Major John André sentenced to death

September 29, 2013

British spy John André was court-martialed, found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging on September 29, 1780. André, an accomplice of Benedict Arnold, had been captured by Patriots John Paulding, David Williams and Isaac Van Wart six days earlier on September 23, after they found incriminating papers stashed in his boot.

It was the discovery of these papers that revealed the traitorous actions of Benedict Arnold to the U.S. authorities. Upon hearing of André’s capture, Arnold fled to the British warship Vulture and subsequently joined the British in their fight against his country.


“You, Sir, are a Spy,” by Don Stivers

Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School

After being sentenced to death, André was allowed to write a letter to his commander, British General Henry Clinton. André also wrote a letter to General George Washington in which he asked, not that his life be spared, but that he be executed by firing squad. Death by firing squad was considered a more “gentlemanly” death than hanging.

Even members of the Continental Army respected André’s bravery, including General Washington, who wanted to find a way to spare André’s life. Believing that André committed a lesser crime than Benedict Arnold, Washington wrote a letter to Clinton, stating that he would exchange André for Arnold, so that Arnold could be hanged instead.

When he did not receive a reply to his offer by October 2, Washington wrote in his “general order” of the day, “That Major Andre General to the British Army ought to be considered as a spy from the Enemy and that agreeable to the law and usage of nations it is their opinion he ought to suffer death. “The Commander in Chief directs the execution of the above sentence in the usual way this afternoon at five o’clock precisely.”

John André was executed by hanging in Tappan, New York, on October 2, 1780. He was 31 years old.

Source: This Day in History

John Chapman and the legend of Johnny Appleseed

September 26, 2013

John Chapman, often called Johnny Appleseed, was an American pioneer nurseryman who introduced apple trees to large parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, including the northern counties of present day West Virginia. He became an American legend while still alive, due to his kind, generous ways, his leadership in conservation, and the symbolic importance he attributed to apples. He was also a missionary for The New Church (Swedenborgian).[1]


Image from “A History of the Pioneer and Modern Times of Ashland County” by H.S. Knapp (1863)

John Chapman was born on September 26, 1774, in Leominster, Massachusetts,[2] the second child (after his sister, Elizabeth) of Nathaniel and Elizabeth Chapman (née Simonds, married February 8, 1770) of Massachusetts. His birthplace has a granite marker, and the street is called Johnny Appleseed Lane. Nathaniel Chapman fought at Concord as a Minuteman as early as April 19, 1775, and later served in the Continental Army with General George Washington during the American Revolutionary War. Johnny was born around the time of the Battle of Bunker Hill.

While Nathaniel was in military service, his wife died (July 18, 1776) shortly after giving birth to a second son, named Nathaniel. The baby died about two weeks after his mother. Nathaniel Chapman ended his military service and returned home in 1780 to Springfield, Massachusetts. In the summer of 1780 he married Lucy Cooley of Springfield, Massachusetts and they had 10 children.[1][3]

According to some accounts, John, at the age of eighteen, persuaded his half-brother Nathaniel, eleven, to go west with him in 1792. The two of them apparently lived a nomadic life until their father, with his large family, came west in 1805 and met up with them in Ohio. Nathaniel the younger, then probably quit moving around with Johnny to help his father farm the land.

Nathaniel started John Chapman on a career as an orchardist by apprenticing him to a Mr. Crawford, who had apple orchards.[4]

There are stories of Johnny Appleseed practicing his nurseryman craft in the Wilkes-Barre area and of picking seeds from the pomace at Potomac cider mills in the late 1790s.[1] Another story has Chapman living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on Grant’s Hill in 1794 at the time of the Whiskey Rebellion.[5]


Johnny Appleseed post card

The popular image is of Johnny Appleseed spreading apple seeds randomly, everywhere he went. In fact, he planted nurseries rather than orchards, built fences around them to protect them from livestock, left the nurseries in the care of a neighbor who sold trees on shares, and returned every year or two to tend the nursery. Although apples grown from seed are rarely sweet or tasty, apple orchards with sour apples were popular among the settlers because apples were mainly used for producing hard cider and apple jack. In some periods of the settlement of the Midwest, settlers were required by law to plant orchards of apples and pears in order to uphold the right to the claimed land. So Johnny Appleseed planted orchards made for popular real estate on the frontier.[6] His first nursery was planted on the bank of Brokenstraw Creek, South of Warren, Pennsylvania. Next, he seems to have moved to Venango County along the shore of French Creek,[7] but many of these nurseries were located in the Mohican area of north-central Ohio. This area included the towns of Mansfield, Lucas, Perrysville, and Loudonville.[8]

According to Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, towards the end of his career, he was present when an itinerant missionary was exhorting an open-air congregation in Mansfield, Ohio. The sermon was long and severe on the topic of extravagance, because the pioneers were buying such indulgences as calico and imported tea. “Where now is there a man who, like the primitive Christians, is traveling to heaven barefooted and clad in coarse raiment?” the preacher repeatedly asked until Johnny Appleseed, his endurance worn out, walked up to the preacher, put his bare foot on the stump that had served as a podium, and said, “Here’s your primitive Christian!” The flummoxed sermonizer dismissed the congregation.[9]

He would tell stories to children, spread the The New Church gospel to the adults, receiving a floor to sleep on for the night, sometimes supper in return. “We can hear him read now, just as he did that summer day, when we were busy quilting upstairs, and he lay near the door, his voice rising denunciatory and thrillin—strong and loud as the roar of wind and waves, then soft and soothing as the balmy airs that quivered the morning-glory leaves about his gray beard. His was a strange eloquence at times, and he was undoubtedly a man of genius,” reported a lady who knew him in his later years.[10] He made several trips back east, both to visit his sister and to replenish his supply of Swedenborgian literature.


Johnny Appleseed in Graham’s History of Richland County, Ohio (1880)

Chapman was quick to preach the Gospel as he traveled, and during his travels he converted many Indians, whom he admired. The Native Americans regarded him as someone who had been touched by the Great Spirit, even hostile tribes left him strictly alone. He once wrote, “I have traveled more than 4,000 miles about this country, and I have never met with one single insolent Native American.”[11]

Johnny Appleseed cared very deeply about animals, including insects. Henry Howe, who visited all the counties in Ohio in the early 19th century, collected several stories from the 1830s, when Johnny Appleseed was still alive:[12]

One cool autumnal night, while lying by his camp-fire in the woods, he observed that the mosquitoes flew in the blaze and were burned. Johnny, who wore on his head a tin utensil which answered both as a cap and a mush pot, filled it with water and quenched the fire, and afterwards remarked, “God forbid that I should build a fire for my comfort, that should be the means of destroying any of his creatures.” Another time he made a camp-fire in a snowstorm at the end of a hollow log in which he intended to pass the night, but finding it occupied by a bear and cubs, he removed his fire to the other end, and slept on the snow in the open air, rather than disturb the bear.

When he heard a horse was to be put down, he bought the horse, bought a few grassy acres nearby, and turned the horse out to recover. When it did, he gave the horse to someone needy, exacting a promise to treat the horse humanely.[13]

During his later life, he was a vegetarian.[14]

When Johnny Appleseed was asked why he didn’t marry, his answer was always that two female spirits would be his wives in the after-life if he stayed single on earth.[15] However, Henry Howe reported that Appleseed had been a frequent visitor to Perrysville, Ohio. He was to propose to Miss Nancy Tannehill there—only to find that he was a day late; she had accepted a prior proposal:[16]

On one occasion Miss Price’s mother asked Johnny if he would not be a happier man, if he were settled in a home of his own, and had a family to love him. He opened his eyes very wide–they were remarkably keen, penetrating grey eyes, almost black–and replied that all women were not what they professed to be; that some of them were deceivers; and a man might not marry the amiable woman that he thought he was getting, after all.

Now we had always heard that Johnny had loved once upon a time, and that his lady love had proven false to him. Then he said one time he saw a poor, friendless little girl, who had no one to care for her, and sent her to school, and meant to bring her up to suit himself, and when she was old enough he intended to marry her. He clothed her and watched over her; but when she was fifteen years old, he called to see her once unexpectedly, and found her sitting beside a young man, with her hand in his, listening to his silly twaddle.

I peeped over at Johnny while he was telling this, and, young as I was, I saw his eyes grow dark as violets, and the pupils enlarge, and his voice rise up in denunciation, while his nostrils dilated and his thin lips worked with emotion. How angry he grew! He thought the girl was basely ungrateful. After that time she was no protégé of his.


Johnny Appleseed, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, 1871

There is some controversy and vagueness concerning the date of his death and his burial. Harper’s New Monthly Magazine of November, 1871 (which is taken by many as the primary source of information about John Chapman) says he died in the summer of 1847.[9] The Fort Wayne Sentinel, however, printed his obituary on March 22, 1845, saying that he died on March 18, 1845:[17]

“On the same day in this neighborhood, at an advanced age, Mr. John Chapman (better known as Johnny Appleseed).

The deceased was well known through this region by his eccentricity, and the strange garb he usually wore. He followed the occupation of a nurseryman, and has been a regular visitor here upwards of 10 years. He was a native of Pennsylvania we understand but his home—if home he had—for some years past was in the neighborhood of Cleveland, where he has relatives living. He is supposed to have considerable property, yet denied himself almost the common necessities of life—not so much perhaps for avarice as from his peculiar notions on religious subjects. He was a follower of Swedenborg and devoutly believed that the more he endured in this world the less he would have to suffer and the greater would be his happiness hereafter—he submitted to every privation with cheerfulness and content, believing that in so doing he was securing snug quarters hereafter.

In the most inclement weather he might be seen barefooted and almost naked except when he chanced to pick up articles of old clothing. Notwithstanding the privations and exposure he endured, he lived to an extreme old age, not less than 80 years at the time of his death—though no person would have judged from his appearance that he was 60. “He always carried with him some work on the doctrines of Swedenborg with which he was perfectly familiar, and would readily converse and argue on his tenets, using much shrewdness and penetration.

His death was quite sudden. He was seen on our streets a day or two previous.”

The actual site of his grave is disputed as well. Developers of Fort Wayne, Indiana’s Canterbury Green apartment complex and golf course claim his grave is there, marked by a rock. That is where the Worth cabin in which he died sat.[18]

However, Steven Fortriede, director of the Allen County Public Library (ACPL) and author of the 1978 Johnny Appleseed, believes another putative gravesite, located in Johnny Appleseed Park in Fort Wayne,[19] is the correct site.[18] Johnny Appleseed Park is a Fort Wayne, IN city park which adjoins Archer Park, an Allen County park. Archer Park is the site of John Chapmann’s grave marker and formerly was a part of the family Archer farm.

The Worth family attended First Baptist Church in Fort Wayne, according to records at ACPL, which has one of the nation’s top genealogy collections.[20] According to an 1858 interview with Richard Worth Jr., Chapman was buried “respectably” in the Archer cemetery, and Fortriede believes use of the term “respectably” indicates Chapman was buried in the hallowed ground of Archer cemetery instead of near the cabin where he died.[18]

John H. Archer, grandson of David Archer, wrote in a letter[21] dated October 4, 1900:

The historical account of his death and burial by the Worths and their neighbors, the Pettits, Goinges, Porters, Notestems, Parkers, Beckets, Whitesides, Pechons, Hatfields, Parrants, Ballards, Randsells, and the Archers in David Archer’s private burial grounds is substantially correct. The grave, more especially the common head-boards used in those days, have long since decayed and become entirely obliterated, and at this time I do not think that any person could with any degree of certainty come within fifty feet of pointing out the location of his grave. Suffice it to say that he has been gathered in with his neighbors and friends, as I have enumerated, for the majority of them lie in David Archer’s graveyard with him.

The Johnny Appleseed Commission to the Common Council of the City of Fort Wayne reported, “as a part of the celebration of Indiana’s 100th birthday in 1916 an iron fence was placed in the Archer graveyard by the Horticulture Society of Indiana setting off the grave of Johnny Appleseed. At that time, there were men living who had attended the funeral of Johnny Appleseed. Direct and accurate evidence was available then. There was little or no reason for them to make a mistake about the location of this grave. They located the grave in the Archer burying ground.”[22]

Johnny Appleseed left an estate of over 1,200 acres of valuable nurseries to his sister.[23] He also owned four plots in Allen County, Indiana, including a nursery in Milan Township, Allen County, Indiana, with 15,000 trees.[18] He could have left more if he had been diligent in his bookkeeping. He bought the southwest quarter (160 acres) of section 26, Mohican Township, Ashland County, Ohio, but he did not record the deed and lost the property.[24]

The financial panic of 1837 took a toll on his estate.[13] Trees brought only two or three cents each,[13] as opposed to the “fippenny bit” (about six and a quarter cents) that he usually got.[25] Some of his land was sold for taxes following his death, and litigation used up much of the rest.[13]

Fort Wayne, Indiana is the location where Johnny Appleseed died.[26] A memorial in Fort Wayne’s Swinney Park purports to honor him but not to mark his grave. In Fort Wayne, since 1975, the Johnny Appleseed Festival is held the third full weekend in September in Johnny Appleseed Park and Archer Park. Musicians, demonstrators, and vendors dress in early 19th century attire, and offer food and beverages that would have been available then.[27] In 2008 the Fort Wayne Wizards, a minor league baseball club, changed their name to the Fort Wayne TinCaps. The first season with the new name was in 2009. That same year the Tincaps won their only league championship. The name “Tincaps” is a reference to the tin hat (or pot) Johnny Appleseed is said to have worn. Their team mascot is also named “Johnny”.

From 1962 to 1980, a high school athletic league made up of schools from around the Mansfield, Ohio, area was named the Johnny Appleseed Conference. An outdoor drama is also an annual event in Mansfield, Ohio.[28]

A memorial in Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati, Ohio, is located on the summit of the grounds in Section 1349. A circular garden surrounds a large stone upon which a bronze statue of Chapman stands, face looking skywards, holding an apple seedling tree in one hand and book in the other. A bronze cenotaph identifies him as Johnny Appleseed with a brief biography and eulogy.

March 11 or September 26 are sometimes celebrated as Johnny Appleseed Day. The September date is Appleseed’s acknowledged birthdate, but the March date is sometimes preferred because it is during planting season.

Johnny Appleseed Elementary School is a public school located in Leominster, MA, his birthplace. Mansfield, Ohio, one of Appleseed’s stops in his peregrinations, was home to Johnny Appleseed Middle School until it closed in 1989.

The village of Lisbon, Ohio, hosts an annual Johnny Appleseed festival September 18–19.

A large terra cotta sculpture of Johnny Appleseed, created by Viktor Schreckengost, decorates the front of the Lakewood High School Civic Auditorium in Lakewood, Ohio. Although the local Board of Education deemed Appleseed too “eccentric” a figure to grace the front of the building, renaming the sculpture simply “Early Settler”, students, teachers, and parents alike still call the sculpture by its intended name: “Johnny Appleseed”.[29]

Urbana University, located in Urbana, OH, maintains the world’s only Johnny Appleseed Museum, which is open to the public. The museum hosts a number of artifacts, including a tree that is believed to have been planted by Johnny Appleseed. In addition, the museum is also home to a large number of historical memorabilia, the largest in the world. They also provide a number of services for research, including a national registry of Johnny Appleseed’s relatives. In 2011 the museum was renovated and updated and is now able to hold more memorabilia in a modern museum setting.[30]


1. Swedenborgian history

2. Means, Howard (2011). Johnny Appleseed: The Man, the Myth, the American Story. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 19. ISBN 978-1-4391-7825-6

3. The New England Roots of “Johnny Appleseed”, The New England Quarterly, Vol. 12, No. 3. (Sep., 1939), pp. 454-469

4. “Johnny Appleseed, Orchardist”, prepared by the staff of the Public Library of Fort Wayne and Allen County, November, 1952, page 4

5. “A People’s History of Pittsburgh” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette retrieved 1-10-08 [1]

6. Michael Pollan. Botany of Desire. ch. 1

7. Schmidt, Alexis (2009). Chapman, John (Johnny Appleseed)

8. (1871) Johnny Appleseed: A Pioneer Hero, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, XLIII, 830–831

9. (1871) “Johnny Appleseed: A Pioneer Hero”, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, XLIII, 836

10. “Johnny Appleseed: A Pioneer Hero”, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, November 1871, page 834

11. Kacirk, Jeffrey (1997). Forgotten English. New York: William Morrow & Co. ISBN 0-688-15018-7

12. Howe, Henry (1903). Richland County. Howe’s Historical Collections of Ohio (485), New York:Dover

13. “Johnny Appleseed, Orchardist”, prepared by the staff of the Public Library of Fort Wayne and Allen Couth, November, 1952, page 26

14. Newell Dwight Hillis, The Quest of John Chapman: The Story of a Forgotten Hero, The Macmillan Company, 1904, pp. 308

15. “Johnny Appleseed: A Pioneer Hero”. Harper’s New Monthly Magazine (XLIII): 833. 1871

16. Howe, Henry (1903). Richland County. Howe’s Historical Collections of Ohio. New York: Dover. p. 260

17. “Obituaries”. The Fort Wayne Sentinel 67 (81). March 22, 1845

18. Kilbane, Kevin (September 18, 2003). “Researcher finds slice of Johnny Appleseed’s life that may prove his burial spot”. The News-Sentinel. Archived from the original on 2005-02-14

19. Man and Myth


21. John H. Archer letter, dated October 4, 1900, in Johnny Appleseed collection of Allen County Public Library, Fort Wayne IN

22. Report of a Special Committee of the Johnny Appleseed Commission to the Common Council of the City of Fort Wayne, December 27, 1934

23. What’s the story with Johnny Appleseed?, The Straight Dope, January 20, 2004

24. “Johnny Appleseed: A Pioneer Hero”. Harper’s New Monthly Magazine (XLIII): 835. 1871

25. “Johnny Appleseed, Orchardist”, prepared by the staff of the Public Library of Fort Wayne and Allen Couth, November, 1952, page 17

26. Fort Wayne no longer the Wizards

27. “Johnny Appleseed Festival”

28. “The Johnny Appleseed Outdoor Drama”

29. “Johnny Appleseed”

30. National Apple Museum

Battle of Longue-Pointe

September 25, 2013

The Battle of Longue-Pointe was an attempt by Ethan Allen and a small force of American and Quebec militia to capture Montreal from British forces on September 25, 1775, early in the American Revolutionary War. Allen, who had been instructed only to raise militia forces among the local inhabitants, had long had thoughts of taking the lightly defended city. When he reached the southern shore of the St. Lawrence River with about 110 men, he seized the opportunity to try. Major John Brown, who Allen claimed was supposed to provide additional forces, did not appear as they had planned, isolating Allen and his men on the north side of the river.

British General Guy Carleton sent a force composed mostly of Quebec militia in response to news of Allen’s crossing of the St. Lawrence. This force cut off Allen’s escape route, and eventually surrounded and captured Allen and a number of his men. Carleton eventually abandoned Montreal, which fell without battle to Continental Army forces on November 13. Allen was sent first to England and then New York City as a prisoner, and was eventually exchanged in 1778.


