April 5, 1761 Sybil’s Ride

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

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

Wait…What?

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.

paul-revereRevere 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.

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

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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.

908d9d26ffc8bb0c9e8a59b25da92429--american-revolutionary-war-paul-revereIn April 1777, Ludington’s militia was disbanded for planting season, and spread across the countryside.  An exhausted rider arrived at the Ludington farm on a blown horse, on the evening of the 26th, asking for help.  15 miles away, British regulars and a force of loyalists were burning Danbury to the ground.

The Dutchess County Militia had to be called up.  The Colonel had one night to prepare for battle, and this rider was done.  The job would have to go to Colonel Ludington’s first-born, his daughter, Sybil.

Born April 5, 1761, Sybil Ludington was barely sixteen at the time of her ride.  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 dark 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 fight off a highway bandit.

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

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

Though the British operation was a tactical success, the mauling inflicted by these 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.

Keeler_tavern_ridgefield_cannonball_2006At 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 for 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.”  For now, the pride which would one day be his undoing, was assuaged.The Keeler Tavern in Ridgefield is now a museum.  The British cannonball fired into the side of the building, remains there to this day.

Henry Ludington would become Aide-de-Camp to General George Washington, and grandfather to Harrison Ludington, mayor of Milwaukee and 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.

Mary Silliman was left to run the farm, including caring for her own midwife, who was brutally raped by English forces for denying them the use of her home.  The 1993 made-for-TV movie “Mary Silliman’s War” tells the story of non-combatants, pregnant mothers and farm wives during the Revolution, as well as Mary’s own negotiations for her husband’s release from his Loyalist captors.

IMG_6632General 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_stamp

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

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

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“Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,–
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm.”
Then he said “Good-night!” and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war;
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.
Meanwhile, his friend through alley and street
Wanders and watches, with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
Marching down to their boats on the shore.
Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,
By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,–
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town
And the moonlight flowing over all.
Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel’s tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, “All is well!”
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,–
A line of black that bends and floats
On the rising tide like a bridge of boats.
Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse’s side,
Now he gazed at the landscape far and near,
Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry tower of the Old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry’s height
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns.
A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet;
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.
It was twelve by the village clock
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer’s dog,
And felt the damp of the river fog,
That rises after the sun goes down.
It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, black and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.
It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadow brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket ball.
You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the British Regulars fired and fled,—
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard wall,
Chasing the redcoats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.
So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,—
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere”.
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Founding Mother
Fatherless at age three and orphaned at twelve, Mary Ball learned a sense of independence, at an early age. Mary was wed at age 22 in a “semi-arranged” marriage by her guardian, George Eskridge. Mary’s first and only husband was Augustine “Gus” Washington, father of six borne of the union. Gus died when the eldest was only eleven and Mary thirty-five, leaving Mary to raise Eskridge’s namesake and four surviving siblings, alone. Today, little is written about Martha Ball Washington, a woman whose personal strength of character, taught her son to lead by example. Though himself childless, eleven-year-old George would grow to become a General in the cause of Liberty, first President of the United States and “Father of his Country’.
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March 22, 1790 Jefferson

“Ladies and gentlemen, I want to tell you how welcome you are to the White House. I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone”. President John F Kennedy, addressing a White House Dinner honoring Nobel Prize recipients, 1962.

In April 1962, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy addressed a White House Dinner, to a group of Nobel prize winners.  Some of the greatest intellects of the era were assembled in that room.  The President began:

Ladies and gentlemen“, he said, “I want to tell you how welcome you are to the White House. I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone“.

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Jefferson himself knew how he wished to be remembered.  He left specific instructions.  Three accomplishments the founding father himself saw as his own legacy, inscribed on the stone which marks his grave:

Here was buried
Thomas Jefferson
Author of the Declaration of American Independence
of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom
& Father of the University of Virginia

Thomas Jefferson served two terms as President of the United States, but didn’t put it among his top three accomplishments.  That’s how much he couldn’t stand politics.

The public life of Thomas Jefferson reads like a timeline for the founding of this nation.

220px-Official_Presidential_portrait_of_Thomas_Jefferson_(by_Rembrandt_Peale,_1800)(cropped)In a time when colonists considered themselves to be Englishmen, Jefferson sought to disestablish the Anglican communion of the Church of England, seeking from the earliest days of his public career to establish a freedom from state-sponsored religion.

