British but the only casualties were 1 killed and 1 wounded on the American side and 2 wounded among the British.[26]

During this time, the British had been able to send word of their condition, and request reinforcements. On August 3, British commander George Collier led a fleet of 10 warships out of New York.[27]

On August 11, about 250 American militia advanced from their fortified camp and occupied a recently abandoned battery about a quarter mile (400 meters) from the British fort. As expected, a sortie of about 55 British troops advanced from the fort to engage: but the poorly trained American troops fired only one volley at the attacking British troops, inflicting about 13 casualties, and fled back to their fort, leaving behind all of their arms and equipment.

The next day, Saltonstall finally decided to launch a naval attack against the British fort, but Collier in command of the British relief fleet arrived and attacked the American ships.[28] Over the next two days, the American fleet fled upstream on the Penobscot River, pursued by the Collier. On August 13, an American officer was wounded by enemy fire.[22] Several vessels were scuttled or burned along the way with the rest destroyed at Bangor. In the 18th century there were rapids at Bangor at the approximate location of the old Water Works. The surviving crews then fled overland back to Boston with virtually no food or ammunition.

Over the course of the siege, Colonel David Stewart claims the British garrison suffered 25 killed and 34 wounded.[3] Stewart gives no figures for captured or missing but 26 prisoners are known to have been taken by the Americans.[4]

Apart from the 100 men killed and wounded during the assault of July 28, the known American casualties throughout the siege came to 12 killed, 16 wounded and 1 captured, in addition to “several wounded” on August 4. This adds up to at least 130 killed and wounded. The History of Penobscot says that “our whole loss of men was probably not less than 150″.[29] The chaotic retreat however, brought the American loss up to 474 killed, wounded, captured or missing.[5]

A committee of inquiry blamed the American failure on poor coordination between land and sea forces and on Commodore Saltonstall’s failure to engage the British naval forces. Saltonstall was declared to be primarily responsible for the debacle, and he was court-martialed, found guilty, and dismissed from military service. Paul Revere, who commanded the artillery in the expedition, was accused of disobedience and cowardice. This resulted in his dismissal from the militia, even though he was later cleared of the charges. Peleg Wadsworth, who mitigated the damage by organizing a retreat, was not charged in the court martial.


Paul Revere, hero of “The Midnight Ride”, accused of disobedience and cowardice.

The British evacuated the area pursuant to the terms of the 1783 Peace of Paris, abandoning their attempts to establish New Ireland. During the War of 1812 the British again occupied the area they called New Ireland, and used it as a naval base before withdrawing again with the arrival of peace. Full ownership of present-day Maine (principally the northeastern borders with New Brunswick) remained disputed until the Webster-Ashburton Treaty in 1842. Maine was a part of Massachusetts until 1820, when it was admitted into the Union as the 23rd state.

In 1972 the Maine Maritime Academy and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology searched for and found the wreck of the Defence, a privateer that was part of the American fleet.[30] Evidence of scuttled ships has also found under the Joshua Chamberlain Bridge in Bangor and under the Bangor town dock, and several artifacts were recovered. Cannonballs were also reported to have been recovered during the construction of the concrete casements for the I-395 bridge in 1986.

The earthworks of Fort George still stand at the mouth of the Penobscot River in Castine, accompanied by concrete work added later by the Americans in the 19th century. Archaeological evidence of the expedition, including cannonballs and cannon, was located during an archaeological project in 2000–2001.


  1. Buker, p. 11
  2. Campbell, p. 498
  3. Stewart, p. 115
  4. Buker, p. 176, note 67
  5. Boatner, p. 852
  6. Bicheno, p.149
  7. Buker, pp. 4–5
  8. Buker, p. 5
  9. Buker, p. 6
  10. Buker, p. 7
  11. Buker, p. 13
  12. Buker, p. 15
  13. Buker, p. 14
  14. Bicheno, pp. 149–150
  15. Buker, p. 37
  16. A Naval History of the American Revolution: Chapter XII, The Penoboscot Expedition,
  17. Buker, pp. 36,39–40
  18. Buker, p. 41
  19. Goold, quoting General Wadsworth
  20. Buker, pp. 42–45
  21. Williams and Chase, p. 89, quoting William D. Williamson’s History of Maine. Williamson got this casualty information directly from General Wadsworth
  22. Goold, quoting William Moody’s Journal
  23. Buker, p. 49
  24. Buker, pp. 50–52
  25. Buker, p. 56
  26. Buker, p. 66
  27. Campbell, p. 497
  28. Bicheno, p. 152
  29. Williams and Chase, p. 90


  • Bicheno, Hugh (2003). Redcoats and Rebels: The American Revolutionary War. London: Harper Collins. ISBN 978-0-00-715625-2. OCLC 51963515.
  • Boatner, Mark Mayo (1966). Cassell’s Biographical Dictionary of the American War of Independence, 1763-1783. London: Cassell & Company. ISBN 0-304-29296-6.
  • Buker, George E (2002). The Penobscot Expedition: Commodore Saltonstall and the Massachusetts Conspiracy of 1779. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-55750-212-9. OCLC 47869426.
  • Campbell, John; Berkenhout, John, and Yorke, Henry Redhead (1813). Lives of the British Admirals: Containing Also a New and Accurate Naval History, from the Earliest Periods, volume 5. London: C. J. Barrington. OCLC 17689863.
  • Goold, Nathan (2000). “Bagaduce Expedition, 1779: Paper read before the Maine Historical Society, October 27, 1898″ (PHP). Rick Hagen
  • Hunter III, James W (2003). “Penobscot Expedition Archaeological Project Field Report” (PDF). Naval Historical Center
  • Stewart, David (1977 (first published, 1822)). Sketches of the Character, Manners, and Present State of the Highlanders of Scotland; with Details of the Military Service of the Highland Regiments. Volume II. Edinburgh: John Donald Publishers
  • Wheeler, George A (1875). History of Castine: Battle Line of Four Nations. Bangor, Maine: Burr & Robinson. OCLC 2003716.
  • Williams and Chase (1882). History of Penobscot, Maine, with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches. Cleveland, OH: Williams, Chase & Co.

The Liberty Song: America’s first patriotic song

July 18, 2013

“The Liberty Song” is a Revolutionary War song composed by Mrs. Mercy Otis Warren, wife of General James Warren, of Plymouth, Massachusetts.[1] The song is set to the tunes of “Hearts of Oak”, the anthem of the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom and “Here’s a Health”, an Irish song of emigration. The song itself was first published in the Boston Gazette in July 1768.[2]


Mercy Otis Warren

The song is notable as one of the earliest patriotic songs in the thirteen colonies. Warren’s fourth verse is the first appearance of the phrase, “united we stand, divided we fall,” a patriotic slogan that has prominently appeared several times throughout American history.

The song is also likely to be a variant of the Irish traditional song from which it often takes its tune, “Here’s a Health”. The lyrics of The Liberty Song also hold the same structure.

The lyrics of the song were updated in 1770 to reflect the growing tensions between England and the Colonies. This new version was published in Bickerstaff’s almanac, and the title was changed to “The Massachusetts Song of Liberty.”[3]

Original Version

Come, join hand in hand, brave Americans all,

And rouse your bold hearts at fair Liberty’s call;

No tyrannous acts shall suppress your just claim,

Or stain with dishonor America’s name.


In Freedom we’re born and in Freedom we’ll live.

Our purses are ready. Steady, friends, steady;

Not as slaves, but as Freemen our money we’ll give.

Our worthy forefathers, let’s give them a cheer,

To climates unknown did courageously steer;

Thro’ oceans to deserts for Freedom they came,

And dying, bequeath’d us their freedom and fame.


Their generous bosoms all dangers despis’d,

So highly, so wisely, their Birthrights they priz’d;

We’ll keep what they gave, we will piously keep,

Nor frustrate their toils on the land and the deep.


The tree their own hands had to Liberty rear’d;

They lived to behold growing strong and revered;

With transport they cried, “Now our wishes we gain,

For our children shall gather the fruits of our pain.”


Swarms of placemen and pensioners soon will appear

Like locusts deforming the charms of the year;

Suns vainly will rise, showers vainly descend,

If we are to drudge for what others shall defend.


Then join hand in hand, brave Americans all,

By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall;

In so righteous a cause let us hope to succeed,

For heaven approves of each generous deed.


All ages shall speak with amaze and applause,

Of the courage we’ll show in support of our Laws;

To die we can bear, but to serve we disdain.

For shame is to Freedom more dreadful than pain.


This bumper I crown for our Sovereign’s health,

And this for Britannia’s glory and wealth;

That wealth and that glory immortal may be,

If She is but Just, and if we are but Free.


1770 Version

Come swallow your bumpers, ye Tories, and roar,

That the sons of fair freedom are hampered once more;

But know that no cut-throats our spirits can tame,

Nor a host of oppressors shall smother the flame.


In Freedom we’re born, and, like sons of the brave,

Will never surrender, But swear to defend her;

And scorn to survive, if unable to save.


  1. [The History of American Music, (141) Louis C. Elson, 1904]
  2. “The Liberty Song” – 1768
  3. [The History of American Music, (142) Louis C. Elson, 1904]

Timothy Pickering, Third U.S. Secretary of State

July 17, 2013

Timothy Pickering was a politician from Massachusetts who served in a variety of roles, most notably as the third United States Secretary of State, serving in that office from 1795 to 1800 under Presidents George Washington and John Adams.