The Isle of Montreal in 1764. Longue Pointe is opposite Longueuil, which is on the right side of the map.

In the 18th century, the city of Montreal occupied only a small portion of the island of Montreal, centered on what is now called Old Montreal. The eastern tip of the island was called Longue-Pointe, and there was at one time a fortification called Fort Longue Pointe on the island, across the river from Longueuil.[5] This area, annexed to Montreal in 1910,[6] and now the Mercier-Est neighborhood of Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, a borough of the city, is near where the action described here took place.[7]

The American invasion of Quebec began with the arrival at Île aux Noix of the Continental Army under the command of General Philip Schuyler on September 4, 1775.[8] Schuyler, who was ill at the time, eventually turned command of the army over the General Richard Montgomery, who ordered the army to besiege Fort Saint-Jean, which they did on September 18. At this fort, south of Montreal on the Richelieu River, General Guy Carleton had concentrated the few British regulars at his disposal following the capture of Fort Ticonderoga in May.[9]

Before turning command over to Montgomery, Schuyler drafted a proclamation addressed to the people of Quebec, encouraging them to oppose the British and assist the American cause. On September 8 Ethan Allen and Major John Brown went into the countryside between Saint-Jean and Montreal with a small detachment of Americans to circulate this proclamation, meeting with James Livingston, a Patriot sympathizer at Chambly as well as with the local Caughnawaga Mohawk.[10] Livingston eventually raised about 300 local militia, which he encamped at Pointe-Olivier, below Fort Chambly.[11] Allen and Brown returned to Île aux Noix following this tour.[12]

Allen had long harbored the goal of taking Montreal. After he and Benedict Arnold captured Fort Ticonderoga in May 1775, he had taken a few hundred men north from Ticonderoga to Saint-Jean with the idea of capturing the fort there by surprise, and then taking Montreal.[13] This effort was frustrated by the timely arrival of British troops at Saint-Jean;[14] the exploit made Allen a well-known figure in Montreal and the Richelieu valley.[15]


General Guy Carleton

Following the capture of Fort Ticonderoga in May 1775, General Carleton, with only 800 regular troops available to defend the entire province,[16] had concentrated those troops at Fort Saint-Jean, placing about 500 troops, along with about 250 militia and natives, at the fort.[17] The remaining forces were distributed among the frontier forts along the Great Lakes, with relatively small garrisons at Montreal, Trois-Rivières, and Quebec City.[18] During the summer of 1775 he attempted to raise substantial additional militia forces from the population. These attempts met with limited success, in part because of successful American propaganda and agitation by Patriot sympathizers, especially Thomas Walker, James Price, and James Livingston. By July, Carleton was apparently satisfied with the level of militia support near Montreal,[19] but he did little to stop the activities of the agitators, who also sent reports detailing British military preparations to the Americans.[20]


A 1904 photograph of the Ethan Allen statue in Montpelier, Vermont

When Montgomery finally began the siege of Fort Saint-Jean, he ordered Allen and about 30 Americans to join with Livingston’s Canadians to secure the south bank of the St. Lawrence River against attempts by Carleton in Montreal to relieve the siege.[21] He also ordered a larger force under Brown’s command to secure the area north of the fort, and to cover the road between Saint-Jean and Montreal.[22]

Allen traveled along the southeastern banks of the Richelieu River, up to Sorel, where he crossed that river and continued up the southern shore of the St. Lawrence to Longueuil. According to Allen’s account, he met Brown there, and the two of them then hatched a plan to attack Montreal. Brown would cross the river with 200 men at La Prairie, upriver from Montreal, and Allen, with his Americans and 80 Canadians under the command of Loiseau and Duggan, two of Livingston’s captains,[1] would cross the river at Longueuil, below the city, and the two forces would, after a prearranged signal, converge on the city itself.[23]

Allen and his men crossed the St. Lawrence on the night of the 24th, landing at Longue-Pointe. The inhabitants he met there were friendly, but he posted guards on the road to Montreal to prevent news of their crossing from reaching the city. However, one man they detained managed to escape to the city and inform Carleton of Allen’s presence on the island.[1] Brown did not cross the river. While no sources indicate why Brown failed to act, historian Justin Smith suggests that Allen in fact acted alone, and only later sought to blame Brown for the endeavor’s failure.[24] This left Allen’s force alone and vulnerable, as it had taken three round trips with the available boats to ferry his men across the river.[25]

Realizing he would not be able ferry everyone back across the river before troops arrived from the city, Allen chose a wooded area near the Ruisseau-des-Sœurs (labeled on the map above as Ruisseau de la Gde Prairie),[26] between Longue-Pointe and Montreal, to make a stand.[27] He also sent word to Thomas Walker, a British merchant and known Patriot sympathizer with a house in nearby L’Assomption, for assistance. Walker was able to muster some men, but Allen was captured before they could lend any assistance.[28]

When General Carleton received word that the notorious Ethan Allen was at the gates of the city, he raised the alarm. As the news spread, large numbers of people turned out. Captain John Campbell[29] assembled a force of 34 regulars from the 26th Foot (the entire garrison in Montreal), 120 Canadian and 80 English militia, 20 British Indian agents, and a few Indians, and led them out to face Allen’s force.[30][27] As Campbell’s force approached, Allen instructed 10 Canadians to cover his left flank, while Duggan and another 50 Canadians were placed on the right flank. Both of these detachments fled instead of holding their positions, leaving Allen with about 50 men.[27] Over the course of the next 90 minutes, fire was exchanged between the forces. Allen’s remaining forces were eventually broken, and, after trying to outrun the enemy, he surrendered.[31]


Engraving showing Ethan Allen with his captors in Montreal

The abortive attack on Montreal led to the full mobilization of local militia in Montreal, raising nearly 1,000 men,[32] but they soon began to drift away. Carleton refused to organize an expedition in relief of Fort Saint-Jean, and the militia members from rural parishes eventually disbanded to attend to their harvests and the defense of their own homes.[33] In November, the besieged fort’s commander capitulated, opening the Americans’ way to Montreal.[34] Carleton fled the city, making his way to Quebec City, and Montgomery occupied Montreal without firing a shot on November 13.[35]

Allen and the other captives were brought to the city. Allen, in his account of the encounter, claims that Colonel Richard Prescott was intent on killing the captured Canadians, but Allen interceded on their behalf, saying “I am the sole cause of their taking up arms.”[36] Allen was imprisoned in a ship’s hold, and eventually sent to England. He spent about a year, mostly on prison ships, before he was released on parole in British-occupied New York City in November 1776, as the British authorities feared hanging him would create a martyr. He was eventually exchanged in May 1778 for Archibald Campbell, a British officer, and resumed military and political service for the nascent Republic of Vermont in 1778.[37][38]

Thomas Walker, the merchant to whom Allen had applied for assistance, was arrested in early October 1775 when twenty regulars and a dozen militia came from Montreal to his house in L’Assomption. Walker’s house was destroyed, and he was imprisoned with the intent of sending him to England for trial.[36] Walker was eventually freed when the Americans captured Montreal and most of the British fleet trying to escape the city.[39]

Ethan Allen wrote a memoir recounting his version of the circumstances of his capture, and the time of his imprisonment. This work, along with Allen’s other memoirs, were quite popular in the 19th century, going through numerous printings.[40] A city park in the Montreal borough of Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, where the action took place, is called Parc de la Capture d’Ethan Allen.[41]


  1. Lanctot, p. 78
  2. Numbers from Stanley, p. 46. Lanctot, p. 78 reports 30 regulars, 30 British, 300 Canadians. Smith, p. 389 reports number similar to Lanctot, but has the number of Canadians at about 120.
  3. These numbers are from Lanctot, p. 78. Smith, p. 390 reports that “the raiders” had a dozen killed, and the defenders about half that. Atherton, p. 73 claims 12 killed and “half that” wounded, with 40 surrendered. Stanley, p. 47 reports 10 wounded.
  4. Atherton, p. 73 claims 6–8 “losses”. Lanctot and Smith are silent on British casualties. Stanley, p. 46 reports 3 dead and two wounded.
  5. See the map at the top of this page.
  6. Atherton, p. 653
  7. Gyulai, Linda (March 16, 2008). “Forgotten capture”.
  8. Smith, pp. 322–324
  9. Smith, p. 366
  10. Lanctot, p. 65
  11. Lanctot, pp. 65–66
  12. Allen and Brown are clearly sent on two separate expeditions, once by Schuyler before the siege of St. Jean begins, and again by Montgomery during the early days of the siege.
  13. Smith, pp. 383–384
  14. Lanctot, p. 44
  15. Lanctot, p. 50
  16. Lanctot, p. 74
  17. Stanley, pp. 35–36
  18. Lanctot, pp. 59 (frontier garrisons)
  19. Lanctot, p. 57–58
  20. Lanctot, p. 60
  21. Smith, p. 380
  22. Smith, p. 371
  23. Lanctot, p. 77
  24. Smith, p. 388
  25. Smith, p. 387
  26. Mémoires de la Société généalogique canadienne-française 1998, p. 97
  27. Smith, p. 389
  28. Smith, p. 395
  29. Lanctot, p. 78 gives the name as Crawford. Nelson, p. 69 give the name of the officer as Campbell. Stanley, p. 46 identifies him as John Campbell
  30. Stanley, p. 46
  31. Smith, p. 390
  32. Smith, p. 399
  33. Stanley, p. 49
  34. Smith, p. 460
  35. Smith, pp. 483, 485–490
  36. Atherton, p. 73
  37. Allen’s Narrative contains a detailed account of his captivity.
  38. Moore, pp. 214–242
  39. Smith, p. 490
  40. Allen, p. i
  41. “List of open spaces – Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve”. City of Montreal.


  • Allen, Ethan (1846). A Narrative of Col. Ethan Allen’s Captivity (4th ed.). C. Goodrich. OCLC 3505817.
  • Atherton, William Henry (1914). Montreal, 1535–1914, Under British Rule, Volume 2. S. J. Clarke. OCLC 6683395.
  • Lanctot, Gustave (1967). Canada and the American Revolution 1774–1783. Harvard University Press. OCLC 70781264.
  • Moore, Hugh (1834). Memoir of Col. Ethan Allen; Containing the Most Interesting Incidents Connected With His Private and Public Career. Plattsburg, N.Y.: O. R. Cook. ISBN 9781432634179. (The ISBN shown is for a 2007 reprint of this volume.)
  • Nelson, Paul David (2000). General Sir Guy Carleton, Lord Dorchester: Soldier-statesman of Early British Canada. Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press. ISBN 9780838638385.
  • Smith, Justin Harvey (1907). Our Struggle for the Fourteenth Colony: Canada, and the American Revolution, Volume 1. G.P. Putnam’s Sons. ISBN 9780306706332. (The ISBN shown is for a 1974 reprint of this volume.)
  • Stanley, George (1973). Canada Invaded 1775–1776. Hakkert. ISBN 9780888665782.
  • Mémoires de la Société Généalogique Canadienne-Française. Volumes 49–50. Société Généalogique Canadienne-Française. 1998. OCLC 2208362

Judiciary Act of 1789 is adopted

September 24, 2013

The United States Judiciary Act of 1789 (ch. 20, 1 Stat. 73) was a landmark statute adopted on September 24, 1789 in the first session of the First United States Congress establishing the U.S. federal judiciary.[3][4][5][6] Article III, Section 1 of the Constitution prescribed that the “judicial power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court,” and such inferior courts as Congress saw fit to establish. It made no provision, though, for the composition or procedures of any of the courts, leaving this to Congress to decide.[7]

The existence of a separate federal judiciary had been controversial during the debates over the ratification of the Constitution. Anti-Federalists had denounced the judicial power as a potential instrument of national tyranny. Indeed, of the ten amendments that eventually became the Bill of Rights, five (the fourth through the eighth) dealt primarily with judicial proceedings. Even after ratification, some opponents of a strong judiciary urged that the federal court system be limited to a Supreme Court and perhaps local admiralty judges. The Congress, however, decided to establish a system of federal trial courts with broader jurisdiction, thereby creating an arm for enforcement of national laws within each state.

The Judiciary Act was reported to the Senate by Senator Richard Henry Lee of Virginia on June 12, 1789.[2] The bill was principally written by Senator Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut.[8] The Act was passed by the Senate by a vote of 14 to 6 on July 17, 1789. The bill was debated by the House in July and August 1789 before being passed with amendments on September 17, 1789 by a vote of 37 to 16. The Senate agreed to all but four of the House’s amendments on September 19, 1789. The House passed the bill as agreed to by Senate on September 21, 1789. On September 24, 1789, President George Washington signed the Judiciary Act of 1789 into law. That same day, Washington nominated the first Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court. In addition, Washington nominated district judges, United States Attorneys, and United States Marshals for Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Virginia.[2][9]


by Ole Erekson, Engraver, c1876, Library of Congress

The Act set the number of Supreme Court justices at six: one Chief Justice and five Associate Justices. The Supreme Court was given exclusive original jurisdiction over all civil actions between states, or between a state and the United States, as well as over all suits and proceedings brought against ambassadors and other diplomatic personnel; and original, but not exclusive, jurisdiction over all other cases in which a state was a party and any cases brought by an ambassador. The Court was given appellate jurisdiction over decisions of the federal circuit courts as well as decisions by state courts holding invalid any statute or treaty of the United States; or holding valid any state law or practice that was challenged as being inconsistent with the federal constitution, treaties, or laws; or rejecting any claim made by a party under a provision of the federal constitution, treaties, or laws.

The Act also created 13 judicial districts within the 11 states that had then ratified the Constitution (North Carolina and Rhode Island were added as judicial districts in 1790, and other states as they were admitted to the Union). Each state comprised one district, except for Virginia and Massachusetts, each of which comprised two. Massachusetts was divided into the District of Maine (which was then part of Massachusetts) and the District of Massachusetts (which covered modern-day Massachusetts). Virginia was divided into the District of Kentucky (which was then part of Virginia) and the District of Virginia (which covered modern-day West Virginia and Virginia).

This Act established a circuit court and district court in each judicial district (except in Maine and Kentucky, where the district courts exercised much of the jurisdiction of the circuit courts). The circuit courts, which comprised a district judge and (initially) two Supreme Court justices “riding circuit,” had original jurisdiction over serious crimes and civil cases of at least $500 involving diversity jurisdiction or the United States as plaintiff in common law and equity. The circuit courts also had appellate jurisdiction over the district courts. The single-judge district courts had jurisdiction primarily over admiralty cases, petty crimes, and suits by the United States for at least $100. Notably, the federal trial courts had not yet received original federal question jurisdiction.

Congress authorized all people to either represent themselves or to be represented by another person. The Act did not prohibit paying a representative to appear in court.

Congress authorized persons who were sued by citizens of another state, in the courts of the plaintiff’s home state, to remove the lawsuit to the federal circuit court. The power of removal, and the Supreme Court’s power to review state court decisions where federal law was at issue, established that the federal judicial power would be superior to that of the states.

The Act created the Office of Attorney General, whose primary responsibility was to represent the United States before the Supreme court. The Act also created a United States Attorney and a United States Marshal for each judicial district.[6]

The Judiciary Act of 1789 included the Alien Tort Statute, now codified as 28 U.S.C. § 1350, which provides jurisdiction in the district courts over lawsuits by aliens for torts in violation of the law of nations or treaties of the United States.

A clause granting the Supreme Court the power to issue writs of mandamus outside its appellate jurisdiction was declared unconstitutional by Marbury v. Madison (1803) (5 U.S. 137), one of the seminal cases in American law. The Supreme Court held that Section 13 of the Judiciary Act was unconstitutional because it purported to enlarge the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court beyond that permitted by the Constitution. In Marbury, the Supreme Court ruled that Congress cannot pass laws that are contrary to the Constitution, and that it is the role of the judicial system to interpret what the Constitution permits. Thus, the Judiciary Act of 1789 was the first act of Congress to be partially invalidated by the Supreme Court.[10][11]


  1. Richard Henry Lee reported the Judiciary Act to the Senate on June 12, 1789
  2. Marcus, Maeva (1992), The Documentary History of the Supreme Court of the United States, 1789-1800, Columbia University Press, ISBN 0-231-08867-1
  3. Judiciary Act of 1789, Library of Congress
  4. History of the Federal Judiciary, Federal Judicial Center
  5. 1789 Judiciary Act, Encyclopedia Britannica
  6. U.S. Marshals Service, History, The Judiciary Act of 1789, United States Marshals Service
  7. Federal Judiciary Act (1789), National Archives and Records Administration
  8. Senator Ellsworth’s Judiciary Act, United States Senate
  9. A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774 – 1875
  10. Supreme Court History: The Court and Democracy, Marbury v. Madison,
  11. The Supreme Court in United States history, Volume 1. By Charles Warren. Little, Brown, 1922

Francis Hopkinson, signer of the Declaration of Independence

September 21, 2013

Francis Hopkinson, an American author, was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence as a delegate from New Jersey. He later served as a federal judge in Pennsylvania. He played a key role in the design of the Great Seal of the United States.


From The literary history of Philadelphia (1906).

Francis Hopkinson was born at Philadelphia on September 21, 1737, the son of Thomas Hopkinson and Mary Johnson. He became a member of the first class at the College of Philadelphia (now University of Pennsylvania) in 1751 and graduated in 1757, receiving his masters degree in 1760, and a doctor in law (honorary) in 1790. He was secretary to a Provincial Council of Pennsylvania Indian commission in 1761 that made a treaty with the Delaware and several Iroquois tribes. In 1763, he was appointed customs collector for Salem, New Jersey. Hopkinson spent from May 1766 to August 1767 in England in hopes of becoming commissioner of customs for North America. Although unsuccessful, he spent time with the future Prime Minister Lord North and his half-brother, the Bishop of Worcester Brownlow North, and painter Benjamin West.

After his return, Francis Hopkinson operated a dry goods business in Philadelphia and married Ann Borden on September 1, 1768. They would have five children. Hopkinson obtained a public appointment as a customs collector for New Castle, Delaware on May 1, 1772. He moved to Bordentown, New Jersey in 1774, became an assemblyman for the state’s Royal Provincial Council, and was admitted to the New Jersey bar on May 8, 1775. He resigned his crown-appointed positions in 1776 and, on June 22, went on to represent New Jersey in the Second Continental Congress where he signed the Declaration of Independence. He departed the Congress on November 30, 1776 to serve on the Navy Board at Philadelphia. As part of the fledgling nation’s government, he was treasurer of the Continental Loan Office in 1778; appointed judge of the Admiralty Court of Pennsylvania in 1779 and reappointed in 1780 and 1787; and helped ratify the Constitution during the constitutional convention in 1787. On September 24, 1789, he was nominated by President George Washington to the newly created position of judge of the United States District Court for the District of Pennsylvania. He was confirmed by the United States Senate, and received his commission, on September 26, 1789.

