Captain Simeon Hicks: last soldier from the Battle of Bennington

August 22, 2014



Captain Simeon Hicks, a veteran of the American Revolution, was one of only a few men who survived long enough to be photographed. Little is known about his life before the Revolution. He was born on August 22, 1755, the son of Ephraim and Mary Galusha Hicks and married Molly Barney Hicks. They had at least seven children: Esbon, Polly, Simeon, Urania, Anna, Daniel, and Elvira.


Hicks was a Minuteman from Rehoboth, Massachusetts. He mobilized with his unit and helped seal off a British garrison in Boston after the Battles of Lexington and Concorde. Hicks served several short enlistments and fought in the Battle of Bennington, August 16, 1777.

After the war Hicks became something of a local celebrity and lived out his final years in in Sunderland, Vermont. He was the last person alive to have seen the Battle of Bennington.

Hicks died on January 24, 1855, and is buried at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Sunderland, Vermont.


  1. Faces of the men who won America’s independence, Daily Mail Online, July 4, 2013
  2. Simeon Hicks at Find A Grave

Shays’ Rebellion

August 21, 2014



Shays’ Rebellion was an armed uprising that took place in central and western Massachusetts from 1786 to 1787. The rebellion was named after Daniel Shays, a veteran of the American Revolutionary War.

The rebellion started on August 21, 1786, over financial difficulties and by January 1787, over one thousand Shaysites had been arrested. A militia that had been raised as a private army defeated an attack on the federal Springfield Armory by the main Shaysite force on February 3, 1787, and five rebels were killed in the action. Scattered resistance continued, mainly in western Massachusetts, with the largest single action being an incident in Sheffield in which 30 rebels were killed.

In the aftermath, fear spread that the American Revolution’s democratic impulse had gotten out of hand. This fear, combined with the lack of institutional response to the uprising, energized calls to reevaluate the Articles of Confederation and gave strong impetus to the Philadelphia Convention which began on May 17, 1787, which created the United States Constitution.


Contemporary unflattering depiction of Daniel Shays and Job Shattuck, two of the main protest leaders

In the aftermath of the American Revolutionary War (which largely died down in North America after the 1781 American victory at Yorktown), the individual United States all carried significant debts. In order to pay off these debts the state governments raised taxes, and often required payment in hard currency rather than depreciated state or Continental paper currency.

In the rural parts of New England, particularly in central and western Massachusetts, the economy even during the war had been one of little more than subsistence agriculture. Most of the residents in these areas had little in the way of assets beyond their land, and they often bartered with one another for goods or services. In lean times farmers might get goods on credit from suppliers in the local market towns, which would be repaid when times were better.

In the more economically developed coastal areas of Massachusetts Bay, the economy was more of a market economy, driven by the activities of wholesale merchants dealing with Europe, the West Indies, and elsewhere on the North American coast. The state government was dominated by this merchant class.

With the war at an end, the European business partners of Massachusetts merchants refused to extend lines of credit to them, and insisted that goods be paid for with hard currency. Despite the continent-wide shortage of such currency, the merchants began to demand the same from their local business partners, including the merchants operating in the market towns in the state’s interior. These merchants propagated the demand to their customers.

The rural farming population was generally unable to meet the demands being laid on them by the merchants or by the civil authorities, and individuals began to lose their land and other possessions when they were unable to fulfill their debt and tax obligations. This led to resentment against the tax collectors (who were responsible for collecting taxes owed) and the justice system (where creditors obtained and enforced judgments against them).

At a meeting convened by aggrieved commoners, a farmer, Plough Jogger, encapsulated the situation:[1]

“I have been greatly abused, have been obliged to do more than my part in the war, been loaded with class rates, town rates, province rates, Continental rates and hi people all rates…been pulled and hauled by sheriffs, constables and collectors, and had my cattle sold for less than they were worth…The great men are going to get all we have and I think it is time for us to rise and put a stop to it, and have no more courts, nor sheriffs, nor collectors nor lawyers.”

Overlaid upon these financial issues was the fact that veterans of the war had not received much pay during the war, and were having difficulty collecting back pay owed them from the state or the Congress of the Confederation.[1] Some of these soldiers, Daniel Shays among them, began to organize protests against the oppressive economic conditions. Shays was a poor farmhand from Massachusetts when the Revolution broke out. He joined the Continental Army, saw action at the Battles of Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill, and Saratoga, and was eventually wounded in action. In 1780, he resigned from the army unpaid and went home to find himself in court for the nonpayment of debts. He soon found that he was not alone in being unable to pay his debts, and began organizing for debt relief.[2]

One opening salvo of protest took place in the central Massachusetts town of Uxbridge, in Worcester County, on Feb. 3, 1783, when a mob seized property that had been confiscated by a local constable and returned it to its owners. Governor John Hancock ordered the sheriff to suppress these actions.[3] Another was Job Shattuck of Groton, who in 1782 organized residents there to physically prevent tax collectors from doing their work.[4]

