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

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.

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

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.

Lieutenant Colonel St. George Tucker, professor of law and jurist

July 10, 2013

St. George Tucker was a lawyer, professor of law at the College of William and Mary, and judge of Virginia’s highest court. In 1813, upon the nomination of President James Madison, he became the United States district judge for Virginia.


Portrait by Charles Balthazar Julien Févret de Saint-Mémin.

Born in St. George, Bermuda, near Port Royal. On July 10, 1752. Tucker traveled to Virginia in 1771 to study law at the College of William and Mary, under George Wythe. Wythe also instructed Thomas Jefferson and John Marshall, signed the Declaration of Independence and served as chief justice of Virginia. Tucker was a member of the F.H.C. Society, and was approved for the bar on April 4, 1774, being admitted in 1775 at the age of twenty-three. He then settled permanently in Williamsburg and began practice in the county courts. During the American Revolution, he was elected colonel of the Chesterfield County militia which joined Nathanael Green’s army in North Carolina. He distinguished himself at the Battle of Guilford Court House. [1] In 1778, Tucker married Frances Bland Randolph, a wealthy widow, and assumed responsibility of large estates in Chesterfield County as well as her three sons, the youngest came to be known as John Randolph of Roanoke. [2] At the Siege of Yorktown (1781), Tucker was wounded serving as a lieutenant colonel of cavalry and aide to Governor and General Thomas Nelson. [3]

In 1778, Tucker married Frances (Bland) Randolph, the daughter of Theodorick Bland of Cawsons and the widowed mother of John Randolph of Roanoke and his two older brothers. After the marriage, he moved to Chesterfield County and later fathered Henry St. George Tucker, Sr. and Nathaniel Beverley Tucker with her. After the war he returned to practice in the county courts but, after his wife died, returned to Williamsburg to live. His home was the St. George Tucker House in Colonial Williamsburg. Thomas Tudor Tucker, a member of the Continental Congress, was his brother; and George Tucker, a politician and author, was a relative.

“Tucker established a virtual dynasty of legal and constitutional talent that carried on Jeffersonian principles through successive generations.” [4]

His youngest step-son, John Randolph of Roanoke (1773-1833) , served in the U.S. House of Representatives, and as President Thomas Jefferson’s spokesman in the House until 1803, was a United States Senator, as well as a Minister to Russia. He also was a leader of the Tertium Quids ( a.k.a. “Old Republican”) a minority wing of the Democratic-Republican Party.

His son, Henry St. George Tucker, Sr. (1780-1848), “served in the state legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives, was chief justice of Virginia, conducted a successful law practice at Winchester, Virginia, declined President Andrew Jackson’s appointment as attorney general of the United States, became professor of law at the University of Virginia, and published books on natural law, constitutional law, and the laws of Virginia.” [5]

Another son, Nathaniel Beverley Tucker (1784-1851), “became professor of law at William and Mary and published three novels, [including, The Partisan Leader (1836)], as well as a number of works on political economy and public issues. He is a major figure in the intellectual history of the Old South.” [6]

His grandson, John Randolph Tucker (1823-1897), “son of Henry St. George Tucker, was attorney general of Virginia, professor of law at Washington and Lee University School of Law, counsel in numerous cases before the United States Supreme Court, served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1875 to 1887, and published, among other works, The Constitution of the United States (2 vols., 1899).” [7]

Another grandson, Nathaniel Beverley Tucker (1820-1890), son of Henry St. George Tucker, “edited an antebellum newspaper in Washington, D.C., was U.S. counsel at Liverpool, and served the Confederate States as an economic agent abroad.” [8]

His great-grandson, Henry St. George Tucker, III (1853-1932), “son of John Randolph Tucker, represented Virginia in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1876 to 1889 and again from 1922 to 1932, carrying on the states’ rights, populist, anti-big business tradition of his family and state. He was also professor of law at Washington and Lee University School of Law, and published Limitations on the Treaty-Making Power Under the Constitution of the United States and Woman’s Suffrage by Constitutional Amendment.” [9]

“Given the massive change in the extent and distribution of political power since the Civil War, and the resulting adjustments in accepted understandings of the Constitution, Tucker’s principles of states’ rights and limited government are likely to seem strange to Americans today, unless it is remembered that these principles were the prevailing ideas not only during Tucker’s time but also for several generations after.” [10]

In 1796, Tucker wrote a controversial pamphlet addressed to the General Assembly of Virginia which stated that the abolition of slavery was of “great importance for the moral character of the citizens of Virginia.” The dissertation opens with a scathing denunciation of the practice:

“Whilst America hath been the land of promise to Europeans and their descendants, it hath been the vale of death to millions of the wretched sons of Africa…Whilst we were offering up vows at the shrine of Liberty… whilst we swore irreconcilable hostility to her enemies… whilst we adjured the God of Hosts to witness our resolution to live free or die; we were imposing on our fellow men, who differ from us in complexion, a slavery ten thousand times more cruel than the utmost extremity of those grievances and oppressions, of which we complained.”

It goes on to outline a plan for the gradual freeing of slaves.[11] With the vast majority of those of wealth and power being slave owners at the time, Tucker understood there was virtually no chance of abolishing slavery outright. Instead, he called for a measured approach that would eventually, over a period of generations, lead to freedom for all salves. In a striking parallel to political issues of today, 18th century abolitionists felt Tucker’s plan did not go nearly far enough while proponents of the status quo deemed it simply unacceptable. Ultimately, the pamphlet had little effect.

Tucker was a judge of the Virginia General District Court in Richmond, Virginia, from 1788 to 1803, with overlapping service as a professor of law and police at the College of William and Mary from 1800 to 1804. Upon the death of Judge Edmund Pendleton, in 1803, Tucker was appointed to the state Court of Appeals. He resigned this position in 1811, returning to private practice in Williamsburg, until 1813.

On January 18, 1813, Tucker was nominated by President James Madison to a seat on the United States District Court for the District of Virginia vacated by John Tyler, Sr. Tucker was confirmed by the United States Senate on January 19, 1813, and received commission the same day. On February 4, 1819, he was reassigned by operation of law to the newly subdivided United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, serving until his resignation on June 30, 1825.

Tucker’s health began to fail several years later, and he died on November 10, 1827, after a long illness. He was buried at Edgewood Cabell Family Cemetery in Warminster, Virginia.


