14 May 2012

The French Contribution to American Independence

             General Charles O’Hara was a veteran soldier by the time of the American Revolutionary War.  He had fought in the Seven Years’ War in Europe and also saw service in Africa before coming to the British colonies in North America in 1778.  As second in command to General Charles Cornwallis, he led the counterattack at Guilford Courthouse in March 1781, chasing General Nathanael Greene and his men from the field of battle.  Later, with Cornwallis claiming illness, O’Hara led the surrender of the British troops at Yorktown.[i]  The day following this surrender O’Hara wrote to the Duke of Grafton stating, “Our Ministers will I hope be now persuaded that America is irretrievably lost….The French talk of attacking Charles Town….America is theirs.”[ii]
This vignette is presented to demonstrate how vital the Franco-American alliance was and how significant the victory at Yorktown was to the final peace treaty with British acknowledgment of American independence.  Not only did a veteran general in the British Army think that the colonies were lost after Yorktown, but he believed the French, through their alliance with the Americans, would ultimately control the former British colonies.  Still, few Americans, and few Frenchmen, believed that victory at Yorktown meant victory in the overall war.  The soldiers captured there (about 7,000 men) represented only about one-fourth of the total British strength in North America.[iii]  Comparatively, over 6,000 had been captured at Saratoga four years earlier, and the war continued.  A simple shuffling of troops would have replenished those men easily within months.  So why, then, was the Franco-American coalition and the victory at Yorktown the final blow cast for American independence?
By the time the war had moved south, the British and the Americans were far from giving up fighting.  However, with the French entrance into the war, the British were on the ropes.  Even without full French assistance in the North American colonies, the alarm and anxiety caused by now having to protect the West Indies, India, Gibraltar and the other British possessions against the French caused a change in the British manner of thinking about the North American war.  The French declaration of war against the British led to eventual American victory.
The final two large battles before Yorktown, at Cowpens and Guilford Courthouse, were fought between the Americans under General Greene, and the British under Cornwallis, without French assistance.  The Americans were victorious at Cowpens in January, providing a morale boost, and they could at least claim that even though they had lost the field at Guilford Courthouse, they had added twenty-five percent of Cornwallis’s force to the casualty list.[iv]  Even though Cornwallis publicly claimed victory, he privately noted that the British “had not a regiment or corps that did not at some time give way.”  He also reportedly said in private, “The Americans fought like demons.”  After the battle, Greene proclaimed that he thought that is was “out of the enemies power to do us any great injury.”[v]  Despite the victories, without French assistance, the Americans struggled to put the final nail in the coffin of the British Army.  The war would continue.
The American and British back-and-forth that began in the northern colonies in 1775, continued in the southern colonies in 1781, however, the French entrance now had the British on the ropes.  Though the French fleet bungled their way around the American coastline, they made good on their attacks against the British elsewhere, especially in the Caribbean.  Still, General Washington wanted for French assistance and cooperation with his army, or, at minimum, communication from the French fleet as to their designs.[vi]  