The preamble to the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom written in the man’s own hand, states “that our civil rights have no dependance on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry“.

Jefferson expanded on the principle decades later, in a letter to the Baptist church of Danbury, Connecticut.  Referring to the United States Constitution, Jefferson writes:

I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State“.

Jefferson drafted no fewer than 126 bills in three years as Virginia state legislator and later governor, introducing measures for public education and religious freedom. Alarmed at the growing power of the landed aristocracy, Jefferson took aim at laws of entail and primogeniture, that permanent, hereditary and near-feudal system of increasingly large plantations worked by white tenant farmers and African slaves.

Assigned to a committee of five to write the Declaration of Independence, it is Jefferson’s hand we see on our national birth certificate.

Jefferson fled when the Patriot turned traitor Benedict Arnold burned the city of Richmond at the head of a British Army, and narrowly escaped a cavalry force under “Bloody Banastre Tarleton”, sent for his capture.

Martha Jefferson
A 1965 oil portrait of Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson by artist George Geygan, based on contemporary descriptions of her physical attributes and executed 183 years after her death. H/T Firstladies.org

Martha Skelton, née Wayles, became Mrs. Jefferson in 1772, following the death of her first husband.   The marriage lasted ten years until her death in 1782 and produced six children, two of whom lived, to adulthood.

Jefferson was inconsolable on the death of his wife and withdrew for weeks, from the public eye.  He later burned their correspondence, leading some commentators to describe the relationship as “enigmatic’.

I don’t think so.  On his death some forty years later, Thomas Jefferson still wore a locket about his neck, containing a lock of Martha’s brown hair.

Jefferson was minister to France in the early days of the French Revolution, and witnessed the storming of the Bastille.  He was a regular companion of the Marquis de Lafayette and contributor to Lafayette’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.  It’s here in 1787, that Jefferson is believed to have begun a sexual relationship with one of his slaves, sixteen-year-old Sally Hemings.  Modern DNA analysis has demonstrated a connection along the male Jefferson line, with at least one of Hemings’ children.

Thomas Jefferson became the nation’s 1st Secretary of State on this day in 1790, serving the first administration of  President George Washington.

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Thomas Jefferson at 78

As President of the United States, Jefferson personally tutored Corps of Discovery Meriweather Lewis of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, in the sciences of mapping, botany, natural history, mineralogy, and astronomy and navigation, and gave the man unlimited access to his library at Monticello, at that time the largest collection of geography and natural history books in the world.

In 1819, the 76-year-old Jefferson founded the University of Virginia, personally organizing its state charter and planning for the course curriculum, while designing the architecture for ten Roman and Greek pavilions forming a quadrangle connected by colonnades and surrounded by serpentine walls.

As if that wasn’t enough, the man cut 791 verses from the King James bible with a razor, and rearranged them into the 46-page volume The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, commonly known as the Jefferson Bible.  He then translated the thing into French, Greek, Latin and back to English.  It interested him to do so.

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The University of Virginia, Jefferson’s “Academical Village” H/T Wikipedia

On the subject of slavery, the man remains an enigma.  Jefferson referred to the “execrable commerce …this assemblage of horrors” while he himself owned slaves.  As many as 600, over the course of his life.

In an ending no fiction writer would dare to contemplate, Jefferson and fellow founder John Adams died on July 4, 1826, fifty years to the day from the birth of the Republic they had helped create.

It is fashionable today, to judge the past by the standards of our day.  As if the present were somehow exempt from the just scorn of future generations.

The founder’s ideal of freedom Of religion has somehow morphed into an imagined freedom From religion.  Candidates argue for abolishing the Electoral College, transforming this self-governing Republic to a Democracy.  Somehow the image of five wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch, comes to mind.

A week ago, a member of the United States House of Representatives criticized the third President, for believing African slaves to be 3/5ths of a person.

I would not condone the odious practice of one human being “owning” another, any more than I’d endorse those places where the practice continues, to this day.  I don’t know anyone who does.  It’s worth mentioning though, Spanish and Portuguese settlers brought the first African slaves to the new world, 275 years before the “Shot Heard ’round the World“.   Every New World economy from Canada to Argentina was engaged in slavery.  The first English colony to legally adopt the practice was Massachusetts, with the ironically named “Massachusetts Body of Liberties,” of 1641.

