Image courtesy of Colonial National Historical Park, Yorktown.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Band of Giants: The Amateur Soldiers Who Won America's War for Independence, by Jack Kelly

Rachel Lodi has written to notify us of an upcoming book, BAND OF GIANTS: The Amateur Soldiers Who Won America's Independence by Jack Kelly, which comes out September 9th. Jack is a journalist, novelist, and historian who has written for places like American Heritage and American Legacy, and has appeared on The History Channel.

The book delves into the peculiar backgrounds of the generals, officers and soldiers who won America’s independence in the Revolutionary War. Far from the career officers and ROTC recruits in today’s military, most of these men were inexperienced fighters, often learning to fire a canon from a diagram in a book the day before a battle.   Kelly details their varied backgrounds as merchants, mechanics, fisherman, farmers, and even drunkards.  He takes the reader through the war as these soldiers experienced it, facing immense odds and setback after setback.   The narrative features characters like Nathanael Greene, Henry Knox, Richard Montgomery, Daniel Morgan and Anthony Wayne, detailing their often unexpected backgrounds as civilians.  Jack Kelly is local to the Hudson River Valley, where many of the pivotal Revolutionary War battles took place, and his book provides fascinating new insight into the conditions of the war, and the men who actually fought in it.

"USA 250th Starts Now!"

One of our members, John Millar, forwarded the following essay about the 250th anniversary of the first event of the struggle for independence that happens this week on the 9th. Thank you, John!


USA 250th Starts Now!
by John Fitzhugh Millar

Modern America may be tired of anniversaries (at the moment, we are observing mostly with yawns the 200th of the War of 1812, the 150th of the Civil War, and the 100th of the First World War), but now it’s also time for the pesky Revolutionary War to begin its countdown. The first event of the Revolutionary War happened on 9 July 1764, twelve years before the Declaration of Independence, at Newport, Rhode Island, and the 250th anniversary of that is now.

Rhode Island was unique among the colonies in having a charter that guaranteed that all public officials from the governor on down were to be elected, not appointed from England. For decades, Rhode Island governors encouraged the importation of free Haitian molasses (something the other colonies were not allowed to do), turning that molasses into dark rum, and re-exporting the rum in huge quantities to all the other colonies, principally as a food-preservative.

For a long time, the British had winked at this, but George III ordered Rhode Island to put an instant stop to the only industry that made them any money. To enforce his order, the king sent a small warship to Newport, the 6-gun schooner Saint John, commanded by the arrogant 19-year-old Lieutenant  Thomas Hill. Hill arrested every ship entering Narragansett Bay, selling ships and cargoes at public auction.

Since most Royal Navy ships stationed in America were short of crews, he also forcibly “impressed” Rhode Islanders into the navy. Hardly anyone knew that impressing Americans had been made illegal by Parliament in 1707, back in the reign of Queen Anne.

Rhode Island’s elected Governor Stephen Hopkins (1707-1785) did know it. Therefore, partly to stop this illegal activity and partly to save Rhode Island’s economy, Hopkins had himself rowed out to the Saint John. He ordered Hill to leave the colony by sunset and not return. Hill countered by threatening to have his crew throw Hopkins in the harbor, so Hopkins had himself rowed to Goat Island in the middle of the harbor, and ordered the master gunner at Fort George there to sink the schooner. When the master gunner (a member of the Newport Artillery Company, founded in 1741, the oldest military organization in North America) determined that Hopkins was not joking, he opened fire with his massive 18-pounders, with cannon-balls the size of cantaloupes.

Two of the shots hit the Saint John and turned big chunks of the schooner into splinters, so Lieutenant Hill took his axe, cut the anchor cable, and sailed away from Newport, never to return. These shots were fired on 9 July 1764, the first shots of resistance fired against British authority in America. Of course, no one could have known then that these shots would lead to a lengthy war for independence.

