Image courtesy of Colonial National Historical Park, Yorktown.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

New Round Table

There's a new round table in town: The American Revolution Round Table of South Jersey! Click on the link below to go to their new website.

American Revolution Round Table of South Jersey

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Next Meeting: September 19, 2018

"American Independence Beyond the Battlefield: Figures, Facts, and Realities of the American Revolution as Seen Through the Eyes of an Historical Novelist," Karen Chase

Meetings are held in the Westhampton Room, Heilman Dining Center (dining hall--building 34 on the campus map), University of Richmond, at 6:30 p.m. with dinner available for purchase beginning at 5:30 p.m.

Please note that we're returning to our regularly scheduled times: The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. with dinner available for purchase in the Dining Center beginning at 5:30 p.m. Please plan on joining us!

University of Richmond campus map:

Meeting Notes: July 18, 2018

"Brothers in Arms: American Independence and the Men of France and Spain Who Saved It," Larrie Ferrero

While most American history textbooks mention America’s official alliance with France which began shortly after the Saratoga Campaign, America actually depended on France and to a lesser extent Spain for military assistance throughout the entire eight-year war for its independence. 

“When the war started in 1775, America had only a few thousand gunsmiths, no cannon forges, very little gunpowder and no navy, said historian and author Larrie D. Ferreiro at the July 18, 2018 meeting of the American Revolution Round Table of Richmond. “The American Colonies were dependent on foreign powers from the beginning in their fight for independence from Great Britain.”

Ferreiro is the author of the recently published book entitled Brothers at Arms: American Independence and the Men of France and Spain Who Saved It. The book is a Pulitzer Prize finalist.  

“How did we know that France and Spain would fight with us? After the Seven Years’ War (also known as the French and Indian War) ended in 1763 with the loss of French and Spanish territory to the British, they wanted a rematch with Great Britain. The American Colonies really pushed this idea,” said Ferreiro. 

It didn’t take long after the ink was dry on the 1763 Treaty of Paris for France and Spain to begin plotting their revenge. Both countries began major shipbuilding projects to expand their navies and to look for opportunities to take advantage of any perceived weaknesses in the British Empire. French and Spanish merchants and smugglers served as “front men” to challenge Great Britain with the behind-the-scenes blessings of the French and Spanish governments.

“France and Spain wanted to use America to weaken Britain,” said Ferreiro. “They sent spies to America to take America’s temperature regarding movements toward independence. They didn’t want to challenge Britain too early and then have the American Colonies reconcile with Britain.”

The Declaration of Independence showed to the world America’s intentions to form a sovereign nation. 

“The Declaration wasn’t written for King George III in order to express America’s grievances. He had already gotten the memo. The Declaration of Independence was written for one goal---an engraved invitation to the Kings of France and Spain to fight with us,” said Ferreiro. “We needed their alliance but they wouldn’t get involved in a civil war---only in a war with America as a sovereign nation.”

The chief architect of France’s foreign policy was Charles Gravier, Comte de Vergennes---France’s minister for foreign affairs. He was an experienced diplomat who wanted France to weaken Great Britain in order to restore the balance of power in Europe. 

“Vergennes was the most important character in this whole affair,” said Ferreiro. “He couldn’t allow a reunited America with Great Britain, which would then threaten France’s sugar colonies in the Caribbean.”

During the early months of the war, both French and Spanish merchants supplied the American government with arms and other supplies. One of the leading French merchants was Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais. In addition to his successful career as a merchant, Beaumarchais wrote and produced plays which included The Barber of Seville and the famous character named Figaro. 

Beaumarchais’ ships arrived in New England during the Spring of 1777 with abundant rifles, artillery, ammunition and other military supplies which the American troops put to good use during the Saratoga Campaign later that year. As a result of America’s stunning victory at Saratoga and the surrender of British General John Burgoyne’s army, Vergennes used the occasion to commit France to an official alliance with America in February 1778. 

The Treaty of Alliance paid nearly instant dividends for the Americans in that it brought the French navy into the war. The British feared the possibility of a French fleet bottling up the Delaware River and Delaware Bay, which would cut off supplies to the British army occupying Philadelphia. As a result of this fear, the British marched their army out of Philadelphia and back to New York City in June 1778.

When France formed its official alliance with America, Spain opted to stay officially neutral. The chief reason was Spain’s insistence on waiting for the arrival of two large Spanish convoys from Central and South America. One of them carried a huge amount of silver which was worth approximately $50 billion in today’s dollars. The other convoy carried a large number of Spanish troops who were returning home. 