Pickering had previously served in the Massachusetts militia and Continental Army during the American Revolution. He is often remembered for his Anglophile attitudes, and pushed for pro-British policies during his political career. Pickering famously describing the country as “The World’s last hope – Britain’s Fast-anchored Isle” during the Napoleonic Wars.[1] He later became involved with the Hartford Convention, and along with many other Federalists opposed the War of 1812.


3rd United States Secretary of State

Pickering was born in Salem, Massachusetts to Deacon Timothy and Mary Wingate Pickering on July 17, 1745. He was one of nine children and the younger brother of John Pickering (not to be confused with the New Hampshire judge) who would eventually serve as Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives.[2] He attended grammar school in Salem and graduated from Harvard University in 1763. Salem minister William Bentley noted on Pickering: “From his youth his townsmen proclaim him assuming, turbulent, & headstrong.” [3]

After graduating from Harvard, Pickering returned to Salem where he began working for John Higginson, the town clerk and Essex County register of deeds. Pickering was admitted to the Massachusetts Bar in 1768 and, in 1774, he succeeded Higginson as register of deeds. Soon after, he was elected to represent Salem in the Massachusetts General Court and served as a justice in the Essex County Court of Common Pleas. On April 8, 1776, he married Rebecca White of Salem.[4]

In January 1766, Pickering was commissioned a lieutenant in the Essex County militia. He was promoted to captain three years later. In 1769, he published his ideas on drilling soldiers in the Essex Gazette. These were published in 1775 as “An Easy Plan for a Militia.”[5] The manual was used as the Continental Army drill book until replaced by Baron von Steuben’s Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States[6]

In February 1775 men under Pickering’s command were involved in a bloodless confrontation with a detachment of British regulars under Alexander Leslie who had been dispatched from Boston to search Salem for contraband artillery. Two months later, Pickering’s troops marched to take part in the Battle of Lexington and Concord but arrived too late to play a major role. They then became part of the New England army assembling outside Boston to lay siege to the city.

In December 1776, he led a well-drilled regiment of the Essex County militia to New York, where General George Washington took notice and offered Pickering the position of adjutant general of the Continental Army in 1777. In this capacity he oversaw the building of the Great Chain which was forged at the Stirling Iron Works. The chain blocked the Royal Navy from proceeding up the Hudson River past West Point and protected that important fort from attack for the duration of the conflict. He was widely praised for his work in supplying the troops during the remainder of the conflict. In August 1780, the Continental Congress elected Pickering Quartermaster General.[7]


Letter from Timothy Pickering to Major General Lord Sterling, 1777

After the end of the American Revolution, Pickering made several failed attempts at financial success. In 1783, he embarked on a mercantile partnership with Samuel Hodgdon that failed two years later. In 1786, he moved to the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania where he assumed a series of offices at the head of Luzerne County. When he attempted to evict Connecticut settlers living in the area, Pickering was captured and held hostage for nineteen days. In 1787, he was part of the Pennsylvania convention held to consider ratification of the United States Constitution.[8]

After the first of Pickering’s two successful attempts to make money speculating in Pennsylvania frontier land, now-President Washington appointed him commissioner to the Iroquois Indians; and Pickering represented the United States in the negotiation of the Treaty of Canandaigua with the Iroquois in 1794.

Washington brought Pickering into the government, as Postmaster General in 1791. He remained in Washington’s cabinet and then that of John Adams for nine years, serving as postmaster general until 1795, Secretary of War for a brief time in 1795, then Secretary of State from 1795 to 1800. As Secretary of State he is most remembered for his strong Federalist Party attachments to British causes, even willingness to wage war with France in service of these causes during the Adams administration. In 1799 Pickering hired Joseph Dennie as his private secretary.[9]

After a quarrel with President John Adams over Adams’s plan to make peace with France, Pickering was dismissed from office in May 1800. In 1802, Pickering and a band of Federalists, agitated at the lack of support for Federalists, attempted to gain support for the secession of New England from the Jeffersonian United States. The irony of a Federalist moving against the national government was not lost among his dissenters. He was named to the United States Senate as a senator from Massachusetts in 1803 as a member of the Federalist Party. Pickering opposed the American seizure and annexation of Spanish West Florida in 1810, which he believed was both unconstitutional and an act of aggression against a friendly power.[10] He lost his Senate seat in 1811, and was elected to the United States House of Representatives in U.S. House election, 1812, where he remained until 1817. His congressional career is best remembered for his leadership of the New England secession movement.

After Pickering was denied re-election in 1816, he retired to Salem, where he lived as a farmer until his death on January 29, 1829, aged 83. In 1942, a United States Liberty ship named the SS Timothy Pickering was launched. She was lost off Sicily in 1945. Until the 1990s, Pickering’s ancestral home, the circa 1651 Pickering House, was the oldest house in the United States to be owned by the same family continually.


  1. Clarfield. Timothy Pickering and the American Republic p.246
  2. Mary Pickering, sister of Timothy, was married to Salem Congregational minister Dudley Leavitt, for whom Salem’s Leavitt Street is named. A Harvard-educated native of Stratham, New Hampshire, Leavitt died an untimely death in 1762 at age 42. Mary Pickering Leavitt remarried Nathaniel Peaselee Sargeant of Haverhill, Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. Mary Pickering’s daughter Elizabeth Pickering Leavitt married Salem merchant William Pickman.[1]
  3. The Diary of William Bentley, D.D., Pastor of the East Church, Salem, Massachusetts, 4 vols. (Gloucester, Mass.: Smith, 1962), 3:352.
  4. Octavius Pickering and Charles W. Upham, The Life of Timothy Pickering, 4 vols. (Boston: Little Brown, 1867-73), 1:7-15, 31.
  5. Pickering and Upham, Life of Timothy Pickering, 1:85.
  6. Garry Wills (2003). “Before 1800″. Negro President: Jefferson and the Slave Power. Houghton Mifflin Company. pp. 20–21. ISBN 0618343989.
  7. Pickering and Upham, Life of Timothy Pickering, 1:34-139, 251-522; 2:69-508; Gerard H. Clarfield, Timothy Pickering and the American Republic (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1980), 47-144; Edward Hake Phillips, “Salem, Timothy Pickering, and the American Revolution,” Essex Institute Historical Collections 111, 1 (1975): 65-78; David McLean, Timothy Pickering and the Age of the American Revolution (New York: Arno Press, 1982).
  8. Pickering and Upham, Life of Timothy Pickering, 1:532-35; 2:140-73, 182-325, 369-445; Clarfield, Pickering and the Republic, 85-115; Jeffrey Paul Brown, “Timothy Pickering and the Northwest Territory,” Northwest Ohio Quarterly 53, 4 (1982): 117-32.
  9. Clapp, William Warland (1880). Joseph Dennie: Editor of “The Port Folio,” and author of “The Lay Preacher.”. John Wilson and Son. p. 32.
  10. Clarfield. Timothy Pickering and the American Republic p.246-247

General information

  • Timothy Pickering at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
  • Clarfield, Gerard H. “Postscript to the Jay Treaty: Timothy Pickering and Anglo-American Relations, 1795-1797,” William and Mary Quarterly 3d ser., 23, 1 (1966): 106-20.
  • Clarfield, Gerard H. Timothy Pickering and American Diplomacy, 1795-1800. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1969.
  • Clarfield, Gerard. Timothy Pickering and the American Republic. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1980.
  • Clarfield, Gerard H. “Timothy Pickering and French Diplomacy, 1795-1796.” Essex Institute Historical Collections 104, 1 (1965): 58-74.
  • Clarfield, Gerard H. “Victory in the West: A Study of the Role of Timothy Pickering in the Successful Consummation of Pinckney‘s Treaty,” Essex Institute Historical Collections 101, 4 (1965): 333-53.
  • Garraty, John A. and Mark C. Carnes. American National Biography, vol. 17, “Pickering, Timothy”. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
  • Guidorizzi, Richard Peter. “Timothy Pickering: Opposition Politics in the Early Years of the Republic” Ph.D. diss, St. John’s University, 1968.
  • Hickey, Donald R. “Timothy Pickering and the Haitian Slave Revolt: A Letter to Thomas Jefferson in 1806,” Essex Institute Historical Collections 120, 3 (1984): 149-63.
  • McCurdy, John Gilbert. “‘Your Affectionate Brother': Complementary Manhoods in the Letters of John and Timothy Pickering.” Early American Studies 4, 2 (Fall 2006): 512-545.
  • McLean, David. Timothy Pickering and the Age of the American Revolution. New York: Arno Press, 1982.
  • Pickering, Octavius, and Charles W. Upham. The Life of Timothy Pickering. 4 vols. Boston: Little Brown, 1867-73.
  • Phillips, Edward Hake. “The Public Career of Timothy Pickering, Federalist, 1745-1802.” Ph.D. diss, Harvard University, 1952.
  • Phillips, Edward Hake. “Salem, Timothy Pickering, and the American Revolution.” Essex Institute Historical Collections 111, 1 (1975): 65-78.
  • Phillips, Edward Hake. “Timothy Pickering at His Best: Indian Commissioner, 1790-1794.” Essex Institute Historical Collections 102, 3 (1966): 163-202.
  • Prentiss, Harvey Pittman. Timothy Pickering as the Leader of New England Federalism, 1800-1815. New York: DaCapo Press, 1972.
  • Wilbur, William Allan. “Crisis in Leadership: Alexander Hamilton, Timothy Pickering and the Politics of Federalism, 1795-1804.” Ph.D. diss, Syracuse University, 1969.
  • Wilbur, W. Allan. “Timothy Pickering: Federalist, Politician, An Historical Perspective,” Historian 34, 2 (1972): 278-92.
  • Wilentz, Sean “The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln” W.W. Norton. New York. 2005.