Most rural communities, however, attempted to use the legislative process to gain relief. Petitions and proposals were repeatedly submitted to the state legislature to issue paper currency. Such inflationary issues would depreciate the currency, making it possible to meet obligations made at high values with lower-valued paper. The merchants, especially James Bowdoin who succeeded Hancock as governor in 1785, were opposed, because they were generally lenders who stood to lose by such proposals. As a result these proposals were repeatedly rejected.[5] The legislature in 1785 exacerbated the situation by levying an additional property tax to raise funds for the state’s portion of foreign debt payments, and passing legislation to step up collection of overdue taxes.[6] Even comparatively conservative commentators like John Adams observed that these levies were “heavier than the People could bear.”[7]

Protests in the rural Massachusetts turned into direct action in August 1786, after the state legislature adjourned without considering the many petitions that had been sent to Boston by rural communities.[8][9] On August 29 a well-organized force of protestors from the surrounding rural communities formed in Northampton and successfully prevented the county court from sitting.[10] The leaders of this and later forces proclaimed that they were seeking relief from the burdensome judicial processes that were depriving the people of their land and possessions. They called themselves Regulators, a reference to the Regulator movement of North Carolina that sought to reform corrupt practices in the late 1760s.[11]

On September 2, Governor Bowdoin issued a proclamation denouncing such mob action, but took no military measures in response beyond planning militia response to future actions.[10][12] When the court in Worcester was shut down by similar action on September 5, the county militia (composed mainly of men sympathetic to the protestors) refused to turn out, much to Bowdoin’s amazement.[13] Governors of the neighboring states where similar protests took place acted decisively, calling out the militia to hunt down the ringleaders after the first such protests.[14] In Rhode Island, matters were resolved without violence because the “country party” gained control of the legislature in 1786 and enacted measures forcing its merchant elites to trade debt instruments for devalued currency. The impact of this was not lost on Boston’s merchants, especially Bowdoin, who held more than £3,000 in Massachusetts notes.[15]

Daniel Shays, who had participated in the Northampton action, began to take a more active leadership role in the uprising in November. On September 19, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts indicted eleven leaders of the rebellion as “disorderly, riotous, and seditious persons.”[2] When the supreme judicial court was next scheduled to meet in Springfield on September 26, Shays in Hampshire County and Luke Day in what is now Hampden County (but was then part of Hampshire County) organized an attempt to shut it down. They were anticipated by William Shepard, the local militia commander, who began gathering government-supporting militia the Saturday before the court was to sit. By the time the court was ready to open, Shepard had 300 men protecting the Springfield courthouse. Shays and Day were able to recruit a similar number, but chose only to demonstrate, exercising his troops outside Shepard’s lines, rather than attempt to seize the building.[16] The judges postponed the hearings, and adjourned on the 28th without hearing any cases. Shepard withdrew his force, which had grown to some 800 men (to the Regulators’ 1,200), to the federal armory, whose seizure was the subject of rumors.[17]

Protests in Great Barrington, Concord, and Taunton were also successful in shutting courts down in those communities in September and October.[10] James Warren wrote to John Adams on October 22, “We are now in a state of Anarchy and Confusion bordering on Civil War.”[18] Courts in the larger towns and cities were able to meet, but required protection of the militia, which Bowdoin called out for the purpose.[10]

The Boston elites were mortified at this resistance. Governor Bowdoin commanded the legislature to “vindicate the insulted dignity of government.” Samuel Adams claimed that foreigners (“British emissaries”) were instigating treason among the commoners, and he helped draw up a Riot Act, and a resolution suspending habeas corpus in order to permit the authorities to keep people in jail without trial. Adams proposed a new legal distinction: that rebellion in a republic, unlike in a monarchy, should be punished by execution. The legislature also moved to make some concessions to the upset farmers, saying certain old taxes could now be paid in goods instead of money.[2] These measures were followed up by one prohibiting speech critical of the government, and offering pardons to protestors willing to take an oath of allegiance.[19] These measures were unsuccessful in quelling the protests.[2]


This monument marks the spot of the final battle of Shays’ Rebellion, in Sheffield, Massachusetts.

