Battle of Machias

August 13, 2014


The Battle of Machias was an amphibious assault on the Massachusetts town of Machias, in present-day eastern Maine, by British forces on August 13–14, 1777 during the American Revolution. Local militia aided by Indian allies successfully prevented British troops from landing. The raid, led by Commodore Sir George Collier was executed in an attempt to head off a planned second assault on Fort Cumberland, which had been besieged in November 1776. The British forces landed below Machias, seized a ship, and raided a storehouse.

The outcome of the raid was disputed. Collier claimed that the action was successful in destroying military stores for an attack on Fort Cumberland (although such stores had not been delivered to Machias), while the defenders claimed that they had successfully prevented the capture of Machias and driven off the British.

The small community of Machias, located in the eastern district of Massachusetts that is now the state of Maine, was a persistent thorn in the side of British naval authorities since the start of the American Revolutionary War. In June 1775 its citizens rose up and seized a small naval vessel, and the community had ever since been a base for privateering.[1]

In 1777 John Allan, an expatriate Nova Scotian, was authorized by the Second Continental Congress to organize an expedition to establish a Patriot presence in the western part of Nova Scotia (present-day New Brunswick). Although Congress authorized him to recruit as many as 3,000 men, the Massachusetts government was only prepared to give him a colonel’s commission and authority to raise a regiment in eastern Massachusetts to establish a presence in the St. John River valley. Allan based his effort in Machias, and had by June landed some 40 men in the area.[2] However, British authorities in Halifax had received some intelligence of Allan’s intended mission,[3] and a larger British force arrived at the St. John River on June 23. Men Allan had left at the settlements near the mouth of the river skirmished with the British but then withdrew upriver. Allan was forced to make a difficult overland journey back to Machias after his small force retreated up the river. He was joined on this journey by a number of sympathetic Maliseet Indians that he had persuaded to join the American cause.[4] In early August the Massachusetts Provisional Congress voted to disband forces recruited for Allan’s expedition, because of the imminent threat posed by the army of General John Burgoyne in upstate New York.[5]

Papers documenting Allan’s fairly elaborate plans, including a projected attack on Fort Cumberland, were taken during the action on the St. John River, and fell into the hands of Captain Sir George Collier, second in command to Admiral Mariot Arbuthnot in the naval station at Halifax.[3] This spurred Collier to act, since there had already been one attempt on Fort Cumberland the previous year.[6] He therefore organized an assault on Machias, Allan’s base of operations and the source of many of his recruits. Because Collier and the commander of land forces at Halifax, General Eyre Massey,[7] did not get along, Collier decided to launch the expedition without taking on any British Army troops.[4] He sailed from Halifax in late July in the frigate HMS Rainbow, accompanied by the brig HMS Blonde, planning to use the marines aboard those ships in ground operations. He was joined by the frigate HMS Mermaid and the sloop HMS Hope while making the passage to Machias.[6]

The defense of Machias consisted of local militia under the command of Colonel Jonathan Eddy, the leader of the 1776 attack on Fort Cumberland. He had been warned that the British were organizing an attack. The militia laid a log boom across the Machias River, and constructed several earthen redoubts further upriver, armed with cannons taken from local privateers.[4] The defense was coincidentally reinforced by 40 to 50 Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscots that Colonel Allan had called to Machias to explain what had gone wrong with his expedition.[8][9]


Colonel Jonathan Eddy, commanded the defense of Machias

After leaving Halifax, Nova Scotia, Collier’s fleet arrived at the mouth of the river early on August 13. He boarded 123 marines onto the Hope, and ordered her and the Blonde up the river.[6] Word of this reached the militia, and 35 men mustered to oppose them. The ships reached the log boom, and a firefight began between the two forces. The militia resistance was sufficient to keep the British from attempting a landing that day.[9] Early the next morning, under the cover of fog, the marines were landed. They cut the log boom, seized a sloop carrying lumber, and set fire to a storehouse, seizing stores of flour, rice, corn, shoes, and ammunition before returning to the ships.[6]

The two ships then moved further up the river until they reached the town itself. All along the way they were harassed by musket and cannon fire from the shore, as the militia and their Indian allies positioned themselves to dispute possible landing sites.[8] When darkness set in the Indians reportedly began chanting and shouting in an attempt to magnify their numbers. At this point, “To the great Surprise and Astonishment of every one[,] in Less than half an Hour after Coming to an Anchor, the Brig & Sloop Both Gote under way without firing a Gun” and “made down the River against the Tide of flood.”[8] The Hope, however, ran aground while making its way downstream in the twilight. The militia hauled a swivel gun to a nearby shore, and peppered her with shot the next morning before she was refloated by the tide and made her way into Machias Bay.[10]

Colonel Allan ascribed the militia’s success to British concerns that they might be entering a trap.[8] He also grandiosely likened the encounter to another battle, writing “not an Action during the War Except Bunker Hill there was such a slaughter”.[8] American estimates of British casualties ran from 40 to 100, while claiming their own casualties at one killed and one wounded.[8] The British reported their losses as three killed and 18 wounded, which were mainly incurred when the Hope grounded.[6]