Major General Adam Stephen

July 16, 2013

Adam Stephen was a Scottish-born doctor and military officer. He came to North America, where he served in the Virginia colonial militia under George Washington during the French and Indian War. He served under Washington again in the American Revolution, rising to lead a division of the Continental Army. After a friendly fire incident in the 1777 Battle of Germantown, Stephen was found to have been drunk during the battle, and was cashiered out of the army. He later founded Martinsburg, West Virginia.

Adam Stephen was born in Scotland in 1718. He earned a degree at King’s College in Aberdeen, and studied medicine in Edinburgh. He then entered Royal Navy service on a hospital ship before emigrating to the British province of Virginia in the late 1730s or early 1740s. There he established a medical practice in Fredericksburg. He entered the provincial militia in 1754, and became lieutenant colonel of the Virginia Regiment under George Washington. That year he participated in Washington’s expedition that climaxed with the Battle of Jumonville Glen and the Battle of Fort Necessity, the opening battles of the French and Indian War. He continued to serve with the regiment and was involved in the disastrous Braddock Expedition of 1755 and other expeditions. When the war ended in 1763, he took over command of the regiment from Washington, and assisted in putting down Pontiac’s Rebellion.


Adam Stephen’s Waistcoat and Gorget, 1754: Division of Military History and Diplomacy, National Museum of American History, Behring Center

When the American Revolutionary War broke out, he offered his services to the Continental Army, again serving under Washington. He was with the army during the New York and New Jersey campaigns of 1776 and early 1777, and, as a major general, was given command of a division in Washington’s army during the defense of Philadelphia. During the October 1777 Battle of Germantown he led his troops into a situation where they became engaged in friendly fire with those of Anthony Wayne. The ensuing court martial found that Stephen was drunk at the time of the battle; he was stripped of his command and cashiered out of the army.

He returned to his home in Virginia, and is said to have laid out the plan for Martinsburg in what is now West Virginia in 1778. He named it after a friend, Colonel Thomas Bryan Martin, and became the sheriff of Berkeley County, of which Martinsburg became the county seat. In later years he was joined there by Generals Horatio Gates and Charles Lee, who both purchased property in the county. In 1788 he was elected to the Virginia convention that ratified the Constitution of the United States.

Stephen was married and had one child, a daughter named Ann. He died in Martinsburg on July 16, 1791, and is buried beneath a monument erected in his honor there at the Adam Stephen Monument Cemetery.


Adam Stephen Monument in Martinsburg

Stephen’s residence at Martinsburg, known as the Adam Stephen House, and at The Bower near Shepherdstown, West Virginia are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[1]


Adam Stephen’s home in Martinsburg


  1. “National Register Information System”. National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2009-03-13.
  • Lengel, Edward G. General George Washington: A Military Life. pp. xxxiii-xxxiv.
  • An Account of the Battle of Germantown
  • A picture of Adam Stephen’s Waistcoat and Gorget worn during the French and Indian War

Whiskey Rebellion: first U.S. tax protest

July 15, 2013

The Whiskey Rebellion, or Whiskey Insurrection, was a tax protest in the United States in 1789, during the presidency of George Washington. Farmers who sold their grain in the form of whiskey had to pay a new tax which they strongly resented. The tax was a part of treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton’s program to pay off the national debt.

On the western frontier, protesters used violence and intimidation to prevent federal officials from collecting the tax. Resistance came to a climax in July 1794, when a U.S. marshal arrived in western Pennsylvania to serve writs to distillers who had not paid the excise. The alarm was raised, and more than 500 armed men attacked the fortified home of tax inspector General John Neville. Washington responded by sending peace commissioners to western Pennsylvania to negotiate with the rebels, while at the same time calling on governors to send a militia force to suppress the violence. With 15,000 militia provided by the governors of Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, Washington rode at the head of an army to suppress the insurgency. The rebels all went home before the arrival of the army, and there was no confrontation. About 20 men were arrested, but all were later acquitted or pardoned. The issue fueled support for the new opposition Jeffersonian-Republican Party, which repealed the tax when it came to power in Washington in 1801.

The Whiskey Rebellion demonstrated that the new national government had the willingness and ability to suppress violent resistance to its laws. The whiskey excise remained difficult to collect, however. The events contributed to the formation of political parties in the United States, a process already underway. The whiskey tax was repealed after Thomas Jefferson’s Republican Party, which opposed Hamilton’s Federalist Party, came to power in 1800.


George Washington reviews the troops near Fort Cumberland, Maryland, before their march to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania.


Alexander Hamilton in a 1792 portrait by John Trumbull

A new U.S. federal government began operating in 1789, following the ratification of the United States Constitution. The previous government under the Articles of Confederation had been unable to levy taxes; it had borrowed money to meet expenses, accumulating $54 million in debt. The states had amassed an additional $25 million in debt.[2] Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury, sought to use this debt to create a financial system that would promote American prosperity and national unity. In his Report on Public Credit, he urged Congress to consolidate the state and national debts into a single debt that would be funded by the federal government. Congress approved these measures in June and July 1790.[3]

A source of government revenue was needed to pay the bond holders to whom the debt was owed. By December 1790, Hamilton believed import duties, which were the government’s primary source of revenue, had been raised as high as was feasible.[4] He therefore promoted passage of an excise tax on domestically distilled spirits. This was to be the first tax levied by the national government on a domestic product.[5] Although taxes were politically unpopular, Hamilton believed the whiskey excise was a luxury tax that would be the least objectionable tax the government could levy.[6] In this, he had the support of some social reformers, who hoped a “sin tax” would raise public awareness about the harmful effects of alcohol.[7] The whiskey excise act, sometimes known as the “Whiskey Act”, became law in March 1791.[8] George Washington defined the revenue districts, appointed the revenue supervisors and inspectors, and set their pay in November 1791.[9]

The whiskey excise was immediately controversial, with many people on the frontier arguing the tax unfairly targeted westerners.[10] Whiskey was a popular drink, and farmers often supplemented their incomes by operating small stills.[11] Farmers living west of the Appalachian Mountains distilled their excess grain into whiskey, which was easier and more profitable to transport over the mountains than the more cumbersome grain. A whiskey tax would make western farmers less competitive with eastern grain producers.[12] Additionally, cash was always in short supply on the frontier, so whiskey often served as a medium of exchange. For poorer people who were paid in whiskey, the excise was essentially an income tax that wealthier easterners did not pay.[13]

Small farmers also protested that Hamilton’s excise effectively gave unfair tax breaks to large distillers, most of whom were based in the east. There were two methods of paying the whiskey excise: paying a flat fee or paying by the gallon. Large distillers produced whiskey in volume and could afford the flat fee. The more efficient they became, the less tax per gallon they would pay (as low as 6 cents according to Hamilton). Western farmers who owned small stills did not usually operate them year-round at full capacity, so they ended up paying a higher tax per gallon (9 cents), which made them less competitive.[14] Small distillers believed Hamilton deliberately designed the tax to ruin them and promote big business, a view endorsed by some historians.[15] However, historian Thomas Slaughter argued that a “conspiracy of this sort is difficult to document”.[16] Whether by design or not, large distillers recognized the advantage the excise gave them, and they supported the tax.[17]

In addition to the whiskey tax, westerners had a number of other grievances with the national government. Chief among these was the perception that the government was not adequately protecting the western frontier: the Northwest Indian War was going badly for the United States, with major losses in 1791. Furthermore, westerners were prohibited by Spain (which then owned Louisiana) from using the Mississippi River for commercial navigation. Until these issues were addressed, westerners felt the government was ignoring their security and economic welfare. Adding the whiskey excise to these existing grievances only increased tensions on the frontier.[18]

Many residents of the western frontier petitioned against passage of the whiskey excise. When that failed, some western Pennsylvanians organized extralegal conventions to advocate repeal of the law.[19] Opposition to the tax was particularly prevalent in four southwestern counties: Allegheny, Fayette, Washington, and Westmoreland.[20] A preliminary meeting held on July 27, 1791, at Redstone Old Fort in Fayette County, called for the selection of delegates to a more formal assembly, which convened in Pittsburgh in early September 1791. The Pittsburgh convention was dominated by moderates such as Hugh Henry Brackenridge, who hoped to prevent the outbreak of violence.[21] The convention sent a petition for redress of grievances to the Pennsylvania Assembly and the U.S House of Representatives, both located in Philadelphia.[22] As a result of this and other petitions, the excise law was modified in May 1792. Changes included a 1-cent reduction in the tax that was advocated by William Findley, a congressman from western Pennsylvania, but the new excise law was still unsatisfactory to many westerners.[23]


“Famous Whiskey Insurrection in Pennsylvania,” an 1880 illustration of a tarred and feathered tax collector being made to ride the rail

Appeals to nonviolent resistance were unsuccessful. On September 11, 1791, a recently appointed tax collector named Robert Johnson was tarred and feathered by a disguised gang in Washington County.[24] A man sent by officials to serve court warrants to Johnson’s attackers was whipped, tarred, and feathered.[25] Because of these and other violent attacks, the tax went uncollected in 1791 and early 1792.[26] The attackers modeled their actions on the protests of the American Revolution. Supporters of the excise argued there was a difference between taxation without representation in colonial America, and a tax laid by the elected representatives of the American people.[27]