Since the federal government had been unable to recruit soldiers for the army (due primarily to a lack of funding), the Massachusetts elites determined to act independently. On January 4, 1787, Governor Bowdoin proposed creation of a privately funded militia army. Former Continental Army General Benjamin Lincoln solicited funds, and had by the end of January raised more than £6,000 from more than 125 merchants.[20] The 3,000 militia that were recruited into this army were almost entirely from the eastern counties of Massachusetts, and marched to Worcester on January 19.[21]

While the government forces organized, Shays, Day, and other rebel leaders organized their forces in the Connecticut River valley for a full-scale assault on the state government, establishing regional regimental organizations that were run by democratically elected committees. Their first major target was the federal armory in Springfield.[22] General Shepard had however, pursuant to orders from Governor Bowdoin, taken possession of the armory and used its arsenal to arm a force of some 1,200 militia. He had done this despite the fact that the armory was federal, not state, property, and that he did not have permission from Secretary at War Henry Knox to do so.[23][24]

The insurgents were organized into three major groups, and intended to surround and simultaneously attack the armory. Shays had one group east of Springfield near Palmer, Luke Day had a second force across the Connecticut River in West Springfield, and the third force, under Eli Parsons, was to the north at Chicopee.[25] On January 25 Shays sent a message to Day proposing to assault the armory on January 25, 1787, before Lincoln’s militia army could arrive. Day’s response that his forces would not be ready until January 26 was intercepted by Shepard’s men, and did not reach Shays. Shays’ militia approached the armory not knowing they would have no reinforcements.

When Shays and his forces neared the armory, they found Shepard’s militia waiting for them. Shepard first ordered a warning shot, and then ordered the two cannon present to fire grape shot at Shays’ men. Four Shaysites were killed and twenty wounded. There was no musket fire from either side. Crying “Murder!”, for they never thought that their neighbors and fellow veterans would fire at them, the rebels fled north. On the opposite side of the river, Day’s forces also fled north. The militia captured many of the rebels on February 4 in Petersham, Massachusetts; by March there was no more armed resistance. Shepard reported to his superiors that he had made use of the armory without authorization, and returned the weapons in good condition after the armed conflict had ended.

Several of the rebels were fined, imprisoned, and sentenced to death, but in 1788 a general amnesty was granted. Although most of the condemned men were either pardoned or had their death sentences commuted, two of the condemned men, John Bly and Charles Rose, were hanged on December 6, 1787.[26] Shays himself was pardoned in 1788 and he returned to Massachusetts from hiding in the Vermont woods. Sometime afterwards, he moved to the Conesus, New York, area where he lived until he died poor and obscure in 1825.[27]

Thomas Jefferson, who was serving as ambassador to France at the time, refused to be alarmed by Shays’ Rebellion. In a letter to a friend, he argued that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing. “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”[28] In contrast to Jefferson’s sentiments George Washington wrote in a letter to Henry Lee, “You talk, my good sir, of employing influence to appease the present tumults in Massachusetts. I know not where that influence is to be found, or, if attainable, that it would be a proper remedy for the disorders. Influence is not government. Let us have a government by which our lives, liberties, and properties will be secured, or let us know the worst at once.”[29] Washington was at the time was urging many to consider forming a better and more energetic national government.

The uprising was the climax of a series of events of the 1780s that convinced a powerful group of Americans that the national government needed to be stronger so that it could create uniform economic policies and protect property owners from infringements on their rights by local majorities. Men like Charles Harding helped to spread concepts created during Shays’ Rebellion. These ideas stemmed from the fear that a private liberty, such as the secure enjoyment of property rights, could be threatened by public liberty – unrestrained power in the hands of the people. James Madison addressed this concept by stating that “Liberty may be endangered by the abuses of liberty as well as the abuses of power.”[28]


  1. Zinn, p. 91
  2. Zinn, p. 93
  3. Supplement to the Acts and resolves of Massachusetts:Vo1.1, p. 148.
  4. Szatmary, p. 43
  5. Szatmary, pp. 38–42,45
  6. Richards, pp. 87–88
  7. Richards, p. 88
  8. Richards, pp. 6–9
  9. Szatmary, p. 38
  10. Morse, p. 208
  11. Szatmary, p. 56
  12. Szatmary, pp. 79–80
  13. Szatmary, p. 80
  14. Szatmary, pp. 78–79
  15. Richards, pp. 84–87
  16. Holland, pp. 245–247
  17. Holland, p. 247
  18. Manuel, p. 219
  19. Szatmary, p. 84
  20. Szatmary, pp. 84–86
  21. Szatmary, pp. 86-89, 104
  22. Szatmary, pp. 98–99
  23. Richards, pp. 27–28
  24. Holland, p. 261
  25. Richards, p. 28
  26. Richards, p. 41
  27. Zinn, p. 95
  28. Foner, Eric. “Give Me Liberty! An American History.” New York: W.W Norton & Company, 2006. 219
  29. Lodge, Henry Cabot. “American Statesmen: George Washington” Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1889. Vol. II, pg.26


  • Hale, Edward Everett (1891). The Story of Massachusetts. Boston: D. Lothrop Company
  • Holland, Josiah Gilbert (1855). History of Western Massachusetts. Springfield, MA: S. Bowles. OCLC 505288328.
  • 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.
  • Munroe, James Phinney (1915). New England Conscience: With Typical Examples. Boston: R. G. Badger
  • Richards, Leonard L (2002). Shays’s Rebellion: The American Revolution’s Final Battle. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 9780812218701. OCLC 56029217
  • Swift, Esther M. (1969). West Springfield Massachusetts: A Town History. Springfield: F. A. Bassette Company
  • Szatmary, David P. (1980). Shays’s Rebellion: The Making of an Agrarian Insurrection. University of Massachusetts Press. ISBN 9780870234194.
  • Zinn, Howard (2005). A People’s History of the United States. HarperCollins. ISBN 9780060838652

Agent 355, the Culper Spy Ring female agent

August 20, 2014



Agent 355 was the code name of a female spy during the American Revolution, part of the Culper Ring. Her real identity remains unknown.