Spain’s chief minister and minister of foreign affairs was Jose Monino y Redondo, Conde de Floridablanca. His goals for Spain against Great Britain were to win back Gibraltar and Florida, which Spain had lost to Britain during the French & Indian War. Spain officially joined an alliance with France and declared war on Great Britain in April 1779. 

“Floridablanca wanted to eliminate Great Britain’s presence in the Gulf of Mexico and basically turn it into a Spanish lake,” said Ferreiro. 

In August 1779 France and Spain assembled an armada with approximately 150 ships in order to attack Great Britain itself via the English Channel. However the proposed invasion was aborted due to a severe outbreak of dysentery which left most of the French and Spanish ships undermanned. The armada also had serious problems with supplying their ships with food and drinking water. 

The Spanish had better luck in fighting the British in North America. Bernardo de Galvez, the Spanish governor of Louisiana, eagerly fought the British and captured Mobile, Natchez and Pensacola in what was called West Florida. This campaign basically isolated the British in the Gulf of Mexico to the island of Jamaica.

While Galvez made plans with French Admiral Francois Joseph Paul, Comte de Grasse to attack Jamaica, de Grasse received an urgent request in mid-July 1781 from the commander of French troops in North America. General Jean-Baptiste-Donatien de Vimeur, Comte de Rochambeau urged de Grasse to sail his fleet immediately from the Gulf of Mexico to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. The Spanish and French postponed their attack on Jamaica, which allowed de Grasse to sail his entire fleet to the Virginia waters while four Spanish ships guarded Cap Francois, a French port located in Haiti. 

Rochambeau had requested the assistance of de Grasse’s fleet as part of a plan to trap the British army under the command of General Charles Cornwallis in the Virginia port of Yorktown. Although George Washington preferred a joint attack by the American and French armies against Sir Henry Clinton’s British army occupying New York City, Rochambeau gently persuaded Washington to support a joint American/French attack against the British troops in Yorktown. However the American and French armies needed the assistance of the French navy in order to block the British navy from assisting Cornwallis.

On the evening of August 29, 1781 de Grasse’s fleet reached the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, and the next morning it sailed past Cape Henry and anchored in Lynnhaven Bay. A few days later a British fleet under the command of Admiral Thomas Graves sailed to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay as well, and attacked the French fleet on September 5. In what is now called the Battle of the Chesapeake or the Battle of the Capes, the French fleet held its defensive position and prevented the British fleet from entering the Chesapeake Bay and reinforcing Cornwallis’ army, trapped in nearby Yorktown. 

“Thanks to the Spanish navy guarding French possessions in the Caribbean, de Grasse was able to sail his entire French fleet to Virginia. This contribution by the Spanish is ignored in virtually all American history books, said Ferreiro. “The British navy was second to none but the combined navies of the French and Spanish could overwhelm British ships in terms of numbers.”

For the next six weeks the French and American armies tightened the noose around Cornwallis’ besieged army. Using classic siege tactics which French armies practiced in earlier European wars, the French and American armies relentlessly bombarded the British and captured two strategic redoubts which led to the British surrender on October 19, 1781.

“When France chose Rochambeau to command their army in North America, they chose very well,” said Ferreiro. “ He was a great general.”

General Charles O’Hara, Cornwallis’ second-in-command, tried to surrender the British army to Rochambeau who declined O’Hara’s sword and pointed him to George Washington. The American army commander also declined the sword and pointed O’Hara to General Benjamin Lincoln, Washington’s second-in-command.

The surrender at Yorktown ended most of the fighting in North America. However the fighting continued for two more years in the Caribbean, at Gibraltar and even as far away as India. 

“Great Britain was fighting five nations by the time the war officially ended in 1783,” said Ferreiro. “They fought America, France, Spain, Holland and the Kingdom of Mysore in India. Britain was getting overwhelmed and knew if they kept fighting, they would lose.” 

The 1783 Treaty of Paris was signed by America, France and Spain on September 3, approximately two years after the French fleet stopped the British fleet at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.

“France and Spain were as invested in this war as America,” said Ferreiro. “The United States didn’t achieve its independence by itself.”

Larrie D. Ferreiro teaches history and engineering at George Mason University in Virginia and at the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey. He has served for over 35 years in the Navy, the Coast Guard and at the Department of Defense. He was once an exchange engineer in the French navy. 