Cornwallis realized the predicament facing him before leaving North Carolina.  He knew that leaving Virginia unconquered would provide no security to him in the Carolinas, but should he leave the Carolinas for Virginia, he had not enough men to keep the restless populace subdued.[vii]  However, as had happened within the British command throughout the war, communication was lacking.  Cornwallis moved toward Virginia to the disappointment of Sir Henry Clinton.  Clinton wrote that had Cornwallis informed him of that move, Clinton most certainly who have “endeavored to have stopped” Cornwallis.[viii]   But Cornwallis was frustrated by the hit-and-run guerrilla tactics of the Americans, and his inability to defeat the Americans.  He and his army chased the Americans through the Carolinas and into Virginia.  Cornwallis’s lust for victory and glory partially led to the final defeat of the British in the American colonies.
Cornwallis chose Yorktown because of its defensive nature and access to the sea.  Both of these features would assist in his downfall.  With French assistance at sea, the Americans could complete the blockade of the British army at Yorktown.  In this way, French support was completely necessary for American victory at Yorktown.  Without the French fleet off the Virginia coast, the British could have resupplied Cornwallis and his men indefinitely.  Clinton could also have decided to disembark Cornwallis’s troops, bringing them back to New York, or some other location, or he could have reinforced them with more men and ordered Cornwallis to break out and attack the Americans.  Happily, for the Americans, the French fleet was able to defeat the British fleet in the Chesapeake and blockade the Cornwallis in Yorktown from the sea before assistance could arrive.  Washington, in shrewd and cunning fashion, snuck off to Yorktown with a combined Franco-American force.  The classic siege which followed the Franco-American arrival outside of Yorktown, combined with the French naval blockade finally forced Cornwallis into submission. 
General O’Hara led the somber procession of the British to surrender their arms at Yorktown.  Whether to avoid or to insult Washington, O’Hara attempted to surrender Cornwallis’s sword to Rochambeau, but the Frenchman declined, directing O’Hara toward Washington.  Washington, as a sign of protocol, or maybe as his own form of insult, passed O’Hara on to General Benjamin Lincoln, one subordinate submitting to another.[ix]  Despite the show of fealty by Rochambeau, O’Hara believed the French were the true masters of the victory.
Washington hoped to build on the allied victory and free Charleston and Savannah from British control, but the French Admiral de Grasse informed Washington that his orders were to proceed to the West Indies immediately.[x]  Without French help, Washington was not confident that he could take those cities, or New York.  Though those were the only British strongholds remaining in the former colonies, the British had about 26,000 men spread across those areas, as well as along the Great Lakes region and Canada.[xi]  However, the British Parliament realized that the war was already too costly, and to continue to fight against the Americans, French, and increasingly the Spanish as well, would “jeopardize the very existence of the British Empire.”[xii]  The French, though not assisting Washington and the Americans to their liking, nevertheless contributed elsewhere.  The end of the war did not come swiftly – it was still two years before the final peace treaty was signed – but there was not another major battle fought between the British and the Americans after Yorktown.  The French handled the load.