Only a few years into his service as a federal judge, Hopkinson died on May 9, 1791, in Philadelphia at the age of 53 from a sudden epileptic seizure. He was buried in Christ Church Burial Ground in Philadelphia. He was the father of Joseph Hopkinson, who was a member of the United States House of Representatives and also became a federal judge.


Gravesite of Francis Hopkinson in Philadelphia’s Christ Church Burial Ground

Hopkinson was an amateur author and songwriter at a time when Philadelphia and the colonies were not well known for the arts. He wrote popular airs and political satires (jeux d’esprit) in the form of poems and pamphlets. Some were widely circulated, and powerfully assisted in arousing and fostering the spirit of political independence that issued in the American Revolution.

His principal writings are A Pretty Story . . . (1774), a satire about King George, The Prophecy (1776), and The Political Catechism (1777).[1] Other notable essays are “Typographical Method of conducting a Quarrel”, “Essay on White Washing”, and “Modern Learning”. Many of his writings can be found in Miscellaneous Essays and Occasional Writings, published at Philadelphia in three volumes in 1792 (see Bibliography).


by Ole Erekson, Engraver, c1876, Library of Congress

Hopkinson was a reputed amateur musician. He began to play the harpsichord at age seventeen and, during the 1750s, hand-copied arias, songs, and instrumental pieces by many European composers. He is credited as being the first American born composer to commit a composition to paper with his 1759 composition “My Days Have Been So Wondrous Free.” By the 1760s he was good enough on the harpsichord to play with professional musicians in concerts. Some of his more notable songs include “The Treaty”, “The Battle of the Kegs”, and “The New Roof, a song for Federal Mechanics”. He also played organ at Philadelphia’s Christ Church and composed or edited a number of hymns and psalms including: “A Collection of Psalm Tunes with a few Anthems and Hymns Some of them Entirely New, for the Use of the United Churches of Christ Church and St. Peter’s Church in Philadelphia” (1763), “A psalm of thanksgiving, Adapted to the Solemnity of Easter: To be performed on Sunday, the 30th of March, 1766, at Christ Church, Philadelphia” (1766), and “The Psalms of David, with the Ten Commandments, Creed, Lord’s Prayer, &c. in Metre” (1767). In the 1780s, Hopkinson modified a glass harmonica to be played with a keyboard and invented the Bellarmonic, an instrument that utilized the tones of metal balls.[2] In 1788 he published a collection of 8 songs dedicated to his friend George Washington and his daughter called “Seven Songs for the Harpsichord” and voice.


  • The Miscellaneous Essays and Occasional Writings of Francis Hopkinson, Esq Printed by T. Dobson, 1792
  • Judgments in the Admiralty of Pennsylvania in four suits Printed at T. Dobson and T. Lang, 1789


  • A Pretty Story Written in the Year of Our Lord 1774. Printed by John Dunlap, 1774

Musical compositions

  • Collection of Plain Tunes with a Few from Anthems and Hymns. Printed by Benjamin Carr, 1763.
  • Temple of Minerva. (The First American Opera)[3] Printed by Benjamin Carr, 1781.
  • Seven Songs for the Harpsichord or Forte Piano. Printed by T. Dobson, 1788.[4]


Francis Hopkinson’s design for a US flag, featuring 6-pointed stars arranged in rows.

Hopkinson claimed to have designed the official “first flag” of the United States and sought compensation from Congress. Congress refused on the pretext that many people were involved in the flag’s design, and that Hopkinson was already paid as a public servant.[5][6] Another consideration was that the Flag Resolution of 1777, which defined official United States flags, did not specify the arrangement of stars.[7] Many designs were in use that complied with the flag resolution, with stars arranged in a square, a wreath, rows, patterns, or the familiar “Betsy Ross” circle.

The design of the first Stars and Stripes by Hopkinson had the thirteen stars arranged in a “staggered” pattern technically known as quincuncial because it is based on the repetition of a motif of five units. This arrangement inevitably results in a strongly diagonal effect. In a flag of thirteen stars, this placement produced the unmistakable outline of the crosses of St. George and of St. Andrew, as used together on the British flag. Whether this similarity was intentional or accidental, it may explain why the plainer fashion of placing the stars in three parallel rows was preferred by many Americans over the quincuncial style.

Hopkinson also designed a flag with stars arranged in a circle. It is similar to the familiar Betsy Ross flag, except that it uses 6-pointed stars.[8]

On May 25, 1780, Hopkinson wrote a letter to the Continental Board of Admiralty mentioning several patriotic designs he had completed during the previous three years. One was his Board of Admiralty seal, which contained a red-and-white striped shield on a blue field. Others included the Treasury Board seal, “7 devices for the Continental Currency,” and “the Flag of the United States of America.”[9]

In the letter, Hopkinson noted that he hadn’t asked for any compensation for the designs, but was now looking for a reward: “a Quarter Cask of the public Wine.” The board sent that letter on to Congress. Hopkinson submitted another bill on June 24 for his “drawings and devices.” The first item on the list was “The Naval Flag of the United States.” The price listed was 9 pounds.

The Treasury Board turned down the request in an October 27, 1780, report to Congress. The Board cited several reasons for its action, including the fact that Hopkinson “was not the only person consulted on those exhibitions of Fancy, and therefore cannot claim the sole merit of them and not entitled to the full sum charged.”[10]

Hopkinson’s itemized bill, moreover, is the only contemporary claim that exists for creating the American flag. Although no “Hopkinson flags” exist from the time period, it is believed that his flag contained 13 red and white stripes and 13 white stars arranged symmetrically on a field of blue.

Francis Hopkinson provided assistance to the second committee that designed the Great Seal of the United States. This seal is now impressed upon the reverse of the United States one-dollar bill. The seal, designed by William Barton, contains an unfinished pyramid with a radiant eye, an image used by Hopkinson when he designed the continental $50 currency.[11]


  1. Charles Wells Moulton, ed. (1902). The Library of Literary Criticism of English and American Authors: 1785–1824. Buffalo, NY: The Moulton Publishing Company. pp. 131.
  2. Francis Hopkinson biography at the Library of Congress Performing Arts Digital Library
  3. Pennsylvania Center for the Book on Hopkinson and his writings
  4. “Seven Songs for the Harpsichord or Forte Piano”. Early American Secular Music and its European Sources, 1589–1839
  5. transcript
  6. Buescher, John. “All Wrapped up in the Flag”,
  7. Mastai, pg. 49
  8. Znamierowski says Hopkinson also used 5-pointed stars. Pg 113.
  9. Leepson, Marc; DeMille, Nelson. Flag: An American Biography. St. Martin’s Griffin. pp. 33. ISBN 978-0-312-32309-7
  10. Journals of the Continental Congress – Friday, October 27, 1780
  11. Univ. of Notre Dame, Coin and Currency Collections
  • Hopkinson holdings at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania Online Public Access Catalog.
  • Mastai, Bolesław; Mastai, Marie-Louise d’Otrange. The Stars and the Stripes; the American flag as art and as history from the birth of the Republic to the present. New York, Knopf, 1973.. ISBN 0-394-47217-9.
  • Znamierowski, Alfred. The World Encyclopedia of Flags. Hermes House. ISBN 1-84309-042-2.


  • Francis Hopkinson at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
  • Francis Hopkinson at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a public domain publication of the Federal Judicial Center

Joseph Story, "Statesman of the Old Republic"

September 18, 2013

Joseph Story was an American lawyer and jurist who served on the Supreme Court of the United States from 1811 to 1845. He is most remembered for his opinions in Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee and The Amistad, and especially for his magisterial Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, first published in 1833. Dominating the field in the 19th century, this work is a cornerstone of early American jurisprudence. It is the first comprehensive treatise on the provisions of the U.S. Constitution and remains a critical source of historical information about the forming of the American republic and the early struggles to define its law.

Story opposed Jacksonian democracy, saying it was “oppression” of property rights by republican governments when popular majorities began (in the 1830s) to restrict and erode the property rights of the minority of rich men.[2] R. Kent Newmyer presents Story as a “Statesman of the Old Republic” who tried to be above democratic politics and to shape the law in accordance with the republicanism of Alexander Hamilton and John Marshall and the New England Whigs of the 1820s and ’30s including Daniel Webster.[3] Historians agree that Justice Joseph Story reshaped American law—as much or more than Marshall or anyone else—in a conservative direction that protected property rights.[4]


Portrait of US Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, 1846, by Alvan Clark after daguerreotype of Supreme Court justice Joseph Story. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Story was born at Marblehead, Massachusetts, on September 18, 1779. His father was Dr Elisha Story, a member of the Sons of Liberty who took part in the Boston Tea Party in 1773.[5] Dr Story moved from Boston to Marblehead during the American Revolutionary War. His first wife, Ruth (née Ruddock) died and Story remarried in November 1778, to Mehitable Pedrick, nineteen, the daughter of a wealthy shipping merchant who lost his fortune during the war.[6] Joseph was the first-born of eleven children of the second marriage. (Dr Story also fathered seven children from his first marriage.)[7]

As a boy, Joseph studied at the Marblehead Academy until the fall of 1794, where he was taught by schoolmaster William Harris, later president of Columbia University. At Marblehead he chastized a fellow schoolmate and Harris responded by beating him in front of the school; his father withdrew him immediately afterwards.[8] Story was accepted at Harvard University in January 1795;[9] he joined Adelphi, a student-run literary review, and was admitted to the Phi Beta Kappa Society.[10] He graduated from Harvard in 1798, second in his class behind William Ellery Channing; he noted that his graduation was with “many bitter tears”.[11] He read law in Marblehead under Samuel Sewall, then a congressman and later chief justice of Massachusetts. He later read law under Samuel Putnam in Salem.

He was admitted to the bar at Salem, Massachusetts in 1801. As the only lawyer in Essex County aligned with the Jeffersonian Democratic-Republicans, he was hired as counsel to the powerful Republican shipping firm of George Crowninshield & Sons. Story was also writing poetry and, in 1804, published “The Power of Solitude”, one of the first long poems by an American. In 1805 he was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives, serving until 1808, when he succeeded a Crowninshield son to represent Essex County in the Congress, serving from December 1808 to March 1809. There he led the effort to end the ‘Jefferson’ embargo of maritime commerce. He re-entered private practice in Salem; and was again elected to the state House of Representatives, where he was chosen Speaker in 1811.

Story’s young wife, Mary F.L. Oliver, died in June 1805, shortly after their marriage and two months after the death of his beloved father. In August 1808, he married Sarah Waldo Wetmore, the daughter of Judge William Wetmore of Boston. They had seven children but only two, Mary and William Wetmore Story, would survive to adulthood. Their son became a noted poet and sculptor—his bust of his father was mounted in the Harvard Law School Library—who would later publish The Life and Letters of Joseph Story (2 vols., Boston and London, 1851). Volume I and Volume II

In November 1811, at the age of thirty-two, Story became the youngest Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. He was nominated by President James Madison on November 15, 1811, to a seat vacated by William Cushing, and was confirmed by the United States Senate, and received his commission, on November 18, 1811. Story remains the youngest Supreme Court Justice at appointment. Here he found a congenial home for the brilliance of his scholarship and the development and expression of his political philosophy.


Joseph Story bust by his son, William Wetmore Story, US Supreme Court, Washington, DC

Soon after Story’s appointment, the Supreme Court began to bring out into plain view the powers which the United States Constitution had given it over state courts and state legislation. Chief Justice John Marshall led this effort, but Story had a very large share in the remarkable decisions and opinions issued from 1812 until 1832. For instance, Story wrote the opinion for a unanimous court in Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee following Marshall’s recusal. He built up the department of admiralty law in the United States federal courts; he devoted much attention to equity jurisprudence and the department of patent law. In 1819 he attracted much attention by his vigorous charges to grand juries denouncing the slave trade, and in 1820 he gave a public anti-slavery speech in Salem and was prominent in the proceedings of the Massachusetts Convention called to revise the state constitution.

Non-lawyers are most likely to be familiar with Story’s 1841 opinion in the case of United States v. The Amistad, which was the basis for a 1997 movie directed by Steven Spielberg. Story was played by an actual retired Supreme Court justice, Harry Blackmun.

In 1829 he moved from Salem to Cambridge and became the first Dane Professor of Law at Harvard University, meeting with remarkable success as a teacher and winning the affection of his students, who had the benefit of learning from a sitting Supreme Court justice. He was a prolific writer, publishing many reviews and magazine articles, delivering orations on public occasions, and publishing books on legal subjects which won high praise on both sides of the Atlantic.

Justice Story was one of the most successful American authors of the first half of the 19th century. “By the time he turned 65, on September 18, 1844, he earned $10,000 a year from his book royalties. At this point his salary as Associate Justice was $4,500.”[12]


Statue of Joseph Story sculpted by his son William Wetmore Story, on display in the lobby of Langdell Hall at Harvard Law School.

Among his publications are:

  • Commentaries on the Law of Bailments (1832)
  • Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States: Volume I, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States: Volume II and Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States: Volume III, (3 vols., 1833), a work of profound learning which is still the standard treatise on the subject. Story published a One Volume Abridgment the same year.
  • The Constitutional Class Book: Being a Brief Exposition of the Constitution of the United States (1834)–Story published an expanded edition, entitled A Familiar Exposition of the Constitution of the United States in 1840.
  • Commentaries on the Conflict of Laws (1834), by many regarded as his most significant work.
  • The second edition in 1841 was revised, corrected and greatly enlarged.
  • Commentaries on Equity Jurisprudence (2 vols., 1835–1836) Vol. 1 1846 printing Vol. 2 1866 printing-revised by Isaac Redfield.
  • Equity Pleadings (1838)
  • Law of Agency (1839) Link to an 1851 printing.
  • Law of Partnership (1841)–Link to the second edition published in 1846.
  • Law of Bills of Exchange (1843)–Link to second edition published in 1847.
  • Law of Promissory Notes Law of Promissory Notes(1845)–Link to the 1851 printing.
  • A Familiar Exposition of the Constitution of the United States (1847).

He also edited several standard legal works. His Miscellaneous Writings, first published in 1835, appeared in an enlarged edition in 1851.

The Life and Letters of Joseph Story (1851) edited by his son William Wetmore Story was published in two volumes: Volume I and Volume II

Story contributed articles (in full, and or as part of larger articles) to The Encyclopedia Americana including this article Death, Punishment of. William Wetmore Story in The Life and Letters of Joseph Story, Volume 2, listed the articles Joseph Story wrote for The Encyclopedia Americana.”:[13] Common Law, Congress of the United States, Conquest, Contracts, Corpus Delicti, Courts of England and the United States, Criminal Law,(Story’s contribution begins at “To the preceding article….”) Death, Punishment of, Domicil, Equity, Evidence, Jury, Lien, Law, Legislation, and Codes, (Story’s contribution begins on p. 581.) Natural Law, Nations, Law of, Prize, and Usury. Story is sometimes identified as an “eminent American jurist” by the editors when he is a joint author of an article. See the Law, Legislation, and Codes article for an example.


Gallison’s Reports. Reports of Cases in the Circuit Court of the United States for the First Circuit 2d ed. With additional Notes and References. By John Gallison. 2 vols. Boston, 1845. Vol 1 Vol 2

Mason’s Reports. Reports of Cases in the Circuit Court of the United States for the First Circuit, from 1816 to 1830. By William P. Mason. 5 vols. Boston, 1819-31. Vol 5

Sumner’s Reports. Reports of Cases argued and determined in the Circuit Court of the United States for the First Circuit. By Charles Sumner. 3 vols. Boston, 1836-40.

Story’s Reports. Reports of Cases argued and determined in the Circuit Court of the United States for the First Circuit. By W. W. Story. 3 vols. Boston, 1842-47 Vol 3

“These volumes contain all the decisions of Mr. Justice Story on his Circuit. The decisions relate particularly to questions of Equity and Admiralty, and are of great practical value.”[14]

Mount Auburn Cemetery was dedicated at a civic celebration in 1831. Justice Joseph Story delivered the dedication address, which set the model for dozens of subsequent addresses over the next few decades. It helped spark the “rural cemetery” movement and to link that movement to the development of the republic. Story emphasized the ways that rural cemeteries contributed to an ordered and well-regulated republic of law.[15] He is buried there “as are scores of America’s celebrated political, literary, religious, and military leaders. His grave is marked by a piece of sepulchral statuary executed by his son, William Wetmore Story.”[16]

Story died at home in Cambridge on September 10, 1845, and was buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery.[20]


Story’s grave is located on Narcissus Path near the intersection with Alder Path. These paths are surrounded by Willow, Poplar, Locust and Beech avenues.[20]

Story County, Iowa was named in his honor, as was Story Hall, a dormitory at Harvard Law School, and the DePaul University College of Law chapter of the legal fraternity, Phi Alpha Delta.

Quotations by Joseph Story

“The Constitution unavoidably deals in general language. It did not suit the purposes of the people, in framing this great charter of our liberties, to provide for minute specifications of its powers, or to declare the means by which those powers should be carried into execution. It was foreseen that this would be a perilous and difficult, if not an impracticable, task. The instrument was not intended to provide merely for the exigencies of a few years, but was to endure through a long lapse of ages, the events of which were locked up in the inscrutable purposes of Providence.” Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee, 14 U.S. 304 (1816)

“The patent act uses the phrase ‘useful invention’ merely incidentally. . . . All that the law requires is, that the invention should not be frivolous or injurious to the well-being, good policy, or sound morals of society. The word ‘useful,’ therefore, is incorporated into the act in contradistinction to mischievous or immoral. For instance, a new invention to poison people, or to promote debauchery, or to facilitate private assassination, is not a patentable invention. But if the invention steers wide of these objections, whether it be more or less useful is a circumstance very material to the interests of the patentee, but of no importance to the public. If it be not so extensively useful, it will silently sink into contempt and disregard.” Lowell v. Lewis, 15 F. Cas. 1018 (C.C.D. Mass. 1817)

On religion:

“The remaining part of the [Article VI, paragraph 3 of the U.S. Constitution] declares, that ‘no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.’ This clause is not introduced merely for the purpose of satisfying the scruples of many persons, who feel an invincible repugnance to any religious test, or affirmation. It had a higher objective: to cut off for ever every pretence [sic] of any alliance between church and state in the national government.”[17]

“The real object of the [first] amendment was, not to countenance, much less to advance Mahometanism, or Judiams, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects, and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment, which should give to an hierarchy the exclusive patronage of the national government. It thus cut off the means of religious persecution, (the vice and pest of former ages,) and of the subversion of the rights of conscience in matters of religion, which had been trampled upon almost from the days of the Apostles to the present age. The history of the parent country had afforded the most solemn warnings and melancholy instructions on this head; and even New England, the land of the persecuted puritans, as well as other colonies, where the Church of England had maintained its superiority, would furnish out a chapter, as full of the darkest bigotry and intolerance, as any, which should be found to disgrace the pages of foreign annals. Apostacy, heresy, and nonconformity had been standard crimes for public appeals, to kindle the flames of persecution, and apologize for the most atrocious triumphs over innocence and virtue.”[18]

“Thus, the whole power over the subject of religion is left exclusively to the state government, to be acted upon according to their own sense of justice, and the state constitutions; and the Catholic and the Protestant, the Calvinist and the Arminian, the Jew and the Infidel, may sit down at the common table of the national councils, without any inquisition into their faith, or mode of worship.”[19]

On the Right to Arms of Military Utility and the 2nd Amendment The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered, as the palladium of the liberties of a republic; since it offers a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary power of rulers; and will generally, even if these are successful in the first instance, enable the people to resist and triumph over them.