Although older accounts of the Whiskey Rebellion portrayed it as being confined to western Pennsylvania, there was opposition to the whiskey tax in the western counties of every other state in Appalachia (Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia).[28] The whiskey tax went uncollected throughout the frontier state of Kentucky, where no one could be convinced to enforce the law or prosecute evaders.[29] In 1792, Hamilton advocated military action to suppress violent resistance in western North Carolina, but Attorney General Edmund Randolph argued there was insufficient evidence to legally justify such a reaction.[30]

In August 1792, a second convention was held in Pittsburgh to discuss resistance to the whiskey tax. This meeting was more radical than the first convention; moderates such as Brackenridge and Findley were not in attendance. One moderate who did attend—to his later regret—was Albert Gallatin, a future secretary of the treasury.[31] A militant group known as the Mingo Creek Association dominated the convention and issued radical demands. As some of them had done in the American Revolution, they raised liberty poles, formed committees of correspondence, and took control of the local militia. They created an extralegal court and discouraged lawsuits for debt collection and foreclosures.[32]

Hamilton regarded the second Pittsburgh convention as a serious threat to the operation of the laws of the federal government. In September 1792, he sent Pennsylvania tax official George Clymer to western Pennsylvania to investigate. Clymer’s clumsy attempt at traveling in disguise, and his efforts to intimidate local officials, only increased tensions. His somewhat exaggerated report would greatly influence the decisions made by the Washington administration.[33] Washington and Hamilton viewed resistance to federal laws in Pennsylvania as particularly embarrassing, since the national capital was then located in the same state. On his own initiative, Hamilton drafted a presidential proclamation denouncing resistance to the excise laws and submitted it to Attorney General Randolph, who toned down some of the language. Washington signed the proclamation on September 15, 1792. It was published as a broadside and printed in many newspapers.[34]

The federal tax inspector for western Pennsylvania, General John Neville, was determined to enforce the excise law.[35] Neville, a prominent politician and wealthy planter, was also a large-scale distiller. He had initially opposed the whiskey tax, but subsequently changed his mind, a reversal that angered some western Pennsylvanians.[36] In August 1792, Neville rented a room in Pittsburgh for his tax office, but the landlord turned him out after being threatened with violence by the Mingo Creek Association.[37] From this point on, tax collectors were not the only people targeted in Pennsylvania: those who cooperated with federal tax officials also faced harassment. Anonymous notes and newspaper articles signed by “Tom the Tinker” threatened those who complied with the whiskey tax. Those who failed to heed the warnings might have their barns burned or their stills destroyed.[38]

Resistance to the excise tax continued through 1793 in the frontier counties of Appalachia. Opposition remained especially strident in western Pennsylvania.[39] In June, Neville was burned in effigy by a crowd of about 100 people in Washington County.[40] On the night of November 22, 1793, men broke into the home of tax collector Benjamin Wells in Fayette County. Wells was, like Neville, one of the wealthier men in the region.[41] At gunpoint, the intruders forced Wells to surrender his commission.[39] President Washington offered a reward for the arrest of the assailants, to no avail.[42]


In his 1796 book, Congressman William Findley argued that Alexander Hamilton had deliberately provoked the Whiskey Rebellion.

The resistance came to a climax in 1794. In May of that year, federal district attorney William Rawle issued subpoenas for more than 60 distillers in Pennsylvania who had not paid the excise tax.[43] Under the law then in effect, distillers who received these writs would be obligated to travel to Philadelphia to appear in federal court. For farmers on the western frontier, such a journey was expensive, time-consuming, and beyond their means.[44] At the urging of William Findley, Congress modified this law on June 5, 1794, allowing excise trials to be held in local state courts.[45] But by that time, U.S. marshal David Lenox had already been sent to serve the writs summoning delinquent distillers to Philadelphia. Attorney General William Bradford later maintained that the writs were meant to compel compliance with the law, and that the government did not actually intend to hold trials in Philadelphia.[46]

The timing of these events would later prove to be controversial. In his book on the insurrection, Findley—a bitter political foe of Hamilton—maintained that the treasury secretary had deliberately provoked the uprising by issuing the subpoenas just before the law was made less onerous.[47] In 1963, historian Jacob Cooke, an editor of Hamilton’s papers, regarded this charge as “preposterous”, calling it a “conspiracy thesis” that overstated Hamilton’s control of the federal government.[48] In 1986, historian Thomas Slaughter argued that the outbreak of the insurrection at this moment was due to “a string of ironic coincidences”, although “the question about motives must always remain”.[49] In 2006, William Hogeland argues Hamilton, Bradford, and Rawle intentionally pursued a course of action that would provoke “the kind of violence that would justify federal military suppression”.[50] According to Hogeland, Hamilton had been working towards this moment since the Newburgh Crisis in 1783, where he conceived of using military force to crush popular resistance to direct taxation, for the purpose of promoting national unity and enriching the creditor class at the expense of common taxpayers.[51] The historian S. E. Morison believed Hamilton, in general, wished to enforce the excise law “more as a measure of social discipline than as a source of revenue…”[52]

Federal Marshal Lenox delivered most of the writs without incident. On July 15, he was joined on his rounds by General Neville, who had offered to act as his guide in Allegheny County.[53] That evening, warning shots were fired at the men at the Miller farm, about 10 mi (16 km) south of Pittsburgh. Neville returned home, while Lenox retreated to Pittsburgh.[54]

On July 16, at least 30 Mingo Creek militiamen surrounded Neville’s fortified home, Bower Hill.[55] They demanded the surrender of the federal marshal, who they believed to be inside. Neville responded by firing a gunshot that mortally wounded Oliver Miller, one of the “rebels”.[56] The rebels opened fire, but were unable to dislodge Neville. The rebels retreated to nearby Couch’s Fort to gather reinforcements.

The next day, July 17, the rebels returned to Bower Hill. Their force had swelled to nearly 600 men, now commanded by Major James McFarlane, a veteran of the Revolutionary War.[57] Neville had also received reinforcements: ten U.S. Army soldiers from Pittsburgh under the command of Major Abraham Kirkpatrick, a brother-in-law of Neville’s wife.[58] Before the rebel force arrived, Kirkpatrick had Neville leave the house and hide in a nearby ravine. David Lenox and General Neville’s son, Presley Neville, also returned to the area, though they could not get into the house and were captured by the rebels.[59]

Following some fruitless negotiations, the women and children were allowed to leave the house, and then both sides began firing. After about an hour, McFarlane called a cease fire; according to some, a white flag had been waved in the house. As McFarlane stepped into the open, a shot rang out from the house, and he fell, mortally wounded. The enraged rebels then set fire to the house, and Kirkpatrick surrendered.[60] The number of casualties at Bower Hill is unclear; McFarlane and one or two other militiamen were killed; one U.S. soldier may have died from wounds received in the fight.[61] The rebels sent the U.S. soldiers away. Kirkpatrick, Lenox, and Presley Neville were kept as prisoners, but they later escaped.[62]

McFarlane was given a hero’s funeral on July 18. His “murder”, as the rebels saw it, further radicalized the countryside.[63] Moderates such as Brackenridge were hard-pressed to restrain the populace. Radical leaders such as David Bradford emerged, urging violent resistance. On July 26, a group headed by Bradford robbed the U.S. mail as it left Pittsburgh, hoping to discover who in that town opposed them. Finding several letters that condemned the rebels, Bradford and his band called for a military assembly to meet at Braddock’s Field, about 8 miles east of Pittsburgh.[64]


Portrait of Hugh Henry Brackenridge, a western opponent of the whiskey tax who tried to prevent violent resistance

On August 1, about 7,000 people gathered at Braddock’s Field.[65] This would prove to be the largest gathering of protesters.[66] The crowd consisted primarily of poor people who owned no land. Most did not own whiskey stills. The furor over the whiskey excise had unleashed anger about other economic grievances. By this time, the victims of violence were often wealthy property owners who had no connection to the whiskey tax.[67] Some of the most radical protesters wanted to march on Pittsburgh, which they called “Sodom”, loot the homes of the wealthy, and then burn the town to the ground.[68] Others wanted to attack Fort Fayette. There was praise for the French Revolution, and of bringing the guillotine to America. David Bradford, it was said, was comparing himself to Robespierre, a leader of the French Reign of Terror.[69]

At Braddock’s Field, there was talk of declaring independence from the United States, and of joining with Spain or Great Britain. Radicals flew a specially designed flag that proclaimed their independence. The flag had six stripes, one for each county represented at the gathering: five Pennsylvania counties (Allegheny, Bedford, Fayette, Washington, and Westmoreland) and one Virginia county (Ohio County).[70]

Pittsburgh citizens helped diffuse the threat by banishing three men whose intercepted letters had given offense to the rebels, and by sending a delegation to Braddock’s Field that expressed support for the gathering.[71] Brackenridge prevailed upon the crowd to limit the protest to a defiant march through the town. In Pittsburgh, only the barns of Major Kirkpatrick were torched.[72]

On August 14, a convention of delegates from the six counties was held at Parkison’s Ferry, present-day Monongahela. The convention adopted resolutions, which were drafted by Brackenridge, Gallatin, David Bradford, and an eccentric preacher named Herman Husband, a delegate from Bedford County. Husband, a well-known local figure, was a radical champion of democracy who had taken part in the Regulator movement in North Carolina 25 years earlier.[73] The Parkison’s Ferry convention also appointed a committee to meet with the peace commissioners who had been sent west by President Washington.[74]