After departing from Machias, Collier cruised the Maine coast, capturing smaller American ships, and raided communities on the Sheepscot River. There he captured a frigate laden with mast timbers destined for France.[11] In his report Collier declared the mission a success, and claimed to have successfully forestalled another invasion of Nova Scotia.[8] He also believed that with another 100 men “the destruction [of Machias] would have been compleat”.[6] General Massey, whose troops had been preparing to participate in the expedition but were excluded by Collier’s abrupt departure from Halifax, wrote that Collier “wanted the whole honour of destroying Machias”, and that he “stole out of Halifax, made a futile attack on Machias, was most shamefully drove from thence …”[12][13]

Machias was not attacked again during the war, although it became somewhat isolated when the British occupied Castine in 1779, establishing the colony New Ireland.[14] Collier returned to successfully defend New Ireland from the American patriot Penobscot Expedition.

Machias and other parts of eastern Maine were successfully occupied by British forces during the War of 1812, again the British created the colony New Ireland, but were returned to United States control after the war.[15]


  1. Duncan, pp. 211–217
  2. Leamon, pp. 90–91
  3. Gwyn, p. 64
  4. Leamon, p. 92
  5. Acts and Resolves, pp. 87–90
  6. Gwyn, p. 65
  7. Gwyn, pp. 60–61
  8. Leamon, p. 93
  9. Mancke, p. 103
  10. Smith, p. 684
  11. Gwyn, p. 66
  12. Publications of the Cambridge Historical Society, p. 71
  13. Mancke, pp. 103–104
  14. Leamon, pp. 104–106
  15. Mancke, p. 107


  • The Acts and Resolves, Public and Private, of the Province of the Massachusetts Bay, Volume 20. Commonwealth of Massachusetts. 1920. OCLC 4553382
  • Publications of the Cambridge Historical Society, Issues 5–7. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge Historical Society. 1911. OCLC 6177743
  • Duncan, Roger F (1992). Coastal Maine: A Maritime History. New York: Norton. ISBN 0-393-03048-2
  • Gwyn, Julian (2004). Frigates and Foremasts: The North American Squadron in Nova Scotia Waters, 1745–1815. Vancouver, BC: UBC Press. ISBN 978-0-7748-0911-5. OCLC 144078613
  • Leamon, James S (1995). Revolution Downeast: The War for American Independence in Maine. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press. ISBN 978-0-87023-959-5
  • Mancke, Elizabeth (2005). The Fault Lines of Empire: Political Differentiation in Massachusetts and Nova Scotia, ca. 1760–1830. New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-95000-8. OCLC 56368582
  • Smith, M. F. C. (March–August 1895). “Machias in the Revolution and Afterward”. The New England Magazine (John N. McClintock & Co.) (Volume XII). OCLC 7568653

Abner Nash, second Governor of North Carolina

August 8, 2014



Abner Nash was the second Governor of the State of North Carolina between 1781 and 1782, and represented North Carolina in the Continental Congress from 1782 to 1786.

Nash was born in Prince Edward County, Virginia, on August 8, 1740. He read law and was admitted to the bar in Virginia. He also began his political career there, serving in the House of Burgesses from 1761 to 1765, before moving to New Bern, North Carolina. He married the widow of former colonial governor Arthur Dobbs.[1]


Abner Nash, Second Governor of North Carolina

Nash was an active supporter of the revolutionary cause. He represented New Bern in the rebel “provincial congress” assembled from 1774, and in 1776 was a member of the committee that drafted the state’s new constitution. He became a member of the North Carolina House of Commons in 1777 (serving as the first Speaker of that house) and the State Senate in 1779.

He was elected Governor by the legislature in 1781. During his brief tenure as governor, North Carolina saw some of its worst conflicts as a battleground in the American Revolution. Unlike his brother Francis, his temper and poor health were poorly suited to the needs of war. This brought him into difficulty with the legislature. The assembly appointed Richard Caswell as commander-in-chief of the militia, even though the constitution assigned this responsibility to the governor. Then in December of 1781 they named a Council Extraordinary that further encroached on his office. Consequently, Nash resigned and went home in the spring of 1782. Thomas Burke was named to replace him.

Later in 1782, North Carolina eased political tensions by sending Nash as a delegate to the Continental Congress. He would serve there the rest of his life, as he died at a session in New York City on December 2, 1786. Abner was originally buried in St. Paul’s Churchyard in Manhattan, but his body was later returned for burial in a private, family plot in Pembroke Plantation Family Cemetery at New Bern, Craven County, North Carolina.

His son, Frederick Nash, was also a lawyer and political leader. He would serve as Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court.


