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.

 

 

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December 29, 1778 The Siege of Savannah

For the Americans and their allies, the frontal assault of October 9 was one of the bloodiest engagements, of the Revolution.  It could have been worse.  As battered American and French soldiers fell back, 500 free men of color known as the Chasseurs Volontaires de Saint-Domingue stepped up, to cover their retreat.

Many of these Haitian soldiers went on to win their own war of independence, and credited their military experience, to Savannah.

As 1778 drew to a close, British military planners could look back on five years of trying to suppress rebellion in the American colonies, with little to show for it.   In March of that year, the British defeat at Saratoga had brought France into the war, on the side of the Rebels.

Two years of open warfare had centered mostly on the north.   Now, a “southern strategy” was devised to conquer rebellious colonies in the south, while isolating those to the north. Key to the Southern Strategy was Georgia and the colonial capital at Savannah, the southernmost commercial port of the thirteen Colonies.

General sir Henry Clinton dispatched a force of some 3,100 from New York under Lieutenant Colonel Archibald Campbell, along with an unknown quantity of artillery. Campbell arrived outside Tybee Island on December 23.

Georgia was defended by two separate forces at this time, units of the Continental Army under the command of General Robert Howe, and state militia under the command of Governor John Houstoun.  The two men had a history of squabbling for control and most of their troops, had yet to be tried.

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Lieutenant Colonel Archibald Campbell, British commander at the capture of Savannah in December 1778

The 850 under General Howe never really had a chance, against the battle hardened Regulars, Hessian auxiliaries and Loyalist militia, coming ashore on December 29.  Defeat turned to rout when Howe’s forces threw down their weapons and ran.  Campbell reported that “It was scarcely possible to come up with them, their retreat was rapid beyond conception.

Patriot forces suffered 83 killed, 11 wounded and 453 captured. Campbell suffered 7 killed and 17 wounded.

Howe was court-marshaled for the disaster, while Campbell bragged about being “the first British officer to [rend] a star and stripe from the flag of Congress

Brigadier General Augustine Prevost arrived from St. Augustine Florida two weeks later, with a mixed force of Regulars and Creek and Cherokee allies.   Campbell and a force of 1,000 would take the provisional capital at Augusta that February but soon retreated to Savannah, citing insufficient support among Loyalist and Native American populations.

American hopes soon fell back on their new-found alliance with France. During the following summer, French Admiral Count Charles-Hector Theodat d’Estaing captured St. Vincent and Grenada in the British West Indies, clearing the way to the Georgia coast. The powerful 47-ship French fleet arrived with 4,000 troops on September 1, surprising and capturing several British ships outside the mouth of the Savannah River.

french-shipsD’Estaing sent an ultimatum to British Commander Augustine Prevost on September 16, 1779. He was to surrender the city “To the arms of his Majesty the King of France”, or he would be personally answerable for what was about to happen. It could not have pleased General Benjamin Lincoln or his Patriot allies when d’Estaing added “I have not been able to refuse the army of the United States uniting itself with that of the King. The junction will probably be effected this day. If I have not an answer therefore immediately, you must confer with General Lincoln and me”.

“Bullet Head Prevost”, so called because of a circular scar on his temple, stalled for 24 hours, using the time in furiously building up his defenses and calling up 800 reinforcements from South Carolina.

Lincoln joined d’Estaing on September 23 with an army of 3,000 militia and Continental soldiers, laying siege to Savannah and the 2,500 British and Loyalist troops in occupation.

On October 1, a British relief column under one Captain French was coming to the city’s aid, camped on the banks of the Ogeechee River. Georgia Continental Colonel John White had two officers, a sergeant and three privates with him, when he tricked French into surrendering. These guys ran through the woods lighting so many fires that the British thought the entire continental Army was bivouacked around them. Captain French was unavailable for comment but, it must be a special feeling, knowing that you just surrendered 111 guys to six, without firing a shot.

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View of the siege works against the town at the Siege of Savannah September and October 1779 in the American Revolutionary War: contemporary picture by a French officer

Lack of horses and artillery carriages delayed the allies’ moving their cannon ashore, so French warships bombarded the city from the sea. At one point shortly after Midnight on October 3, with rum rations flowing far too freely, fire from French gunners became more dangerous to themselves than to the city itself.