Inscription written in Latin:

Here rests having performed many and varied services St. George Tucker

Born in Bermuda

Adopted by the State of Virginia as its son

When Liberty was to be won

A soldier bold and courageous

When Liberty had been achieved

A judge honest and also industrious

At the college of William and Mary for a long time

A diligent Professor of Law

Learned in the Law

Well known for his writings and his commentaries

A teacher

Skilled in Physics in Letters

Also a poet and writer of pleasing verse

In matters of State vigilant and zealous

In personal affairs conscientious and dependable

In every transaction honest and trustworthy

In all things strong and reliable

This marble testimonial bears witness

His surviving sons and grandsons and his beloved wife

Mindful of his kindness and goodness

Honored by his distinguished life and virtues

During his lifetime he published an edition of Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, supplying valuable annotations on the United States Constitution and laws of Virginia, thus making the material relevant to an American readership. The papers of the Tucker-Coleman family, including the papers of St. George Tucker, are held by the Special Collections Research Center at the College of William & Mary.[12]


  • The Probationary Odes of Jonathan Pindar, Esq., a Cousin of Peter’s, and a Candidate for the Post of Poet Laureate, to the C. U. S. In Two Parts, a volume of political satires, 1796
  • A dissertation on slavery : with a proposal for the gradual abolition of it, in the state of Virginia, by St. George Tucker. Philadelphia: Printed for Mathew Carey …, 1796.
  • Letters on the Alien and Sedition Laws, 1799
  • Blackstone’s commentaries : with notes of reference to the constitution and laws, of the federal government of the United States, and of the Commonwealth of Virginia : with an appendix to each volume, containing short tracts upon such subjects as appeared necessary to form a connected view of the laws of Virginia as a member of the federal union, by St. George Tucker in 5 vols. (Philadelphia: published by William Young Birch and Abraham Small; Robert Carter, Printer, 1803).
  • The poems of St. George Tucker of Williamsburg, Virginia, 1752-1827, collected and edited by William S. Prince. New York : Vantage Press, 1977.


  1. Clyde N. Wilson, ed., Views of the Constitution of the United States viii (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1999) (foreword) p. viii (1803).
  2. Wilson, Views of the Constitution, p. viii.
  3. Wilson, Views of the Constitution, p. viii.
  4. Wilson, Views of the Constitution p. x.
  5. Wilson, Views of the Constitution p. x.
  6. Wilson, Views of the Constitution p. xi.
  7. Wilson, Views of the Constitution p. xi.
  8. Wilson, Views of the Constitution p. xi.
  9. Wilson, Views of the Constitution p. xi.
  10. Wilson, Views of the Constitution p. xi.
  11. Beverley D. Tucker. Nathaniel Beverley Tucker- Prophet of the Confederacy. Tokyo, Japan: Nan’ Un-Do Company. 1979.
  12. “Tucker-Coleman Papers”. Special Collections Research Center, Earlg Gregg Swem Library, College of William & Mary.
  13. Wilson, Views of the Constitution p. vii.
  • St. George Tucker at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a public domain publication of the Federal Judicial Center.
  • “Tucker, Thomas Tudor”. Appletons’ Cyclopædia of American Biography. 1889.

Jan Jansen Bleecker, colonial mayor of Albany, New York

July 9, 2013

Jan Jansen Bleecker was an colonial era merchant and political figure who served as Mayor of Albany, New York.

The first of his family to come to North America, Jan Jansen Bleecker was born on July 9, 1641, in Meppel, Drenthe, Netherlands on July 9, 1641. In 1658 he emigrated to New Amsterdam (now New York City), and shortly thereafter he moved to Beverwyck (now Albany).[1]


Bleecker became a successful trader and merchant, and was also involved in land speculation.[2]

When Albany received its city charter in 1686 Bleecker was appointed the first City Chamberlain (treasurer).[3] In 1689 he was also appointed Captain of the Albany Militia.[4]

When Jacob Leisler led a rebellion against British authority in New York from 1689 to 1691, Albany was a stronghold of anti-Leisler opposition. Bleecker served as a member of the Albany convention that attempted to convince Leisler to allow British military supplies to move north from New York City in anticipation of a French attack from Canada. (These events took place during King William’s War.)[5]

Bleecker was a member of New York’s provincial assembly from 1698 to 1701. He also served as an Alderman, and was City Recorder (deputy mayor) from 1696 to 1700. He was appointed several times as a Justice of the Peace.[6]

In 1700 Bleecker was appointed Mayor, and he served until 1701.[7]

One of the tracts of land Bleecker came to own in partnership with several others was the Saratoga patent. Bleecker’s portion included what later came to be known as Bemis Heights, the site of the Battles of Saratoga in the American Revolution.[8]

Bleecker died in Albany on November 21, 1732. He was originally buried at Albany’s First Reformed Church, and was later reinterred at Albany Rural Cemetery.[9][10]


Grave monument to Jan Janson Bleecker in Albany Rural Cemetery.

Jan Jansen Bleecker’s sons Johannes Bleecker, Jr. (1668-1738) and Rutger Bleecker (1675-1756) also served as Mayor.[11]

Other members of the Bleecker family to serve as Mayor include Charles Edward Bleecker (1826-1873) and Anthony Bleecker Banks.[12]

In addition, Harmanus Bleecker, another descendant, served in the United States House of Representatives and as Chargé d’Affaires in the Netherlands.[13]


  1. Tunis Garret Bergen, Genealogies of the State of New York, Volume 2, 1915, pages 750 to 741
  2. Cuyler Reynolds, Albany Chronicles, 1906, page 156
  3. Benson John Lossing, The Empire State: A Compendious History of the Commonwealth of New York, 1888, page 102
  4. Arthur James Weise, The History of the City of Albany, New York, 1884, page 229
  5. John Romeyn Brodhead, History of the State of New York, Volume 2, 1871, page 588
  6. National Society of Colonial Dames in the State of New York, Register of the National Society of Colonial Dames in the State of New York, 1913, page 271
  7. Jonathan Pearson, Genealogies of First Settlers of the Ancient Country Albany 1630-1800, 1872, page 19
  8. Patricia Ellerton Duffie, The Duffie family of Edinburgh and New York, 1983, page 212
  9. Cuyler Reynolds, Genealogical and Family History of Southern New York and the Hudson River Valley, Volume 3, 1914, page 1184
  10. Holland Society of New York, De Halve Maen, Volumes 42-48, 1967, page 33
  11. National Society of Colonial Dames in the State of New York, Register of the National Society of Colonial Dames in the State of New York, 1901, page 161
  12. George Rogers Howell, Jonathan Tenney, Bicentennial History of Albany, Volume 2, 1886, page 478
  13. Harriet Langdon Pruyn Rice, Harmanus Bleecker: An Albany Dutchman, 1779-1849, 1924, page 3

William Gray, the richest man in America?