  1. Authur Dobbs Esquire 1689-1765

James Bowdoin, Governor of Massachusetts

August 7, 2014



James Bowdoin II was an American political and intellectual leader from Boston, Massachusetts during the American Revolution. He served in both branches of the Massachusetts General Court from the 1750s to the 1770s. Although he was initially supportive of the royal governors, he opposed British colonial policy and eventually became an influential advocate of independence. He authored a highly political report on the 1770 Boston Massacre that has been described as one of the most influential pieces of writing that shaped public opinion in the colonies.

From 1775 to 1777 he served as president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress’ executive council, the de facto head of the Massachusetts government. He was elected president of the constitutional convention that drafted the state’s constitution in 1779, and ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1780, losing to John Hancock. In 1785, following Hancock’s resignation, he won election as governor. During his two years in office poor economic conditions led to the uprising known as Shays’ Rebellion. Bowdoin personally funded militia forces that were instrumental in putting down the uprising. His high-handed treatment of the rebels may have contributed to his loss of the 1787 election.

In addition to his political activities, Bowdoin was active in scientific pursuits, collaborating with Benjamin Franklin in his pioneering research on electricity. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London, and was a founder and first president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, to whom he bequeathed his library. Bowdoin College in Maine was named in his honor after a bequest by his son James III.


2nd Governor of Massachusetts

James Bowdoin II was born August 7, 1726, in Boston to Hannah Portage Bowdoin and James Bowdoin, a wealthy Boston merchant.[1] His grandfather, Pierre Baudouin, was a Huguenot refugee from France. Pierre took his family first to Ireland, then to eastern Massachusetts (present-day Maine), before finally settling in Boston in 1690.[2] James Bowdoin I had a modest inheritance from his parents, but parlayed it into a fortune that made him one of the wealthiest men in the province.[1] Young James attended the South Grammar School (now Boston Latin School), then graduated from Harvard College in 1745. When his father died in 1747, he inherited a considerable fortune.[3] He married Elizabeth Erving, daughter of his Harvard roommate, in 1748. They had two children.[4]


Portrait of Bowdoin as a child by John Smibert

Bowdoin may have met Benjamin Franklin as early as 1743, and the two became frequent collaborators and correspondents on scientific subjects. During his Harvard years, he was educated in the sciences by John Winthrop, and he developed an interest in electricity and astronomy. In 1750 Bowdoin traveled to Philadelphia to meet with Franklin. Bowdoin was interested in Franklin’s experiments on electricity, and Franklin solicited his advice on papers he prepared for submission to the Royal Society. Through the offices of Franklin, some of Bowdoin’s letters were read to the Society.[5]

Bowdoin maintained a life-long interest in the sciences. In 1780 he was one of the founders of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He served as its first president until his death and left the society his library. Bowdoin continued to publish not only scientific papers, but verse in both English and Latin. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Edinburgh, made a fellow of Harvard. His 1788 election to the Royal Society of London in 1788 was the first such honor bestowed on an American after independence.[6]

Bowdoin also had extensive business interests. Although he was often characterized as a merchant, his principal interest was in land. His inheritance included major tracts of land, most of which he kept, in present-day Maine as well as an interest in the agriculturally rich Elizabeth Islands off the state’s south coast. Bowdoin expanded his holdings, eventually acquiring property in all of the New England states except Rhode Island. He was one of the managing proprietors of a large territory on the Kennebec River, where he was frequently involved in legal proceedings with squatters on the land, and with competing land interests. The dealings with squatters in particular left Bowdoin with a dislike of the lower classes in Massachusetts society, something that affected his politics.[7] His inheritance also included an ironworks in Attleboro (now Bridgewater that he sold in 1770, apparently because it was too time-consuming to manage.[8]

In later years he served as the president of the Massachusetts Bank in 1784 and was elected president of the Massachusetts Humane Society (an organization devoted to rescuing survivors from shipwrecks) in 1786.


Governor Francis Bernard

Bowdoin was elected to the provincial assembly in 1753 and served there until named to the governor’s council in 1756.[9] Although at first supportive of the royal governor, his politics became more radical as British colonial policy became increasingly unpopular, and Bowdoin believed those policies would have a negative effect on the New England economy. Personal factors may also have played a role in Bowdoin’s shift in views: John Temple, the local customs commissioner and Bowdoin’s son in law, was embroiled in nasty disputes with Governor Francis Bernard.[10][11] By 1769 Bowdoin was one of the principal spokesmen of the opposition to the governor on the council.[9] In that year Bernard rejected Bowdoin’s renewed election to the council.[12] Bowdoin, however, was instrumental in causing Bernard’s downfall from office. Private letters critical of the provincial government that Bernard had written were published in 1769 to great outrage. Bowdoin rebutted Bernard’s charges, and published a highly polemic pamphlet arguing for Bernard’s removal that was sent to the colonial secretary, Lord Hillsborough.[13]