The 3/5ths compromise of the United States Constitution was a political concession.  The young nation was broke in the wake of the late Revolution, in need of new forms of taxation.  Southern states argued that slaves should be counted as persons for purposes of apportionment.  More seats meant more votes in Congress, more electors in the Electoral College.

6-three-fifthsThe more industrialized states to the north saw such a measure as placing a disproportionate burden of taxation, on themselves.  The 3/5ths compromise kicked the can down the road, passing the Gordian knot to be settled by another generation, in rivers of blood.

The connection between Jefferson and the 3/5ths compromise stems from the election of 1800.  Jefferson defeated Aaron Burr through disproportionate electoral support from the southern states, though it took 36 ballots, to do so.  The Congressman’s claim seems a bit of a stretch:  the third President was away in France while the Constitution was being written.

In a perfect world, our self-appointed ruling class would have cracked a book.  Candidates for political office would better understand our shared history.   The real thing is so much more interesting than the pop culture and political varieties.

 

A Trivial Matter
While a brilliant writer, Thomas Jefferson received no such gift when it came to public speaking. It’s not that his speeches were’t well written and meaningful, he was just a lousy speaker. His voice was halting and often inaudible, barely better than a mumble. John Adams once said, “During the whole time I sat with him in Congress, I never heard him utter three sentences together.” Unlike his predecessor, President Jefferson delivered the State-of-the-Union address in writing, beginning a practice which would continue until Woodrow Wilson’s first term, in 1913.

March 5, 1776 Head Fake

It’s doubtful whether Washington possessed either powder or shot for a sustained campaign, but British forces occupying Boston didn’t know that.

Over the night and the following day of April 18-19, 1775, individual British soldiers marched 36 miles or more, on the round-trip expedition from Boston.  Following the early morning battles at Lexington and Concord, armed colonial militia from as far away as Worcester swarmed over the column, forcing the regulars into a fighting retreat.

In those days, Boston was a virtual island, connected to the mainland by a narrow “neck” of land.  More than 20,000 armed men converged from all over New England in the weeks that followed, gathering in buildings and encampments from Cambridge to Roxbury.

siege-of-boston-1775-1776-grangerA man who should have gone into history among the top tier of American Founding Fathers, the future turncoat Benedict Arnold, arrived with Connecticut militia to support the siege.  Arnold informed the Massachusetts Committee of Safety that Fort Ticonderoga, located along the southern end of Lake Champlain in northern New York, was bristling with cannon and other military stores.  Furthermore, the place was lightly defended.

The committee commissioned Arnold a colonel on May 3, authorizing him to raise troops and lead a mission to capture the fort.  Seven days later, Colonel Arnold and militia forces from Connecticut and western Massachusetts in conjunction with Ethan Allen and his “Green Mountain Boys” captured the fort, and all its armaments.

The Continental Congress created the Army that June, appointing General George Washington to lead it.  When General Washington took command of that army in July, it was a force with an average of nine rounds-worth of shot and powder, per man.  British forces occupying Boston, were effectively penned up by forces too weak to do anything about it.

The stalemate dragged on for months, when a 25-year-old bookseller came to General Washington with a plan. His name was Henry Knox. His plan was a 300-mile, round trip slog into a New England winter, to retrieve the guns of Ticonderoga:  brass and iron cannon, howitzers, and mortars.  59 pieces in all.  Washington’s advisors derided the idea as hopeless, but the General approved.

Henry-Knox-moving-canning-from-Fort-Ticonderoga

Knox set out with a column of men in late November, 1775.  For nearly two months, he and his team wrestled 60 tons of cannons and other armaments by boat, animal & man-hauled sledges along roads little better than foot trails.  Across two barely frozen rivers, and through the forests and swamps of the Berkshires to Cambridge, historian Victor Brooks called it “one of the most stupendous feats of logistics” of the Revolution.  It must have been a sight on January 24, 1776, when Knox returned at the head of that “Noble Train of Artillery”.

