June 16, 1775 Act Worthy of Yourselves

“You are to decide the important question, on which rest the happiness and liberty of millions yet unborn.  Act worthy of yourselves.”

The city of Charlestown, Massachusetts occupies a hilly peninsula to the north of Boston, at the point where the Mystic River meets the Charles. Like Boston itself, much of what is now Charlestown was once Boston Harbor.  In 1775 the town was a virtual island, joined to the mainland only by a thin “neck” of land.

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Thousands of Patriot Militia poured into the area following the April battles of Lexington and Concord, blocking British forces in control of Boston and its surrounding waterways.

The Massachusetts Provincial Congress received word on June 13 that a massive assault was planned for the 18th, intending to take the high ground at Dorchester Heights to the south, and Charlestown to the north. Major General Israel Putnam was directed to set up defenses on Bunker Hill, on the northwest end of Charlestown.

Col. William Prescott led 1,200 men onto the peninsula on the night of the 16th, with orders to construct fortifications on Bunker Hill.  Some work was performed on the hill which gives the battle its name, but it was farmer Ephraim Breed’s land 1/3rd of a mile closer to Boston, which offered the more tenable hill from which to defend the peninsula.

Shovels could be heard throughout the night.  The sun rose on the morning of June 17 to reveal a six-foot-high defensive earthwork running the length of Breed’s hill.  Peering through the early morning fog, General Howe was astonished at what he saw. “The rebels,” he said, “have done more work in one night than my whole army would have done in one month.”

The warship HMS Lively opened fire on the redoubt shortly after 4am, with little effect, as Prescott’s men continued work on the entrenchment. 128 guns joined in as the morning bore on, including incendiary shot, setting fire to the town.

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Ten miles to the south, a 7-year-old future President of the United States stood atop a hill with his mother Abigail, listening to the thunder of the guns and watching the smoke rise above Charlestown. John Quincy Adams would later write that he “witnessed the tears of my mother and mingled with them my own.”

Militia continued to reinforce the high ground throughout the morning hours, as Regulars commanded by Major General William Howe and Brigadier General Robert Pigot crossed the Charles River and assembled for the assault.

Battle_of_Bunker_HillThe British line advanced up Breed’s Hill twice that afternoon, Patriot fire decimating their number and driving the survivors back down the hill to reform and try again.

Militia supplies of powder and shot began to give out as the Redcoats advanced up the hill for the third assault. “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes”. The quote is attributed to Prescott, but the order seems to have originated with General Putnam and passed along by Prescott, Seth Pomeroy, John Stark and others, in a desperate attempt to conserve ammunition.

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Finally, there was nothing left with which to oppose the British bayonets.  In desperate hand to hand fighting, the Militia was forced to retreat.

Most of the colonists’ casualties occurred at this time, including Boston physician and President of Massachusetts’ Provincial Congress, Dr. Joseph Warren. Warren had been appointed Major General on June 14, but declined command, believing Putnam and Prescott to be more experienced soldiers.  On this day, Dr. Warren fought as a private soldier.

Two months before the battle, Joseph Warren had spoken to his men. “On you depend the fortunes of America”, he said. “You are to decide the important question, on which rest the happiness and liberty of millions yet unborn.  Act worthy of yourselves.”

That they did. The Americans had gone toe-to-toe with the most powerful military of its time, suffering 452 killed and wounded.  Lieutenant Lord Rawdon recognized Dr. Warren on the third assault, and killed him with a musket ball to the head.  Warren’s body was bayoneted beyond recognition and thrown into a ditch.

Dr. Warren’s body was exhumed some ten months later after the British evacuation of Boston, and identified by a false tooth made for him by the amateur dentist, Paul Revere.  It may be the first instance of forensic dentistry, in American history.

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The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill, by John Trumbull

The Battle of Bunker Hill was a military victory for the British side, but it was a Pyrrhic victory.  Howe lost 226 men killed and 828 wounded, over a third of his number and over twice that of the Militia. One-eighth of all the British officers killed and one-sixth of those injured during the entire Revolution, occurred on Breed’s Hill.

General Thomas Gage wrote after battle, “The loss we have sustained is greater than we can bear.”  Private Nathanael Greene, destined to become one of the Continental Army’s most important Generals, quipped “I wish [we] could sell them another hill at the same price.”