  1. Newmyer, p. 13
  2. David Brion Davis, Antebellum American culture (1997), pp. 14-15
  3. Newmyer, p. 4
  4. Presser, p. 526
  5. Dunne, p. 32
  6. Newmyer, pp. 7-8
  7. Friedman, p. 254
  8. Newmyer, p. 21
  9. Dunne, p. 23
  10. Newmyer, p. 27
  11. Dunne, p. 26
  12. Rotunda & Nowak “Introduction” to Story’s Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, p. xxiv, Reprint Edition, Carolina Academic Press, 1987
  13. Story, Life and Letters, Vol 2 pp. 27-28, Boston, 1851
  14. Story, Life and Letters, Vol. 2 p. 665, Boston, 1851
  15. Alfred L. Brophy, “These Great and Beautiful Republics of the Dead”: Public Constitutionalism and the Antebellum Cemetery
  16. Christensen, George A., Here Lies the Supreme Court: Revisited, Journal of Supreme Court History, Volume 33 Issue 1, Pages 17 – 41 (Feb 19, 2008), University of Alabama
  17. Story, Joseph (1833) Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States. Boston: Hilliard, Gray and Company. Cambridge: Brown, Shattuck, and Co. Volume III, p. 705, §1841
  18. Story, Joseph (1833) Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States. Boston: Hilliard, Gray and Company. Cambridge: Brown, Shattuck, and Co. Volume III, page 728, §1871
  19. Story, Joseph (1858) Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States. Boston: Hilliard, Gray and Company. Cambridge: Brown, Shattuck, and Co. Third Edition, Volume II, p. 667, §1879
  20. Joseph Story at Find A Grave


  • Joseph Story at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a public domain publication of the Federal Judicial Center
  • Dunne, Gerald T. (1970). Justice Joseph Story and the Rise of the Supreme Court. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0671206656
  • Friedman, Leon; Israel, Fred L., eds. (1995). The Justices of the United States Supreme Court: Their Lives and Major Opinions. Chelsea House Publishers. ISBN 0-7910-1377-4
  • Newmyer, R. Kent (1985). Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story: Statesman of the Old Republic. University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0807841641
  • Presser, Stephen B. (1985). “Review: Resurrecting the Conservative Tradition in American Legal History”. Reviews in American History 13 (4): 526–533. JSTOR 2702583

Georgia Governor Edward Telfair, signer of the Articles of Confederation

September 17, 2013

Edward Telfair was the Governor of the state of Georgia in 1786, and again from 1790 through 1793. He was a member of the Continental Congress, and a signer of the Articles of Confederation.

Telfair was born in 1735 in Town Head, Scotland. He graduated from the Kirkcudbright Grammar School, before he acquired commercial training. He immigrated to America in 1758 as an agent of a commission house, settling in Virginia. Telfair subsequently moved to Halifax, North Carolina, and finally to Savannah, Georgia, where he established his own commission house in 1766.

Telfair was a slave owner and a consultant on slavery issues.[1] His mercantile firm dealt in slaves, among other things, and contemporary correspondence of his included discussions of such topics as: the management of slaves; the purchase and sale of slaves; runaway slaves; the mortality rate of slaves born on plantations; the difficulty of selling closely related slaves; and the relations between whites and freedmen.

Telfair was a member of a Committee of Safety (1775–1776), and was a delegate to the Georgia Provincial Congress meeting at Savannah in 1776. He was also a member of the Georgia Committee of Intelligence in 1776.

Telfair was elected to the Continental Congress for 1778, 1780, 1781, and 1782. He was a signatory to the Articles of Confederation. In 1783, during the Chickamauga Wars, Telfair was commissioned to treat with the Chickamauga Cherokee Indians. Telfair was the designated agent (on behalf of Georgia) in talks aimed at settling the northern boundary dispute with North Carolina in February 1783. He was a Governor of the state of Georgia.

Telfair was one of only 10 men who received electoral votes during the first election for President and Vice President of the United States,[2] receiving the vote of one unrecorded elector from his home state of Georgia.

Telfair died in Savannah on September 17, 1807, and was buried in Bonaventure Cemetery there.


Gravesite of Edward Telfair in Bonaventure Cemetery at Savannah, Georgia.

Telfair’s son, Thomas Telfair, represented Georgia in the U.S. Congress.

Georgia named Telfair County in his honor.


  1. Edward Telfair Papers, 1764–1831; 906 Items & 5 Volumes; Savannah, Georgia; “Papers of a merchant, governor of Georgia, and delegate to the Continental Congress”
  2. Journal of the Senate; Vol. 1; 1789; p. 8

Battle of Harlem Heights

September 16, 2013

The Battle of Harlem Heights was fought during the New York and New Jersey campaign of the American Revolution. The action took place in what is now the Morningside Heights and west Harlem neighborhoods of Manhattan in New York City on September 16, 1776.

The Continental Army, under General George Washington, Major General Nathanael Greene, and Major General Israel Putnam, totaling around 1,800 men, held a series of high ground positions in upper Manhattan against an attacking British division totaling around 5,000 men under the command of Major General Alexander Leslie. British troops made a tactical error by having their light infantry buglers sound a fox hunting call, “gone away,” while in pursuit. This was intended to insult Washington, himself a keen fox hunter, having learned the sport from Lord Fairfax during the French and Indian War. “Gone away” means that a fox is in full flight from the hounds on its trail. The Continentals, who were in orderly retreat, were infuriated by this and galvanized to hold their ground. After flanking the British attackers, the Americans slowly pushed the British back. After the British withdrawal, Washington had his troops end the pursuit. The battle went a long way to restoring the confidence of the Continental Army after suffering several defeats. It was Washington’s first battlefield victory of the war.

After a month without any major fighting between the armies, Washington was forced to withdraw his army to White Plains when the British moved into Westchester County and threatened to trap Washington in Manhattan. Washington suffered two more defeats, at White Plains and Fort Washington. After these two defeats, Washington and the army retreated across New Jersey to Pennsylvania. The New York and New Jersey campaign ended after the American victories at Trenton and Princeton.


Battle of Long Island – Harlem Heights, unknown artist

On August 27, 1776, British troops under the command of General William Howe flanked and defeated the American army at the Battle of Long Island.[7] Howe moved his forces and pinned the Americans down at Brooklyn Heights, with the East River to the American rear. On the night of August 29, General George Washington, Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, evacuated his entire army of 9,000 men and their equipment across the water to Manhattan.[8]

On September 15, Howe landed his army at Kip’s Bay, Manhattan.[9] After a bombardment of the American positions on the shore, 4,000 British and Hessian troops landed at Battle of Kip’s Bay. The American troops began to flee at the sight of the enemy, and even with Washington’s arrival on the scene they refused to obey orders and continued to flee.[10]

After scattering the Americans at Kip’s Bay, Howe landed 9,000 more troops, but did not cut off the American retreat from New York City.[11] Washington had all of his troops in the City on their way to Harlem Heights by 4:00 pm and they all reached the Heights by nightfall.[12]


The Battle of Harlem Heights, September 16, 1776

On the morning of September 16, Washington received word that the British were advancing.[13] Washington, who had been expecting an attack, sent a reconnoitering party of 150 men under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Knowlton to probe the British lines.[14] At daybreak, Knowlton’s troops were spotted by the pickets of the British light infantry.[15] The British sent two or three companies to attack the enemy. For more than half an hour the skirmish continued, with fighting in the woods between two farm fields.[16] When Knowlton realized that the numerically superior British forces were trying to turn his flank, he ordered a retreat. The retreat was organized and conducted with no confusion or loss of life.[16]

The British quickly pursued the Americans and were reinforced with the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of Light Infantry, along with the 42nd Highlanders.[17] During the retreat, the British light troops played their bugle horns signaling a fox hunt, which infuriated the Americans.[14] Colonel Joseph Reed, who had accompanied Knowlton, rode to Washington to tell him what was going on and encouraged him to reinforce the rangers.[18] Instead of retreating, Washington, in what Edward G. Lengel calls “an early glimmer of the courage and resolve that would rally the Continentals from many a tight spot later on”,[14] devised a plan to entrap the British light troops.[14] Washington would have some troops make a feint, in order to draw the British into a hollow way, and then send a detachment of troops around to trap the British inside.[19]

The feint party was composed of 150 volunteers who ran into the hollow way and began to engage the British.[19] After the British were in the hollow way, the 150 volunteers were reinforced by 900 more men. All of the troops were stationed too far away from one another to do much damage.[19]

The flanking party consisted of Knowlton’s Rangers, which had been reinforced by three companies of riflemen, in total about 200 men.[20] As they approached, an officer accidentally misled the men, and the firing broke out on the British flank, not their rear. The British troops, realizing that they had almost been surrounded, retreated to a field, where there was a fence. The Americans soon pursued and, during the attack, Knowlton was killed.[21] Despite this, the American troops pushed on; driving the British troops beyond the fence to the top of a hill. When they reached the hill, the British forces received reinforcements; including some artillery.[21] For two hours, the British troops held their ground at the top of the hill until the Americans once again forced them to retreat into a buckwheat field.[2]


A plaque commemorating the American victory, on the math building of Columbia University

Washington was originally reluctant to pursue the British troops, but after seeing that his men were slowly pushing the British back, he sent in reinforcements and permitted the troops to engage in a direct attack.[2] By the time that all of the reinforcements arrived, nearly 1,800 Americans were engaged in the buckwheat field. To direct the battle, members of Washington’s staff, including Nathanael Greene, were sent in. By this time, the British troops had also been reinforced; bringing their strength up to about 5,000 men.[3]

For an hour-and-a-half, the battle continued in the field and in the surrounding hills until, “having fired away their ammunition”,[22] the British withdrew. The Americans kept up a close pursuit until it was heard that British reserves were coming, and Washington, fearing a British trap, ordered a withdrawal.[3] Upon hearing Washington’s orders to withdraw, the troops gave a loud “huzzah” and left the field in good order.[1]

The British casualties were officially reported by General Howe at 14 killed and 78 wounded.[23] However, a member of Howe’s staff wrote in his diary that the loss was 14 killed and 154 wounded.[24] David McCullough gives much higher figures of 90 killed and 300 wounded.[6] The Americans had about 30 killed and 100 wounded,[4] including among the dead Lieutenant Colonel Knowlton and Major Andrew Leitch. The American victory raised morale in the ranks, even among those who had not been engaged.[1] It also marked the first victory of the war for the army directly under George Washington’s command.[1]

There was little fighting for the next month of the campaign, but Washington moved his army to White Plains in October after hearing that the British were attempting to trap him on Manhattan.[25] After being defeated at the Battle of White Plains and later at Fort Washington, Washington and his army retreated across New Jersey, pursued by the British, into Pennsylvania.[26]

The loss of Knowlton was a blow to the fledgling American intelligence operations, as he had created and led the first such unit of the Continental Army, at the direction of Washington.


  1. Lengel p.157
  2. Johnston p.82
  3. McCullough p.218
  4. Johnston p.87
  5. Boatner, p. 491
  6. McCullough p.219
  7. McCullough p.166
  8. McCullough p.191
  9. McCullough p.209
  10. McCullough p.212
  11. Lengel p.154
  12. Lengel p.155
  13. McCullough p.217
  14. Lengel p.156
  15. Johnston p.61
  16. Johnston p.62
  17. Johnston p.63
  18. Johnston p.68
  19. Johnston p.69
  20. Johnston p.74
  21. Johnston p.80
  22. Johnston, p. 257
  23. Montross, p. 113
  24. Freeman, p. 202, referencing the diary of Stephen Kemble, a Loyalist officer who was serving as Howe’s assistant adjutant-general
  25. McCullough p.230
  26. McCullough p.255


  • Boatner, Mark Mayo (1966). Cassell’s Biographical Dictionary of the American War of Independence 1763-1783. London: Cassell. ISBN 0-304-29296-6
  • Freeman, Douglas Southall (1951). George Washington: A Biography. Volume Four: Leader of the Revolution. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode
  • Johnston, Henry P (1897). The Battle of Harlem Heights, September 16, 1776. London: The Macmillan Company.
  • Lengel, Edward (2005). General George Washington. New York: Random House Paperbacks. ISBN 0812969502
  • McCullough, David (2006). 1776. New York: Simon and Schuster Paperback. ISBN 0743226720.
  • Montross, Lynn (1967). The Story of the Continental Army, 1775-1783. New York: Barnes & Noble

United States Department of State established

September 15, 2013

The United States Department of State (DoS), often referred to as the State Department, is the United States federal executive department responsible for international relations of the United States, equivalent to the foreign minister of other countries. The Department was created in 1789 and was the first executive department established.

The U.S. Constitution, drafted in Philadelphia in 1787 and ratified by the states the following year, gave the President the responsibility for the conduct of the nation’s foreign relations. It soon became clear, however, that an executive department was necessary to support the President in the conduct of the affairs of the new federal government.

The House of Representatives and Senate approved legislation to establish a Department of Foreign Affairs on July 21, 1789, and President Washington signed it into law on July 27, making the Department of Foreign Affairs the first Federal agency to be created under the new Constitution.[1] This legislation remains the basic law of the Department of State. In September 1789, additional legislation changed the name of the agency to the Department of State and assigned to it a variety of domestic duties.

These responsibilities grew to include management of the United States Mint, keeper of the Great Seal of the United States, and the taking of the census. President George Washington signed the new legislation on September 15.[2] Most of these domestic duties of the Department of State were eventually turned over to various new Federal departments and agencies that were established during the 19th century. However, the Secretary of State still retains a few domestic responsibilities, such as being the keeper of the Great Seal and being the officer to whom a President or Vice-President of the United States wishing to resign must deliver an instrument in writing declaring the decision to resign.

On September 29, 1789, President Washington appointed Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, then Minister to France, to be the first United States Secretary of State.[3] John Jay had been serving in as Secretary of Foreign Affairs as a holdover from the Confederation since before Washington had taken office and would continue in that capacity until Jefferson returned from Europe many months later.


Thomas Jefferson, first Secretary of State

From 1790 to 1800, the State Department had its headquarters in the then-capital of the United States, Philadelphia. It occupied a building at Church and Fifth Streets (although, for a short period during which a yellow fever epidemic ravaged the city, it resided in the New Jersey State House).[4] In 1800, it moved from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., where it first occupied the Treasury Building[4] and then the Seven Buildings at 19th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.[5] It moved into the Six Buildings in September 1800, where it remained until May 1801.[6] It moved into the War Office Building due west of the White House in May 1801.[7] It occupied the Treasury Building from September 1819 to November 1866,[8] except for the period from September 1814 to April 1816 (during which it occupied a structure at G and 18th streets NW while the Treasury Building was repaired).[7] It then occupied the Washington City Orphan Home from November 1866 to July 1875.[9] It moved to the State, War, and Navy Building in 1875.[10] Since May 1947, it has occupied the Harry S Truman Building.


  1. 1 United States Statutes at Large, Chapter 4, Section 1
  2. United States Statutes at Large, First Congress, Session 1, Chapter 14
  3. Bureau of Public Affairs. “1784-1800: New Republic”. United States Department of State
  4. Plischke, Elmer. U.S. Department of State: A Reference History. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999, p. 45
  5. Tinkler, Robert. James Hamilton of South Carolina. Baton Rouge, La.: Louisiana State University Press, 2004, p. 52
  6. Burke, Lee H. and Patterson, Richard Sharpe. Homes of the Department of State, 1774-1976: The Buildings Occupied by the Department of State and Its Predecessors. Washington, D.C.: US. Government Printing Office, 1977, p. 27
  7. Michael, William Henry. History of the Department of State of the United States: Its Formation and Duties, Together With Biographies of Its Present Officers and Secretaries From the Beginning. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1901, p. 12
  8. Burke and Patterson, p. 37
  9. Burke and Patterson, 1977, p. 41
  10. Plischke, p. 467

James Wilson, signer of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court

September 14, 2013

James Wilson was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and a signer both of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. Wilson was elected twice to the Continental Congress, and was a major force in drafting the Constitution. A leading legal theorist, he was one of the six original justices appointed by George Washington to the Supreme Court of the United States.


Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court

One of seven children, Wilson was born to a Presbyterian farming family on September 14, 1742 in Carskerdo, Fife, Scotland[4] to William Wilson and Alison Landall. Wilson attended a number of Scottish universities without attaining a degree. Imbued with the ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment he moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in British America in 1766, carrying valuable letters of introduction. These helped Wilson to begin tutoring and then teaching at The Academy and College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania). He petitioned there for a degree and was awarded an honorary Master of Arts several months later.

Wilson began to read the law at the office of John Dickinson a short time later. After two years of study he attained the bar in Philadelphia, and, in the following year (1767), set up his own practice in Reading, Pennsylvania. His office was very successful and he earned a small fortune in a few years. By then he had a small farm near Carlisle, Pennsylvania, was handling cases in eight local counties, and was lecturing at The Academy and College of Philadelphia.

On 5 November 1771, he married Rachel Bird, daughter of William Bird and Bridget Hulings; they had six children together: Mary, William, Bird, James, Emily and Charles. Rachel died in 1786, and in 1793 he married Hannah Gray, daughter of Ellis Gray and Sarah D’Olbear; the marriage produced a son named Henry, who died at age three. Hannah had previously been the widow of Thomas Bartlett, M.D.

Taking up the revolutionary cause, Wilson published in 1774 “Considerations on the Nature and Extent of the Legislative Authority of the British Parliament.” In this pamphlet, Wilson argued that the Parliament had no authority to pass laws for the American colonies because the colonies had no representation in Parliament. It presented his views that all power derived from the people. Though considered by scholars on par with the seminal works of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams of the same year, it was actually penned in 1768, perhaps the first cogent argument to be formulated against British dominance.

In 1775 he was commissioned Colonel of the 4th Cumberland County Battalion [1] and rose to the rank of Brigadier General of the Pennsylvania State Militia.[5]

As a member of the Continental Congress in 1776, James Wilson was a firm advocate for independence. Believing it was his duty to follow the wishes of his constituents, Wilson refused to vote until he had caucused his district. Only after he received more feedback did he vote for independence. While serving in the Congress, Wilson was clearly among the leaders in the formation of Indian policy. “If the positions he held and the frequency with which he appeared on committees concerned with Indian affairs are an index, he was until his departure from Congress in 1777 the most active and influential single delegate in laying down the general outline that governed the relations of Congress with the border tribes.”[6]


by Ole Erekson, Engraver, c1876, Library of Congress

Wilson also served from June 1776 on the Committee on Spies, along with John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Rutledge, and Robert R. Livingston. They together defined treason. (Page, p. 119.)