For the Americans and their allies, the frontal assault of October 9 was one of the bloodiest engagements, of the Revolution.  It could have been worse.  As battered American and French soldiers fell back, 500 free men of color known as the Chasseurs Volontaires de Saint-Domingue stepped up, to cover their retreat.

Many of these Haitian soldiers went on to win their own war of independence, and credited their military experience, to Savannah.

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Franklin Square Monument remembers the contributions of the Haitian militia, in the Siege of Savannah

 The siege of Savannah inflicted untold misery among the population, but Patriot forces and their French allies, never did break the city’s defenses. The siege broke a short time later, amidst recriminations on both sides.   D’Estaing returned to France, where he lost his head to the guillotine in 1794.

Savannah would remain in British hands until the end of the war, finally evacuated on July 11, 1782. A coquina marker in a small Savannah park; that soft, seashell limestone common throughout the Caribbean basin to Florida and beyond, bears a small brass plaque, darkened with the patina of age.

COMMEMORATIVE OF THE BRITISH EVACUATION OF SAVANNAH 1782
PRESENTED TO THE CITY OF SAVANNAH
BY THE
LACHLAN McINTOSH CHAPTER
DAUGHTERS OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION
1904

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Attack of 2nd South Carolina Continentals on the Spring Hill Redoubt at the Siege of Savannah on 9th October 1779 in the American Revolutionary War: picture by A.I. Keller

December 26, 1776 Hell Ships of the Revolution

British and American forces and their allies fought no less than seventy-one major engagements from the April 19, 1775 battles of Lexington and Concord, to the 1783 Battle of Arkansas Post.  The prison ships of the British killed more Americans than every single one of them, combined.

Since the first Geneva Convention of 1864, nations have attempted to codify a system of international law, concerning acceptable limits on the conduct of war.  These laws address a range of considerations including declarations of war, acceptance of surrender and proper treatment of prisoners.

Such discussions are nothing new, the earliest examples dating to the ancient Sanskrit epic Mahābhārata, and to the old testament (Torah) Book of Deuteronomy. The first Caliph, Abu Bakr, laid down ten rules of warfare for his Muslim army, in the 7th century.

In the New World British colony in North America, one of twenty-seven grievances enumerated in the Declaration of Independence was that King George IIIhas endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions“.

unknown-8-1489678956-1972The American Revolution was on its last legs in December 1776. The year had started out well for the Patriot cause but turned into a string of disasters, beginning in August. Food, ammunition and equipment were in short supply by December.  Men were deserting as the string of defeats brought morale to a new low.   Most of those who remained, ended enlistments at the end of the year.

General George Washington and a force of 5,000 performed the famous crossing of the Delaware River in the howling blizzard of Christmas day, 1776. The assault on the Hessian garrison at Trenton, was do or die. The cause of Independence needed decisive victory, or it was over. The pass word on that frigid night was “Victory”.  There was only one acceptable response: “Or Death”.

The tactical surprise was complete in the early morning hours of December 26.  Hessian losses were 22 killed, 92 wounded and 918 captured.  Only 400 escaped. The Americans suffered two who had frozen to death in the march on Trenton, and five wounded. It was the colonist’s first major victory of the Revolution.

What to do with all those prisoners was a new problem for Washington, who ordered his troops to treat them with humanity.  “Let them have no reason to complain of our copying the brutal example of the British army in their treatment of our unfortunate brethren who have fallen into their hands.”

Washington’s position on the treatment of prisoners was clear and consistent. On September 14 of the previous year, the General wrote to Colonel Benedict Arnold then in camp in Cambridge Massachusetts: “Should any American soldier be so base and infamous as to injure any [prisoner]…I do most earnestly enjoin you to bring him to such severe and exemplary punishment as the enormity of the crime may require.”

No such consideration was given American prisoners of his Majesty’s government.  King George III personally declared American revolutionaries to be traitors in 1775, denying them prisoner of war status.  Land based detention facilities in British-occupied cities such as New York, Philadelphia and Charleston quickly filled up when the hulks of spent vessels were brought into service as prison ships, little more than waterlogged coffins.