In addition to Brothers at Arms, Ferreiro is the author of the following books:

1. Measure of the Earth: The Enlightenment Expedition That Reshaped Our World 

2. Ships and Science: The Birth of Naval Architecture in the Scientific Revolution, 1600-1800

Prior to the speaker’s presentation the American Revolution Round Table of Richmond discussed the following topic:

1. President Bill Welsch said that four non-profit organizations have been nominated by ARRT-Richmond members to serve as the 2018 Preservation Partner. President Welsch said he would soon send an email to all dues-paying members, requesting them to reply with their votes via email for this year’s preservation finalist. This year’s nominees are the Battersea Foundation, the Menokin Foundation, the St. John’s Church Foundation and the Revolutionary War Trust, specifically for the Yorktown Campaign.  

 --Bill Seward

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Meeting Notes: May 16, 2018

"Benedict Arnold: Guilty or Innocent?" by John Millar

While most Americans regard Benedict Arnold as a traitor, historian John Millar called him “a patriot” at the May 16, 2018 meeting of the American Revolution Round Table of Richmond.

“Arnold changed sides because he hated greedy real estate speculators and tobacco planters who wanted to rip off land from Native Americans for westward expansion,” said Millar. “Arnold thought Congress needed a kick in the pants. He was a patriot right to the end.”

According to Millar, the westward expansion was fueled by the need for tobacco planters to find fresh soil to grow their crops. When tobacco was grown on the same soil for a number of years, the soil became poisoned with a chemical which stripped the soil of its nutrients.

Millar also praised Arnold for his efforts after the American Revolution to restore trade between Great Britain and the new American nation. After Arnold moved to London he became friends with King George III, and convinced the king that it was in Britain’s best interests to trade with America rather than allow America to trade primarily with France. Not only did Great Britain resume trade with America but the British navy frequently protected American merchant ships against pirates. 

When King George III listened to Benedict Arnold, he was listening to a man with considerable trade experience. Prior to the American Revolution, Arnold was a merchant in New Haven, CT and “knew the whole East Coast and Canada”, according to Millar.

Arnold was also the founder of New Haven’s militia unit and served as its captain. When word reached New Haven on April 22, 1775 about the earlier fighting at Lexington and Concord, he immediately called out his troops with the intention of marching to Cambridge, MA where other American troops were stationed opposite the British army occupying Boston. 

However Arnold’s troops hadn’t marched more than 15 miles when they changed direction and headed toward Lake Champlain, NY. They arrived in time to participate in the American capture of the very strategic Fort Ticonderoga.  (Arnold sent a few sent to Fort Ti, but he actually went to Cambridge, got commissioned a colonel by Massachusetts and then went to Ti.) 

“Arnold had a mind like a steel trap,” said Millar. “He knew that Lake Champlain would be critical to the war effort, and he knew that Fort Ticonderoga had a heckuva lot of cannons that were needed by the American army outside Boston.”

After Henry Knox led an American force to move the cannons from the fort to the heights above Boston the British abandoned the city. 

Following the liberation of Boston, Arnold led one of the two American armies in a campaign to capture Quebec City, which according to Millar, had 25% of all the cannons in North America. Arnold led his army northward through modern-day Maine to Quebec while Richard Montgomery led another American army northward from Upstate New York to Montreal, and then eastward to Quebec. On New Year’s Eve 1775 the two armies unsuccessfully attacked the city’s very strong defenses. Arnold was wounded and Montgomery was killed.

After Arnold and Montgomery’s remaining troops gradually retreated out of Canada and back into New York, the British launched a Fall 1776 campaign against Upstate New York. Sir Guy Carleton’s troops got as far as Lake Champlain when they encountered a small American army under Arnold’s command which had built its own ships, and challenged the British navy on Lake Champlain near Valcour Island. Although the British prevailed, the tenacious fight from Arnold’s small fleet intimidated the British to the point of where Carleton called off his southward campaign before the arrival of winter. 

“George Washington owes the saving of his army at New York to Arnold’s fleet on Lake Champlain,” said Millar. 

In February, 1777, Arnold was passed over for promotion to major general, with five men junior to him being appointed.  He was promoted before Saratoga, but his seniority wasn’t restored until after Saratoga.  This was a big point on contention between Arnold and Congress.

In May 1777 General John Burgoyne replaced Carleton as the British northern army commander with the mission to capture Albany. His army marched southward from Canada while the British army under Colonel (Was a BG at this time) Barry St. Leger marched eastward from Lake Ontario. When St. Leger’s troops surrounded American troops at Fort Stanwix, Arnold led a small American army to relieve the siege.

“Arnold put out fake news that he had a much bigger army than he actually did,” said Millar. “When British informants told St. Leger the erroneous news, St. Leger’s army retreated.”

Following his rescue of Fort Stanwix, Arnold participated in the two pivotal battles of Saratoga, which historians often call “the turning point” of the American Revolution.