For British military leadership in Boston, headed by General William Howe, the only option for resupply was by water, via Boston Harbor.  Both sides of the siege understood the strategic importance of the twin prominences overlooking the harbor, the hills of Charlestown to the north, and Dorchester heights to the south.  It’s why British forces had nearly spent themselves on Farmer Breed’s hillside that June, an engagement that went into history as the Battle of Bunker Hill.

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With Howe’s forces in possession of the Charlestown peninsula, Washington had long considered occupying Dorchester Heights, but considered his forces too weak.  That changed with the guns of Ticonderoga.

In the first days of March, Washington placed several heavy cannon at Lechmere’s Point and Cobble Hill in Cambridge, and on Lamb’s Dam in Roxbury.  The batteries opened fire on the night of March 2, and again on the following night and the night after that.  With British attention thus diverted, American General John Thomas and a force of some 2,000 made plans to take the heights.

As the ground was frozen and digging impossible, fortifications and cannon placements were fashioned from heavy 10′ timbers.  With the path to the top lined with hay bales to muffle their sounds, these fortifications were manhandled to the top of Dorchester heights over the night of March 4-5, along with the bulk of Knox’ cannons.

General Howe was stunned on awakening, on the morning of March 5.  The British garrison in Boston and the fleet in harbor, were now under the muzzles of Patriot guns.  “The rebels have done more in one night”, he said, “than my whole army would have done in a month.”

Plans were laid for an immediate British assault on the hill, as reinforcements poured into the position.  By day’s end, Howe faced the prospect of another bunker Hill, this time against a force of 6,000 in possession of heavy artillery.

A heavy snowstorm descended late in the day, interrupting Howe’s plan for the assault.  A few days later, he had thought better of it.  A tacit cease-fire settled in over the next two weeks, with Washington’s side declining to open fire, and Howe’s side refraining from destroying the town, in the course of withdrawing from Boston.

British forces departed Boston by sea on March 17 with about 1,000 civilian loyalists, resulting in a peculiar Massachusetts institution which exists to this day. “Evacuation Day”:

evacuation-day
British evacuation of Boston. March 17, 1776

It’s doubtful whether Washington possessed either powder or shot for a sustained campaign, but British forces occupying Boston didn’t know that. The mere presence of those guns moved General Howe to weigh anchor and sail for Nova Scotia. The episode may be the greatest head fake, in military history.

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.

March 4, 1789  A Self Governing Republic

Even at the convention, many of the framers were concerned about the larger, more populous states governing at the expense of the smaller states. The proverbial five wolves and a lamb, voting on what’s for lunch. 

Early discussions concerning the American experiment in self-government began nearly twenty years before the Revolution, with the Albany Congress of 1754 and Benjamin Franklin’s proposed Albany Plan of Union. The 2nd Continental Congress appointed a drafting committee to write our first constitution in 1776, the work beginning on July 12. The finished document was sent to the states for ratification on November 15, the following year.

ArticlesOfConfederation (1)Twelve of the thirteen original states ratified these “Articles of Confederation” by February, 1779. Maryland would hold out for another two years, over land claims west of the Ohio River. In 1781, seven months before Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown, the 2nd Continental Congress formally ratified the Articles of Confederation. The young nation’s first governing document.

The Articles of Confederation provided for a loose alliance of sovereign states. At the center stood a congress, a unicameral legislature, and that’s about it. There was no Executive, there was no Judiciary.

In theory, Congress had the authority to govern foreign affairs, conduct war, and regulate currency. In practice, these powers were limited because Congress had no authority to enforce requests made on the states, either for money or for troops.

The Union would probably have broken up if the Articles of Confederation were not amended or replaced. Twelve delegates from five states met at Mann’s Tavern in Annapolis Maryland in September 1786, to discuss the issue. The decision of the Annapolis Convention was unanimous. Representatives from all the states were invited to send delegates to a new constitutional convention in Philadelphia, the following May.

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The United States had won its independence from England four years earlier, when 55 state delegates convened in Philadelphia to compose a new constitution.

Delegates from 12 of the 13 colonies met on May 25, 1787 at Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania State House, the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation.  Only Rhode Island abstained.  The building is now known as Independence Hall.

The assembly immediately discarded the idea of amending the Articles, instead crafting a brilliant Federal system of checks and balances over three months of debate. The Federal Republic crafted by the framers delegates specific, limited powers to the Federal Government, with authority outside those specified powers devolving to the states.

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Even at the convention, many of the framers were concerned about the larger, more populous states governing at the expense of the smaller states. The proverbial five wolves and a lamb, voting on what’s for lunch.  The “Connecticut Compromise” solved that problem, creating a bicameral legislature with proportional representation in the lower house (House of Representatives) and equal representation of the states in the upper house (Senate).

The Constitution was signed by 38 of the 41 delegates on September 17, 1787. As dictated by Article VII, the document would not become binding until ratified by nine of the 13 states.

Five states: Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut ratified the document in quick succession. Some states objected to the new constitution, particularly Massachusetts, which wanted more protection for basic political rights such as freedom of speech, religion, and of the press. They wanted it specified that powers undelegated to the Federal government, were reserved to the states. A compromise was reached in February, 1788 whereby Massachusetts and other states would ratify the document, with the assurance that such amendments would be immediately proposed.

The Constitution was ratified in Massachusetts by a two vote margin, followed by Maryland and South Carolina. New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify on June 21. The new Constitutional Government would take effect on March 4, 1789.

On September 25, the first Congress adopted 12 amendments, sending them to the states for ratification. The states got rid of the first two, and so the Congress’ original 3rd amendment became 1st, of what we now call the “Bill of Rights”. Today, the United States Constitution is the oldest written national constitution in operation in the world.

united-states-founding-documents-vintage-american-flag-declaration-independence-constitution-america-58534238It’s interesting to note the priorities of that first Congress, as expressed in their original 1st and 2nd amendments. The ones that were thrown out. The first had to do with proportional representation, and would have led us to a 6,000-member House of Representatives, instead of the 435 we currently have. The second most important thing in the world, judging by the priorities of that first Congress, was that any future Congress could not change their own salaries. Any such change could affect only future Congresses.

That original 2nd amendment, reading that “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened”, took effect in 1992 as the 27th amendment, following a ratification period stretching out to 202 years, 7 months, and 12 days. We must not be too hasty about these things.

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.

January 30, 1752 Founding Philanderer

Not that he could’ve have done anything about it, even if the husband did find out.  Morris walked with a peg, his left leg severed below the knee in a carriage accident, lost while running from an angry husband.

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Midtown Street Grid

To drive the streets of Manhattan is to realize that someone had a plan for this place. You might not be able to get there for the congestion, but you can figure out how to do it. Not like the rabbit warren that is her sister city of Boston, that all but unnavigable melange of neighborhoods, grown together as the city expanded into former marshlands and harbor.

In grade school, we all learned the preamble to the Constitution. “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…” It’s considerably snappier than the original version:

We the people of the states of New-Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New-York, New-Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North-Carolina, South-Carolina, and Georgia, do ordain, declare and establish the following constitution for the government of ourselves and our posterity.”

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That West 53rd leads to East 53rd and runs next to 54th may be attributed to a committee of three, who fought (and won) the battle against the wide circles and grand plazas, once envisioned for “The City”. That we may be spared that stultifying recitation of our founding document may be laid at the feet of one member of that committee.

Today, his life is all but lost to history, among the familiar constellation of founding fathers.  If he’s remembered at all it’s for that funny name.  Gouverneur Morris.  And what a life it was.

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Gouverneur Morris

Gouverneur Morris was born this day in 1752, the son of Lewis Morris, Jr. and his second wife Sarah (Gouverneur) Morris. Abigail Adams informs us the name was pronounced “Governeer”.

Born to a wealthy New York land owning family, Morris was destined to a place among the founders. His half-brother Lewis signed the Declaration of Independence.  Nephew Lewis Richard served in the Vermont legislature and the US Congress.

As a member of the Continental Congress, Morris helped General George Washington secure funding, to keep the Continental Army in the field. A staunch ally of the Commander-in-Chief, Morris defended Washington against the “Conway Cabal“, the only serious effort to have the General unseated, as commander-in-chief.

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Gouverneur Morris 1789

A staunch opponent of slavery, Morris derided the “peculiar institution” as “the curse of heaven on the states where it prevailed.”  Morris mocked the “3/5ths compromise”, that cynical effort to increase congressional representation based on “property”, who had no right to vote.