President Washington, confronted with what appeared to be an armed insurrection in western Pennsylvania, proceeded cautiously. Although determined to maintain government authority, he did not want to alienate public opinion. He asked his cabinet for written opinions about how to deal with the crisis. The cabinet recommended the use of force, except for Secretary of State Edmund Randolph, who urged reconciliation.[75] Washington did both: he sent commissioners to meet with the rebels while raising a militia army. Washington privately doubted the commissioners could accomplish anything, and believed a military expedition would be needed to suppress further violence.[76] For this reason, historians have sometimes charged that the peace commission was sent only for the sake of appearances, and that the use of force was never in doubt.[77] Historians Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick argued that the military expedition was “itself a part of the reconciliation process”, since a show of overwhelming force would make further violence less likely.[78]

Meanwhile, Hamilton began publishing essays under the name of “Tully” in Philadelphia newspapers, denouncing mob violence in western Pennsylvania and advocating military action. Washington and Hamilton believed the Democratic-Republican Societies, which had been formed throughout the country, were the source of civic unrest. “Historians are not yet agreed on the exact role of the societies” in the Whiskey Rebellion, wrote historian Mark Spencer in 2003, “but there was a degree of overlap between society membership and the Whiskey Rebels”.[79]

Before troops could be raised, the Militia Act of 1792 required a justice of the United States Supreme Court to certify that law enforcement was beyond the control of local authorities. On August 4, 1794, Justice James Wilson delivered his opinion that western Pennsylvania was in a state of rebellion.[80] On August 7, Washington issued a presidential proclamation announcing, with “the deepest regret”, that the militia would be called out to suppress the rebellion. He commanded insurgents in western Pennsylvania to disperse by September 1.[81]

In early August 1794, Washington dispatched three commissioners, all of them Pennsylvanians, to the west: Attorney General William Bradford, Justice Jasper Yeates of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and Senator James Ross. Beginning on August 21, the commissioners met with a committee of westerners that included Brackenridge and Gallatin. The government commissioners told the committee that it must unanimously agree to renounce violence and submit to U.S. laws, and that a popular referendum must be held to determine if the local people supported the decision. Those who agreed to these terms would be given amnesty from further prosecution.[82]

The committee, divided between radicals and moderates, narrowly passed a resolution agreeing to submit to the government’s terms. The popular referendum, which was held on September 11, also produced mixed results. Some townships overwhelmingly supported submitting to U.S. law, but opposition to the government remained strong in areas where poor and landless people predominated.[83] The final report of the commissioners recommended the use of the military to enforce the laws.[84] The trend was towards submission, however, and westerners dispatched two representatives, William Findley and David Redick, to meet with Washington and halt the progress of the oncoming army. Washington and Hamilton declined, arguing that violence would likely reemerge if the army turned back.[83]

Militia was called up from New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, and eastern Pennsylvania. The federalized militia force of 12,950 men was a large army by American standards of the time: the army that had been with Washington during the Revolutionary War had often been smaller.[85] Because relatively few men volunteered for militia service, a draft was used to fill out the ranks.[86] Draft evasion was widespread, and conscription efforts resulted in protests and riots, even in eastern areas. Three counties in eastern Virginia were the scenes of armed draft resistance.[87] In Maryland, Governor Thomas Sim Lee sent 800 men to quash an anti-draft riot in Hagerstown; about 150 people were arrested.[88]


Governor Henry Lee of Virginia commanded the federalized militia army.

Liberty poles were raised in various places as the militia was recruited, worrying federal officials. A liberty pole was raised in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, on September 11.[89] When the federalized militia arrived in that town later that month, suspected pole-raisers were rounded up. Two civilians were killed in these operations. On September 29, an unarmed boy was shot by an officer whose pistol accidentally fired. Two days later, a man was stabbed to death by a soldier while resisting arrest. President Washington ordered the arrest of the two soldiers and had them turned over to civilian authorities. A state judge determined the deaths had been accidental, and the soldiers were released.[90]

In October, Washington traveled west to review the progress of the military expedition. According to historian Joseph Ellis, this would be “the first and only time a sitting American president led troops in the field”.[91] Washington met with the western representatives in Bedford, Pennsylvania, on October 9 before going to Fort Cumberland in Maryland to review the southern wing of the army.[92] Convinced the federalized militia would meet little resistance, he placed the army under the command of the governor of Virginia, Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee, a hero of the Revolutionary War. Washington returned to Philadelphia; Hamilton remained with the army as civilian adviser.[93]

The insurrection collapsed as the army marched into western Pennsylvania in October 1794. Some of the most prominent leaders of the insurrection, like David Bradford, fled westward to safety. After an investigation, federal government officials arrested about 20 people and brought them back to Philadelphia for trial.[94] Eventually, a federal grand jury indicted 24 men for high treason.[95] Most of the accused had eluded capture, so only ten men stood trial for treason in federal court.[96] Of these, only Philip Vigol (also spelled Wigle or Weigle) and John Mitchell were convicted. Vigol had beaten up a tax collector and burned his house; Mitchell was a simpleton who had been convinced by David Bradford to rob the U.S. mail. Both men were sentenced to death by hanging, but they were pardoned by President Washington.[97] Pennsylvania state courts were more successful in prosecuting lawbreakers, securing numerous convictions for assault and rioting.[98]

The Washington administration’s suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion met with widespread popular approval.[99] The episode demonstrated the new national government had the willingness and ability to suppress violent resistance to its laws. It was therefore viewed by the Washington administration as a success, a view that has generally been endorsed by historians.[100] The Washington administration and its supporters usually did not mention, however, that the whiskey excise remained difficult to collect, and that many westerners continued to refuse to pay the tax.[28] The events contributed to the formation of political parties in the United States, a process already underway.[101] The whiskey tax was repealed after Thomas Jefferson’s Republican Party, which opposed Hamilton’s Federalist Party, came to power in 1800.[102]

The Whiskey Rebellion raised the question of what kinds of protests were permissible under the new Constitution. Legal historian Christian G. Fritz argued, even after ratification of the Constitution, there was not yet a consensus about sovereignty in the United States. Federalists believed the government was sovereign because it had been established by the people, so radical protest actions, which were permissible during the American Revolution, were no longer legitimate. But the Whiskey Rebels and their defenders believed the Revolution had established the people as a “collective sovereign”, and the people had the collective right to change or challenge the government through extra-constitutional means.[103]

Historian Steven Boyd argued that the suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion prompted anti-Federalist westerners to finally accept the Constitution, and to seek change by voting for Republicans rather than resisting the government. Federalists, for their part, came to accept that the people could play a greater role in governance. Although Federalists would attempt to restrict speech critical of the government with the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798, after the Whiskey Rebellion, says Boyd, Federalists no longer challenged the freedom of assembly and the right to petition.[104]

Soon after the Whiskey Rebellion, actress-playwright Susanna Rowson wrote a stage musical about the insurrection entitled “The Volunteers”, with music by composer Alexander Reinagle. The play is now lost, but the songs survive, and suggest that Rowson’s interpretation was pro-Federalist. The musical celebrated the militiamen who put down the rebellion, the “volunteers” of the title, as American heroes.[105] President Washington and Martha Washington attended a performance of the play in Philadelphia in January 1795.[106]

In L. Neil Smith’s alternate history novel The Probability Broach (1980), Albert Gallatin convinces the militia not to put down the rebellion, but instead to march on the nation’s capital, execute George Washington for treason, and replace the Constitution with a revised Articles of Confederation. As a result, the United States becomes a libertarian utopia called the North American Confederacy.[107][108]

In the satirical novel Joyleg, A Folly by Avram Davidson and Ward Moore, a veteran of both the American Revolutionary War and the Whiskey Rebellion is found alive and very well in the Tennessee backwoods, having survived over the centuries by daily soaks in whisky of his own making, to hilariously face the world of the 1960s.


