Gentleman Johnny


For many years, British military officers purchased their promotions.  A young man who wanted to join the military as an officer paid for the privilege of serving in the army.[1]  The system that existed in the United Kingdom before 1871 for obtaining a commission in the army, and for subsequent promotion, was the purchase of commissions.  This practice applied only to the army.  There were several reasons for such a system, none of which had to do with creating and maintaining a military force able to kick ass and take names.

To understand this system, we must first understand British society in the 17th through 19th centuries.  It was very structured; everyone had their place.  At the bottom, are those belonging to the cottage or labor class, and husbandmen.  Yeomen were small farmers who had land and earned a comfortable income from it.  Above the yeomen were landed gentry — and above them (or perhaps more-or-less equal) were the professional class (doctors, lawyers, judges, politicians).  Above gentry came the aristocracy, which includes peers and royals (although a member of the gentry or professional class could also become peers.

The underclassman could enlist in the army without much of an effort; usually, a recruitment NCO would find an inebriated fellow, buy him a few drams of grog, off him a sovereign, and that was about all there was to join the army.  The next morning our inebriated enlistee would awaken in a barracks somewhere.  He would likely remain with that regiment for the next nine years.

Officers’ commissions were something else entirely.

In the British Isles, the right to inherit fell upon the oldest son (even if he was third born behind two older sisters).  Second sons inherited nothing.  Still, they were sons and their fathers did try to do something for them, such as send them to medical school (if they were so inclined), or study law, or serve in the military.  To serve in the military, the father obtained an officer’s commission for his son(s) by purchasing them.  Only wealthy people could afford the officer’s commission.

Earlier, I hinted at “several reasons” for the system that permitted men to purchase their commissions.  These reasons included:

  • The purchase price served as collateral against abuse of authority, negligence, or incompetence.  The government could cashier a dopey officer — and if they did, the dope would forfeit the cost of his commission.
  • Only the “best sort” of person could become an officer.  Uncouth fellows need not apply.
  • An officer whose wealth or connections allowed him to purchase a commission was less likely to pillage or loot … which doesn’t look nice to third-party observers.
  • Honorably separated or retired officers could build on their military network to sustain a certain standard of living — the doors were opened for government ministry appointments and seats in the House of Commons.  

An example of the cost of commissions in 1837 (and their modern-day equivalents) are:  (a) Ensign or coronet, infantry commission, £450 (£44,000);  cavalry commission £840 (£81,000).  These prices would vary by regiment because some regiments were “more desirable” than others.  Down the road, a lieutenant colonel who desired to retire would sell his commission and use those proceeds as his retirement income.  A cavalry lieutenant colonel could expect to sell his commission (in 2022 British pounds sterling) for £579,000.

The interesting part of this story is that a captain did not have to demonstrate knowledge or competence in field command before being promoted to major.  As a consequence, the British Army had more than its fair share of incompetent officers.  Lucky was the young infantry captain who, because of his seniority as a captain within his regiment, and the fact that there were no field officers in the command, actually served as a regimental commander before advancing to field rank.  But even this was no bar to incompetence.  More than a few field and general officers demonstrated gross incompetence — which caused unnecessary death and injury to the men serving in the ranks.  There was no better example of this condition than the Crimean War.  The British government finally abolished the purchase of commissions in 1871 — after which British officer promotions became competency and merit-based.

John Burgoyne

General Burgoyne

One of these gentlemen aristocrats was John Burgoyne (1722 – 1792).  He was a career military officer, dramatist, and member of parliament.  During the Seven Year’s War, he served in the Portugal Campaign of 1762.  He was a combat officer long before he served in North America.  Of course, in those days, it was possible to be a combat officer, demonstrate incompetence, retain your commission and achieve a new assignment (and promotion) if the price was right.  He may have been a better playwright than a general — an evaluation better left to a thespian.

Burgoyne’s father was an army captain (d. 1768); his grandfather (also named John) was Third Baronet of Sherbourne, Warwickshire.  There may have been some shenanigans with respect to our subject because the testament of his godfather, Robert Benson (Lord Bingley) specified that if Benson’s daughters left no issue, then John Burgoyne would inherit his estate.

Burgoyne, like many of his military cohorts, was educated at the Westminster School.  He was an athletic youngster and one who made several important life-long friends — people who would later aid Burgoyne in his life’s pursuits, James Smith-Stanley (1716 – 1771) (Lord Strange) being one of them.[2]  In 1737, John Burgoyne purchased his commission in the Horse Guards regiment (cavalry) where, since his duties were light, he was allowed to prance about in polite society and came away with the nickname, “Gentleman Johnny.”  It was also during this time that John Burgoyne ran up a large number of debts from gambling and other foolishness.  In 1741, he sold his commission to pay off his debts — because true gentlemen had better control over their debts.

With the outbreak of the War of Austrian Succession, Burgoyne applied for a commission as coronet in the 1st Royal Dragoons (a newly created and therefore “free” commission).  He was promoted to lieutenant in 1747 and soon after managed to afford a captaincy.  At the end of the war in 1748, Burgoyne was released from active service and went on half-pay.[3]


Through his school chum, James Smith-Stanley, John Burgoyne came to know James’ sister, Charlotte Stanley, a daughter of Edward Stanley, Lord Derby — one of Britain’s leading politicians.  Burgoyne asked Lord Derby for his daughter’s hand in marriage and Derby refused.  Burgoyne, the playboy, may not have been what Lord Derby wanted for his daughter.  So Lord Derby was not a happy person when Burgoyne and Charlotte eloped and married without his permission in the spring of 1751.  Enraged, Derby disenfranchised Charlotte.  Unable to support Charlotte according to her custom, Burgoyne again sold his commission for £2,700.

In the fall of 1751, Burgoyne and his bride traveled through France and Italy.  In France, Burgoyne befriended Étienne François, Marquis de Stainville, Duc de Choiseul.  Étienne (Stephen) was a military officer, diplomat, and statesman during the Seven Years’ War.  François served as Foreign Minister, directing French policy during the war.

In late 1754, Burgoyne’s wife gave birth to a daughter — whom they named Charlotte Elizabeth (their only child).  Burgoyne returned to Great Britain in 1755 and with James’ assistance, Lord Derby accepted his daughter and son-in-law into the family.  Burgoyne benefitted from this attention to his professional life.

The Seven Years’ War

A month after the outbreak of hostilities, John Burgoyne purchased a commission in the 11th Dragoons.  In 1758 he advanced to captain and lieutenant colonel in the Coldstream Guards — suggesting that he purchased both commissions (having by-passed major).[4]  In that year, he participated in several expeditions against the French coastal regions.  During this time, Burgoyne was instrumental in the formation of the British Light Cavalry while serving under Colonel George Augustus Eliott, the former aide-de-camp to King George II, as Commander of the 1st Light Horse Brigade.  Burgoyne was a unique military officer in the sense that he encouraged his subordinates to use their initiative and independent action.

In 1761, Burgoyne sat in the House of Commons (representing Midhurst), and in 1762, he participated in the Portugal Campaign as a brigadier general.  Burgoyne distinguished himself by leading his cavalry in the capture of Valencia de Alcantara and of Vila Velha de Ródão.

In 1768, Burgoyne sat again in the parliament.  As a politician, Burgoyne was outspoken concerning his criticism of Robert Clive (Lord Clive) whose military service (and wealth) originated from his investments in India.  In 1772, Burgoyne demanded an investigation of the management and operation of the East India Company, alleging widespread corruption.

The War in America

In 1774, Parliament appointed Major General Burgoyne to command Boston a few weeks after the first shots of the war had been fired at Lexington and Concord.  He commanded the garrison during the siege, while General William Howe and General Henry Clinton directed the action at Bunker and Breed’s hills.  Burgoyne, always looking for opportunities to advance himself, Burgoyne grew frustrated with the confusing command relationship in the colonies and returned to England.

Major General Carleton received notice of the start of the rebellion in May 1775, soon followed by the news of the rebel capture of Fort Ticonderoga and Fort Crown Point — and the raid on Fort Saint-Jean.  As he had previously sent two of his regular army regiments to Boston, his remaining force numbered only around 800 regulars in Quebec.  His attempts to raise a provincial militia met with only limited success because few ethnic French or resident English were interested in joining.  Area Indians were interested in joining the militia, but Carleton worried about the optics of Indians attacking whites on behalf of the Crown.

During the summer of 1775, General Carleton directed the preparation of provincial defenses around Fort Saint-Jean.  In September, the American Continentals began an invasion of Canada and besieged the fort.  When the fort fell in November, Carleton was forced to withdraw from Montreal to Quebec City.

In December 1775, the Continental siege of Quebec was broken off by the arrival of British reinforcements under the command of John Burgoyne, who assumed the role of Carleton’s deputy.  Carleton subsequently launched a counter-offensive.  Consequently, Carleton was promoted to General-in-Chief of North America in 1776.  In April, Carleton directed the British blockade on the Richelieu River and directed the fight for Valcour Island on Lake Champlain against a naval force commanded by Benedict Arnold.  The British, with a significantly superior fleet, won a decisive victory, destroying or capturing most of the rebel fleet — but the delay in the overall battle plan prevented Carleton from capturing Fort Ticonderoga that year.  Consequently, John Burgoyne — the subordinate — was highly critical of Carleton, the superior.  His reports to King George III were intended to convince him that the North American fiasco was all Carleton’s fault.

In the following year, King George gave command of the British forces charged with gaining control of Lake Champlain and the Hudson River Valley to John Burgoyne.

The Battle plan, largely of his own creation, was for Burgoyne and his force to cross Lake Champlain from Quebec — capture Ticonderoga, advance on Albany, and after combining forces with General William Howe, divide New England away from the middle and southern colonies.  By isolating New England, Burgoyne believed that Great Britain would prevail over the revolutionaries.

From the beginning, Burgoyne had more self-confidence than he deserved.  He believed that he was putting together an overwhelming powerhouse whose success would propel him into national prominence.  Before departing from England, the arrogant ass wagered a friend £10 that he would return victorious within a year.  Experienced voices urged caution and suggested that employing similar strategies to the previous year’s campaign was foolish.

The foundation of Burgoyne’s plan was his belief that an aggressive thrust from Quebec would be substantially aided by the movements of two other large British forces (under Howe and Clinton) who would support his advance.  However, Lord George Germain (Secretary of State for North America) dispatched muddled instructions to Burgoyne, Howe, and Clinton.

Burgoyne’s Disaster

As a result of Germain’s miscommunication, Burgoyne ended up conducting the campaign single-handedly.  He wasn’t aware of that, of course, because he was still convinced that he was God’s gift to the British military command.  His troop footprint in Quebec was 7,000 men.  Burgoyne was also convinced that he could rely on large numbers of Native Americans and Loyalists to help him execute the battle plan.  Burgoyne figured that even if the area of operations was not as pro-British as he hoped, it was largely an underpopulated area in any case.  He did not believe that an enemy force would threaten his attack force.

Initially, Burgoyne’s campaign was successful.  He gained possession of Fort Ticonderoga (which prompted his promotion to lieutenant general) and of Fort Edward, but moving onward, he broke off communications with Quebec.  In his arrogance, he didn’t anticipate being hemmed in by Horatio Gates.  His several attempts to break through the American’s lines were repulsed.  A Continental bullet found Burgoyne’s aide, Sir Frances Clerke.  Two days later, Burgoyne surrendered his entire army of 5,800 men — a turning point in the American Revolution.  With Burgoyne’s defeat, the French were encouraged to enter the war on the side of the Americans.

Burgoyne would not agree to an unconditional surrender, but he would agree to a convention where his men would agree to surrender their arms, return to Europe, and pledge not to return to North America.  The military agreed to the convention, but the Continental Congress repudiated it — imprisoning the remaining members of Burgoyne’s army in Massachusetts and Virginia. Dishonorably, the Americans mistreated their British prisoners — but in their minds, it was merely payback for the treatment of American prisoners of the British.

General Burgoyne’s End

The British people were not at all pleased with “Gentleman Johnny.”  For many years, it was Burgoyne’s defeat.  It wasn’t until many years later that historians began to look more closely at Germain.  It was Lord Germain who failed to ensure everyone understood the chain of command.

Looking back in time is something that scholars and historians do seeking clarity.  Nevertheless, the Burgoyne debate continues.  Some argue that Burgoyne is a classic example of incompetent British leadership, an aristocrat without a clue, and a man who should never have been advanced beyond lieutenant.  Others point to the fact that (according to some troops), his men loved their general.  Still, others characterize Burgoyne as a clown in uniform.

Back in London, Burgoyne concentrated on his pay writing activities.  He is credited with writing several plays, as follows:

  • The Maid of the Oaks (1774)
  • The Camp (1778)
  • The Lord of the Manor (1780)
  • The Heiress (1786)
  • Richard Coeur de Lion

Previously to his embarrassing defeat by the American rabble, John Burgoyne had been a Tory supporter of the government of Lord North, but following his return from Saratoga, he began to associate with the so-called Rockingham Whigs, a splinter group.  When the Rockingham group returned to power in 1782, Burgoyne was restored to his rank of lieutenant general, honored with the colonelcy of the King’s Own Royal Regiment, made Commander-in-Chief in Ireland, and appointed to the Privy Council.  By 1783, however, Burgoyne had begun to withdraw from public life.  “Gentleman Johnny” died unexpectedly at his home in Mayfair on 4 August 1792.


  1. Bruce, A. P. C.  The Purchase System in the British Army, 1660-1871.  Royal Historical Society, London, 1980.
  2. Farwell, B.  Queen Victoria’s Little Wars.  Wordsworth Military Library Press, 1973.
  3. Huddleston, F. J.  Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne, Misadventures of an English General in the Revolution. Bobbs-Merrill, 1927.
  4. Watt, G. K.  The British Campaign of 1777, Volume II: The Burgoyne Expedition, Burgoyne’s Native and Loyalist Auxiliaries.  Global Heritage Press, 2013.


[1] The British Navy has always been a single, national organization.  First organized by Alfred the Great, the naval force was responsible for defending the realm; the land forces, on the other hand, were provided by the shires.  These units didn’t belong to the king; they belonged to the peer who organized them.  Thus, the Navy was a Royal Force, and the army was not.  Subsequently, the term “Royal” has been bestowed on certain regiments of the British Army (for distinguished service), which entitles them to wear blue facings on the collar and cuff, but the army is not by itself a royal organization.   

[2] James Smith-Stanley was the eldest child of Edward Stanley, 11th Earl of Derby.  Edward and James both styled themselves as Lord Strange, but neither deserved the title.  James predeceased his father, so Edward’s grandson inherited the title Earl of Derby.

[3] When British military officers retired or were separated from active service, they entered a pay status referred to as half-pay.  This was for men like Burgoyne, a retainer pay in inactive service or reserve status in the event of another conflict.  

[4] The Coldstream Guards is the oldest continually serving regular regiment in the British military.   

Posted in American Frontier, American Indians, British Canada, British Colonies, British Generals, Colonial America, History, Massachusetts, New England, New York, Northwest Territory, Revolution | Leave a comment

A New England Man


In 1755, British colonists had a full plate: French soldiers and their Indian allies were killing British settlers, parliament was finding ways to increase everyone’s taxes, and the British monarch, who couldn’t speak English, was mentally ill.  Amazingly, there was still room on the colonist’s plate for a pissing contest between New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and the Vermont Republic.  British settlers were, at a minimum, antagonistic.

England’s first attempt at North American colonization occurred at the Popham Colony (1607), which failed after only 14 months.  Still, the initial success of the Plymouth Colony (1620 – 1691) encouraged the establishment of the New Hampshire Colony and Massachusetts Bay Colony.  Dissenters from Massachusetts Bay founded the colonies at Providence, Connecticut, and New Haven.  All of these were formed by Puritans, separatists, or other agitators seeking freedom of religion and personal liberty for themselves while (except for Providence) denying the same to others.  This pattern continued to define Anglo policies toward native Americans, and African Negroes were transported to the colonies in chains.  This “Puritan” lack of religious tolerance and humanity can still be seen today in some modern “protestant” groups.

The initial New Hampshire settlement included a series of grants made by the English Crown to Captain John Mason (and others) during the 1620s.  A fishing and trading settlement was established in 1623, and in 1629 the name New Hampshire (after the English county) was applied to a grant for a region between the Merrimack and Piscataqua rivers.  New Hampshire’s main settlements included Dover, Portsmouth, Exeter, and Hampton.

Between 1641 – 1679, the region of New Hampshire fell under the administrative control of the Province of Massachusetts.  During that time, numerous religious and territorial disputes evolved until 1679, when New Hampshire became a separate royal province.  Even then, bitter, and often deadly feuds emerged between settlers in Massachusetts and the Province of New York over part of the New Hampshire grant, particularly in the land and territory that eventually became the Vermont Republic.[1]  A string of feuds continued almost to the beginning of the American Revolution — a problem properly blamed on New Hampshire governor Benning Wentworth.[2]

When Wentworth retired as royal governor of New Hampshire in the summer of 1767, he was one of the wealthiest men in New England.  Wentworth’s long career as a colonial viceroy, astute administration, and capacity for acting in his self-interest helped define the word corruption for all time.  New Hampshire gained from both Wentworth’s ability — and his lack of scruples.  The geography, settlement patterns, and policies within the colony derive from Wentworth’s point of view about politics, war, and economic development — all of which led directly to the creation of a place called Vermont.

Between 1689 – 1763, the people of New Hampshire played an active role in the colonial wars between Great Britain and France.  The colony’s first census occurred in 1767, reporting nearly 53,000 residents.  In 1772, the territory had five counties involved in the American Revolution.  By the end of the colonial period, the capital of New Hampshire was Portsmouth.

Before the revolution, the New Hampshire government was staunchly pro-British.  After 1775 however, the Loyalist faction in the state became one of the weakest and least effective in all of New England.  Wentworth (and his followers) were Loyalists.  His domination of politics and the economy was made possible through a carefully crafted network of family and tightly held business associations.  In 1767, a significant shift in political loyalties occurred — at a time when Wentworth’s nephew John succeeded him as governor.

Afterward, a decrease in demand for the colony’s products, its unsteady support for the English homeland, and the revolutionary madness that was taking hold throughout British America encouraged rebels to assert their extralegal control over all opposition.  Patriots successfully outmaneuvered Loyalists, who soon became trapped and helpless in the course of the war.  Most leading Loyalists followed Benning Wentworth into exile, and when British forces failed to occupy New Hampshire, there was no haven for loyalist sentiment.  Not all Loyalists were helpless, however.  More than a few served the Crown as spies, counterfeiters, and soldiers.[3]

The Green Mountain Boys

Artist’s depiction of the Green Mountain Boys

In 1770, a regional militia formed in the area between New York and the New Hampshire Grants.  They called themselves The Green Mountain Boys. The Green Mountain Boys were led by a man named Ethan Allen and members of his extended family.  Allen was instrumental in resisting the efforts of New Yorkers to gain control over the Vermont territory, over which New York had won its dispute with New Hampshire. In 1777, the New Hampshire Grants became known as the Vermont Republic.

Elements of the Green Mountain Boys served in the American Revolution, notably when Ethan Allen captured Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain (10 May 1775) and when he invaded Canada.  In early June, the Continental Congress created the Continental Army with George Washington as its designated Commander-in-Chief.  Shortly thereafter, Colonel Allen and his second in command, Seth Warner, petitioned Congress to include a ranger regiment within the Continental Army — one composed of men from the Green Mountain area of the New Hampshire Grants.

Separate from the ranger regiment, the Green Mountain Boys organization disbanded in 1776, a year before Vermont (separately from the original thirteen colonies) declared its independence from Great Britain — announcing itself as a “separate, free, and independence jurisdiction or state.”[4]    The remnants of the Green Mountain Boys reconstituted themselves as the Green Mountain Continental Rangers, initially under Ethan Allen.  When Allen accepted a commission to serve under Major General Philip Schuyler, command of the Continental Rangers passed to Colonel Seth Warner.

Colonel Seth Warner

Seth Warner (1743 – 1784) was an exceptional combat commander who occasionally commanded brigade-sized units during the American Revolutionary War.  He is best known for capturing Fort Crown Point, the Battle of Longueuil, the Siege of Quebec, and the battles of Hubbardton and Bennington.

Warner was born on the Connecticut frontier in the western area near Woodbury (now Roxbury).  He was the fourth of ten children of Dr. Benjamin Warner and Silence Hurd-Warner.  Although Warner was not directly related to Ethan Allen, both men were cousins of Remember Baker, who also served as a captain of the Green Mountain Boys.[5]  In his life, Warner was regarded as an exceptional hunter and tracker.  Although only having an elementary education, he learned about medicine from his father and became somewhat of a healer with considerable knowledge of plants and their healing properties.

Benjamin Warner purchased land in Bennington (now Vermont) in 1763, likely as part of the New Hampshire Grants scheme.  In 1765, Seth began working as a highway surveyor and was elected captain of the town’s militia company.