 

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June 13, 1777 An Indispensable Man

The two men bonded almost immediately, forming a relationship closely resembling that of father and son.  The fatherless young French officer, and the father of his country who went to his grave, childless.

There are a handful of men who were indispensable to the American Revolution, men without whom the war effort would have been doomed to failure.

One, of course is George Washington, who became commander in chief before he had an army, before there was even a country. Washington took command of a rebel army with barely enough powder for nine shots per man, knowing all the while that, if caught, the penalty at that time for high treason was to be drawn, quartered and disemboweled, before the dying eyes of the prisoner so convicted.

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LaFayette by Weyler

Another Indispensable would have to be Benjamin Franklin, whose diplomatic skills and unassuming charm elevated him to the status of a rock star among the circles of power at Versailles. It was Benjamin Franklin who transformed the French nation from mildly interested spectator to a  crucially important ally.

A third would arguably be Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, better known as the Marquis de Lafayette.

Lafayette was all of nineteen when he arrived in North Island South Carolina on June 13, 1777.

The French King had forbidden him from coming to America, fearing his capture by British agents. Lafayette wanted none of it. His own father, also the Marquis de Lafayette, was killed fighting the British when the boy was only two. The man was going to take part in this contest, if he had to defy his King to do it.

Lafayette disguised himself on departure, and purchased the entire ship’s cargo with his own money, rather than landing in Barbados and thus exposing himself to capture.

Lafayette and Washington_at_Mount_Vernon,_1784

Franklin had written to Washington asking him to take the young man on, in hopes of securing an increase in French aid to the American war effort.

The two men bonded almost immediately, forming a relationship closely resembling that of father and son.  The fatherless young French officer, and the father of his country who went to his grave, childless.

Lafayette wrote home to his wife in 1778, from Valley Forge. “In the place he occupies, he is surrounded by flatterers and secret enemies. He finds in me a trustworthy friend in whom he can confide and who will always tell him the truth. Not a day goes by without his talking to me at length or writing long letters to me. And he is willing to consult me on most interesting points.”

Lafayette served without pay, spending the equivalent of $200,000 of his own money for the salaries and uniforms of staff, aides and junior officers. He participated in several Revolutionary War battles, including Brandywine, Monmouth Courthouse and the final siege at Yorktown.

All the while, Lafayette periodically returned to France to work with Franklin in securing thousands of additional troops and several warships to aid in the war effort.

Lafeyettes wife Marie_Adrienne_FrancoiseLafayette’s wife Adrienne gave birth to their first child on one such visit, a baby boy the couple would name Georges Washington Lafayette.

It was a small force under Lafayette that took a position on Malvern Hill in 1781, hemming in much larger British forces under Lord Cornwallis at the Yorktown peninsula.

The trap was sprung that September with the arrival of the main French and American armies under the Comte de Rochambeau and General George Washington, and the French fleet’s arrival in the Chesapeake under the Comte de Grasse.

Cornwallis surrendered on October 19, 1781, after which Lafayette returned to France.

The Marquis played an important role in his own country’s revolution, becoming a Commander of the French National Guard. When the Bastille was stormed by an angry mob in 1789, Lafayette was handed the key. Lafayette later sent the key to the Bastille to George Washington, as a “token of victory by Liberty over Despotism”. Today that key hangs in the main hallway at Washington’s mansion at Mount Vernon.

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When the French Marquis died in 1834, President Andrew Jackson ordered that he be accorded the same funeral honors which President John Adams bestowed on George Washington himself, back in 1799. John Quincy Adams delivered the three-hour eulogy in Congress, saying “The name of Lafayette shall stand enrolled upon the annals of our race high on the list of the pure and disinterested benefactors of mankind.”

Lafayette-grave

The Marquis de Lafayette lies under several feet of earth shipped to France from Bunker Hill on the Charlestown peninsula, in obedience to one of his last wishes.  He had always wanted to be buried under American soil.

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June 11, 1775 The Lexington of the Sea

Called by some the “Lexington of the Sea”, the little-known episode was the first naval battle of the American Revolution, and ended in victory for the Patriot side. 