  1. Robert W. Coakley, The Role of Federal Military Forces in Domestic Disorders, 1789–1878 (DIANE Publishing, 1996), 67.
  2. Chernow, 297.
  3. Chernow, 327–30.
  4. Chernow, 341.
  5. Hogeland, 27.
  6. Chernow, 342–43; Hogeland, 63.
  7. Slaughter, 100.
  8. Slaughter, 105; Hogeland, 64.
  9. American State Papers [Finance: Volume 1], 110
  10. Slaughter, 97.
  11. Hogeland, 66.
  12. Hogeland, 68.
  13. Hogeland, 67; Holt, 30.
  14. Slaughter, 147–49; Hogeland, 68–70.
  15. Hogeland, 68–69; Holt, 30.
  16. Slaughter, 148.
  17. Slaughter, 148; Hogeland, 69.
  18. Slaughter, 108.
  19. Slaughter, 110.
  20. Slaughter, 206.
  21. Hogeland, 23–25; Slaughter, 113.
  22. Hogeland, 24.
  23. Hogeland, 114–15.
  24. Slaughter, 113. Hogeland dates the attack on Johnson to September 7, the night before the Pittsburgh convention; Hogeland, 24.
  25. Hogeland, 103–04.
  26. Slaughter, 114.
  27. Slaughter, 103.
  28. Mary K. Bonsteel Tachau, “A New Look at the Whiskey Rebellion”, in Boyd, The Whiskey Rebellion: Past and Present Perspectives, 97–118.
  29. Slaughter, 117.
  30. Slaughter, 119; Hogeland, 124.
  31. Hogeland, 122–23.
  32. Hogeland, 117–19; 122–23.
  33. Slaughter, 125–27.
  34. Slaughter, 119–23.
  35. Slaughter, 151–53.
  36. Hogeland, 97, 102.
  37. Hogeland, 119–24.
  38. Hogeland, 130–31.
  39. Slaughter, 151.
  40. Slaughter, 150.
  41. Slaughter, 153.
  42. Slaughter, 165.
  43. Slaughter, 177; Cooke, 328.
  44. Hogeland, 142.
  45. Slaughter, 170.
  46. Slaughter, 182.
  47. Cooke, 321.
  48. Cooke, 321–22.
  49. Slaughter, 183.
  50. Hogeland, 124.
  51. Hogeland, passim. For an online summary of Hogeland’s argument, see his “Why the Whiskey Rebellion Is Worth Recalling Now”; History News Network, July 3, 2006.
  52. S. E. Morison, “The Oxford History of the United States 1783-1917 (London: Oxford University Press, 1927), 182.
  53. Slaughter, 177.
  54. Hogeland, 146.
  55. The number of militiamen in the first attack on Bower Hill varies in contemporary accounts; Hogeland, 268.
  56. Slaughter, 179; Hogeland, 147–48.
  57. Hogeland, 150–51.
  58. Slaughter, 179; Hogeland, 152.
  59. Hogeland, 153.
  60. Hogeland, 153–54; Slaughter, 179–80.
  61. Slaughter, 180.
  62. Hogeland, 155–56.
  63. Slaughter, 181–83.
  64. Slaughter, 183–85.
  65. Slaughter, 186; Hogeland, 172.
  66. Slaughter, 188.
  67. Slaughter, 186–87.
  68. Slaughter, 187.
  69. Slaughter, 188–89; Hogeland, 169.
  70. Holt, 10. Holt writes that earlier historians had incorrectly identified the six counties represented by the flag.
  71. Slaughter, 185.
  72. Slaughter, 187–88; Hogeland, 170–77.
  73. Holt, 54–57.
  74. Slaughter, 188–89.
  75. Elkins & McKitrick, 479.
  76. Slaughter, 197–99.
  77. Slaughter, 199; Holt, 11.
  78. Elkins & McKitrick, 481.
  79. Mark G. Spencer, “Democratic-Republican Societies”, in Peter Knight, ed., Conspiracy Theories in American History (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO Press, 2003), 1:221.
  80. Slaughter, 192–93, 196; Elkins & McKitrick, 479.
  81. Slaughter, 196.
  82. Slaughter, 199–200; Hogeland, 199.
  83. Slaughter, 203.
  84. Hogeland, 205–06.
  85. Chernow, 475–76; Hogeland, 189.
  86. Slaughter, 213.
  87. Slaughter, 213–14.
  88. Slaughter, 210.
  89. Slaughter, 208.
  90. Slaughter, 205–06; Hogeland, 213.
  91. Ellis, His Excellency, George Washington, 225.
  92. Slaughter, 215–16.
  93. Slaughter, 216.
  94. Slaughter, 219.
  95. Richard A. Ifft, “Treason in the Early Republic: The Federal Courts, Popular Protest, and Federalism During the Whiskey Insurrection”, in Boyd, The Whiskey Rebellion: Past and Present Perspectives, 172.
  96. Ifft, 172.
  97. Hogeland, 238; Ifft, 176.
  98. Ifft, 175–76.
  99. Elkins & McKitrick, 481–84.
  100. Boyd, “Popular Rights”, 78.
  101. Slaughter, 221; Boyd, “Popular Rights”, 80.
  102. Hogeland, 242.
  103. Christian G. Fritz, American Sovereigns: the People and America’s Constitutional Tradition Before the Civil War, ch. 6.
  104. Boyd, “Popular Rights”, 80–83.
  105. Anita Vickers, The New Nation (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood, 2002), 213.
  106. Susan Branson, These Fiery Frenchified Dames: Women and Political Culture in Early National Philadelphia (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001), 181.
  107. John J. Pierce, When world views collide: a study in imagination and evolution (Greenwood Press, 1989), 163.
  108. Peter Josef Mühlbauer, “Frontiers and dystopias: Libertarian ideology in science fiction”, in Dieter Plehwe et al., eds., Neoliberal Hegemony: A Global Critique (Taylor & Francis, 2006), 162.

Works frequently cited

  • Boyd, Steven R., ed. The Whiskey Rebellion: Past and Present Perspectives. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1985. ISBN 0313245347.
  • Boyd, Steven R. “The Whiskey Rebellion, Popular Rights, and the Meaning of the First Amendment.” In W. Thomas Mainwaring, ed. The Whiskey Rebellion and the Trans-Appalachian Frontier, 73–84. Washington, Pennsylvania: Washington and Jefferson College, 1994.
  • Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: Penguin Press, 2004. ISBN 1594200092.
  • Cooke, Jacob E. “The Whiskey Insurrection: A Re-Evaluation.” Pennsylvania History 30 (July 1963), 316–64.
  • Elkins, Stanley M. and Eric L. McKitrick. The Age of Federalism. Oxford University Press, 1995. ISBN 9780195093810
  • Hogeland, William. The Whiskey Rebellion: George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and the Frontier Rebels Who Challenged America’s Newfound Sovereignty. New York: Scribner, 2006. ISBN 0743254902.
  • Holt, Wythe. “The Whiskey Rebellion of 1794: A Democratic Working-Class Insurrection”. Paper presented at The Georgia Workshop in Early American History and Culture, 2004.
  • Kohn, Richard H. “The Washington Administration’s Decision to Crush the Whiskey Rebellion.” Journal of American History 59 (December 1972), 567–84.
  • Slaughter, Thomas P. The Whiskey Rebellion: Frontier Epilogue to the American Revolution. Oxford University Press, 1986. ISBN 0-19-505191-2.

Further reading

  • Baldwin, Leland. Whiskey Rebels: The Story of a Frontier Uprising. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1939.
  • Bouton, Terry. Taming Democracy: “The People,” the Founders, and the Troubled Ending of the American Revolution. Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. ISBN 9780195306651.
  • Brackenridge, Henry Marie. History of the Western Insurrection in Western Pennsylvania…. Pittsburgh, 1859.
  • Brackenridge, Hugh Henry. Incidents of the Insurrection in Western Pennsylvania in the Year 1794. Philadelphia, 1795. A 1972 edition has notes by Daniel Marder.
  • Findley, William. History of the Insurrection in the Four Western Counties of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, 1796.

John Penn, Provincial Governor of Pennsylvania

July 14, 2013

John Penn was the last governor of colonial Pennsylvania, serving in that office from 1763 to 1771 and from 1773 to 1776. He was also one of the Penn family proprietors of the Province of Pennsylvania from 1771 until 1776, when the creation of the independent Commonwealth of Pennsylvania during the American Revolution removed the Penn family from power.


Governor of the Province of Pennsylvania

John Penn was born on July 14, 1729, in London, the eldest son of Richard Penn and Hannah Lardner. Richard had inherited a one-fourth interest in the Pennsylvania proprietorship from his father, Pennsylvania founder William Penn, which provided him with a fairly comfortable living. Richard’s older brother Thomas Penn—John Penn’s uncle—controlled the other three-fourths of the proprietorship. Thomas did not have any sons while John Penn was in his youth, and so John stood to inherit the entire proprietorship (one-fourth from his father and three-fourths from his uncle). John’s upbringing was therefore of concern to the whole family.

In 1747, when he was eighteen years old and still in school, John Penn clandestinely married a daughter of Dr. James Cox of London.[1] The Penn family disapproved of the marriage, believing that the woman had married John to get a piece of the family fortune. For awhile, John’s father refused to speak to him because of the marriage. Thomas Penn, John’s uncle, sent him to Geneva to study and to get him away from his wife. John apparently regretted his youthful indiscretion and made no effort to contact his wife. The Cox family sued Penn for support in 1755, but after that time no further reference to Penn’s first wife appears in the Penn family records. How the marriage was dissolved is unknown.[2]

John Penn first arrived in Pennsylvania in 1752, when his uncle Thomas sent him to the province as a sort of political apprentice to Governor James Hamilton. Penn served on the governor’s council, associating with important Penn family appointees such as Richard Peters and William Allen. In 1754, Penn attended the Albany Conference alongside other Pennsylvania delegates, including Peters, Benjamin Franklin, and Isaac Norris, but Penn’s role was primarily as an observer.[3]

From his home in England, chief proprietor Thomas Penn soon became alarmed at John’s extravagant expenses. Peters reported John’s close association with an Italian musician whose rent Penn paid and at whose home Penn stayed until two or three in the morning. The “debauched” musician was, in turn, “constantly tagging after him”. Thomas Penn summoned his nephew John back home in late 1755.[4]

In 1763, Thomas Penn sent his nephew John back to Pennsylvania to take over the governorship of the colony from Hamilton. The Penns were not displeased with Hamilton, but John was finally prepared to claim a place in family affairs. He took the oath of office as governor—officially “lieutenant governor”—on 31 October 1763. The new governor faced many challenges: Pontiac’s Rebellion, the Paxton Boys, border disputes with other colonies, controversy over the taxation of Penn family lands, and the efforts of the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly, led by Benjamin Franklin, to have the Penn proprietary government replaced with a royal government.


In 1766, Penn married Anne Allen, daughter of William Allen. Penn reluctantly returned to England in 1771 after his father’s death, where he took over his father’s affairs as one of the proprietors of Pennsylvania. John’s brother Richard Penn, Jr., was appointed governor in his place, but Richard proved to be a poor choice in the opinion of chief proprietor Thomas Penn, and so John was reappointed governor in 1773. Two years later Thomas Penn died, and the chief proprietorship passed to his son, also named John Penn, then still a teenager attending school.