During the land dispute with New York, Seth joined The Green Mountain Boys (sometimes referred to as the Bennington Mob), whose principal role was defending local settlers from New Yorkers seeking to dispossess them.  Eventually, Warner became second in command to Colonel Commandant Ethan Allen but often fished his own hook.  He became an outlaw of the New York Colony after assaulting a justice of the peace as the man attempted to arrest Remember Baker.

Despite his reputation as someone only a fool would trifle with, Seth Warner was more likely than Ethan Allen to grant mercy to a New Yorker.  In one instance, Warner threatened to burn a New Yorker’s cabin for encroaching on New Hampshire land but relented.  Instead, he ordered the New Yorker to remove the roof of his cabin until he could produce a New Hampshire Land Grant title.

The Revolution

During the Ticonderoga expedition of 1775, Warner served as third in command (after Ethan Allen and James Easton).  Warner and the men he had recruited were left on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain as a rear guard while Allen and the newly arrived Colonel Benedict Arnold surprised the garrison early on 10 May.

The next day, Warner and his men captured Crown Point, 13 miles further north.  As it turned out, Fort Crown Point was a plum for the Warner detachment.  While the structure was at one time the largest British fortification in North America, on 11 May 1775, the structure was in ruins and garrisoned by only nine soldiers.  But Crown Point was a storage facility for 111 cannon — the best of which Warner transported to Ticonderoga.[6]  

Afterward, Warner accompanied Allen to St. John, Quebec — a British outpost on the Richelieu River.  Colonel Arnold had successfully raided the outpost, destroyed supplies and seized a British sloop of war, and sailed away, leaving Allen and Warner behind.  Allen attempted to hold the fort against British reinforcements but was driven off by superior numbers.

In mid-June, Allen and Warner appeared in Philadelphia to petition the Continental Congress for approval of the Green Mountain Boys to serve as a regiment in the newly forming army.  The New York assembly was asked to fund the unit because Congress had no treasury.  Understandably, New Yorkers were hesitant to sanction a body of men that had previously acted against the citizens of that colony.  Nevertheless, the New York assembly eventually agreed to fund the unit, and it fell upon New Hampshire officials to choose the regiment’s leadership.

Ultimately, New Hampshire selected Seth Warner as Lieutenant Colonel commanding the Green Mountain regiment — by a vote of 41 to 5.  Ethan Allen, who was fully expected to be named regimental colonel, could not understand how they could have rejected him after all he had done for New Hampshire.  Scholars continue to debate this question, with some believing that religious zealots punished him for his deism and others arguing that Warner was simply a steadier hand.  Subsequently, The Green Mountain Boys became known simply as Warner’s Regiment.

Fort Chateau de Longueuil

In the late summer of 1775, Major General Philip Schuyler and Brigadier General Richard Montgomery led their American forces into Canada by way of Lake Champlain.  Because the British had refortified St. John, the American assault was poorly contrived.  From his position at the Chateau de Longueuil, reinforced by several companies of New Yorkers, Warner successfully defended the fort against a large force under Governor-General Guy Carleton.  Carleton’s defeat at Fort Longueuil set into motion the American victory at Fort St. John in early November.

Subsequently, Montreal surrendered to the Americans on 13 November, and Seth Warner and his men were part of the forces that entered the city.  Montgomery soon ordered Warner’s Regiment to Quebec by canoe; it was the last British stronghold in Canada.  Warner’s difficulty was that his regiment had received no winter clothing or equipment — and besides that, many of his men were reluctant to remain in Canada through the winter.  In the end, General Montgomery somewhat grudgingly permitted the regiment to return home to reequip themselves.  Colonel Warner and his regiment were back in the New Hampshire Grants when General Montgomery was killed, and Arnold was wounded in a pre-dawn attack on Quebec.  The date was 31 December 1775.

Brigadier General David Wooster, then commanding the Americans in Montreal, wrote to Colonel Werner: “You, sir, and the Green Mountain Corps are in our neighborhood.  Let me beg of you to collect as many men as you can, five, six, or seven hundred, and if you can, and somehow or other convey into this country, and stay with us till we can have relief from the Colonies.”

Within a few days, companies from the southwest New Hampshire Grants and western Massachusetts had formed and marched north.  They crossed the length of frozen Lake Champlain to St. John, stopped at Montreal for supplies, and then proceeded eastward to Quebec — a distance of at least 400 miles.

That winter, the American army besieging Quebec was devastated by a smallpox epidemic.  Warner permitted (perhaps even encouraged) his men to inoculate against the disease.  The procedure, which at the time was controversial, went against General Arnold’s orders and subjected anyone inoculated to severe penalties.  Seth Warner’s son, Israel (present during the campaign), reported that there were no casualties within the regiment.

On 6 May 1776, three British warships arrived at Quebec — forcing the Americans to abandon their siege and withdraw from Canada.  There are no primary sources detailing Colonel Warner’s role in the withdrawal, but in a 1795 sketch of Warner’s life, pastor and newspaper editor Samuel Williams wrote, “Warner chose the most difficult part of the business, remaining always with the rear, picking up the lame and diseased, assisting and encouraging those who were the most unable to take care of themselves, and generally kept but a few miles in advance of the British, who were rapidly pursuing the retreating Americans from post to post.  By steadily pursuing this conduct, he brought off most of the invalids. With his corps of the infirm and diseased, he arrived at Ticonderoga a few days after the body of the army had taken possession of the post.”

Forming a New Regiment

On 5 July 1776, the Continental Congress resolved that “a regiment be raised out of the officers who served in Canada” with Seth Warner as colonel.  This new regiment was officially known as Warner’s Additional Regiment.

On 24 July, Warner attended a convention in Dorset, one of a series of meetings held as the New Hampshire Grants gradually formed an independent government.  Warner and all but one delegate pledged “at the risk of our Lives and fortunes to Defend, by arms, the United American States against the Hostile attempts of the British Fleets and Armies, until the present unhappy Controversy between the two Countries shall be settled.”

Recruitment for the new regiment was slow.  In September, Warner and captains Wait Hopkins and Gideon Brownson traveled to Philadelphia to petition the Continental Congress to reimburse them for expenses from the Canada campaign.  Instead, congress referred them back to the commissioners of the Northern Department, who also refused to act.  Additionally, General Phillip Schuyler would not release recruitment money until December.

In the fall, American forces on Lake Champlain at Ticonderoga and Mount Independence prepared to meet a British invasion.  After the Battle of Valcour Island in October, Warner mustered the New Hampshire Grants militia and led them toward the Lake Champlain fortifications.  General Gates wrote to Warner, “I much approve of your zeal and activity in spiriting up the Militia to come and defend their country.  They cannot be too soon here.”

In January 1777, the first men from Warner’s Additional Regiment were quartered on Mount Independence.

In May, Warner led a force of militia from Schenectady, New York, and the New Hampshire Grants on a raid into the Loyalist stronghold of Jessup’s Patent (present-day Lake Luzerne).  The hardships of that campaign formed the beginning of Warner’s failing health.

Burgoyne’s Assault

In June, Warner’s command consisted of 228 men — a very undersized regiment.  Meanwhile, British General John Burgoyne, commanding 8,000 men, and ships, threatened the Americans by sailing southward on Lake Champlain.  Warner directed his men in preparing the forts for a British attack.  In late June, Major General Arthur St. Clair ordered Colonel Warner to raise the militia of the New Hampshire Grants to counter Indian raids along Otter Creek.  He directed, “Attack and rout them — and then join me again as soon as possible.” The situation at the forts only worsened.

On 1 July, Warner wrote to the leaders of the independent state (meeting at Windsor), calling for their support for men and supplies.  The next day, Warner’s men fought a skirmish outside the French Lines with the loss of one of his lieutenants.  On 3 July, Colonel Warner led 800 militia into the fortifications, driving ahead of the 40 head of cattle and numerous sheep.  Warner’s force totaled about one-fifth of the garrison.  Two days later, St. Clair decided to abandon Ticonderoga and Mount Independence with an evacuation to be completed by the evening of 6 July.  Several of Colonel Warner’s men served under Colonel Ebenezer Francis (Massachusetts) in his rear-guard maneuver.  During the withdrawal, Warner positioned himself near the rear as St. Clair’s force marched east into Vermont.  Eight hundred British regulars under Brigadier General Simon Fraser rigorously pursued them.[7]

Battle of Hubbardton

During the late afternoon of 6 July, the main body of St. Clair’s retreating force passed through the small frontier settlement of Hubbard Town (Hubbardton), some twenty miles from Mount Independence.  St. Clair directed Warner to set up his picket line, Castle Town, six miles from Hubbardton.

Warner served in command of around 1,100 of his regiment plus a handpicked body of men from Colonel Francis and Colonel Nathan Hale’s 2nd New Hampshire.  Warner also shepherded a few hundred sick, lame, and lazy stragglers.  He had those men set up camp in a small valley below the main supply route into Hubbardton, but Warner’s primary bivouac area occupied the high ground above the MSR.

General Fraser attacked Warner’s stragglers at around 0700 on 7 July and scattered them.  The shouting and rifle fire alerted the main resistance group, who were ready to engage Fraser’s force when they appeared on Monument Hill’s side.  The tactical advantage moved back and forth until German troops arrived to support the British under Major General Friedrich Adolf Riedesel.  As the combined German and British force was overwhelming, Colonel Warner was compelled to withdraw over Pittsford Ridge.  Colonel Francis was killed by rifle fire.  Overall, American forces suffered 41 killed, 96 wounded, and the loss of 234 men, mostly stragglers, taken prisoner.

British and German forces lost 60 killed with 148 wounded.  According to the standards of late 18th-century warfare, the British won the Hubbardton fight, but from a modern tactical analysis, Warner demonstrated the value of a well-organized rear guard action.  In any case, Colonel Warner’s resistance convinced Fraser to suspend his pursuit of the American’s main body.

Battle of Bennington

Following the Battle of Hubbardton, Colonel Warner assumed responsibility for the security of the frontier north of Manchester, Vermont.  General Gates ordered Warner to seize cattle and carriages and arrest Loyalists.

By early August, Major General Benjamin Lincoln (Massachusetts) and Brigadier General John Stark (New Hampshire) agreed to attack General Burgoyne’s force from the rear of his column.  Warner retained command of Vermont and Massachusetts militia units (as part of Warner’s Regiment).  Lincoln and Stark began their expedition from Bennington on 13 August.  Shortly afterward, Stark learned that a force of Loyalists from Brunswick and Canada (and their Indian allies) under Lieutenant Colonel Friedrich Baum (800 men in total) approached his route of march.  Although Stark served in overall command, Colonel Warner helped devise the American battle plan.

On the afternoon of 16 August, Vermont rangers swung around the Germans and attacked a hilltop fortification from the west.  Commanding the left wing of Stark’s aggressors, Warner attacked the Loyalist Redoubt on the east side of the Walloomsac River (a few miles from Warner’s home).  An American victory seemed assured when six-hundred German troops appeared under Lieutenant Colonel Heinrich Breymann.  Although exhausted, Vermont rangers under Warner re-energized his attack and forced the Germans into a rapid withdrawal.  Stark’s force took credit for 207 enemies killed in action and 700 taken prisoner.  Stark prepared a glowing report of Warner’s performance to General Gates.

Burgoyne’s surrender

The battle was a major strategic success for the American cause and is considered part of the turning point of the Revolutionary War.  Its effects were several: it reduced Burgoyne’s army in size by almost 1,000 men, led his Native American supporters to largely abandon him, and deprived him of much-needed supplies, such as mounts for his cavalry regiments, draft animals, and provisions, all factors that contributed to Burgoyne’s eventual defeat at Saratoga.  The victory galvanized colonial support for the independence movement and played a crucial role in bringing France into the war on the rebel side.

Seth Warner and his regiment participated in a raid upon Ticonderoga and Mount Independence.  The action is generally referred to as Brown’s Raid (after John Brown of Pittsfield, Massachusetts).  Brown was a former Continental officer who had served with Warner during the invasion of Canada.  On 18 September, American and British officials released their prisoners: 293 British and 118 Americans.

Colonel Warner continued to serve under Brigadier General Stark in operations north of Saratoga (present-day Schuylerville, New York).  The Americans crossed the Hudson River on the morning of 13 October and occupied a narrow pass between a marsh and a hill (now called) Stark’s Knob.  The Americans taking this position meant that General Burgoyne had lost his opportunity to retreat and surrender to the Americans.

After Saratoga

General Gates thought it might be a good idea to re-invade Canada, but he was alone in that thinking, and the idea came to nothing.  In March 1778, newly independent Vermont named Seth Warner as Brigadier General in the State Militia.  This move placed Warner in a difficult position within the Continental Army, but it may not have mattered because Warner’s health was getting worse by the day.  His absences from duty increased over time.  Six months later, Warner was seriously wounded in an ambush by Indians.  A month later, Loyalist Major Christopher Carleton led a series of raids along the shores of Lake Champlain, burning towns and settlements along Otter Creek in Vermont and taking members of the local militia prisoner.  His raids destroyed supplies for 12,000 American militia — enough to support a four-month field campaign.[8]  Carleton’s raid was so devastating that Warner retired from military service.

In failing health, Seth Warner returned to his home in Woodbury, where Warner died on 26 December 1784 — aged 41 years.  Warner died financially insolvent, leaving his widow destitute.  In time, the State of Vermont awarded 2,000 acres to his wife.  It was called “Warner’s Grant” and remains uninhabited.

Seth had nine siblings — three of whom were medical doctors.  Dr. John Warner was also a captain in Herrick’s Rangers during the Revolutionary War; Daniel Warner, who served with Seth, was killed during the Battle of Bennington.  His wife was Miss Esther Hurd (1748 – 1816), and the couple had four children, all of whom survived to adulthood.


  1. Peterson, J. E.  Seth Warner.  Dunmore House, 2001.
  2. Ketcham, R. M.  Saratoga: Turning Point of America’s Revolutionary War.  Holt Publishing, 1997.
  3. Littlefield, G. E.  The Centennial History of the Battle of Bennington.  Self-published, 1877.
  4. Chipman, D. and L. W. Clark.  Memoir of Colonel Seth Warner.  Middlebury, 1848.


[1] Texas was not the first independent republic to become a U.S. state.

[2] Young Wentworth was a colonial-era spoiled brat whose father coddled him throughout his formative years.  American-born, he was tossed out of Harvard and was sent to Boston to apprentice under his uncle.  He didn’t return to New Hampshire until after his father died in 1730. 

[3] The end of the war found many Loyalists in permanent exile, mostly in Atlantic Canada. More important to the new nation were the hundreds of Loyalists who remained silent during the war and were allowed to live in comparative peace.  These men formed a conservative force in the politics of the new state, some of which managed to rise to the heights of post-war politics.

[4] The Vermont Republic operated for fourteen years before petitioning the United States for admission in 1791 as the fourteenth state.

[5] Remember Baker was murdered and decapitated and his remains mutilated by Indians near the Richelieu River on 19 August 1775. 

[6] These were the guns Henry Knox later hauled to Boston during the winter of 1775/1776.

[7] General Horatio Gates relieved both Schuyler and St. Clair of their duties and ordered courts-martial alleging dereliction of duty.  A court-martial acquitted both generals but neither again served in a combat command.  

[8] Carleton (1749 – 1787) was English-born and orphaned at an early age, raised by his uncles in Canada.  He joined the British army as an ensign at the age of 12 years.  For several years, Carleton lived with the Mohawk Indians, learning their language and customs — which made him a good military leader of Indian mercenaries.  

Posted in American Frontier, American Indians, American Military, British Colonies, Colonial America, Feuds & Rivalries, Founding Fathers, History, Massachusetts, New England, New France, New Hampshire, New York, Pioneers, Politicians, Revolution, Vermont | Leave a comment

The Last General


The history of Rome inspires the imaginations of those who enjoy looking into the past.  Rome existed for around 1,100 years, beginning about 625 B.C.  That is such a long period of time that historians feel compelled to study Rome in three phases: The period of kings (625 – 510 B.C.), Republican Rome (510 – 31 B.C.), and Imperial Rome (31 B.C. – A.D. 476).

The challenge of studying early Roman history is its lack of written records.  If there are no written records — all we have to consider is legend and conjecture, taken mostly from archeological studies.  These are interesting, of course, but it isn’t history.  One of the early Roman legends surrounds the life of Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus (c. 519 – c. 430 B.C.).  We warrant to Cincinnatus what we believe is the most valuable (but seldom achieved) trait of human society: selflessness in serving the needs of the community.  We call this civic virtue.  Without getting into the politics of the day, Cincinnatus was widely known for his wisdom, his courage, his leadership, and his selflessness.  Despite his old age, he worked his small farm outside Rome.  It was enough to put food on his table.  When Rome was threatened with invasion by the Etruscans of Northern Italy, Roman officials approached Cincinnatus and asked him to assume the mantle of a dictator, which gave him complete control over the state.  After achieving victory in only sixteen days, Cincinnatus relinquished his power and returned to his farm.

This man, if he existed, was so respected by Revolutionary War Era Americans that a society was created and named in his legendary memory.  The Society of the Cincinnati is a fraternal society founded in 1783 to commemorate the American Revolutionary War — presumably because men stepped forward to serve, at great risk to themselves, and then returned to their regular lives at the end of the crisis.  Membership is restricted to the descendants of military officers who served in the Continental Army.  One of these men was John Stark — although he may never have been part of the Society of Cincinnati.

John Stark

Major General John Stark

John Stark was born in Londonderry, New Hampshire (present-day Derry) on 28 August 1728.  He was the son of Archibald Stark (1693 – 1758), an immigrant from Glasgow, Scotland.  John married Elizabeth (Molly) Page, with whom he sired eleven children.  The eldest of these offspring, Caleb Stark, served under his father in the Revolutionary War eventually reaching the rank of major, and later, served as a state senator in New Hampshire.  John Stark was one tough American pioneer.  In 1752, while hunting and trapping along the Pemigewasset River, Abenaki warriors captured Stark and a hunting companion and took them as prisoners to the Indian camp.  As part of the ritual, the Indians forced John and Amos Eastman to run a gauntlet.  Angry, Stark grabbed one of the implements away from a warrior and attacked him with it.  The chief was sufficiently impressed by Stark’s heroics that he adopted him into the tribe.  In the following year, Massachusetts authorities pay a ransom of $103 Spanish dollars for Stark’s return, but he remained partial to his Abenaki family for the rest of his life.

John Stark’s record of service and his selflessness began long before the American Revolution.  Stark may have been emblematic of the American in 1754.  He was a farmer in New Hampshire, where people are known to speak their minds in short sentences.  Today, we might refer to these people as “rough cut.”  Or, perhaps, as folks that hold too tightly to their bibles and guns. 

During the French and Indian War, John served in the ranging company led by Robert Rogers, known as Rogers’ Rangers (along with his brother William) as a second lieutenant.  It was a valuable experience teaching him about combat and the northern frontier.  At this time, Rogers served under the command of General Jeffery Amherst, a man well-known for his hatred of the American Indian.  It may have been Amherst who instilled within Stark his deep contempt for the British army officer.  He did not believe that a king’s commission made anyone a gentleman — and in Stark’s opinion, Amherst was no gentleman.

As a member of Rogers’ ranging company, Stark would have learned how to fight in the most barbaric manner.  In all likelihood, Stark cut a few throats in that nasty business.  At the end of the Seven Year’s War, like Cincinnatus, Captain John Stark returned to his farm and his family — and there he remained until he heard of the fighting at Lexington Green.

On 23 April 1775, John Stark rejoined the militia and was commissioned a colonel commanding the First New Hampshire Regiment.  By the beginning of June, the regiment was serving with the Continental Army in Boston.  At Bunker Hill, Stark’s regiment formed the rear guard in the Army’s retreat.  He subsequently served during the ill-fated invasion of Canada, and at the Battles of Trenton and Princeton.  Afterward, he returned to New Hampshire to recruit more men for Washington’s army. When local politicians tried to use the war and Stark’s recruiting efforts to advance their own political ambitions, he resigned his commission in disgust and went home.

In 1777, King George III appointed John Burgoyne to command British forces in a campaign to gain control of Lake Champlain and the Hudson River Valley.  Burgoyne’s plan was that he would lead his force across Lake Champlain from Quebec and capture Ticonderoga, advance on Albany, New York to meet with a British force moving north from New York City under General William Howe.  The idea was to divide and isolate New England from the middle and southern colonies.  If John Burgoyne was anything at all, he was over-confident in his own generalship.  Throwing all caution to the wind, he stepped off at the head of his force of just under 6,000 troops.  Unfortunately, General Howe didn’t deliver as expected because of confusing instructions dispatched from England.

In effect, Burgoyne ended up conducting the campaign single-handedly.  Worse, he didn’t know he was all alone until well into the campaign.  He misjudged the support he could obtain from native Americans and British loyalists; he misjudged the popular support rendered to defending Albany, and he underestimated the tenacity of the men fighting under General Horatio Gates — of which John Stark was one.