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Prison Ship HMS Jersey

Conditions on board these prison ships, were gruesome.  The stifling hold of  HMS Jersey alone held no fewer than 1,000 men in Wallabout Bay, modern-day site of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Authorities were loath to execute detainees for “treason” for fear of inciting sympathy.  Prisoners were left instead to wallow in their own filth, starved and tormented by most every disease and parasite, known to modern medicine.   The Connecticut Gazette recounted the experience of one Robert Sheffield in July 1778, one of precious few to escape:

The heat was so intense that [the 300-plus prisoners] were all naked, which also served the well to get rid of vermin, but the sick were eaten up alive. Their sickly countenances, and ghastly looks were truly horrible; some swearing and blaspheming; others crying, praying, and wringing their hands; and stalking about like ghosts; others delirious, raving and storming, all panting for breath; some dead, and corrupting. The air was so foul that at times a lamp could not be kept burning, by reason of which the bodies were not missed until they had been dead ten days. One person alone was admitted on deck at a time, after sunset, which occasioned much filth to run into the hold, and mingle with the bilge water …

Bodies of the dead were tossed overboard, ten or fifteen every day from Jersey, alone.  Thousands of dead fouled the brackish waters of Wallabout Bay, from which water was drawn to boil “soup” for survivors, more like a toxic sludge, sometimes augmented with moldy bread or rancid meat.

Even after Cornwallis’ surrender in 1781, prisoners languished in the holds of Jersey and other Hell ships until the Treaty of Paris formally ended the war, in 1783.

A host of place names enter the popular imagination, when we think of the American Revolution.  Bunker Hill.  Trenton.  SaratogaYorktown.  British and American forces and their allies fought no fewer than seventy-one major engagements from the April 19, 1775 battles of Lexington and Concord, to the 1783 Battle of Arkansas Post.  The prison ships of the British killed more Americans than every one of them, combined.

Thousands of remains washed up on the shores of Brooklyn.  Bones were still being found in 1801, during construction of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

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Prison Ship Martyrs Memorial Fort Greene Park Brooklyn

Locals collected as many as they could for burial in a local tomb.  The bones were eventually moved to a crypt in Fort Greene Park, a half-mile south of Wallabout Bay.  Today, a 149-foot martyrs memorial topped with an eight-ton bronze brazier marks the location of their Fort Greene crypt.

In eight years, an estimated eleven to twelve thousand men perished of the filth, abuse, neglect and disease of these Hell Ships.  Untold thousands more passed through their stinking holds, and lived to tell the tale.

That such men ever lived, may be counted among the blessings of Liberty.

Brooklyn Parks Commissioner Martin “Marty” Maher is quoted in Smithsonian.com“These were ordinary citizens, fighting for a country that had barely been born. Every man was offered freedom if he would swear to stop fighting. But there’s no record that anyone took up the offer. No prisoner renounced the revolution to gain his freedom. Not one.”

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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.

December 16, 1773 The Boston Tea Party

The Tea Act of 1773 actually reduced the price of tea, but Colonists saw the measure as an effort to buy popular support for taxes already in force, and refused the cargo.  In Philadelphia and New York, tea ships were turned away and sent back to Britain while in Charleston, the cargo was left to rot on the docks. 7,000 gathered at Old South Meeting house in Boston, to decide what they would do.

In the time of Henry VIII, British military outlays averaged 29.4% as a percentage of central government expenses.   That number skyrocketed to 74.6% in the 18th century, and never dropped below 55%.

The Seven Years’ War alone, fought on a global scale from 1756 – ‘63, saw England borrow the unprecedented sum of £58 million, doubling the national debt and straining the British economy.

the-american-revolution-10-638For the American colonies, the conflict took the form of the French and Indian War.   Across the “pond”, the never-ending succession of English wars meant that, not only were colonists left alone to run their own affairs, but individual colonists learned an interdependence of one upon another, resulting in significant economic growth during every decade of the 1700s.

Some among the British government saw in the American colonies, the classically “Liberal” notion of the Free Market, as described by intellectuals such as John Locke:   “No People ever yet grew rich by Policies,” wrote Sir Dudley North. “But it is Peace, Industry, and Freedom that brings Trade and Wealth“.  These, were in the minority.  The prevailing attitude at the time, saw the colonies as the beneficiary of much of British government expense.  These wanted some help, picking up the tab.

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King George, III

Several measures were taken to collect revenues during the 1760s.  Colonists bristled at what was seen as heavy handed taxation policies.  The Sugar Act, the Currency Act:  in one 12-month period alone, Parliament passed the Stamp Act, Quartering Act, and the Declaratory Act, while deputizing Royal Navy Sea Officers to enforce customs laws in colonial ports.