In the Passamaquoddy tongue, “Machias” roughly translates into “bad little falls”, after the river that runs through the place. Five hours and 15 minutes drive-time from Boston, Machias Maine sports a campus for the University of Maine, a municipal airport and, even today, a year-round population barely exceeding 2,000.

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Machias-area residents who discussed downtown revitalization Tuesday evening said the Bad Little falls was the town’s most distinctive element. (KATHERINE CASSIDY PHOTO)

Not necessarily a place where you’d expect the first naval combat of the American Revolution.

In 1775, the modern state of Maine was still part of Massachusetts. Machias itself, a small fishing village on the “Downeast” New England coast, had been a thorn in the British side, since the earliest days of the Revolution.   A local pilot intentionally grounded the coastal patrol schooner HMS Halifax that February, in Machias Bay.  The place also served as a base from which privateers preyed on British merchant shipping.

In April, a British foray from the occupied city of Boston had culminated in the Battle at Lexington Green.  While the King’s troops held the ground in the wake of the early morning skirmish, the decision of the afternoon’s battle at nearby Concord was quite different.  The colonial’s response to the column of “Regulars” was that of a swarming behive, resulting in a Patriot victory and a British retreat under fire, all the way back to Boston.

Siege-of-Boston-1-ABBoston was all but an island in those days, connected to the mainland only be a narrow “neck” of land.  A Patriot force some 20,000 strong took positions in the days and weeks that followed, blocking the city and trapping four regiments of British troops (about 4,000 men) inside of the city.

For General Thomas Gage, in charge of all those troops, the best hope for resupply was by water.

British Royal Navy Admiral Samuel Graves wanted the guns from the wreck of the Halifax, concerned they would otherwise fall into rebel hands.  Gage wanted lumber, with which to build barracks.  So it was that the wealthy merchant and Tory loyalist Ichabod Jones was enlisted to help, blissfully unaware of the dim view in which his activities were held by fellow colonials.

Jones arrived at Machias on June 2 aboard the merchant ships Unity and Polly, under guard of the armed schooner HMS Margaretta, commanded by Midshipman James Moore.  They had come to trade food for lumber but the townspeople were split, and voted against doing business with Jones.  This provoked a threat from the Margaretta, which moved into range to bombard the town.  The action resulted in a second vote and the trade was approved, but Jones’ response was ham-fisted.   The merchant would only do business, with those who had voted with him in the first place.

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HMS Margaretta

Local militia leader Colonel Benjamin Foster conceived a plan to seize the merchant, and saw his opportunity on June 11, when Jones and Moore were in church.  They almost had the pair too, but Jones saw some twenty men approaching, and fled for the woods.  Moore was able to get back to the Margaretta, but events soon spun out of control.

Colonel Foster and his brother, a man with the delightful name of Wooden Foster, seized the Unity.  A group of thirty began to construct breastworks to serve as protection, while others commandeered the coastal packet Falmouth.   There was gong to be a fight.

machias_meA group of Machias men approached Margaretta from the land and demanded her surrender, but Moore lifted anchor and sailed off in attempt to recover the Polly.  A turn of his stern through a brisk wind resulted in a boom and gaff breaking away from the mainsail, crippling the vessel’s navigability. Unity gave chase followed by Falmouth.

Musket fire was exchanged from both sides and hand grenades were thrown onto the decks of the Unity.   Soon, the Margaretta was boarded from both sides, the fighting hand to hand.

Called by some the “Lexington of the Sea”, the little-known episode was the first naval battle of the American Revolution, and ended in victory for the Patriot side.  Four Royal Navy seamen were killed outright and another ten wounded including Moore himself, who received a musket ball to the chest and died the following day.

Patriot losses amounted to ten killed and another three wounded.

HMS Margaretta served out the remainder of the Revolution as the renamed Machias Liberty.  British payback came on October 18 when Falmouth Massachusetts, the modern-site of Falmouth Maine and not to be confused with either of the modern-day towns of  Falmouth Massachusetts, or Falmouth Maine, was burned to the ground.

British forces attempted a second assault on Machias, with an amphibious landing of 1,000 troops over the 13th – 14th of August, 1777.  The attempt was beaten back by local militia and their Passamaquoddy and Penobscot allies, with both sides claiming victory.  The nearby village of Castine would be occupied in 1779 as would Machias itself during the War of 1812.  On both occasions, captured territories were re-dubbed the Crown Colony of “New Ireland”, a refuge for Loyalists and a base for future military operations.