General John Burgoyne

Burgoyne’s movement was slowed by poor roads and natural and man-made obstacles along his route of march.  Because his supply line was stretched thin, Burgoyne was forced to forage along the route of march, and this brought his attention to Bennington, Vermont.  Burgoyne decided to divide his army — retaining his regular force under his direct command and sending his loyalist forces, native Americans, and German mercenaries to Bennington under Lieutenant Colonel Friedrich Baum.

Baum’s movement was closely observed by the American militia, causing the Americans to withdraw toward Bennington while increasing their mass in defensive positions.  Baum sent a request to Burgoyne for reinforcements, facing as he the “uncouth militia.”  Apparently, Baum preferred an enemy accustomed to fighting in the European style.  Brigadier General John Stark, commanding those uncouth rebels, didn’t care about the European style of fighting.

Correctly anticipating Baum’s likely battle plan, Stark sent word for reinforcements from nearby American militia.  Colonel Seth Warner, a highly respected Continental regimental commander from Vermont, responded.  Likewise, loyalists began flocking to Baum.

Torrential rain fell on Walloomsac, New York, and Bennington, Vermont all day and night on 15 August 1777.  Colonel Baum hoped that the poor weather would hinder any American activity until reinforcements could arrive from General Burgoyne.  Baum kept his men busy constructing and improving a series of breastworks on a hill overlooking Walloomsac.  When the weather cleared on the following morning, one-thousand American militia assaulted Baum’s defenses (ten miles from Bennington).  To inspire his men, Colonel Stark reportedly told them, “There are your enemies, the Red Coats, and the Tories.  They are ours — or this night Molly Stark sleeps a widow.”

Unfortunately for Colonel Baum, a large number of men entering his camp proclaiming themselves British Loyalists were actually American militia, sent by General Stark to infiltrate Baum’s defenses and send word back to Stark of what they observed.

After heavy fighting, General Stark’s Americans breached the enemy’s defenses.  Stark later claimed it was “the hottest engagement I have ever witnessed, resembling a continual clap of thunder.”  For some combatants, the fight was deeply personal — pitting American patriots against their loyalist neighbor.  In this context, perhaps it may be judged as America’s first civil war battle, which turned into a desperate struggle.

Within a short period of time, the American militia had Colonel Baum and his men surrounded.  Baum was himself mortally wounded but continued to lead his German mercenaries in resisting the American assault on the knoll, where they were eventually overrun.  Many of Baum’s native and Loyalist forces fled the vicious battle site.

The fighting continued until nightfall.  Unfortunately for Colonel Baum, Burgoyne’s reinforcements arrived too late to change the course of the battle.  Baum’s force gave up 200 dead and seriously wounded and 700 or more prisoners of war.  In contrast, General Stark suffered 70 killed or wounded.

Baum’s defeat put an unbearable strain on Burgoyne’s army, which, in addition to the loss of men and materiel, prevented Burgoyne from obtaining the supplies he so badly needed.  Having lost their confidence in Burgoyne, the native American forces deserted and melted away into the New York forests — which deprived Burgoyne of his best scouts.

Stark’s victory at Bennington was a precursor of Burgoyne’s eventual defeat at Saratoga, which turned the tide of war in favor of the American patriot militia.

John Stark is acknowledged as the individual who first coined the phrase, “Live free or die; death is not the worst of evils.”  He wrote these words 136 years before they became New Hampshire’s official state motto. On 30 September 1783, the U.S. Congress promoted Stark to major general.  With the end of the Revolutionary War, General Stark resigned his commission on 3 November and returned to his farm.  He passed away at the age of 94 years — the last surviving general officer of the Revolutionary War.

Posted in American Frontier, American Indians, British Colonies, Colonial America, History, New England, New Hampshire, New York, Pioneers, Politicians, Revolution, Vermont | Leave a comment

The Adams Family

But first, a word …

History seeks order from chaos.  It is one discipline of several in the social sciences.  The study of history must confine itself to evaluating written records.  Whatever history exists before written records must be studied and evaluated by someone other than a historian — an archeologist, perhaps, or an anthropologist.

Written records tell us about individuals and societies — their actions, decisions, interactions, achievements, and failures.  History allows us to study certain patterns over time; hopefully, by learning about the past, we can have greater hope for the future.

The value of history (beyond helping us avoid past mistakes) is that it nurtures our personal and collective identity.  It helps us to answer the question, “Who are we?” Most of our stories are complex because human beings are complex.  History reveals to us the struggles of our ancestors and their achievements.  It allows us to observe the courage of those who came before, and these past achievements shape our values, which we, in turn, communicate to our children and grandchildren.

The study of history teaches us certain laudable skills.  To think as a historian is to become critical of evidence and argument.  It prompts us to demand proof; it requires that we take what we have learned and place it in a time and place context.  History demands that we learn to ask the right questions about the past, interpret answers, and be able to explain how and why certain human events came to pass.  If we are good historians, we will strive to accomplish this dispassionately — free of preconceived notions or personal biases.  Good historians are happy to allow history to speak for itself.

But what history does for us is that it nurtures our personal and collective identities.  By understanding our history, and that of our ancestors, we find our place in a large and complex world.  The story of us is often complicated — made so by our struggles, achievements, and failures.  Historians stand at the center stage where it is possible to debate such things as civilized societies, political and religious systems, leadership (or lack thereof), geography, economics, and culture.


President Ronald Reagan once told us that what we must have in our country is an informed patriotism.  He asked whether we were doing a good enough job teaching our children what America is (and I will add, what America isn’t) and what She represents in the long history of the world.  We must not forget what we did, otherwise, we will forget who we are.  “I am warning of an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit.” —Ronald Reagan.

Jarrett Stepman, in his book The War on History: The Conspiracy to Rewrite America’s Past, cautions us, “America is once again at a crossroads.  Though this superpower of almost unimaginable wealth is unlikely to be brought low by a disaster, an uneasiness about our future is difficult to explain.  An all-important question has opened up a great chasm between Americans: Is the essence of our civilization — our culture, our mores, our history — fundamentally good and worth preserving, or is it rotten at its root?”

Stepman and others argue that our gravest threat is not unsustainable debt, inequality, dysfunctional government, or even foreign enemies — it is that charismatic people have convinced a third or more of our people that we must wash away our past to clear the way for a new future.  Demanding the removal of statues of Christopher Columbus and civil war personages wasn’t the goal of these Marxists — the goal was America itself.  This is a conspiracy of radicals to dismantle the pillars of our national exceptionalism and transform them into symbols of oppression, racism, and inequality — so that America becomes an irreparably flawed place.  Who can relate to an inferior place?

Part of our problem in this regard is that historians — the people who help to tell our story as Americans, have not all remained true to their profession.  Numerous problems exist, but I do not want this to become a treatise on all that I find wrong with historians.  I will simply note that some historians present opinion as fact, others tell us outright lies, and still others mislead us because they want their students to come away from the written word with a peculiar point of view.  None of this is necessary.  History is fascinating enough without elaboration or patent dishonesty.  I favor telling the story of America as it actually happened and letting the reader decide for themselves what they think about it.

Last week, I wrote about British General Thomas Gage.  Before turning to the Adams boys, I want to address further the character of King George III’s North American Commander-in-Chief.  Not all historians have been fair to General Gage — and this is undoubtedly true about the producers of videos purporting to be a true and accurate depiction of historical persons and events between 1765 – 1783.  Gage isn’t the only victim.  Videographers have also misrepresented and slandered Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton.  Neither of these British officers was a fascist or murderer.  It is one thing to tell a story in such a way as to offer sympathy to one character or another — for the sake of a story well told — and something else to shatter history so that the story becomes a lie.

General Gage became an aristocrat as an accident of his birth.  He did not choose it, although I am sure he much preferred having a family of some influence over the opposite.  His aristocratic background and his education no doubt produced an idealist.  There is nothing wrong with idealism — and his brand of commitment to principle made him a patriot in the service of his sovereign and British society.  When General Gage assumed the mantle of governance in Massachusetts, he did so as a British governor of a British people.

That Thomas Gage cared about the American colonies appears readily apparent.  His success as a military commander and a governor/colonial administrator would depend upon the success of the colonists themselves.  He would not have wanted these colonies to fail.  Not on his watch.  If he did not care about the colonists, he did care about his legacy.  But I think the evidence of history (principally Gage’s papers) shows us that he did care about the colonists.  He married a woman from New Jersey.  His children were born and raised in the American colonies.

We also know that General Gage was a Whig (a British conservative).  He was also a man of the law.  Some may claim that General Gage was inflexible, but that isn’t the evidence of his treatment of certain key colonial troublemakers.  Thomas Gage never violated the law in his dealings with the likes of Samuel Adams or John Hancock.  He was far more lenient with Paul Revere than he should have been.  He might have moved to crush The Sons of Liberty but never did.  History tells us that, if anything, General Gage was perhaps “too lenient” or “too moderate” in his dealings with the rebels.  This is why he lost his job in North America.  It was the Adams family that helped send him back to England.


Samuel and John shared a common ancestor, making them second cousins.  They were both American-born.  Raised from Pilgrim stock, the boys would have been something less than Anglophiles.  Both boys were named after their fathers (Samuel and John).  Samuel Adams, Sr., belonged to a network of law-breakers (as we shall see), John Adams, Sr., was a more law-abiding man — and that is how he raised his son.  Both boys considered themselves as patriots of the American cause: independence from the United Kingdom.

But Samuel and John Adams had little else in common.  They had different personalities, and there was no family resemblance.  One was a criminal, and the other was a champion of the law.  Both could have been hung for their treason. 

Samuel Adams

Sam Adams, Jr. (1722-1803) was born and raised in Boston.  He was one of twelve children born to Samuel Adams, Sr., and Mary Fifield Adams.  Of those twelve children, only three survived into adulthood.  Sam Sr., like his parents before him, was a devout Puritan, a prosperous merchant, and a church deacon.  He was involved in local politics, promoted populist candidates, served as a justice of the peace, sat on the town council, and served in the Massachusetts legislature.  As a populist, Sam Sr. opposed royal appointees who, because of their loyalty to the Crown, worked to circumvent the Colonial Charter of 1681.  Sam and Mary raised their son to embrace many of his father’s causes and beliefs, particularly his anti-British sentiments.

Sam Jr. attended the Boston Latin School before entering Harvard in 1736.  His parents preferred that he enter the ministry, but Sam favored law and politics over religious training.  Given his childhood development, Sam’s decision to pursue the law was more of a demonstration of populism because, traditionally, Englishmen had little use for lawyers and tried to minimize their role in society.  Colonial legislatures in Massachusetts (1641), Virginia (1658), and the Carolinas (1669) passed laws that prohibited pleading in court for hire.  In the Carolinas, for example, disgruntled citizens described lawyers as “cursed hungry caterpillars whose fees eat out the very bowels of our Commonwealth.” By the 1750s, however, colonial society began acknowledging the necessity of lawyers. 

Before the explosion of lawyers in America, one might consult with a barkeep, who generally kept two law books on his shelf.  Pub clients might rent the law books, or barkeeps might read passages to customers for a fee.  Early colony courts and legislatures limited a lawyer’s ability to appear in court unless he had been admitted into a law practice by other barristers.  Admission to a law practice would signify that the lawyer was knowledgeable of the law and that his law partners were convinced of his proficiency in the law.  Until the advent of law school, most lawyers learned their trade through apprenticeships and clerkships.  It was a pathway lasting seven or more years.  Samuel Adams was not known for his patience.  He thought apprenticeships were a “dreary ramble.” Another method of legal training was the “reading of the law.”  Some candidates read extensively because they had an inquisitive nature, while others read the least amount necessary to pass their examinations — which might describe Samuel Adams.

Although, to his credit, Sam continued his study of law after graduating from Harvard in 1740.  In 1743, he published a thesis (or a treatise) arguing that resistance to authority is lawful when (or if) a commonwealth cannot be otherwise maintained.[1]  Whatever the nature of Samuel’s argument, it may have reflected his father’s involvement in the Massachusetts Land Bank Scandal (1739-1740).[2]  On more than one occasion over many years, Samuel Adams Jr. demonstrated that he was a chip off the old man’s block.

After Massachusetts officials began compiling lists of men judged guilty of illegal financial transactions and compiling a record of their assets (for confiscation), a mysterious fire destroyed the court’s records before they could be procedurally submitted for adjudication.

It was a case of arson, purely and simply — and it saved several leading citizens from imprisonment and financial ruin — Samuel Adams Jr. among them.  Sam regarded royal authority as arbitrary and destructive to the interests of the populist movement — apparently thinking that the state should exercise no power at all.  Still, one wonders how far the Ipswich men would get in their scheme had they hatched it in modern times.  It was a counterfeiting operation worthy of severe federal penalties in contemporary language.

Taxes and Smuggling

I must pause here to elaborate on a few more problematic issues affecting relationships between Great Britain and its American colonies.

A vital element of colonial trade, smuggling developed in response to the strict mercantilist policies of England in the seventeenth century.  To enhance colonial profitability and exert greater control, England passed a series of Navigation Acts that fostered illicit trade and heightened tensions with the colonies.

The earliest Navigation Acts were passed in 1651 and expanded in 1660, 1662, 1663, and 1673.  Designed to control Dutch maritime trade, these acts were only loosely enforced, leaving room for colonial merchants to circumvent the laws.  With little to hinder their activities, colonial merchants traded illegally in goods enumerated in the Navigation Acts and the corn and manufacturing laws passed in the 1660s.  Though the bulk of colonial trade was legal, colonists imported and exported tobacco, sugar, cotton, and wool at will.  Had England strictly enforced its trade laws, the economic impact on the colonies might have been disastrous.  Instead, the colonies engaged in a flourishing trade with other European countries even though such trade was forbidden under the terms of the laws.

Illicit trade between the colonists and European nations did not escape the attention of London merchants, who informed the Lords of Trade in 1676 that their businesses were failing as a result.  They warned that the Crown would suffer dramatic losses in customs revenues (estimated at £60,000 annually).  When pressed for information, colonial merchants admitted they could import goods from Europe at a cost twenty percent less than those imported from England.  Smuggling was very profitable.

In 1677, colonial customs agent Edward Randolph estimated that smuggling cost the Crown well over £100,000 per year in lost revenues.  By 1684, the Lords of Trade convinced the court to revoke the Massachusetts charter and form the royally governed Dominion of New England — an action justified in part by New England’s intentional violations of the navigation acts.

The Molasses Act of 1733 was arguably the harshest of England’s laws governing colonial trade because it provoked a substantial increase in smuggling.  The Molasses Act placed prohibitive duties on molasses and sugar shipped to the colonies from the Dutch, Spanish, and French West Indies.  Often bribing customs officials to avoid paying duties, colonial merchants smuggled in large quantities of molasses, used primarily in rum production — an integral product in what was called the triangle trade.  The Board of Trade received proof of the breach of the Molasses Act and other trade laws from various sources, but it remained extremely difficult to curb these violations.  As but one example, scholars argue that Rhode Island merchants illegally imported 85% of their molasses from the Dutch, French, and Spanish West Indies.

Over the course of the eighteenth century, the Crown passed more trade regulations intended to increase revenue from the colonies and restrict their financial autonomy.  These acts, including the Revenue (Sugar) Act of 1764, the Townshend Acts of 1767, and the Tea Act of 1773, resulted in even more smuggling.  In response, England turned to the only organization capable of combating illegal trade: the Royal Navy and British Army.

A Caustic Personality

Someone once described Sam Adams as a man who liked the sound of his voice in private company. He was loud, simple-minded, and arrogant.  Many people found him boring. Following graduation from law school, Sam had an opportunity to open up his law practice but opted instead to work as an accountant.  It was a poor career decision because Sam had no head for numbers or patience for accountancy. 

After failing as a bookkeeper, Sam joined his father in managing the family malthouse, where they produced mead and beer.[3]  When Sam Sr. died, Sam, the younger, took over the business.  A year later, Sam married his pastor’s daughter, Elizabeth Checkley.  They had seven children, the last of which caused Elizabeth’s death in 1757.  Of their seven children, only two survived into adulthood.  In 1764, Sam married Elizabeth Wells, a widow.  He sired no other children.

Sam Jr. also followed his father into politics.  While serving as the tax clerk of Boston Market, Sam was happy to draw a wage for collecting taxes but refused to assess friends whom he knew could not afford to pay.[4]  Sam’s leniency made him popular among his friends but did nothing to enhance his career.  A reasonable employer might conclude that Mr. Adams was a dishonest man.  Still, Samuel Adams’ dishonesty, if that’s what it was, may have been the effect of earlier British taxation policies.[5]   

The Royal Proclamation of 1763 and the Sugar Act of 1764 were the United Kingdom’s first two attempts to correct Robert Walpole’s unwritten policy of salutary neglect and regain fiscal control over the American colonies.  The Sugar Act was a trade regulation intended to raise revenue while curtailing smuggling.  The Act, a tax on molasses imported into the colonies from the West Indies, disproportionately affected Massachusetts, and the other New England colonies, which depended on the molasses for their rum distilleries.

Sam’s involvement in protesting the Sugar Act propelled him into the Massachusetts political spotlight.  As a member of the Town Meeting and a vocal critic of the tax, the town council asked Sam Adams to voice the council’s opposition to the act to the members of the House of Representatives.  Sam recommended that the thirteen united colonies oppose the act.

Borrowing from James Otis’[6] thoughts about taxation without representation, Adams asserted: “For if our Trade may be taxed, why not our Lands?  Why not the Produce of our Lands & everything we possess or make use of?  This we apprehend annihilates our Charter Right to govern & tax ourselves.  It strikes at our British privileges, which, as we have never forfeited them, we hold in common with our Fellow Subjects who are Natives of Britain.  If Taxes are laid upon us in any shape without our having a legal Representation where they are laid, are we not reduced from the Character of free Subjects to the miserable State of tributary Slaves?[7]

In questioning Parliament’s authority over the colonies and offering the suggestion of united opposition, Sam Adams highlighted the duality of Puritan New England’s fundamental, radical conservatism while laying an essential cornerstone for revolution.   The Town Meeting, a form of government created by Puritans (unique to the New England colonies), challenged the authority of the British Empire’s legislature.

In 1765, Parliament passed the Stamp Act, which required that most printed materials bear a revenue stamp and anyone who violated the Act to stand before an admiralty court.[8]  Unlike previous taxes, the Stamp Act was a direct tax that affected nearly all colonists.  To Sam Adams, this tax was an affront to Massachusetts’s Colonial Charter, and his opposition to it propelled him into a leadership position within the so-called Loyal Nine (precursor to The Sons of Liberty), who opposed “parliamentary tyranny.”  In September, the people of Boston elected Adams to a seat within the House of Representatives (which he held for nine years).  He almost immediately began to write resolutions defending the rights and liberties of the people of Massachusetts.  Among his writings were, “…that all acts made by any power whatever, other than the General Assembly of this Province, imposing taxes on the inhabitants, are infringements of our inherent and inalienable rights as men and British subjects, and render void the most valuable declarations of our charter.”

Joining with other radicals, Sam Adams became Clerk of the House.  Thomas Cushing served as Speaker.  Combined with members such as James Otis and John Hancock, the Massachusetts House became a den of radicals (and, given their involvement in smuggling — criminals).  The New England colonies were overjoyed when Parliament repealed the Stamp Act but positively incensed when British legislators concurrently passed the Declaratory Act, reaffirming Parliament’s authority over all colonial assemblies.  In 1767, Parliament passed the Townshend Acts — an effort to disrupt rampant smuggling operations in the colonies.  Sam Adams led efforts to boycott British goods and draft a petition to the King urging his respect for the Charter Rights of Massachusetts.  Not everyone in Massachusetts agreed with the petition, however.  About a third of these people were British loyalists.

John Adams

John (1735-1826) was the son of John Adams Sr. and Susanna Boylston.  He was the eldest of three sons, born in Braintree, Massachusetts.  John Sr. was a farmer, shoemaker, and a lieutenant in the local militia.  He also served as a deacon in the family’s church and a member of the town council responsible for supervising road and school construction.  Susanna’s father was a medical doctor from Brookline, Massachusetts.

As with Samuel, John was raised in a Puritan environment, an influence that remained with him all his life.  John’s parents raised their children to exhibit unyielding good character.  As the family’s eldest son, his parents insisted that he receive a formal education, beginning at age six.  He later attended the Braintree Latin School (Latin, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic) — although not without some truancy, a distaste for his teacher, and a preference for working as a farmer.  Despite his son’s well-articulated objections, his father “commanded” that he remain in school.

While at Braintree Latin, John demonstrated that he was a keen scholar and a classicist.  John’s father wanted him to become a minister.  However, John wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, so after graduating from Braintree, he taught school in Worcester, Massachusetts.  His eventual decision conflicted with his Puritan upbringing; he decided to study law.

John Adams enrolled at Harvard in 1751, studied under James Putnam in 1756, and earned his degree in 1758.  After passing his bar examination in 1759, Adams opened a law practice.  He was most influenced by James Otis, who wrote and spoke eloquently and may have inspired Adams to take up the patriot cause.  Some historians argue that if there was one thing that ignited the American Revolution, it was the issue of writs of assistance.[9]  The Americans would tolerate many things, but an interruption to their smuggling activities and other criminal enterprises was not one of them.