The merchants and traders of Boston specifically cited “the late war” and the expenses related to it, concluding the Boston Non-Importation Agreement of August 1, 1768. The agreement prohibited the importation of a long list of goods, ending with the statement ”That we will not, from and after the 1st of January 1769, import into this province any tea, paper, glass, or painters colours, until the act imposing duties on those articles shall be repealed”.

The ‘Boston Massacre’ of 1770 was a direct result of the tensions between colonists and

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Burning of the Gaspee, Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island

the “Regulars” sent to enforce the will of the Crown.  Two years later, Sons of Liberty looted and burned the HMS Gaspee in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island.

The Tea Act, passed by Parliament on May 10, 1773, was less a revenue measure than it was an effort to prop up the British East India Company, by that time burdened with debt and holding some eighteen million pounds of unsold tea.  The measure actually reduced the price of tea, but Colonists saw it as an effort to buy popular support for taxes already in force, and refused the cargo.  In Philadelphia and New York, tea ships were turned away and sent back to Britain while in Charleston, the cargo was left to rot on the docks.

British law required a tea ship to offload and pay customs duty within 20 days, or the cargo was forfeit.  The Dartmouth arrived in Boston at the end of November with a cargo of tea, followed by the tea ships Eleanor and Beaver.  Samuel Adams called for a meeting at Faneuil Hall on the 29th, which then moved to Old South Meeting House to accommodate the crowd.  25 men were assigned to watch Dartmouth, making sure she didn’t unload.

sons-of-liberty7,000 gathered at Old South Meeting House on December 16th, 1773, the last day of deadline, for Dartmouth’s cargo.  Royal Governor Hutchinson held his ground, refusing the vessel permission to leave.  Adams announced that “This meeting can do nothing further to save the country.”

That night, anywhere between 30 and 130 Sons of Liberty, many dressed as Mohawk Indians, boarded the three ships in Boston Harbor.  There they threw 342 chests of tea, 90,000 pounds in all, into Boston Harbor.  £9,000 worth of tea was destroyed, worth about $1.5 million in today’s dollars.

In the following months, other protesters staged their own “Tea Parties”, destroying imported British tea in New York, Philadelphia, Charleston, and Greenwich, NJ.  There was even a second Boston Tea Party on March 7, 1774, when 60 Sons of Liberty, again dressed as Mohawks, boarded the “Fortune”.  This time they dumped a ton and one-half of the stuff, into the harbor.  That October in Annapolis Maryland, the Peggy Stewart was burned to the water line.

For decades to come, the December 16 incident in Boston Harbor was blithely referred to as “the destruction of the tea.” The earliest newspaper reference to “tea party” wouldn’t come down to us, until 1826.

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John Crane of Braintree is one of the few original tea partiers ever identified, and the only man injured in the event. An original member of the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati and early member of the Sons of Liberty, Crane was struck on the head by a tea crate and thought to be dead.  His body was carried away and hidden under a pile of shavings at a Boston cabinet maker’s shop.  It must have been a sight when John Crane “rose from the dead”, the following morning.

Great Britain responded with the “Intolerable Acts” of 1774, including the occupation of intolerable-actsBoston by British troops.    Minutemen clashed with “Lobster backs” a few months later, on April 19, 1775.  When it was over, eight Lexington men lay dead or dying, another ten wounded. One British soldier was wounded.  No one alive today knows who fired the first shot at Lexington Green.  History would remember the events of that day as “The shot heard ’round the world”.

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.

October 21, 1774 First Flag

“…Steadfast, in Freedom’s Cause, we’ll live and die,
Unawed by Statesmen; Foes to Tyranny,
But if oppression brings us to our Graves,
and marks us dead, she ne’er shall mark us Slaves”

The Mayflower set sail from England on September 6, 1620, and fetched up on the outer reaches of Cape Cod in mid-November, near the present-day site of Provincetown Harbor.

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Mayflower, historic reproduction

One was born over those 66 days at sea, another died.  They were 101 in all, including forty members of the English Separatist Church, a radical Puritan faction who felt the Church of England hadn’t gone far enough, in the Protestant Reformation.

There the group drew up the first written framework of government established in the United States, 41 of them signing the Mayflower Compact on board the ship on November 11, 1620.

With sandy soil and no place to shelter from North Atlantic storms, a month in that place was enough to convince them of its unsuitability. Search parties were sent out and, on December 21, the “Pilgrims“crossed Cape Cod Bay and arrived at what we now know, as Plymouth Harbor.