July 8, 2013

William Gray was a Massachusetts merchant and politician. Born July 8, 1750 into a lower class family in Lynn, Massachusetts, he managed to build his own business and rise through the state’s political ranks, becoming the richest man in New England, and in the eyes of many the richest man in all of America. Prior to the War of 1812, William Gray had the largest private fleet in the United States with 60 square-rigged vessels.[1]


Gray first served as a state senator, before becoming the ninth Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts, serving from 1810 to 1812. He married Elizabeth Chipman (May, 1756 – September 24, 1823) in 1782. Elizabeth was a pioneer in philanthropy, volunteering a significant portion of her time to helping the poorest citizens of Boston.

He owned Gray’s Wharf in Charlestown.[2] In Boston “he lived on Summer Street, in the mansion previously occupied by Governor Sullivan.”[3]


Elizabeth Chipman Gray

Elizabeth and William’s son, Francis Eally Gray, was also a politician.

Gray passed away on November 4, 1825.


  1. Horace Gray: Father of the Boston Public Garden
  2. Timothy Thompson Sawyer. Old Charlestown: historical, biographical, reminiscent. J.H. West Co., 1902
  3. Drake. Old landmarks and historic personages of Boston. 1872

Brigadier General Daniel Morgan, battlefield tactician behind the Battle of Cowpens

July 6, 2013

Daniel Morgan was an American pioneer, soldier, and United States Representative from Virginia. One of the most gifted battlefield tacticians of the American Revolutionary, he later commanded troops during the suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion.


Most authorities believe that Morgan was born in Hunterdon County, New Jersey, on July 6, 1736. All four of his grandparents were Welsh immigrants who lived in Pennsylvania.[2] Morgan was the fifth of seven children of Joseph Morgan (1702–1748) and Elizabeth Lloyd (1706–1748). When Morgan was 16, he left home following a fight with his father. After working at odd jobs in Pennsylvania, he moved to the Shenandoah Valley. He finally settled on the Virginia frontier, near what is now Winchester, Virginia.

Morgan was a large man, poorly educated, and enjoyed drinking and gambling. He worked clearing land, in a sawmill, and as a teamster. In just a year, he saved enough to buy his own team. Morgan had served as a civilian teamster during the French and Indian War. During the advance on Fort Duquesne (Pittsburgh) by General Braddock’s command, he was punished with 499 lashes (a usually fatal sentence) for punching his superior officer. Morgan thus acquired a hatred for the British Army.

He later served as a rifleman in the Provincial forces assigned to protect the western border settlements from French-backed Indian raids. Some time after the end of the war, he purchased a farm situated between Winchester and Battletown. By 1774 he had grown so prosperous that he owned ten slaves.[3] That year he served in Dunmore’s War taking part in raids on Shawnee villages in the Ohio Country.

After the American Revolutionary War began at the Battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775, the Continental Congress created the Continental Army. They called for the formation of 10 rifle companies from the middle colonies to support the Siege of Boston, and late in June 1775 Virginia agreed to send two. The Virginia House of Burgesses chose Daniel Morgan to form one of these companies and serve as its commander with the rank of captain. Morgan had served as an officer in the Virginia Colonial Militia since the French and Indian War. He recruited 96 men in 10 days and assembled them at Winchester on July 14. He then marched them 600 miles to Boston, Massachusetts in only 21 days, arriving on Aug. 6, 1775.[4] He led this outstanding group of marksmen nicknamed “Morgan’s Riflemen.” What set Morgan’s Riflemen apart from other companies was the technology they had with their rifles. They had rifled barrels with thin walls and curved grooves inside the barrels which made them light and much more accurate than the British muskets. Morgan used this advantage to initiate guerrilla tactics by which he first killed the Indian guides the British used to find their way through the rugged terrain and also to kill the British officers that led the troops. While this tactic was viewed as dishonorable by the British elites, it was in fact an extremely effective method that created chaos and discord for the British Army.

Later in 1775, Congress authorized an invasion of Canada. Colonel Benedict Arnold convinced General Washington to send an eastern offensive in support of Montgomery’s invasion. Washington agreed to send three rifle companies from among his forces at Boston, if they volunteered. All of the companies at Boston volunteered, so lotteries were used to choose who should go, and Morgan’s company was among those chosen. Arnold selected Captain Morgan to lead all three companies as a unit. The expedition set out from Fort Western on Sept. 25, with Morgan’s men leading the advance party.[5]

At the start, the Arnold Expedition had about 1,000 men, but by the time they arrived near Quebec on Nov. 9 it had been reduced to 600. When Montgomery arrived, they launched their assault, the Battle of Quebec, on the morning of Dec. 31. The Patriots attacked in two thrusts, the two groups commanded by Montgomery and Arnold.

Arnold led the attack against the lower city from the north, but went down early with a bullet in his leg. Morgan took over leadership of this force, and they successfully entered the city following him over the first barricade. Montgomery’s force was attempting to storm the wall, unfortunately in the midst of a terrible blizzard. Montgomery and most of the front line, with the exception of the young Aaron Burr, were killed or wounded in the first volley. When Montgomery fell, his attack faltered, and the British General Carleton led hundreds of local Quebec militia to encircle the second attack. He moved cannons and men to the first barricade, behind Morgan’s force. Split up in the lower city, subject to fire from all sides, they were forced to surrender piecemeal. Shortly before surrendering, Morgan surrendered his sword to a local French priest, refusing to give it up before Carleton for a formal surrender, which Morgan viewed as humiliating to him. Morgan was among the 372 men captured. He remained a prisoner of war until exchanged in January 1777.

When he rejoined Washington early in 1777, Morgan was surprised to learn that he had been promoted to colonel for his efforts at Quebec. He was assigned to raise and command a new infantry regiment, the 11th Virginia Regiment of the Continental Line.

On June 13, 1777, Morgan was also placed in command of the Provisional Rifle Corps, a light infantry unit of 500 riflemen selected primarily from Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia units of the main army. Many were drawn from his own permanent unit, the 11th Virginia Regiment. Washington assigned them to harass General William Howe’s rear guard, and Morgan followed and attacked them during their entire withdrawal across New Jersey.