The Crown Colonies of New Ireland survived for four years in the first instance and eight months in the second.  The failed Penobscot expedition of 1779 to retake the colony would result in the most catastrophic defeat suffered by American Naval forces until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor 162 years later, but that must be a story for another day.

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Britain defending New Ireland from the Penobscot Expedition by Dominic Serres
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May 17, 1781 Faces of the Revolution

To look into the eyes of such men is to compress time, to reach back before the age of photography, and look into eyes that saw the birth of a nation.

FOTR, Dr Eneas Munson
Dr Eneas Munson

Imagine seeing the faces of the men who fought the American Revolution.  Not the paintings, there’s nothing extraordinary about that, except for the talent of the artist.  I mean their photographs – images that make it possible for you to look into their eyes.

In a letter dated May 17, 1781 and addressed to Alexander Scammell, General George Washington outlined his intention to form a light infantry unit, under Scammell’s leadership.

Comprised of Continental Line units from Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, Milford, Massachusetts-born Colonel’s unit was among the defensive forces which kept Sir Henry Clinton penned up in New York City, as much of the Continental army made its way south, toward a place called Yorktown.

FOTR, Rev Levi Hayes
Reverend Levi Hayes was a fifer with a Connecticut regiment

Among the men under Scammell’s command was Henry Dearborn, future Secretary of War, under President Thomas Jefferson. A teenage medic was also present.  His name was Eneas Munson.

One day, the medic would go on to become Doctor Eneas Munson, professor of the Yale Medical School in New Haven Connecticut,  President of the Medical Society of that same state.  And a man who would live well into the age of photography.

The American Revolution ended in 1783.  By the first full year of the Civil War, only 12 Revolutionary War veterans remained on the pension rolls of a grateful nation.

Two years later, Reverend EB Hillard brought two photographers through New York and New England to visit, and to photograph what were believed to be the last six.  Each was 100 years or older at the time of the interview.

FOTR, Peter Mackintosh
Peter Mackintosh was apprenticed to a Boston blacksmith, the night of the Boston Tea Party

William Hutchings of York County Maine, (still part of Massachusetts at the time) was captured at the siege of Castine, at the age of fifteen.  British authorities said it was a shame to hold one so young a prisoner, and he was released.

Reverend Daniel Waldo of Syracuse, New York fought under General Israel Putnam, becoming a POW at Horse Neck.

Adam Link of Maryland enlisted at 16 in the frontier service.

Alexander Millener of Quebec was a drummer boy in George Washington’s Life Guard.

Clarendon, New York native Lemuel Cook would live to be one of the oldest surviving veterans of the Revolution, surviving to the age of 107.  He and Alexander Millener witnessed the British surrender, at Yorktown.

FOTR, Jonathan Smith
Jonathan Smith Fought in the Battle of Long Island on August 29, 1778

Samuel Downing from Newburyport, Massachusetts, enlisted at the age of 16 and served in the Mohawk Valley under General Benedict Arnold.  “Arnold was our fighting general”, he’d say, “and a bloody fellow he was. He didn’t care for nothing, he’d ride right in. It was ‘Come on, boys!’ ’twasn’t ‘Go, boys!’ He was as brave a man as ever lived…He was a stern looking man, but kind to his soldiers. They didn’t treat him right: he ought to have had Burgoyne’s sword. But he ought to have been true. We had true men then, twasn’t as it is now”.

Hillard seems to have missed Daniel F. Bakeman, but with good reason.  Bakeman had been unable to prove his service with his New York regiment.  It wasn’t until 1867 that he finally received his veteran’s pension by special act of Congress.

FOTR, James Head
James Head was only thirteen when he joined the Continental Navy. Head was taken prisoner but later released in Providence, and walked 224 miles home to Warren, Maine.

Daniel Frederick Bakeman would become the Frank Buckles of his generation, the last surviving veteran of the Revolution. The 1874 Commissioner of Pensions report said that “With the death of Daniel Bakeman…April 5, 1869, the last of the pensioned soldiers of the Revolution passed away.  He was 109.

Most historians agree on 1839 as the year in which the earliest daguerreotypes became a practical possibility.