Fully half of them died that first winter but the rest hung on, with assistance from the Grand Sachem Massasoit (inter-tribal chief) of the Wampanoag confederacy, in the form of the emissaries, Samoset and Squanto. The Mayflower returned to England in April 1621, with half its original crew.

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British Red Ensign

Three more ships arrived in Plymouth over the next two years, including the Fortune (1621), the Anne and the Little James (1623). Those who arrived on these first four ships were known as the “Old Comers” of Plymouth colony, and were given special treatment in the affairs of “America’s Home Town”.

A short seventeen years later, members of the Plymouth Colony founded the town of Taunton twenty-four miles inland, and formally incorporated the place on September 3, 1639.

In 1656, the first successful iron works in Plymouth Colony and only the third in “New England” was established in Taunton, on the Two Mile River. The Taunton Iron Works operated for over 200 years, until 1876.

The town was once home to several silver smithing operations, including Reed & Barton, F.B. Rogers, and Poole Silver. To this day, Taunton is known as the “Silver City”.

Taunton also has the distinction of flying what may have been the first distinctly American flag, in history.

united_states_taunton_flag_liberty_and_union_1774_coffee_mug-rf4e479fc61a14108aaef1be92fcbb695_x7jgr_8byvr_512First raised above the town square on October 19, 1774, the flag’s canton featured the Union Jack, on the blood red field of the British Red Ensign. The Declaration of Independence lay two years in the future for these people.  They were, after all, still British subjects.

Between hoist and fly ends were written the words “Liberty and Union”, a solemn declaration that the colonies were going to stick together, and that their rights as British citizens, were not about to be violated.

Not so long as they had something to say about it.

On October 21, 1774, the Taunton Sons of Liberty raised the flag 112-feet high on a Liberty Pole, and tacked the following inscription on that pole:

“Be it known to the present,
And to all future generations,
That the Sons of Liberty in TAUNTON
Fired with Zeal for the Preservation of
Their Rights as Men, and as American Englishmen,
And prompted by a just Resentment of
The Wrongs and Injuries offered to the
English Colonies in general, and to
This Province in particular,
Through the unjust Claims of
A British Parliament, and the
Machiavellian Policy of their fixed Resolution
To preserve sacred and inviolate
Their Birth-Rights and Charter-Rights,
And to resist, even unto Blood,
All attempts for their Subversion or Abridgement.
Born to be free, we spurn the Knaves who dare
For us the Chains of Slavery to prepare.
Steadfast, in Freedom’s Cause, we’ll live and die,
Unawed by Statesmen; Foes to Tyranny,
But if oppression brings us to our Graves,
and marks us dead, she ne’er shall mark us Slaves”.

The Taunton flag is considered to be among the oldest distinctly American flags if not the oldest, in history. The city officially adopted it on October 19, 1974, the 200th anniversary of the day it was first raised above Taunton green. Stop and see it if you ever get by.   It’s there on the Liberty Pole, directly beneath the Stars and Stripes of the Star Spangled Banner.

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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.

October 12, 1994 Fort Mosé

Twenty years before the “Lost” English colonists first landed at Roanoke, Pedro Menendez de Aviles founded St. Augustine, in the Spanish colony of Florida. Aviles’ colonial expedition included many black Africans, both free men and slaves, who remained a part of St. Augustine society, from that time forward. The first recorded birth in the New World of an American child of African descent took place in 1606, according to St. Augustine Catholic parish records.  A year before the English settlement, at Jamestown.

From the earliest period of the “new world”, every economy from Canada to Argentina was, to varying degrees, involved with slavery. Spanish and Portuguese settlers brought the first African slaves to the Americas in 1501, establishing the new world’s first international slave port in Santo Domingo, modern capital city of the Dominican Republic.

Hundreds of thousands of African slaves entered the Americas through the sister ports of Veracruz, Mexico, and Portobelo, Panama, “products” of the “Asiento” system, wherein the contractor (asientista) was awarded a monopoly in the slave trade to Spanish colonies, in exchange for royalties paid to the crown.

The first such contractor was a Genoese company which agreed to supply 1,000 slaves over an 8-year period, beginning in 1517. A German company entered into such a contract eight years later, with a pledge of 4,000.

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By 1590, as many as 1.1 million Africans had come through the port of Cartagena, Colombia, sorted and surnamed under the “casta de nación” classification system.