Surrender of General Burgoyne

Col. Morgan is shown in white, right of center

Morgan’s regiment was reassigned to the army’s Northern Department and on Aug. 30 he joined General Horatio Gates to aid in resisting Burgoyne’s offense. He is prominently depicted in the painting of the Surrender of General Burgoyne at Saratoga by John Trumbull.[6]

Morgan led his regiment, with the added support of Henry Dearborn’s 300-man New Hampshire infantry, as the advance to the main forces. At Freeman’s Farm, they ran into the advance of General Simon Fraser’s wing of Burgoyne’s force. Every officer in the British advance party died in the first exchange, and the advance guard retreated.

Morgan’s men charged without orders, but the charge fell apart when they ran into the main column led by General Hamilton. Benedict Arnold arrived, and he and Morgan managed to reform the unit. As the British began to form on the fields at Freeman’s Farm, Morgan’s men continued to break these formations with accurate rifle fire from the woods on the far side of the field. They were joined by another seven regiments from Bemis Heights.

For the rest of the afternoon, American fire held the British in check, but repeated American charges were repelled by British bayonets.

Burgoyne’s next offensive resulted in the Battle of Bemis Heights on Oct. 7. Morgan was assigned command of the left (or western) flank of the American position. The British plan was to turn that flank, using an advance by 1,500 men. This brought Morgan’s brigade once again up against General Fraser’s forces.

Passing through the Canadian loyalists, Morgan’s Virginia sharpshooters got the British light infantry trapped in a crossfire between themselves and Dearborn’s regiment. Although the light infantry broke, General Fraser was trying to rally them, encouraging his men to hold their positions when Benedict Arnold arrived. Arnold spotted him and called to Morgan: “That man on the grey horse is a host unto himself and must be disposed of — direct the attention of some of the sharpshooters amongst your riflemen to him!” Morgan reluctantly ordered Fraser shot by a sniper, and Timothy Murphy obliged him.

With Fraser mortally wounded, the British light infantry fell back into and through the redoubts occupied by Burgoyne’s main force. Morgan was one of those who then followed Arnold’s lead to turn a counter-attack from the British middle. Burgoyne retired to his starting positions, but about 500 men poorer for the effort. That night, he withdrew to the village of Saratoga (renamed Schuylerville in honor of Philip Schuyler) about eight miles to the northwest.

During the next week, as Burgoyne dug in, Morgan and his men moved to his north. Their ability to cut up any patrols sent in their direction convinced the British that retreat was not possible.

After Saratoga, Morgan’s unit rejoined Washington’s main army, near Philadelphia. Throughout 1778 he hit British columns and supply lines in New Jersey, but was not involved in any major battles. He was not involved in the Battle of Monmouth but actively pursued the withdrawing British forces and captured many prisoners and supplies. When the Virginia Line was reorganized on Sept. 14, 1778, Morgan became the colonel of the 7th Virginia Regiment.

Throughout this period, Morgan became increasingly dissatisfied with the army and the Congress. He had never been politically active or cultivated a relationship with the Congress. As a result, he was repeatedly passed over for promotion to brigadier, favor going to men with less combat experience but better political connections. While still a colonel with Washington, he had temporarily commanded Weedon’s brigade, and felt himself ready for the position. Besides this frustration, his legs and back aggravated him from the abuse taken during the Quebec Expedition. He was finally allowed to resign on June 30, 1779, and returned home to Winchester.

In June 1780, he was urged to re-enter the service by General Gates, but declined. Gates was taking command in the Southern Department, and Morgan felt that being outranked by so many militia officers would limit his usefulness. After Gates’ disaster at the Battle of Camden, Morgan thrust all other considerations aside, and went to join the Southern command at Hillsborough, North Carolina.

Morgan met his new Department Commander, Nathanael Greene, on Dec. 3, 1780 at Charlotte, North Carolina. Greene did not change his command assignment, but did give him new orders. Greene had decided to split his army and annoy the enemy in order to buy time to rebuild his force. He gave Morgan’s command of about 700 men the job of foraging and enemy harassment in the backcountry of South Carolina, while avoiding direct battle.[7]

When this strategy became apparent, the British General Cornwallis sent Colonel Banastre Tarleton’s British Legion to track him down. Morgan talked with many of the militia who had fought Tarleton before, and decided to disobey his orders, by setting up a direct confrontation.


Medal voted for Morgan by Congress

Morgan chose to make his stand at Cowpens, South Carolina. On the morning of Jan. 17, 1781, they met Tarleton in the Battle of Cowpens. Morgan had been joined by militia forces under Andrew Pickens and William Washington’s dragoons. Tarleton’s legion was supplemented with the light infantry from several regiments of regulars.

Morgan’s plan took advantage of Tarleton’s tendency for quick action and his disdain for the militia,[8] as well as the longer range and accuracy of his Virginia riflemen. The marksmen were positioned to the front, followed by the militia, with the regulars at the hilltop. The first two units were to withdraw as soon as they were seriously threatened, but after inflicting damage. This would invite a premature charge from the British.

The tactic resulted in a double envelopment. As the British forces approached, the Americans, with their backs turned to the British, reloaded their muskets. When the British got too close, they turned and fired at point-blank range in their faces. In less than an hour, Tarleton’s 1,076 men suffered 110 killed and 830 captured. The captives included 200 wounded. Although Tarleton escaped, the Americans captured all his supplies and equipment, including the officers’ slaves. Morgan’s cunning plan at Cowpens is widely considered to be the tactical masterpiece of the war and one of the most successfully executed double envelopments of all of modern military history.[9]

Cornwallis had lost not only Tarleton’s legion, but also his light infantry, which limited his speed of reaction for the rest of the campaign. For his actions, Virginia gave Morgan land and an estate that had been abandoned by a Tory. The damp and chill of the campaign had aggravated his sciatica to the point where he was in constant pain; on February 10, he returned to his Virginia farm.[10] In July 1781, Morgan briefly joined Lafayette to pursue Banastre Tarleton once more, this time in Virginia, but they were unsuccessful.[11]

After Morgan returned home to Charles Town, he became gradually less active. He turned his attention to investing in land, rather than clearing it, and eventually built an estate of over 250,000 acres. As part of his settling down, he joined the Presbyterian Church and built a new house near Winchester, Virginia, in 1782. He named the home Saratoga after his victory in New York. The Congress awarded him a gold medal in 1790 to commemorate his victory at Cowpens.[12]

In 1794 he was briefly recalled to national service to help suppress the Whiskey Rebellion. Serving under General “Light-Horse Harry” Lee, Morgan led one wing of the militia army into Western Pennsylvania.[13] The massive show of force brought an end to the protests without a shot being fired. After the uprising had been suppressed, Morgan commanded the remnant of the army that remained in Pennsylvania for a time.[14]

Morgan ran for election to the United States House of Representatives twice, as a Federalist. He lost in 1794, but won next time to serve a term from 1797 to 1799. He died on July 6, 1802, at his daughter’s home in Winchester on his 66th birthday. Daniel Morgan was buried in Old Stone Presbyterian Church graveyard and moved to the Mt. Hebron Cemetery in Winchester, after the Civil War.