When Utah based investigative reporter Joe Bauman came across Hillard’s photos in 1976, he believed that there must be others.  Photography had been in existence for 35 years by Reverend Hillard’s time.  What followed was 30 years’ work, first finding and identifying photographs of the right vintage, and then digging through muster rolls, pension files, genealogical records and a score of other source documents, to see if each had been involved in the Revolution.

FOTR, George Fishley
George Fishley served in the Continental army, and served in the Battle of Monmouth

There were some, but it turned out to be a small group.  Peter Mackintosh, for one, was a 16-year-old blacksmith’s apprentice, from Boston.  He was working the night of December 16, 1773, when a group of men ran into the shop scooping up ashes from the hearth and rubbing them on their faces.  It turns out they were going to a Tea Party.

James Head was a thirteen year-old Continental Naval recruit from a remote part of what was then Massachusetts.  Head would be taken prisoner but later released, walking the 224 miles from Providence to his home in what would one day be Warren, Maine.

Head was elected a Massachusetts delegate to the convention called in Boston, to ratify the Constitution.   He would die the wealthiest man in Warren, stone deaf from his service in the Continental Navy.

FOTR, Simeon Hicks
Rehoboth, Massachusetts “Minuteman” Simeon Hicks mobilized after the battles of Lexington and Concord, and help to seal off the British garrison in Boston.

George Fishley served in the Continental army and fought in the Battle of Monmouth, and in General John Sullivan’s campaign against British-allied Indians in New York and Pennsylvania.

Fishley would spend the rest of his days in Portsmouth New Hampshire, where he was known as ‘the last of our cocked hats.”

Daniel Spencer fought with the 2nd Continental Light Dragoons, an elite 120-man unit also known as Sheldon’s Horse after Colonel Elisha Sheldon.  First mustered at Wethersfield, Connecticut, the regiment consisted of four troops from Connecticut, one troop each from Massachusetts and New Jersey, and two companies of light infantry. On August 13 1777, Sheldon’s horse put a unit of Loyalists to flight in the little-known Battle of the Flocky, the first cavalry charge in history, performed on American soil

FOTR, Daniel Spencer
Daniel Spencer fought with the 2nd Continental Light Dragoons, an elite unit of 120 also known as Sheldon’s horse and known for the first cavalry charge, ever carried out on American soil

Bauman’s research uncovered another eight in addition to Hillard’s record, including a shoemaker, two ministers, a tavern-keeper, a settler on the Ohio frontier, a blacksmith and the captain of a coastal vessel, in addition to Dr. Munson.

The experiences of these eight span the distance from the Boston Tea Party to the battles at Monmouth, Quaker Hill, Charleston and Bennington.  Their eyes saw the likes of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton & Henry Knox, the battles of the Revolution and the final surrender, at Yorktown.

Bauman collected the glass plate photos of eight and paper prints of another five, along with each man’s story, and published them in an ebook entitled “DON’T TREAD ON ME: Photographs and Life Stories of American Revolutionaries”.

To look into the eyes of such men is to compress time, to reach back before the age of photography, and look into eyes that saw the birth of a nation.

 

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

 

 

May 2, 1779 Mary Silliman’s War

Much is written about the history of warfare.  The strategy, the tactics, and the means of supply which make it all happen.  Far less has been written about a subject, equally important, if not more so.  The very real service to the nation, provided by the loved ones, most often the women, when the warriors leave their homes.

Sometime around 1980, Commandant of the United States Marine Corps General Robert H. Barrow captured the nature of the art of the warrior:  “Amateurs think about tactics”, he wrote, “but professionals think about logistics.”  Lieutenant General Tommy Franks, Commander of the 7th Corps during Operation Desert Storm, was more to the point:  “Forget logistics, you lose.”

Much is written about the history of warfare.  The strategy, the tactics, and the means of supply which make it all happen.  Far less has been written about a subject, equally important, if not more so.  The very real service to the nation, provided by the loved ones, most often the women, when the warriors leave their homes.

Mary Fish Noyes Silliman
Mary Fish Noyes Silliman

In the early days of the American Revolution, Gold Selleck Silliman served as a Colonel in the Connecticut militia, later promoted to Brigadier General.  Silliman patrolled the southwestern border of Connecticut, where proximity to British-occupied New York was a constant source of danger.  Silliman fought with the New York campaign of 1776 and opposed the British landing in Danbury, the following year.