In the American colonies, 17th century attitudes toward race appear to have been more fluid than they would later become. The first black Africans, 19 of them, came to the Virginia Colony in 1619 not as slaves, but as indentured servants. Their passage, involuntary as it was, was paid for by a term of indenture, a sort of ‘temporary slavery’, usually lasting seven years.

John Punch ran away from his term of indenture along with two Europeans, in 1640. The trio was captured in Maryland and sentenced to extended terms of indenture. Alone among the three, Punch was punished with indenture for life, effectively making him the first African ‘slave’ in the American colonies.

Meanwhile, black Africans both enslaved and free, had arrived in the north American colonies, for nearly a hundred years.

ex black conquistadorsJuan Garrido moved from the west coast of Africa to Lisbon, Portugal, possibly as a slave, or perhaps the son of an African King, sent for a Christian education.  Be that as it may, Garrido came to the new world a free man in 1513, with Juan Ponce de León.  A black Conquistador who spent thirty years with the conquest, “pacifying” (fighting) indigenous peoples and searching for gold, and the mythical fountain of youth.

He was not alone. Other black Africans entered Spanish society as free men, and joining the conquest as soldiers. Some did so in exchange for freedom, some for land, official jobs, or public pensions.  Ponce was fatally injured by a native arrow in 1521.  Garrido went on to marry and settle in Mexico city, where he is credited with the first commercial cultivation of wheat, in the new world.

Twenty years before the “Lost” English colonists first landed at Roanoke, Pedro Menendez de Aviles founded St. Augustine, in the Spanish colony of Florida. Aviles’ colonial expedition included many black Africans, both free men and slaves, who remained a part of St. Augustine society, from that time forward. The first recorded birth in the New World of an American child of African descent took place in 1606, according to St. Augustine Catholic parish records.  A year before the English settlement, at Jamestown.

fort_mose_soldierThe Spanish government in Florida began to offer asylum to slaves from British colonies as early as 1687, when eight men, two women and a three year old nursing child arrived there, seeking refuge.  It probably wasn’t as altruistic as it sounds, given the history.  The primary interest seems to have been disrupting the English agricultural economy, to the north.

The Florida governor required only that such runaways convert to Catholicism, and then he put the men to work for wages.

In 1693, King Charles of Spain officially proclaimed that runaways would find freedom in Florida, provided that they would convert to Catholicism and perform four years of service to the Crown. Spain had effectively created a maroon colony (from the Spanish word cimarrón, meaning “fugitive, runaway”, literally “living on mountaintops”), forming a front-line defense against English attack, from the north.

Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mosé (pronounced “Moh-say”), was a military fortification two miles north of St. Augustine, established by Colonial Governor Manuel de Montiano, in 1738. Spanish militia would place incoming freedom seekers into military service at the fort, under the leadership of an African Creole man known as Francisco Menendez.

Fort Mosé was the first legally sanctioned free black settlement, in what would become the United States.

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Long before the famous “underground railroad”, the first such track pointed not north, but south, to St. Augustine.  Word of the settlement reached into Georgia and South Carolina to the north, attracting escaping slaves. It was probably the “final straw” that set off the unsuccessful 1739 slave insurrection known as the Stono Rebellion, in which several dozen runaway slaves attempted to reach Spanish Florida.

In the early phase of the War of Jenkins Ear, Fort Mosé was abandoned and occupied by General James Oglethorpe, colonial governor of Georgia, along with a force of British colonial rangers, Scottish Highlanders, enslaved black auxiliaries and native Creek and Uchise allies.

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The British garrison was caught by surprise in the pre-dawn hours of June 16, 1740 and all but annihilated, by a force of Spanish soldiers, free black militia and native Yamasee allies.  The coquina fortification was destroyed in the process, and would not be rebuilt until 1752.

In June of this year, Florida Living History, Inc. and the Fort Mosé Historical Society presented the latest in a series of re-enactments, celebrating the 277th anniversary of the “Bloody Battle of Fort Mosé “.  The site has seen several archaeological excavations in recent years, and is considered the “premier site on the Florida Black Heritage Trail.”  Fort Mosé was officially designated an Historic State Park on October 12, 1994.

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“1st Saturday militia”, H/T Fort Mosé Historical Society
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October 9, 1776 Buying Time

One day, Benedict Arnold would enter history as a traitor to his country.  For now, he and the hundreds of patriots who had literally built a fleet in wilds of upstate New York, had bought their country another year in which to continue the fight.