The grave of Daniel Morgan in Winchester, Virginia

Daniel Morgan’s great-great-grandfather was also the uncle of the famous Welsh privateer and pirate, Henry Morgan.

In 1821 Virginia named a new county—Morgan County—in his honor. (It is now in West Virginia.) The states of Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, and Tennessee followed their example. The North Carolina city of Morganton is also named after Morgan.

In 1881 (on the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of the Cowpens battle), a statue of Morgan was placed in the central town square of Spartanburg, South Carolina. The square (Morgan Square) and statue remain today (see photo in Spartanburg article).

In the early 1950s, an attempt was made to remove his body to Cowpens, but the Frederick-Winchester Historical Society blocked the move by securing an injunction in circuit court. The event was pictured by a staged photo that appeared in Life magazine.

In 1973, the home Saratoga was declared a National Historic Landmark.

Morgan and his actions served as one of the key sources for the fictional character of Benjamin Martin in The Patriot, a motion picture released in 2000.


  1. Higginbotham, Don (1979). Daniel Morgan:. UNC Press Books. p. 11. ISBN 0807813869, 9780807813867.
  2. Edward Morgan Log House, Genealogy, accessed November 12, 2011.
  3. Higginbotham p.13-15
  4. McCullough, David. 1776 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005) p. 38
  5. Peckham, Howard H. The War for Independence: A Military History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958) p. 30
  6. “Key to the Surrender of General Burgoyne”.
  7. Golway, Terry. Washington’s General: Nathanael Greene and the Triumph of the American Revolution (New York: Henry Holt & Company, 2005) p. 241
  8. Golway, p. 248
  9. Golway, pp. 245-248
  10. Golway, p. 248
  11. Peckham, p. 167
  12. Len Barcousky (March 22, 2009). “Eyewitness 1818: No jail could hold this Pittsburgh thief”. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
  13. Higginbotham, pp. 189–91.
  14. Higginbotham, pp. 193–98.

Vermont becomes the first state to abolish slavery

July 2, 2013

On this day, July 2, in 1777, the constitution of Vermont with anti-slavery provisions went into effect, making it the first territory to outlaw the practice.


I. THAT all men are born equally free and independent, and have certain natural, inherent and unalienable rights, amongst which are the enjoying and defending life and liberty; acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety. Therefore, no male person, born in this country, or brought from over sea, ought to be holden by law, to serve any person, as a servant, slave or apprentice, after he arrives to the age of twenty-one Years, nor female, in like manner, after she arrives to the age of eighteen years, unless they are bound by their own consent, after they arrive to such age, or bound by law, for the payment of debts, damages, fines, costs, or the like.

After declaring its independence, Vermont existed as a free republic known as the Commonwealth of Vermont. It was admitted to the union in 1791, with a state constitution that also contained the slavery ban. The 1777 constitution entitles Vermont to claim to be the first U.S. state to have abolished slavery even though the colony of Rhode Island abolished the practice in 1775.

Raid on Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

July 1, 2013

The Raid on Lunenburg, also known as the Sack of Lunenburg, occurred during the American Revolution when the famous American Privateer Captain Noah Stoddard of Fairhaven, Massachusetts and four other privateer vessels attacked the British settlement at Lunenburg, Nova Scotia on July 1, 1782.[2] In Nova Scotia, the assault on Lunenburg was the most spectacular raid of the war.[3] On the morning of July 1, Stoddard led approximately 170 American privateers in four heavily armed vessels and overpowered Lunenburg’s defense, capturing the blockhouses and burning the house of the local militia colonel. The privateers then looted the settlement and kept the militia at bay with the threat of destroying the entire town. The American privateers plundered the town and took three prisoners, who were later released from Boston without a ransom having been paid.[3][4]


Sack of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada, A.J. Wright, courtesy of Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management

During the American Revolution, Nova Scotia was invaded regularly by American Revolutionary forces by land and sea. Throughout the war, American privateers devastated the maritime economy by raiding many of the coastal communities. There were constant attacks by privateers,[5] such as the numerous raids on Liverpool (October 1776, March 1777, September 1777, May 1778, September 1780) and on Annapolis Royal (1781).[6] There was also a naval engagement with a French fleet at Spanish River, Cape Breton Island (1781).[7]

On November 17, 1775, Washington’s Marblehead Regiment aboard the Hancock and Franklin made an unopposed landing at Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. Three days later, they expedited to Nova Scotia and raided Canso. In 1779, American privateers returned to Canso and destroyed the fisheries, which were worth ₤50,000 a year to Britain.[8]

The 84th Regiment had been defending Nova Scotia, attacking an American privateer ship off of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia (1775). The 84th was led by Captain John MacDonald. They boarded the warship when some of its crew were ashore seeking plunder. They captured the crew and sailed her into Halifax.[9] There were also Patriot attacks on Nova Scotia by land, such as the Battle of Fort Cumberland and the Siege of Saint John (1777). There was the constant threat that American Patriots would attack Halifax by land.

The month prior to the Raid on Lunenburg, there was a significant Naval battle off Halifax between an American privateer and a Royal Naval vessel.


Raid on Lunenburg – National Historic Sites of Canada Plaque with earthworks of Blockhouse Hill in background, Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

During the early morning of July 1, 1782, five American privateers, who had left Boston under the command of Captain Noah Stoddard, began to raid Lunenburg. Captain Stoddard’s ship was the schooner Scammel, which had sixteen guns and sixty men.[3][10] Stoddard organized both a land and sea assault of the town. The vessels first landed at Red Head, two miles outside of the town and soldiers began to march toward the town. The vessels then moved toward a frontal assault on the town.