Upon what principle”, Morris asked, “is it that the slaves shall be computed in the representation? Are they men? Then make them citizens, and let them vote. Are they property? Why, then, is no other property included?”

And did I mention, Gouverneur Morris was a first-class Rake?

“Rake” is such a great word, short for “Rakehell” or Hellraiser’.  It’s a shame it’s fallen out of usage.  This isn’t the tool shed variety.  An 18th century Rake is a man habituated to dissolute conduct, a chronic libertine devoted to wine, women and song.  Emphasis on the Women and, no problem if they just happened to be married.

At a time when sexual attitudes were “buttoned up” to say the least, Gouverneur Morris was all but addicted to sex in public, given over to the excitement, of the risk at being caught.

As Minister Plenipotentiary to France in the wake of the American Revolution, Morris writes of one such dalliance in the hallway at the Louvre, then a Royal Residence.

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Gouverneur Morris’ wooden leg

“Go to the Louvre… we take the Chance of Interruption and celebrate in the Passage while Mademoiselle (the woman’s daughter) is at the Harpsichord in the Drawing Room. The husband is below. Visitors are hourly expected. The Doors are all open.”

“Celebrate” was Morris’ code word for…well…you know.

Not that he could’ve done anything about it, even if the husband did find out.  Morris walked with a peg, his left leg severed below the knee in a carriage accident, lost while running from an angry husband.

That wooden leg actually helped him one time, as the French Revolution spiraled downward toward the homicidal madness  known as the “Reign of Terror“. While riding in a carriage, a sign of the aristocracy, a horde of sans coulotte attempted to seize the vehicle.  It may have cost Morris, his head.  Gouverneur Morris leaned out the window and shook the leg at them, momentarily shocking the mob into stunned silence. Whether the mob thought him a war veteran or just plain crazy is unknown, but the driver had just enough time, to get away.

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18th century painting “A Rake’s Progress”, by English artist William Hogarth

Morris tried to raise enough to bribe the guards, to release King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.  When that didn’t work out he bought the Queen’s furniture, and brought it home as a keepsake.

Morris finally “settled down” at age 57, but even that was a scandal.  That Anne Gary (“Nancy”) Randolph was twenty-two years younger than he was not so unusual, but marrying his housekeeper, was.  Worse still, the blushing bride had become pregnant by her own brother-in-law at age seventeen, and was tried for killing the baby.  On a plantation named “Bizarre’, no less.

Anne was acquitted of the charge of infanticide, but the scandal followed her, all her days.  Morris announced his marriage to her at his Christmas party.  In his diary, Gouverneur writes “I marry this day Anne Gary Randolph. No small surprise to my guests.”

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Whalebone

Toward the end of his life, Gouverneur Morris experienced problems with his urinary tract, probably the result of prostate cancer.  Believing there to be some blockage in his pipes, Morris tried the “Do-it-Yourself” approach to fixing the problem, with a piece of whalebone.

Unsurprisingly, the method caused himself considerable damage and massive infection.  The man who brought the Erie Canal to upstate New York died on November 6, 1813.  Six days later, the Columbian Centinal newspaper of Boston reported his death following “a short but distressing illness.”

I should say so.

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.

 

 

January 29, 1820  An Ass for a Lion

“One of the strongest natural proofs of the folly of hereditary right in kings, is, that nature disapproves it, otherwise she would not so frequently turn it into ridicule by giving mankind an ass for a lion”.  – Thomas Paine, Common Sense

The Declaration of Independence, the birth certificate of the nation, begins with this preamble: “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another...”.

The next paragraph leads with the phrase most commonly cited:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. 

The paragraph ends with a personal indictment of one man, followed by a 27-item Bill of Particulars against him.  “The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world“.

The word “He” appears 19 times in the document.  “Tyrant” is used twice and “ruler”, only once:  “A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people”.

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King George III of England, by Johann Zoffany

The overall tenor of the document is a personal indictment of one man, George III, King of England.  Thomas Paine wrote of the King in “Common Sense”, the pamphlet which inspired a people to rise up in the summer of 1776:  “One of the strongest natural proofs of the folly of hereditary right in kings, is, that nature disapproves it, otherwise she would not so frequently turn it into ridicule by giving mankind an ass for a lion”.