John met and married Abigail Smith, a third cousin.  John sired six children, two of whom died before maturity.  Quincy was their only successful offspring. All three of their sons became lawyers; John Quincy would become the 6th President of the United States and a career member of the U. S. House of Representatives.

Charles and Thomas were failures as lawyers and as human beings; both eventually died from alcoholism.

Like Sam, John rose to prominence in Massachusetts politics after Parliament’s passage of the Stamp Act of 1766.  John’s primary objection was that the Act should not have passed without first consulting with the colonial legislatures.  Wary of exposing himself to British authorities, John wrote in opposition to the act under the alias Humphrey Ploughjogger.  He wrote four such essays, published in the Boston Gazette and republished in the London Chronicle in 1768 as Two Sentiments of America.  One thing John would not do, however, was participate in radical mob demonstrations.

After the Townshend Acts, enraged radicals committed violent acts against lawful authority.  Tax collectors and customs agents conducted their business on the premise that law-abiding citizens would fork over amounts due on demand.  Should a citizen refuse to pay, the matter went into the courts for resolution. This was a viable strategy because there were no police departments or other law enforcement mechanisms.

But officials of the crown became quite nervous about all this radical and criminal activity and sought the protection of the British military.  General Thomas Gage dispatched troops to occupy the City of Boston to provide security and ensure law and order.  On 5 March 1770, a gang of thugs descended on a lone British sentry (Private Hugh White), surrounded, and assaulted him.  Captain Thomas Preston quickly mustered seven additional troops to reinforce White, but the mob also surrounded them.  The soldiers, firing into the crowd in self-defense, killed five colonists and wounded five more.

Civil authorities quickly arrested the nine soldiers and charged them with murder.  John Adams placed his local reputation on the line by stepping forward to defend these soldiers when no one else would.  A jury acquitted Captain Preston in October (the prosecution failed to prove that the officer gave the order to fire).  The rest of the men went to trial in December.  The jury convicted the two shooters of manslaughter.[10] 

The rest of the soldiers were acquitted.

John Adams’s now-famous closing argument included these words: “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.  It is more important that innocence be protected than it is that guilt be punished, for guilt and crimes are so frequent in this world that they cannot all be punished.  But if innocence itself is brought to the bar and condemned, perhaps to die, then the citizen will say, ‘whether I do good or whether I do evil is immaterial, for innocence itself is no protection, and if such an idea as that were to take hold in the mind of the citizen — that would be the end of security whatsoever.”

Of all the founding fathers, John Adams was among the more conservative.  In 1770, he steadfastly believed that British actions toward the colonies were wrong and misguided, but he also thought rebellion and insurrection were unwarranted.  John Adams preferred a peaceful, reasoned settlement of perplexing issues.  He moved away from this position in 1772 when the British Crown assumed responsibility for paying the salaries of governors and other high officials.  This was a significant issue, for, in the colonists’ minds, any governor or judge paid by the Crown could never render an impartial decision. All judges and prosecutors are on the government’s payroll. This system, objectionable in 1772, remains in place today.


Samuel Adams left Philadelphia and returned to Boston in 1779 to attend a state constitutional convention.  The Massachusetts General Court had proposed a new constitution the previous year, but voters rejected it, so a convention was held to try again.  Adams was appointed to a three-man drafting committee with his cousin John Adams and James Bowdoin.  They drafted the Massachusetts Constitution, amended by the convention, and approved by voters in 1780.  The new constitution established a republican form of government, with annual elections and a separation of powers.  It reflected Adams’s belief that “a state is never free except when each citizen is bound by no law whatever that he has not approved of, either directly, or through his representatives  .”By modern standards, the new constitution was not in any way democratic.  In Adams’ day, free white males who owned property were allowed to vote. 

Sam Adams retired from the Continental Congress in 1781, two years before the end of the war.  His health was not good.  He was approaching his sixtieth birthday.  He wanted to return to Massachusetts to influence politics in the Commonwealth.  He never left Massachusetts again. 

John Adams was inexhaustible as a member of the Continental Congress.  He was a member of the Grand Committee — helped draft the Declaration of Independence, sat on 90 separate committees, and chaired 25 of those — an unmatched workload among his peers.  He served as Commissioner to France, Ambassador to the Dutch Republic, and participated in formulating the Treaty of Paris. He was Ambassador to Great Britain, Vice President of the United States, and Second President.

The story of two New Englanders — both men a product of their parent’s upbringing and their values, changed by circumstances that they helped to create … and both men, affected in some way by their adversary: British General Thomas Gage, who was a product of his parent’s upbringing, and their values, whose circumstances were changed by two cousins from Massachusetts.


  1. Alden, John R.  General Gage in America.  Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 1948.
  2. Alexander, J. K.  Samuel Adams: America’s Revolutionary Politician.  Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002.
  3. Anderson, F.  Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766.  New York: Alfred Knopf, 2000.
  4. Ellis, J. J.  Passionate Siege: The Character and Legacy of John Adams.  New York: Norton & Company, 1993.
  5. McCullough, D.  John Adams.  New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.
  6. Miller, J. C.  Sam Adams: Pioneer in Propaganda.  Boston: Little Brown, 1936.


[1] Some historians claim that Sam Adams earned a magister degree (master’s) in 1743, but the earliest such degree awarded in the United States was in 1870.  Source: American Historical Association.

[2] In the first half of the 18th Century, the British colonies suffered from a shortage of money in circulation.  Local merchants had coinage, but most everyone else did not.  In 1727, the General Court of Massachusetts, in recognizing the seriousness of the issue, allowed the province to collect taxes on commodities and manufactured goods (so long as the goods were produced inside the providence).  By mid-summer 1731, the issue was unresolved, which caused provincial officials to send out an appeal to the towns for aid.  In Ipswich, city fathers debated the issue and finally decided not to offer any relief to the province at all.  By this time, the town of Ipswich had been in existence for 100 years and had, in that time, lost most of its interest in assisting the Massachusetts government in any fashion whatsoever.

However, what did evolve was a scheme to print its own money in violation of the authority of the Crown and over the objections of the governor and his council.  The scheme began as a solution to a serious issue, but it evolved into a populist movement.  If the government couldn’t solve this problem, the fathers of Ipswich could.  But printing money is a function of government, notably the British Parliament, and no one in Parliament was amused by the activities of Ipswich.  For one thing, printing illegal money was treason.  One of the schemers was Samuel Adams Sr., and when he died, his son became responsible for settling the matter.  It made Samuel Adams Jr., a somewhat less enthusiastic citizen of the United Kingdom.

[3] Mead is made from honey, water, and yeast.  Beer is made from malting, mashing, boiling, and fermenting barley, yeast, and hops. 

[4] At the conclusion of the French and Indian War in 1763, Great Britain gained control over French Canada but at the same time, doubled its national debt.  The Parliament was forced to raise revenues.  Increased revenues made it necessary to increase taxes within the American colonies.

[5] Salutary neglect was Britain’s unofficial policy, initiated by Prime Minister Robert Walpole, to relax the enforcement of strict regulations, particularly trade laws, imposed on the American colonies late in the seventeenth and early in the eighteenth centuries.  Walpole and other proponents of this approach hoped that Britain, by easing its grip on colonial trade, could focus its attention on European politics and further cement its role as a world power. Because the policy was unwritten, it went unnamed until March 22, 1775, when Edmund Burke, addressing Parliament, cited British officials’ “wise and salutary neglect” as the prime factor in the booming commercial success of the country’s North American holdings. Indeed, salutary neglect enabled the American colonies to prosper by trading with non-British entities, and then to spend that wealth on British-made goods, while at the same time providing Britain with raw materials for manufacture. But the policy had an unintended side effect: it enabled the colonies to operate independently of Britain, both economically and politically, and to forge an American identity. Some historians argue that this loose hold on the colonies, which King George III and his ministers tightened in 1760, gave them the freedom to pull away from Britain and start down the path to revolution.

[6] In 1761, James Otis (Jr.) (1725-1783) famously challenged the British government’s writs of assistance, which were search warrants designed to enforce trade and navigation laws.  Such warrants authorized customs officers to search any house for smuggled goods.  Otis raised the doctrine of natural law which emphasized the rights of citizens to be secure in their homes and property — a framework for the Bill of Rights in subsequent decades.  Otis coined the phrase, “Taxation without representation is tyranny.”

[7] From the British point of view, given the appointment of royal governors, governor’s councils, houses of representatives, or assemblies, the colonies were adequately “represented.”  What Adams (and Otis) suggested was that the colonies should only be taxed on things they agreed to pay taxes on.  This is an interesting argument, but I would guess that no one in the present IRS would agree with such a proposition.

[8] Dating back to the reign of Edward III, Admiralty Courts exercised jurisdiction over maritime contracts, torts, injuries, and offenses.  Judges were appointed and removed by England’s Lord High Admiral, and they were paid a stipend from the Crown, which called into question their impartiality in matters before the bar — that, along with removing a right to a jury trial, further inflamed the passions of the American colonists.

[9] In colonial America, writs of assistance increased tensions leading toward the Revolutionary War.  In 1760, customs officers were granted writs (search warrants), which the colonists insisted violated their rights as British subjects.

[10] Two musket balls killing five men was a remarkable achievement; it was either that, or more than two men fired into the crowd.

Posted in American Frontier, Bill of Rights, British Colonies, Colonial America, Founding Fathers, History, Outlaws, Politicians, Revolution, Society | 5 Comments

Thomas Gage


British General Thomas Gage was, at one time, the highest authority in North America during the early stages of the American Revolutionary War.  In his time, he was criticized by the British and the Americans alike, and to this day, he is viewed by some as a poor military leader.  Such a judgment may be too harsh.

Thomas Gage (1718-1787) was the second son of 1st Viscount Thomas Gage and Benedicta Maria Teresa Hall, born in Firle, England.  As the viscount’s second-born son, Thomas was ineligible to inherit his father’s lands or title, but in his desire to do the best he could for his son and namesake, his father enrolled him in the Westminster School.  It was there that Thomas met and became friends with John Burgoyne, Richard Howe, and George Germain.  Raised as an Anglican, Gage developed a strong dislike for Catholicism and those who practiced it.

The Early Years

We know that Gage left Westminster School in 1736, and we know that he joined the British Army as an ensign in 1741.  What he did in the intervening years is unknown to us.  His earliest duties consisted of recruiting for the army in Yorkshire.  Recruiting duty was not the ideal assignment for a novice officer; his task consisted mostly of sending seasoned NCOs out to do the work, and his assignment was mainly to certify the enlistment documents.  He would not have learned much about fieldcraft, or leadership, or warfare.  After purchasing a lieutenant’s commission, he briefly served with the 1st Northampton Regiment before his assignment to the 62nd (Wiltshire) Regiment, where he served as a captain-lieutenant.[1]  Promoted to captain in the following year (no doubt the result of his father’s financial backing), he participated in the War of Austrian Succession in Flanders where he served as aide-de-camp to the Earl of Albemarle (Lieutenant General Willem Anne van Keppel) in the Battle of Fontenoy.

During the Jacobite Uprising (the Stuart rebellion) he fought in the Battle of Culloden (1746) and served in the low countries from 1747 – 1748.  In that year, he purchased a commission to major and transferred to the 55th Regiment of Foot for service in Ireland (1748 – 1755); Gage advanced to lieutenant colonel in 1751. 

Thomas Gage

Socially, he was a popular figure, attended all the right clubs, he traveled to exotic cities, such as Paris.  He did not consume alcohol but gambled lightly (socially) and his friendships spanned class and ability.  He corresponded with General Charles L Lee and established friendships with Lord William Barrington and General Jeffrey Amherst.

Before advancing to lieutenant colonel, Major Gage became engaged to a lady of rank and fortune.  While she accepted Gage’s proposal, the engagement was later broken, and Gage was spiritually wounded.  What he needed at that particular time was an adventure.

North American Adventures

The border between New France and British North America was not well defined.  One disputed territory was the upper Ohio River valley, then part of Old Virginia.  The French had constructed a number of forts in this region in an attempt to strengthen their claim to the territory.  British colonial forces, led by the 21-year-old militia Lieutenant Colonel named George Washington, attempted to expel the French in 1754 but were outnumbered and defeated by the French and their Indian allies.  When news of Washington’s defeat reached British Prime Minister Thomas Pelham-Holles, Duke of Newcastle, he called for a quick (yet undeclared) retaliatory strike.  However, his adversaries in Parliament outmaneuvered him by making PM’s intentions public, thus alerting the French Government, and escalating a distant frontier skirmish into a full-scale war.

The outbreak of the Seven Year’s War (which was actually a global event) began in North America with George Washington.  Under Pelham-Holles’ plan, Parliament dispatched Captain-General Edward Braddock “to expel French forces from the Ohio Country.”  Thomas Gage’s regiment was part of Braddock’s expedition.[2]

The British started the war, but it was not a good beginning.  Braddock, a typical British aristocrat, not only managed to alienate his native American allies but his colonial support base, as well — in equal measure.  As Commander-in-Chief of the British Army in North America, General Braddock led the main thrust against French fortifications in the Ohio Country.  Braddock’s column included around 1,300 men (two regular infantry regiments, one militia infantry regiment, artillery, and other support troops), and an extremely long wagon train.  Braddock intended to seize Fort Duquesne (near present-day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) and then use that location as his base for pushing further into New France.  Gage’s regiment, renamed the 44th Regiment of Foot, was Braddock’s vanguard unit, Gage commanded the lead battalion within the regiment.

On 8th July, General Braddock’s force was encamped on land owned by his chief scout, Lieutenant John Fraser.  That evening, Braddock received an invitation to meet with local Indians.  He sent militia Lieutenant Colonel George Washington and Lieutenant Fraser.  The Indians asked the British to halt in place for a few days so that they could attempt to negotiate a peaceful withdrawal by the French from Fort Duquesne.  Both Washington and Fraser recommended this course of action to Braddock, who demurred.   

Braddock resumed march the next morning.  Gage’s battalion of 300 grenadiers and colonial artillery stepped off with a flourish of field music and drum cadence.  Washington warned Gage that his order of march was flawed (the formation was too bunched up and too loud in the line of march), advising him that the French would not meet with him in an open field under Queensbury Rules.  Apparently, the 36-year-old Lieutenant Colonel Gage didn’t require the advice of a 22-year-old colonial militia officer, and so he marched his command into meeting engagement with an estimated 100 French and Indian warriors — a force that quickly grew to around 900 enemies.

Thus began the Battle of the Monongahela (also, Battle of the Wilderness).  After the opening salvo of musketry, Gage withdrew his men to form a battle line, but was unable to do so because of the confined space of the battle area.  Confusion in the ranks ensued, and as Gage tempted to sort his men, the French combatants quickly enveloped Braddock’s column and began pouring fire into his disorganized ranks.  Both General Braddock and the officer commanding the 44th Regiment, Colonel Peter Halkett, fell mortally wounded.

Lieutenant Colonel Gage, although himself wounded, assumed command of the regiment.[3]  Young Washington distinguished himself by his courage under fire during the fight and by organizing the British force for an orderly withdrawal.[4]  For several years afterward, Gage and Washington maintained friendly correspondence but by 1770, Washington openly criticized Gage’s actions in asserting British authority in Massachusetts.[5]

Edward Braddock was replaced by Captain-General John Campbell, Lord Loudoun, in 1756.  Campbell served as Commander-in-Chief of North America and Governor-General of Virginia.  Loudoun was highly unpopular with the colonists and even less so after he moved against colonial traders who continued trading with the French after the commencement of hostilities.  One of Loudoun’s first steps was to close all British ports — which did little more than encourage smuggling operations.[6]

In December 1757, Lieutenant Colonel Gage proposed to Lord Loudoun the creation of a regiment of light infantry that, given the terrain in North America, would be better suited to woodland warfare.  Loudoun approved the plan before he was recalled to England, and recommended Gage for promotion to Colonel. 

Under the direction of Major General James Abercrombie, Lord Loudoun’s replacement, Gage spent the winter in Brunswick, New Jersey, recruiting for his new regiment, the 80th Regiment of Light-Armed Foot — a first for the British Army.  Gage may have chosen Brunswick because of his infatuation with Margaret Kemble, an attractive and well-placed lady in colonial society.  In any case, Gage’s recruiting and courting were both successful.  In 1758, Gage was in preparations for the annual campaign at Albany, New York, when he married Miss Kemble.

The campaign for which Gage went to Albany culminated in the disastrous defeat for the British at Fort Carillon where 4,000 French troops defeated 16,000 British.  Gage, whose 80th Regiment served in the vanguard, was again wounded — he, along with 2,000 other British soldiers.[7]  Before the battle, Abercrombie brevetted Gage to Brigadier General.  In 1759, Gage’s brother William, 2nd Viscount Gage, helped Thomas achieve regular promotion to Brigadier General.

Major General Jeffrey Amherst replaced Abercrombie as Commander-in-Chief of North America.  He placed Brigadier General Gage in charge of the garrison at Albany, New York.  Shortly after capturing Fort Ticonderoga (without a fight), Amherst learned of the death of Brigadier General John Prideaux, Amherst ordered Gage to replace Prideaux and seize Fort La Galette on Lake Ontario.  When Amherst subsequently learned that the French had also abandoned Fort St. Frédéric, he gave Gage more explicit instructions to capture La Galette and then, if possible, proceed to Montreal.

At Oswego, with only limited information about French troop strength, Gage determined that it would not be prudent to move against La Galette at that time and decided to await the arrival of reinforcements from Fort Duquesne.  Gage sent a courier to Amherst to explain his decision.  Amherst, who was well-known as an aggressive field commander, was outraged that Gage did not carry out his mission.  Subsequently, Amherst relegated Gage to guard the wagon train in his march (and conquest) of Montreal.

After the fall of Montreal in 1760, Amherst appointed Gage as the city’s governor, a task he found distasteful because it involved the day-to-day operation of a major city in addition to his military duties.  Nevertheless, Margaret joined him in Montreal, which became the birthplace of his first two children.  In 1761, the army promoted Gage to Major General and appointed him to serve as Colonel of the 22nd Regiment of Foot.[8]

History remembers General Gage as a fair administrator with a healthy distrust of French landowners and Catholic clergy.  When peace was announced following the Treaty of Paris in 1763, he began lobbying for another post.  While General Amherst was on leave in England, Gage learned that he would be named as his successor.  Gage left Montreal without delay and by mid-November had assumed his new duties in New York.  His first task was to solve the problem of Pontiac’s Rebellion.

Pontiac’s War


Following the conquest of New France, General Amherst (a man devoid of any respect for native Americans) instituted policies that severely hampered British-Indian relations, principally forbidding the sale of ammunition to them.  Combined with widespread concern about British expansion into their territories, this prompted the tribes of the Ohio Country and the formerly French Pays d’en Haut to rise up against the British.[9]  Note: there are no genuine images of Pontiac — pictured left is an artist’s rendition.

In May 1763, under the leadership of the Ottawa leader Pontiac, the Ottawa launched a series of assaults on lightly manned forts, successfully driving the British into retreat and terrorizing surrounding settlements.  General Gage hoped to end the conflict through diplomacy.  He sent Colonel John Bradstreet and Colonel Henry Bouquet on military expeditions while directing Sir William Johnson to initiate peace negotiations.  Johnson negotiated the Treaty of Fort Niagara in the summer of 1764; Bouquet negotiated a cease-fire in October.  In 1765, the 42nd Royal Highland Regiment pacified Fort Cavendish, but the conflict was not fully resolved until Pontiac signed a formal treaty with Johnson at Fort Ontario (1766).

General Amherst applied for and was granted a leave of absence from his duties in North America.  While in England, the General announced that he had no intention of returning to North America.  Upon that announcement, the Crown made Gage’s position as Commander-in-Chief permanent.

Despite the intrigues by such men as Robert Monckton, Major General Gage was promoted to lieutenant general in 1771.  He spent most of his time in and around New York City.  He was generally an honest man, in that he did not help himself to the public treasury, but he was not above engaging in nepotism and favoritism.


Political tensions increased during General Gage’s administration.  Strategically, Gage decided that his best course of action was to withdraw his forces from outlying settlements and reposition them along the Atlantic coast, near New York City and Boston.  As the number of soldiers stationed in cities grew, the need to provide adequate food and housing for these troops became urgent.

General Gage had found it difficult to persuade colonial assemblies to pay for the quartering and provisioning of military forces on the march.  Gage asked Parliament for a quartering act.  Most of the colonies had supplied provisions during the war, but the issue was disputed in peacetime.  The Province of New York was the Commander-in-Chief’s headquarters only because the New York Assembly had passed an Act to provide for the quartering of British regulars — an act that expired on 2 January 1764. 

Parliament approved Gage’s request — but the Quartering Act of 1765 went far beyond what General Gage had requested.  No standing army had been kept in the American colonies before the French and Indian War, so the colonies asked the question: why was a standing army needed after the defeat of the French?