Mary (Fish) Noyes, the widow of John Noyes, was a strong, independent woman, of good pioneer stock.  She had to be.  In an age when women rarely involved themselves in the “business” side of the household, Mary’s first husband died intestate, leaving her executrix of the estate, and head of household.

Image21Gold Selleck Silliman, himself a widower, merged his household with that of Mary on May 24, 1775, in a marriage described as “rooted in lasting friendship, deep affection, and mutual respect”.  The two would have two children together, who survived into adulthood:   Gold Selleck (called Sellek) born in October 1777, and Benjamin, born in August 1779.

Understanding that the coming Revolution could take her second husband from her as well, Mary acquainted herself with Gold’s business affairs, as well as the workings of the farm.  Throughout this phase of the war, Mary Silliman ran the family farm, entertained militia officers, housed refugees of war violence, managed the labor of several slaves and that of her adult stepson, drew accounts and collected rent on her late first husband’s properties, all while her husband was away, leading the state militia.

Before the war, Gold Silliman served as Attorney for the Crown.  He returned to civil life in 1777 following the Battle of Ridgefield, becoming state’s attorney.

On May 2, 1779, nine Tories ostensibly under orders from General Henry Clinton, set out in a whale boat from Lloyd’s Neck on Long Island, rowing across Long Island sound and onto the Connecticut shore.  One of them, a carpenter, had worked on the Silliman home and knew it well.  Eight of them beat down the door in the dead of night, kidnapping Silliman and Billy,  Gold’s son by his first marriage.  Mary Silliman, six-months pregnant at the time, could do little but look on in horror.

Lloyd's Neck
Lloyd’s Neck, Long Island

The two captives were taken to Oyster Bay in New York and finally to Flatbush, and held hostage at a New York farmhouse.  Patriot forces having no hostage of equal rank with whom to exchange for the General, the two Sillimans languished in captivity for seven months.

Mary Silliman wrote letters to Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull, to no avail.  At last, heavily pregnant, she set out for the headquarters of General George Washington himself.  An aide responded that…sorry…had Silliman been kidnapped while wearing the uniform, efforts could be made to intercede.  As it was, the captive was a civilian.  He was on his own.

Mary was left to run the farm, including caring for her own midwife, after the woman was brutally raped during a lighting raid in which English forces burned family buildings and crops, along with much of Ridgefield.  All the while, Mary herself wanted nothing more than the return of her husband, and to become “the living mother of a living child”.

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From the film:  Mary Silliman’s War

With all other options exhausted, Mary contracted the services of one David Hawley, a full-time Naval Captain and part-time privateer.  Hawley staged a daring raid of his own, rowing across the sound and kidnapping a man suitable for exchange with Gold Silliman, in the person of Chief Justice Thomas Jones, of Long Island.

British authorities balked at the exchange and the stalemate dragged on for months.  In the end, Mary Silliman got her wish, becoming the living mother of a living child that August.  Gold Selleck and Billy Silliman were exchanged the following May, for Judge Jones.

The 1993 made-for-TV movie “Mary Silliman’s War” tells a story of non-combatants in the American Revolution.  The pregnant mothers and farm wives, as well as Silliman’s own negotiations for her husband’s release, by his Loyalist captors.  The film is outstanding, the history straight-up and unadulterated with pop culture nonsense, as far as I can tell.  The film is available for download, I found it for nine bucks.  It was nine dollars, well spent.

Feature image, top of page:  Silliman house, ca. 1890

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

April 26, 1777  The Female Paul Revere

The Dutchess County Militia had to be called up.  The Colonel himself had only a single night to prepare for battle, and this rider was exhausted.  The job would have to go to Colonel Ludington’s first-born.  His daughter, Sybil.

Listen my children and you shall hear,
Of the midnight ride of…Sybil Ludington.

Paul Revere’s famous “midnight ride” began on the night of April 18, 1775.  Revere was one of two riders, soon joined by a third, fanning out from Boston to warn of an oncoming column of “regulars”, come to destroy the stockpile of gunpowder, ammunition, and cannon in Concord.