George III became something of a lighting rod for colonial discontent, held personally responsible for policies brought forth by the British legislative body. The Stamp Act of 1765, the Townshend duties on tea, paper and other products in 1767;  these came from Parliament, as did the “Coercive Acts” of 1774, referred to by the Patriots of Massachusetts and others as “The Intolerable Acts”.

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The “Intolerable Acts” were a series of bills passed by Parliament, to punish American colonists for The Boston Tea Party.

These policies were a result of the financial burdens of garrisoning and administering the huge territories of the American colonies, the never-ending wars with France and Spain, and the loans given to the East India Company, then responsible for administering India.

The third King of the House of Hanover was himself a creature of Parliament, his lineage having been invited to rule over Great Britain in 1714, after the fall of the House of Stuart.  What Parliament gives, Parliament may take away.

George III is the longest reigning of any English King, ruling from 1760 until his death on January 29, 1820.  He is exceeded in office only by his Granddaughter Victoria, the last monarch of the House of the Hanoverian Dynasty and Elizabeth II, reigning Queen of the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth realms.

Medical historians have long believed that George III suffered from a genetic blood disorder called Porphyria, a term from the Greek meaning “purple pigment”.  This refers to a blue discoloration in the urine of those suffering from the condition, along with symptoms primarily involving the central nervous system, and accompanied by severe abdominal pain, vomiting and mental disturbances.

king-george-iii_1_The illness seems to have afflicted George III alone however, casting doubt on an hereditary condition.  George III’s medical records cast further doubt on the porphyria diagnosis, showing that he was prescribed medicine based on gentian, a plant with deep blue flowers which may turn the urine blue. He seems to have been afflicted with some kind of mental illness, suffering bouts which occurred with increasing severity and for increasing periods of time.  At times he would talk until he foamed at the mouth or go into convulsions where pages had to sit on him to keep the King from injuring himself.

An ongoing research project at St George’s, University of London, has looked at thousands of King George III’s handwritten letters, and concluded that the King suffered from mental illness.  His writing was erratic at times coinciding with his “spells”, with run-on sentences of 400 words or more and as many as 8 verbs with no punctuation.  These are features seen today in the writing and speech of patients as they experience the manic phase of bipolar disorder.  This manic phase stands at one end of a spectrum of mood disorders, with an overwhelming sadness or depression at the other.  Research is ongoing, but these types of mood swings are consistent with contemporary witnesses to George’s behavior, as well as the written record.

All but blind from cataracts and suffering a painful rheumatic disorder, George’s final descent was triggered by the death of his youngest and favorite daughter Princess Amelia, at age 27.  In November 1810, the Princess’s nurse reported “scenes of distress and crying every day …  melancholy beyond description.”

George himself accepted the Regent Act of 1811, appointing his eldest son the Prince of Wales and future King George IV, Prince Regent.  Britannica.com describes the last ten years as a “living death”, a period of violent insanity interspersed with “intervals of senile lucidity”.

The King neither knew nor would he have understood when he was appointed King of Hanover in 1814, nor when his wife died in 1818. On Christmas 1819, George spoke for fifty-eight hours straight, all of it, gibberish.

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Engraving of George III in later life, by Henry Meyer

Today, George III is remembered for two things:  losing the American colonies, and going mad.

There is an historic lesson in this story.  If the country ruled by a King (or Queen) wins the lottery and gets a good and fair monarch, then that country may experience a period of peace and prosperity.  If that nation draws the cosmic short straw and gets a bad one, the results can be catastrophic.  In the end, it’s the most powerful argument I can think of for a governmental system of specified authority, diffuse power, and checks & balances.

January 24, 1776 Seven Weeks in Winter

It must have been a sight when that noble train of artillery entered Cambridge on this day in 1776. By March, Henry Knox’ cannon would be manhandled to the top of Dorchester Heights, resulting in the British evacuation of Boston and a peculiar Massachusetts institution which exists to this day, known as “Evacuation Day”:  March 17.