On October 4, 1779 the Fort Wilson Riot began. After the British had abandoned Philadelphia, James Wilson successfully defended at trial 23 people from property seizure and exile by the radical government of Pennsylvania. A mob whipped up by liquor and the writings and speeches of Joseph Reed, President of Pennsylvania’s Supreme Executive Council, marched on Congressman Wilson’s home at Third and Walnut Streets. Wilson and 35 of his colleagues barricaded themselves in his home, later nicknamed Fort Wilson. In the fighting that ensued, six died, and 17 to 19 were wounded. The city’s soldiers, the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry and Baylor’s 3rd Continental Light Dragoons, eventually intervened and rescued Wilson and his colleagues. The rioters were pardoned and released by Joseph Reed [2] [3]

Wilson closely identified with the aristocratic and conservative republican groups, multiplied his business interests, and accelerated his land speculation. He also took a position as Advocate General for France in America (1779-83), dealing with commercial and maritime matters, and legally defended Loyalists and their sympathizers. He held this post until 1798 (until his death).

One of the most prominent lawyers of his time, Wilson is credited for being the most learned of the Framers of the Constitution. A fellow delegate in the Constitutional Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia made the following assessment of James Wilson: “Government seems to have been his peculiar study, all the political institutions of the world he knows in detail, and can trace the causes and effects of every revolution from the earliest stages of the Grecian commonwealth down to the present time.”[7]

Wilson’s most lasting impact on the country came as a member of the Committee of Detail, which produced the first draft of the United States Constitution in 1787 (a year after the death of his first wife). He wanted senators and the president to be popularly elected. He also proposed the Three-Fifths Compromise at the convention, which made slaves count as three-fifths of a person for representation in the House and Electoral College. Along with James Madison, he was perhaps the best versed of the framers in the study of political economy. He understood clearly the central problem of dual sovereignty (nation and state) and held a vision of an almost limitless future for the United States. Wilson addressed the Convention 168 times.[8] A witness to Wilson’s performance during the convention, Dr. Benjamin Rush, called Wilson’s mind “one blaze of light.”[9]

Though not in agreement with all parts of the final, necessarily compromised Constitution, Wilson stumped hard for its adoption, leading Pennsylvania, at its ratifying convention, to become the second state (behind Delaware) to accept the document. His October 6, 1787 speech in the State House courtyard has been seen as particularly important in setting the terms of the ratification debate, both locally and nationally. In particular, it focused on the fact that there would be a popularly elected national government for the first time. Wilson was later instrumental in the redrafting of the 1776 Pennsylvania State constitution, leading the group in favor of a new constitution, and entering into an agreement with William Findley (leader of the Constitutionalist Party) that limited the partisan feeling that had previously characterized Pennsylvanian politics.

He was nominated to be an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court by George Washington on September 24, 1789, after the court was implemented under the Judiciary Act of 1789. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on September 26, 1789, and received commission on September 29, 1789. Only nine cases were heard by the court from his appointment in 1789 until his death in 1798.

He became the first professor of law at the College of Philadelphia in 1790—only the second at any academic institution in the United States—in which he mostly ignored the practical matters of legal training. Like many of his educated contemporaries, he viewed the academic study of law as a branch of a general cultured education, rather than solely as a prelude to a profession.

Wilson broke off his first course of law lectures in April 1791 to attend to his duties as Supreme Court justice on circuit. He appears to have begun a second-year course in late 1791 or in early 1792 (by which time the College of Philadelphia had been merged into the University of Pennsylvania), but at some unrecorded point the lectures stopped again and were never resumed. They were not published (except for the first) until after his death, in an edition produced by his son, Bird Wilson, in 1804. The University of Pennsylvania Law School in Philadelphia officially traces its foundation to Wilson’s lectures.

Wilson’s final years were marked by financial failures. He assumed heavy debts investing in land that became liabilities with the onset of the Panic of 1796-1797. Of note was the failure in Pennsylvania with Theophilus Cazenove. In debt, Wilson was briefly imprisoned in a Debtors’ Prison in Burlington, New Jersey. His son paid the debt, but Wilson went to North Carolina to escape other creditors. He was again briefly imprisoned, but continued his duties on the Federal judicial circuit. In 1798, he suffered a bout of malaria and then died of a stroke on August 28 at the age of 55, while visiting a friend in Edenton, North Carolina. He was buried in the Johnston cemetery on Hayes Plantation near Edenton, but was reinterred in 1906 at Christ Churchyard, Philadelphia.[10]


Grave of James Wilson at Christ Churchyard in Philadelphia

“Tracing over the events of Wilson’s life, we are impressed by the lucid quality of his mind. With this went a restless energy and insatiable ambition, an almost frightening vitality that turned with undiminished energy and enthusiasm to new tasks and new ventures. Yet, when all has been said, the inner man remains, despite our probings, an enigma.” – Charles Page Smith[11]

In the lectures mentioned above, James Wilson, among the first of American legal philosophers, worked through in more detail some of the thinking suggested in the opinions issuing at that time from the Supreme Court. He felt, in fact, compelled to begin by spending some time in arguing out the justification of the appropriateness of his undertaking a course of lectures. But he assures his students that:

“When I deliver my sentiments from this chair, they shall be my honest sentiments: when I deliver them from the bench, they shall be nothing more. In both places I shall make ― because I mean to support ― the claim to integrity: in neither shall I make ― because, in neither, can I support ― the claim to infallibility.” (First lecture, 1804 Philadelphia ed.)

With this, he raises the most important question of the era: having acted upon revolutionary principles in setting up the new country:

“Why should we not teach our children those principles, upon which we ourselves have thought and acted? Ought we to instil into their tender minds a theory, especially if unfounded, which is contradictory to our own practice, built on the most solid foundation? Why should we reduce them to the cruel dilemma of condemning, either those principles which they have been taught to believe, or those persons whom they have been taught to revere?” (First lecture.)

That this is no mere academic question is revealed with a cursory review of any number of early Supreme Court opinions. Perhaps it is best here to quote the opening of Justice Wilson’s opinion in Chisholm v. State of Georgia, 2 U.S. 419 (1793), one of the most momentous decisions in American history:

“This is a case of uncommon magnitude. One of the parties to it is a State; certainly respectable, claiming to be sovereign. The question to be determined is, whether this State, so respectable, and whose claim soars so high, is amenable to the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of the United States? This question, important in itself, will depend on others, more important still; and, may, perhaps, be ultimately resolved into one, no less radical than this ‘do the people of the United States form a Nation?'”

In order to arrive at an answer to this question, one that would provide the foundation for the United States of America, Wilson knew that legal thinkers had to resolve in their minds clearly the question of the difference between “the principles of the constitutions and governments and laws of the United States, and the republics, of which they are formed” and the “constitution and government and laws of England.” He made it quite clear that he thought the American items to be “materially better.” (First lecture.)


  1. Morton, J. C. (2005-12-30). Shapers of the great debate at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 : a biographical dictionary. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 306. ISBN 9780313330216. OCLC 493444554.
  2. “Signers of the Declaration of Independence”.
  3. The Encyclopædia britannica (11 ed.). 1911. OCLC 45504382.
  4. “James Wilson”.
  6. James Wilson: Founding Father, Charles Smith Page, 1956, p. 72
  7. Library of Congress: James Wilson
  8. World Book Encyclopedia, 2003, James Wilson article
  9. “James Wilson: A Forgotten Father,” St. John, Gerald J., in The Philadelphia Lawyer,
  10. St. John, G. J. (2004). “James Wilson: A Forgotten Father”. The Philadelphia Lawyer 66 (4) “During the dedication of Pennsylvania’s new capitol building in Harrisburg, Roosevelt singled out James Wilson for special praise [...] One month after the Harrisburg speech, Wilson’s remains were removed from Hayes Plantation and reinterred at Old Christ Church”
  11. James Wilson: Founding Father, 1956, p. 393
  • Works of James Wilson 3 vol (1804) online edition
  • Collected Works of James Wilson, 2 vols. Edited by Kermit L. Hall and Mark David Hall. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund Press, 2007
  • Hall, Mark David (1997). The Political and Legal Philosophy of James Wilson, 1742-1798. Columbia: University of Missouri Press. ISBN 0-8262-1103-8
  • Read, James H. (2000). Power Versus Liberty: Madison, Hamilton, Wilson, and Jefferson. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia. ISBN 0-8139-1911-8
  • Wexler, Natalie (2007). A More Obedient Wife: A Novel of the Early Supreme Court. Washington: Kalorama Press. ISBN 0615135161

Congressman Andrew Pickens

September 13, 2013

Andrew Pickens was a militia leader in the American Revolution and a member of the United States House of Representatives from South Carolina.


Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from South Carolina’s 6th district

Pickens was born on September 13, 1739, in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, the son of Scots-Irish immigrants, Andrew Pickens, Sr. and Anne (née Davis). His paternal great-grandparents were Robert Andrew Pickens (Robert André Picon) and Esther-Jeanne, widow Bonneau, of South Carolina and La Rochelle, France.[1]

In 1752 his family moved to the Waxhaws on the South Carolina frontier. He sold his farm there in 1764 and bought land in Abbeville County, South Carolina, near the Georgia border.

He established the Hopewell Plantation on the Seneca River, at which several treaties with Native Americans were held, each called the Treaty of Hopewell. Just across the river was the Cherokee town of Isunigu (“Seneca”).


Andrew Pickens’ grave marker at Old Stone Church cemetery

He served in the Anglo-Cherokee War in 1760–1761. When the Revolutionary War started, he sided with the rebel militia, and was made a captain. He rose to the rank of Brigadier General during the war.

On February 14, 1779, he was part of the militia victory at the Battle of Kettle Creek in Georgia.

Pickens was captured at the Siege of Charleston in 1780. He saw action at the Battle of Cowpens, Siege of Augusta, Siege of Ninety Six, and the Battle of Eutaw Springs.

Pickens also led a campaign in north Georgia against the Cherokee Indians late in the war. His victorious campaign led to the Cherokees ceding significant portions of land between the Savannah and Chattahoochee rivers in the Long Swamp Treaty signed in what is currently Pickens County, Georgia. Pickens was well regarded by Native Americans that he dealt with and was given the name Skyagunsta, “The Wizard Owl.”

He and three hundred of his men went home to sit out the war on parole.

Pickens’ parole did not last, however. After Tory raiders destroyed most of his property and frightened his family, he informed the British that they had violated the terms of parole and rejoined the war. During this period of the war, Pickens would join Francis Marion and Thomas Sumter as the most well-known partisan leaders in the Carolinas. Sumter also resumed fighting under similar circumstances. Pickens was soon operating in the Ninety Six District.

Cowpens, South Carolina: Jan. 17, 1781:

At the Battle of Cowpens, Brig. General Daniel Morgan gave Pickens command of the militia, which played a key role in the battle. On the evening of January 16, Morgan personally instructed the militia to hold its ground while firing two rounds and then retreat. On the morning of January 17, Pickens and the militia carried out the plan perfectly, which led Lt. Colonel Banastre Tarleton and British to believe that the militia was fleeing. The British blindly charged ahead and were drawn into a double flanking and soundly defeated. Following Cowpens, South Carolina Governor John Rutledge promoted Pickens to brigadier general. He would also be awarded a sword by Congress.

Augusta, Georgia: May 22-June 5, 1781:

Pickens’ militia was soon recalled to defend their own homes and so he missed the Battle of Guilford Courthouse on March 15, 1781. In April, he raised a regiments of state regulars. In May 1781, Maj. General Nathanael Greene sent Pickens and Lt. Colonel Henry Lee to support Elijah Clarke in operations against Augusta, Georgia. The siege began on May 22 and after maneuvering, securing outposts and the cutting off of reinforcements by the Patriots, Colonel Thomas Brown surrendered Augusta on June 5, 1781.

Ninety Six, South Carolina: May 22-June 19, 1781:

Following the surrender of Augusta, Pickens and Lt. Colonel Lee joined General Greene in his siege at Ninety Six, South Carolina. Greene had begun his siege on May 22, 1781, the same day that Augusta had been besieged. On June 11, Greene ordered Pickens and Lt. Colonel William Washington to aid Thomas Sumter in blocking a relief column led by Lord Rawdon. However, Sumter instead moved to Fort Granby, allowing Rawdon to make his way to Ninety Six. On June 19, Greene had to give up the siege and retreat after a failed assault.


Revolutionary hero Andrew Pickens – plaque at the South Carolina statehouse

He married Rebecca Floride Calhoun in 1765. They had 12 children, including Andrew Pickens who later became governor of South Carolina. He was also an uncle of Floride Calhoun, the wife of John C. Calhoun.

Andrew Pickens died near Tamassee, South Carolina, in Oconee County, on Aug. 11, 1817. He is buried at Old Stone Church Cemetery in Clemson, South Carolina.

Fort Pickens in Florida is named in his honor as is Pickens County, Alabama; Pickens County, Georgia; and Pickens and Pickens County in his adopted home state of South Carolina.

Pickens was a 7th great grandfather of former Senator and 2004 presidential candidate John Edwards.

He is also the namesake of Pickens High School.

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


  • GeorgiaInfo Pickens County Courthouse History

General Mordecai Gist

September 12, 2013

Mordecai Gist was a member of a prominent Maryland family who became a general in command of the Maryland Line in the Continental Army during the American Revolution.

Gist was born in 1743 in Baltimore, Maryland (one source says Reisterstown, Maryland), the fourth child of Thomas and Susannah Cockey Gist. Thomas Gist’s father, Captain Richard Gist (1684-August 28, 1741), was the surveyor of Maryland’s Western Shore and one of the commissioners who laid out Baltimore Town in 1729. Richard Gist’s father, Christopher Richard Gist (1655 or 1659-Feb. 1690), was an English emigrant who came to the Province of Maryland before 1682 and settled in “South Canton” on the south bank of the Patapsco River. Christopher Richard Gist married Edith Cromwell (1660-1694), who is believed to have been a relative of England’s Lord Protector.


Mordecai Gist’s great-great-grandfather was Lawrence Washington (1602-1655) who was also the great-great-grandfather of George Washington. Thus, he and Washington were third cousins. Gist was also the nephew of Christopher Gist (1706-1759), a son of Richard Gist. Christopher Gist was a Colonial-era explorer, scout, and frontier settler who was employed by the Ohio Company and had served with 21-year-old Colonel George Washington. Christopher Gist is credited with twice saving Washington’s life when they were surveying land in the Ohio country in 1753. Mordecai Gist was also distantly related John Eager Howard.

Mordecai Gist was educated for commercial pursuits. At the beginning of the American Revolution, the young men of Baltimore associated under the title of the “Baltimore Independent Company” and elected Gist as their captain. It was the first company raised in Maryland for the defense of popular liberty.

In 1776, Gist was appointed major of a battalion of regulars, and was with them in the battle near Brooklyn. In January 1779, the Continental Congress appointed him as a brigadier general in the Continental Army, and he took the command of the 2nd Maryland Brigade. He fought stubbornly at the Battle of Camden in South Carolina in 1780. At one time after a bayonet charge, his force secured fifty prisoners, but the British under Lord Cornwallis rallied, and the Marylanders gave way. Gist escaped, and, a year later, he was present at the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown.


He joined the southern army under Nathanael Greene, and he was given the command of the light corps again when the army was reorganized in 1782. On August 26, 1782, he rallied the broken forces of the Americans under John Laurens at the Battle of the Combahee and gained a decisive victory over the British.

After the war, Gist relocated to plantation near Charleston, South Carolina. He had two children, both sons, one of whom he named “Independent” and the other “States.” He died on September 12, 1792, at the age of 50, in Charleston and is buried in St. Michael’s Churchyard, next to his son, States Gist, and daughter Susannah Gist.

Mordecai Gist was distantly related to States Rights Gist, a brigadier general in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War who died of wounds received while leading his brigade in a charge against Federal fortifications at the Battle of Franklin in November 1864. States Rights Gist was the great-grandson of William Gist (b. 1710), the third child of Richard and Susan Cockey Gist.


  • This article incorporates text from the public domain Appletons’ Cyclopædia of American Biography.

Annapolis Convention sets the stage for the Constitution of the United States

September 11, 2013

The Annapolis Convention was a meeting in 1786 at Annapolis, Maryland, of 12 delegates from five states (New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Virginia) that unanimously called for a constitutional convention. The formal title of the meeting was a Meeting of Commissioners to Remedy Defects of the Federal Government. Long dissatisfied with the weak Articles of Confederation, Alexander Hamilton of New York played a major leadership role. He drafted its resolution for a constitutional convention, and in doing so brought his longtime desire to have a more powerful, more financially independent federal government one step closer to reality.[1]


The defects that they were to remedy were the protectionist barriers that limited trade and commerce between the largely independent states under the Articles of Confederation.[2]

The convention met from September 11 to September 14, 1786. The commissioners felt that there were not enough states represented to make any substantive agreement. New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and North Carolina had appointed commissioners who failed to arrive in Annapolis in time to attend the meeting, while Connecticut, Maryland, South Carolina and Georgia had taken no action at all.

They produced a report which was sent to the Congress and to the states. The report asked support for a broader meeting to be held the next May in Philadelphia. It expressed the hope that more states would be represented and that their delegates or deputies would be authorized to examine areas broader than simply commercial trade.

It is unclear how much weight the Convention’s call carried, but the urgency of the reform was highlighted by a number of rebellions that took place all over the country. While most of them were easily suppressed, Shay’s rebellion lasted from August 1786 till February 1787. The rebellion called attention to both popular discontent, and government’s weakness.[3]

The direct result of the Annapolis Convention report and the ensuing events was the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, during which the United States Constitution was drafted.

The states represented, and their delegates were:[4]

  • New York: Egbert Benson and Alexander Hamilton
  • New Jersey: Abraham Clark, William Houston, and James Schureman
  • Pennsylvania: Tench Coxe
  • Delaware: George Read, John Dickinson, and Richard Bassett
  • Virginia: Edmund Randolph, James Madison, Jr., and St. George Tucker


  1. Richard B. Morris, The Forging of the Union, 1781-1789 (1988) p. 255
  2. John E. Ferling, A leap in the dark: the struggle to create the American republic (2003) pp. 276-8
  3. Milkis, S., Nelson, M., The American Presidency. Washington: CQPess, 2003. Fourth Edition. Print
  4. Wright, Jr., Robert K.; MacGregor Jr., Morris J. “Appendix A: The Annapolis Convention”. Soldier-Statesmen of the Constitution. Washington D.C: United States Army Center of Military History. LCCN 1987 E302.5.W85 1987. CMH Pub 71-25

Mary Shippen Willing Byrd

September 10, 2013

Mary Shippen Willing Byrd was the second wife of Colonel William Byrd III, a colonial American military officer at the time of the American Revolution and son of the founder of Richmond, Virginia. Her father, Charles Willing, was the mayor of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from 1748 to 1754, and her great-grandfather, Edward Shippen, was the second mayor of Philadelphia from 1701 to 1703. She was born September 10, 1740.