The only direct reference to Agent 355 in any of the Culper Ring’s missives was from Abraham Woodhull (Samuel Culper Sr.), to General George Washington in 1778. Little is known for sure about this mysterious lady, but speculation abounds. What is known is that she was located in New York and at some point had contact with Major John Andre and Benedict Arnold. It is believed that 355 was a member of a prominent Loyalist family, and within easy reach of British commanders.[1] When Andre, in particular, was in New York, the Culper’s information came fast and furious, but when Andre was in the southern colonies with Sir Henry Clinton, the information slowed considerably. At this point, Washington complained that the Culpers were a waste of money. This leads historians to believe that 355 was one of the flock of females that surrounded Major Andre.

The identity of the woman known solely as 355 has yet to be discovered. However, several theories have been developed, ranging from claims that 355 must have been the already-known Anna Smith Strong to hypotheses about other relations of identified ring members. Others say that she did not really exist, that 355 was simply just a lady of acquaintance to Abraham Woodhull who was mentioned in passing and really no help to the Culpers at all. However, John Burke and Andrea Meyer have made a case for 355’s involvement in the spy ring using circumstantial evidence.[2] If the story is to be believed, 355 was a great asset to the American bid for independence.


  • Intelligence in the War of Independence > Personalities. Central Intelligence Agency
  • John A. Burke and Andrea Meyer, “Spies of the Revolution,” New York State Archives Magazine, Fall 2009, Vol. 9, no. 2



  • Intelligence in the War of Independence > Personalities. Central Intelligence Agency. Retrieved on 2008-04-17.
  • David W. Jacobs: Who Was Agent 355? (Am Rev) Broadside, the Newsletter of the American Revolution Round Table (11-21-06)
  • Rose, Alexander. Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring. New York: Bantam, 2006
  • John A. Burke and Andrea Meyer, “Spies of the Revolution,” New York State Archives Magazine, Fall 2009, Vol. 9, no. 2

John Hall, Associate Justice on North Carolina Supreme Court

August 19, 2014



John Hall (1767–1833) was an American jurist who served as one of the original three judges of the North Carolina Supreme Court.[2] He was elected by the North Carolina General Assembly to the court in 1818 and served on that court from its first meeting in January 1819 until his declining health led him to retire in 1832.

Hall, a Staunton, Virginia native and alumnus of the College of William and Mary, moved to Warrenton, North Carolina to practice law and served as a state superior court judge (1800–1818).



  1. “Officers of the Grand Lodge, A.F. & A.M. of North Carolina, the first 100 years”. Raleigh, North Carolina, USA: Grand Lodge of North Carolina.
  2. “Justices of the NC Supreme Court”. Raleigh, North Carolina, USA: North Carolina Supreme Court Historical Society.

Battle of Musgrove Mill

August 18, 2014



The Battle of Musgrove Mill, August 18-19, 1780, occurred near a ford of the Enoree River, near the present-day border between Spartanburg, Laurens and Union Counties in South Carolina.[1] During the course of the battle, 200 Patriot militiamen defeated a combined force of approximately 300 Loyalist militiamen and 200 provincial regulars.


Site of Musgrove Mill

By the summer of 1780, the war that raged in the backcountry of South Carolina had effectively become America’s first civil war.[2] Few men engaged on either side had ever seen Great Britain, and backcountry fighting tended to be especially brutal and retaliatory.[3]

On the evening of August 18, two hundred mounted Patriot partisans under joint command of Colonels Isaac Shelby, James Williams, and Elijah Clarke prepared to raid a Loyalist camp at Musgrove’s Mill, which controlled the local grain supply and guarded a ford of the Enoree River. The Patriots anticipated surprising a garrison of about an equal number of Loyalists, but a local farmer informed them that the Tories had recently been reinforced by about a hundred Loyalist militia and two hundred provincial regulars on their way to join British Major Patrick Ferguson.[4]

With their position compromised by an enemy patrol and horses unable to go on without rest, the Patriots understood that they must stand and fight despite being outnumbered better than two to one. At the top of a ridge across the road leading down to Musgrove Mill, the partisans quickly formed a semicircular breastwork of brush and fallen timber about three hundred yards long.[5]