“Arnold was given only so much authority at Saratoga because the overall army commander, Horatio Gates, didn’t like him. Although Arnold didn’t get the credit he deserved for helping to win the campaign, he probably did more than anyone else to win it,” said Millar. 

Arnold was badly wounded at Saratoga and nearly lost a leg. As a result of his severe wound, George Washington gave him an administrative assignment which would allow him to continue his recovery. He selected Arnold to serve as the military commander of Philadelphia after the British abandoned the city in June 1778. 

While serving in this position, Arnold fell in love with Peggy Shipman and married her. She and her family had loyalist sympathies and friendships with British officers such as Major John Andre. When Arnold decided to change allegiances, it was Andre who served as a liaison between Arnold’s confidants and Sir Henry Clinton, the British army commander in New York City.

After Arnold became the American commander at West Point he began a systematic plan to weaken the fort’s defenses. On September 21, 1780 he met with Andre near West Point, and soon afterward Andre got caught by American troops while in possession of documents revealing Arnold’s plot to allow the British to capture this strategic fort. Once the plot was uncovered, Arnold barely alluded capture by American troops and made his way to a British ship which took him to New York City.

The British made Arnold a brigadier general in their army, and later gave him the assignment to raid Virginia during the Winter of 1780-81. According to Millar, Arnold chose Portsmouth as his base of operations because the surrounding water was too shallow for the larger French ships to attack his supply base.

From Portsmouth Arnold’s raiding party sailed up the James River to Westover Plantation, and then marched virtually unopposed into Richmond where they destroyed warehouses and a foundry, and captured military supplies. Then they returned to Portsmouth.

During the Spring of 1781 Arnold served as the second-in-command to General William Phillips when the British once again raided Central Virginia. This time their primary targets were Petersburg and Manchester. Phillips became ill in Petersburg and died on May 12, 1781, leaving Arnold temporarily in command. 

Approximately one week later General Charles Cornwallis marched his army from the Carolinas into Central Virginia, and took overall command of British forces in that area. Arnold returned to New York City in June 1781.  

On September 4, 1781 Arnold led a British raid on New London, CT. Most of the town burned to the ground but according to Millar, a fire spread rapidly because a ship containing gunpowder exploded. 

“Arnold got blamed for burning the town but he didn’t mean to,” said Millar. “A ship blew up.”

During the Winter of 1781-82 Benedict Arnold left American soil for the last time, as a passenger sailing from New York City to London. One of his fellow passengers was Cornwallis, who had been paroled after his Yorktown surrender. The two of them developed a close friendship while on their voyage, and in fact Cornwallis would later introduce Arnold to King George III. 

Benedict Arnold died in London on June 14, 1801 at the age of 60. He was buried in a London churchyard and wearing his Continental army uniform. 

John Millar and his wife Cathy own and manage Newport House Bed and Breakfast, located in Williamsburg near the Historic District. He is a former museum director and a member of both the American Revolution Round Table of Richmond and the Williamsburg-Yorktown American Revolution Round Table. 

Millar is also the author or co-author of several books which include the following:

1. Ships of the American Revolution

2. Early American Ships

3. Country Dances of Colonial America

Prior to the speaker’s presentation the American Revolution Round Table of Richmond briefly discussed several topics, such as the need for members to submit nominations to President Bill Welsch concerning the 2018 Preservation Partner.

-----Bill Seward

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Next Meeting: July 18, 2018

"Brothers in Arms: American Independence and the Men of France and Spain Who Saved It," Larrie Ferrero

Meetings are held in the Westhampton Room, Heilman Dining Center (dining hall--building 34 on the campus map), University of Richmond, at 6:00 p.m. with dinner available for purchase beginning at 5:00 p.m.

Due to the University of Richmond being out of regular session, we will revert to our summer schedule: The meeting will begin at 6:00 p.m. with dinner still available for purchase in the Dining Center beginning at 5:00 p.m. Please plan on joining us!

University of Richmond campus map:

Friday, April 13, 2018

Call for Nominations for Our 2018 Preservation Partner

Please submit your nomination(s) for our 2018 Preservation Partner to Bill Welsch at or bring them with you to our May 16, 2018 meeting (the deadline).

As a reminder, five dollars of each membership goes towards our preservation effort.

Next Meeting: May 16, 2018

"Benedict Arnold: Guilty or Innocent? by John Millar

For this meeting only, we will meet in the Tyler Haynes Commons (number 4 on the linked campus map; just down the hill from the dining hall where we usually meet). The dining hall will be closed so dinner will not be available and the meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. 

The meeting will be held in the Haynes Room on the first floor of the Tyler Haynes Commons.

University of Richmond campus map: