Two years ago, I wrote my blog entry on the fascinating facts I had learned between 2012-14 on the American Revolution while I wrote my multi-volume graphic novel set in this period. As I approach four years’ work on this topic, I decided 4th of July was a good time to take stock (as I work on volume 4 and have accumulated acquaintance with over 100 works on this subject). Reading about the American Revolution has equipped me to understand the problems of contemporary America a bit better, and I am continually surprised with the places the reading takes me. As an autodidact in this regard, I have proceeded from bibliography to bibliography in search of what I needed at the time. I have arranged this annotated bibliography not in any chronological order but by topic. A note on the categories: some obviously overlap, so I’ve assigned them based on the area in which I feel they most fit. Also, it’s worth knowing that my particular research focuses on many of the main military campaigns of the period, so the biographies tend to be of military personnel rather than statesmen or people from other walks of life.
Bailyn, Bernard. Faces of Revolution: Personalities and Themes in the Struggle for American Independence. New York: Knopf, 1990.
Bernard Bailyn is of course the don of early American history, and it’s easy to see why from his incredibly rich, elegant writing, which is also ideas-driven and very well-researched. I dipped into this collection of biographical essays (on John Adams and lesser-known figures) for a specific purpose, but I heartily recommend the full work. I was using his portrait of Loyalists and pro- and anti-Revolutionary clergy to enrich the attitudes of some of my characters in my graphic novel.
Allan, Herbert S. John Hancock: Patriot in Purple. New York : Beechhurst Press, 1953.
I haven’t formed a hugely favorable impression of John Hancock, mainly from anecdotes about him in Revolutionary Ladies (he discarded his older mistress, a businesswoman, widow, and single mother, when he married, and she defected to the British), and from this biography I mainly gathered he liked to entertain in style at his mansion, Beacon Hill, outside of Boston. As the title suggests, he was not exactly a populist.
Brodsky, Alyn. Benjamin Rush: Patriot and Physician. New York: Truman Talley Books, 2004.
This is a rich and satisfying biography of a polymath who should be much more well-known than he is. The book is helpful in providing a solid background to the profession of medicine at the end of the 18th century, which could hardly be considered enlightened by today’s standards (as just one example, taking pulse and temperature were not generally practiced, and Rush believed in blood-letting his entire career). Rush came from a family with strong ties to the Roundhead side of the English Civil War and was educated within the Presbyterian tradition, two characteristics that would have predisposed him to Revolutionary tendencies. His study of medicine led him to Edinburgh, where he appreciated the religious atmosphere and learned a great deal from Enlightenment thinkers living and teaching there. When he returned to America, he had a very profitable practice in Philadelphia but quickly was swept up in Revolutionary sentiment. In later life, he attributed good health to drinking tea and coffee, eating little red meat, lots of vegetables, and drinking very little alcohol.
Callahan, North. Henry Knox: General Washington’s General. New York: AS Barnes & Co, 1958.
Puls, Mark. Henry Knox: Visionary General of the American Revolution. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.
I dipped into two biographies of Henry Knox who, though well-known in specialist circles, is still not as generally known as he should be (he’s slightly the butt of the jokes in The Crossing, which is an excellent film but still pokes quite a lot of fun at Knox, mainly because he was fat). Self-educated, he owned the family business of a bookshop in Boston but was fascinated by artillery, and his skills in this area were greatly needed in the American Army. His wife, Lucy, was at least as brave as he was, having come from a Loyalist background which she had to sever all ties with in order to marry Henry. As Callahan explains, “For Henry, it [leaving Boston as patriots] meant the breakup of his business career and the end of a pleasant life in his hometown; for Lucy, it meant leaving her native hearth—and her parents forever” (31). My main interest in Knox was his daring transport of artillery from Fort Ticonderoga—previously captured by Benedict Arnold and Ethan Allen—to the American lines in late 1775. It’s a very exciting story.
Carbone, Gerald M. Nathanael Greene: A Biography of the American Revolution. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.
Nathanael Greene was a friend and contemporary of Knox, though to be honest, I read this biography mainly to find out more about his wife, Catherine (Caty) Greene, who was sophisticated, spoke French, loved flirting, and brought vivacity to the wives’ winter quarters at Valley Forge. In the letters exchanged between the Greenes, we can understand the general anguish of separation between the officers in the American Army and their wives over the eight-year period of war. “The great distance there is between us and the few opportunities I have to hear from you leaves me in a very disagreeable suspence,” Nathanael wrote to Caty in March 1777. “Eight long months have past amidst fatigue and toil since I have tasted the pleasures of domestick felicity” (64).
LaFarelle, Lorenzo G. Bernardo de Gálvez: Hero of the American Revolution. Austin: Eakin Press, 1992.
Although it is likely those natives of Galveston, Texas, have heard of Bernardo de Gálvez, the rest of the country is still probably quite ignorant of this fascinating man (who, unfortunately, I have not yet been able to work into my graphic novel). Gálvez was a brave and canny man who came from a Spanish family of military distinction. In 1765, he accompanied his uncle to New Spain and was commissioned as captain in the army of General Don Juan de Villalva. He was 24 years old when made military commander of la Nueva Vizcaya and Sonora. He studied in France for several years, which came in handy when he was posted to Louisiana in 1776. As will have likely not escaped your notice, Britain’s enemies were delighted when the American Revolution erupted, and it was to King Carlos III of Spain’s advantage that his representatives, like Gálvez, aid the Americans unofficially. Under his stewardship of Louisiana (strictly speaking, the Spanish rule, 1763-1803), the population increased from 10,000 to 50,000. Gálvez received news in summer 1779 that the British were preparing an attack on New Orleans; his forces subdued the British at Fort Butte and was made a Brigadier General. The British at Mobile surrendered to him in 1780.
Lockhart, Paul. The Drillmaster of Valley Forge: The Baron de Steuben and the Making of the American Army. New York: Smithsonian Books, 2008.
As another European who threw in his lot with the American rebels, von Steuben was a soldier of fortune who nonetheless made an outstanding contribution to the American cause. First introduced to him in Fleming’s book on Valley Forge, I soon realized he was quite a character. In Europe, he had made a precarious living as chief minister at the court of Hohenzollern-Hechingen and spoke no English when he arrived in America in 1777 (Fleming records some of Steuben’s broken colloquialisms, “Viens, Walker, mon ami, mon bon ami! Sacre! Goddamn de gaucheries of dese badauts. Je ne plus. I can curse dem no more” 222). Washington was wary of European adventurers joining the American Army, demanding high rank, pay, and honors while effecting little in the way of results. Von Steuben quickly proved himself to be different. While sociable as a comrade, his brilliance was as a military disciplinarian, and he whipped the American Army into shape—and not a moment too soon. I used Lockhart’s biography mainly for more insight into the Battle of Monmouth County Court House (1778), in which von Steuben faced off with Simcoe (villain of AMC’s Turn) who stole his hat!
Nelson, Paul David. Anthony Wayne: Soldier of the Early Republic. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985.
General Wayne (who of course lent his name to Batman’s alter ego) is developed as a three-dimensional character in this fine biography. As impetuous as his nickname implied (which was only in use from 1781), he was one of the American Army’s worst swearers. The Revolution was “an opportunity for him to rise above his humdrum life as a Pennsylvania farmer-businessman and give full rein to the deepest romantic urgings of his restless spirit” (1). Like Washington, he studied as a young man to be a surveyor. He was also a prudent and logical warrior. As with Benjamin Rush, his ancestral roots were tied to fighting for individualism and personal rights: his grandfather was an Orangeman in Boyne and his father was a militiaman in the French and Indian War. Wayne appears in my graphic novels mainly through his 1779 campaigns in New York, which he managed with skill. Before battle at Stony Point, he wrote his will, fearing the worst. He asked that his children get an education as he feared his wife might not survive his death (!). “I am called to Sup, but where to breakfast, either within the enemy’s lines in triumph or in the other World! Then farewell my best and dearest friend and believe me to the last moment Yours most Sincerely, Anth’y Wayne” (97-8).
Royster, Charles. Light-Horse Harry Lee and the Legacy of the American Revolution. Cambridge University Press, 1982.
Henry Lee came from that venerable clan of Virginia Lees and comes across as a Hotspur-like character in this perceptive biography. Trained as a lawyer, “although he kept and used his Princeton Latin and Greek until his death and he read a great deal, he was not an original or profound thinker” (27). A man of action, he joined the American Army when he was 19. Although he did not get his soubriquet until 1779, he was always interested in speed and fine horses. Lee crosses paths with my characters during a skirmish at the Spread Eagle Tavern in Pennsylvania in 1779 where he faced off against “No Quarter” Tarleton.
Storozysnki, Alex. The Peasant Prince: Thaddeus Kosciuszko and the Age of Revolution. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2009.
I read this book from cover to cover with baited breath; Kosciuszko was an incredible man for whom we have much to thank, as is expressed in this excellent, vital, and comprehensive biography. While indeed Kosciuszko’s life spanned far beyond the American Revolution, his presence as a European volunteer was invaluable. He came from the top 10% of society of Polish society, the szlachta, yet campaigned tirelessly for equality throughout his life. He was a military engineer at West Point, such that Washington gave him two pistols and a sword with an engraving reading America cum Vashington suo Amico T. Kosciuconi (America and Washington are joined with our friend T. Kosciuszko) and the back Mater Dei ora pro nobis (Mother of God, pray for us—Kosciuszko was a devout Christian). Kosciuszko was admired for his ability to draw portraits of ladies, though he had a bit of a problem with star-crossed love affairs: he languished after Betsy, General Philip Schuyler’s daughter, who eventually married Alexander Hamilton. Kosciuszko could also play piano and sing. He was addicted to coffee and his sister’s homemade jelly doughnuts.
Significantly, this biography is rather sympathetic to Horatio Gates and Charles Lee, two of the most traditionally maligned American soldiers. Kosciuszko was quite close to Gates, and Storozynski writes that Gates backed out of his duties not necessarily due to his age or health but because he didn’t want to become, like John Sullivan, the scourge of the Indians.
Unger, Harlow Giles. Lafayette. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2002.
Kosciusko and the Marquis de Lafayette were very similar in many ways, and though Kosciuszko was initially jealous of Lafayette, they eventually became friends. Lafayette is the better-known of the two. This is another fine biography. 6’1”, Lafayette was almost as tall as Washington, who became his surrogate father-figure. Lafayette joined the Black Musketeers, who were chosen for their decorative value rather than their swordsmanship, at 13, and then trained with the Comte d'Artois, who was his age, the Comte de Provence, and the Dauphin. Just before he turned 15, he was betrothed to Adrienne de Noailles, from one of the most powerful families in France. “While others found him awkward, shy, or out of place, Adrienne found him irresistible” (11). Lafayette was a father before he was 18 (and going bald by the age of 22). He bought himself a ship, La Victoire, and arrived in South Carolina in early 1777, at the age of 19. Typical of his earnestness and humility, he told Washington shortly after they met, “I have come here to learn, mon général, not to teach” (41). Aside from his cool-headed and valiant participation in a number of battles, Lafayette was instrumental in cementing the Franco-American alliance of 1778.
Ellis, Joseph P. His Excellency George Washington. London: Faber, 2005.
Clary, David A. George Washington’s First War: His Early Military Adventures. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.
Out of the scores of Washington biographies, I have only read two (although Fleming’s book on Valley Forge often feels like a Washington biography). Nevertheless, the man looms large in almost all books in this list. I have already written on Ellis’ excellent work, and Clary’s book is a good introduction to the young and rather inept man who transformed into a great leader.
McCallister Clark, Ellen. Martha Washington: A Brief Biography. University of Virginia Press, 2002.
By contrast, there are far fewer biographies of Martha Washington, though indeed there is little documentation about her. I am much against this propensity for idolizing our founding fathers and mothers, so what facts we do have about Martha show her to be a shrewd, steadfast, and friendly character. She was widely read, a keen dancer and equestrian, and convinced her father to let her marry Mr Custis, who was 20 years her senior; he made her owner of extensive property when he died in 1757. She was therefore a very eligible widow when George Washington began courting her; they married in 1759. She was over-doting on her son Jacky and spoiled him and was affectionate toward children and grandchildren throughout her life.
O’Shaughnessy, Andrew. The Men Who Lost America: British Command During the Revolutionary War and the Preservation of Empire. London: Oneworld, 2013.
As Andrew O’Shaughnessy has demonstrated, there are far more biographies about the victorious Americans from the Revolution than there are about their British counterparts and opponents, something he strives to redress in his excellent collective portrait. I haven’t read the entire thing yet, but he gives sympathetic portraits of the Howes, George III and Lord North, among others. George III, indeed, had many good qualities that black-and-white dualities are apt to forget. He was 22 in 1760 when he ascended the throne, “tall, robust, graceful, affable, cheerful, fair, and fresh, with blue eyes, auburn hair, and a strong melodious voice. He was very conscious of having a tendency to corpulence which he kept in check by plenty of exercise and horse riding” (19). He was musical, a patron of the arts, studied science and languages and had an unusually good relationship with his wife--- she wore large miniatures of him on a long chain; they had 15 children together and he had no mistress. It is also true that many Americans did not hate the King, believing wicked politicians to have led him astray. Only after mid-1775 did colonists give up all hope that the King should mediate between them and Parliament. Somewhat less sympathetic, Lord North, having known George III since childhood, told the King that the colonists needed to learn to fear him before they could love him. Witty and urbane, North studied Latin and Greek throughout his life and hated confrontation. His youngest daughter believed the war had taken its toll on his health, as in the 1780s he went blind. On meeting the also blind Col. Isaac Barré, he said, “Though you and I have had our quarrels in the past, I wager there are not two men in England who would be happier to see one another today!” (79).
Franklin, Robert A. The Best General You Have: Lieutenant-General The Honourable Sir Charles Stuart KB. Brighton: Book Guild, 2007.
Charles Stuart, born in 1753, was an English officer, and this biography gives some insight into what his tour of service may have been in the American Revolution. His world was quite different from Generals Clinton and Howe, given that both of them had ties to the colonies that may have made their jobs that much more difficult. Charles Stuart appears to have spent much of the war bored. The ninth of 11 children, his father was related to the kings of Scotland, his maternal grandmother was Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. He was commissioned into the 37th Regiment in 1768 when he was 15—but his experience couldn’t have been more different from two other 15-year-olds who joined up, Joseph Plumb Martin and “Jonas” (see in Primary Sources). While on leave in 1778, he got married, sat as an MP (government was crawling with family connections), and gambled. He wrote to his father on October 7, 1778, “there is hardly one General Officer who does not declare his intention of going home, the same with Officers of all ranks who, could they procure leave, wou’d be happy to leave the army” (95). As if my opinion of Stuart couldn’t get much lower . . . He was a friend of Lord Rawdon, a serial rapist and generally unpleasant English officer, “I loved him [Rawdon] as a friend, and knew that he was the only man of integrity in the General’s family; besides, in the propriety of his conduct in that Office, he had so effectually established himself in the esteem of the Army that the few who retained a respect for the General were owing to his means” (119). The main reason I read about Stuart in the first place was his place on General Clinton’s staff though he (pusillanimously) managed not to get Rawdon’s job after he resigned. This went to John André, who had been a fellow lieutenant with him in the 7th. Good riddance.
Nelson, Paul David. General James Grant: Scottish Soldier and Royal Governor of East Florida. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1993.
General James Grant is another officer about whom a biography has been written, mainly about his exploits in East Florida and his actions in the West Indies.
Young, Philip. Revolutionary Ladies. New York: Alfred P. Knopf, 1977.
I found this to be quite a strange book, filled with information I’m not sure I can corroborate from other sources. Nevertheless, it’s wide-ranging, postulating such scandalous assertions as that Alexander Hamilton may have propositioned Abigail Adams; Aaron Burr alleging that Margaret Moncrieffe—possible British spy—did not lose her virginity to him, someone else had already that that honor; “William Byrd, who slaked his passion almost nightly in London, or two occasions searched the length and breadth of Williamsburg for a woman to hire and both times failed” (7). Young devotes a lot of space to Mrs Elizabeth Lloyd Loring, immortalized for having sex with General William Howe so much between 1777 and 1778 that he was too sluggish to fight effectively; she is either seen as a whore or a secret patriot for these actions. Her husband, Joshua Loring, has traditionally gone down as a cruel man who abused American POWs; there is contradictory evidence for this.
Brumwell, Stephen. Redcoats: The British Soldier and War in the Americas, 1755-1763. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
Frey, Sylvia R. The British Soldier in America: A Social History of Military Life in the Revolutionary Period. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981.
Neuberg, Victor. Gone for a Soldier. London: Cassell Publishers, 1989.
Happily, there are quite a few excellent sources on day-to-day life in the British Army during the American Revolution by authors on both sides of the Atlantic. Brumwell and Frey are particularly good at giving hard evidence to support the generalizations and stereotypes that are pervasive. Brumwell’s period is, naturally, earlier than the Revolutionary War but complements Frey’s (and Neuberg’s) findings very well. Neuberg is surprisingly detailed considering the fact his book covers the British Army from the 17th century through the 20th. By piecing all three together, you stand a good chance of opening a window into 18th century British Army life. For example, Neuberg tells us that enlistment was generally for life (15-25 years’ service) and that the average height of an enlisted man was 5’5”. However, Brumwell notes that 63% of 150 soldiers in 1763 in the 46th Foot were under 5’5”. He goes on to quote Colonel John Forbes in 1757, “the middle of a war is not a time to beautify Regts and if any size is taken in England that can carry a musket, there can be no reason for refusing them here, where from behind a tree a pigmy may kill a Polyphemus . . . for I am told and have always heard the strength of Armies reckoned from the numbers of Fire arms, and Not the height and strength of mankind” (59). Frey adds that a general referred to tiny weakling men he had been forced to take as “reptiles”!
As another example, Neuberg writes that those who were in theory barred from being conscripted into the British Army included: Frenchmen, deserters, Welshmen (?!), miners and the inhabitants of sea ports (so they could be pressed into the Navy presumably). Catholics, in theory, were also barred, although Brumwell points out that sometimes Catholicism was concealed or ignored. Frey goes on to say that relaxed rules in practice meant that Irish Catholics were recruited in St Giles, Whitechapel, St George in the East, Holborn, and Marylebone—finding job prospects limited, many filled entire regiments. These three books have my highest praise for their readability, and they burst at the seams with helpful and interesting facts. Life for enlisted men in the British Army in the 18th century was far from glamorous.
Reid, Stuart and Paul Chappell. King George’s Army 1740-93 (1): Infantry. Rushden: Osprey, 1995.
Osprey are known for their fine pictorial works (the Men at War series), and this is one. This volume focuses more on the officers than the previous three books, though the authors comment, “By far the greater number of ordinary regimental officers, however, were simply ‘private gentlemen’ (invariably a rather elastic term in the 18th century): generally of good family, but seldom possessed of very much in the way of either money or prospects” (11). The best part of this book is, naturally, the illustrations, but there are still some excellent nuggets. The book dispels the notion that the redcoats were all a bunch of incompetents, the notion that O’Shaughnessy (quite understandably) found so insulting: “Most British officers were highly competent professionals—a fact amply testified by the plethora of drill manuals” (17).
Wallace, Lieutenant-General Sir Christopher. The King’s Royal Rifle Corps/the 60th Rifles. A Brief History: 1755-1965. Winchester: The Royal Green Jackets Museum Trust, 2005.
As you probably gathered, this is book about a specific regiment which was in fact formed during the French and Indian War, though the rest of its history is outside the scope of our study. In its infancy, this regiment was known as the Royal Americans and was recruited from the ranks of North American colonists—the first of its kind.
Fyler, Col. The History of the 50th or (The Queen’s Own) Regiment. London: Chapman and Hall, 1895.
The scope of this book is similar to the one above, though the 50th spent much of the American Revolution in Jamaica before it was disbanded.
Wilbur, C. Keith. The Illustrated Living History Series: The Revolutionary Soldier 1775-1783. Old Saybrook CT: The Globe Pequot Press, 1993.
Moving on now to books about the American Army, you could do no better than this comprehensive and magnificent, heavily illustrated book. It contains such as assorted gems as a private’s pay for one month in 1776 ($6.67); how men made their own buttons during their downtime while on campaign; instructions on how to make a powder horn; and the drum signals used by the army. Incredibly, it seems regimental barbers obtained their own razors and soap and shaved every soldier three times weekly. Considering the appalling conditions in other aspects of campaign life, that is quite impressive.
Russell, David Lee. The American Revolution in the Southern Colonies. Jefferson: McFarland, 2000.
I only dipped into this book for a few broad overview concerns, but I hope to go back into it as I research the latter years of the war (1780-83). Nevertheless, I’ve already found it quite interesting. “To describe the average Southern man of 1763 was to reveal a God-fearing, independent man with a basic, yet practical education, a landowner, a small, hardworking farmer, a proud citizen, the father of a large household and a person actively engaged in the business of creating the greatness of America and the South” (13). North Carolina’s people were described as bold, intrepid, hospitable, dirty, impertinent, and vain. South Carolina was considered a successful, tolerant colony, although its success was built on the backs of its slave population (slaves outnumbered white people 2 to 1, or in some places, 7 to 1). Georgia was founded by “worthy” poor. The colony still received grants from British Parliament ergo extreme reluctance toward independence. Virginia was a special case, much larger, population-wise, than its neighbors; it consisted of 54 counties. In 1763, the tax burden on Virginians was lighter than on the average Englishman.
Brooks, Victor. Great Campaigns: The Boston Campaign April 1775-March 1776. Conshohocken: Combined Publishing, 1999.
Drew, Bernard A. Henry Knox and the Revolutionary War Trail in Western Massachusetts. Jefferson NC: McFarland, 2012.
As noted above, I took a particular interest in getting the artillery from Fort Ticonderoga to Boston in 1775, so these two books cover similar territory—undoubtedly, Brooks gives a great deal of detail regarding the full campaign. Drew includes some modern excavation and archaeology from walking the trail today. Drew also notes that Knox said he spent £520,15. 8 ¾ ≈ $86,000 in 2005 currency, for expenses incurred by himself, his brother, and a servant.
Crackel, Theodore J. West Point: A Bicentennial History. Lawrence KS: University Press of Kansas, 2002.
Unfortunately, lack of time prevented me from reading the whole story of West Point; my focus was on its earliest days. West Point was originally chosen for its strategic position: vessels passing through needed to make a sharp, 90 degree turn to the west, sail a quarter of a mile, then make another right-angle turn to the north as they continued up river. The lovely Kosciuszko comes back into the picture for his work on fortifying West Point after French-trained de la Radière’s designs for a classic Vauban-style fort were mooted. After Washington made a visit to see the fort’s progress, he “accepted Governor Clinton [of New York]’s offer to use jailed Tories from the state’s overcrowded prisons to work as forced labor” (17). I bet you didn’t know that!
Fleming, Thomas. Washington's Secret War: The Hidden History of Valley Forge. New York: Smithsonian Books, 2005.
I loved this book; it was superb. I read it from cover to cover and took extensive notes. The American Army’s winter in Valley Forge has often been described as its nadir, and while it was not the coldest winter of the war (see below) and the men never actually dragged bloody and naked feet in the snow (as is often depicted), it was certainly a logistical nightmare and low point of morale that was rescued partially by Baron von Steuben’s efforts (see above). Certainly clothing was in remarkably short supply. As Fleming describes, on 1 December 1777, Brigadier General George Weedon told Washington that his men lacked shoes and blankets; Major General John Sullivan said 1/3 of his men were without shoes, stockings, or breeches. Fleming is realistic about Washington but you can’t help but admire the man the way Fleming writes him (particularly his realism—Washington wrote, “I know it [patriotism] exists, and I know it has done much in the present contest. But . . . it must be aided by a prospect of interest or some reward” (235)). Fleming is more scathing, however, about the bureaucrats in the Continental Congress. As he puts it, there were plenty of people with the knowledge, skills, and wherewithal to make and supply clothing for the army, but Congress was trying to manage all aspects of the war and were inexperienced and appointed second-rate men to middle-manage.
The men (and all officers below the rank of colonel) had to build their own huts at Valley Forge; they began in the last few weeks of December, and most of the huts were finished by the end of January. I can’t imagine living in tents in the winter while you waited for your hut to be finished; it’s a miracle anyone survived. No candles or soap were available to the men, meaning lice proliferated, which meant camp fever, typhus, and scabies (“the itch”). Washington, always adroit at preventing epidemics, ordered the infected men covered in a solution of sulphur and hog’s lard—crude but effective. This much is true: “Almost all the soldiers at Valley Forge were in their teens or early twenties, unmarried and poor . . . Many hoped an independent America would give men like themselves a brighter future. At the very least they sought a sense of self-worth from testing their courage on the battlefield” (140-1).
It wasn’t all horrors and degradation, however; on May 6, the encampment celebrated France’s entry into the war; commissaries were waiting to ladle rum into the men's canteens. Washington took every officer by hand and each made his bow to Martha, who had arrived in February. There was a makeshift garden party with the officers' wives presiding. The same month, Washington’s Strolling Players performed in the bakehouse; Washington may have suggested Cato, his favorite play.
Smith, Samuel Stelle. Winter at Morristown 1779-1780 The Darkest Hour. Monmouth Beach: Philip Freneau Press, 1979.
As suggested by the subtitle of this book, it clearly sees the winter at Morristown as the nadir of the war, and once again, the author does have a point. Smith goes into a great deal of detail about Washington’s headquarters, which was the Ford house, and how the civilian occupants of the house and Washington’s staff got on. When Smith noted that the small detached kitchen could probably only cook enough food for Washington, his aides, and the Fords, I wondered who was cooking all the food for the 18 people living there, especially when most of them had colds in early January! It was here that Alexander Hamilton met Betsy Schuyler, who eventually became his wife; Betsy, Sukey Livingston, and Kitty Stirling were great friends and made up the officers’ families living at Morristown at the time.
On a more sobering note . . . The men began to arrive in late November. Conditions were as bad or worse than those at Valley Forge; Stark’s brigade did not have huts until Christmas Day, with many men working without shoes or stockings in calf-deep snow. Officers’ huts could not be started until after the men’s were completed, so officers were living in tents up until January 1780 (or February), though presumably with better clothes. The food situation was even worse than at Valley Forge. On New Year’s Day 1780, the army officially ran out of food. This lasted for 5 days. This was known as starvation week (Joseph Plumb Martin, see below, confirms the men were actually starving); they went on rampage through the countryside, and Washington and other officers looked the other way at the rapine. Women were allowed in the camp in daytime to do washing, cooking, mending, or nursing. Officers could go wherever they pleased day or night, as long as it was cleared with their commanding officers. Smith reckons there were fewer than than 40 local women and only 3 -4 taverns, so the officers stayed in their huts and had bachelor dinner parties to pass the time.
Valis, Glenn. “The Middlebrook Winter Encampment of Washington's Army December, 1778 to June 1779.” 2001 http://www.doublegv.com/ggv/battles/midbrk.html
Sandwiched between these two nightmares was Middlebrook, a more moderate affair altogether, nicely summarized here on this website.
Bilby, Joseph G. and Katherine Bilby Jenkins. Monmouth Court House: The Battle that Made the American Army. Yardley, PA: Westholme, 2010.
The authors write about the Battle of Monmouth Court House in exhaustive (some might say microscopic) detail, though their efforts to contextualize the battle within the New Jersey-area in-fighting are commendable. They provide strong evidence that New Jersey was a special case, difficult to pigeon-hole: Quakers in New Jersey were Loyalists or neutral to war, the Dutch Reformed Church was split, and the Presbyterians and Baptists were mostly pro-patriot. This created an atmosphere of extreme uncertainty, where loyalties were rewritten nearly every day. As the authors detail, of 35 Tories sentenced to hang in Morristown in January 1777, 33 opted to serve in the (patriot) New Jersey Brigade when given the option. By mid-1777, anyone Loyalist or even neutral could suffer arrest, harassment, and reprisals. This led to a state of lawlessness unequaled elsewhere until, I would argue, the early 1780s in southern states, where personal revenge simmered over; this peaked in New Jersey in 1780. The Retaliators, a more extreme arm of the Committees of Safety, decided to harass and punish the relatives of those in Loyalist guerrilla outfits, continuing a vicious cycle.
Sypher, Francis J., Jr. New York State Society of the Cincinnati: Histories of New York Regiments of the Continental Army. Fishkill: New York Society of the Cincinnati, 2008.
As you may have gathered, my research is very New York-skewed. In time, I would like to read more about the New England and southern perspectives. This book is very specialist, but personally helpful.
Schecter, Barnet. The Battle for New York. London: Jonathan Cape, 2002.
This book looks specifically at New York City which played a fascinating role throughout the war. The text gives good background to pre-Revolutionary NYC, noting the foment of anti-Loyalist sentiment in 1775. Naturally, NYC was a hotbed of contention with a vocal patriot contingent but always with a strong presence of Loyalist and neutrals. The book is interesting for the portrait of occupied NYC that it gives, which mixes the whirling social scene of the British officers with the spiralling cost of food for the city’s inhabitants. Schecter also has some shrewd things to say about the British, “[Sir Henry] Clinton had good ideas but careened between extreme shyness and tactless aggression, whereas [William] Howe preferred not to consult talented subordinates because he felt threatened by them” (60).
The American Revolution in New York: Its Political, Social and Economic Significance. Albany: Divisions of Archives and History, 1926.
This is an older source, but quite detailed and useful for its look at New York’s local government during the war years. You might be interested to know, for example, that the NY Assembly consisted of 70 members chosen annually by males of “full age” who had lived 6 months in one county and owned a freehold valued at £20, or rented property of the “yearly value of 40 shillings,” and paid state taxes. The right to vote was restricted to males (white and Black) who owned property worth £100; I wonder how many voters that was in reality. Iron was plentiful in NY but not lead, and lack of naturally-occurring salt was a real problem.
Bielinski, Stefan. “The People of Colonial Albany Live Here.” Colonial Albany Social History Project. http://www.nysm.nysed.gov/albany/welcome.html
This is an excellent website and covers far more than just the Revolutionary war period.
Roberts, Robert B. New York’s Forts in the Revolution. London: Associated University Presses, 1980.
Rural, northwestern New York was a fertile battleground (which you will hear about in more detail in the Native America section). This is a good guide to each of the particular forts.
Baker, Kenneth. George Washington’s War: In Caricature and Print. London: Grub Street, 2010.
This is a big, heavy, full-color book reproducing dozens of contemporary cartoons from both sides of the Atlantic which gives a good indication of the satire and print culture of the period. It’s sitting on my shelf for easy access.
Moore, Frank, ed. Songs and Ballads of the American Revolution.  New York: Eyewitness Accounts of the American Revolution/The New York Times and Arno Press, 1969.
This was a fascinating facsimile; I suppose it’s difficult to substantiate the authenticity of these songs as there wasn’t much information on their sources. The book collects both pro-patriot and pro-Loyalist songs. One of my favorites of the latter is “On the Banks of the Dee,” a beautiful song that nevertheless was parodied and also criticized by Robert Burns for its nonsensical poeticisms (see the 2014 blog). The 1775 “Alphabet” song is gung-ho patriotic fervor: “A, stands for Americans, who scorn to be slaves; / B, for Boston, where fortitude their freedom saves; / C, stands for Congress, which, though loyal, will be free; / D, stands for defence, ‘gainst force and tyranny. / Stand firmly, a and Z, / We swear for ever to be free!” More naturalistic, perhaps, is “The Old Man’s Song” from 1778, “Boy, fill me a bumper! As long as I Live, / The Patriot fair for my toast must I give; / Here’s a health to the sex of every degree, / Where sweetness and beauty with firmness agree.”
Peakman, Julie. Lascivious Bodies: A Sexual History of the Eighteenth Century. London: Atlantic Books, 2005.
I read this book first nine years ago to research a short story about Casanova in London. I returned to it as I’ve found it very difficult to find any information on sex in the time period of the American Revolution and what was considered “normal” practice. Young (see above) gives evidence that seems contradictory to received wisdom. Unfortunately, Peakman was focusing mainly on Europe, so for fictional purposes I just had to make generalizations. However, don’t let that deter you from reading this fascinating and well-researched, literate book.
Purvis, Thomas L. Revolutionary America 1763 to 1800. Almanacs of American Life. New York: Facts on File, 1995.
This is an incredibly useful book, and I would recommend it to anyone wanting a slice of the reality of the American Revolution. I found the sections on education and disease particularly useful—the most common diseases seen at Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia during the period were scurvy, fevers, venereal disease, dropsy, flux, eye disease, and respiratory ailments (mental disorders afflicted 1/5 of all patients there between 1762-3). Furthermore, for my particular New York interest, it was invaluable; for example, the average size of a free (whites and Blacks, to include slaves) household in New York State in 1790 was 5.8 people. In New York in 1790, the highest percentages of ancestral origins of the white population were 50.3% English and 15.9% Dutch; contrast this with Virginia in the same period, 61.3% English and 11.7% Scotch-Irish. In New York State in 1776, the highest number of churches were Dutch Reformed (84!) followed by Presbyterian (46) and Anglican (29). In Virginia, for contrast, the highest number were Baptist (101) followed by Presbyterian (95) and Anglican (94). My favorite fact, however, concerns diet. Slaves at Mount Vernon typically had a daily caloric intake of 3,752 in 1790, Continental Army rations were around 3,500 in 1780, and Tory prisoners in Maryland had about the same in 1776. Americans born between 1745 and 1755 were about 2 – 4 inches taller than their British counterparts. Average height by the Revolution was 5’8” – New Yorkers were, in fact, some of the tallest! I guess Americans always have been bigger!
Rath, Richard Cullen. How Early America Sounded. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003.
This was a very interesting book and quite enjoyable. When Rath suggests that “A bell reproduces an old sound as surely as a document reproduces an old thought,” (3) he recalls the eleventh episode of Professor David Hendy’s Noise: A Human History, a superb (and long) documentary series from BBC Radio, which notes that in Western Europe in the Middle Ages, the sound of a bell denoted the sound boundaries of your parish, out of which you were unlikely to ever venture. Rath talks quite a bit about thunder and its uses and meanings, particularly for Protestant settlers, and how hearing words was just as important in the 16th and 17th centuries as it was to read them. The book also delves into the sound worlds of the Iroquois and Algonquin peoples, as can be gleaned from written records: The Iroquois may have had hearing attuned to waterfalls—a writer in 1750 described the Seneca as being able to predict the weather from the sound of the falls. Perhaps the most interesting discussion, to me, was in the architecture of different types of churches and how this was predicated on hearing the preacher rather than seeing him.
Gruber, Ira D. Books and the British Army in the Age of the American Revolution. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010.
Once again, an outstanding and unique contribution. A lot of ink has been expended on the literacy of the Revolutionaries (indeed, a tentative argument could be made that one of the crucial factors in the Revolution was the high level of basic literacy in the American colonial population and the fact so many people read newspapers), but far less on the habits of their British counterparts. What books were the British reading? Where did they learn their military strategy and tactics? This book provides fascinating answers. “For all of their interest in the Duke of Marlborough, Marshal Turenne, Prince Eugene of Savoy, Frederick the Great, and Charles XII of Sweden, our officers [42 that the author chose] did not subscribe to every book dealing with these celebrated commanders” (11). Gruber’s officers’ “top ten must-reads”: Polybius, Vegetius; English accounts of Marlborough’s campaigns and Bland’s Military Discipline; the French treatises of Vauban, Saxe, Feuquières, Folard, and Clairac, though Caesar’s Commentaries was the most popular book of all. Of Gruber’s 42 officers, the following was the statistical make-up of their war libraries:
Art of war
De Pauw Grant, Linda. Founding Mothers: Women of America in the Revolutionary Era. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1975.
I’ve already sung the praises of this book a fair bit, and it remains the standard work I would recommend for this subject.
Evans, Elizabeth. Weathering the Storm: Women of the American Revolution. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1975.
Weathering the Storm is a good companion piece to Founding Mothers. In the main, like Gundersen below, Evans gives biographies of women who left significant diaries or other written records in order to let them speak for themselves. For example, Margaret Hill Morris, b. 1737, based in the Pennsylvania area, who was daughter, wife, then widow. In 1776 she wrote, upon hearing the British were headed their way, “I felt myself quite sick; I was ready to faint. I thought of my Sarah Dillwyn [her sister] (the beloved companion of my widowed state)—her husband at the distance of some hundred miles from her. I thought of my own lonely situation, no husband to cheer with the voice of love my sinking spirits. My little flock, too, without a father to direct them how to steer. All these things crowded into my mind at once, and I felt like one forsaken. A flood of friendly tears came to my relief, and I felt an humble confidence that He who had been with me in six troubles would not forsake me now. While I cherished this hope, my tranquillity was restored” (78).
Jemima Condict Harrison (b. 1755) is a very poignant case. She kept a diary up until her marriage to her mother’s nephew after which she soon died post-childbirth. Her diary entries are wonderfully frank, showing her to experience depression, guilt, and self-pity. They’re also quite funny from time to time. “Thursday: I had some discourse with Mr Chandler. He asked me why I did not marry. I told him I want in no hurry. ‘Well,’ said he, ‘I wish I was to marry you.’ I told him he would soon wish himself unmarried again. ‘Why so?’ ‘Because,’ says I, ‘you will find that I am a cross, ill-contrived piece of stuff.’ I told him that I would advise all the men to remain as they was, for the women was bad, and the men so much worse that it was a wonder if they agreed. So I scared the poor fellow and he is gone” (38).
Gundersen, Joan R. To Be Useful to the World: Women in Revolutionary America, 1740-1790. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006.
The women Gundersen chooses to highlight are marginally more outward-looking, but she provides detailed context regarding each of them, and they are varied women from ethnic, geographical, and socio-economic groups. These include Margaret (Molly) Brant (a Mohawk), Joseph Brant’s sister who was William Johnson’s long-term partner, for lack of a better term. Their mixed race daughters usually wore European dress because otherwise they found they were molested by British soldiers, who always assumed women in native dress were sexually available. Another is Deborah Reed Franklin, Benjamin Franklin’s . . . er, long-term partner, for lack of a better term. When Franklin left for London, Deborah married a potter named Rogers who abandoned her after being outed as a bigamist. She was caught in a legal bind with her husband’s debts and her father unable to afford them. Franklin returned and renewed his suit after he failed with another woman. They set up common law housekeeping. Gundersen believes it is hard to say whether Deborah avoided social events because of gossip or because she just didn’t want to go. She visited her friends and took communion in church. She ran Franklin’s printing business and post office while pregnant and Franklin was away. By 1750 they were wealthy, with a household income of £2000.
The somewhat unconventional household arrangements of the two women above were perhaps more prevalent than we would have thought. Over 1/3 of New England brides were pregnant on their wedding day by the time of the Revolution. Widows were among those most likely to be pregnant on their wedding days. Women remarried half as often as men (the reasoning behind this is clear when noting what Evans discovered, that legally unmarried women and widows had more rights than married ones, with the ability to take court action, sue, administer their own estates, purchase, inherit and will property, and keep earnings received from employment.)
You can contrast these two rather public figures with Elizabeth Dutoy Porter, who spent her whole life in the Virginia Piedmont. She grew up in a French-speaking Protestant community and her family held slaves. At first she and her husband spaced their children by 17 month intervals, the first two dying. Then when she was in her 30s, they spaced the children out more. Eventually she had 10 pregnancies and 8 living children.
Blumenthal, Walter Hart. Women Camp Followers of the American Revolution.
Although somewhat dated—the term “camp follower” is not really de rigeur—this is a reasonable enough study—at least it acknowledges that there were women with the American Army; however, Blumenthal is still of the opinion that the American Army was raggedy as regulations against camp followers were enforced (with the implication being the hard-line Protestant New Englanders discouraged women with the army). Blumenthal provides data on the other side, too: by his calculations, by the end of the war, in the British troops, there was 1 woman for every 4.5 men, and 1 woman for every 15 men in the Germanic troops.
THE FRENCH AND INDIAN WAR
Borneman, Walter R. The French and Indian War: Deciding the Fate of North America. New York: Harper Perennial, 2009.
Marston, Daniel. Essential Histories: The French-Indian War 1754-1760. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2002.
Sheppard, Ruth, ed. Empires Collide: The French and Indian War 1754-1763. Oxford: Osprey, 2006.
I ended up reading quite a few books about the French and Indian War (or the Seven Years War, whatever you prefer; you could even call it the first world war!), for a number of reasons. Firstly, part of my graphic novel is set in flashback to the 1750s. Secondly, I ended up writing an entirely different project set during the French and Indian War which capitalizes indeed on the global nature of the conflict. Thirdly, as the film Last of the Mohicans taught me (and subsequently sparked my interest in the 18th century), the seeds for the Revolution were sown in the conflict of the 1750s and ‘60s. For example, Borneman quotes Colonel John Forbes, from whom we’ve already heard, who describes the provincial American troops thus: “a few of their principal officers excepted, all the rest are an extremely bad collection of broken innkeepers, horse jockeys, and Indian traders, and that the men under them, are a direct copy of their officers . . . the scum of the worst people” (156).
It’s hard to summarize an entire sprawling conflict in a few words in order to highlight the individual contributions of these books . . . but I’ll try. Borneman is an excellent introduction to the subject, and what I most liked about his book was that he emphasized the worldwide nature of the conflict, devoting quite a lot of space to the actions in the West Indies. His book also had some superb maps, which are key to understanding this story. He is also able to show the bigger picture when it’s most needed. For example, it’s often given that the tide turned for the British in 1758, but nature intervened, too. By the end of 1757, the Quebec Seminary took the extraordinary step of dismissing its students because there was not enough food to feed them. The winter of 1756-7 was hard in French Canada, “not a family had an ounce of flour in the house” by the end of a winter that was so long that “there remained eighteen inches of snow on the ground on the twelfth of May” (111). He also makes time to give good biographical sketches of some of the key players, principally among them Captain John Bradstreet, born in Nova Scotia in 1714. “He took the British army as his avenue of promotion, and he steadfastly stuck with it despite agonizingly slow advancements,” (142) though throughout the war he used his mother’s Acadian roots to carry on what was technically smuggling while a British officer. Ironically, this loyalty to the free enterprise of smuggling was also an activity dear to the hearts of later patriots like Paul Revere.
As Marston and Sheppard are both published by Osprey, it’s no surprise that they focus on the military aspects of the conflict (there are surprisingly few sources that focus on the social history, at least that I’ve been able to find). To that end, they tell us much about the logistics of the battles themselves but also the way the officers were taking the strategies learned from their Caesar’s Commentaries and translating them to battlefield tactics: officers would assess the situation and tell the men to either fire synchronized or a series of volleys from the end of the wings to the center or vice versa, called platoon firing. This would create havoc in the enemy’s lines, the infantry advance would force the other side to attempt to withdraw, while the advancing side closed in with bayonets. It was common for both sides to fire at least one or two coordinated volleys before the battle became fire at will.
Sheppard and Marston are also particularly good at giving information on the French side of the conflict. In France, Sheppard tells us, there was considerable antagonism between the colonial-born officers and officials—such as Pierre François de Rigaud Vaudreuil (governor-general of New France)--and French-born (such as General Montcalm). Marston suggests that Montcalm was an arrogant commander, backed up by having been wounded 6 times, and at the front line of campaigns in Bohemia and Italy. He had no important connections and came from a family with land but little wealth. He, like Wolfe, of course, did not survive the conflict. Naturally both of these books give detailed information on uniforms, supported by beautiful and comprehensive illustrations, noting, for example, that the Canadian dress reflected their willingness to travel hundreds of miles in rough conditions. A cap and a capot (naval hooded cloth coat fastened by a sash at the waist), with breech-cloth, mitasses (leatherstockings) and moccasins was the dress of choice. Officers were identified by their gorgets.
Olszweski, Zybnio. “French and Indian War in North America 1754-1763.” https://www.flickr.com/photos/lakota_sioux_and_comanche_indians/13783359425/sizes/o/in/photostream/
This is an excellent infographic with photos, maps, paintings, and more, giving thorough and yet readable summaries of every aspect of the conflict. A fantastic primer.
Jennings, Francis. Empire of Fortune: Crowns, Colonies, and Tribes in the Seven Years War in America. New York: W W Norton & Company, 1988.
For a revisionist history that focuses less on the front lines and more on the complex politics of local and national government (including, significantly, relations with Native Americans), you need look no further than this massive and very well-researched tome. Jennings was a bit bitter and had a chip on his shoulder when he wrote this book, both against his contemporary colleagues and against the historical sacred cows whom he scorned for leading people astray with over-glamorized visions of backwoods heroism. Jennings never lets you forget that war is bloody and unfair; he has no compunction about criticizing the young Washington, military “heroes” like Wolfe, Montcalm, and even Bradstreet and William Johnson. If anyone comes out of this book without looking completely depraved, it’s Quakers like Roger Pemberton who were actually working for peace with their Native American neighbors instead of trying to swindle them out of their land. This book is highly recommended despite its sometimes ponderous length; stick with it, you will be grateful you did.
Loescher, Burt Garfield. Genesis: Rogers Rangers: The First Green Berets. San Mateo: 1969.
Brumwell, Stephen. White Devil: An Epic Story of Revenge from the Savage War that Inspired The Last of the Mohicans. London: The Orion Publishing Group Ltd, 2004.
Loescher’s self-published pamphlet, no doubt coming from the complete opposite side of the political spectrum from Jennings, is the first in-depth history of the Rogers’ Rangers who, as you can gather from the title, were deemed one of the first elite military forces. Rangers were men from the frontiers of New York and New England, and Robert Rogers’ Rangers were a specifically tough breed. Rogers is a contentious figure, tough and headstrong but not very good with money (indeed, Jennings uncovered evidence of his being implicated in a counterfeiting plot). Rogers’ parents were Scots from Northern Ireland; to quote Borneman, “As Presbyterians they were unwelcome in many New England towns, but the outskirts of Methuen were home to a number of Ulster Scots who had settled there on common ground” (123). Rogers had a cadre of 50 rangers at Fort Edward training the regular troops in frontier tactics, and by 1759 there were six companies, more than 1,000 men. According to Sheppard, in 1765, Rogers was in debt and went to England, publishing at least two books while there. He seemed to want to create his own semi-independent fiefdom in Michilimackinac, which earned him the scorn of Thomas Gage and William Johnson. Washington distrusted him so declined his services in 1776, so Rogers went over to the Queen’s Rangers and helped the Loyalists.