After her husband committed suicide in January 1777, leaving considerable debts, she managed his plantations, including Westover Plantation, in Charles City County.


Mary Willing Byrd (1758). Portrait by John Wollaston; original in the collection of the Virginia Historical Society, Richmond

Although Byrd had many ties to the British and Loyalists during the American Revolution, she tried to remain neutral and to preserve her children’s inheritance. After trying to recover property that had been seized by the British, she was charged in 1781 with trading with the enemy. Byrd defended herself eloquently in a letter to Governor Thomas Jefferson:

“I wish well to all mankind, to America in particular. What am I but an American? All my friends and connexions are in America; my whole property is here—could I wish ill to everything I have an interest in?”[1]

Her trial was first postponed and ultimately never held.

Mary Willing Byrd had ten children: Maria Horsmanden Byrd, Evelyn Taylor Byrd, Charles Willing Byrd (died as child), Abby Byrd, Anne Willing Byrd, William Boyd Byrd, Charles Willing Byrd, Dorothy Byrd (died as child), Jane Byrd and Richard Willing Byrd.

She died on March 24, 1814, and was buried at Westover Plantation.


  • John T. Kneebone et al., eds., Dictionary of Virginia Biography (Richmond: Library of Virginia, 1998- ), 2:457-459. ISBN 0-88490-199-8
  • Westover
  • Sale of property by Mary Willing Byrd
  • Thomas Jefferson, letter to Mary Willing Byrd, October 24, 1779
  • Mary Willing Byrd, portrait by John Wollaston


  1. Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (1950– ), 4:691

Benjamin Bourne, Rhode Island Federalist

September 9, 2013

Benjamin Bourne was an American jurist and politician from Bristol, Rhode Island. He represented Rhode Island in the U.S. House of Representatives and served as a judge in both the federal district and federal appellate courts.

Bourne was born in Bristol on September 9, 1755, and graduated from Harvard College.[1] He read law to enter the Bar and began practice in Providence. During the Revolutionary War, he served as ensign, then quartermaster of the 2nd Rhode Island Regiment in 1776.


Silhouette of Benjamin Bourne. There are no portraits or etchings known to exist.

After the war, Bourne began his political life as a member of the Rhode Island general assembly in 1789 and 1790.[2] In 1799, Bourne was appointed to a committee to revise the state’s militia laws. From 1783 to 1784, Bourne collected excise tax for Providence County. Then, between 1785 and 1789, he served as Justice of the Peace in Providence County. Bourne served on the Federalist committee which negotiated an end to William West’s armed anti-federalist protest on July 4, 1788. In 1789, with the Reverend James Manning, Bourne petitioned Congress regarding relief from import duties imposed upon Rhode Island as a foreign nation.

After Rhode Island ratified the Constitution, Bourne was elected as Pro-Administration to the First through Third Congresses and as a Federalist to the Fourth and Fifth Congresses.[2] He resigned before the fifth Congress began, however.

Upon returning to Rhode Island, Bourne received a recess appointment from President George Washington on October 13, 1796, to a seat on the United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island vacated by Henry Marchant. Bourne was formally nominated on December 21, 1796, and was confirmed by the United States Senate, and received his commission, the following day. On February 18, 1801, Bourne was nominated by President John Adams to a new seat on the United States Circuit Court for the First Circuit created by 2 Stat. 89.[2] He was confirmed by the Senate, and received his commission, on February 20, 1801. Bourne’s judicial service ended on July 1, 1802, due to abolition of the Circuit court.

Bourne died on September 17, 1808, in Bristol, and is buried in the Juniper Hill Cemetery there.[1]


Juniper Hill Cemetery, Bristol, burial site of Benjamin Bourne[1]


  1. Benjamin Bourne at Find A Grave
  2. Benjamin Bourne at United States House of Representatives, History, Arts & Archives

Battle of Lake George

September 8, 2013

The Battle of Lake George was fought on September 8, 1755, in the north of the Province of New York. The battle was part of a campaign by the British to expel the French from North America in the French and Indian War.

On one side were 1,500 French, Canadian, and Indian troops under the command of the Baron de Dieskau and on the other side 1,500 colonial troops under William Johnson and 200 Mohawks led by a noted war chief, Hendrick Theyanoguin.


Benjamin West’s depiction of William Johnson sparing Baron Dieskau’s life after the Battle of Lake George.

William Johnson, who had recently been named the British agent to the Iroquois, arrived at the southern end of Lac Saint Sacrement on 28 August 1755 and renamed it Lake George in honor of his sovereign, George II. His intention was to advance via Lakes George and Champlain to attack French-held Fort St. Frédéric at Crown Point, which was a keystone in the defense of Canada.[2]

With a view to stopping Johnson’s advance, Dieskau had already left Crown Point for an encampment situated between the two lakes (later to be built into Fort Carillon, the precursor of Fort Ticonderoga.) On 4 September Dieskau decided to launch a raid on Johnson’s base, the recently constructed Fort Edward (at the time called Fort Lyman) on the Hudson River.[3] His aim was to destroy the boats, supplies and artillery that Johnson needed for his campaign.[4] Leaving half his force at Carillon, Dieskau led the rest on an alternate route to the Hudson by landing his men at South Bay and then marching them east of Lake George along Wood Creek.[5] Dieskau arrived near Fort Edward on the evening of 7 September 1755 with 222 French regular grenadiers from the Régiment de la Reine and the Régiment de Languedoc, 600 Canadian militia and 700 Abenaki and Caughnawaga Mohawk allies.[6]

Johnson, camped 14 miles north of Fort Edward at the southern end of Lake George, was alerted by scouts to the presence of the enemy forces to his south, and he dispatched a messenger to warn the 500-man garrison at Fort Edward. But the messenger was intercepted, and soon afterward a supply train was captured, with the result that the disposition of all of Johnson’s forces became known to Dieskau. The Indians in the French party, after holding council, declined to assault Fort Edward because they expected it to be defended with cannons; so in the morning Dieskau gave the order to march north toward the lake.[7]

At 9 am on 8 September, Johnson sent Colonel Ephraim Williams south to reinforce Fort Edward with 200 Mohawk allies and 1,000 troops from Williams’ Massachusetts Regiment and Colonel Nathan Whiting’s Connecticut Regiment. Dieskau, warned by a deserter of Williams’ approach, blocked the portage road with his French grenadiers and sent his Canadians and Indians to ambush the Americans from both sides of the road.[8] They lay in wait in a ravine three miles south of the present-day village of Lake George.[9]

Williams’ column marched straight into the trap and were engulfed in a blaze of enemy musketry. In an engagement known as “The Bloody Morning Scout”, Williams and Hendrick were killed along with many of their troops. At this point, the French regulars, brought forward by Dieskau, poured volleys into the beleaguered colonial troops.[10] Most of the New Englanders fled toward Johnson’s camp, while about 100 of their comrades under Whiting and Lt. Col. Seth Pomeroy and most of the surviving Mohawks covered their withdrawal with a fighting retreat.[11] The American rearguard were able to inflict substantial casualties on their overconfident pursuers. Pomeroy noted that his men “killed great numbers of them; they were seen to drop like pigeons”.[12] One of those killed in this phase of the battle was Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre, the highly respected commander of Dieskau’s Canadian and Indian forces. His fall caused great dismay, particularly to the French Indians.

Dieskau ordered his Canadians and Indians to follow up their success with an attack on Johnson’s camp. However, with their morale already shaken by the loss of their leader, the Caughnawagas “did not wish to attack an entrenched camp, the defenders of which included hundreds of their Mohawk kinsmen. The Abenakis would not go forward without the Caughnawagas, and neither would the Canadians”.[11] Hoping to shame the Indians into attacking, Dieskau formed his 222 French grenadiers into a column, six abreast, and led them in person along the Lake Road into the clearing where Johnson’s camp was, around which Sir William had hurriedly constructed defensive barricades of “wagons, overturned boats and hewn-down trees”.[12] Once the grenadiers were out in the open ground, the American gunners, crewing Johnson’s three cannons, loaded up with grapeshot and cut “lanes, streets and alleys”[13] through the French ranks. When Johnson was wounded and forced to retire to his tent for treatment, Gen. Phineas Lyman took over command. When Dieskau went down with a serious wound, the French attack was abandoned.


Battle of Lake George, by Frederick Coffay Yohn

After the French withdrawal, the Americans found about 20 severely wounded Frenchmen who were lying too close to the field of fire of Johnson’s artillery for their comrades to retrieve them. They included Baron Dieskau, who had paid the price of leading from the front with a shot through the bladder.[14] (Benjamin West painted a portrait of Johnson saving a French Officer—allegedly Baron Dieskau.)[15]

Meanwhile, Col. Joseph Blanchard, commander of Fort Edward, saw the smoke from the battle in the distance and sent out Nathaniel Folsom’s 80-strong company of the New Hampshire Provincial Regiment and 40 New York Provincials under Capt. McGennis to investigate.

“Hearing the report of guns in the direction of the Lake, they pressed forward, and when within about two miles of it, fell in with the baggage of the French army protected by a guard, which they immediately attacked and dispersed. About four o’clock in the afternoon, some 300 of the French army appeared in sight. They had rallied, and retreating in tolerable order. Capt. Folsom posted his men among the trees, and as the enemy approached, they poured in upon them a well directed and galling fire. He continued the attack in this manner till prevented by darkness, killing many of the enemy, taking some of them prisoners, and finally driving them from the field. He then collected his own wounded, and securing them with many of the enemy’s packs, he brought his prisoners and booty safe into camp. The next day the rest of the baggage was brought in, thus securing the entire baggage and ammunition of the French army. In this brilliant affair, Folsom lost only six men, but McGennis was mortally wounded, and died soon after. The loss of the French was very considerable”.[16]

The bodies of the French troops who were killed in this engagement (actually Canadians and Indians, not French regulars) were thrown into the pool “which bears to this day the name of Bloody Pond”.[17]

Although the battle itself was inconclusive, and Johnson’s expedition eventually stopped short of Fort St. Frédéric, the strategic result at Lake George was significant. Johnson was able to advance a considerable distance down the lake and consolidated his gains by building Fort William Henry at its southern end. Historian Fred Anderson writes that had Dieskau succeeded in halting Johnson at Fort Edward, it would have not only ended the threat to Fort St. Frédéric but would also “roll back New York’s and New England’s defenses to Albany itself”.[18]

The death of Ephraim Williams was commemorated in early versions of the satirical song Yankee Doodle.

There seem to be as many different versions of the casualties suffered at Lake George as there are accounts of the battle.

James P. Millard[19] says:

“Peter Palmer states in his history[20] that “the loss of the English this day was about two hundred and sixteen killed and ninety-six wounded; of the French the loss was much greater.” He claims Johnson estimated the French loss at five to six hundred, while stating that another source noted it as “a little short of eight hundred”.

W. Max Reid[21] says:

“The English loss in killed, wounded, and missing at the battle of Lake George was 262, and that of the French, by their own account, was 228”.

Ian K. Steele[22] says of the American losses:

“The official returns, corrected, read 154 dead, 103 wounded, and 67 missing. Most of those listed as missing had not deserted into woods full of Canadians and Indians; most of the missing were later found dead. Pomeroy was preoccupied with the losses, but overlooked the Iroquois casualties, which brought the totals to 223 dead and about 108 wounded”.

Of the French losses, Steele[23] says:

“The official French journal of the operation probably minimized Indian casualties in a total count of 149 dead, 163 wounded, and 27 taken prisoner. The reported number of those killed, wounded, and captured was remarkably close on both sides, with those fighting for the English losing 331 and the French, 339.”

Steele does not give a reason for his suspicion that the Indian casualties were under-reported.

In his 2009 book, Combattre pour la France en Amérique, Marcel Fournier diverges considerably from the other sources in reporting the casualties for the Battle of Lac St-Sacrement (as the French called it) at 800 killed or wounded for the British and 200 killed or wounded for the French.[24]


Lake George battle Monument

A letter of 20 October 1755, from Monsieur Doreil to the Comte d’Argenson, a senior French commander in North America,[25] confirms that the French grenadiers paid for their assault on Johnson’s entrenchments with the loss of more than a third of their total strength: the Regiment de la Reine had 21 killed or missing and 30 wounded, while the Regiment de Languedoc had 5 killed and 21 wounded.


  1. Anderson, Crucible of War
  2. Anderson, Fred, Crucible of War: The Seven Years War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754–1766, Faber and Faber Limited, London, 2000, ISBN 0-571-20565-8, p. 118
  3. Parkman, Francis, Montcalm and Wolfe (The French and English in North America, Part Seventh), Vol. I, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1942, p. 309
  4. Anderson, Crucible of War, Page 117
  5. Bancroft, George, History of the United States, from the Discovery of the American Continent, Vol. IV, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1856, p. 209
  6. Anderson, Crucible of War, p. 115
  7. Parkman, Montcalm and Wolfe, p. 310
  8. Anderson, Crucible of War, pp. 118–119
  9. Bancroft, History of the United States, Vol. IV, p. 210
  10. Gallay, Alan (ed.), Colonial Wars of North America, 1512–1763: An Encyclopedia, Garland Publishing, Inc., New York and London, 1996, ISBN 0-8240-7208-1, p. 363
  11. Anderson, Crucible of War, p. 119
  12. Gallay, Colonial Wars of North America, 1512–1763: An Encyclopedia, p. 363
  13. Anderson, Crucible of War, p. 121
  14. Anderson, Crucible of War, pp. 120–121
  15. [1]
  16. Potter, C.E., The History of Manchester, Formerly Derryfield, In New Hampshire; Including that of Ancient Amoskeag, Or the Middle Merrimack Valley, Manchester (New Hampshire), C. E. Potter, Publisher, 1856. Published online at ‘History of Manchester, Hillsborough County, ALHN-New Hampshire, Created December 14, 2000, Copyright 2000, Chapter 15’, at:
  17. Reid, W. Max, The Story of Old Fort Johnson, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York and London, The Knickerbocker Press, 1906. Transcribed from the original text and html prepared by Bill Carr and published online at:, Chapter III: Sir William Johnson at the Battle of Lake George
  18. Anderson, Crucible of War, pp. 117–118
  19. Millard, James P., The Battle of Lake George: September 8, 1755, The Lake Champlain and Lake George Historical Site, America’s Historic Lakes, 2004, published online at:
  20. Palmer, Peter S., History of Lake Champlain, from its first exploration by the French in 1609 to the close of the year 1814, Frank F. Lovell and Company, New York, 1886, p. 61
  21. Reid, The Story of Old Fort Johnson, Chapter III: Sir William Johnson at the Battle of Lake George
  22. Steele, Ian K., Betrayals: Fort William Henry & the “Massacre”, Oxford University Press, Inc., New York, 1990, ISBN 0-19-505893-3, p. 53
  23. Steele, Betrayals: Fort William Henry & the “Massacre”, p. 53
  24. Marcel Fournier: Combattre pour la France en Amérique, p.47: 2009
  25. Roux, Larry 1755: French and Indian War Webpage at

Uncle Sam is born in Troy, New York

September 7, 2013

Uncle Sam” was born on September 7, 1813, when the earliest known reference to the United States by that nickname was printed in the Troy (New York) Post.

Troy meatpacker Samuel Wilson gave birth to the “U.S.” logo with his distinctive stamp on barrels supplied to the Army during the War of 1812. The soldiers joked that the supplies were from “Uncle Sam,” which was Wilson’s nickname.

After the Troy Post newspaper picked up the story, and the nickname Uncle Sam became associated with the U.S. government and a widely recognized image of American patriotism. The first known use of the term in literature was in the book, “The Adventures of Uncle Sam in Search After His Lost Honor,” by Frederick Augustus Fidfaddy in 1816.

Political cartoonist Thomas Nast created the popular image of Uncle Sam in the November 20, 1869, edition of Harper’s Weekly. He soon drew the character with a white beard and Stars and Stripes suit: red-and-white-striped trousers, blue tailcoat, and tall hat with a band of stars.


First appearance of Uncle Sam, “Harper’s Weekly,” November 20, 1869; wood engraving by Thomas Nast


Uncle Sam with chin whiskers published in “Harper’s Weekly”

The "Turtle" Submersible

September 6, 2013

The Turtle, also called the American Turtle, was the world’s first submersible with a documented record of use in combat. It was built in Old Saybrook, Connecticut in 1775 by American Patriot David Bushnell as a means of attaching explosive charges to ships in a harbor. Bushnell designed it for use against British Royal Navy vessels occupying North American harbors during the American Revolutionary War. Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull recommended the invention to George Washington; although the commander-in-chief had doubts, he provided funds and support for the development and testing of the machine.

Several attempts were made using the Turtle to affix explosives to the undersides of British warships in New York Harbor in 1776. All failed, and her transport ship was sunk later that year by the British with the submarine aboard. Bushnell claimed eventually to have recovered the machine, but its final fate is unknown. Modern functional replicas of the Turtle have been constructed; the Connecticut River Museum, the Submarine Force Library and Museum, and the Royal Navy Submarine Museum have them on display.


A replica of the Turtle on display at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum, Gosport, UK

In the early 1770s, Yale College freshman David Bushnell began experimenting with underwater explosives. By 1775, with tensions on the rise between the Thirteen Colonies and Great Britain, Bushnell had practically perfected these explosives.[2] That year he also began work near Old Saybrook, Connecticut on a small manned submersible craft that would be capable of affixing such a charge to the hull of a ship. The charge would then be detonated by a clockwork mechanism that released a musket firing mechanism, probably a flintlock, that had been adapted for the purpose.[3] According to Dr. Benjamin Gale, a doctor who taught at Yale, the firing mechanism and other mechanical parts of the submarine were manufactured by a New Haven clockmaker named Isaac Doolittle.[4]


This 19th century diagram shows the side views of the Turtle. It incorrectly depicts the propeller as a screw blade; as seen in the replica photographed above and reported by Sergeant Lee, it was a paddle propeller blade.[1]

Named for its shape, Turtle resembled a large clam as much as a turtle; it was about 10 feet long (according to the original specifications), 6 feet tall, and about 3 feet wide, and consisted of two wooden shells covered with tar and reinforced with steel bands.[5] It dived by allowing water into a bilge tank at the bottom of the vessel and ascended by pushing water out through a hand pump. It was propelled vertically and horizontally by hand-cranked propellers. It also had 200 pounds of lead aboard, which could be released in a moment to increase buoyancy. Manned and operated by one person, the vessel contained enough air for about thirty minutes and had a speed in calm water of about three miles per hour.[5]


A diagram showing the front and rear of the Turtle

Six small pieces of thick glass in the top of the submarine provided natural light.[5] Illumination while submerged was provided by a piece of cork that gave off a fungus-powered bioluminescent foxfire. During trials in November 1775, Bushnell discovered that this illumination failed when the temperature dropped too low. Although repeated requests were made to Benjamin Franklin for possible alternatives, none were forthcoming, and the Turtle was sidelined for the winter.[6]

Bushnell’s basic design included some elements present in earlier experimental submersibles. The method of raising and lowering the vessel was similar to that developed by Nathaniel Simons in 1729, and the gaskets used to make watertight connections around the connections between the internal and external controls also may have come from Simons, who constructed a submersible based on a 17th century Italian design by Giovanni Alfonso Borelli.[7]


Drawing of a cutaway view of Turtle’s interior.