Bowdoin won reelection to the assembly 1770, and was promptly reelected to the council that year after Bernard left the province.[12] Acting Governor Thomas Hutchinson acquiesced to Bowdoin’s return to the council, reasoning that he was less dangerous there than as an outspoken critic in the lower house.[14] However, the seat Bowdoin vacated in the assembly was taken by Samuel Adams, another leading political opponent of the royal governors, and Hutchinson was faced with the prospect of opposition on both fronts.[12]

After the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770, Bowdoin was chosen by the Boston town meeting to a committee that investigated the affair. The committee took depositions and produced a report describing the event that was published as A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre. The work was highly critical not only of the governor, but also the behavior of the British Army troops that were stationed in Boston,[9] and is characterized by historian Francis Walett as one of the major propaganda pieces influencing public opinion in the colonies.[15] Bowdoin’s opposition to British policies continued during the Hutchinson administration, and when letters by Hutchinson were published to outrage similar to the Bernard letters affair, Bowdoin again penned works highly critical of the governor and calling for his removal.[16] Hutchinson’s successor, General Thomas Gage, vetoed Bowdoin’s reelection to the council in 1774, citing “express orders from His Majesty” that he be excluded from that body.[14]

Bowdoin as named as a delegate to the First Continental Congress in 1774 but did not attend, citing the poor health of his wife.[17] Both she and Bowdoin suffered from symptoms now recognized as those of tuberculosis, and a bout of poor health on her part at the time also affected him.[18] Bowdoin was again ill in 1775 when the American Revolutionary War broke out, and the family was relocated from British-occupied Boston (which was then under siege by area militia) first to Dorchester, and eventually to Middleborough, where he resided until 1778. (Bowdoin’s Beacon Street mansion was occupied by General John Burgoyne.)[19] Despite his convalescence he was kept apprised of events occurring in and around Boston, and was elected president of the executive council of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. This position, which he held until 1777, made him the de facto head of the Massachusetts government.[20] Citing his ongoing poor health, he resigned the post and withdrew from public view. He continued to correspond with other revolutionaries, and enjoyed their confidence, although his absence from the war effort would lead to later political difficulties.[21] He began to return to public life in 1778, and when Massachusetts wrote its own constitution in 1779, he was president of the convention called to create it, and chairman of the committee that drafted it. John Adams, also a committee member, is generally credited as the major author of the new constitution, although Bowdoin and Samuel Adams likely made significant contributions.[22][23]

In the first gubernatorial election, held in 1780, Bowdoin ran for the office against John Hancock. In the absence of formal party politics, the contest was one of personality, popularity, and patriotism. Hancock was immensely popular, and unquestionably patriotic given his personal sacrifices and his leadership of the Second Continental Congress. Bowdoin was cast by Hancock supporters as unpatriotic, citing among other things his refusal to serve in the First Continental Congress.[24] Bowdoin’s supporters, who were principally well-off commercial interests from Massachusetts coastal communities, cast Hancock as a foppish demagogue who pandered to the populace.[25] Hancock won the election easily, receiving more than 90% of the vote. The Massachusetts House of Representatives offered Bowdoin either the lieutenant governorship or a seat in the state senate, but Bowdoin declined both on account of his poor health.[26] Hancock appointed him to a commission to revise and consolidate the laws from colonial days.

Bowdoin ran against Hancock in subsequent elections, but was never able to overcome Hancock’s popularity. In 1785, apparently sensitive to rising unrest in western Massachusetts over the poor economy, Hancock somewhat abruptly resigned. The gubernatorial race that year was dominated by Bowdoin, Lieutenant Governor Thomas Cushing (who was widely viewed as a stand-in for Hancock but lacked his charisma), and Revolutionary War General Benjamin Lincoln. The electorate gave no candidate a majority, and the General Court ended up choosing Bowdoin over the others in bitterly divisive voting.[27]

Governor Hancock had, during his time in office, refused to vigorously act to collect delinquent taxes. Bowdoin, seeking to make payments the state owed against the nation’s foreign debt, raised taxes and stepped up collection of back taxes. These actions, which were combined with a general post-war economic depression and a credit squeeze caused by a shortage of hard currency, wrought havoc throughout the rural parts of the state. Conventions organized in the rural parts of the state submitted letters of protest to the state legislature, which was dominated by Bowdoin and the conservative wholesale merchants of the coastal portions of the state.

After the legislature adjourned in August 1786 without substantively addressing these complaints, rural Massachusetts protestors organized direct action, and began shutting down the state’s court system, which enforced tax and civil forfeiture judgments and had become a focus of the discontent. Bowdoin issued a proclamation in early September denouncing these actions, but took no overt steps to immediately organize a militia response (unlike governors in neighboring Connecticut and New Hampshire). Protests and court shutdowns continued, with one correspondent writing in October, “”We are now in a state of Anarchy and Confusion bordering on Civil War”.

Under the leadership of Bowdoin and Samuel Adams, the legislature enacted a Riot Act, suspended habeas corpus, and passed a bill that unsuccessfully attempted to address the financial reasons for the protests. By November the protests, which began as demands for reform, had grown to become a direct attack on the “tyrannical government of Massachusetts”. Hampshire County in particular (which then included what are now Hampden and Franklin Counties) had become a hotbed of rebellion, with leaders like Daniel Shays and Luke Day beginning to organize for an attack on government institutions.