Naturally, the British did not give up that easily, so they sent a series of other small ships to try to end Rhode Island’s rum trade, and the people of the colony rose up each time and destroyed the ships by burning them in 1765, 1769, and 1772.

What about Hopkins? Within weeks of the Saint John incident, he founded what he called “The College at Rhode Island,” later renamed Brown University. In 1765, he founded the Stamp Act Congress, which managed to get the odious Stamp Act repealed. In 1769, predicting the coming of the Revolution, he established the Hope Furnace Cannon Foundry at Scituate RI, which cast the first cannons ever in British America, including most of the cannons used by the Continental Navy. In 1773, he founded the Continental Committees of Correspondence, a major step on the road to independence. When the Committees proved too cumbersome, in 1774 he founded the Continental Congress; that same year, he authored the bill on 10 June that outlawed slavery in Rhode Island seven years later, the first in the New World. In 1775, he founded the US Post Office (26 July), the Continental Navy (13 October), and the Continental Marine Corps (10 November). In 1776, he notified Congress that Rhode Island had already declared independence on 4 May, the first colony to do so, and suggested that Congress do the same. He signed the Declaration with a wiggly hand that shows that he suffered from a serious case of Parkinson’s Disease, and then retired from Congress.

Why have most people never heard of Hopkins? All his papers were carefully collected after his death so that scholars could consult them, but in 1815 the biggest hurricane on record, with peak winds of over 200 miles per hour, swept up the East Coast, placing the streets of Providence under more than 20 feet of water. The papers were never seen again, and no book-length biography of Hopkins has been written since 1880.

In the 1970s, the author raised the money to build full-sized operational copies of two Revolutionary War ships, the 24-gun frigate Rose, and the 12-gun Continental sloop Providence for the Bicentennial. He was then unable to raise the additional money needed to build the Saint John.

1776 Printing of Virginia Declaration of Rights Acquired for American Revolution Museum at Yorktown

YORKTOWN, Va., July 1, 2014 – A rare newspaper printing of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, a precursor of the United States Declaration of Independence, has been acquired for the future American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, replacing the Yorktown Victory Center by late 2016.  The June 12, 1776, issue of The Pennsylvania Gazette containing the Virginia Declaration will be exhibited in the new museum galleries near a July 1776 broadside of the U.S. Declaration of Independence that currently is on exhibit at the Yorktown Victory Center.  

It was the June 12, 1776, Pennsylvania Gazette version of the Virginia Declaration that was available to Thomas Jefferson and the other delegates selected by Congress to draft the U.S. Declaration of Independence, a task they began in Philadelphia on June 11, 1776.  Expressing principles that citizens have the right to “enjoyment of life and liberty … and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety,” and that “all power is vested in, and consequently derived from, the people,” the Virginia Declaration of Rights directly influenced the composition of the Declaration of Independence adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, and many later statements of basic human rights.

The Virginia Declaration of Rights was an outcome of a resolution passed by the Virginia Convention on May 15, 1776, appointing a committee to prepare a declaration of rights and plan of government and instructing Virginia’s delegation to the Continental Congress “to propose to that respectable body to declare the United Colonies free and independent states.”  A draft of the Virginia Declaration, whose principal author was George Mason, first appeared in The Virginia Gazette on June 1, 1776.  It subsequently appeared in newspapers outside Virginia, including The Pennsylvania Gazette on June 12, coincidentally the same date as a modified version of the declaration was adopted by the Virginia Convention.  

The Pennsylvania Gazette, founded in 1728, was one of America’s most prominent newspapers during the 18th century and for a time was published by Benjamin Franklin. The June 12, 1776, issue containing the text of the Virginia Declaration of Rights was acquired with private gifts to the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, Inc., which directs fundraising efforts for private gifts, manages an endowment, assists with the acquisition of artifacts, and supports special projects and programs of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, a Virginia state agency that operates Jamestown Settlement and Yorktown Victory Center history museums.