The American Revolution began a year earlier in 1775, when the 2nd Continental Congress looked north to the Province of Quebec.  Congress viewed the region as a potential jump-off point for British forces to attack and divide the colonies, though it was lightly defended at the time.

The Continental army’s expedition to Quebec ended in disaster on December 31, as General Benedict Arnold was severely injured with a bullet wound to the leg, Major General Richard Montgomery was killed, and Colonel Daniel Morgan captured along with 400 fellow patriots. Quebec was massively reinforced in the Spring of 1776, with the arrival of 10,000 British and Hessian soldiers. By June, the remnants of the Continental army had been driven south to Fort Ticonderoga and Fort Crown Point.

The Congress was right about the British intent to split the colonies.  General Guy Carleton, provincial governor of Quebec, set about doing so almost immediately.

Retreating colonials had taken with them or destroyed every boat they could find, along the way.  The British set about disassembling warships from the St. Lawrence, moving them overland to Fort Saint-Jean, on the uppermost navigable waters leading to Lake Champlain, on the New York/Vermont line. They spent the summer and early fall literally building a fleet of warships along the upper reaches of the lake, while 120 miles to their south, colonials were doing the same.

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Valcour Bay as it looks, today

The Americans had a small fleet of shallow draft “bateaux” used for lake transport, but they needed something larger and heavier to sustain naval combat. A shipbuilding program of their own was needed, which Major General Horatio Gates set in motion in Skenesborough, New York, in what is now Whitehall. Hermanus Schuyler oversaw the effort, while military engineer Jeduthan Baldwin was in charge of outfitting. Gates eventually asked General Benedict Arnold, an experienced ship’s captain I civil life, to spearhead the effort. Arnold was ambivalent about the assignment, writing “I am intirely uninform’d as to Marine Affairs”.

200 carpenters and shipwrights were recruited to the wilderness of upstate New York. So inhospitable was their duty that they had to be paid more than anyone else in the Navy, with the sole exception of Commodore Esek Hopkins. Meanwhile, foraging parties scoured the countryside looking for guns, knowing that there was going to be a fight on Lake Champlain.

541px-Battle_of_Valcour_Island_1776.svgIt’s not well known that the American Revolution was fought in the midst of a smallpox pandemic. General George Washington was an early proponent of vaccination, an untold benefit to the American war effort, but a fever broke out among shipbuilders which nearly brought their work to a halt.

It was a hastily built and in some cases incomplete fleet that slipped into the water in the summer and autumn of 1776, 15 ships determined to stop the British fleet heading south.

As the two sides closed in the early days of October, General Arnold knew he was at a disadvantage.  The element of surprise was going to be critical.  Arnold chose a small strait to the west of Valcour Island, hidden from the main part of the lake. There he drew his small fleet into a crescent formation, and waited.

Carleton’s fleet, commanded by Captain Thomas Pringle and including fifty unarmed support vessels, entered the northern end of Lake Champlain on October 9.

Sailing south two days later under favorable winds, some British vessels had already passed the American position before realizing anyone was there. Some British warships were able to turn and give battle, but some of the largest ones were unable to turn into the wind.

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Philadelphia Sinking Assisted by the Row Galley Washington Painting by Ernie Haas

The Americans were able to do some damage, but larger ships and the more experienced seamanship of the English, made it an uneven fight. About a third of the British fleet was engaged that day, but the battle went badly for the Americans.

On the moonless and foggy night of the 11th, the battered remnants of the American fleet slipped through a gap in the lines, and limped down the lake on muffled oars. British commanders were surprised to find them gone the next morning, and gave chase. One vessel after another was overtaken and destroyed on the 12th, or else too damaged to go on, and abandoned. The last of the American vessels, the smallest ones, were finally run aground in a small bay on the Vermont side, now called Arnold’s Bay.

valcour2-370x236200 were able to escape to shore, the last of whom was Benedict Arnold himself, who personally torched his own flagship, the Congress, before leaving it behind, flag still flying.

The American fleet never had a chance and everyone knew it, yet the losing effort had inflicted enough damage at a point late enough in the year, that Carlton’s fleet had little choice but to return north for the winter.

One day, Benedict Arnold would enter history as a traitor to his country.  For now, he and the hundreds of patriots who had literally built a fleet in wilds of upstate New York, had bought their country another year in which to continue the fight.

Valcour Island (1)

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.