The Lunenburg militia was led by Colonel John Creighton (judge) and Major D. C. Jessen. Colonel Creighton and five other militia men occupied the eastern blockhouse and began firing at the approaching land assault. Several of Captain Stoddard’s privateers were wounded. The landed fleet of privateers then rounded East Point. The vessels landed and quickly took control of the western blockhouse and established themselves at Blockhouse Hill (See image above). Captain Creighton and others in the blockhouse were cannonaded into silence and the blockhouse burned.[11] Colonel Creighton surrendered and was taken prisoner along with two other men aboard Captain Stoddard’s vessel Scammel.[12]

Resistance was also offered by Major D. C. Jessen. He was initially held up in his home, which the privateers fired full of bullets. He escaped and his house was looted. Major Jessen assembled with a militia behind the hill overlooking the town. A militia from La Have under the command of Major Joseph Pernette also advanced toward Lunenburg to join Major Jessen. Captain Stoddard sent a message to Jensen and Pernette that if they advanced on the town, all the homes would be burned. To ensure his threat was not idle, Captain Stoddard burned down Major Jessen’s home.[13]

Captain Stoddard’s privateers looted the town and destroyed what remained. The Reverend Johann Gottlob Schmeisser tried to interfere and was bound by the privateers and placed in the middle of town. [14]

Relief came when Lt. Governor Hamond dispatched from Halifax three ships under the command of Captain Douglass. Captain Stoddard began the retreat. Despite not having received a ransom, Captain Stoddard released Colonel Creighton and the other prisoners after they arrived in Boston.[13]


  1. casualties taken from Boston Gazette, July 15, August 5, 1782; Massachusetts Spy, August 8, 1782
  2. Eastman, pp. 61–63
  3. Gwyn, p. 75
  4. DesBrisay, p. 68
  5. Benjamin Franklin also engaged France in the war, which meant that many of the privateers were also from France.
  6. Roger Marsters (2004). Bold Privateers: Terror, Plunder and Profit on Canada’s Atlantic Coast”, pp. 87–89 ISBN 0887806449
  7. Thomas B. Akins. (1895) History of Halifax. Dartmouth: Brook House Press, p. 82
  8. Lieutenant Governor Sir Richard Hughes stated in a dispatch to Lord Germaine that “rebel cruisers” made the attack.
  9. Craig, C. (1989). The Young Emigrants: Craigs of the Magaguadavic, p. 53
  10. MacMechan, p. 59
  11. Gwyn, p. 25
  12. MacMechan, pp. 62–63
  13. MacMechan, p. 68
  14. MacMechan, p. 67


  • DesBrisay, Mather Byles (1895). History of the county of Lunenburg.
  • Eastman, Ralph M. “Captain Noah Stoddard” in Some Famous Privateers of New England. 1928. pp. 61–63.
  • Gwyn, Julian. Frigates and Foremasts: The North American Squadron in Nova Scotia Waters, 1745–1815, University of British Columbia Press. 2003 ISBN 0774809116.
  • MacMechan, Archibald (1923), “The Sack of Lunenburg” in Sagas of the Sea. The Temple Press, pp. 57–72.

Battle of Alligator Bridge

June 30, 2013

The Battle of Alligator Bridge, also known as the Skirmish of Alligator Creek, took place on June 30, 1778, near present day Callahan, Florida, and was the only major engagement in an unsuccessful campaign to conquer British East Florida during the American Revolution. A detachment of Georgia militiamen under the command of General James Screven chased Thomas Brown’s Loyalist company into a large position of British regulars established by British Major Mark Prevost and were turned back.


Artist’s depiction of the Battle of Alligator Bridge

In the spring of 1778 an invasion of East Florida was organized by Georgia Governor John Houstoun and Continental Army General Robert Howe. However, the two men could not agree on overall command of the expedition, and Houstoun refused to share his plans with Howe, leading to organizational and logistical difficulties.

Howe, in command of 1,100 regulars was waiting for Georgia and South Carolina militia companies to arrive when he learned on June 18 that Loyalist Thomas Brown and 300 men were at Fort Tonyn on the Florida side of the St. Mary’s River. On June 28 his men crossed the St. Mary’s in a move that was observed by Brown’s scouts. Brown decided to retreat from the fort, which he burned after removing everything he could take with him.

Brown ordered a company of men to circle around behind the Continentals while the rest of his men hid along the road heading south from the fort. British Major Mark Prevost had established a defensive position at Alligator Bridge, about 17 miles south of the fort. Howe sent General James Screven and about 100 cavalry south on this road. The men Brown sent to flank the Continentals were betrayed by deserters and ambushed, with most of them captured or killed.

Howe then sent General James Screven and about 100 militia cavalry to find Brown, who retreated before Screven’s advance. The leading edge of Brown’s men entered Prevost’s camp relatively casually, but his rear was chased in by Screven. Prevost’s regulars quickly took up positions and began firing on Screven’s men, while some of Brown’s men went around to come at their flank. In pitched battle, men on both sides went down, Screven was wounded, and some of the Patriot militia narrowly escaped being trapped before Screven ordered the retreat.

Howe’s army eventually withdrew from East Florida, effectively ending the idea of gaining control of the province. James Screven was killed in a surprise attack led by Brown in November 1778.

The site of the bridge has long been supposed to be in central Callahan, where a marker has been placed, but some historians believe that the actual site of the bridge was somewhat farther east.


  • Cashin, Edward J (1999). The King’s Ranger: Thomas Brown and the American Revolution on the Southern Frontier. Fordham Univ. Press. ISBN 9780823219087.
  • Boatner, Mark M (1992). Landmarks of the American Revolution.
  • Searcy, Mary (1985). The Georgia–Florida Contest in the American Revolution, 1776–1778. University, AL: University of Alabama Press. ISBN 978-0-8173-0225-2. OCLC 10483821

Battle of Turtle Gut Inlet

June 29, 2013

The Battle of Turtle Gut Inlet, fought on June 29, 1776, was an important, early naval victory for the Continental Navy and the future “Father of the American Navy”, Captain John Barry.[3] It was the first privateer battle of the American Revolution.[1] The battle resulted in the first American casualty of the war in New Jersey, Lieutenant Richard Wickes, brother of Captain Lambert Wickes.[4][5] It was the only revolutionary war battle fought in Cape May County.[6]

To prevent the Americans from receiving war supplies through the port of Philadelphia, the British Navy established a blockade of the Delaware Bay. This fleet included over 240 cannons.[7] The Americans then fortified the river with cheveaux-de-frise in the shipping channel.[8]


Plaque commemorating the Battle of Turtle Gut Inlet in Wildwood Crest, New Jersey.