Bushnell’s work began to receive more attention in August 1775, when Franklin was informed of it.[3] Despite Bushnell’s insistence on secrecy surrounding his work, news of it quickly made its way to the British, abetted by a Loyalist spy working for New York Congressman James Duane. On November 16, 1775, a coded message to William Tryon, the last royal governor of the Province of New York, brought Bushnell’s work to British attention. The details of the report were highly inaccurate, implying that the Turtle was nearly ready to be deployed in Boston harbor against the fleet that was part of the British siege effort there. In fact Bushnell and his brother Ezra were still testing the machine in the Connecticut River.[8] In the spring of 1776, after the British withdrew from Boston, Bushnell offered the submarine to General George Washington for use in the defense of New York City. Washington agreed, and provided some funding to the inventor to prepare the vessel for deployment.[9]

In August 1776 Bushnell asked General Samuel Holden Parsons for volunteers to operate the Turtle, because his brother Ezra, who had been its operator during earlier trials, was taken ill.[10] Three men were chosen, and the submarine was taken to Long Island Sound for training and further trials.[11] While these trials went on, the British gained control of western Long Island in the August 27 Battle of Long Island. Since the British now controlled the harbor, the Turtle was transported overland from New Rochelle to the Hudson River.[11]


Portrait of Ezra Lee, the Turtle’s operator

General Washington then authorized an expedition by the Turtle in the waters of New York Harbor.[12] Late in the evening of September 6, one of the volunteers, Sergeant Ezra Lee, took the Turtle out to attempt an attack on Admiral Richard Howe’s flagship HMS Eagle.[11] She was moored off what is today called Governors Island, which is due south of Manhattan.[13] According to Lee’s account, she was towed by rowboats as close as was felt safe to the British fleet. He then navigated for more than two hours before slack tide made it possible to reach the Eagle. His first attempt to attach the explosive failed because the screw struck a metal impediment.[1] A common misconception was that Lee failed because he could not manage to bore through the copper-sheeted hull. Bushnell believed that Lee’s failure was probably due to an iron plate connected to the ship’s rudder hinge.[14] When Lee attempted another spot in the hull, he was unable to stay beneath the ship, and eventually abandoned the attempt. Lee reported that British soldiers on Governors Island spotted the submarine and rowed out to investigate. He then released the charge (which he called a “torpedo”), “expecting that they would seize that likewise, and thus all would be blown to atoms.”[14] Suspicious of the drifting charge, the British retreated back to the island. Lee reported that the charge drifted into the East River, where it exploded “with tremendous violence, throwing large columns of water and pieces of wood that composed it high into the air.”[14] It was the first recorded use of a submarine to attack a ship;[7] however, the only records documenting it are American. British records contain no accounts of an attack by a submarine or any reports of explosions on the night of the supposed attack on HMS Eagle.[15]

According to British naval historian Richard Compton-Hall, the problems of achieving neutral buoyancy would have rendered the vertical propeller useless. The route the Turtle would have had to take to attack HMS Eagle was slightly across the tidal stream which would, in all probability, have resulted in Ezra Lee becoming exhausted.[15] In the face of these and other problems Compton-Hall suggests that the entire story was fabricated as disinformation and morale-boosting propaganda, and that if Ezra Lee did carry out an attack it was in a covered rowing boat rather than the Turtle.[15]


Bushnell mines destroying a British ship

On October 5, Sergeant Lee again went out in an attempt to attach the charge to a frigate anchored off Manhattan. He reported that the ship’s watch spotted him, so he abandoned the attempt. The submarine was sunk some days later by the British as it sat on its tender vessel near Fort Lee, New Jersey. Bushnell reported salvaging the Turtle, but its final fate is unknown.[16] George Washington wrote of the attempt that it was “an effort of genius”, but that “a combination of too many things was requisite” for such an attempt to succeed.[17]

In 1777, Lee used floating mines in an attempt to destroy the British frigate HMS Cerberus, anchored in Niantic Bay. The explosion was said to have killed three sailors and destroyed a prize schooner anchored astern of the Cerberus; the Cerberus was undamaged.[18] In 1778 Bushnell floated mines down the Delaware River in an attempt to destroy British ships off Philadelphia. The mines took longer to reach the area than expected, and there was a report that two boys investigating them were blown up.[19] On January 5, 1778, one of the mines struck a British barge, killing four men and raising the alarm. The British response, in which virtually any piece of floating wood in the river became a target, was lampooned in a ballad called “The Battle of the Kegs”.[20]

In 1976, a replica was designed by Joseph Leary and constructed by Fred Frese as a project marking the United States Bicentennial. It was christened by Connecticut’s governor, Ella Grasso, and later tested in the Connecticut River. This replica is owned by the Connecticut River Museum.[21]

On August 3, 2007 three men were stopped by police while escorting and piloting a replica of the Turtle within 200 feet of the Queen Mary 2, then docked at the cruise ship terminal in Red Hook, Brooklyn. The replica was created by New York artist Philip “Duke” Riley and two residents of Rhode Island, one of whom claimed to be a descendant of David Bushnell. The Coast Guard issued Riley a citation for having an unsafe vessel, and for violating the security zone around the Queen Mary 2.[22]


  1. Rindskopf et al, p. 30
  2. Diamant, p. 21
  3. Diamant, p. 22
  4. Diamant, p. 23
  5. Schecter, p. 172
  6. Diamant, p. 27
  7. Rindskopf et al, p. 29
  8. Diamant, p. 26
  9. DANFS Turtle I
  10. Diamant, p. 30
  11. Schecter, p. 173
  12. Shecter, p. 171
  13. Diamant, p. 31
  14. Schecter, p. 174
  15. Compton-Hall, pp. 32–40
  16. Diamant, p. 33
  17. Diamant, p. 34
  18. Sleeman, p. 290
  19. Scudder .p.230
  20. Coggins, p. 97
  21. Connecticut River Museum – David Bushnell’s Turtle
  22. Makeshift submarine found in East River


  • Coggins, Jack (2002). Ships and Seamen of the American Revolution. Mineola, NY: Courier Dover Publications. ISBN 9780486420721. OCLC 48795929
  • Compton-Hall, Richard (1999). The Submarine Pioneers. Sutton Publishing. ISBN 0750921544
  • Diamant, Lincoln (2004). Chaining the Hudson: The Fight for the River in the American Revolution. New York: Fordham University Press. ISBN 9780823223398. OCLC 491786080
  • Rindskopf, Mike H; Naval Submarine League (U.S.); Turner Publishing Company staff; Morris, Richard Knowles (1997). Steel Boats, Iron Men: History of the U.S. Submarine Force. Paducah, KY: Turner Publishing. ISBN 9781563110818. OCLC 34352971
  • Schecter, Barnet (2002). The Battle for New York. New York: Walker. ISBN 0802713742
  • Sleeman, Charles (1880). “Torpedoes and torpedo warfare”. Portsmouth, UK: Griffin. OCLC 4041073.
  • “Turtle I”. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Navy Department, Naval History & Heritage Command.
  • “Connecticut River Museum – David Bushnell’s Turtle”. Connecticut River Museum.
  • “Makeshift submarine found in East River”. WABC-TV.

The Battle of the Chesapeake leads to Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown

September 5, 2013

The Battle of the Chesapeake, also known as the Battle of the Virginia Capes or simply the Battle of the Capes, was a crucial naval battle in the War for Independence that took place near the mouth of Chesapeake Bay on September 5, 1781, between a British fleet led by Rear Admiral Sir Thomas Graves and a French fleet led by Rear Admiral François Joseph Paul, comte de Grasse.

The battle was tactically inconclusive but strategically a major defeat for the British, since it prevented the Royal Navy from reinforcing or evacuating the blockaded forces of General Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia. It also prevented British interference with the transport of French and Continental Army troops and provisions to Yorktown via Chesapeake Bay. As a result, Cornwallis surrendered his army after the Siege of Yorktown. The major consequence of Cornwallis’s surrender was the beginning of negotiations that eventually resulted in peace and British recognition of the independent United States of America.

Presented in July 1781 with the options of attacking British forces in either New York or Virginia, Admiral de Grasse opted for the latter, arriving at the Chesapeake at the end of August. Upon learning that de Grasse had sailed from the West Indies for North America, and that French Admiral de Barras had also sailed from Newport, Rhode Island, Admiral Graves concluded that they were going to join forces at the Chesapeake. Sailing south from New York with 19 ships of the line, Graves arrived at the mouth of the Chesapeake early on 5 September to see de Grasse’s fleet at anchor in the bay. De Grasse hastily prepared most of his fleet, 24 ships of the line, for battle and sailed out to meet Graves. In a two-hour engagement that took place after hours of maneuvering, the lines of the two fleets did not completely meet, with only the forward and center sections of the lines fully engaging. The battle was consequently fairly evenly matched, although the British suffered more casualties and ship damage. The battle broke off when the sun set. British tactics in the battle have been a subject of contemporary and historic debate.

For several days the two fleets sailed within view of each other, with de Grasse preferring to lure the British away from the bay, where de Barras was expected to arrive carrying vital siege equipment. On September 13, de Grasse broke away from the British and returned to the Chesapeake, where de Barras had arrived. Graves returned to New York to organize a larger relief effort; this did not sail until 19 October, two days after Cornwallis surrendered.


Second Battle of the Virginia Capes, 1962, courtesy Hampton Roads Naval Museum, Norfolk, VA

During the early months of 1781, British and American forces began concentrating in Virginia, a state that had previously not experienced more than naval raids. The British forces were led at first by the turncoat Benedict Arnold, and then by William Phillips before General Charles, Earl Cornwallis arrived in late May with his southern army to take command. In June he marched to Williamsburg, where he received a confusing series of orders from General Sir Henry Clinton that culminated in a directive to establish a fortified deep water port.[6] In response to these orders, Cornwallis moved to Yorktown in late July, where his army began building fortifications.[7] The presence of these British troops, coupled with General Clinton’s desire for a port there, made control of the Chesapeake Bay an essential naval objective.[8][9]


Admiral Thomas Graves

On May 21, Generals George Washington and the Comte de Rochambeau, respectively the commanders of the American and French armies in North America, met to discuss potential operations against the British. They considered either an assault or siege on the principal British base at New York City, or operations against the British forces in Virginia. Since either of these options would require the assistance of the French fleet then in the West Indies, a ship was dispatched to meet with French Rear Admiral François Joseph Paul, comte de Grasse who was expected at Cap-Français (now known as Cap-Haïtien, Haiti), outlining the possibilities and requesting his assistance.[10] Rochambeau, in a private note to de Grasse, indicated that his preference was for an operation against Virginia. The two generals then moved their forces to White Plains, New York to study New York’s defenses and await news from de Grasse.[11]

De Grasse arrived at Cap-Français on August 15. He immediately dispatched his response, which was that he would make for the Chesapeake. Taking on 3,200 troops, he sailed from Cap-Français with his entire fleet, 28 ships of the line. Sailing outside the normal shipping lanes to avoid notice, he arrived at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay on August 30,[11] and disembarked the troops to assist in the land blockade of Cornwallis.[12] Two British frigates that were supposed to be on patrol outside the bay were trapped inside the bay by de Grasse’s arrival; this prevented the British in New York from learning the full strength of de Grasse’s fleet until it was too late.[13]


François Joseph Paul, comte de Grasse, colored engraving by Antoine Maurin

British Admiral George Brydges Rodney, who had been tracking de Grasse around the West Indies, was alerted to the latter’s departure, but was uncertain of the French admiral’s destination. Believing that de Grasse would return a portion of his fleet to Europe, Rodney detached Rear Admiral Sir Samuel Hood with 14 ships of the line and orders to find de Grasse’s destination in North America. Rodney, who was ill, sailed for Europe with the rest of his fleet in order to recover, refit his fleet, and to avoid the Atlantic hurricane season.[2]

Sailing more directly than de Grasse, Hood’s fleet arrived off the entrance to the Chesapeake on 25 August. Finding no French ships there, he then sailed for New York.[2] Meanwhile his colleague and commander of the New York fleet, Rear Admiral Sir Thomas Graves, had spent several weeks trying to intercept a convoy organized by John Laurens to bring much-needed supplies and hard currency from France to Boston.[14] When Hood arrived at New York, he found that Graves was in port, having failed to intercept the convoy, but had only five ships of the line that were ready for battle.[2]

De Grasse had notified his counterpart in Newport, the Comte de Barras Saint-Laurent, of his intentions and his planned arrival date. De Barras sailed from Newport on 27 August with 8 ships of the line, 4 frigates, and 18 transports carrying French armaments and siege equipment. He deliberately sailed via a circuitous route in order to minimize the possibility of an encounter with the British, should they sail from New York in pursuit. Washington and Rochambeau, in the meantime, had crossed the Hudson on 24 August, leaving some troops behind as a ruse to delay any potential move on the part of General Clinton to mobilize assistance for Cornwallis.[2]

News of de Barras’ departure led the British to realize that the Chesapeake was the probable target of the French fleets. By August 31, Graves had moved his five ships of the line out of New York harbor to meet with Hood’s force. Taking command of the combined fleet, now 19 ships, Graves sailed south, and arrived at the mouth of the Chesapeake on September 5.[2] His progress was slow; the poor condition of some of the West Indies ships (contrary to claims by Admiral Hood that his fleet was fit for a month of service) necessitated repairs en route. Graves was also concerned about some ships in his own fleet; Europe in particular had difficulty maneuvering.[15]

French and British patrol frigates each spotted the other’s fleet around 9:30 am; both at first incorrectly undercounted the size of the other fleet, leading each commander to believe the other fleet was the smaller fleet of Admiral de Barras. When the true size of the fleets became apparent, Graves assumed that de Grasse and de Barras had already joined forces, and prepared for battle; he directed his line toward the bay’s mouth, assisted by winds from the north-northeast.[1][16]

De Grasse had detached a few of his ships to blockade the York and James Rivers farther up the bay, and many of the ships at anchor were missing officers, men, and boats when the British fleet was sighted.[1] He faced the difficult proposition of organizing a line of battle while sailing against an incoming tide, with winds and land features that would require him to do so on a tack opposite that of the British fleet.[17] At 11:30 am, 24 ships of the French fleet cut their anchor lines and began sailing out of the bay with the noon tide, leaving behind the shore contingents and ships’ boats.[1] Some ships were so seriously undermanned, missing as many as 200 men, that not all of their guns could be manned.[18] De Grasse had ordered the ships to form into a line as they exited the bay, in order of speed and without regard to its normal sailing order.[19] Admiral Louis de Bougainville’s Auguste was one of the first ships out. With a squadron of three other ships Bougainville ended up well ahead of the rest of the French line; by 3:45 pm the gap was large enough that the British could have cut his squadron off from the rest of the French fleet.[20]


Formation of fleets: British ships are black, French ships are white. The Middle Ground to the left are the shoals that Graves tacked to avoid.

By 1:00 pm, the two fleets were roughly facing each other, but sailing on opposite tacks.[21] In order to engage, and to avoid some shoals (known as the Middle Ground) near the mouth of the bay, Graves around 2:00 pm ordered his whole fleet to wear, a maneuver that reversed his line of battle, but enabled it to line up with the French fleet as its ships exited the bay.[22] This placed the squadron of Hood, his most aggressive commander, at the rear of the line, and that of Admiral Francis Samuel Drake in the van.[21][23]

At this point, both fleets were sailing generally east, away from the bay, with winds from the north-northeast.[1] The two lines were approaching at an angle so that the leading ships of the vans of both lines were within range of each other, while the ships at the rear were too far apart to engage. The French had a firing advantage, since the wind conditions meant they could open their lower gun ports, while the British had to leave theirs closed to avoid water washing onto the lower decks. The French fleet, which was in a better state of repair than the British fleet, outnumbered the British in the number of ships and total guns, and had heavier guns capable of throwing more weight.[21] In the British fleet, Ajax and Terrible, two ships of the West Indies squadron that were among the most heavily engaged, were in quite poor condition.[24] Graves at this point did not press the potential advantage of the separated French van; as the French center and rear closed the distance with the British line, they also closed the distance with their own van. One British observer wrote, “To the astonishment of the whole fleet, the French center were permitted without molestation to bear down to support their van.”[25]

The need for the two lines to actually reach parallel lines so they might fully engage led Graves to give conflicting signals that were critically interpreted differently by Admiral Hood, directing the rear squadron, than Graves intended. None of the options for closing the angle between the lines presented a favorable option to the British commander: any maneuver to bring ships closer would limit its firing ability to its bow guns, and potentially expose its decks to raking or enfilading fire from the enemy ships. Graves hoisted two signals: one for “line ahead”, under which the ships would slowly close the gap and then straighten the line when parallel to the enemy, and one for “close action”, which normally indicated that ships should turn to directly approach the enemy line, turning when the appropriate distance was reached. This combination of signals resulted in the piecemeal arrival of his ships into the range of battle.[26] Admiral Hood interpreted the instruction to maintain line of battle to take precedence over the signal for close action, and as a consequence his squadron did not close rapidly and never became significantly engaged in the action.[27]

It was about 4:00 pm, over 6 hours since the two fleets had first sighted each other, when the British—who had the weather gage, and therefore the initiative—opened their attack.[21] The battle began with HMS Intrepid opening fire against the Marseillais, its counterpart near the head of the line. The action very quickly became general, with the van and center of each line fully engaged.[21] The French, in a practice they were known for, tended to aim at British masts and rigging, with the intent of crippling their opponent’s mobility. The effects of this tactic were apparent in the engagement: Shrewsbury and HMS Intrepid, at the head of the British line, became virtually impossible to manage, and eventually fell out of the line.[28] The rest of Admiral Drake’s squadron also suffered heavy damage, but the casualties were not as severe as those taken on the first two ships. The angle of approach of the British line also played a role in the damage they sustained; ships in their van were exposed to raking fire when only their bow guns could be brought to bear on the French.[29]

The French van also took a beating, although it was less severe. Captain de Boades of the Réfléchi was killed in the opening broadside of Admiral Drake’s Princessa, and the four ships of the French van were, according to a French observer, “engaged with seven or eight vessels at close quarters.”[29] The Diadème, according to a French officer “was utterly unable to keep up the battle, having only four thirty-six-pounders and nine eighteen-pounders fit for use” and was badly shot up; she was rescued by the timely intervention of the Saint-Esprit.[29]

The Princessa and Bougainville’s Auguste at one point were close enough that the French admiral considered a boarding action; Drake managed to pull away, but this gave Bougainville the chance to target the Terrible. Her foremast, already in bad shape before the battle, was struck by several French cannonballs, and her pumps, already overtaxed in an attempt to keep her afloat, were badly damaged by shots “between wind and water”.[30]

Around 5:00 pm the wind began to shift, to British disadvantage. De Grasse gave signals for the van to move further ahead so that more of the French fleet might engage, but Bougainville, fully engaged with the British van at musket range, did not want to risk “severe handling had the French presented the stern.”[31] When he did finally begin pulling away, British leaders interpreted it as a retreat: “the French van suffered most, because it was obliged to bear away.”[32] Rather than follow, the British hung back, continuing to fire at long range; this prompted one French officer to write that the British “only engaged from far off and simply in order to be able to say that they had fought.”[32] Sunset brought an end to the firefight, with both fleets continuing on a roughly southeast tack, away from the bay.[33]

The center of both lines was engaged, but the level of damage and casualties suffered was noticeably less. Ships in the rear squadrons were almost entirely uninvolved; Admiral Hood reported that three of his ships fired a few shots.[34] The ongoing conflicting signals left by Graves, and discrepancies between his and Hood’s records of what signals had been given and when, led to immediate recriminations, written debate, and an eventual formal inquiry.[35]

That evening Graves did a damage assessment. He noted that “the French had not the appearance of near so much damage as we had sustained”, and that five of his fleet were either leaking or virtually crippled in their mobility.[33] De Grasse wrote that “we perceived by the sailing of the English that they had suffered greatly.”[36] Nonetheless, Graves maintained a windward position through the night, so that he would have the choice of battle in the morning.[36] Ongoing repairs made it clear to Graves that he would be unable to attack the next day. On the night of 6 September he held council with Hood and Drake. During this meeting Hood and Graves supposedly exchanged words concerning the conflicting signals, and Hood proposed turning the fleet around to make for the Chesapeake. Graves rejected the plan, and the fleets continued to drift eastward, away from Cornwallis.[37] On September 8-9, the French fleet at times gained the advantage of the wind, and briefly threatened the British with renewed action.[38] French scouts spied de Barras’ fleet on September 9, and de Grasse turned his fleet back toward Chesapeake Bay that night. Arriving on September 12, he found that de Barras had arrived two days earlier.[39] Graves ordered the Terrible to be scuttled on September 11 due to her leaky condition, and was notified on September 13 that the French fleet was back in the Chesapeake; he still did not learn that de Grasse’s line had not included the fleet of de Barras, because the frigate captain making the report had not counted the ships.[40] In a council held that day, the British admirals decided against attacking the French, due to “the truly lamentable state we have brought ourself.”[41] Graves then turned his battered fleet toward New York,[42][43] arriving off Sandy Hook on September 20.[42]


The surrender of Lord Cornwallis, October 19, 1781 at Yorktown.