Because the federal government had been unable to raise any significant number of troops and Bowdoin could no longer trust local militias in the western counties, he proposed in early January 1787 the creation of a private militia to be funded by eastern merchants. Revolutionary War General Benjamin Lincoln raised funds and men for the effort, and had 3,000 men in Worcester by January 19. A standoff at the Springfield Armory on January 25 resulted in the death of several rebels, and Lincoln broke the main rebel force on February 4 in Petersham, ending large-scale resistance.

The same day that Lincoln arrived at Petersham, the state legislature passed bills authorizing a state of martial law, giving the governor broad powers to act against the rebels. It also authorized state payments to reimburse Lincoln and the merchants who had funded the army, and authorized the recruitment of additional militia.[28] On February 12 the legislature passed the Disqualification Act, seeking to prevent a legislative response by rebel sympathizer. This bill expressly forbade any acknowledged rebels from holding a variety of elected and appointed offices.[29]

The crushing of the rebellion and the harsh terms of reconciliation imposed by the Disqualification Act all worked against Governor Bowdoin politically. In the election held in April 1787, Bowdoin received few votes from the rural parts of the state, and was trounced by John Hancock.[30]

In 1788 Bowdoin served as a member of the Massachusetts convention that ratified the United States Constitution, and continued to run unsuccessfully against Hancock for the governorship.


Bowdoin’s tomb in the Granary Burying Ground

He died in Boston on November 6, 1790, of “putrid fever and dysentery”.[31] Bowdoin’s funeral was one of the largest and grandest Boston had known. He was interred in Boston’s Granary Burying Ground. Among his bequests was a gift to Harvard College for awards that are now known as the Bowdoin Prizes.[32] His son James III donated lands from the family estate in Brunswick, Maine, as well as funds and books, to establish Bowdoin College in his honor.[33]

An orrery constructed by clockmaker Joseph Pope, now in Harvard’s science department, includes bronze figures of Bowdoin and Benjamin Franklin that were supposedly cast by Paul Revere. (Bowdoin was responsible for having the device rescued when Pope’s house caught fire in 1787.)[34][35]

Landmarks bearing the Bowdoin name in Boston include Bowdoin Street, Bowdoin Square, and the Bowdoin MBTA station. Bowdoin and Bowdoinham, Maine are not named for James; they are named for his brother William, who was also a major landowner there.


  1. Danver, p. 217
  2. Winthrop, pp. 91–94
  3. Winthrop, p. 94
  4. Manuel and Manuel, p. 44
  5. Manuel and Manuel, p. 74
  6. Stearns, pp. 243–244
  7. Kersaw, pp. 62, 66–69
  8. Kersaw, p. 62
  9. Manuel and Manuel, p. 86
  10. Walett, p. 321
  11. Manuel and Manuel, p. 88
  12. Alexander, p. 112
  13. Walett, pp. 324–325
  14. Winthrop, p. 104
  15. Walett, p. 333
  16. Walett, p. 327
  17. Morse, p. 22
  18. Manuel and Manuel, p. 93
  19. Manuel and Manuel, pp. 96–97
  20. Winthrop, pp. 58–60
  21. Manuel and Manuel, p. 101
  22. Winthrop, pp. 60-61
  23. Manuel and Manuel, pp. 109–110
  24. Morse, pp. 21–22
  25. Hall, p. 134
  26. Manuel and Manuel, p. 39
  27. Hall, pp. 136–138
  28. Richards, p. 32
  29. Richards, p. 33
  30. Richards, pp. 38–39
  31. Manuel and Manuel, p. 247
  32. “Harvard University: Prize Descriptions”. Harvard University.
  33. Manuel and Manuel, p. 249
  34. “Grand Orrery”. Harvard University.,/is/,/2186/,/false/,/true
  35. Manuel and Manuel, p. 237


  • Alexander, John (2011). Samuel Adams: the Life of an American Revolutionary. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 9780742570337. OCLC 678924183
  • Danver, Steven (2010). Revolts, Protests, Demonstrations, and Rebellions in American History. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9781598842210. OCLC 475446571
  • Hall, Van Beck (1972). Politics Without Parties: Massachusetts 1780–1791. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press. ISBN 9780822932345. OCLC 315459
  • Kershaw, Gordon (1976). James Bowdoin, Patriot and Man of the Enlightenment. Brunswick, ME: Bowdoin College. OCLC 3117145
  • Manuel, Frank Edward; Manuel, Fritzie Prigohzy (2004). James Bowdoin and the Patriot Philosophers. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society. ISBN 9780871692474. OCLC 231993575
  • Morse, Anson. The Federalist Party in Massachusetts to the Year 1800. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. OCLC 718724.
  • Richards, Leonard L (2002). Shays’s Rebellion: The American Revolution’s Final Battle. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 9780812218701. OCLC 56029217
  • Stearns, Raymond (April 1951). “Colonial Fellows of the Royal Society of London, 1661–1788″. Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London (Volume 8, No. 2). JSTOR 3087199
  • Szatmary, David P. (1980). Shays’s Rebellion: The Making of an Agrarian Insurrection. University of Massachusetts Press. ISBN 9780870234194.
  • Walett, Francis (September 1950). “James Bowdoin, Patriot Propagandist”. The New England Quarterly (Volume 23, No. 3). JSTOR 361420
  • Winthrop, Robert (1852). The Life and Service of James Bowdoin. Boston: Little, Brown. OCLC 296634.