Babits, Lawrence E. A Devil of a Whipping: The Battle of Cowpens. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.
Buchanan, John. The Road to Guilford Courthouse: The American Revolution in the Carolinas. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1997.
Davis, Burke. The Cowpens-Guilford Courthouse Campaign. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co., 1962.
Greene, Jerome A. The Guns of Independence: The Siege of Yorktown, 1781. New York: Savas Beatie, 2005.
Ketchum, Richard. Victory at Yorktown: The Campaign that Won the Revolution. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2004.
Savas, Theodore P. and J. David Dameron. A Guide to the Battles of the American Revolution. New York: Savas Beatie LLC, 2006.

[i] Savas, 290, 336.
[ii] Qtd. in Greene, xv.
[iii] Ibid., xvi.
[iv] Savas, 291.
[v] All qtd. in Buchanan, 382.
[vi] Ketchum, 29.
[vii] Davis, 180.
[viii] Ibid., 184.
[ix] Greene, 297.
[x] Ibid., 319.
[xi] Ibid., 323.
[xii] Ibid., 324.

13 May 2012

Biographical Sketches of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence representing New Jersey - Part 4


Engraved by Ole Erekson; Library of Congress photo

          Richard Stockton was born in Princeton, New Jersey on 1 October 1730.  He was educated first at Nottingham Academy in Rising Sun, Maryland, and then at the College of New Jersey in Newark.  He graduated from the latter in 1748 and was admitted to the bar in 1754.  Stockton's rise was fairly quick from this time forward.  In 1755 he married Annis Boudinot. [1]  The couple had six children.
          In 1756, the College of New Jersey was moved from Newark to Princeton, with much assistance from Stockton and his family.  A fellow trustee at the college, the Reverend Doctor John Rodgers called Stockton a gentleman, scholar and the head of his profession in New Jersey. [2]  In 1768 Stockton began a term on New Jersey's Provincial Council, a position that he held until June 1776.  In 1773, he wrote to Lord Dartmouth [3] a piece called An Expedient for the Settlement of the American Dispute.[4]  In 1774 Stockton was named an associate justice to the state Supreme Court, a position which he also held until June 1776.
          In 1776, Stockton was sent to the General Congress in Philadelphia as a delegate from New Jersey.  Though initially doubtful of an immediate declaration of independence, he quickly changed his mind and voted in favor of independence after considering the arguments of other Congressmen.
[5]  Stockton was the first man to sign for the state of New Jersey when the time arrived to declare independence.
          In September 1776, Stockton received an equal number of votes as William Livingston for governor of New Jersey, but after further discussion Livingston was awarded the position.  Stockton was soon on the run, anyhow.  When the British moved into Princeton in 1776, Stockton's home, Morven, was ransacked by the redcoats.  His books and most of his furnishings were destroyed.  Luckily, Stockton had removed his wife and children from the area earlier, fearing the worst.  Though our signer initially escaped to the home of a friend, John Covenhoven, about thirty miles east of Princeton, the British caught up with him on 30 November 1776. [6]  He was imprisoned first in the common jail of Amboy by the British, but later moved to the more deplorable conditions at the old Provost prison in New York City.  Stockton was abused by his captors, suffering from cold and starvation at the least.
                                    Morven - the home of Richard Stockton in Princeton, NJ. Photo by the author
Once Stockton was exchanged, he came home a broken man.  Ill in health (besides his ill treatment by the British, he probably had cancer) and poor in wealth, Stockton died at home on 28 February 1781.  He was buried at the Stoney Brook Quaker Burial Ground in Princeton.  He is also honored
with a statue in National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. - only one of six signers to be so honored.  Stockton also had a college named in his honor; Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, located in Galloway Twp., was founded in 1969.

          The Stockton's first born child, Julia, married Benjamin Rush, another signer of the Declaration of Independence, and a well-known physician of the time period, especially in Philadelphia.  Two of Stockton's sons obtained political success.  His son Richard was a U.S. Senator from New Jersey, while another son, Robert Field Stockton, served as a Commodore in the War of 1812, was the first military governor of California in 1846 and was also a New Jersey Senator.

[1] Annis was the sister of Elias Boudinot.  Elias served as commissary general of prisoners in the Revolutionary Army from 1776 until 1779.  He was a member of the Continental Congress in 1778, and from 1781 until 1783.  He served as President of that body from November 1782 to November 1783.  After signing the Treaty of Paris with England, ending the war, he resumed his law practice, but in 1789 he was elected to the first U.S. Congress.  He was twice reelected, serving until 1795, at which time he was named third Director of the U.S. Mint.  He remained as Director until 1805, when he resigned.  Elias Boudinot died in 1821.
[2] Cunningham, John T. Five Who Signed. Trenton: NJ Historical Commission, 1975; 13.
[3] Secretary of State for the Colonies from 1772 to 1775
[4] The writing was a plan for self-government in the colonies; though they would be independent of Parliament, they would still remain loyal to the Crown.
[5] Lossing, Benson J. Biographical Sketches of the Signers of the Declaration of American Independence. New York: Derby & Jackson, 1859; 79.
[6] Ibid., 51.

03 March 2012

Biographical Sketches of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence representing New Jersey - Part 3