But back to Rogers’ Rangers in the French and Indian War. According to Brumwell, they wore moccasins, leggings, short jackets of wool, Scots bonnets, leather, fur, modified tricorns, and their faces were usually scratched and swollen from insect bites. Loescher is highly critical of by-the-book commanders who would not take Rogers’ practical advice in the field. “Red water flowed into Lake George on July 6” 1759, Loescher wrote (11). “Instead of relying on the experience and judgment of more practical minds, even though they might be mere Ranger officers, he [General Abercrombie] listened to the suicidal recommendation of his glory-seeking nephew and aide-de-camp, Captain James Abercrombie” (11). One man who did take the Rangers seriously was Lord Howe, William Howe’s older brother, who unfortunately for all concerned, died during the French and Indian War. He was, as Borneman put it, “the idol of the army” (128). Howe went on at least one scouting mission with Rogers. “You would laugh to see the droll figure we all cut; regulars and provincials are all ordered to cut the brim of their hats off. Even the General himself is allowed to carry no more than a common private’s tent. The regulars as well as provincials have left off their proper regimentals, that is, they have cut their coats so as scarcely to reach their waist” (128). Howe even washed his own linen!
Rogers was called “Wobi Madaondo,” White Devil, by the Abenaki, and undoubtedly, from their perspective, he was.
Breen, T.H. American Insurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the People. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2010.
Breen’s is an interesting perspective, detailed more in this blog. I include him under 1775 because his book taught me more about the Association than everything else I’ve read put together, and since this and rage militaire characterized 1775, I think it’s a reasonable categorization.
Phillips, Kevin. 1775: A Good Year for Revolution. New York: Viking, 2012.
This massive tome doesn’t try to give a reason or a handful of reasons for the Revolution; it remains cautiously of the opinion that the factors were exceedingly complex, to the point where you feel you have to read the entire book to make any sense of his thesis. These concerns aside, it presents a large and varied amount of material. He looks to see if certain areas, ethnic, religious, mercantile, or trade groups were more or less disposed to being patriot or Loyalist; the answer is, of course, it depends. You’ll get no argument from me; 1775 was definitely a pivotal year. In making his case, Phillips reveals many half-forgotten truths. He discusses the Association as well, though not as in much detail as Breen; “By whatever names, their local activities [the Associations’] and responsibilities soon ranged far beyond the initial subject matter—checking ship cargoes, tracking the origins of goods, watching prices charged by merchants, and monitoring local customs houses” (260). Massachusetts, for example, he says, established at least 160 committees; there were 51 in Virginia. Phillips might, meanwhile, dispute my earlier assertion about American colonials reading the newspapers; 96-98% of literate people, he says, didn’t read newspapers, but mainly read hymnals, bibles, almanacs, and tavern prices, would have paid more attention to preachers, pocketbooks, folk history, and tribal memories. “Even Thomas Paine’s fast-paced and highly influential Common Sense was more king bashing than elevated discourse” (199).
Within England, too, he says support for the colonies was generally strongest in the major cities and in the eastern and southern counties—the same places where during the Civil War, support had been strongest for Parliament and Cromwell—support in Scotland was limited to a small fringe (one wonders at this curious fact, if it was related to the fact the British Army was composed of so many Scots). Ulster Presbyterians were more numerous and pro-patriot. Economics, too, played a large part Phillips would say, and not just that old chestnut about “no taxation without representation.” “Few observers have cared that most colonial paper currency took the form of so-called bills of credit, issued by provincial governments in anticipation of tax revenues. . . when tax revenues were used to pay off provincial notes, that simultaneously shrank that province’s paper money supply by 15 or 25 percent or whatever share had to be removed from circulation . . . Paper money shrinkages cut deepest during the several downturns of the pre-Revolutionary years” (103). Furthermore, “As overall wealth mushroomed, the share enjoyed by tenant farmers, laborers, seamen, spinners, journeymen, and artisans declined, sometimes sharply” (135).
As with Jennings, I would say stick this one, despite the length; you’ll not regret it.
Brinkley, Howard. Spies of the American Revolution: The History of George Washington’s Secret Spying Ring.
As suggested with previous blogs, this is a very basic pamphlet. It has to do with the Culper Ring, composed of Abraham Woodhull, Nathaniel Sackett, and Robert Townsend (who was not identified as Culper Jr until 1930 by handwriting analysis).
Welch, Richard F. General Washington’s Commando: Benjamin Tallmadge in the Revolutionary War. Jefferson NC: McFarland, 2014.
Benjamin Tallmadge is enjoying a new lease on life in AMC’s Turn. Although Washington was spy-master supreme (despite Rosenberg’s assertion that “No spy could ever be a gentleman”), Tallmadge made as good an 18th century handler as the era could ask for. He was the son and grandson of Presbyterian ministers, he was so well-prepared in Greek and Latin that his first 2 years at Yale were easy, and he was intelligent, personable, good-looking and flirtatious. He joined up in 1776, was offered command of one of the troops of the 2nd Connecticut dragoons, and was promoted to Major in 1778 (and had to wear those stupid dragoon helmets). After the Revolution, he continued to serve his country, though to be honest I’ve not had time to read further than the end of the war in this biography. His secret identity in correspondence was John Bolton and his code number was 721.
Cawelti, John G. and Bruce A. Rosenberg. The Spy Story. Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1987.
I enjoyed reading Cawelti’s books of literary theory and criticism for my PhD (particularly his take on popular and “lowbrow” culture, specifically the Western and the spy story). This is a good generalist introduction to the history of spy literature and touches briefly on The Spy (see below).
International Spy Museum with Denis Collins. Spying: The Secret History of History. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2004.
Although this book was mainly interested in 20th century espionage, it did tip its hat to Washington’s particularly successful work. It cited a story of when a man was accused of being a spy, Washington invited the man to dinner and allowed him to steal a document that inflated his troop strength. Those numbers persuaded the British to call off the attack.
Rosenberg, Bruce. The Neutral Ground: The André Affair and the Background of Cooper’s The Spy. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1994.
Rosenberg is my hero; he is the only writer to have lavished any attention or love on The Spy and its historical background. He writes in detail about the life and death of Major John André and the inspiration James Fenimore Cooper took from these events in Westchester County, New York, to fictionalize what is probably the first spy novel. I grow more and more surprised that though Cooper created a rich and well-plotted novel, and no doubt had his confidential sources in John Jay and others (Welch claims that Harvey Birch was based on someone called Luther Kinnicutt), he got quite a few particulars wrong.
Pickering, James H. “Introduction to the reprint edition,” The Spy Unmasked, or Memoirs of Enoch Crosby, alias Harvey Birch, a facsimile of the first edition (1828), Harrison, NY: Harbor Hill Books, 1975.
Enoch Crosby, it appears, did a little bit of spy-work, but he is almost certainly not the figure upon whom Cooper based his spy—Cooper made no comment when Crosby made his claims (perhaps as he didn’t want to unmask the real inspiration). A number of alternatives present themselves; John L. Mersereau, William Johnson from New Jersey, David Gray, Elijah Hunter . . . we’ll probably never know. I like Hunter as a possibility, however, as according to Nagy, he was recommended by John Jay and General Alexander McDougall, and Washington wrote a letter in 1783 thanking him for his intelligence work.
Leibold, Jay. Spy for George Washington—Choose Your Own Adventure 48. New York: Bantam Books, 1986.
This book was sooooo entertaining. It begins in Brooklyn in 1777 at the Red Lion Tavern where you start discussing your intentions with your neighbor, Robert Smith, a rebel organizer. You make a rendezvous by boat to Wall Street and the burned-out part of town. Someone in dark clothes emerges from the shadows and hands you an envelope. You have to get to Ephraim’s stable on Maiden Lane in the morning. On attempt 1, I was thrown into the brig. On attempt 2, I helped a runaway slave who was trying to outrun the British get to Westchester unscathed, and I got my message to Washington. However, I think this was purely luck as attempt 3 saw me get caught in a naval battle and drowned. The best outcome is if you do such a good job Washington asks you to join the intelligence network. You can also meet with Howe and become a triple agent; get eaten by wolves; by Mohawks (?!), join the Mohawks; get captured by Hessians; impressed into the British navy . . . I was convinced it was better if I just write about spies rather than ever try to become one.
Nagy, John A. Invisible Ink: Spycraft of the American Revolution. Yardley PA: Westholme Publishing, 2011.
This was a truly excellent book; it actually gave you the “how” and the “why” of spying in the American Revolution. Far from the impression of primitiveness of spycraft during this period, which some books give, this book went into incredible detail about ciphers, invisible ink, feints, disguises, and the other myriad ways it was done (although there’s so much more we don’t know because it was so effective). There were several kinds of invisible ink in use in the 18th century, including recipes of white wine vinegar mixed with egg white and quicksilver or white lead, or the “sympathetic ink” developed by Washington’s men, which was made with bismuth, gallo-tannic acid, or lead. Some of the stories that do survive are incredible. Molly “Moms” Rinker, whose family owned the Buck Tavern in Germantown, bleached her flax atop a high rock in the Wissahickon Valley. She would sit and knit, observing British troop movements. She would hide the messages in a ball of yarn, let it drop over the edge of the rocks. This was her dead drop; the messages would be retrieved and sent to Washington.
One more nugget I’ll leave you with: In 1776, someone who knew Washington fairly well wrote a forged series of letters saying how discouraged he was, which was published in London as genuine. Washington wrote, the British are “practicing such low and dirty tricks, that men of sentiment and honor must blush at their villainy, among other manoeuvres, this way” (201). We don’t know who wrote them, but the most likely candidate is Jack Randolph, who had studied law at Middle Temple in 1749 and had been a close friend of Virginian governors. His son Edmund stayed in Virginia and became an aide-de-camp. The book also has a lot of great supplementary material like code books.
Misencik, Paul R. The Original American Spies: Seven Covert Spies of the Revolutionary War. Jefferson NC: McFarland, 2014.
The two spies I focused on in this first-rate collection were James Rivington (1724-1802) and Ann Bates (1748-?). Rivington is interesting because we don’t know if he was a double agent or a triple agent or where his loyalties really lay. Bates is interesting because she was possibly the most successful spy of the whole war. Rivington had a background somewhat similar to Henry Knox’s, though he was less successful in business and suffered several set-backs, having to start from scratch several times. Perhaps this made him a good agent as it showed great fortitude and willpower. Misencik alleges that Charles Thomson may have been Rivington’s handler and if so, was the most effective behind-the-scenes spy-master during the war. If Rivington did this, he exposed himself to great physical danger. His story is a somewhat sad one as he died shortly after being released from debtors’ prison. Bates, meanwhile, was the wife of a British artillery ordnance repairman who was recruited by Major Duncan Drummond, aide to General Clinton, in 1778. Bates had a prodigious memory and was very skilled at providing military intelligence. In 1781, she and her husband returned to England. Her husband deserted her there, which is when she sued for a pension and her unusual career was recorded and corroborated.
Singh, Simon. The Black Chamber. http://www.simonsingh.net/The_Black_Chamber/swapping_cipher_alphabets.html
The black chamber refers to the divisions of the post office which were actually part of the secret service. For example, Mr Bode from Hanover ran the secret service office in London—the black chamber—between 1732 and 1784. This very fun website allows you to use some of the ciphers available in the 18th century, such as the Vignère Cipher and the Pigpen Cipher.
The groups of Native Americans who chose to involve themselves (or not) in the American Revolution and previous Euro-American conflicts were varied and motivated by a range of concerns, which Jennings most eloquently describes (see above). My research has focused mainly on the Six (Iroquois) Nations (the Mohawk, Seneca, Oneida, Tuscarora, Onondaga, and the Cayuga), who lived roughly in the area of New York State, and the French-Canadian Kahnawake, as well as the Stockbridge/Mohicans of Massachusetts, rather than Algonquin tribes like the Abenaki, Delaware, and Huron, or southern tribes like the Cherokee and Catawba.
Demos, John. The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America. London: Papermac, 1996.
This is an interesting book. Strictly speaking, it’s outside the scope of studies of the American Revolution as the Deerfield Raid took place in 1704. Still, for information on so-called Indian captivity from the 18th century, from the perspective of the captured, the captors, and the families involved, this book is quite useful. It is the story of Eunice Williams, who was abducted with her family at the age of 7. Her father, Reverend Williams, eventually returned to the Deerfield, Massachusetts community. Eunice eventually converted to Catholicism, remained with her captors, and married a Kahnawake. The raid and the march of the captives typifies the captive experience. As the captives were marched to Canada, people were killed along the way. “Mrs Williams herself [Eunice’s mother] makes a good case in point. Weak from the start, heavily fatigued, cold and wet from her fall in the river, she is simply 'not able to travel any farther.' Her captors must thus make a choice. They can carry her on their backs—but they are already dangerously burdened from carrying 'several [of their own] wounded' plus various captive children. They can leave her by the trail—where she would soon perish from exposure and exhaustion. Or they can kill her ‘at one stroke’—quickly and without much pain” (29).
Different moralities are at play. To the French, the Indians involved were Christians and allies rather than subjects—thus they could not be ordered around. “War captives in Iroquois society had always been objects of ritual torture: objects, and subjects, too, for their response was no less part of the tableau. Courage in the face of pain and death was a prized virtue—to be remembered, almost gratefully, by the torturers themselves” (131).
Levernier, James, and Hennig Cohen (eds.). The Indians and Their Captives. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1977.
There were several stories in this collection pertinent to my research. John Dodge, an Indian trader at Sandusky, Ohio, recollected: “In the spring of 1777, I heard there was like to be a good trade at Machilimakanac [Mackinac Island], on which I applied to the Governor, and, with a great deal of trouble, got a pass, went, and met with good trade . . . the party of Savages under Le Mote went out with orders not to spare any man, woman, or child. To this cruel mandate even some of the Savages made an objection, respecting the butchering of women and children, but they were told the children would make soldiers, and the women would keep up the flock” (51).
Charles Dennis Rousoe d’Eres, taken near Quebec in 1775. He was taken by those he refers to as “Sanyawtauragahroote,” which the editors interpret as “Skaniardaradihronon,” meaning those who dwell on the other side of the river (possibly the Niagara). He describes the wildlife of the continent, the buffalo, porcupine and hedgehog, moose, hummingbird, which was not yet known, also the rattlesnake and the turkey-snake.
Frazier, Patrick. The Mohicans of Stockbridge. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992.
Silverman, David J. Red Brethren: The Brothertown and Stockbridge Indians and the Problem of Race in Early America. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2010.
A note on terminology: Silverman calls the ethnic group of Native Americans Stockbridges while Frazier refers to them as Mohican Indians (not to be confused with Mohegans!). I focused on the Stockbridges for a particular project and wish I had had more time to read these books in their entirety. They were a unique case, with salient differences and similarities to the Iroquois (see below). As Silverman says, “Their people, formed from several New England and Long Island tribes during the Revolutionary period, moved from the coast to Oneida country in upper New York in the 1780s, relocated to Wisconsin in the 1820s, and then in the late 1830s became the first Indians as a group to become full citizens of the United States. [. . .] These people met almost every demand the whites imposed upon them: they adopted Christianity, literacy, the English language, male plow agriculture, fences, and democratic government. Yet wherever the Indians moved, white civilians, backed by their governments, did everything they could to force them out again, amid public calls to promote Indian civility” (7).
As Frazier notes, the fortunes of the Stockbridges were closely entwined with those of the Mohawks. For example, a Mohican sachem, Etowaukaum aka Nicholas, from the Turtle clan, was one of the “four kings” sent to Queen Anne with King Hendrick, the Mohawk, in 1710. By the 1730s, to earn part of their living, many Mohicans worked fall harvests for the landed Dutch gentry in New York. Beginning in 1712, the English provided one minister for the Mohawks, none had been assigned to the Mohicans by the 1730s, when they were making decisions about whether to become Christian. By the end of the decade, a church had been established. In June 1739, the town was incorporated as Stockbridge—not Muh-he-con-nuk. The proposal for a formal, political township interfered with the tribal and cultural traditions. The Indians counted themselves as loyal subjects of the King but not necessarily Massachusetts. Eventually, there were 200 Indians at Stockbridge, half baptized. The majority of Mohicans remained scattered up and down the Hudson. By 1751, there were 21 Mohawk and Tuscarora children attending the Christian boarding school at Stockbridge. Due to mismanagement of the school, Chief Hendrick directed all Mohawks to leave Stockbridge by spring 1754. Stockbridge men served with Rogers’ Rangers during the French and Indian War.
Wallace, Anthony F.C. The Death and Rebirth of the Seneca. New York: Vintage, 1972.
This is a superb source which gets us close to the daily life of the Seneca during the second half of the 18th century. The Senecas, following the lead of the Mohawks, chose to fight on the side of the British during the American Revolution, though sitting on the fence as much as possible throughout the conflict—by pitting one side against the other—was to the Six Nations’ advantage generally. As Wallace puts it, the Seneca sachems felt the European experience consisted of “slaves, cheating lawyers with pen and paper and ink, verbose politicians, hypocritical Christians, stingy tavern keepers, and thieving peddlers” (25). Wallace’s information on childbirth and childhood among the Seneca people is particularly fascinating. Tribal government was run by sachems and administrator-like chiefs with the tacit approval or disapproval of the clan matrons. Wallace’s exploration of the emotional side of tribal life is intriguing. “Iroquois men hunted, traded, fought, and negotiated at a high cost in loneliness and discomfort. They too on occasion yearned for someone’s help to relieve pain and hardship, felt rage at insult and neglect, were jealous of others’ success, were miserable when a loved one died” (49) = rituals of belief were cathartic.
Fischer, Joseph R. A Well-Executed Failure: The Sullivan Campaign against the Iroquois, July—September 1779. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1997.
As you can tell, I read a great deal about the Sullivan Campaign and the Iroquois; the books are written with varying degrees of neutrality and bitterness as per the author’s individual take. When Storozysnki alleged that Horatio Gates retreated from high command after 1778 due, not to incompetence, but to the fact he didn’t want to take on the war against the Iroquois which ultimately fell to John Sullivan, this shows the high morality shared by Gates and Kosciuszko (at least according to Storozysnki), as almost all others in the American command did not balk at getting their hands dirty when it came to frontier warfare. Ultimately, as suggested, it was Sullivan who took on the campaign and brought it to its brutal conclusion. As a young person, I learned nothing about the Sullivan campaign of 1779, and I can see why now: it’s hard to put any kind of positive spin on the matter (other than, I suppose, it cost few direct casualties). It was a slash-and-burn objective against the Iroquois once the majority of the Six Nations had sided with the British (or were perceived to have done).