On 24 March 1765, Parliament passed the Quartering Act — one of a series of measures primarily aimed at raising revenue from the British colonies in America. Although the Quartering Act did not provoke the immediate and sometimes violent protests that opposed the Stamp Act, it did prove to be a source of contention between some colonies and Great Britain during the years leading up to the Revolution.

Even during the French and Indian War, British commanders in North America found it difficult to persuade provincial assemblies to pay for the costs of housing and provisioning the soldiers sent over to fight the French.  Once the war had ended, the king’s advisors decided that some British troops should remain in North America — in theory, to defend the colonies.  Since the war had left Britain with a large national debt (£15 million in 2022 currency), it also was especially important that the colonies pay their share of the costs of keeping these men in America.

The Quartering Act of 1765 did not require that colonists bivouac soldiers in their private homes. The act did require colonial governments to provide and pay for feeding and sheltering any troops stationed in their colony. If military barracks were insufficient in number, then soldiers could be housed in inns, stables, outbuildings, uninhabited houses, or private homes that sold wine or alcohol. The act did not provoke widespread or violent opposition, partly because significant numbers of British troops were stationed in only a few colonies and also because most colonies managed to evade fully complying with its provisions. To a certain extent the Quartering Act was overshadowed by the colonist’s response to the Stamp Act, also passed in 1765.

At this point, the colonists were hard to please.  Many American colonists saw the Quartering Act as one more way Parliament was attempting to tax them without their consent.  Others suspected that the real purpose of keeping a small standing army in America – stationed in coastal cities, not on the frontier – was not for defense at all, but rather to enforce new British policies and taxes.  The Quartering Act did become a divisive issue in 1766, however, after 1,500 British soldiers disembarked at New York City.  The New York Provincial Assembly refused to provide funds to cover the costs of feeding and housing these men as required by the law.  In response, the British Parliament voted to suspend the Provincial Assembly until it complied with the act.  As it turned out, the suspension was never put into effect since the New York Assembly soon agreed to allocate revenue to cover some of the costs of quartering these troops.  The Quartering Act of 1765 was largely circumvented by most colonies during the years before the Revolution.

American colonists resented and opposed the Quartering Act of 1765, not because it meant they had to house British soldiers in their homes, but because they were being taxed to pay for provisions and barracks for the army — a standing army that they thought was unnecessary during peacetime and an army that they feared might be used against them (and they were right about that).

General Gage traveled to the United Kingdom with his family in June 1773 — so he missed the Boston Tea Party in December.  Parliament correctly judged the tea party as an act of lawlessness, and it was such a blatant example that there was no way Parliament could “overlook” such behavior.  Of course, those who planned, organized, and participated in the tea party were counting on this.  The Parliament was so incensed that they pass a series of punitive measures the colonists called the “intolerable” acts.  What you will hear Americans saying about this is, “The intolerable acts were a series of punitive laws passed by the British Parliament in 1774 after the Boston Tea Party, designed to punish Massachusetts colonists for their defiance in the Tea Party protest of the Tea Act.”  This statement is not altogether true.

The Tea Act of 1773 was a legislative maneuver by the British government under Lord North to make English tea marketable in North America.  A previous crisis had been averted in 1770 when all of the Townshend Acts had been lifted (except that on tea) which had been mainly supplied to the colonies by Dutch and colonial smugglers.  In an effort to help the financially strapped British East India Company sell 17 million pounds of tea stored in England, the Tea Act rearranged excise regulations so that the company could pay the Townshend duty and still undersell its competition.  But Lord North had another problem: to convince the colonists that they were still under the control of the British government and that Parliament could lawfully tax them as it saw fit.[10]

The colonists may have regarded these acts as “intolerable,” because they were imposed on a growing criminal element within the colonies, but Parliament saw them as simply coercive (which is what governments have always done to force compliance with policy and/or regulations).  To put a fine point on this, the Parliament was no more tyrannical than the U.S. government is today, which forces consumers to spend $5.00 on a pack of cigarettes when a pack of cigarettes used to cost fifty cents.

In consultations with Parliament in England, General Gage suggested (and Parliament implemented) the option of moving certain trials to English courts, restricting the activities of town councils, and depriving certain areas within the Ohio Country.  At that point in time, General Gage was more popular on both sides of the Atlantic than were Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson and Lieutenant Governor Andrew Oliver.  Members of Parliament were convinced that if anyone could placate the colonists, it would be General Gage.  Thus, in 1774, Gage was appointed Governor of Massachusetts.  There continues a debate about whether Bostonians were happy to greet Gage, or happier to see Hutchinson leave Boston.

Whatever Bostonians imagined about Gage was quickly affected by his first actions as Governor.  His Boston Port Act resulted in higher unemployment, and to “prevent” the Massachusetts assembly from sending delegates to the Continental Congress, he dissolved it.  Shortly after arriving back in North America from England, Gage withdrew his military garrisons from New York City, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Halifax, and Newfoundland.  He also created a standing naval presence in Boston Harbor and demanded the confiscation of war-making materials and gunpowder.  This activity may be the reason why the founding fathers crafted a Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  In any case, while Gage was successful in confiscating gun powder, a thousand (or more) local militia marched to Cambridge as a show of force, which in turn made Gage ever mindful that the colonists were no paper tiger.

Gages’ actions resulted in more than a few unanticipated consequences, such as driving colonists to expand the committees of correspondence and safety.  He also caused The Sons of Liberty to offer him greater scrutiny.  Several of Gage’s subordinate officers wondered aloud why he was lenient with The Sons of Liberty — or why he put up with their insolence.

On 14 April 1775 Gage received orders from London to take decisive action against the Patriots.  He knew the militia had been stockpiling armaments at Concord (Massachusetts) and ordered detachments of regular Army from Boston to march there on the night of 18 April and confiscate those weapons.  A brief skirmish in Lexington scattered colonial militia gathered there, but in a later standoff in Concord, a portion of the British force was routed by a much-stronger militia.  The British search for weapons at Concord was largely unsuccessful because the colonists, having received an advance warning, had removed most of the weapons.  When the Red Coats left Concord, arriving militia engaged the British column in a running gun battle all the way back to Charlestown.  The battles of Lexington and Concord resulted in 273 casualties for the British, and 93 for the rebels.

Margaret Kemble-Gage

Gage’s order to confiscate the colonists’ weapons was supposed to be a secret.  It was found out by Joseph Warren and communicated by messenger to inform the colonists.  Gage had told his plans to only two people: his second-in-command and Margaret Kemble-Gage, his wife.  Some scholars claim (although hard evidence is nil) that Mrs. Kemble-Gage, an American-born woman, passed this information to Dr. Warren.  Photograph (right) of Margaret Kemble-Gage, c. 1771.  Following skirmishes at Lexington and Concord, thousands of colonial militia surrounded Boston town and began their siege.  At first, the rebels bottled up 4,000 British regulars.  Admiral Samuel Graves continued to control the harbor, which allowed the arrival of 4,500 reinforcements.  Arriving with the men were three additional general officers: Major General William Howe, and Brigadier Generals John Burgoyne and Henry Clinton.

On 14 June, Gage issued a proclamation (believed to have been written by Burgoyne) granting a general pardon to all who would demonstrate loyalty to the crown — with the notable exceptions of John Hancock and Samuel Adams, both of whom were known as traitors and criminals.  Soon after, Gage began working with the three recently arrived generals to break the grip of the besieging rebels.  The plan involved an amphibious assault to seize Dorchester Heights and an attack against rebels in Roxbury.  They would then seize the heights on the Charlestown peninsula, including Breeds and Bunker Hill.  Eventually, the British would take the colonial headquarters at Cambridge.  Again, someone sent a warning to the rebels.

On the night of 16–17 June, the colonists fortified Breed’s Hill, which threatened the British position in Boston.  On 17 June 1775, forces under General Howe seized the Charlestown Peninsula (the Battle of Bunker Hill).  The British won the battle, but at a terrible cost without a significant change in the state of the siege.  In the morning, there were 8,500 British soldiers; in the evening, there were only 7,500.  General Gage wrote to the Secretary at War —

“These people show a spirit and conduct against us they never showed against the French.  They are now spirited up by rage and enthusiasm as great as ever people were possessed of, and you must proceed in earnest or give the business up.  A small body acting in one spot will not avail, you must have large armies making diversions on different sides, to divide their force.  The loss we have sustained is greater than we can bear.  Small armies cannot afford such losses, especially when the advantage gained tends to do little more than the gaining of a post.”

On 25 June 1775, Gage wrote a dispatch to Great Britain, notifying Lord Dartmouth of the results of the battle on 17 June.  Three days after his report arrived in England, Dartmouth issued the order recalling Gage and directing that William Howe assume his duties.  Some historians suggest that Dartmouth had already decided to relieve Gage and that the devastating battle was only the last straw.  Thomas Gage received his orders on 26 September 1775 and set sail for England on 11 October.

General Gage’s recall did not end his career.  Upon his return to England, Gage and his family settled in London.  King George continued to favor his “mild general,” but the press was far less kind to him.  The King advanced Gage to full general in 1782 — he passed away on 2 April 1787.


[1] The British Army rank of captain-lieutenant no longer exists.  The rank indicated the lieutenant of the first company in the regiment.  In the 1740s, the next rank would have been captain.

[2] Captain-General (no longer in use in the British Army) was essentially a full general through the mid-18th  Century.

[3] Subsequently, Captain Robert Orme (Braddock’s aide-de-camp) filed a report indicating that it was Gage’s poor leadership in the field that caused Braddock’s defeat.  Orme’s spurious charges had no long-term impact on Gage’s career but did keep him from acquiring permanent command of the 44th Regiment of Foot.

[4] Of the 1,300 men under Braddock, 456 were killed outright, and 422 were wounded.  Of the officers, 26 of 86 were killed with an additional 37 wounded.  Of the 50 women accompanying the wagon train, only 4 survived.  The French reported 23 killed and 20 wounded.

[5] One can understand Washington’s criticism — it was the official patriot point of view, but there is also the reality that Gen. Gage had very little choice in the matter. 

[6] Benjamin Franklin, who was somewhat well acquainted with Loudoun’s character, observed that indecision was his strongest attribute.  Loudoun was recalled to England after the French bluffed Loudoun from mounting an expedition against Louisbourg and their capture of Fort William Henry.   

[7] Also includes Brigadier General George Howe, 3rd Viscount Howe, and Abercrombie’s second in command.  According to some sources, in his day, General Howe was the best officer in the entire British Army.  He was the elder brother of William, who later became Commander-in-Chief of British North America.

[8] An honorary appointment of patronage.

[9] Pays d’en Haute, or upper country an area west of Montreal that included most of the Great Lakes.

[10] Chelsey Parrott-Sheffer, editor, Encyclopedia Britannica, 2022.

Posted in American Frontier, American Indians, British Colonies, Colonial America, History, Indian War, New France, Pioneers | 1 Comment

The Fifty-six

The fifty-six men who signed the Declaration of Independence pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor.  Who were these men, and what happened to them?  All of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were educated.  Some were lawyers and jurists, others were merchants, and some were farmers and plantation owners.  All of these men were British.  All of them knew what they were doing: they were committing treason.  All of them knew that the punishment for treason was death.

Were these men radicals?  Were they domestic terrorists? One’s answer depends on many factors.  Most had security — but they placed a higher value on liberty.  Each of these men had more to lose than gain by declaring their allegiance to freedom, and they were all aware of what might happen to them.  They penned, “For the support of this declaration, with firm reliance on the protection of the divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

Nine of these men fought and died from wounds or hardships during the war.  Five were captured by the British, charged with treason, and tortured before they died.  Twelve men had their homes ransacked and burned, and two of them lost their sons who fought in the Continental Army.  One man had two of his sons captured by the British.

Several men lost their wives; some lost their entire families.  One lost his 13 children.  The wives of two of these men were poorly treated by British officials.  Seventeen of these men lost everything they owned, yet none reneged on their oath.  Each of these men learned, in different ways, that freedom is never free.

The Signers of the Declaration of Independence

All the colonies were represented in Philadelphia to consider the delicate case for independence and change the war’s course.  In all, there were fifty-six representatives from the thirteen colonies.  Fourteen represented the New England Colonies, twenty-one represented the Middle Colonies, and twenty-one represented the Southern Colonies.  The most significant number (9) came from Pennsylvania.  Eight of the signers were foreign-born.  Their ages ranged from 26 years (Edward Rutledge) to 70 (Benjamin Franklin).  Most were in their thirties and forties.  More than half of the signers were lawyers, while the rest were planters, merchants, and shippers — men of means with everything to lose.  One-third of them served as militia during the Revolutionary War.  But, whatever happened to these men?


Samuel Huntington (1731-1796) — was a self-made man who distinguished himself in government on the state and national levels.  He was the President of Congress from 1779-1781 and presided over adopting the Articles of Confederation in 1781.  He returned to Connecticut and was the Chief Justice of the Superior Court in 1784, Lieutenant Governor in 1785, and Governor from 1786-1796.  He was one of the first seven presidential electors from Connecticut.

Roger Sherman (1723-1793) — a member of the Committee of Five chosen to write the Declaration of Independence.  He and Robert Morris were the only individuals to sign the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution.  He was the Judge of the Superior Court of Connecticut from 1766-1789, a member of the Continental Congress from 1774-81 and 1783-84, and a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1787.  Sherman was the author of the “Connecticut Compromise” at the convention.  He represented Connecticut in the United States Senate from 1791-93.

William Williams (1731-1811) — a Harvard graduate, a theology student (with his father) who eventually became a successful merchant.  He fought in the French-Indian War and returned to Lebanon, Connecticut, where he served forty-four years as the town clerk.  He was elected to the Continental Congress from 1776-1777. After signing the Declaration of Independence, Williams was a member of the committee that was instrumental in framing the Articles of Confederation.  He was a Constitutional Convention delegate and served as a Judge of the Windham County Courthouse.

Oliver Wolcott (1726-1797) — served as a brigadier general in the New York campaigns from 1776-1777.  As a major general, he defended the Connecticut coast from attacks by the Royal Governor of New York.  He was Commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1775 and from 1784-89, a delegate to the Continental Congress from 1775-76 and 1778-84, Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut from 1786-96, and Governor from 1796-97.


Thomas McKean (1734-1817) — The last member of the Second Continental Congress to sign the Declaration of Independence.  He was a delegate to the Continental Congress from 1774-81 and served as a delegate to the Congress of the Confederation from 1781-1783.  After 1783, McKean became involved in the politics of Pennsylvania, becoming Chief Justice of Pennsylvania and the Governor of Pennsylvania from 1799-1812.  He retired from politics in 1812 and died at 83 in 1817.

George Read (1733-1798) — was the only signer of the Declaration of Independence who voted against the proposal for independence introduced by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia.  He was elected to the Continental Congress from 1774-1776, was a member of the Delaware Constitutional Convention in 1776, acting Governor of Delaware in 1777, a Judge on the Court of Appeals in 1780, State Senator from 1791-92, a United States Senator from 1789-1793 and Chief Justice of the State of Delaware from 1793-98.

Caesar Rodney (1728-1784) — took a strong stand in favor of independence and, because of that, was not reelected to Congress because of the conservatives in the state of Delaware.  They also blocked his election to the state legislature and appointment to the state’s constitutional convention.  He was interested in military affairs and was involved in action in Delaware and New Jersey during the Revolutionary War.  He was re-elected to Congress in 1777 and was nominated as state president from 1778-1781.  He died in 1784 as Speaker of the Upper House of the Delaware Assembly.


Button Gwinnett (1735-1777) — After the Governor died in 1777, Button Gwinnett served as the Acting Governor of Georgia for two months but did not achieve reelection.  His life was one of economic and political disappointment.  Button Gwinnett was the second signer of the Declaration to die due to a duel outside Savannah, Georgia.

Lyman Hall (1724-1790) — one of four signers trained as a minister and graduated from Princeton College.  During his life, he also served as a doctor, governor, and planter.  During the Revolutionary War, his property was destroyed, and he was accused of treason.  He left Georgia and spent time in South Carolina and Connecticut to escape prosecution.  When the war was over, he returned to Georgia and began practicing medicine.  He served as Governor of Georgia from 1783-1784.

George Walton (1741-1804) — elected to the Continental Congress in 1776, 1777, 1780, and 1781, Colonel of the First Georgia Militia, in 1778, Governor of Georgia from 1779-1780, Chief Justice of the State Superior Court of Georgia from 1783-89, a presidential elector in 1789, Governor of Georgia from 1789- 1790 and a United States Senator from 1795-1796.  During the Revolutionary War, Walton was captured by the British in 1778 during the attack on Savannah and released within the year.  He was the founder of the Richmond Academy and Franklin College, which later became the University of Georgia.


Charles Carroll (1737-1832) — was one of the wealthiest men in America and was the oldest and longest surviving signer of the Declaration.  From 1789-1792 he served as one of Maryland’s two United States Senators.  He retired from politics in 1804 and spent the rest of his life managing his 80,000 acres of land in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York.

Samuel Chase (1741-1811) — was called the “Demosthenes of Maryland” for his oratorical skills.  In 1785 he represented Maryland at the Mt. Vernon conference to settle a dispute between Maryland and Virginia concerning navigation rights on the Potomac River.  He served as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1796-1811.  He was the only Supreme Court justice to be impeached in 1805.  He was charged with discriminating against supporters of Thomas Jefferson, and he was found not guilty.

William Paca (1740-1799) — elected to the Continental Congress from 1774-78, appointed Chief Justice of Maryland in 1778, Governor of Maryland from 1782-1785, and Federal District Judge for the State of Maryland from 1789-99. Paca also served as a delegate to the Maryland ratification convention for the Federal Constitution. He was also a planter and a lawyer but was a relatively minor figure in national affairs.

Thomas Stone (1743-1787) — was one of the more conservative signers (along with Carter Braxton of Virginia, George Read of Delaware, and Edward Rutledge of South Carolina).  He was elected to the Congress from 1775-78 and again in 1783.  He was chosen to be a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 but had to decline because of his wife’s poor health.  Shortly after she died in 1787, a grief-stricken Stone died a few months later before making a trip to England.


John Adams (1735-1826) — the first Vice-President of the United States and the second President.  He was a member (along with Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingston, and Roger Sherman) chosen to draft the Declaration of Independence.  He was the first President to attend Harvard University and the first to have a son become president.

Samuel Adams (1722-1803) — the “Firebrand of the Revolution” for his role as an agitator between the colonists and the British before the outbreak of hostilities on April 1775.  He served in the Continental Congress until 1781 and was a member of the Massachusetts State Senate from 1781-1788.  Because he opposed a stronger national government, Adams refused to attend the Constitutional Convention in 1787.  He served as Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts from 1789-1793 and Governor from 1794-1797.

Elbridge Gerry (1744-1814) — served for a time as a member of the state legislature of Massachusetts.  Although he attended the meetings in Philadelphia to write a new Constitution, in the end, he was opposed to it because it lacked a bill of rights.  However, after a “change of heart,” he was a member of the House of Representatives for the first two Congresses from 1789-1793.  He was Governor of Massachusetts in 1810 and 1811 and died in office as Vice-President under James Madison in 1814.

John Hancock (1737-1793) — President of the Second Continental Congress when the Declaration of Independence was adopted.  He, along with Samuel Adams, was the two most wanted men in the colonies by King George III.  He served as a major general during the Revolutionary War.  He was elected Governor of Massachusetts from 1780-1785 and in 1787 until he died in 1793.  He was the seventh President of the United States in Congress assembled, from November 23, 1785, to June 6, 1786.  John Hancock was one of the original “founding fathers” of U.S. independence.

Robert Treat Paine (1731-1814) — was elected to the Continental Congress in 1774 and 1776, Attorney General for Massachusetts from 1777-1796, Judge, Supreme Court of Massachusetts from 1796-1804, and State Counselor in 1804.          Paine concentrated primarily on military and Indian concerns during his time in Congress.   Because of his opposition to many proposals, he was known as the “Objection Maker.” Paine was one of the founders of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

New Hampshire

 Josiah Bartlett (1729-1795) — served in Congress until 1779 and then refused reelection because of fatigue.  On the state level, he served as the first Chief Justice of the Common Pleas (1779-1782), Associate (1782-1788), and Chief justice of the Superior Court (1788-1790).  Bartlett founded the New Hampshire Medical Society in 1791 and was the Governor of New Hampshire (1793-1794).

Matthew Thornton (1714-1803) — served as Speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, was an Associate Justice of the Superior Court, and was elected to the Continental Congress in 1776.  He was one of six members who signed the Declaration of Independence after the Continental Congress adopted it.  He left Congress to return to New Hampshire to become an Associate Justice of the State Superior Court.  He spent his remaining years farming and operating a ferry on the Merrimack River.

William Whipple (1730-1785) — was a former sea captain who commanded troops during the Revolutionary War and was a member of the Continental Congress from 1776-1779.  General Whipple was involved in the successful defeat of General John Burgoyne at the Battle of Saratoga in 1777.  He was a state legislator in New Hampshire from 1780-1784, Associate Justice of the New Hampshire Superior Court from 1782-1785, and a receiver for finances for the Congress of the Confederation.  He suffered from heart problems and died while traveling his court circuit in 1785.