In the best tradition of guerrilla tactics, a band of about twenty men under the leadership of Captain Shadrach Inman crossed the Enoree and engaged the enemy. Feigning confusion they retreated back toward the line of ambush until the Loyalists were nearly on the Patriot line. When the Loyalists spotted the Patriot line, they fired too early. The Patriots, however, held their fire until the Loyalists got within killing range of their muskets.[5]

Patriot musket fire operated “with devastating effect.” [6] Nonetheless, the Tory regulars were well disciplined and nearly overwhelmed the Patriot right flank with a bayonet charge. (Frontiersmen had no bayonets.) Isaac Shelby ordered his reserve of “Overmountain Men” to support him, and they rushed into the battle shrieking Indian war cries.[7] The Tories wavered, and when a number of their officers went down, they broke—although not before Captain Inman, who had a key role in implementing the Patriot strategy, was killed on the battlefield.

Patriots ran from their positions “yelling, shooting, and slashing on every hand.”[8] The whole battle took perhaps an hour. Within that period, sixty-three Tories were killed, an unknown number wounded, and seventy were taken prisoner.[9] The Patriots lost only about four dead and twelve wounded.[10]

Some Whig leaders briefly considered attacking the Tory stronghold at Ninety Six, South Carolina; but they hurriedly dispersed after learning that a large Patriot army had been defeated at Camden three days previous.

Shelby’s forces covered sixty miles with Ferguson in hot pursuit before making good their escape.[11] In the wake of General Horatio Gates’ blundering defeat at Camden, the victory at Musgrove Mill heartened the Patriots and served as further evidence that the South Carolina backcountry could not be held by the Tories.

Shelby and his Overmountain Men crossed back over the Appalachian Mountains and into the territory of the Watauga Association at Sycamore Shoals in present day Elizabethton, Tennessee, and by the next month on September 25, 1780, Colonels Shelby, John Sevier, and Charles McDowell and their 600 Overmountain Men had combined forces with Col. William Campbell and his 400 Virginia men at the Sycamore Shoals muster in advance of the October 7, 1780 Battle of Kings Mountain near present day Blacksburg, South Carolina.


Historical Marker at the site of the Battle of Musgrove Mill

The Musgrove Mill battlefield has been preserved at the Musgrove Mill State Historic Site, as the newest unit of the South Carolina park system. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


  1. Musgrove Mill State Historic Site website
  2. Walter Edgar, Partisans and Redcoats: The Southern Conflict That Turned the Tide of the American Revolution (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), xi. In the nineteenth century, George Bancroft wrote “South Carolina moved toward independence through the bitterest afflictions of civil war… Families were divided; patriots outlawed and savagely assassinated; houses burned, and children driven into the forests.” History of the United States, 11th ed. (Boston: Little, Brown, 1875), 10:300
  3. Edgar, 130-38. “The British army of occupation and its Tory allies, by unleashing the horrors of civil war on South Carolina, sowed the seeds for the defeat of their cause.”
  4. John Buchanan, The Road to Guilford Courthouse: The American Revolution in the Carolinas (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1997), 177. “Provincial regulars” were Americans who enlisted in British army units, as opposed to British regulars and Tory militia. Edgar, 153
  5. Edgar, 114, Buchanan, 177
  6. Edgar, 114
  7. Buchanan, 178. The Overmountain Men were frontiersmen from the Sycamore Shoals along the Watauga River at present-day Elizabethton, Tennessee.
  8. Edward McCrady, The History of the Revolution in South Carolina (New York: Macmillan, 1902), 2:693
  9. Buchanan and Edgar give the losses as 63 killed, 90 wounded, 70 taken prisoner. Buchanan, 178; Edgar, 115. The figures in the text are those from a wayside at Musgrove Mill State Historic Site.
  10. Buchanan gives Patriot losses as four killed and seven wounded. Buchanan, 179
  11. Edgar, 115, Buchanan, 179: “In forty-eight hours they had completed two forced marches, had neither slept nor rested, and had fought and won against a superior force an action renowned for its ferocity.”

John Nelson, Boston merchant and statesman

August 17, 2014



John Nelson was an English colonial merchant, trader, and statesman, active in New England. He was born near London, England in 1654 to Robert and Mary Nelson. He came to Boston in 1680 and married Elizabeth Tailer, who was 12 years his junior.[1]

He was a nephew of Sir Thomas Temple,[2] a British proprietor and governor of Nova Scotia, and inherited much of Temple’s estate, including his territorial claims to Nova Scotia (which had been restored to France as Acadia in the Treaty of Breda (1667)).

On April 19, 1689, Nelson, a resident of Long Island in Boston Harbor, was one of a number of prominent Bostonians leading a revolt against Governor Sir Edmund Andros. Andros, the hated governor of the Dominion of New England, had angered may colonists by vacating land titles, enforcing the Navigation Acts, and promoting the Church of England.