Francis Hopkinson by Robert Edge Pine

Francis Hopkinson may be the most accomplished of the signers of the Declaration of Independence from New Jersey.  Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on September 21, 1737,[1] Hopkinson became an author and poet; a song-writer and musician; a lawyer and judge; an artist and Congressman.  As an ardent Patriot, he played a role in the founding of the United States politically and culturally - he is credited with having a hand in the design of the first American flag and the designs of the seal of the State of New Jersey and the Great Seal of the United States.[2]
Francis’ father, Thomas, was a merchant, lawyer and judge in Pennsylvania, as well as a friend of Benjamin Franklin.  In the latter capacity, Thomas also dabbled in electrical experiments.  He founded the Academy of Philadelphia (which later became the College of Philadelphia, and later the University of Pennsylvania) as well as the Library Company, and he was the first President of the American Philosophical Society.[3]   It is no wonder then, that before his death in 1751, Thomas enrolled fourteen-year-old Francis in the College of Philadelphia.  With his mother Mary’s blessing, Francis continued his education after his father’s death, earning his degree in 1757.
It appears that Hopkinson began composing music before his graduation from college - an Ode to Music was composed in 1754.[4]  After graduation, though, while still composing and writing, Hopkinson studied law under Benjamin Chew, the attorney general of Pennsylvania. During this time he wrote “My Days Have Been So Wondrous Free” (1759), thought to be the first secular music composition in America. In 1761 he joined the bar and in 1763 was appointed customs collector at Salem, New Jersey.  Between 1757 and 1763, Hopkinson was busy with his pen, contributing essays, poems and satirical writings to various periodicals.  In 1766, Hopkinson traveled to England for a year-long stay in which he met a number of prominent individuals, including Benjamin Franklin, Lord North and the painter Benjamin West.  Upon his return to North America, Hopkinson married Ann Borden in 1768.  She was the daughter of Colonel Joseph Borden, a leading merchant from Bordentown, New Jersey.  The couple would have five children.[5]
            In 1772, Hopkinson was appointed customs collector at New Castle, Delaware, though he was settled and practicing law in Bordentown by 1774.  In the same year, he was selected to be a member of the Provincial Council of New Jersey.  Pamphlets that he wrote during this time were filled with attacks on the British and on loyalists in the colonies.  In 1776, Hopkinson was elected an associate justice of the Supreme Court of New Jersey, but he declined that office and instead accepted appointment to the Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia.  Sometime before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Hopkinson wrote “The Prophecy,” an essay predicting the formal break of the colonies from England.[6]  While serving in the Congress from 22 June to 30 November 1776, Hopkinson also served on the Navy Board.
            During the winter of 1777 - 1778, an inventor by the name of David Bushnell caused quite a stir on the Delaware River.[7]  Bushnell filled barrels with gunpowder which were set to explode upon touching anything.  These he set afloat on the Delaware River north of Philadelphia, with the hope that as they fell downriver among the British ships, they would strike and damage or destroy the shipping.  Though some of the barrels did explode, the experiment did not have the desired effect.  The event did cause much excitement and anxiety among the British in Philadelphia, however.  A satirical letter was published in the Pennsylvania Ledger on 11 February 1778, and is believed to be written by Hopkinson.  The account is as follows:

Both officers and men exhibited the most unparalleled skill and bravery on the occasion; whilst the citizens stood gazing as solemn witnesses of their prowess. From the Roebuck and other ships of war, whole broadsides were poured into the Delaware. In short, not a wandering chip, stick, or drift log, but felt the vigour of the British arms. The action began about sun-rise, and would have been compleated with great success by noon, had not an old market woman coming down the river with provisions, unfortunately let a small keg of butter fall over-board, which (as it was then ebb) floated down to the scene of the action. At the sight of this unexpected reinforcement of the enemy, the battle was renewed with fresh fury–the firing was incessant till the evening closed the affair. The kegs were either totally demolished or obliged to fly, as none of them have shewn their heads since. It is said his Excellency Lord Howe has dispatched a swift sailing packet with an account of this victory to the court of London. In a word, Monday, the 5th of January, 1778, must ever be distinguished in history, for the memorable BATTLE OF THE KEGS.”[8]

The Battle of the Kegs from the UPenn archives

At a later date, Hopkinson also wrote a ballad of the event, to be sung to the tune of Yankee Doodle.

The Hopkinson House is currently a privately owned building
located at 101 Farnsworth Ave. in Bordentown, NJ.