The Penns were slow to perceive that the growing unrest which became the American Revolution would threaten their proprietary interests.[5] After the War of Independence began at Lexington and Concord, John Penn watched with apprehension as Pennsylvanians formed themselves into militia companies and prepared for war. Soon after the Declaration of Independence was adopted, “Patriots” (or “Whigs”) in Pennsylvania created the 1776 Pennsylvania Constitution, which replaced Penn’s government with a Supreme Executive Council. With no real power at his command, Penn remained aloof and carefully neutral, hoping the radicals would be defeated or at least reconciled with Great Britain.

The war soon began to go badly for the revolutionaries. In August 1777, as General William Howe began his campaign to capture Philadelphia, American soldiers arrived at Penn’s Lansdowne estate near Philadelphia and demanded that he sign a parole stating that he would do nothing to harm the revolutionary cause. Penn refused and was taken to Philadelphia, where he was kept under house arrest. As Howe’s army drew nearer, Penn was threatened with exile to another colony, and he finally signed the parole. As Howe finally approached Philadelphia, Patriot leaders exiled him anyway to an Allen family estate in New Jersey called “the Union”, about 50 miles from Philadelphia in present Union Township.[6] Anne Penn stayed in Philadelphia to look after family affairs while British forces occupied the city, but she later joined her husband in New Jersey.[7]

After the British evacuated Philadelphia, John and Anne Penn returned to the city in July 1778. The new government of Pennsylvania had become more radical, requiring that everyone take a loyalty oath to the Commonwealth or face confiscation of their property. With the consent of his family, John Penn took the oath.[8] While this protected Penn’s private lands and manors, the Pennsylvania Assembly passed the Divestment Act of 1779, confiscating about 24,000,000 acres of unsold lands held by the proprietorship, and abolishing the practice of paying quitrents for new purchases. As compensation, the Penns were paid £130,000, a fraction of what the lands were worth, but a surprisingly large sum nonetheless.[9] Penn retired to Lansdowne and quietly waited out the final years of the war.

For several years after the war, John Penn, along with his cousin John Penn “of Stoke”, lobbied the Pennsylvania government for greater compensation for the confiscated property. Failing there, they traveled to England to seek additional compensation from Parliament, which awarded them £4,000 per year in perpetuity.[10] Returning to Pennsylvania, Penn lived the rest of his life quietly at Lansdowne.


After his February 9, 1795, death, Penn, an Anglican, was buried under the floor of Christ Church, Philadelphia, the only proprietor buried in Pennsylvania.[10] Some older accounts state that his remains were eventually taken back to England, but there are no records of this.[11]


  1. The name of John Penn’s first wife does not appear in Penn correspondence, but a modern genealogy identifies her as Grace Cox; Treese, Storm Gathering, 214, note 1.
  2. Treese, Storm Gathering, 24.
  3. Treese, Storm Gathering, 23.
  4. Hubertis Cummings, Richard Peters, Provincial Secretary and Cleric, 1704–1776 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1944), pp. 169, 209–10.
  5. Treese, Storm Gathering, 202.
  6. Treese, Storm Gathering, 4, 176.
  7. Treese, Storm Gathering, 179.
  8. Treese, Storm Gathering, 187.
  9. Treese, Storm Gathering, 189.
  10. Treese, Storm Gathering, 199.
  11. Cadbury, “John Penn”, p. 430.


  • Cadbury, Henry J. “John Penn”. Dictionary of American Biography, vol. 2, pt. 2, p. 430.
  • Treese, Lorett. The Storm Gathering: The Penn Family and the American Revolution. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1992. ISBN 0-271-00858-X.

The Battle of Huck’s Defeat

July 12, 2013

Huck’s Defeat or the Battle of Williamson’s Plantation was an engagement of the American Revolution that occurred in present York County, South Carolina on July 12, 1780, and was one of the first battles of the southern campaign to be won by Patriot militia.

In May 1780, the British captured the only significant American army in the South at Charleston, South Carolina and quickly occupied four vital courthouse towns: Camden, Cheraw, Georgetown, and Ninety Six. Believing the Whigs had been crushed in South Carolina, Sir Henry Clinton abrogated the terms of surrender, which had allowed parolees to remain neutral for the remainder of the war. Under terms of the proclamation of June 3, 1780, Patriots or Whigs (as they were commonly known) were compelled to either take an oath of loyalty to the king or be regarded as “rebels and enemies of their country.” Clinton then departed for New York, leaving Lieutenant General Charles, Earl Cornwallis in command of the British army in the South.[1]


Reenactors during 2005 reenactment at Historic Brattonsville.

In the absence of civil government in South Carolina (Governor John Rutledge had fled to North Carolina when Charleston fell), backcountry Whigs selected their own leaders to continue the fight against the “senseless cruelty of the Tory militia” and the “cruel and contemptuous treatment of the populace” by British Legion commander Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton.[2]

Around the first of June 1780, the British army established a fortified outpost at Rocky Mount on the upper Catawba River, near the North Carolina border, and placed a garrison there under Lieutenant Colonel George Turnbull, a career British officer who commanded a British Provincial regiment called the New York Volunteers. In early July, Turnbull ordered Christian Huck,[3] a Philadelphia lawyer and a captain in Tarleton’s British Legion, to find the rebel leaders and persuade other area residents to swear allegiance to the king.[4] A native of Germany, Huck was one of many Pennsylvania Loyalists whose property was confiscated after the British evacuated Philadelphia. He was then banished from the state and joined the British army at New York. Huck was a remarkably poor choice for this assignment because he held a great deal of bitterness toward the Whigs in general, and the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians in particular.[5] During an earlier incursion into what was then called the Upper District between the Broad and Catawba Rivers (modern Chester County, South Carolina), his troops had murdered an unarmed boy, reportedly while he was reading a Bible, and burnt the home and library of Rev. John Simpson, a Whig leader and influential Presbyterian minister. A week later, Huck and his men invaded the New Acquisition District (roughly modern York County, South Carolina), and destroyed the ironworks of William Hill, another influential Whig.[6] Residents who had only wanted to be left alone had then joined the Patriots.[7]

After destroying Hill’s Ironworks and putting the rebel garrison there to flight, Huck convened a compulsory meeting of the remaining male residents of the New Acquisition District (mostly men too old to fight), and proclaimed that “God almighty had become a rebel, but if there were twenty gods on that side, they would all be conquered.” Huck then stated that “even if the rebels were as thick as trees, and Jesus Christ would come down and lead them, he would still defeat them,” following which he and his troopers confiscated all the men’s horses.[8] Actions like these quickly earned Huck the nickname “the swearing captain” and further angered the Presbyterian inhabitants of the backcountry.[9] After witnessing Huck’s tirade, one resident, Daniel Collins, told his wife, “I have come home determined to take my gun and when I lay it down, I lay down my life with it.”[10]

Huck’s style in the Catawba River Valley was to rough-up backcountry women, confiscate food and horses, and generally threaten prison and death to any who dared resist the British. This simply encouraged more men to join the rebels, who were organizing a militia brigade under Brigadier General Thomas Sumter.[11] On July 11, 1780, Huck raided the home of the partisan leader Captain John McClure on Fishing Creek in present-day Chester County, caught his brother and brother-in-law with newly made bullets, and sentenced them to hang as traitors at sunrise the next day.[12] Huck’s detachment, consisting of about 35 British Legion dragoons, 20 New York Volunteers, and 60 Loyalist militia, then advanced once more into the New Acquisition and arrived at the plantation of another Whig militia leader, Colonel William Bratton, later that evening. Shortly thereafter, one of Huck’s soldiers put a reaping hook to the neck of Col. Bratton’s wife, Martha, in an unsuccessful attempt to discover Bratton’s whereabouts. Huck’s second-in-command, Lieutenant William Adamson of the New York Volunteers, intervened and disciplined the offending Loyalist soldier. Huck next arrested three elderly neighbors of the Brattons, including Col. Bratton’s older brother Robert, and told them they too would be executed the next day.[13]

Huck then proceeded a quarter of a mile southeast of Bratton’s plantation to the neighboring house of an elderly Whig named James Williamson, where he and his approximately 115 men made camp for the night. The five prisoners were secured in a corncrib to await execution.[14]

With intelligence provided by John McClure’s younger sister, Mary, and a Bratton slave named Watt, the loosely organized Patriot forces swarmed after Huck. About 150 arrived in the vicinity of Williamson’s plantation that night, commanded by experienced militia officers.[15] After a brief reconnaissance and some discussion, they agreed to attack Huck from three directions simultaneously.[16]

Huck’s security was extremely lax. Shortly after sunrise, at least two of the Patriot groups managed to attack simultaneously. The British and Loyalist troops were caught completely by surprise; many were still asleep. The partisans rested their rifles on a split rail fence, from which “they took unerring and deadly aim” at their opponents as they emerged. Huck mounted a horse to rally his troops and was shot in the head by John Carroll, who had loaded two balls in his rifle.[17] Some of the Loyalists surrendered while others fled, hotly pursued by Whigs seeking vengeance. Tory losses were very high. Tarleton later reported that only twenty-four men escaped.[18] Patriot losses were one killed and one wounded; the five prisoners were also released from the corncrib unharmed.[19]

Although the numbers engaged were small, the importance of the skirmish was immediately clear. As South Carolina historian Walter Edgar has written, “The entire backcountry seemed to take heart. Frontier militia had defeated soldiers of the feared British Legion.” Volunteers streamed in to join the partisan militia brigade of General Thomas Sumter.[20]

Edgar has called Huck’s Defeat “a major turning point in the American Revolution in South Carolina.” It was the first of more than thirty-five important battles in South Carolina in late 1780 and early 1781, all but five of which were partisan victories. This chain of successes was essential to the major Patriot victories at King’s Mountain and Cowpens.[21]