The British fleet’s arrival in New York set off a flurry of panic amongst the Loyalist population.[44] The news of the defeat was also not received well in London. King George III wrote (well before learning of Cornwallis’s surrender) that “after the knowledge of the defeat of our fleet [...] I nearly think the empire ruined.”[45]

The French success left them firmly in control of Chesapeake Bay, completing the encirclement of Cornwallis.[46] In addition to capturing a number of smaller British vessels, de Grasse and de Barras assigned their smaller vessels to assist in the transport of Washington’s and Rochambeau’s forces from Head of Elk to Yorktown.[47]

It was not until September 23 that Graves and Clinton learned that the French fleet in the Chesapeake numbered 36 ships. This news came from a dispatch sneaked out by Cornwallis on the September 17, accompanied by a plea for help:

“If you cannot relieve me very soon, you must be prepared to hear the worst.”[48]

After effecting repairs in New York, Admiral Graves sailed from New York on October 19 with 25 ships of the line and transports carrying 7,000 troops to relieve Cornwallis.[49] It was two days after Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown.[50] General Washington acknowledged to de Grasse the importance of his role in the victory:

“You will have observed that, whatever efforts are made by the land armies, the navy must have the casting vote in the present contest.”[51]

The eventual surrender of Cornwallis led to peace two years later and British recognition of the independent United States of America.[50]

Admiral de Grasse returned with his fleet to the West Indies. In a major engagement that ended Franco-Spanish plans for the capture of Jamaica in 1782, he was defeated and taken prisoner by Rodney in the Battle of the Saintes.[52] His flagship Ville de Paris was lost at sea in a storm while being conducted back to England as part of a fleet commanded by Admiral Graves. Graves, despite the controversy over his conduct in this battle, continued to serve, rising to full admiral and receiving an Irish peerage.[53]

Many aspects of the battle have been the subject of both contemporary and historical debate, beginning right after the battle. On 6 September, Admiral Graves issued a memorandum justifying his use of the conflicting signals, indicating that “[when] the signal for the line of battle ahead is out at the same time with the signal for battle, it is not to be understood that the latter signal shall be rendered ineffectual by a too strict adherence to the former.”[54] Hood, in commentary written on the reverse of his copy, observed that this eliminated any possibility of engaging an enemy who was disordered, since it would require the British line to also be disordered. Instead, he maintained, “the British fleet should be as compact as possible, in order to take the critical moment of an advantage opening …”[54] Others criticize Hood because he “did not wholeheartedly aid his chief”, and that a lesser officer “would have been court-martialled for not doing his utmost to engage the enemy.”[55]

One contemporary writer critical of the scuttling of the Terrible wrote that “she made no more water than she did before [the battle]“, and, more acidly, “If an able officer had been at the head of the fleet, the Terrible would not have been destroyed.”[41] Admiral Rodney was critical of Graves’ tactics, writing, “by contracting his own line he might have brought his nineteen against the enemy’s fourteen or fifteen, [...] disabled them before they could have received succor, [... and] gained a complete victory.”[45] Defending his own behavior in not sending his full fleet to North America, he also wrote that “[i]f the admiral in America had met Sir Samuel Hood near the Chesapeake”, that Cornwallis’s surrender might have been prevented.[56]

United States Navy historian Frank Chadwick believed that de Grasse could have thwarted the British fleet simply by staying put; his fleet’s size would have been sufficient to impede any attempt by Graves to force a passage through his position. Historian Harold Larrabee points out that this would have exposed Clinton in New York to blockade by the French if Graves had successfully entered the bay; if Graves did not do so, de Barras (carrying the siege equipment) would have been outnumbered by Graves if de Grasse did not sail out in support.[57]

At the Cape Henry Memorial located at Fort Story in Virginia Beach, Virginia, there is monument commemorating the contribution of de Grasse and his sailors to the cause of American independence. The memorial and monument are part of the Colonial National Historical Park and are maintained by the National Park Service.[58]


Statue of de Grasse at Cape Henry Memorial on Fort Story, Virginia Beach

Sources consulted (including de Grasse’s memoir, and works either dedicated to the battle or containing otherwise detailed orders of battle, like Larrabee (1964) and Morrissey (1997)) do not list per-ship casualties for the French fleet. Larrabee reports the French to have suffered 209 casualties;[36] Bougainville recorded 10 killed and 58 wounded aboard Auguste alone.[30]

The exact order in which the French lined up as the exited the bay is also uncertain. Larrabee notes that many observers wrote up different sequences when the line was finally formed, and that Bougainville recorded several different configurations.[22]


  1. Morrissey, p. 54
  2. Mahan, p. 389
  3. Castex, p. 33
  4. Morrissey, p. 56
  5. Weigley, p. 240
  6. Ketchum, pp. 126–157
  7. Grainger, pp. 44,56
  8. Ketchum, p. 197
  9. Linder, p. 15
  10. Mahan, p. 387
  11. Mahan, p. 388
  12. Ketchum, pp. 178–206
  13. Mahan, p. 391
  14. Grainger, p. 51
  15. Larrabee, p. 185
  16. Larrabee, pp. 186, 189
  17. Larrabee, p. 189
  18. Larrabee, p. 188
  19. Larrabee, p. 191
  20. Larrabee, p. 192
  21. Morrissey, p. 55
  22. Larrabee, p. 193
  23. Grainger, p. 70
  24. Larrabee, p. 195
  25. Larrabee, p. 196
  26. Larrabee, p. 197
  27. Grainger, p. 73
  28. Larrabee, p. 200
  29. Larrabee, p. 201
  30. Larrabee, p. 202
  31. Larrabee, p. 204
  32. Larrabee, p. 205
  33. Larrabee, p. 211
  34. Larrabee, p. 206
  35. Larrabee, pp. 207–208
  36. Larrabee, p. 212
  37. Larrabee, pp. 213–214
  38. de Grasse, p. 157
  39. de Grasse, p. 158
  40. Larrabee, pp. 220–222
  41. Larrabee, p. 220
  42. Morrissey, p. 57
  43. Allen, p. 323
  44. Larrabee, p. 225
  45. Larrabee, p. 272
  46. Ketchum, p. 208
  47. Morrissey, p. 53
  48. Larrabee, p. 227
  49. Grainger, p. 135
  50. Grainger, p. 185
  51. Larrabee, p. 270
  52. Larrabee, p. 277
  53. Larrabee, p. 274
  54. Larrabee, p. 275
  55. Larrabee, p. 276
  56. Larrabee, p. 273
  57. Larrabee, p. 190
  58. National Park Service – Cape Henry Memorial
  59. Misprinted in source as 11.
  60. Gardiner, p. 119
  61. Gardiner, p. 129
  62. Gardiner, p. 112
  63. d’Hozier, p. 305
  64. Bulletin de la Société d’etudes scientifiques et archéologiques de Draguignan et du Var, Volumes 25-26, p. 405
  65. Gardiner, p. 136
  66. Gardiner, p. 127
  67. Gardiner, p. 128
  68. d’Hozier, p. 201
  69. Gardiner, p. 116
  70. Revue maritime et coloniale, Volume 75, p. 163
  71. Gardiner, p. 133
  72. Gardiner, p. 130
  73. Lacour-Gáyet, p. 625
  74. Annales maritimes et coloniales / 1, Volume 3, p. 32
  75. Coppolani et al, p. 190


The Siege of Fort Harrison

September 4, 2013

The Siege of Fort Harrison was an engagement that lasted from September 4 to 15, 1812. The first American land victory during the War of 1812, it was won by an outnumbered United States force garrisoned inside the fort against a combined Native American force near modern Terre Haute, Indiana.


Picture of Wood Engraving, showing Zachary Taylor defending Fort Harrison in 1812

In 1811, while General William Henry Harrison marched his army north to meet the Indians at the Battle of Tippecanoe, the army encamped on the high grounds of Terre Haute and constructed a fort overlooking the Wabash River. Harrison had long advocated building a fort in the strategic location.[2]

The fort protected the army’s supply lines, as well as the capital of the Indiana Territory downstream in Vincennes. The site, located in present-day Vigo County, Indiana, at the northern edge of Terre Haute, was only two miles from the Wea village of Weauteno. It was said to be the location of a historic battle involving the Illiniwek, and was initially called Camp Bataille des Illinois.[3] Major Joseph Hamilton Daviess proposed that the stockade be named Fort Harrison in General Harrison’s honor. The fort was finished 28 October 1811, and had a 150 feet stockade encircling the post.[3] Leaving the fort and a small garrison under Colonel James Miller, Harrison led his army to the Tippecanoe battleground, where it confronted an army led by the Shawnee prophet, Tenskwatawa.

When the army returned, Harrison left Captain Josiah Snelling in command of Fort Harrison, in reward for his performance at Tippecanoe. Snelling served as commandant of the fort from November 11, 1811 until May 1812.[3] During that winter, the fort was shaken by the 1812 New Madrid earthquake. Snelling was later transferred to Fort Detroit.

After the outbreak of the War of 1812, Captain Zachary Taylor, future President of the United States, was ordered by Harrison to leave Fort Knox and assume command of Fort Harrison.[4] The United States had suffered a series of defeats immediately after war was declared, at the hands of the British, Canadians and Indians. These victories helped motivate other native tribes to take up campaigns against remote American outposts.

On September 3, 1812, a band of Miami arrived and warned Captain Taylor that they would soon be attacked by a large force of Native Americans.[5] That evening, shots were heard, but Taylor was hesitant to send a scout party. He only had 50 men in his garrison, and sickness had reduced the number of effective soldiers to only 15.[5] In the morning, a party was dispatched and discovered the bodies of two white settlers, the Doyle brothers.[5] The brothers were buried, and the party reported back to Fort Harrison.

Captain Taylor, with his 15 able soldiers and about 5 healthy settlers, made ready for the expected attack. Each of the 20 men was issued sixteen rounds to fire.[6] That day, 4 September, a force of 600 Potawatomi (under Chief Pa-koi-shee-can),[7] Wea (under War Chief Stone Eater),[7] Shawnee, Kickapoo and Winnebago warriors approached Fort Harrison. A party of 40 men under command of Kickapoo Chief Namahtoha approached under a flag of truce and asked to parley with Taylor the next morning.[6] Taylor agreed, and the Indian force retreated to camp for the night.

That night, a warrior crawled up and set the blockhouse on fire. When the sentries opened fire on the arsonist, the 600-strong Indian war party attacked the west side of the fort.[6] Taylor ordered the fort’s surgeon and a handful of defenders to control the fire. The blockhouse, which was attached to the barracks, had a store of whiskey, which soon ignited, and the fire raged out of control. Taylor admitted in his report that the situation looked hopeless, and two of his healthy men fled the fort.[8] Warning the fort that “Taylor never surrenders!”, the captain organized a bucket brigade[9] to fight the fire before it destroyed the fort’s picket walls. One woman, Julia Lambert, even lowered herself down into the fort’s well to fill buckets more quickly.[7]


Cover art to “Fort Harrison March” used in 1848 w:Zachary Taylor presidential campaign, Library of Congress, 1848

The fire did serve one purpose, in that it illuminated the night, revealing the attackers. The fire left a 20-foot-wide gap in the outer wall, which the garrison temporarily sealed with a 5-foot-high breastwork.[9] The remaining few of the garrison returned the fire of the Indians so fiercely that they were able to hold off the attack. All remaining invalids were armed to maintain defense, while healthy men were put to work repairing a hole left in the fort’s walls. The fort was repaired by daybreak of 5 September.[7] The Indian force withdrew just beyond gun range and butchered area farm animals within sight of the fort. The garrison and settlers inside the fort, meanwhile, had lost most of their food in the fire, and had only a few bushels of corn, and faced starvation.[10]

News of the siege arrived in Vincennes as Colonel William Russell was passing through with a company of regular infantry and a company of rangers, on their way to join Ninian Edwards, governor of Illinois Territory.[11] Colonel Russell’s companies joined with the local militia and 7th Infantry Regiment and marched to the relief of Fort Harrison. Over 1000 men arrived from Vincennes on 12 September,[10] and the Indian force departed. The next day, however, a supply train following Colonel Russell was attacked in what became known as the Attack at the Narrows in modern Sullivan County, Indiana.

Following the relief army to Fort Harrison was a party of thirteen soldiers under Lieutenant Fairbanks of the Seventh Infantry escorting a supply wagon loaded with flour and meat. On September 13, 1812, the supply wagon was ambushed by a Potawatomi war party at a part of the trail known as The Narrows, an area near modern Fairbanks, Indiana, which has many ravines that serve as tributaries to Prairie Creek.[12] When the ambush was launched, the draft horses panicked and ran away with the wagon. Only two men – the wagoneer, John Black, and Private Edward Perdue – managed to escape back to Fort Knox alive, although Perdue was discharged due to the severe wounds he received.[13] Luckily for the two survivors, the Potawatomi gave chase to the runaway supply wagon. Eleven soldiers and all the provisions were lost to the United States,[14] and several Potawatomi warriors had been killed or wounded.[15]

A second column of two supply wagons and fifteen soldiers under Lieutenant Richardson set out from Vincennes two days after the first wagon, following the same trail, and unaware of the fate of the first.[15] When the Potawatomi learned that a second supply wagon was approaching, they set up the same ambush. On 15 September, after the initial attack, Richardson realized he was outmanned, and ordered a retreat. The wagons were left behind to be plundered, which may have saved the lives of the retreating soldiers. Even so, seven men had been killed, and another had been badly wounded.[15]

A battalion under Major McGary discovered the bodies a few days later, and proceeded to Fort Harrison to inform Colonel Russell of the attacks and – more importantly to the half-starved survivors at Fort Harrison – the missing supply wagons.[16]

The Potawatomi party left the Narrows, and attacked the house of a settler named Hudson on September 16, in what became known as the Lamotte Prairie Massacre. Hudson was away, but his wife and four children were all killed.[15]

The Battle of Fort Harrison is considered the first land victory of the United States during the War of 1812. Shortly afterwards, U.S. forces relieved Fort Wayne, which eliminated the last Indian threat to Indiana Territory for the remainder of the war.


1888 illustration showing the Battle of Fort Harrison[20]

In retaliation for the attack on Fort Harrison and the Pigeon Roost Massacre, Colonel Russell continued on to Illinois with the Indiana Rangers and led an expedition against the Kickapoo on Peoria Lake.

For his services at Fort Harrison, Zachary Taylor received a brevet promotion to major.[1]

Since both William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor commanded Fort Harrison, Indiana historians later referred to it as “The Fort of Two Presidents.” [18]

Many years after the battle, a man found Lieutenant Fairbanks’ sword stuck in a log. It was given to the Indiana State Museum.[16]

In 1908, the Indiana Society of the Sons of the American Revolution attempted to make the site of Fort Harrison a National Historical Park.[19]

Two active infantry battalions of the Regular Army (1-1 Inf and 2-1 Inf) perpetuate the lineages of detachments the old 7th Infantry that were at the Siege of Fort Harrison.


  1. Allison, 187
  2. Derlath, 178
  3. McCormick, 17
  4. Allison, 181
  5. Allison, 182
  6. Allison, 183
  7. Allison, 185
  8. Allison, 184, 187. One of the men later returned to the fort with a broken arm. The other was found dead.
  9. Kaufmann, 160
  10. Allison, 186
  11. Derleth, 182
  12. Allison, 188
  13. Allison, 189
  14. Dunn, 142
  15. Allison, 190
  16. Allison, 191
  17. Library of Congress
  18. Greninger, Howard (30 October 2007). “Incumbent eyes growth; challenger targets funds”. Tribune Star (Terre Haute: CNHI)
  19. Dunn, 143
  20. Dunn, 141


  • Allison, Harold (©1986, Harold Allison). The Tragic Saga of the Indiana Indians. Turner Publishing Company, Paducah. ISBN 0-938021-07-9
  • Derleth, August (1968). Vincennes: Portal to the West. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. LCCN 68020537
  • Dunn, Jacob Piatt (1908). True Indian Stories: With Glossary of Indiana Indian Names. Sentinel Printing Company
  • Kaufmann, J.E.; Kaufmann, H.W. (2004). Fortress America: The Forts that Defended America, 1600 to the Present. Idzikowski, Tomasz (illustrator). Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-81294-0
  • McCormick, Mike (2005). Terre Haute: Queen City of the Wabash. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 0-7385-2406-9


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