            In 1776 and 1777, the British stationed in Bordentown raided and plundered Hopkinson’s Bordentown home.  Hopkinson was not to be found, however, and in 1778 he was again elected a member of the Congress and served as Treasurer of the Continental Loan Office.  In 1779 and 1780, Hopkinson served as a judge on the Admiralty Court of Pennsylvania.  During this time, Hopkinson was also at work designing or assisting in the design of, among other things, the Board of Admiralty seal, the Treasury Board seal, the seal of the state of New Jersey, the Great Seal of the United States and the flag of the United States, though in the case of the latter two some speculation remains.  Hopkinson’s design for the Great Seal was the second one submitted to Congress, which did not grant its approval.  A third committee, with the assistance of Congressional secretary Charles Thomson, created a third design, which was finally accepted and is still in use today.[9]  Thomson’s design borrowed key elements from Hopkinson’s design, including the striped shield and the field of stars.  As for the design of the flag of the United States, the only surviving record of any kind comes from a letter dated 25 May 1780, from Hopkinson to the Continental Board of Admiralty, where he mentioned “the Flag of the United States of America” among the many other patriotic designs he had completed over the course of the previous three years.  There is no mention of the exact design, but neither is there any mention in the historical record of any other person coming forward to claim ownership of the creation.[10]

Click on image to enlarge.
            Following the end of the Revolutionary War, Hopkinson remained active in the politics of the new nation.  He continued to serve on the Admiralty Court until 1787, when he became a member of the Constitutional Convention which ratified the Constitution of the United States.  In 1789, President Washington appointed Hopkinson as a judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, where he remained until his death on 9 May 1791.  Hopkinson, possibly the most artistic signer of the Declaration of Independence, is buried in Christ Church Cemetery in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

[1] United States Congress. Hopkinson, Francis, (1737 - 1791). n.d. http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=H000783 (accessed March 3, 2012).

[2] University of Pennsylvania University Archives and Records Center. Francis Hopkinson (1737-1791). 2012. http://www.archives.upenn.edu/people/1700s/hopkinson_thos.html (accessed March 3, 2012).

[3] University of Pennsylvania University Archives and Records Center. Thomas Hopkinson (1709-1751). 2012. http://www.archives.upenn.edu/people/1700s/hopkinson_thos.html (accessed March 3, 2012).

[4] Library of Congress. Francis Hopkinson, 1737-1791. August 10, 2006. http://lcweb2.loc.gov/diglib/ihas/loc.natlib.ihas.200035713/default.html (accessed March 3, 2012).

[5] Cunningham, John T. Five Who Signed. Trenton: NJ Historical Commission, 1975; 20.

[6] Ibid., 21.

[7] For more information on Bushnell and his inventions, see my post, “David Bushnell”: http://dansamericanrevolutionblog.blogspot.com/2009/06/david-bushnell-is-credited-with.html.  Hopkinson’s essay regarding this event can be found in the Bushnell article, but has also been reprinted here.

[8] Naval Documents of the American Revolution Vol. 11. ed. Michael J. Crawford. Department of the Navy, Washington, DC, 2005; 78.

[9] The first design was submitted by a committee consisting of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, and was the work of a Swiss-born painter named Pierre Eugene du Simitiere.  The committee working with Hopkinson was appointed on 25 March 1780 and was composed of James Lovell (from Massachusetts), John Moris Scott (New York) and William Churchill Houston (NJ).  The third committee consisted of Arthur Middleton (South Carolina), John Rutledge (South Carolina) and Elias Boudinot (New Jersey).  William Barton, a Philadelphia lawyer and scholar, then edited Thomson’s design.  This committee’s design was accepted on 20 June 1781.

[10] Leepson, Marc. Flag: An American Biography, New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2005; 30-31, 33.