To transport gunpowder and arms, Robert Morris and the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety chartered the newly built brig, also called brigantine, Nancy and her captain, Hugh Montgomery on March 1, 1776.[9][10]

On March 14, 1776, John Barry was commissioned Captain of the 14-gun Lexington in the Continental Navy.[11]

In early June, the privateer Nancy loaded supplies in the Caribbean islands of St. Thomas and St. Croix.[9] She then sailed for Philadelphia with a cargo of 386 kegs of gunpowder, 101 hogsheads of rum, 62 hogsheads of sugar, and additional armaments.[12] In mid-June, Barry was alerted by Morris that the Nancy was headed his way, and would need protection since she had only an eleven-man crew and six cannons.[9][13]

Barry was soon joined by the 18-gun Reprisal, captained by Lambert Wickes, and the 8-gun Wasp, captained by William Hallock, and headed for Cape May.[9]

The British blockade forces were led by the 28-gun HMS Liverpool, captained by Henry Bellew,[14] [15] and included the 32-gun HMS Orpheus, captained by Charles Hudson,[16] and the 16-gun HMS Kingfisher, captained by Alexander Graeme.[17][12][18]

Also at this time, the vanguard of the British fleet of over one hundred ships was set to enter New York Harbor on the morning of June 29.[19]

Late on the afternoon of June 28, a lookout on the Kingfisher spotted the Nancy sailing toward Cape May and began chase, followed by the Orpheus.[20] The Nancy, and the pursuing British, were spotted by the American lookout at Cape May.[9] Captain Barry, on the Lexington, received a message by flag code from the Nancy that she needed help.[18] Barry in turn signaled the Reprisal and Wasp and then met with their captains to plan a response. Longboats from the Lexington, Wasp, and Reprisal, led by Lieutenant Richard Wickes, set out to assist the Nancy.[9][21][22]

In the early hours of June 29, pursued by the British Orpheus and Kingfisher and blocked from entering the Delaware Bay, the Nancy headed for the nearby Turtle Gut Inlet in a heavy fog.[21] Soon the Nancy ran aground at Turtle Gut Inlet, while the larger British ships were kept to deeper waters.[23]

Although still out of range but sailing closer, the British shelled the Nancy, while the Americans attempted to salvage the cargo, especially the gunpowder kegs. Barry organized the crews into two operations. One group returned cannon fire to keep the British from boarding. The other transferred the cargo onto longboats and rowed to shore where local residents helped unload and secure it behind the dunes.[23][21]

By late in the morning of June 29, 265 to 286 kegs of gunpowder had been removed,[24][21] and the British bombardment had heavily damaged the Nancy. Barry ordered the main sail wrapped around 50 pounds of gunpowder to create a long fuse running from the nearly 100 gunpowder kegs remaining in the hold to the deck and over the side. The fuse was lit as the crew abandoned ship, while one last sailor climbed the mast to remove the American flag. The British thought the lowering of the flag was a sign of surrender and quickly boarded the Nancy. By then the fuse had reached the hold. The gunpowder exploded with a huge blast felt for miles which killed many British.[1][8][21] Captain Graeme reported the loss of his master’s mate and six men on longboats from the Kingfisher.[25]

Lieutenant Richard Wickes, brother of Captain Lambert Wickes of the Reprisal, was killed by British cannon fire near the end of the battle.[21]

The battle demonstrated the resourcefulness of the American forces to the British. As a result, the British Navy moved their blockade of Philadelphia further away from the Cape May area.[1][8]

The heroics of Captain John Barry in salvaging most of the gunpowder cargo and driving off two Royal Navy ships was quickly noted, an important step in his career.[26]

Following the battle, Captain Wickes on the Reprisal, continued with his mission to the West Indies.[27]

Lieutenant Richard Wickes is buried at the Cold Spring Presbyterian Church cemetery. A section of the cemetery, Veterans Field of Honor, is dedicated to his memory.[28]


Park in memory of the Battle of Turtle Gut Inlet in Wildwood Crest, New Jersey.

The Seal of Wildwood Crest and the Seal of the Wildwood Crest Historical Society each contain a drawing of the brigantine Nancy in honor of the battle.[3]

In 1922, Cape May County filled in Turtle Gut Inlet.[3] The site is now remembered by a small park.[29]


  1. Donnelly 2010, p. 109
  2. *”Lt. Richard Wickes”. Historical Marker Database.
  3. “The Battle of Turtle Gut Inlet”. Wildwood Crest Historical Society. Retrieved March 22, 2012.
  4. Johnson 2006, pp. 95–6
  5. Lundin, Leonard (1940). Cockpit of the Revolution – The War for Independence in New Jersey. Princeton University Press. p. 113.
  6. “Southern New Jersey and the Delaware Bay: Historic Themes and Resources within the New Jersey Coastal Heritage Trail Route”. National Park Service.
  7. Donnelly 2010, p. 103
  8. Dorwart 1992, p. 52
  9. Donnelly 2010, p. 105
  10. Johnson 2006, p. 77
  11. Donnelly 2010, p. 104
  12. Johnson 2006, p. 92
  13. Johnson 2006, p. 93
  14. “Lexington”. United States Navy.
  15. “British Sixth Rate frigate ‘Liverpool’ (1758)”. Three Decks – Warships in the Age of Sail.
  16. “British Fifth Rate frigate ‘Orpheus’ (1773)”. Three Decks – Warships in the Age of Sail.
  17. “British Unrated ship-sloop ‘Kingfisher’ (1770)”. Three Decks – Warships in the Age of Sail.
  18. Williams 2008, p. 75
  19. Fischer, David Hackett (2006). Washington’s Crossing. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 31–32. ISBN 0-19-517034-2.
  20. Johnson 2006, p. 94
  21. Johnson 2006, p. 95
  22. Morgan 1970, pp. 882–4
  23. Donnelly 2010, p. 106
  24. Donnelly 2010, p. 108
  25. Morgan 1970, pp. 817–8
  26. Williams 2008, p. 78
  27. Mays 2009, p. 217
  28. “Revolutionary War Sites in Cape May, New Jersey”. Revolutionary War New Jersey.
  29. “Revolutionary War Sites in Wildwood, New Jersey”. Revolutionary War New Jersey.