  1. Michael C. Scoggins, The Day It Rained Militia: Huck’s Defeat and the Revolution in the South Carolina Backcountry, May–July 1780 (Charleston: History Press, 2005), 41-50; Walter Edgar, Partisans and Redcoats: The Southern Conflict That Turned the Tide of the American Revolution (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 54-55.
  2. Edgar, 69-71, 159.
  3. Lorenzo Sabine, Biographical Sketches of Loyalists of the American Revolution with an Historical Essay (Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1966, 1984), I: 553.
  4. Scoggins, 47-52; Edgar, 73.
  5. Scoggins, 215-225.
  6. Scoggins, 68-70; Edgar, 58-59.
  7. Edgar, 62-63.
  8. Quoted from memoirs of Col. William Hill and Maj. Joseph McJunkin, in Scoggins, 52, 88; Edgar, 73-74.
  9. Sabine, I: 553.
  10. James P. Collins, Autobiography of a Revolutionary Soldier (New York: Arno Press, 1979), 25, quoted in Edgar, 63.
  11. Scoggins, 93-96; Edgar, 74-75.
  12. Scoggins, 101-104.
  13. Scoggins, 105-107; Edgar, 77-78.
  14. Scoggins, 107-108; Edgar, 78.
  15. These included Col. William Bratton, Col. Andrew Neel, Col. Edward Lacey, Capt. John McClure, Capt. John Moffett, and others, a majority of whom were from the present-day South Carolina counties of York and Chester.
  16. Scoggins, 109-113; Edgar, 79-81.
  17. Scoggins, 114-117; Edgar, 82. Huck was buried nearby. Years later his body was exhumed by Dr. James Simpson—the son of the minister whose library and home Huck had burned—and displayed in his medical office. The skeleton was then said to have been taken by the Simpson family when they immigrated to Alabama, and then to California. Scoggins, 227; see also Michael C. Scoggins, “Capt. Christin Huck: A Biography” July 2002).
  18. Scoggins, 126-128; Edgar, 83.
  19. Scoggins, 117; Edgar, 85.
  20. Edgar, 86; Scoggins, 129-130.
  21. Scoggins, 143-146, 155-159; Edgar, 144.

Colonel James Smith, signer of the Declaration of Independence for Pennsylvania

July 11, 2013

James Smith was a native of Ireland; but in what year he was born is unknown. This was a secret which, even to his relations and friends, he would never communicate, and the knowledge of it was buried with him in the grave. It is conjectured, however, that he was born between the years 1715 and 1720.

His father was a respectable farmer, who removed to America with a numerous family, and settled on the west side of the Susquehanna. He died in the year 1761. James, who was his second son, received his education from the distinguished Dr. Allison, provost of the college of Philadelphia. His attainments in classical literature were respectable. In the art of surveying, which at that early period of the country was of great importance, he is said to have excelled. After finishing his education, he applied himself to the study of law, in the office of Thomas Cookson, of Lancaster. On being qualified for his profession, he took up his residence as a lawyer and surveyor, near the present town of Shippensburg; but some time after, he removed to the flourishing village of York, where he established himself, and continued the practice of his profession during the remainder of his life.


by Ole Erekson, Engraver, c1876, Library of Congress

On the occurrence of the great contest between Great Britain and her American colonies, Mr. Smith entered with zeal into the patriotic cause, and on a meeting of delegates from all the counties of Pennsylvania in 1774, convened to express the public sentiment, on the expediency of abstaining from importing any goods from England, and assembling a general congress, Mr. Smith was a delegate from the county of York, and was appointed one of the committee to report a draft of instruction to the general assembly, which was then about to meet. At this time, a desire prevailed throughout the country, that the existing difficulties between the mother country. and the colonies should be settled, without a resort to arms. Mr. Smith, however, it appears, was disposed to adopt vigorous and decided measures, since, on his return to York, he was the means of raising a volunteer company, which was the first volunteer corps raised in Pennsylvania, in opposition to the armies of Great Britain. Of this company he was elected captain, and when, at length, it increased to a regiment, he was appointed colonel of that regiment; a title, however, which in respect to him was honorary, since he never assumed the actual command.

In January, 1775, the convention for the province of Pennsylvania was assembled. Of this convention, Mr. Smith was a member, and concurred in the spirited declaration made by that convention, that “if the British administration should determine by force to effect a submission to the late arbitrary acts of the British parliament, in such a situation, we hold it our indispensable duty to resist such force, and at every hazard to defend the rights and liberties of America.”

Notwithstanding this declaration by the convention, a great proportion of the Pennsylvanians, particularly the numerous body of Quakers, were strongly opposed, not only to war, but even to a declaration of independence. This may be inferred from the instructions given by the general assembly to their delegates, who were appointed in 1775 to the general congress, of the following tenor: — that “though the oppressive measures of the British parliament and administration, have compelled us to resist their violence by force of arms; yet we strictly enjoin you, that you, in behalf of this colony, dissent from and utterly reject any proposition, should such be made, that may cause or lead to a separation from our mother country, or a change in this form of government.”

This decided stand against a declaration of independence, roused the friends of that measure to the most active exertions, throughout the province. On the 15th of May, congress adopted a resolution, which was in spirit a declaration of independence. This resolution was laid before a large meeting of the citizens of Philadelphia, assembled five days after the passage of it, and in front of the very building in which congress was assembled, digesting plans of resistance. The resolution was received by this assembly of citizens, who were decided Whigs, with great enthusiasm, the instructions of the provincial assembly to the Pennsylvania delegation in congress was loudly and pointedly condemned, and a plan adopted to assemble a provincial conference to establish a new government in Pennsylvania.

Accordingly, such a conference was assembled, on the 18th of June. Of this conference, Mr. Smith was an active and distinguished member. The proceedings of the conference were entirely harmonious. Before it had assembled, the provincial assembly had rescinded their obnoxious instructions to their delegates in congress. Still, however, it was thought advisable for the conference to express in form their sentiments on the subject of a declaration of independence. The mover of a resolution to this effect, was Dr. Benjamin Rush, at that time a young man. Colonel Smith seconded the resolution, and these two gentlemen, with Thomas M’Kean, were appointed a committee to draft it. On the following morning, the resolution being reported, was unanimously adopted, was signed by the members, and on the 25th of June, a few days only before the declaration of independence by congress, was presented to that body.

This declaration, though prepared in great haste, contained the substance of that declaration, which was adopted by congress. It declared, that the king had paid no attention to the numerous petitions which had been addressed to him, for the removal of the most grievous oppressions, but (to use the language of the preamble to the resolution) he “hath lately purchased foreign troops to assist in enslaving us; and hath excited the savages of this country to carry on a war against us, as also the Negro’s to imbrue their hands in the blood of their masters, in a manner unpracticed by civilized nations; and hath lately insulted our calamities, by declaring that he will show us no mercy, till he has reduced ,us. And whereas the obligations of allegiance (being reciprocal between a king and his subjects) are now dissolved, on the side of the colonists, by the despotism of the said king, insomuch that it now appears that loyalty to him is treason against the good people of this country; and whereas not only the parliament, but there is reason to believe, too many of the people of Great Britain, have concurred in the arbitrary and unjust proceedings against us; and whereas the, public virtue of this colony (so essential to its liberty and happiness) must be endangered by a future political union with, or dependence on, a crown and nation, so lost to justice, patriotism, and magnanimity:” Therefore, the resolution proceeded to assert that “the deputies of Pennsylvania assembled in the conference, unanimously declare their willingness to concur in a vote of the congress, declaring the united colonies free and independent states: and that they call upon the nations of Europe, and appeal to the great Arbiter and Governor of the empires of the world, to witness, that this declaration did not originate in ambition, or in an impatience of lawful authority; but that they are driven to it in obedience to the first principles of nature, by the oppressions and cruelties of the aforesaid king and parliament of Great Britain, as the only possible measure left to preserve and establish our liberties, and to transmit them inviolate to posterity.”

In the month of July, a convention was assembled in Philadelphia, for the purpose of forming a new constitution for Pennsylvania. Of this body, Colonel Smith was elected a member, and he appeared to take his seat on the 15th day of the month. On the 20th be was elected by the convention a member of congress, in which body he took his seat, after the adjournment of the convention. Colonel Smith continued a member of congress for several years, in which capacity he was active and efficient. He always entertained strong anticipation of success during the revolutionary struggle, and by his cheerfulness powerfully contributed to dispel the despondency which he often saw around him. On withdrawing from congress, in November, 1778, he resumed his professional pursuits, which he continued until the year, 1800, when he withdrew from the bar, having been in the practice of his profession for about sixty years. In the year 1806, he was removed to another world. He had three sons and two daughters, of whom only one of each survived him.

In his disposition and habits, Colonel Smith was very peculiar. He was distinguished for his love of anecdote and conviviality. His memory was uncommonly retentive, and remarkably scored with stories of a humorous and diverting character, which, on particular occasions, he related with great effect.

He was for many years a professor of religion, and very regular in his attendance on public worship. Notwithstanding his fondness for jest, he was more than most men ready to frown upon every expression which seemed to reflect on sacred subjects. It was a singular trait in the character of Mr. Smith, that he should so obstinately refuse to inform his friends of his age. The monument erected over his grave informs us, that his death occurred in the ninety-third year of his age. It is probable, however, that he was not so old by several years.

Source: Rev. Charles A. Goodrich Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence. New York: William Reed & Co., 1856. Pages 291-296. (Some minor spelling changes may have been made.)


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