New Jersey

Abraham Clark (1726-1794) — was a farmer, surveyor, and politician who spent most of his life in public service.  He was a member of the New Jersey state legislature, represented his state at the Annapolis Convention in 1786, and was opposed to the Constitution until it incorporated a bill of rights. He served in the United States Congress for two terms, from 1791 until he died in 1794.

John Hart (1711-1779) — became the Speaker of the Lower House of the New Jersey state legislature. His property was destroyed by the British during the Revolutionary War, and his wife died three months after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.

Francis Hopkinson (1737-1791) — was a judge and lawyer by profession and a musician, poet, and artist.  When the Revolutionary War was over, he became one of the most respected writers in the country.  He was later appointed Judge to the U.S. Court for the District of Pennsylvania in 1790.

Richard Stockton (1730-1781) — was elected to the Continental Congress in 1776 and was the first of the New Jersey delegation to sign the Declaration of Independence.  In November 1776, he was captured by the British but released in 1777 in very poor physical condition.  The British destroyed his home at Morven during the war, and he died in 1781 at age 50.

John Witherspoon (1723-1794) — was the only active clergyman among the signers of the Declaration of Independence.  He was elected to the Continental Congress from 1776-1782 to the state legislature in New Jersey from 1783-1789 and was the College of New Jersey president from 1768-1792.  In his later years, he spent a great deal of time trying to rebuild the College of New Jersey (Princeton).

New York

William Floyd (1734-1821) — his estate was destroyed by the British and Loyalists during the Revolutionary War.  He served as a member of the United States Congress from 1789-1791 and was a presidential elector from New York four times.  He was later a major general in the New York militia and served as a state senator.

Francis Lewis (1713-1802) — was one who truly felt the tragedy of the Revolutionary War.  His wife died indirectly because of being imprisoned by the British, and he lost all of his property on Long Island, New York, during the war.  When his wife died, Lewis left Congress and completely abandoned politics.

Philip Livingston (1716-1778) — signed the Declaration of Independence on August 2, 1776.  During the Revolutionary War, the British used Livingston’s houses in New York as a navy hospital and a barracks for the troops.  He was the third signer to die after John Morton of Pennsylvania and Button Gwinnett of Georgia.

Lewis Morris (1726-1798) — a delegate to the Continental Congress from 1775-77, a county judge in Worchester, New York from 1777-1778, served in the New York state legislature from 1777-1781 and 1784-1788 and was a member of the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York.  During the Revolutionary War, Morris was a brigadier-general in the New York state militia, and all three of his sons served under General George Washington.

North Carolina

John Hewes (1730-1779) — was a merchant and one of the more conservative signers of the Declaration of Independence.  He was a graduate of Princeton College, and he, along with John Adams, helped to establish the Continental Navy.  He was a member of the state legislature from 1778-1779 and was eventually reelected to the Continental Congress.  He died a month after his reelection.

William Hooper (1742-1790) — a graduate of Harvard College and highly successful in law and politics.  Financial and family challenges caused him to resign from Congress to return to North Carolina.  He lost his property during the war, but he was afterward elected to the state legislature and served there through 1786.

John Penn (1740-1788) — was one of sixteen signers of the Declaration of Independence who also signed the Articles of Confederation.  He was a member of the Continental Congress from 1775-77; 1779-80 and a member of the Board of War in 1780, which shared responsibility for military affairs with the governor.  In 1784 he became a state tax receiver under the Articles of Confederation.  After retiring from politics, he practiced law until he died in 1788


George Clymer (1739-1813) signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  His home was vandalized by the British in 1777 during the American Revolutionary War.  He served in the Pennsylvania state legislature from 1784-1788 and was a member of the United States House of Representatives from 1789-1791.  He was later appointed as “collector of taxes” on alcoholic beverages (especially whiskey) in Pennsylvania from 1791-1794.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) — helped negotiate the Treaty of Alliance with France in 1778 and the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War in 1783.  He was one of the framers of the Constitution and was known as the “Sage of the Convention.” He was also elected President of the Pennsylvania Society for the Promoting the Abolition of Slavery

Robert Morris (1734-1806) — the “Financier of the Revolution” and contributed his own money to help such causes as the support of troops at Valley Forge and the battles of Trenton and Princeton.  In 1781 he suggested a plan that became the Bank of North America and was the Superintendent of Finance under the Articles of Confederation.  Morris was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention and was later offered the position of Secretary of the Treasury under the administration of George Washington.  He declined the position and suggested Alexander Hamilton, who became our first Secretary of the Treasury.  He served as the United States Senator from Pennsylvania from 1789-1795.

John Morton (1725-1777) — was the first signer of the Declaration of Independence to die and was one of nine signers from Pennsylvania.  He was elected to the Second Continental Congress from 1774-77 and was the chairman of the committee that reported the Articles of Confederation.  He contracted an inflammatory fever and died in Ridley Park, Delaware County, Pa., in April 1777 and is buried in St. Paul’s Burial Ground in Chester, Pennsylvania.

George Ross (1730-1779) — elected to the Second Continental Congress from 1776-1777, served as a colonel in the Continental Army in 1776, Vice President of the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention in 1776, and a Judge of the Admiralty Court of Pennsylvania in 1779.  He was not a member of Congress when it voted for independence on July 2, 1776.  Because of illness, he was forced to resign his seat in Congress in 1777.

Benjamin Rush (1745-1813) — elected to the Continental Congress in 1776, appointed Surgeon General in the Middle Department of the Continental Army in 1777, instructor and physician at the University of Pennsylvania in 1778, Treasurer of the U.S. Mint from 1779-1813, and professor of Medical Theory and Clinical Practice at the University of Pennsylvania from 1791-1813.  Rush was part of an unsuccessful plot to relieve General George Washington of his military command during the Revolutionary War.  He was the most well-known doctor and medical instructor in the United States.  He was a trustee of Dickinson College, helped to found the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, and was a member of the American Philosophical Society.

James Smith (1719-1806) — was elected to the Continental Congress on July 20, 1776, after the votes had been taken on the resolution for independence and the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.  From 1779-1782 he held a number of state offices, including one term in the state legislature and a few months as a Judge of the state High Court of Appeals.  He was also appointed a brigadier general in the Pennsylvania militia in 1782.

George Taylor (1716-1781) — arrived in the colonies as an indentured servant and eventually became the Ironmaster at the Warwick Furnace and Coventry Forge. His Durham Furnace Company manufactured ammunition for the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. He was a member of the Continental Congress from 1775-1777.  He returned to Pennsylvania and was elected to the new Supreme Executive Assembly but served for a very short period of time because of illness and financial difficulties.

James Wilson (1742-1798) — elected to the Congress from 1775-77 and 1785-87, chosen to be one of the directors of the Bank of North America in 1781, a member of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, and appointed by President George Washington to be an Associate Justice to the US.  Supreme Court from 1789-1798.  He experienced personal and financial difficulty in his later years and spent time in debtor’s prison while serving on the Supreme Court.

South Carolina

Thomas Heyward, Jr. (1746-1809) — was a planter and lawyer and one of three signers from South Carolina captured and imprisoned by the British.  He signed the Articles of Confederation while a member of the Continental Congress.  He returned to South Carolina and became a judge and a member of the state legislature.  The British destroyed Heyward’s home at White Hall during the war, and he was held prisoner until 1781.  After the war, he served two terms in the state legislature from 1782-1784.  Thomas Heyward became the first President of the Agricultural Society of South Carolina.

Thomas Lynch, Jr. (1749-1779) — was an aristocratic planter who was the youngest signer of the Declaration of Independence to die (at the age of thirty).  He was trained as a lawyer, graduated from Cambridge University in England, and was elected to the Second Continental Congress to carry on the duties of his ill father.  He and his father were the only father and son to serve concurrently in the Continental Congress.  Thomas Lynch, Jr., and his wife were en route to France in 1779 when their ship was lost at sea.

Arthur Middleton (1742-1787) — was chosen to replace his more conservative father in the Continental Congress in 1776 but failed to attend most of the sessions.  He was captured by the British and was held captive for over a year in St. Augustine, Florida.  During his incarceration, the British destroyed most of his property.  After his release in 1781, Middleton returned to politics, served in the Virginia state legislature, and was a trustee of the College of Charleston.

Edward Rutledge (1749-1800) — elected to the Continental Congress from 1774-76 and 1779, a captain in the Charleston Battalion of Artillery from 1776-1779, a state legislator from 1782-1798, College of Electors in the presidential elections of 1788, 1792, 1796 and elected Governor for South Carolina in 1798.  He was the youngest of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.  During the Revolutionary War, Rutledge was a military captain involved in the campaigns at Port Royal Island and Charleston, South Carolina.  He was captured by the British in 1780 and held as a prisoner until 1781.  From 1782-1798 Rutledge was a member of the state legislature and was elected Governor in 1798.

Rhode Island

William Ellery (1727-1820) — served with distinction in the Congress of the Confederation until 1786, when he accepted an appointment as Commissioner of the Continental Loan Office of Rhode Island.  He served in that position until 1790, when he was appointed Customs Collector in Newport.  Although the British destroyed his home during the American Revolution, Ellery was later able to rebuild his fortune.

Stephen Hopkins (1707-1785) — was the second oldest signer of the Declaration of Independence (next to Benjamin Franklin).  He served on the committee that was responsible for the creation of the Articles of Confederation.  He was forced to resign from Congress in 1776 because of health problems but was elected to the state legislature of Rhode Island upon his return.


Carter Braxton (1736-1797) — was elected to the Virginia state legislature after the signing of the Declaration of Independence and served on the Governor’s Executive Council.  The American Revolutionary War caused him great hardship, and he died in financial ruin in Richmond, Virginia.

Benjamin Harrison (1726-1791) — nicknamed the “Falstaff of Congress,” the father of President William Henry Harrison and great-grandfather of President Benjamin Harrison.  He was the Speaker of the Lower House of the Virginia state legislature from 1777-1781 and served three terms as Governor of Virginia from 1781-1783.  He initially opposed the new federal Constitution but later favored it when it was decided to add a bill of rights.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) — was the chief author of the Declaration of Independence.  He was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates from 1776-79, elected Governor of Virginia in 1779 and 1780, the Associate Envoy to France in 1784, Minister to the French Court in 1785, United States Secretary of State from 1789-1793, Vice President of the United States from 1791-1801, President of the United States from 1801-1809 and established the University of Virginia in 1810.  He was one of the most intellectually gifted men of his time.

Francis Lightfoot Lee (1734-1797) — the younger brother of Richard Henry Lee.  He signed the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation and served on both the military and marine committees during his time in Congress.  He left Congress in 1779, serving instead in the Virginia state legislature.

Richard Henry Lee (1732-1794) — introduced the resolution for independence to the Second Continental Congress in June 1776.  He was a Virginia state legislator from 1780-1784 and served in the national Congress again from 1784-1789.  He was initially opposed to the Constitution because it lacked a bill of rights, but he was elected Senator from Virginia from 1789-1792.  However, Lee was forced to resign in 1792 due to poor health.

Thomas Nelson, Jr. (1738-1789) — his Congressional career was shortened because of health problems.  He served as the commanding General of the Lower Virginia Militia during the Revolutionary War.  He was a delegate to the Continental Congress from 1775-77, in 1779, and was elected Governor of Virginia in 1781 after Thomas Jefferson declined reelection.  He spent his remaining years handling his business affairs.

George Wythe (1726-1806) — was a classical scholar who taught such great men as Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, John Marshall, and Henry Clay.  He was elected to the Continental Congress from 1775-76, served as Speaker of the Virginia House from 1777-78, and judge of the Chancery Court of Virginia from 1789-1806.  He was also appointed the first chair of law at the College of William and Mary.  Wythe died from being poisoned by his sister’s grandson, George Wythe Sweeney, in 1806. 

Posted in American Frontier, Colonial America, Founding Fathers, History, Pioneers | 12 Comments

Indentured Servitude


Warfare is brutish – the longer war rages, the more objectionable it becomes.  One example of this was the Thirty Years’ War.  It was fought primarily in the area of central Europe in the 17th century and remains one of history’s longest and more ruthless conflicts.  Beyond the series of bloody military confrontations, consequential famine, pestilence, and disease cost the lives of over eight million people between 1618-1648 — and contributed to a massive shift in social norms, local traditions, and the distribution of populations.

Events such as the Thirty Years’ War did not occur as isolated events — there were contributing factors and events that led to horror and human tragedy lasting three decades, and substantial effects of those events.  One consequence of the war is that it marked the beginning of the end of European monarchies. Another was the practice of indentured servitude.  Indenture was significant because, as we fast-forward through time, we observe that somewhere around sixty percent of all immigrants to the British colonies traveled to North America as indentured servants.

Some Background

Our story begins in 1483 when Margarethe Lindemann Ludher gave birth to a son, whom she named Martin.  Twenty-four years later, young Martin entered the ordained priesthood.  Ten years after that, Martin became a professor of religious and moral philosophy.  In this capacity, he wondered about the morality (or lack of it) surrounding Pope Leo X’s exploitation of the common people.[1]  In particular, Luther objected to the Vatican’s policy of selling indulgences (charging money for the forgiveness of sins) to help finance the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica.  It was not Father Martin’s intent to call into question any Papal authority — he was merely asking for a debate on the ethics of such policies.  He asked, for example, why the Holy Father, who was, at the time, one of the richest men in the world, should require money from the poor in order to build his Basilica.  For his efforts, the Church excommunicated Martin Ludher and, by edict of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, condemned him as an outlaw of the Church.

Martin Ludher (later, Luther) had unwittingly ignited the Protestant Reformation — a movement that started a series of political, intellectual, religious, and societal conflicts that ended up splintering Catholic Europe.  Following Luther, John Calvin and Henry VIII of England openly challenged papal authority and questioned the Catholic church’s authority to define and proscribe Christian practices.

In 1531, two of the most powerful Protestant rulers in the Holy Roman Empire formed the so-called Schmalkaldic League, an alliance of militaristic Lutheran princes dedicated to the prospect that they had the right of defending their lands from the dictates of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor – a staunch Catholic/anti-reformer.  In 1555, Charles V and the Schmalkaldic princes signed the Peace of Augsburg, which ended the religious struggle between them and made the division of Christianity permanent within the Holy Roman Empire.  Thereafter, Charles V adopted the policy known as Cuius Regio Eius Religio (meaning, whose realm, their religion); princes could choose for themselves which form of Christianity to pursue as the official confession of their state.

Still, the turmoil over the question of religious preference continued for many years.  When Charles V abdicated (for health reasons) the Habsburg territories were divided between his brother Ferdinand, who ruled over the Austrian lands, and Charles’ fervently Catholic son Philip II, who ruled over Spain, the Spanish Netherlands, and parts of Italy.

When Emperor Ferdinand II ascended to power in 1619, he required every subject to adhere to Roman Catholicism, which was a violation of the Augsburg treaty.  By this time, while the Holy Roman Empire controlled much of Europe, Ferdinand II’s empire was actually little more than a collection of semi-autonomous states controlled by princes whose loyalty was never set in stone.  Ferdinand II’s dictates were met with hostility by the Bohemian states, which (backed by Sweden, Denmark, and Norway) went into open revolt.  Thus began the Thirty Years War.

The Aftermath of War

The war concluded with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 — a series of agreements involving Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden, and France.  In human costs, forty percent of the population of Central Europe died.  The war also resulted in mass migrations away from the areas affected, in some locations, as many as fifty percent of their populations.  The collapse of local governments resulted in a large spike in landless peasants, many of whom banded together in rebellious, or if one prefers, outlaw groups.  With so many dead bodies lying unburied, rodent populations exploded, wolves moved in, and wild pigs destroyed meager crops.  The political consequences of these realities were substantial because the Peace of Westphalia changed the relationship between subjects and their rulers.

To place these calamities in perspective, the wars, uprisings, and political turmoil produced by the Thirty Years’ War created other disturbances, such as a series of civil wars in France (1648-1653), and the English Civil War (1642-1651).  Uprisings also occurred in Catalonia, Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Scotland, Sweden, and Russia.  The effects were worsened by the so-called Little Ice Age.

When people are troubled, they turn to their core religious beliefs.  In the mid-1650s, pietism developed within Lutheranism, which emphasized a virtuous existence — greatly influenced by English Puritanism.  The Puritans were dissatisfied with the effects of the English Reformation and the Church of England’s ritual similarities with Catholicism.  People dissatisfied with their quality of life at home look outward to other areas where they might discover new beginnings.


Indenture is a legal agreement, contract, or document that binds (someone) as an apprentice or laborer.  Indentured servitude is a source of labor, sometimes voluntarily undertaken (at other times forced), which we today call debt bondage or domestic servitude.  In voluntary indenture, a person borrows money and agrees to work for the lender without a salary or other payment for a specific period of time until the loan is repaid.  Indenture was used to help pay for apprenticeships (working for a master craftsman in exchange for learning his trade).  The period (number of years) of indenture depended on how much money was borrowed, the number of years it would take to learn a trade, and/or the amount of labor agreed upon (in advance) in order to pay it off.  Indenture, as it applied to British colonial immigration, involved all costs associated with transportation from England to a North American seaport.

James VI, King of Scotland (serving on the throne for 36 years) became James I of England in 1603.  In 1607, a group of around 100 adventurers of the Virginia Company founded the first permanent English settlement in North America.  The settlement was named Jamestown, established along the river named in King James’ honor.  What made Jamestown an uphill struggle was famine, disease, and conflicts with local Indians.  What saved the colony was the arrival of a new group of settlers in 1610, many of whom were indentured.  What these early settlers soon realized was that while the new world offered bountiful lands “free for the taking,” they would need sufficient numbers of laborers to make the land productive.

It was an issue of supply and demand.  Tens of thousands of Europeans were migrating away from their homelands; they needed a place to go — they needed something to do once arrived.  It was a financial dilemma: passage to the new world was expensive and few people with families could afford transportation.  There was no money to live on once they arrived.  Few people had any idea what they would do in the British colonies.

What evolved was a system that facilitated both supply and demand.  Sea captains who made frequent voyages to the new world had knowledge of the demands, and they were also in a position to make contracts to meet those demands.  At Jamestown, indenture arrived at the right moment, both for those who were pushed out of Europe and for those in the colonies who desperately needed sources of labor.  The prospects for a new life with greater opportunities offered thoroughly traumatized Europeans a glimmer of hope.

Once begun, indenture was common in the British colonies through the late 18th century.  Of all European immigrants arriving on America’s shores between 1630 and 1774, one-half to two-thirds came as indentured servants — most employed in the region between southern Virginia and northern New Jersey.  In total, the number of Europeans living in the thirteen colonies before 1750 was around 500,000.  Of those, around 55,000 were prisoners sent to the penal colony in Georgia.  Seventy-five percent of all immigrants were under the age of 25 years.  During the colonial period, the age of consent was 24; indenture among those over the age of consent generally lasted for a period of three years.[2]

Shenanigans and Abuses

Indenture did satisfy colonial demands, but systemically it was far from perfect.  Disreputable sea captains kidnapped more than a few people from areas around European seaports and carried them to the new world as indentured servants.  Other immigrants fell prey to deceitful recruiters who told them fairy tales about life in America.  One such recruiter, a fellow named William Thiene, convinced 840 people in one year that the British Colonies were heaven on earth.  Of course, once indentured persons arrived in the colonies, they were trapped there until some future time when they could pay their way back to England or some other European port, or die.

There was also some brutality associated with indenture.  Ships’ masters did not hesitate to flog those who refused to obey ship’s rules, but this was the standard of discipline applied to every male without regard to immigrant status or skin color. 

The owners of the indenture (the masters) also punished misbehavior (insolence, laziness, etc.) by flogging.  Several factors explain this behavior.  First, normal society regarded indentured immigrants as low-class people; few such persons had access to courts.  Second, since indentured persons were quasi-property and subject to the prerogatives of their masters, British courts paid little attention to accusations of abuse.

Flogging indentured servants was bad, but the sexual abuse foisted upon indentured women was far worse.  Sometimes, abused women became pregnant — which entitled their masters to extend their contract by two years.  Polite society assumed that pregnancy was the indentured woman’s fault; low-class women, they believed, had an inclination toward depraved behavior.

It was also common in the British military to force indenture on rebel leaders and ruffians engaged in civil disturbances.  Oliver Cromwell sent thousands into indentured service after the battles of Preston and Worcester.  This practice continued well into the late 18th century.

Between 1830 and 1920, more than 3.7 million Africans, Chinese, Indians, Japanese, and Melanesians migrated away from their homelands to perform as laborers under short and long-term indentures.  In 1974, one scholar argued that indentured labor was no more than the re-imposition of slavery.  Part of what makes this a cogent argument is the fact that runaway indentures were almost always returned to their “masters.”[3]

The first Africans arrived in Virginia in 1619.  With no slave laws at the time, they were initially treated as indentured servants and afforded the same opportunities for their eventual freedom as white indentures.  When Massachusetts and Virginia enacted slave laws in 1641 and 1661 (respectively) black indentures forfeited their right to eventual freedom.  As the demand for labor increased, so too did the cost of indentured labor.  The cost factor led landowners to prefer African slaves to indentured whites.