Portrait of John Nelson by John Smybert (1732)

During 1690, John Nelson bought all of the property from the tenants on Long Island with the exception of four and one-half acres owned by Thomas Stanberg, a shopkeeper from Boston. Stanberg was one of the original tenants on Long Island. Nelson was well connected politically being a close relative of Sir Thomas Temple, and the husband of Elizabeth Tailer, the niece of Lieutenant Governor William Stoughton and sister to Lieutenant Governor William Tailer. On June 4, Nelson mortgaged his Long Island property to William and Benjamin Browne from Salem, Massachusetts for 1,200 pounds. Henry Mare managed the Browne’s house and land on Long Island.

In 1692, John Nelson was captured by the French while on a trading or privateering voyage to Acadia, and was imprisoned in Quebec. It was common for local privateers to receive commissions in Boston but were considered pirates by the other nations of the world, especially the French and Spanish, who were the superpowers at the time.

While in prison, Nelson learned about secret French plans for attacks against the Massachusetts colonies. Nelson discreetly informed the Massachusetts authorities of this information from his prison cell. For this act, Nelson was punished by being transported across the Atlantic Ocean to the Bastille prison in France. In 1702, after ten years of imprisonment, his relative, Sir Purbeck Temple, obtained his release. Nelson immediately returned home to Nelson’s Island (Long Island) as a local hero.[3]

Nelson was a signer of “The Humble Address of the Publicans of New-England” in 1691.[4]

He was not allowed any share in the subsequent government, likely on account of his being an Episcopalian, according to Thomas Hutchinson.

Nelson married his wife, Elizabeth, circa 1686 and had six children. Rebecca, who married Henry Lloyd, Elizabeth, who married Nathaniel Hubbard, Mehetable, who married Captain Robert Temple, Margaret who married Captain Thomas Steele, Temple, and Pachal.

Nelson and his wife were active in the activities of King’s Chapel from 1700 to 1719. He died in 1734.


  1. Bolton, Charles Knowles (2006). The Founders: Portraits of Persons Born Abroad Who Came to the Colonies in North America Before the Year 1701. Kessinger Publishing. p. 797
  2. Temple, Thomas, 1614-1674. Correspondence concerning Nova Scotia: Guide. Houghton Library, Harvard College Library. There is much correspondence between Temple and his nephew, John Nelson
  3. The Islands of Boston Harbor”, in “Some Events of Boston and Its Neighbors”, Chapter 4, printed for the State Street Trust Company, Boston, Massachusetts, 1917

“The island [Long Island] is chiefly noted as the residence of John Nelson, who is looked upon as a hero by the American people. He was captured by the French in a voyage to the eastward and imprisoned in Quebec. While there he informed Massachusetts that the French were forming plans against the New England Colonies, and for this he was sent to the Bastille. He was finally released, and on his return to Long Island the Nelson family gave him a great feast of welcome, and part of the table-cloth is believed still to be preserved by his descendants”.

  1. Johnson, Richard R., “The Humble Address of the Publicans of New-England: A Reassessment (in Memoranda and Documents)”, p. 245


  • Bosher, J.F., “Huguenot Merchants and the Protestant International in the Seventeenth Century”, The William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Series, v. LII, n. I, January 1995, pp. 77–102. Page 88 and onwards mentions John Nelson. [1]
  • Johnson, Richard R., “The Humble Address of the Publicans of New-England: A Reassessment (in Memoranda and Documents)”, The New England Quarterly, Vol. 51, No. 2. (Jun., 1978), pp. 241–249. Cf. p. 245 and on for mention of John Nelson. [2]

Battle of Camden

August 16, 2014


The Battle of Camden was a major victory for the British in the Southern theater of the American Revolution. On August 16, 1780, British forces under Lieutenant General Charles, Lord Cornwallis routed the American forces of Major General Horatio Gates about 5 miles north of Camden, South Carolina, strengthening the British hold on the Carolinas following the capture of Charleston.

The rout was an humiliating defeat for Gates, the American general best known for commanding the Americans at the British defeat of Saratoga, whose army had possessed a large numerical superiority over the British force. Following the battle, he never held a field command again. His political connections, however, helped him avoid inquiries and courts martial into the debacle.


Battle of Camden—Death of De Kalb

Following the British defeat at Saratoga in 1777 and French entry into the American Revolutionary War in early 1778, the British decided to renew a “southern strategy” to win back their rebellious North American colonies. This campaign began in December 1778 with the capture of Savannah, Georgia, and gained further ground in January 1780, when General Sir Henry Clinton led an army and captured Charleston, South Carolina. Clinton returned to New York in the summer of 1780, leaving Lord Cornwallis the task of fortifying the South and raising the anticipated large numbers of Loyalists. The Continental Army in the south, most of which had surrendered at Charleston, was completely driven from South Carolina in the May 1780 Battle of Waxhaws.