22 February 2012

The Capture of the "Blue Mountain Valley"

On 21 January 1776, the New York Committee of Safety learned of a British transport in distress off the coast of Sandy Hook, New Jersey.[i]  Near five o’clock on the morning of the 22nd, William Alexander, Lord Stirling received word of the troubled ship through a letter from the Committee and immediately set off for Amboy.  Described in the letter as “A galley-built ship” of between three and four hundred tons, it had “yellow sides, blue quarter-boards, with the trophies of war painted on the quarter-boards” and “six three-pounders on the quarter deck” with about twenty men on board,[ii] capturing the ship would be a blow to the British and make for a rich prize.  Upon receiving this news, Stirling immediately set out for Amboy.  Upon arriving there, he seized a pilot boat, and by two o’clock in the morning on the 23rd he set off with about forty men.  As he pushed off, three other boats from Elizabethtown, with about 120 men under the command of Colonels Elias Dayton and Edward Thomas, joined him.  The men set off for the British ship, which was about six leagues[iv] from shore, southeast of Sandy Hook.  By 10 o’clock in the morning the colonials had boarded the Blue Mountain Valley, commanded by Captain James Hamilton Dempster, without opposition.  Stirling gave command of the ship to a Mister Rogers, a sea captain.  Due to contrary winds, it took until the 26th for the ship to come in to shore.[v] 
The Blue Mountain Valley arrived at Elizabethtown Point where Lord Stirling and his troops placed it under guard until the New York Committee of Safety was able to take it under their care.  The captain and crew - numbering at least sixteen men - were given parole in the town.  The ship, which had sailed from London on 13 October 1775, carried coal, porter, and various foodstuffs, and was destined for the British soldiers in Boston.[vi]  Instead of assisting the British, the ship and its cargo were sold at public auction by the Americans on 18 March 1776.[vii]

[i] A pilot had apparently captured a man from the transport and reported back information about the ship to the New York Committee of Safety (American Archives Series 4, Volume 4, “New York Committee of Safety to Lord Stirling,” 21 January 1776, 796).  Sandy Hook is a narrow strip of land that projects northward from the Jersey coast, towards New York City, covering the southern end of New York Bay.  The main ship channel ran almost east to west, close to the northern end of the Hook.  This land was the only solid ground approaching the Harbor where fortifications within cannon range could be established. Whoever commanded Sandy Hook, therefore, commanded the entrance to New York Harbor.  Though it is probable that fortifications existed at Sandy Hook as early as 1680, it is certain that it was fortified by the British by the spring of 1776 (The Major Operations of the Navies in the War of American Independence.  Alfred T. Mahan, D.C.L., LL.D., Captain, US Navy.  Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1913, 65; and Sandy Hook and the Land of the Navesink.  Samuel Stelle Smith.  Monmouth Beach, NJ: Philip Freneau Press, 1963, 18). 
[iv] The actual distance of a league varied over time and location.  In English-speaking countries it is generally estimated to be about three miles.
[v] Naval Documents of the American Revolution Volume 3, 1775-1776.  Ed. William Bell Clark.  Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1968, 959; and History of Elizabeth, New Jersey, Including the Early History of Union County.  Rev. Edwin F. Hatfield.  New York: Carlton & Lanahan, 1868, 422.
[vi] In the same letter as above, Ogden wrote that the Manifest, dated 30 September 1775, showed “107¼ chaldrons of coal, 30 bundles of hoops, 100 butts of porter, branded—‘Calvert,’ 225 bags of beans, 156 sacks of potatoes, 10 casks sour-krout, 80 live hogs, and 35 empty puncheons, for water,” shipped by Mure, Son, and Atkinson, of London.  (History of Elizabeth, New Jersey, Including the Early History of Union County.  Rev. Edwin F. Hatfield.  New York: Carlton & Lanahan, 1868, 423).
[vii] Documents Relating to the Revolutionary History of the State of New Jersey. Vol. I.  Extracts from American Newspapers. 1776-1777.  ed. William S. Stryker.  Trenton: The John L. Murphy Publishing Co., 1901, 68.