The American Revolution Museum at Yorktown will present a comprehensive overview of the people and events of the Revolution, from the mid-1700s to the early national period, through gallery exhibits, films and outdoor living history.  The Yorktown Victory Center continues in daily operation as a museum of the American Revolution throughout construction, which is occurring in phases and will include a move from the existing museum building to the new facility in early 2015.

Portrait of Ayuba Suleiman Diallo Obtained

Debby Padgett of the Jamestown – Yorktown Foundation forwarded details about their acquisition of a previously unknown oil portrait of Ayuba Suleiman Diallo, a freeborn, educated African who was kidnapped in Africa and sold as a slave in Maryland during the colonial era. Before taking its place as a centerpiece of the future American Revolution Museum at Yorktown (opening late 2016), the rare portrait (c. 1733) goes on view at the Yorktown Victory Center this summer from June 14 through August 3.  The image is at http://www.historyisfun.org/diallo-portrait.htm.

2014 Preservation Partner

The American Revolution Round Table of Richmond's Preservation Partner for 2014 is the Library of Virginia; more specifically, their History Program document conservation program.

The membership overwhelmingly voted to conserve one of the Library's documents. Additionally, a number of members stepped forward and volunteered the funds to conserve yet a second document.

The Library staff is very appreciative and offers their thanks. They will also be arranging for us to visit the library and view the letters at some point in the process, allowing us to see the tangible results of our preservation efforts. Below are the descriptions of the two documents--eleven pages in total.

This decision speaks highly of ARRT-Richmond and all of its members. Thank you!  

Thomas Ludwell Lee letter, 18 May 1776.  Lee, representing Stafford County, Virginia, in the Fifth Virginia Convention, writes to his brother Richard Henry Lee (1732-1794), Virginia delegate to the Continental Congress, concerning the passage of resolves by Virginia calling for independence. Thomas Lee informs his brother on the scene at the capitol during the vote. He also comments on the potential form of government for the new nation. A copy of the resolves (not found) had been included with the letter.  (Accession 22868)

John Cropper, Jr., rank roll of officers of the Virginia Line.  Rank roll, 1776-1778, of officers of the Virginia Line written by Lieutenant Colonel John Cropper, Jr., (1755-1821) consisting of rank rolls of captains and field officers in the Virginia line 1776-1778 during the American Revolution. The ranking was based on length of service, and the date of appointment/promotion is included, and also includes regiment.  (Accession 29202) 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

"Sons of Liberty" Miniseries

Glenn Williams alerted us to the following:

History has given a formal green light to six-part miniseries Sons Of Liberty, from A+E Studios and Stephen David Entertainment (The World Wars). The project, which has been fully cast, starts production this summer. Sons Of Liberty follows a defiant and radical group of young men – Sam Adams (Ben Barnes), John Adams (Henry Thomas), Paul Revere (Michael Raymond James), John Hancock (Rafe Spall) and Joseph Warren (Ryan Eggold)– as they band together in secrecy to change the course of history and make America a nation. Additionally, Marton Csokas is cast as the ferocious Gen. Thomas Gage, Emily Berrington as Margaret Gage and Dean Norris as the brilliant yet mischievous diplomat Benjamin Franklin. “From the Boston Tea Party to the Declaration of Independence, Sons Of Liberty will tell the rebellious story of America’s greatest fight for freedom,” said History General Manager Dirk Hoogstra. Kari Skogland (Boardwalk Empire) is directing the mini, written by Stephen David and David C. White. The title theme is by Oscar winner Hans Zimmer.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

20,000 Pension Records and Counting!

Charles Baxley recently announced that SCAR Fellows Will Graves, Leon Harris and John Robertson will soon cross another amazing benchmark of 20,000 pension records posted on-line for all of the world to access, free and fully searchable, thanks to behind-the-scenes guru, John Robertson. Please visit their American soldier database at http://revwarapps.org and peruse their amazing work.

Their work has forever changed the standard of practice of historians writing about the Southern Campaigns. Thank you, gentlemen!