  • Donnelly, Mark P.; Diehl, Daniel (2010). “The Battle of Turtle Gut Inlet”. Pirates of New Jersey. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books. ISBN 9780811706674.
  • Dorwart, Jeffery M. (1992). Cape May County, New Jersey: The Making of an American Resort Community. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. ISBN 0-8135-1784-2.
  • Johnson, Robert Amandus (2006). Saint Croix 1770–1776: The First Salute to the Stars and Stripes. ISBN 9781425970086.
  • Mays, Terry M. (2009). Historical dictionary of the American Revolution (2nd ed.). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, Inc. ISBN 978-0-8108-6066-7.
  • Morgan, William James, ed. (1970). Naval Documents of The American Revolution, American Theatre: May 9, 1776 – July 31, 1776 5. Washington, D.C.: Naval History Division/Naval Historical Center, Department of the Navy.
  • Williams, Thomas (2008). America’s First Flag Officer – Father of the American Navy. Bloomington, Indiana: AuthorHouse. ISBN 978-1-4343-8653-3.

Captain Stephen Decatur, Sr.

June 27, 2013

Stephen Decatur, Sr. was an American naval captain in the Revolutionary War and later in the Quasi-War. He was the father of Commodore Stephen Decatur, Jr.

Born in June 1751, in Newport, Rhode Island, Decatur was a merchant captain before the Revolution. He married Ann Pine; in addition to their famous son, they had two other children, Lieutenant James Decatur, who was killed in action in 1804 during the Barbary Wars, and Ann Decatur McKnight.

During the American Revolution he commanded the Royal Louis, the Comet, the Retaliation, the Rising Sun, and the Fair American.[1]

With the outbreak of the Quasi War with France, Decatur was commissioned as a Captain in the United States Navy on May 11, 1798.


He commanded the ship USS Delaware and sailed in the first American Navy fleet to cross the Atlantic along with his son Stephen Decatur Jr.[2]

In 1800, Decatur commissioned Philadelphia, the very vessel that his son later burned several months after it ran aground and was captured near Tripoli harbor in 1803.

In accordance with the Peace Establishment Act of 1801, which greatly reduced the United States Army and Navy, Decatur was discharged from the Navy on October 22, 1801.

He died on November 11, 1808, at his country home “Millsdale” in Frankford, Pennsylvania. He was interred next to his famous son at St. Peter’s Church in Philadelphia.


1. MacKenzie, 1846 p.9

2. MacKenzie, 1846 p.22


  1. MacKenzie, Alexander Slidell (1846). Life of Stephen Decatur: a commodore in the Navy of the United States. C. C. Little and J. Brown, 1846 – Biography & Autobiography. pp. 443.
  2. Waldo, Samuel Putnam (1821). The life and character of Stephen Decatur. P. B. Goodsell, Hartford, Conn., 1821. pp. 312.

Lieutenant Colonel Philetus Swift, New York statesman

June 26, 2013

Philetus Swift was a colonial American politician. He was born on June 26, 1763, in Kent, Litchfield County, Connecticut, the son of Elisha Swift (b. 1731) and Mary Ransom (b. 1738). On April 4, 1786, he married his first wife Electra Goodrich in Sharon, Connecticut. On May 22, 1793, he married his second wife Sally Deane (1774-1820?) in Phelps, N.Y., and their son was Deane Swift (1794-1818). On November 26, 1823, he married his third wife Fanny (or Fauna, Fawnia, Faunia) Cole (ca. 1792-1880), and their daughter was Electra Jane Swift (1825-1904).

He was a member of the New York State Assembly from Genesee, Ontario and Allegany Counties in 1807 and 1808, and from Ontario County in 1823.

He fought in the War of 1812, and became a lieutenant colonel.

He was a member from the Western District of the New York State Senate from 1810 to 1815 and from 1816 to 1818. In February 1817, when John Tayler became Acting Governor of New York after the resignation of Daniel D. Tompkins, Swift was elected President pro tempore of the State Senate. He was Acting Lieutenant Governor of New York until July 1, 1817.

Swift was a presidential elector in 1820, voting for James Monroe and Daniel D. Tompkins.

Swift died on July 24, 1828, in Phelps, Ontario County, New York, and was originally buried at the Pioneer Cemetery at Phelps.

In the early 1900s, his granddaughter had his remains reinterred in the Webster Rural Cemetery in Webster, N.Y.


  • [1] Political Graveyard
  • [2] The New York Civil List compiled by Franklin Benjamin Hough (pages 121ff, 180f, 199f; Weed, Parsons and Co., 1858)
  • [3] Cole genealogy
  • [4] Burial records in Ontario County
  • [5] Swift/Cole genealogy, at RootsWeb
  • [6] The Regents of the University of the State of New York: 1784-1959 compiled by Albert Bickmore Corey (University of the State of New York, 1959; page 31)
  • [7] Revolutionary War Soldiers Buried in Monroe County, New York — lists Swift’s burial in Webster Rural Cemetery

William Smith, Chief Justice of the Province of New York: the weathercock

June 25, 2013

William Smith was a lawyer, historian, speaker, loyalist, and eventually Chief Justice of the Province of New York from 1763 to 1782 and Chief Justice of the Province of Quebec, later Lower Canada, from 1786 until his death. Born on June 25, 1728, he was the son of Judge William Smith of New York City and brother of Joshua Hett Smith, the supposed “dupe” of Benedict Arnold and Major John André. His wife Janet Livingston was of the Livingston family of New York.

During the American Revolution, he was referred to as “the weathercock” because his contemporaries were not able to understand which side he was on. Basically, though, he was neither friend to American nor Loyalist and was one of the main reasons that the loyalists themselves declared that they did never trust the family of Smith.

He, along with his brother Joshua Hett Smith, escaped prosecution and probable execution by the Commission for Detecting and Defeating Conspiracies in the State of New York in 1778 for the crime of treason due to the memory of their father’s influence upon the Justice system: the elder William Smith had, despite the efforts of friends and relatives, refused his own appointment to the Office of Chief Justice of the Province of New York in 1760, which his son William had accepted.

His brother, Doctor Thomas Smith, was the owner of the “treason house” in West Haverstraw, Rockland County, New York that was being occupied by his other brother, Joshua Hett Smith, at the time that Benedict Arnold and Major John André planned their conspiracies.

Smith returned to England in 1783 and then came to Quebec City in 1786, when he was named Chief Justice for the province and also named to the legislative council. In 1791, he became chief justice for Lower Canada and was appointed to the Legislative Council of Lower Canada, serving as its first speaker. He died in Quebec City on November 23, 1793.

He published The history of the Province of New York from its Discovery in 1532,… in London in 1757.



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