Major General James Irvine, Pennsylvania Militia

August 4, 2014



James Irvine was a Pennsylvania soldier and politician of the Colonial, Revolutionary, and Post-Revolutionary periods. He was an officer of the Continental Army, a member of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, and Vice-President of Pennsylvania (a position comparable to Lieutenant Governor).

James Irvine was born in Philadelphia on August 4, 1735, the son of George Irvine and Mary Rush. George Irvine had immigrated to the Colonies from Ireland.

As a young man Irvine worked as a hatter, but in 1760 he enrolled in Samuel Atlee’s provincial Pennsylvania unit and served in the French and Indian War. He spent most of his time along Pennsylvania’s northern frontier. In 1763 he was promoted to captain. The following year, during Pontiac’s Rebellion, he served with Henry Bouquet’s expedition into the Ohio Country.

In the fall of 1775 Irvine was commissioned a lieutenant colonel in the 1st Pennsylvania Battalion of the Continental Army. He served in Virginia and Canada, and was promoted to colonel in Pennsylvania’s 9th Regiment in late 1776; he was then given command of the 2nd Regiment. Irvine resigned, believing that he should have been promoted to general. However, a few months later he was commissioned a brigadier general in the Pennsylvania militia.

After returning to the battlefield Irvine was captured by the British in a skirmish at Chestnut Hill, near Philadelphia, on December 5, 1777. He suffered neck injuries and lost three of the fingers on his left hand in the fight. He was held prisoner by the British for nearly four years, first in New York and then in Flushing. He was released June 1, 1781. He was active in planning the defense of Philadelphia against suspected British attack.

After the war, he held the rank of major general in the Pennsylvania militia from 1782 to 1793.

Irvine served on the Supreme Executive Council of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, from 1782 to 1785, representing the City of Philadelphia. His party affiliation was Constitutionalist. On November 6, 1784 he defeated John Neville in the election for the Vice-Presidency of Pennsylvania, a position analogous to the modern office of Lieutenant Governor. He resigned the office on October 10, 1785 and was succeeded by Charles Biddle. No reason for his resignation appears in the Minutes of the Executive Council. Irvine served in the Pennsylvania General Assembly during the 1785–1786 term. In 1786 the Constitutionalist party lost much of its support and Irvine’s political career suffered. He did, however, serve in the State Senate from 1795 to 1799.

As Vice-President Irvine served as an ex officio member of the Board of Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania, and continued as an elected Trustee after leaving office, serving until 1791. He was also an original Trustee of Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and was considered to be a firm supporter of education.


James Irvine died in Philadelphia on April 28, 1819, following a long illness.


  • University of Pennsylvania biography of James Irvine


David Stuart, Commissioner for District of Columbia

August 3, 2014



David Stuart was an associate and correspondent of George Washington. When Washington became President of the United States, he appointed Stuart to be one of the three commissioners that were in charge of site choice and design of the nation’s new capital city.

David Stuart was born on August 3, 1753[1], in Scotland, however, some sources claim he was born in Prince George County, Virginia. Stuart studied medicine and languages at the University of St Andrews in Edinburgh.[2] Emigrating to America, he established a practice in Alexandria, Virginia. He became a relative of George Washington’s in 1783 when he married Eleanor Calvert Custis, the widow of Washington’s stepson John Parke Custis and a descendent of Cecilius Calvert, Lord Baltimore, the recipient of the charter for the Maryland colony.[1] A number of letters from Washington to Stuart exist, concerning family matters and Virginia politics.[3]

Eleanor and David had sixteen children of their own, including:[1][4][5]

  • Ann Calvert Stuart Robinson (born 1784), married William Robinson[4][5]
  • Sarah Stuart Waite (born 1786), married Obed Waite[4][5]
  • Ariana Calvert Stuart[4][5]
  • William Skolto Stuart[4][5]
  • Eleanor Custis Stuart (born 1792)[4][5]
  • Charles Calvert Stuart (1794–1846), married Cornelia Lee[4][5]
  • Rosalie Eugenia Stuart Webster (1796–1886), married William Greenleaf Webster[4][5][6]