Revere himself covered barely 12 miles before being captured, his horse confiscated to replace the tired mount of a British sergeant.  Revere would finish his “ride” on foot, arriving at sunrise on the 19th to witness the last moments of the battle on Lexington Green.

download (55)Two years later, Patriot forces maintained a similar supply depot, in the southwest Connecticut town of Danbury.

William Tryon was the Royal Governor of New York, a long-standing advocate for attacks on civilian targets.  In 1777, Tryon was also a Major-General of the provincial army.  On April 25th, Tryon set sail for the Connecticut coast of Long Island Sound with a force of 1,800, intending to destroy Danbury.

Patriot Colonel Joseph Cooke’s small Danbury garrison was caught and quickly overpowered on the 26th, trying to remove food supplies, uniforms, and equipment.  Facing little if any opposition, Tryon’s forces went on a bender, burning homes, farms and storehouses.  Thousands of barrels of pork, beef and flour were destroyed, along with 5,000 pairs of shoes, 2,000 bushels of grain, and 1,600 tents.

Colonel Henry Ludington was a farmer and father of 12, with a long military career.  A long-standing and loyal subject of the British crown, Ludington switched sides in 1773, joining the rebel cause and rising to command the 7th Regiment of the Dutchess County Militia, in New York’s Hudson Valley.

In April 1777, Ludington’s militia was disbanded for planting season, returned to homes across the countryside.  Soaked to the skin and exhausted, a rider arrived at the Ludington farm on the night of the 26th, on an equally soaked and exhausted horse.  With a driving rain cascading in sheets off an empty saddle, the rider explained the purpose of his visit.  15 miles away, British regulars and a loyalist force were burning Danbury to the ground.

The Dutchess County Militia had to be called up.  The Colonel himself had only a single night to prepare for battle, and this rider was done for.  The job would have to go to the Colonel’s first-born.  That meant Ludington’s daughter Sybil, and she was barely sixteen.

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From Poughkeepsie to what is now Putnam County and back, the “Female Paul Revere” rode across the lower Hudson River Valley, covering 40 miles in the pitch darkness of night, alerting her father’s militia to the danger and urging them to come out and fight.  She’d use a stick to knock on doors, even using it once to beat back a highway bandit.

By the time that Sybil returned the next morning, cold, rain-soaked, and exhausted, most of 400 militia members were prepared to march.

35 miles east of Danbury, General Benedict Arnold was gathering a force of 500 regular and irregular Connecticut militia, along with Generals David Wooster and Gold Selleck Silliman.

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Arnold’s forces arrived too late to save Danbury, but inflicted a nasty surprise on the British rearguard as the column approached nearby Ridgefield.  Never outnumbered by less than three-to-one, Connecticut militia was able to slow the British advance until Ludington’s New York Militia arrived on the following day.  The last phase of the action saw the same type of swarming harassment, as seen on the British retreat from Concord to Boston, earlier in the war.

Though the British operation was a tactical success, the mauling suffered at the hands of colonials ensured that this was the last hostile British landing on the Connecticut coast.

The British raid on Danbury destroyed at least 19 houses and 22 stores and barns.  Town officials submitted £16,000 in claims to Congress, for which town selectmen received £500 reimbursement.  Further claims were made to the General Assembly of Connecticut in 1787, for which Danbury was awarded land.  In Ohio.

The old Keeler Tavern in Ridgefield is now a museum.  The British cannonball fired into the side of the building, remains there to this day.

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At the time, Benedict Arnold planned to travel to Philadelphia, to protest the promotion of officers junior to himself, to Major General.  Arnold, who’d had two horses shot out from under him at Ridgefield, was promoted to Major General in recognition of his role in the battle.  Along with that promotion came a horse, “properly caparisoned as a token of … approbation of his gallant conduct … in the late enterprize to Danbury.”

The pride which would one day be Arnold’s undoing, was assuaged.  For a time.

Henry Ludington became Aide-de-Camp to General George Washington, and grandfather to Harrison Ludington, future mayor of Milwaukee and the 12th Governor of Wisconsin.