The only Patriot resistance remaining in South Carolina consisted of militia partisan companies under commanders like Thomas Sumter, William Davie, and Francis Marion. The Continental Army began to reform at Charlotte, North Carolina under Horatio Gates, the “hero of Saratoga”. Gates arrived in late July, and met with the local militia and Continental Army commanders. Against the advice of council, Gates, even before he knew the full capabilities of the troops under his command, ordered a march into South Carolina through an area he had been advised had strong Loyalist tendencies. A significant number of his troops were relatively untested militia companies, and even some of the Continentals under his command had little battlefield experience.

Because of its crossroads location, Camden was considered a key to controlling the back country of the Carolinas. On July 27, Gates advanced into South Carolina, heading towards Camden, then garrisoned by about 1,000 men under Lord Rawdon.[3] Gates established a camp at Rugeley’s Mill, north of Camden, where he was joined by militia companies from North Carolina and Virginia. The weather was extremely hot, and a significant number of troops were put out of action by the heat and diseases like dysentery. Although Gates had over 4,000 men in camp, only about 2000 of them were effective for combat, in part because Gates further reduced their numbers by sending several hundred men in support of operations by Sumter and Marion, and because the night before, the men had been fed green corn, known for giving humans bowel problems.

General Cornwallis, alerted to Gates’ movement on August 9, marched from Charleston with reinforcements, arriving at Camden on August 13, bringing the effective British troop strength over 2,000 men.

Gates formed up first on the field. He had around 3,700 troops, of which around only 1,500 of them were regular troops. On his right flank he placed Mordecai Gist, Johann de Kalb’s 2nd Maryland and a Delaware Regiment. On his left flank, he placed 2,500 untried North Carolina militia under Colonel Richard Caswell. Gates stayed with the reserve force, the 1st Maryland Brigade under William Smallwood. Gates placed seven guns along the line. Behind the militia, he placed companies of cavalry and light infantry. With this formation, a typical British practice of the time, Gates was placing the untested militia, his weakest forces, against the most experienced British regiments, while his best troops would face the weaker elements of the British forces.

Cornwallis had around 2,100 men, of which around 600 were Loyalist militia and Volunteers of Ireland. The other 1,500 were regular troops. Cornwallis also had the infamous and highly experienced Tarleton’s Legion, around 250 cavalry and 200 infantry who were formidable in a pursuit situation. Cornwallis formed his army in two brigades. Lord Rawdon was in command of the left wing, facing the Continental Infantry with the Irish Volunteers, Banastre Tarleton’s infantry and the Loyalist troops. On the right was Lieutenant Colonel James Webster, facing the inexperienced militia with the 23rd Royal Welch Fusiliers and the 33rd Regiment of Foot. In reserve, Cornwallis had two battalions of the 71st Regiment of Foot and Tarleton’s cavalry force. He also placed four guns in the British center.[3]


General Horatio Gates, portrait by Gilbert Stuart

Both armies advanced at each other just after dawn. The British troops opened the battle, when the right flank fired a volley into the militia regiments, causing a significant number of casualties. They followed the volley up with a bayonet charge. The militia, lacking bayonets, panicked and fled before the British regiments even reached them. Only one company of militia managed to fire a volley before fleeing. The panic quickly spread to the North Carolina militia, and they also broke ranks and fled. Seeing his left flank collapse, Gates fled with the first of the militia to run from the field. Within a matter of minutes, the whole American left wing had evaporated. The Virginia militia ran away so quickly that they suffered only three casualties.[4]

While the militia was routing, and before Gates’ flight, he ordered his right flank under de Kalb to attack the opposing British militia forces. Rawdon’s troops advanced forward in two charges, but a heavy fire repulsed his regiments. The Continental troops then launched a counter attack which came close to breaking Rawdon’s line, which began to falter. Cornwallis rode to his left flank and steadied Rawdon’s men. Instead of pursuing the fleeing militia, Webster wheeled around and launched a bayonet charge into the left flank of the Continental regiments in the center.

The North Carolina militia that had been stationed next to the Delaware regiment held its ground, the only militia unit to do so. The Continental regiments fought a stiff fight for some time, but only 800 Continentals were by this time facing over 2,000 British troops. Cornwallis, rather than fight a sustained fight with a heavy loss, ordered Tarleton’s cavalry to charge the rear of the Continental line. The cavalry charge broke up the formation of the Continental troops, who finally broke and fled.