In addition, Stuart helped raise John Parke Custis’s and Eleanor’s two eldest children, Elizabeth Parke Custis Law and Martha Parke Custis Peter.[7] The Stuarts and their family resided at three estates in Fairfax County, Virginia: Abingdon, Hope Park and Ossian Hall.[5][7]

Stuart served as a representative to the Virginia House of Delegates and also to the Virginia convention of 1788 that ratified the U. S. Constitution.[8] He voted for ratification [9]

He was chosen as an elector for the 1789 election from Prince William District.[10] That District consisted of the Counties of Fairfax, Fauquier, Loudoun and Prince William, which cover the area west of Washington DC.[11] All of the ten electors from Virginia who voted cast one of their two votes for George Washington. Five of them cast their other vote for John Adams. Three cast theirs for George Clinton. One cast his for John Hancock and one cast his for John Jay.[12]

In 1790 he was appointed by George Washington as a commissioner of the Federal City to oversee the site selection and planning of a new capital. He served on the commission until at least 1793.[13] In 1791, Dr. Stuart and the other commissioners named the capital the “City of Washington” in “The Territory of Columbia.”[14]


Saint Thomas Episcopal Church

Stuart passed away in October, 1814, and is believed to have been buried in Saint Thomas Episcopal Church Cemetery at Croom, Prince George’s County, Maryland.


  1. Johnson, R. Winder (1905). The Ancestry of Rosalie Morris Johnson: Daughter of George Calvert Morris and Elizabeth Kuhn, his wife. Ferris & Leach. pp. 16–17, 29–30.
  2. “Washington to Dr. Stuart: Some Unpublished Letters of the First President”, New York Times, March 14, 1880, p. 4
  3. John C. Fitzpatrick, ed. “The writings of George Washington from the original manuscript sources”. U. S. Government Printing Office.
  4. Edmund Jennings Lee. Lee of Virginia, 1642-1892. Heritage Books.
  5. National Genealogical Society (1917). National Genealogical Society Quarterly. National Genealogical Society.
  6. James Edward Greenleaf (1896). Genealogy of the Greenleaf Family. F. Wood.
  7. Templeman, Eleanor Lee (1959). Arlington Heritage: Vignettes of a Virginia County. New York: Avenel Books, a division of Crown Publishers, Inc.. pp. 12–13.
  8. The History of the Virginia Federal Convention of 1788…, Hugh B. Grigsby, Vol. II, 1891, p. 38
  10. The Documentary history of the first Federal elections, 1788-1790, by Gordon DenBoer, Volume 2, page 303
  12. The Documentary history of the first Federal elections, 1788-1790, by Gordon DenBoer, Volume 2, pages 304-5
  14. Crew, Harvey W.; Webb, William Bensing; Wooldridge, John (1892). “IV. Permanent Capital Site Selected”. Centennial History of the City of Washington, D.C.. Dayton, Ohio: United Brethren Publishing House. pp. 87–88, 101.

Francis Scott Key, amateur poet and writer of our national anthem

August 1, 2014



Francis Scott Key was an American lawyer, author, and amateur poet, from Georgetown, who wrote the lyrics to the United States’ national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”


Francis Scott Key was born on August 1, 1779, in Keymar, Maryland. He became a respected young lawyer living in Georgetown just west of where the modern day Key Bridge crosses the Potomac River (the house was torn down after years of neglect in 1947). He made his home there from 1804 to around 1833 with his wife Mary and their six sons and five daughters. At the time, Georgetown was a thriving town of 5,000 people just a few miles from the Capitol, the White House, and the Federal buildings of Washington.

But, after war broke out in 1812 over Britain’s attempts to regulate American shipping and other activities while Britain was at war with France, all was not tranquil in Georgetown. The British had entered Chesapeake Bay on August 19th, 1814, and by the evening of the 24th of August, the British had invaded and captured Washington. They set fire to the Capitol and the White House, the flames visible 40 miles away in Baltimore.

President James Madison, his wife Dolley, and his Cabinet had already fled to a safer location. Such was their haste to leave that they had had to rip the Stuart portrait of George Washington from the walls without its frame!

A thunderstorm at dawn kept the fires from spreading. The next day more buildings were burned and again a thunderstorm dampened the fires. Having done their work the British troops returned to their ships in and around the Chesapeake Bay.

In the days following the attack on Washington, the American forces prepared for the assault on Baltimore (population 40,000) that they knew would come by both land and sea. Word soon reached Francis Scott Key that the British had carried off an elderly and much loved town physician of Upper Marlboro, Dr. William Beanes, and was being held on the British flagship TONNANT. The townsfolk feared that Dr. Beanes would be hanged. They asked Francis Scott Key for his help, and he agreed, and arranged to have Col. John Skinner, an American agent for prisoner exchange to accompany him.