After the Thirteen Colonies declared their independence from Great Britain in 1776, immigration to the United States trickled to almost nothing, and the economic crisis that followed the Revolution made long-term labor contracts undesirable.  According to some historians, the number of indentured servants living in Philadelphia fell from around 17% in 1776 to around 5% in 1783.  This may be true, others argue, but in many cases, indentured immigrants from Central Europe replaced those from the British Isles after 1792.


  1. Ballagh, J. C.  White Servitude in the Colony of Virginia: A Study of Indentured Labor In The American Colonies. 1895.
  2. Galenson, D.  The Rise and Fall of Indentured Servitude in America: An Economic Analysis.  Journal of Economic History, 1984.
  3. Grubb, F.  The Incidence of Servitude in Trans-Atlantic Migration, 1771-1804.  Explorations in Economic History, 1985.
  4. Tomlins, C.  Reconsidering Indentured Servitude: European Migration and the Early American Labor Force.  Labor History, 2001.


[1] Pope Leo X was Giovanni di Lorenzo de ’Medici who led the Church for eight years beginning in 1513 (died at the age of 45 in 1521).  The Medici family rose to prominence in the 13th century through their success in commerce, banking, and political power.  The family produced four popes (Leo X, Clement VII, Pius IV, and Leo XI), none of whom had much empathy for the plight of the average person.  Leo X wasn’t necessarily a scurrilous individual for imposing indulgences; he was simply a banker by tradition and training looking for ways to finance the Basilica.  In fairness to him, he probably had no concept of the effects of his decisions. 

[2] The European population of North America is at best an estimate and the numbers often cited by historians vary from around 500,000 to 2.4 million. 

[3] This practice continues even now.  Thousands of people from the Philippine Islands, Indonesia, Malaysia, China, and Vietnam enter (or are forced) into indentured service to wealthy Saudis, Kuwaitis, and other Middle Eastern states.  Women are especially desirable in these locations for all the wrong reasons.

Posted in American Frontier, British Colonies, Colonial America, Corruption, History, Imperialism, Indenture & Slavery, Pioneers, Society, The Ladies | 7 Comments

The Ride of Paul Revere


We were taught as children about the midnight ride of Paul Revere.  It was a great story for young children — fourth or fifth grade, perhaps.  That dashing silversmith — who, booted and spurred and with a heavy stride, did watch with eager search the belfry tower of the old North Church.  Except, while entertaining and exciting, our teachers taught us fiction, not history.  We were told, for example, that Paul Revere rode through the villages of Massachusetts shouting, “The British are coming!  The British are coming”  If Paul did shout that, it must have caused a laugh.  Everyone in Massachusetts was British.  It would have been akin to “We are coming!  We are coming!”  The other problem, of course, was that someone shouting such a thing in the early morning would have attracted the attention of British sentries.

Aside from the shouts of Paul Revere from atop a galloping horse tearing through the streets of Concord, Massachusetts, Revere’s courageous ride from Lexington to Concord made him a pivotal figure in the American Revolution.  The accounting of this amazing ride, according to some, is “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  The poem’s title, however, is simply “Paul Revere’s Ride” (1863).

Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five:
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry-arch
Of the North-Church-tower, as a signal-light,—
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country-folk to be up and to arm.”

Then he said, “Good night!” and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war:
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon, like a prison-bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.

Meanwhile, his friend, through alleys and street
Wanders and watches with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers
Marching down to their boats on the shore.

Then he climbed to the tower of the church,
Up the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry-chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the somber rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,—
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town,
And the moonlight flowing over all.

Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night-encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel’s tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, “All is well!”
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,—
A line of black, that bends and floats
On the rising tide, like a bridge of boats.

Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride,
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse’s side,
Now gazed on the landscape far and near,
Then impetuous stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle-girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry-tower of the old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and somber and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry’s height,
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns!

A hurry of hoofs in a village-street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed that flies fearless and fleet:
That was all!  And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.

He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders, that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.

It was twelve by the village clock
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer’s dog,
And felt the damp of the river-fog,
That rises when the sun goes down.

It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, blank and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.

It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadows brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket-ball.

You know the rest.  In the books you have read,
How the British Regulars fired and fled,—
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard-wall,
Chasing the red-coats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,—
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo forevermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

It is a wondrous story — it simply isn’t true.  He didn’t shout about the British coming, and he didn’t ride through the streets of Concord.  He didn’t make it to Concord at all.  Nor was Paul Revere the only rider.  Two other riders included Samuel Prescott and William Dawes.  Of the three, only one of them succeeded in reaching Concord.  After leaving Lexington, British sentries detained and arrested Revere, Prescott, and Dawes.  While in custody, Prescott escaped and made it to Concord, where he warned residents to protect their weapons and ammunition.  Some historians claim that Dawes also escaped custody but never made it to Concord because he became lost in the dark of night.  The British released Revere but retained his borrowed horse, so Revere walked back to Lexington — thus missing the Battle of Lexington Green.

Paul Revere’s mission was not to warn residents of the approach of British military troops; his mission was to warn his cronies, John Hancock, and Samuel Adams, that the British Army intended to arrest them.

A summary of Paul Revere

Sketch by Thomas Logan

Paul Revere’s father was a French Huguenot from Aquitaine who immigrated to the United States as a thirteen-year-old indentured servant.  His name was Apollo Rivoire, and he worked under John Coney, who in the early 1700s was Boston’s premier goldsmith and silversmith.  When Mr. Coney died in 1722, Apollo purchased his freedom for £40.  By then, Apollo was calling himself Paul Rivoire.  Mr. Rivoire was fortunate to catch the attention of Miss Deborah Hitchbourn, a daughter of one of Boston’s wealthiest leading families.  Paul and Deborah had eleven children, the second eldest of which was a son whom they named Paul.  When Paul Sr. died in 1754, most people in Boston pronounced his last name as “Rivear,” which prompted Paul Jr. to change the family’s last name to Revere.

Because of Deborah’s well-placed position in society, nearly everyone who was anyone in Boston knew about the Revere family.  Paul Revere replaced his father as the city’s “go-to” silversmith and printer.  In 1756, Paul joined a local militia unit and participated briefly in the French & Indian War as a lieutenant of artillery.  At the end of one year, he returned home and married Sarah Orne (d. 1773).  Of their eight children, only one survived Paul in 1818.

After Sarah’s death, Paul married Rachel Walker (d. 1813).  They also had eight children, five of whom survived to adulthood.  Around this same time, Paul Revere became the ringleader of a group of men who participated in the infamous Boston Tea Party.  I’ve used the word infamous because the people involved in the Boston Tea Party were criminals acting in their own interests as part of a syndicate of smugglers.

The British government indeed imposed a series of taxes on the colonists — to help pay the expenses of the French & Indian War (1754-1763), most of which the Parliament repealed.  The Parliament’s tax on tea was not repealed, which the colonists consumed in copious amounts (around 1.2 million pounds annually).

The tea tax prompted certain individuals to smuggle Dutch Tea.  Smuggled tea was cheaper than regularly imported tea because it wasn’t taxed.  Smuggling became a side business for several Boston tradesmen and merchants, organized and led by such men as John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and Paul Revere.  This criminal enterprise called itself The Sons of Liberty.  Thus, part of the reason for the Boston Tea Party was to destroy duty-free British tea, which was cheaper than illicit Dutch Tea.  Hancock, Adams, and Revere were losing money and resolved to do something about it — while disguising their activity as a patriotic protest of British taxes.

Thus, in addition to serving as a goldsmith-silversmith and printer, Paul Revere was also a smuggler — and useful to the “patriot cause” as a courier/messenger serving the interests of the so-called committees of correspondence in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.  Note: the activities of the committees of correspondence were well known in England and frequently reported in London newspapers.  If Paul Revere thought his courier escapades were part of a clandestine operation, he was very much mistaken.

In any case, at the time of the battles of Lexington and Concord, Paul Revere was in Watertown.  When British troops closed the roads into Boston, Revere was forced to find housing in the Watertown area; Rachel and his children eventually joined him there.  In Watertown, Revere petitioned the Continental Army for a military commission, but army officials turned down his request.  Paul Revere was useful to the “patriot cause” in Massachusetts because he was a skilled printer and a reliable courier.  He was also well-known as a loud-mouth, a hot-head, and a scruff.  Simply stated, Paul Revere wasn’t officer material.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Longfellow, born on 27 February, was the son of Stephen and Zilpah Wadsworth.  Stephen was a lawyer.  His mother’s father was Peleg Wadsworth, a general officer in the American Revolution and a member of Congress.  Zilpah Wadsworth was descended from Richard Warren (of Mayflower fame).  She named Henry after her brother, Henry Wadsworth, a Navy lieutenant who died three years earlier during the Battle of Tripoli.  Longfellow’s descendants included Mayflower pilgrims, including Richard Warren, William Brewster, and John and Priscilla Alden through their daughter Elizabeth Pabodie, the first child born in the Plymouth Colony.[1]

As a young man, Longfellow studied at Bowdoin College — and later taught there and at Harvard.  He was also multi-lingual, speaking several European languages.  In 1854, Longfellow retired from teaching to devote his time to writing.  He lived the remainder of his life in the Revolutionary War headquarters of George Washington in Cambridge.  It sounds like an idyllic life, but in reality, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow had many tragedies in his life.[2]

His first wife, Mary Potter, died in 1835 following a miscarriage.  His second wife, Frances Appleton, died in 1861 from burns when her dress caught fire.  After her death, Longfellow entered a period when he could not write; he spent several years translating foreign literature into English.  Longfellow sired six children, one of whom was seriously wounded during the Civil War.

The Revere Poem

Longfellow loved his country and was deeply concerned that civil war was about to tear the nation apart.  There is not much within Longfellow’s poem that reflects what actually happened during the “midnight ride of Paul Revere.”  But Mr. Longfellow wasn’t attempting to write factual history.  In the poem, Revere was spreading the alarm to save the colonies from tyranny — but in writing it, Longfellow was spreading a warning to the United States about the horror of civil war.


[1] Longfellow’s poems were lyric, mythical, and popular among the American people.  His critics accuse him of imitating European styles and of writing “sentimental” poetry.

[2] Longfellow and I share the Aldens as our earliest American ancestors.

Posted in American Frontier, British Colonies, Civil War, Colonial America, History, Indenture & Slavery, Revolution, The Horsemen (and women) | 5 Comments

The Last Battle


For some unknown reason, most people think that Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox Courthouse was the end of the American Civil War.  It wasn’t.  Lee’s surrender did take place on 9 April 1865, but he wasn’t the only Confederate general commanding a large army.  Having learned of Lee’s surrender on 14 April, General Joseph E. Johnston sent a message to William T. Sherman asking for a meeting to discuss the surrender of his Department of North Carolina and Southern Virginia.[1]  Even after Johnston’s surrender, and despite President Andrew Johnson’s announcement on 9 May that the war was over, the war continued in deep South Texas.

In Texas

There were only a few battles in Texas during the Civil War.  The Union did make several attempts to capture the Trans-Mississippi regions of Texas and Louisiana (1862-65), with eastern ports under Union blockade.  Texas, therefore, became a blockade-running haven.  Under the Union’s Anaconda Plan, the Union Navy blockaded Galveston — Texas’ principal seaport — and the entire Gulf and Southern borders for four years.  Union troops occupied Galveston for three months late in 1862, but General Magruder recaptured it on 1 January 1863, and it remained in Confederate hands until the end of the war.

Texans love a challenge — the kind created by Union blockades.  They not only evaded the Union Army, but they also avoided bandits and pro-Union Mexicans to smuggle cotton into Mexico.  Throughout the Civil War, the sale or exchange of cotton was a Confederate money-maker, and President Lincoln wanted it stopped.  In 1863, Union general Nathan Banks led the Rio Grande Expedition to secure ports near Brownsville and pushed 100 miles inland to impede the flow of cotton and deny the rebels freedom of movement.

Brownsville wasn’t the only South Texas city to fall.  So too did Port Lavaca and Indianola.  Federal attempts to seize control of Laredo, Corpus Christi, and the Sabine Pass were failures.  In 1865, El Paso and Brazos Island were the only Texas cities in Union hands.  The Second Battle of Sabine Pass was Texas’ most notable fight, not because of the size of the fight, but because 48 Confederates from the Davis Guards denied General William B. Franklin’s much larger army access to the Sabine Pass and sent them scurrying back to New Orleans.

Later, in 1864, Confederate General Camille de Polignac moved into Northwestern Louisiana to stall General Banks’ Red River Campaign.[2]  Given their failure to stop the flow of cotton into Mexico, Lincoln needed them elsewhere. In July 1864, the Union Army withdrew most of its 6,500 men from the lower Rio Grande Valley, including Fort Brown (Brownsville). No sooner had these forces withdrawn, Confederates moved back in and took possession of Fort Brown.

On 22 January 1865, General Grant ordered Major General Lew Wallace to the Rio Grande to investigate Confederate military operations in South Texas.  Although Wallace was not authorized to offer terms to the Confederates, he did discuss proposals for the surrender of the Trans-Mississippi Department.  Wallace provided Grant with copies of his proposals and advised him of the “negotiations.”  Before returning to Baltimore, Wallace also met with Mexican military officials to discuss the United States’ unofficial efforts to aid them in expelling Maximillian’s French occupation force.  Following Lincoln’s death on 15 April 1865, Wallace served on the military commission investigating the conspiracy.

In April 1865, sixty-thousand Confederate troops remained in Texas as part of General Edmund Kirby Smith’s Trans-Mississippi Department.  The morale of these troops was quite low, and desertion and criminal behavior were problematic.  Texans learned of Lee’s surrender on 20 April; local Confederate leaders argued about what to do next.  Most senior officers vowed to “carry on” with the war, Kirby Smith among them.  Unfortunately for Smith, very few rebel troops were impressed with Smith’s “fight on boys” speeches.

In May, Texas Confederates learned of Johnston’s surrender.  Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas now stood alone to continue the fight.  Troops in Galveston briefly mutinied but were eventually talked into remaining armed.  Magruder and Smith communicated with Major General John Pope regarding surrender terms on 9 May — after which both generals gave up trying to rally their demoralized troops.  General Magruder pleaded for the rapid disbanding of the army to prevent depredations by disgruntled soldiers against the civilian population.  Unfortunately, his efforts had the opposite effect: Soldiers began pillaging Galveston’s military stores on 21 May.  It soon became a contest between rebel soldiers and civilians about who could plunder the most.  By 27 May, only 30,000 Confederate troops remained under arms, and Texas descended into an outlaw hell.  On 2 June, General Kirby Smith, a commander without an army and a general without troops, surrendered to General Pope.

The Last Battle

On 11-12 March 1865, Wallace met with Brigadier General James Slaughter[3] and Colonel John S. “Rip” Ford,[4] both of whom agreed to a cessation of hostilities.  Slaughter’s superior was Major General John G. Walker, commanding the Confederate District of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.  Walker promptly rejected a ceasefire (officially), but both sides ceased all hostilities.

Colonel Robert B. Jones, U.S. Army, commanded a brigade of some 1,900 troops at the Port of Brazos Santiago (at the mouth of the present-day shipping channel of the Port of Brownsville).  His mission was to provide a blockade preventing Confederate access to overseas trade.  The Brigade consisted of 400 men of the 34th Indiana (an experienced combat brigade that had served at Vicksburg), the 87th and 62nd U.S. Colored Infantry Regiments (USCT) (around 1,100 troops).  Shortly after General Walker met with Texas state officials, Colonel Jones resigned his commission and returned home.  Union officials replaced him with Lieutenant Colonel Robert G. Morrison, commanding 34th Indiana, and Colonel Theodore H. Barrett, who assumed command of the 62nd and 87th U.S. Colored Troops.

In 1865, Colonel Barrett was 30-year old.  Despite serving since 1862, Barrett had no combat experience and had never commanded a unit in combat.  Some historians posit that Barrett was motivated to initiate an engagement in South Texas because doing so would enhance his chances of promotion.  Others argue that Barrett’s actions were that he needed horses for 300 unmounted cavalrymen.  Another reason often cited for Barrett’s actions was to seize 2,000 bales of cotton stored in Brownsville — which is no doubt true.

Remember that both Union and Confederate forces in Texas knew that Lee had surrendered on 9 April.  It was only a matter of time before the end of all hostilities.  That aside, and despite the previously stated argument among scholars, what we know for a fact is that in South Texas, two things were at stake: honor and money.  Colonel Ford was not inclined to surrender his men, and he was equally disinclined to surrender 2,000 bales of cotton.

Colonel Barrett placed Lieutenant Colonel David Branson in command of 250 men (8 companies) from the 62nd and two companies of the U.S. 2nd Texas.  The U.S. 2nd Texas was mainly composed of Texans of Mexican descent who remained loyal to the Union.  The Branson expedition moved from Brazos Santiago to the mainland on 12 May, initially gaining some success with the capture of three (3) rebels and some supplies.  That afternoon, C.S. Captain William N. Robinson led 100 of his cavalry in a counterattack, which forced Branson to withdraw to White’s Ranch.  Fighting stopped for the night, and both sides sent for reinforcements.  Colonel Ford reinforced Robinson, adding 200 additional men and six French field guns.  Colonel Barrett reinforced Branson with 200 troops of the 34th Indiana, totaling nine understrength infantry companies.

Colonel Barrett (in overall command) advanced westward, passing about a half-mile west of the Palmito Ranch the next morning.  The 34th Indiana deployed skirmishers in advance of the main body.  At 4 p.m., on 13 May, Colonel Ford attacked Barrett’s force by sending two companies into Barrett’s right flank and the remainder of his force in a frontal attack.  Barrett was forced to withdraw to Boca Chica.  Ford’s artillery defeated his attempt to form a rear-guard.  Barrett’s withdrawal lasted until 14 May, when Ford managed to surround and capture 50 troops of the 34th Indiana, 30 stragglers, and 20 dismounted cavalry troops.  Colonel Barrett officially reported 115 casualties: one killed, nine wounded, and 105 men captured by Colonel Ford.  Modern scholars dispute Barrett’s claim.  Thirty union troops died, many of these by drowning in the Rio Grande or having been shot by French border guards in Mexico.  Scholars also agree that Colonel Ford understated his casualties.  Ford suffered six wounded in action and three missing in action/presumed captured. 

The last battle of the American Civil War was fought in Texas, resulting in a victory for the Confederates.  Perhaps.  The claim may depend on how one defines a battle.  When Union forces captured Confederate President Jefferson Davis on 10 May, the Confederate States of America ceased to exist.  Even though men still died, there could be no “official” battle after 10 May.  The last man killed in the Civil War is generally believed to have been Private John J. Williams, 34th Indiana, on 13 May 1865 — but there is no way to validate this claim.  Besides, another scuffle occurred on 19 May 1865 at Hobdy’s Bridge near Eufaula, Alabama, where Corporal John W. Skinner lost his life.

In July 1865, Colonel Barrett preferred charges against LtCol Branson, alleging disobedience, neglect, abandoning his colors, and conduct prejudicial to the good order and discipline of the command.  Branson was dutifully court-martialed.  Appearing at trial on his behalf was Colonel Rip Ford.  Colonel Ford’s testimony absolved Branson of any responsibility for Barrett’s defeat at the Palmito Ranch.


  1. Denton, P.  Johnston’s Surrender.  Ohio State University online.
  2. Frazier, D. S.  Blood, and Treasure: Confederate Empire in the Southwest.  Texas A&M Press, 1995.
  3. Hunt, J. W.  The Last Battle of the Civil War: Palmetto Ranch.  University of Texas Press, 2000.
  4. Kerby, R. L.  Kirby Smith’s Confederacy: The Trans-Mississippi South.  University of Alabama Press, 1991.
  5. Marten, J.  Texas Divided: Loyalty and Dissent in the Lone Star State.  University of Kentucky Press, 1990.
  6. Wooster, R. A.  Texas and Texans in the Civil War.  Eakin Press, 1996.


[1] Sherman and Johnston began their negotiation on 16 April.  Since Johnston’s army was in a better position and in better shape than Lee’s, Johnston wanted better terms than those offered to Lee.  Sherman offered generous terms because he, as with many Union generals, feared that Johnston’s confederates might resort to fighting a guerrilla war in the inland mountains.

[2] Camille Armand Jules Marie de Polignac was a French nobleman who distinguished himself as a Confederate Brigadier General at the Battle of Mansfield.  He was subsequently promoted to major general.  His rebel troops, unable to pronounce his family name, simply called him “General Polecat.”  When Polignac died in 1913, he was the last surviving Confederate major general.