De Kalb, attempting to rally his men was shot eleven times by musket fire. After just one hour of combat, the American troops had been utterly defeated, suffering over 2,000 casualties. Tarleton’s cavalry pursued and harried the retreating Continental troops for some 20 miles (32 km) before drawing rein. By that evening, Gates, mounted on a swift horse, had taken refuge 60 miles (97 km) away in Charlotte, North Carolina.[3]

The British casualties were 68 killed, 245 wounded and 11 missing.[1] Hugh Rankin says, “of the known dead, 162 were Continentals, 12 were South Carolina militiamen, 3 were Virginia militiamen and 63 were North Carolina militiamen”.[5] David Ramsay says, “290 American wounded prisoners were carried into Camden after this action. Of this number, 206 were Continentals, 82 were North Carolina militia and 2 were Virginia militia. The resistance made by each corps may in some degree be estimated from the number of wounded. The Americans lost the whole of their artillery – 8 field pieces, upwards of 200 wagons and the greatest part of their baggage.”[6] A letter from Cornwallis to Lord George Germain, dated 21 August 1780, says that his army took “about one thousand Prisoners, many of whom wounded” on August 18.[7] The website Documentary History of the Battle of Camden, 16 August 1780 details on its Officer Casualties at Camden page the fates of 48 Continental officers at Camden: 5 were killed, 4 died of wounds, 4 were wounded without being captured, 11 were wounded and captured and 24 were captured without being wounded. These ratios would suggest that a significant number of the Americans wounded in the battle escaped capture.

There are many reasons given for Gates’ defeat. The most prominent are the following:

The Battle of Camden has been scrutinized as one of the worst tactical decisions made on part of the Americans throughout the entire war. Following the surrender at Saratoga, Gates became overconfident in the ability of the American troops, which was displayed during this battle as he rushed his tactical deployment. Gates was a former British officer, and was therefore accustomed to the traditional British deployment of the most experienced regiments on the place of honour—the right flank of the battle line. Gates had therefore placed the Continental regiments on his right flank, and the mass of militia which had joined him, nearly all of which had never even fought in a battle before on the left flank, facing the most experienced British regiments.

At first impression, it may seem curious that Gates putting his regiments in the fashion was a grave tactical error, as Cornwallis had done exactly the same thing: his Loyalist troops faced the Continentals just as his Regulars faced the militia. However, the forces were dissimilar, in that the Loyalists were far more experienced in combat at this point than their southern colonial counterparts. As a result, the Loyalists therefore managed to hold the line against the best Continental troops during the battle, while the Regulars effectively broke the colonial militias.

Aside from tactics on the battlefield, Gates had made several strategic errors before joining the battle:

  • His aggressive movement brought his forces deep into British territory, where residents still loyal to the Crown would extend no supplies nor join his army.
  • So far from their supply lines, Gates’ forces were weakened by lack of adequate food and fresh water, many of them falling victim to dysentery.
  • Gates took great confidence in his victory at Saratoga but erred in mapping the inexperience of Burgoyne (his opponent in that battle) onto Cornwallis, who was a gifted strategist.


Lieutenant-Colonel Banastre Tarleton by Sir Joshua Reynolds

Gates’ army had been utterly defeated; it had suffered over 2,000 casualties, some 1,000 of the troops being prisoners. They lost all seven guns and the whole baggage train. Gates lost control of the southern army due to his cowardice. Major General Nathanael Greene, standing next to George Washington as the most able and trusted Colonial officer of the Revolution, was given command of the southern army and started recruiting additional troops.

Gates, who had strong political connections in the Continental Congress, successfully avoided inquiries into the debacle.

The Camden Battlefield, located about 5 miles north of Camden, is owned by the Daughters of the American Revolution, and is undergoing preservation in a private-public partnership. The site was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1961, and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966.

Aspects of the battle were included in the 2000 movie The Patriot, in which Ben and Gabriel Martin are seen watching a similar battle. Ben comments at the stupidity of Gates fighting “muzzle to muzzle with Redcoats”. The film is not historically accurate, depicting too many Continental troops relative to the number of militia, and that the Continentals and militia retreated at the same time.


  1. Boatner, p. 169
  2. Sava, Dameron p.252
  3. My Revolutionary War: The Battle of Camden
  4. Buchanan, p. 170
  5. Rankin, p. 244
  6. Ramsay, p. 169
  7. Letter from Charles, the Earl, Cornwallis to Lord George Germain, dated 21 August 1780, State Records of North Carolina XV:269-273.


  • Boatner, Mark Mayo, Cassell’s Biographical Dictionary of the American War of Independence, 1763-1783, Cassell and Company Ltd., London, 1966. ISBN 0-304-29296-6
  • Buchanan, John, The Road to Guilford Courthouse: The Revolution In The Carolinas.1997, John Wiley and Sons, ISBN 0-471-32716-6
  • Ramsay, David, The History of the American Revolution, Liberty Fund, Indianapolis, 1990 (first published 1789), Volume II
  • Rankin, Hugh F. (1971). The North Carolina Continentals. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0-8078-1154-8.
  • Russell, David Lee The American Revolution in the Southern Colonies 2000.
  • Ward, Christopher War of the Revolution 2 Volumes, MacMillan, New York, 1952


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