On the morning of September 3rd, he and Col. Skinner set sail from Baltimore aboard a sloop flying a flag of truce approved by President Madison. On the 7th they found and boarded the TONNANT to confer with Gen. Ross and Adm. Alexander Cochrane. At first they refused to release Dr. Beanes. But Key and Skinner produced a pouch of letters written by wounded British prisoners praising the care they were receiving from the Americans, among them Dr. Beanes. The British officers relented but would not release the three Americans immediately because they had seen and heard too much of the preparations for the attack on Baltimore. They were placed under guard, first aboard the H.M.S. Surprise, then onto the sloop and forced to wait out the battle behind the British fleet.


Now let’s go back to the summer of 1813 for a moment. At the star-shaped Fort McHenry, the commander, Maj. George Armistead, asked for a flag so big that “the British would have no trouble seeing it from a distance”. Two officers, a Commodore and a General, were sent to the Baltimore home of Mary Young Pickersgill, a “maker of colours,” and commissioned the flag. Mary and her thirteen year old daughter Caroline, working in an upstairs front bedroom, used 400 yards of best quality wool bunting. They cut 15 stars that measured two feet from point to point. Eight red and seven white stripes, each two feet wide, were cut. Laying out the material on the malt house floor of Claggett’s Brewery, a neighborhood establishment, the flag was sewn together. By August it was finished. It measured 30 by 42 feet and cost $405.90. The Baltimore Flag House, a museum, now occupies her premises, which were restored in 1953.

At 7 a.m. on the morning of September 13, 1814, the British bombardment began, and the flag was ready to meet the enemy. The bombardment continued for 25 hours, the British firing 1,500 bombshells that weighed as much as 220 pounds and carried lighted fuses that would supposedly cause it to explode when it reached its target. But they weren’t very dependable and often blew up in mid air. From special small boats the British fired the new Congreve rockets that traced wobbly arcs of red flame across the sky. The Americans had sunk 22 vessels so a close approach by the British was not possible. That evening the cannonading stopped, but at about 1 a.m. on the 14th, the British fleet roared to life, lighting the rainy night sky with grotesque fireworks.

Key, Col. Skinner, and Dr. Beanes watched the battle with apprehension. They knew that as long as the shelling continued, Fort McHenry had not surrendered. But, long before daylight there came a sudden and mysterious silence. What the three Americans did not know was that the British land assault on Baltimore as well as the naval attack, had been abandoned. Judging Baltimore as being too costly a prize, the British officers ordered a retreat.

Waiting in the predawn darkness, Key waited for the sight that would end his anxiety; the joyous sight of Gen. Armistead’s great flag blowing in the breeze. When at last daylight came, the flag was still there!


Fort McHenry Memorial today

Being an amateur poet and having been so uniquely inspired, Key began to write on the back of a letter he had in his pocket. Sailing back to Baltimore he composed more lines and in his lodgings at the Indian Queen Hotel he finished the poem. Judge J. H. Nicholson, his brother-in-law, took it to a printer and copies were circulated around Baltimore under the title “Defence of Fort M’Henry”. Two of these copies survive. It was printed in a newspaper for the first time in the Baltimore Patriot on September 20th,1814, then in papers as far away as Georgia and New Hampshire. To the verses was added a note “Tune: Anacreon in Heaven.” In October a Baltimore actor sang Key’s new song in a public performance and called it “The Star-Spangled Banner”.

Immediately popular, it remained just one of several patriotic airs until it was finally adopted as our national anthem on March 3, 1931. But the actual words were not included in the legal documents. Key himself had written several versions with slight variations so discrepancies in the exact wording still occur.

The flag, our beloved Star-Spangled Banner, went on view ,for the first time after flying over Fort McHenry, on January 1st,1876 at the Old State House in Philadelphia for the nations’ Centennial celebration. It now resides in the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American History. An opaque curtain shields the now fragile flag from light and dust. The flag is exposed for viewing for a few moments once every hour during museum hours.

Francis Scott Key was a witness to the last enemy fire to fall on Fort McHenry. The Fort was designed by a Frenchman named Jean Foncin and was named for then Secretary of war James McHenry. Fort McHenry holds the unique designation of national monument and historic shrine.

Since May 30th, 1949, the flag has flown continuously, by a Joint Resolution of Congress, over the monument marking the site of Francis Scott Key’s birthplace, Terra Rubra Farm, Carroll County, Keymar, Maryland.

The copy that Key wrote in his hotel September 14,1814, remained in the Nicholson family for 93 years. In 1907 it was sold to Henry Walters of Baltimore. In 1934 it was bought at auction in New York from the Walters estate by the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore for $26,400. The Walters Gallery in 1953 sold the manuscript to the Maryland Historical Society for the same price. Another copy that Key made is in the Library of Congress.

Francis Scott Key died at the home of his daughter Elizabeth Howard in Baltimore on January 11, 1843, and was initially interred in Old Saint Paul’s Cemetery in the vault of John Eager Howard. In 1866, his body was moved to his family plot in the Mount Olivet Cemetery at Frederick, Maryland.



Marquis de Lafayette commissioned a Major General by Second Continental Congress

July 31, 2014



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

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


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

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


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

Source: This Day in History – July 31


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