Gold Silliman was kidnapped with his son by a first marriage by Tory neighbors, and held for nearly seven months at a New York farmhouse.  Having no hostage of equal rank with whom to exchange for the General, Patriot forces went out and kidnapped one of their own, in the person of Chief Justice Judge Thomas Jones, of Long Island.

download (60)Mary Silliman was left to run the farm, and negotiate for the release of her husband.  The 1993 made-for-TV movie “Mary Silliman’s War” tells a story of non-combatants, pregnant mothers and farm wives, during the Revolution.

General David Wooster was mortally wounded at the Battle of Ridgefield, moments after shouting “Come on my boys! Never mind such random shots!”  Today, an archway marks the entrance to Wooster Square, in the East Rock Neighborhood of New Haven.

Sybil Ludington received the thanks of family and friends, even George Washington himself, and then stepped off the pages of history.

Paul Revere’s famous ride would likewise have faded into obscurity, but for the poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  86 years later.

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April 19, 1775  Shot Heard ‘Round the World

Taking positions across the village green to block the soldiers’ line of march, 80 “minutemen” turned and faced 700 of the most powerful military, on the planet.

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Old North Church, Boston

The column of British soldiers moved out from Boston late on the 18th, their mission to confiscate the American arsenal at Concord and to capture the Patriot leaders Sam Adams and John Hancock, known to be hiding in Lexington.

Boston Patriot leaders had been preparing for such an event.  Sexton Robert John Newman and Captain John Pulling carried two lanterns to the steeple of the Old North church, signaling that the Regulars were crossing the Charles River to Cambridge. Dr. Joseph Warren ordered Paul Revere and Samuel Dawes to ride out and warn surrounding villages and towns, the two soon joined by a third rider, Samuel Prescott. It was Prescott alone who would make it as far as Concord, though hundreds of riders would fan out across the countryside, before the night was through.

The column entered Lexington at sunrise on April 19, bayonets gleaming in the early morning light.  Armed with a sorry assortment of weapons, colonial militia was waiting, pouring out of Buckman Tavern and fanning out across the town square.   Some weapons were hand made by village gunsmiths and blacksmiths, some decades old, but all were in good working order.   Taking positions across the village green to block the soldiers’ line of march, 80 “minutemen” turned and faced 700 of the most powerful military, on the planet.

Stand Your Ground

Words were exchanged and no one knows who fired the first shot.  When it was over, eight Lexington men lay dead or dying, another ten wounded. One British soldier was wounded.

Vastly outnumbered, the militia soon gave way, as word spread and militia gathered from Concord to Cambridge.   The King’s Regulars never did find the weapons for which they had come, nor did they find Adams or Hancock.  There had been too much warning for that.

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Regulars would clash with colonial subjects two more times that day, first at Concord Bridge and then in a running fight at a point in the road called “The Bloody Angle”.  Finally, hearing that militia was coming from as far away as Worcester, the column turned to the east and began their return march to Boston.

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“Soldiers were often buried where they fell on the battlefield. This gravestone, located just in front of the marker, indicates that British soldiers were buried near this spot on April 19, 1775”.H/T HMdb.org, & their HISTORICAL MARKER DATABASE

Some British soldiers marched 35 miles over those two days, the final retreat coming under increasing attack from militia members firing from behind stone walls, buildings and trees.

One taking up such a firing position was Samuel Whittemore of Menotomy Village, now Arlington Massachusetts. At 80, Whittemore was the oldest known combatant of the Revolution.

Whittemore took a position by the road, armed with his ancient musket, two dueling pistols and the old cutlass captured years earlier from a French officer whom he explained had “died suddenly”.

Waiting until the last possible moment, Whittemore rose and fired his musket at the oncoming Redcoats:  one shot, one kill. Several charged him from only feet away as he drew his pistols.  Two more shots, one dead and one mortally wounded. He had barely drawn his sword when the Regulars were on him, a .69 caliber ball fired almost point blank tearing part of his face off, as the butt of a rifle smashed down on his head. Whittemore tried to fend off the bayonet strokes with his sword but he didn’t have a chance.  He was run through thirteen times, before he lay still.  One for each colony.

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The people who came out of their homes to clean up the mess afterward found Whittemore, up on one knee, trying to reload his old musket.

Doctor Nathaniel Tufts treated the old man’s wounds as best he could, but there was nothing he could do. Sam Whittemore was taken home to die in the company of loved ones, which he did.  Eighteen years later, at the age of ninety-eight.

 

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