The American Revolution began with the Shot Heard Round the World” on the morning of April 19, 1775. Within days of the Battles at Lexington and Concord and subsequent British withdrawal to Boston, over 20,000 men poured into Cambridge from all over New England. Abandoned Tory homes and the empty Christ Church became temporary barracks and field hospitals.  Even Harvard College shut down, its buildings becoming quarters for some 1,600 Patriots.

The Continental Congress appointed George Washington General of this “Army” on June 15, two days before the British assault on Farmer Breed’s hill. The action would take its name from that of a neighboring farmer, and went into history as the Battle of Bunker Hill.

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Shortly after arriving in July, General Washington discovered that his army had enough gunpowder for nine rounds per man, and then they’d be done.

At the time, Boston was a virtual island, connected to the mainland by a narrow strip of land.  British forces were effectively penned up in Boston, by a force too weak to do anything about it.

The stalemate dragged on for months, when a 25-year-old bookseller came to General Washington with a plan. His name was Henry Knox. His plan was a 300-mile, round trip slog into a New England winter, to retrieve the guns of Forts Ticonderoga, and Crown Point.

fort ticonderoga artillery (fort ti photo)

Washington’s advisers derided the idea as hopeless, but the General approved. Henry Knox set out with a column of men on December 1.

Located on the New York banks of Lake Champlain, Fort Ticonderoga was captured by a small force led by Ethan Allen and Colonel Benedict Arnold, in May of that year. In it were brass and iron cannon, howitzers, coehorns and mortars, 30 pieces in all and another 29, from Fort Crown Point.  Arriving on December 5, Knox and his men set about disassembling the artillery, making it ready for transport. A flotilla of flat bottom boats was scavenged from all over the countryside, the guns loaded and rowed the length of Lake George, arriving barely before the water began to freeze over.

colonel-knox-bringing-the-cannons-from-fort-ticonderoga (2)Local farmers were enlisted to help and by December 17, Knox was able to report to General Washington “I have had made forty two exceedingly strong sleds & have provided eighty yoke of oxen to drag them as far as Springfield where I shall get fresh cattle to carry them to camp. . . . I hope in 16 or 17 days to be able to present your Excellency a noble train of artillery.”

Bare ground prevented the sleds from moving until Christmas morning, when a heavy snow fell and the column set out for Albany. Two attempts to cross the Hudson River on January 5 each resulted in cannon being lost to the river, but finally Knox was able to write “Went on the ice about 8 o’clock in the morning & proceeded so carefully that before night we got over 23 sleds & were so lucky as to get the Cannon out of the River, owing to the assistance the good people of the City of Albany gave.”

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Continuing east, Knox and his men crossed into Massachusetts, over the Berkshires, and on to Springfield. With 80 fresh yoke of oxen, the 5,400lb sleds moved along much of what are modern-day Routes 9 and 20, passing through Brookfield, Spencer, Leicester, Worcester, Shrewsbury, Northborough, Marlborough, Southborough, Framingham, Wayland, Weston, Waltham, and Watertown.

It must have been a sight when that noble train of artillery entered Cambridge on this day in 1776. By March, Henry Knox’ cannon would be manhandled to the top of Dorchester Heights, resulting in the British evacuation of Boston and a peculiar Massachusetts institution which exists to this day:  “Evacuation Day”, March 17.

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It is doubtful whether Washington possessed either powder or shot in quantities sufficient for a sustained campaign, but British forces occupying Boston didn’t know that. The mere presence of those guns moved British General Howe to weigh anchor and sail for Nova Scotia, but that must be a story for another day.

Afterward

During WW1, Winthrop Massachusetts artist and bronze foundry operator Henry L. Norton served with the Canadian army “over there” where he was wounded, seven times. In 1926, 150 years after Knox’s march through New York and Massachusetts, Norton and Albany sculptor Henry James Albright designed commemorative plaques to be installed on 56 stone monuments, marking the path of that noble train of artillery. The project was completed in 1927.

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Marker locations were updated in 1975 to reflect new research, concerning Knox’s route between Kinderhook New York and Alford, Massachusetts,

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Henry Knox Trail marker. Tip of the hat to Aaron Altice, for this image

A new marker was added in 2009, adjacent to a house owned by General John Thomas at the Roxbury Heritage State Park, in Boston. It was he who guided the weapons from Cambridge to their final placement on Dorchester Heights.

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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.