[3] James Edwin Slaughter (1827-1901) was born in Culpepper, Virginia to a prominent family; his mother was related to President James Madison.  Slaughter was commissioned in the U.S. Army in 1846 and participated in the Mexican-American war as an infantry officer.  After the war, Slaughter transferred into the Artillery and served in the 1st Artillery Regiment from 1848 until the outbreak of the American Civil War.  At this time, he resigned from the U.S. Army and accepted a commission as a first lieutenant, artillery, Confederate States of America.  He was promoted to major in November 1861, and to brigadier general in March 1862.  From that point forward, Slaughter played an important role in the affairs of the Confederacy in Texas.

[4] John S. Ford (1815-1897) was a medical doctor, lawyer, Texian soldier, Texas Ranger, Brigadier General of Texas militia, Colonel, C.S. Army, Indian fighter, journalist, and a member of the Texas Senate.  I have mentioned Ford in several of my Old West Tales. 

Posted in American Military, American Southwest, Civil War, History, Texas | 4 Comments

El Peludo


For thousands of years before the modern era, the land of present-day Arizona was home to several Indian civilizations.  The first European to establish contact with Arizona Indians was Marcos de Niza in 1539.  Several other historically significant Spaniards followed Niza, including Francisco Vásquez de Coronado y Luján and José Romo de Vivar.  Eusebio Francisco Kino (also Father Kino), a Jesuit missionary, was a trained geographer, explorer, cartographer, and astronomer who spent the last 24 years of his life in the Sonoran Desert of Mexico and Southern Arizona.  After Mexican independence from Spain in 1821, Arizona became part of Nuevo California.  By this time, the primary residents of Arizona were descendants of ethnic Spaniards, mestizos, and Indians.

Following the Mexican-American War (1846 – 1848), the United States gained land encompassing present-day New Mexico, Utah, Western Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, California, and Texas.  In Mexico, it is known as La Venta de La Mesilla.  Americans know it simply as the Gadsden Purchase.  It was a 29,670 square-mile region of present-day Arizona and southwestern New Mexico purchased by the United States from Mexico through the Treaty of Mesilla in 1854.  The purchase price was $10 million, which was in addition to the $15 million the United States paid for the former Mexican territories (identified above).  In 1854, $25 million was a massive amount of money.  Arizona became a United States Territory in 1863.

As they had done (almost from the beginning in the early 17th century), Anglo settlers began moving westward — this time into the Arizona Territory.  They did this at great risk to themselves because the native population of Arizona resisted white encroachment at every opportunity.  Many of these whites were members of the Mormon Church headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Of course, there was a border separating Mexico from the United States, but the word porous in describing it would be a gross understatement.  People moved back and forth between Mexico and the United States at their leisure.  The predominant language of Arizona remained Spanish for many years (and is still widely spoken) by Americans of Hispanic heritage.

The Chacón Family

To the south of Arizona lies the Sonoran Desert, an area of approximately 100,000 square miles.  Despite its inhospitable climate and weather pattern, Sonora is home to 17 native Indian tribes and various settlements of Mexicans and Americans in Mexico, California, and Arizona.  The two largest cities in the Sonoran Desert are Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona.  In 1870, around 100,000 people of Hispanic descent lived in the vast Sonoran region of Mexico.  One of these areas, known as Sierra del Tigre, is a mountain range in northeastern Sonora, Mexico, with several of its ranges extending into Arizona.  La Familia Chacón lived in Sierra del Tigre for several generations, each one struggling to provide bare necessities for a decent life.  Augustine Chacón was born there in 1861.  As a child, he and his older brother Vincente may have dreamt of a better life, knowing that they wouldn’t realize any such aspirations in Mexico.  The boys swore that they would go north to the United States to make their fortunes one day.  Both did go to the United States, but they traveled on different paths.

By the time Augustine was 19-20 years old, he was known for his rugged good looks.  He was taller than most Mexicans, had dark features, and had an abundance of visible head and facial hair.  From this, his friends called him El Peludo.  For a time, he served with the rurales in Sierra del Tigre.  He had an easy-going personality and had won the respect of his superiors and fellow soldiers alike.  It was because of his character that his superiors appointed him to serve as a town peace officer — but his penchant for treating everyone fairly ran afoul of the upper-class citizens, and they began to make his life very difficult.  The class warfare was what finally prompted Chacón to relocate to Arizona.

Joe Olney (Hill)

There are a few stories about a murdering Augustine Chacón in Arizona, but some don’t add up.  In one fairy tale, Chacón began his murder spree by killing a rancher named Ben Ollney over a question of back wages.  The problem with that particular account is the Olney family (brothers George, Sam, Dan, and Joe) arrived in Arizona from Texas in 1879.  In that year, the Olney brothers were known as the brothers Hill — all taking on an assumed name because Joe Greaves Olney was wanted for murder and other charges in Texas.  There was a Ben Olney, the eldest son of Joe (Olney) Hill, born in 1870 and passed away in Los Angeles in 1935.  If Chacón killed anyone in Arizona, it wasn’t Ben Olney.

We cannot allow the Olney/Hill connection to fade away as regards Augustine Chacón, however, because there is an even more interesting connection.  To explore this further, it will be necessary to “back up” a few years.

Joe Greaves was the eldest of the brothers Olney (Hill), born in 1849 in Burleson County, Texas.  He served in the Texas Rangers between 1871 – 1873.  In the following year, Joe became involved in a cattle dispute, the result of which named Joe as the man wanted in connection with theft and assault in Llano County.

In 1874, Joe involved himself in the Texas Hoodoo War (Mason County War) (1874 – 1876).  Some claim that Joe Olney shot and killed Moses Baird in 1875, but that is unlikely since Moses Baird was aligned with Scott Cooley, John Ringo, and Joe Olney in the Hoodoo War.  Joe undoubtedly did a fair bit of shooting in Mason County, Texas, but it was a time when everyone was shooting at everyone else.

However, after his involvement in a shooting with two county deputies in 1876, Joe Olney bolted for New Mexico.  Joe was the only family member named on an arrest warrant, so it is unclear why brothers George, Sam, and Daniel changed their names from Olney to Hill.  Perhaps they were concerned that they could be charged with aiding and abetting the escape of the wanted shootist.  When the brothers learned that New Mexico had joined Texas in seeking the arrest of Joe Olney, they all removed themselves to southeast Arizona, reigning up in Pima County, at a silver mining town, someone named Tombstone.

In Tombstone, Joe (Olney) Hill and his brothers became good friends with an outlaw group calling themselves The Cowboys, including the Clanton’s, Lowrey’s, Billy Brocius, Johnny Ringo, and everyone who hated the Earps.

The so-called Cowboys were an outlaw cartel, heavily involved in stealing horses, rustling cattle, holding up stagecoaches, fixing elections, stealing county tax proceeds, intimidating territorial judges, and murder.  Joe Hill rode with Sheriff Johnny Behan’s posse during the hunt for the Earps after someone dusted Frank Stillwell in Tucson.  Joe (Olney) Hill decided to settle down when Wyatt Earp began his now-famous Vendetta Ride. 

By the time Augustine Chacón arrived in Tombstone (c. 1884), the cattle liberation program was in full swing.  Chacón was looking for work, and he found it as an experienced vaquero.  Legal title to cattle didn’t matter to a cowboy.  He was either stealing cattle from Arizona and moving them into Mexico or stealing cattle and horses from Mexican haciendas and moving it into Arizona.  It was a robust trade arrangement for all concerned.  Eventually, however, all good things come to an end — so when the cattle rustling business became too hot, Chacón relocated to Morenci, Arizona.

Petty Crime to Murder

Morenci, Arizona, started as a prospecting camp simply called Joey’s Camp.  Sitting at an altitude of 1,436 meters, the town itself became a hazard because of the steep incline of streets and foundations.  There were no wheeled vehicles inside the town for many years, so resupplying town merchants required a never-ending stream of pack mules.  The town’s mining interests generated wealth for some, but most had to be content with dreams of wealth.  There was not much opportunity for Mexicans, but they had their hopes along with everyone else.  Working inside the mines was not Chacón’s cup of tea.  Instead, he arranged to provide firewood for the steam engine, placing it in certain places along the train route.  While Chacón saw to the firewood, he and his friends rustled cattle, butchered them, and sold the meat at a premium price to the butchers of Morenci.

Chacón had a growing reputation among the local Mexicans as someone to look up to — and fear.  His friends called him Peludo.  He was still personable, but he’d become dangerous to anyone outside his immediate circle.  Inside Morenci, El Peludo and his friends had taken to rolling drunks for pocket money; and robbed them while they worked in the mines.

Thus far in our investigation, we’ve discovered that Augustine Chacón was an accomplished horseman and vaquero.  We know (or suspect) that he became involved in horse stealing and cattle rustling as part of the Pima/Cochise County Cowboy operation.  We aren’t sure what else he was up to — but whatever it was, it was enough to set the tongues of local citizens (Mexican and Anglo) wagging.  If you believed everything spoken about El Peludo, you thought he was as dangerous (or more so) than any Clanton’s, Johnny Ringo, or Wild Bill Brocius.  Some claim Chacón was directly responsible for multiple murders, rapes, robberies, and horse thieving.  But was it true?  Maybe.

There was even a story about how Chacón outwitted the famed gunfighter/lawman John Slaughter.  According to this story, El Peludo openly bragged that he intended to kill Slaughter on sight.  When Slaughter heard about it, he, and his deputy (Burt Alvord) began looking for Chacón.  It was one of those “I’ll be your huckleberry” stories.  Slaughter and Alvord learned that Chacón was located out in a mining tent.  That night, they surrounded the tent and called Chacón out.

When Chacón heard his name called with instructions to surrender to the law, he rushed out the back of the tent, and just as Slaughter pulled the trigger on his shotgun, Chacón tripped over a tent stake and rolled down an embankment. Slaughter’s shot went over Chacón’s head, and he managed to escape certain death.

It was a good story — and an even better one, if true.

That wasn’t all, though.  Chacón and his gang were often blamed for unexplained events, such as the wanton murder of two hunters along Eagle Creek in 1894.  Missing cattle was almost always laid at Chacón’s feet.  When the body of an old prospector was found concealed in an abandoned mine shaft, Augustine was blamed for that, too.  He may have had a part in these incidents, but there was never any evidence.  Anyone could have done these things.  Oh sure, he was capable of it — and it was always the little things that made folks think of Chacón whenever something mysterious happened.

Another story claimed that he and his boys knocked over a casino in Jerome, killing four gamblers in the process.  According to witnesses, this was a Chacon murder/robbery — but if there were witnesses, it is odd that El Peludo was never charged with the crimes.  Another time, witnesses claimed that the Chacon gang held up a stagecoach just outside Phoenix, and then after that, someone murdered a group of several sheep-shearers at their encampment.

Once more, though — Augustin Chacón was never charged with such heinous crimes.  Then, on 18 December 1895, Chacón (or one of his cohorts, Pilar Luna, or Leonardo Morales) came up with the audacious plan to knock over McCormick’s General Store.  After midnight, the three bandits climbed through the store’s back window and hid until Paul Becker, the storekeeper, returned to the store, where he slept in a side room.  The three robbers grabbed Becker, took him to the safe, and ordered him to open it.  He initially refused, but after receiving a few whacks on the head and a few stab wounds to his torso, Chacón warned him, “Open it, or we’ll kill you.”

Despite his wounds and Chacón’s ominous threats, Becker broke away and stumbled down to Salcido’s Saloon, where town constable and deputy sheriff Alex Davis rushed to his aid.  Wise medically or not, Davis pulled the knife from Becker’s stomach.

Becker was alert enough to tell what happened.  At first light, Davis investigated the robbery scene and noticed a small blood trail leading out the back of the store and up the hill.  The red blotches led to the home of Santiago Contreras.  As Davis and his small posse approached the house, three men ran out the back door.  One of the men, Pilar Luna, took a shot at deputy Davis.  Along with Justice of the Peace Albert Brewer, Davis returned fire, striking Chacón in the arm.  Chacón and his boys kept climbing the steep hill and took refuge behind some large boulders.

Deputy Davis returned to the base of the hill to reload, where he encountered Pablo Salcido, brother to the saloonkeeper.  Pablo owned his own business in town and wanted to help catch the robbers.  He told Davis that he knew Chacón, that he was a friend of Chacón, and, as such, he thought he could talk the men into surrendering.  Davis didn’t like the plan.  He wanted to flank the fugitives and force them into surrendering.  Señor Salcido waved Davis off and started up the hill on his own.  After Salcido told the bandits that he wanted to parley, a shot rang out, hitting Pablo in the forehead.

Davis’ flanking maneuver resulted in the killing of Luna and Morales and Chacón’s eventual surrender.  Nearly 300 rounds had been fired during the gunfight.

Davis and Brewer charged Chacón with the murder of Pablo Salcido and transported him to the jail over in Solomonville before residents could form a lynch mob.  Chacon’s jailbreak was remarkable for its lack of excitement.  He simply walked out of jail one evening and hid in a nearby ditch.  He was only discovered when one of the searchers fell on top of him accidentally.  Graham County Sheriff Birchfield was not a happy man.

Augustine Chacon (standing right)

Señor Chacón’s trial was set to begin in April but was delayed until 26 May.  A jury found Chacón guilty, and he appealed his trial to the Territorial appellate court.  While awaiting the court’s decision, Chacón was transported to Tucson.  It was at the Tucson jail that Chacón’s only picture was taken.  He was shackled to another prisoner.  One will note how tall Chacón was.

He was held in Tucson until the Supreme Court affirmed the guilty decision of the lower court.  Upon Chacon’s return to Solomonville, on the train, the deputy discovered that the leg irons were cut almost completely through. Chacon’s new date for hanging was set for June 18, 1898, and work on the scaffold began.

Augustin Chacon was many things, including enterprising — so, having convinced himself that he did not wish to hang, he escaped from jail on 9 June.  This was no easy feat because the walls of the jail were ten inches thick of adobe material and had a double layer of two-inch pine board fastened with five-inch nails.  It was said that Chacon could never have excavated his way out of that cell without totally deaf guards — so the guards became suspects of complicity in Chacon’s escape.  It was also claimed that a Mexican woman distracted the jailer by seducing him.  Chacon made a beeline for Sonora, Mexico, whatever the truth of the matter.

Enter Burt Mossman

Burt Mossman (1867-1956) was raised on a farm near Aurora, Illinois.  Following the Civil War, in 1873, his family picked up and moved to Missouri, and in 1882, further west to New Mexico.  In 1884, Burt worked as a cowhand for the Hash Knife Outfit in northern Arizona.  By the time he was 20-years-old, Mossman was working as the ranch foreman and as a ranch superintendent by the time he was thirty.

Captain Burt Mossman

Burt Mossman was gutsy in keeping cattle rustlers at bay and sharply focused on learning the cattle business.  Meanwhile, Mossman and a business partner operated a successful stage line. While it was true that Mossman was making good money from his business ventures, he also gave back to the community.  In 1897-98, Mossman and his business associates built a lovely opera house in Winslow, Arizona.  In 1898, the people of Navajo County elected him as their sheriff.  By 1901, outlawry was rampant in Arizona, which prompted the Territorial governor to re-authorize the establishment of the Arizona Rangers.  Mossman was appointed to serve as a captain of the rangers.

Burt Mossman was no stranger to armed violence.  As a ranch foreman and superintendent, and later as a lawman, he was involved in at least five separate shootings — the first occurring in 1896.

Leading up to the first incident, Aztec Land & Cattle Company began experiencing financial problems, which prompted Mossman to drive cattle south to Mazatlán, Mexico, where it could be sold.  While in Mexico, at a cantina, Burt Mossman quarreled with a Mexican army officer.  Insulted, the Mexican challenged him to a duel.  Mossman accepted the challenge, and the two men met on the following morning, loaded their weapons with a single bullet, and stepped away from each other fifteen paces.  The Mexican officer missed his mark; Mossman did not, striking the man in his shoulder.  Mexican authorities promptly arrested Burt and kept him in jail for a month.  Eventually, with the help of a friend, Mossman escaped confinement and returned to the United States.

In 1902, Sheriff Mossman turned his attention toward the apprehension of the dastardly murderer Augustine Chacon. Mossman planned to assume the role of an American outlaw, befriend the train robber Burt Alvord (a friend of Chacon’s), and use him to entice Chacon back to the United States.  Mossman thought that Alvord would be a willing accomplice if (a) he was promised a light sentence in exchange for helping capture Chacón and (b) he was offered the reward money for the capture of El Peludo.

On 22 April, after traveling for several days, Mossman discovered Alvord’s hideout, a small hut located some distance away from San Jose de Pima in Sonora.  As the unarmed Mossman approached the hut, he found Alvord standing alone outside (the rest of the gang were playing cards inside).  After Mossman introduced himself, he reassured Alvord that he was in no danger and then made the outlaw a deal he couldn’t refuse.  The two men agreed to cooperate.  Billy Stiles (Alvord’s partner in crime, who was also known to Chacon as an outlaw) agreed to act as their go-between — necessary because it would take Alvord some time to locate Chacon and convince him to cross over into Arizona.[1]

It took Burt Alvord three months to find Chacon.  Chacon agreed to help Alvord in his escapade but first required Burt to help him dispense with some stolen horses.  Meanwhile, Alvord sent Stiles to tell Mossman to meet them just south of the border, at the Socorro Mountain Springs, in Sonora.

Although Mossman and Stiles failed to meet Alvord and Chacon in the Socorro Mountains, they found the bandits at Alvord’s wife’s home.  After exchanging names, Mossman and the others agreed to a plan to cross the border back into Arizona on the next day — to steal horses from the Greene Ranch.  However, it was too dark to steal horses that night, so they returned to their camp.  Before daybreak, on 4 September, Alvord decided to leave camp.  He gave Mossman a parting word of caution: “I brought Chacon to you.  If you aren’t careful, he’ll kill you.  So long, Amigo.”

When Chacon awoke later that morning, his suspicions were aroused when he found that Alvord was no longer in camp.  After breakfast, Stiles suggested that they steal the horses in daylight, but Chacon was uninterested and said he was going back to Sonora.  Mossman knew his time to act was now.  Chacon and Stiles were sitting on the ground when Mossman stood up and asked Chacon for a cigarette.  As Chacon offered the tobacco, Mossman pulled out his revolver and aimed it at the Mexican outlaw: “Throw up your hands, Chacon, or you’re a dead man.”

The final disposition of Augustine Chacon proved to be anticlimactic.  At Benson, Mossman delivered Chacon to Jim Parks, the new sheriff of Graham County, and from there, he was returned to Solomonville.  Because he had already been sentenced to hang, Chacon’s appearance in the Solomonville courthouse was a mere formality to set a new date for the execution.  The first day chosen was 14 November 1902, but a group of local citizens filed a petition to have Chacon’s sentence reduced to life in prison.  That effort failed, and the court decided to hang Chacon on 21 November.

While awaiting execution, Chacon was held in a specially built steel cage kept under heavy guard.  The scaffold on which Chacon was to hang had also been created specifically for him in 1897, though he had escaped before it could be used.  A large fourteen-foot adobe wall was built around the scaffold so only people with invitations could view the hanging.  When execution day came, Chacon had a good breakfast and was permitted to see two of his friends: Señor Jesus Bustos y Sisto Molino.  He was also allowed to see a priest several times that day, and after lunch, he was given a shave and a new black suit to wear.

Chacon was delivered to the scaffold at 2:00 p.m., where fifty people waited to greet him and wish him well.  The bandit chief, who had for over a decade eluded the law, asked for a cigarette and a cup of coffee before death and then began an unprepared thirty-minute speech to the crowd. Speaking in Spanish with an English interpreter, Chacon maintained his innocence in the death of Salcido (or, for that matter, anyone else), but he did apologize for stealing things.

After a second cigarette and cup of coffee, Chacon requested that he be allowed to live until 3:00 p.m., but his request was denied.  While walking up the steps of the scaffold, Chacon shook the hands of his friends and admirers.  When the rope was in place and the executioner was ready, Chacon’s final words were, “Adios, todos amigos.” Augustine Chacon was hanged in Arizona on 21 November 1902.

On the day after the execution, the Arizona Bulletin reported: “[A] nervier man than Augustine Chacon never walked to the gallows, and his hanging was a melodramatic spectacle that will never be forgotten by those who witnessed it.”

There are a number of works with titles approximating “The True Story of Arizona’s Worst Desperado …” and each one of them tells a different story about Augustine Chacón.  That Señor Chacón was present and involved in a gunfight with lawmen at the time and place where Pedro Salcido was shot and killed, there can be no doubt.  What remains unproven is that Chacón is the individual who killed Salcido.  One-hundred twenty years later, it doesn’t matter.  It doesn’t matter because justice has always taken a backseat to retribution in this country. 


[1] Stiles association with the Arizona Rangers led to his service with the Rangers for a few years.  After traveling to the Orient for several years, Stiles returned to the American west and served as a deputy sheriff in Humboldt County, Nevada.  In this capacity, he was killed in the line of duty while attempting to serve a court summons.

Posted in American Frontier, American Southwest, Arizona Territory, Gunfights and such, History, Justice, Mexican American War, Mormons, New Mexico, Outlaws, Society, Texas | 2 Comments