Robert B. Roberts characterizes Sullivan as “a singularly militarily inept and reckless” Maine lawyer (34). Fischer believes Washington’s hands were tied in the matter. “From a broader perspective the campaign also sheds light on the nature of the relationship existing among the Continental army, the civil governments, and the people of those regions in the interior most victimized by Tory and Indian raiding parties. Washington undertook this campaign largely to quiet the pleadings of Continental Congress and state governments to do something to bring the raids to an end. He ordered the expedition with great reluctance and only after it became clear that more decisive options simply were not viable” (Fischer 8). Fischer further suggests Washington’s explicit instructions to Sullivan were to ruin the crops and take prisoners. Washington relied on advice from New York General Philip Schuyler, who suggested that they destroy the Seneca.
Fischer’s book is valuable because it gives good background on what the rank and file did before the campaign proper got underway, for example building roads, thankless work. Roughly two court-martials per week were convened on this campaign. Usually punishment was light. For men they were usually accused of petty theft or desertion. For officers, it was for questioning conduct before the rumor mill destroyed their careers. British Tory and Native American spies were never far behind; “Sentry reports made it clear that [Walter] Butler’s and [Joseph] Brant’s men had stalked the army every step of the way since it left Wyoming” (79). Fischer notes that by the end of the campaign, the men started out the expedition in better health generally than the rest of the army, but finished it out in poor health (though they hadn’t starved).
Graymont, Barbara. The Iroquois in the American Revolution. New York: Syracuse University Press, 1972.
I used Graymont to extensively supplement information from other sources. Her work on Cherry Valley was particularly useful. Wallace says of Cherry Valley, “Cherry Valley was now added to Wyoming as the subject of atrocity stories; and this time the stories were more nearly true. At Cherry Valley some thirty-odd civilians, including women and children, Tory and rebel sympathizers alike, had been killed despite the efforts of Butler and Brant to maintain the disciplined behavior that had prevailed at Wyoming” (139). Cherry Valley was Walter Butler’s first independent command, and he did not get on with Joseph Brant. Brant was respected by his allies. As Graymont says, “Although Brant remained, ninety white volunteers who had served with him all summer did not. They had preferred to serve under Brant and had no desire to be at the command of the young novice officer who treated their own captain so ill” (183). Butler had 321 Native Americans (mostly Seneca, including Cornplanter, Half Town, Little Beard, Little Billy, Farmer’s Brother, Jack Berry, Twenty Canoes, Wundungohteh, Diadeoni, Conneuset, Souetdo, Hohnogwus, and Onoongadaka; 30 Mohawks with Brant, a few Cayugas, Onondagas, Delawares, Tuscaroras; Red Jacket didn’t complete the mission). There were also150 Rangers, 50 men of the 8th Regiment from Fort Niagara. The settlement was poorly prepared for fighting.
The raid descended into anarchy. The Wells family were killed (13 including servants). “The family had been close friends” of Brant’s. Although it had been agreed that noncombatants would be spared, Lt Hare “found one of Pastor Dunlap’s daughters lying across her dead mother to prevent her being scalped. He managed to rescue both the minister and his courageous daughter. William Campbell, whose grandmother with her little children had been taken captive, credited an Onoquaga Mohawk named Little Aaron with saving Dunlap and his daughter” (187). Butler and Brant tried to dissuade their men from killing. Loyalists in the area were plundered, the Indians explaining that they would not be outed as Loyalists this way. Seventy men, women and children were captured but all released except 2 women and 7 children, kept as hostages for Butler’s mother and aunts and several Tory officers’ wives held in Albany.
Mann, Barbara Alice. George Washington’s War on Native America. Westport, CT: Prager, 2005.
Mann, as you can imagine from her title, is the most vociferous critic of the Sullivan campaign and describes it as a genocide. I confess I didn’t read the entire book but used it to supplement information on raids out of Fort Stanwix in April 1779, about which Mann is unequivocal. Cols. Gose Van Schaick and Marinus Willett led 550 men on a 5 ½ day raid against the Onondaga villages. “Both Schuyler and Van Schaick wanted to kill Indians. The pretext hardly mattered” (29) is Mann’s conclusion. They rushed from village to village along the creek bed, killing, taking many prisoners. “One European officer was said to have ordered his men to ‘kill them’ [toddlers] on the grounds that ‘nits make lice’” (31). Van Schaick claimed to have burned 50 longhouses; they destroyed livestock and took all the guns they could carry, destroying the rest. Oral tradition states that a gang rape of prisoners took place on the afternoon of 22 April after the soldiers had gotten drunk on rum – Mann believes this was common practice and why the “long-knives” were so keen to take so many prisoners, most of them women. While the attack originally included some Oneidas, Mann says they were more or less whisked away so they wouldn’t balk at attacking the Onondagas. Thus, 126 refugees arrived in Oneida territory; in response to the Oneida complaints, Van Schaick claimed he was just a soldier doing his duty.
Williams, Glenn F. Year of the Hangman: George Washington’s Campaign Against the Iroquois. Yardley, PA: Westholme, 2005.
I used Williams for details on the Battle of Chemung, August 29, 1779. As Williams reports, Butler and Brant assembled at Newtown a force of 500 men, plus 300 mostly Seneca led by Sayenqueraghta. Sullivan’s forces chased them away, but it was hardly an unqualified success. “Clinton’s New York brigade, following Poor’s up the hill by a quarter mile, ‘pushed up with such ardor’ that a number of soldiers fainted from heat exhaustion” (270).
Mintz, Max M. Seeds of Empire: The American Revolutionary Conquest of the Iroquois. New York: New York University Press, 1999.
I used Mintz, Williams, and Fischer for details on a raid in the Genesee which went very badly for Sergeant Thomas Boyd. A confrontation between Boyd’s men and some Oneidas and Walter Butler’s men and Seneca allies in August 1779 ended with a tragic scene recorded not only by Mintz but Dann and Mary Jemison: Han Yost, a pro-American Oneida, was recognized by his older brother, Gah-ne-gi-e-song (the Lemonade), who was fighting for the British. Chief Little Beard killed him with a tomahawk. This is supplemented by Graymont and Mann. Mann goes on to describe what happened when Boyd was captured by Joseph Brant. Boyd had heard that Brant was a Mason. “He approached the Mohawk Chief, making the appropriate secret hand signal that he too was a Freemason. Without cavil, Thayendanegea promised Boyd his protection and kept him safe—as long he was on the scene” (97). When Brant was called away, Butler handed Boyd and Parker to Checanadughtwo and the Genesee Senecas. Because Parker was not in command but just a soldier, he was beheaded. Boyd suffered a more graphic fate.
Pieper, Thomas I., and James B. Gidney. Fort Laurens 1778-79: The Revolutionary War in Ohio. Kent State University Press, 1976.
Pieper and Gidney are shrewd in their analysis but seem to be more pro-settlers: “For these western people the war was a constantly renewed and lonely battle for survival against the British and their Indian auxiliaries” (4). “Frontiersmen and settlers remained loyal to the cause of independence because to them independence meant their right to penetrate the West, from which the British were trying to exclude them” (5). I used Pieper and Gidney mainly for information on the Delaware campaign in 1778 which created Fort Laurens in Ohio (which was then the Pennsylvania frontier) which was called “Fort Nonsense” by the men there and which the Delawares protested was too far from their settlements to make any kind of attempt to protect them, even though they had kept up their side of the bargain by sending warriors. Fort Laurens never amounted to much, and the British forces could have had it but mysteriously called off the attack. The Americans posted there, meanwhile, spent much of their tenure in starvation conditions.
Glatthaar, Joseph T., and James Kirby Martin. Forgotten Allies: The Oneida Allies and the American Invasion. New York: Hill and Wang, 2006.
Glatthaar and Martin tend to put a more positive spin on everything, despite the fact the Oneidas were treated pretty badly by the new American government despite the fact they stood alone and helped the Americans openly, which none of the other Six Nations did. At the first rumblings of conflict, Glatthaar and Martin point out that the Oneidas had maintained a relatively amicable relationship with the colonists; the Mohawks adored William Johnson but despised the colonists. The influential Rev. Samuel Kirkland translated into Oneida the minutes of the Continental Congress, thereby letting them understand what was going on. Kirkland decided he would encourage the new Continental Congress to open communications with the Oneida. In June 1775, the Oneida Nation met at Kanonwalohale—they said they felt equal affection for “two brothers” and could not get involved. When someone murdered a settler near Cherry Valley, the Oneida Nation launched its own inquiry, proving that none of their people had hunted or travelled in the woods that day—“We don’t think you would have suspected any of us Oneidas to have done such a thing, were it not for the troubles and confusions that prevail,” they said. “Quiet your minds, and by no means indulge any fears respecting us; and whenever we meet again, let it be in great friendship and brotherly love” (89). In June 1776, a delegation of 8 Mohawks, 4 Onondagas, 9 Oneidas and Tuscaroras met with Congress in Philadelphia and was kept busy with tours, meetings, and social gatherings. “Certainly [the Six Nations] referred to the king as their father, a truly great person to be treated with respect because of his power and wisdom. The Six Nations regarded the king’s words as sage advice from an elder, but they were subjects to no one. They were their own masters, a free people” (105).
I have previously mentioned Han Yerry Doxator and his wife Tyonajanegen, “Two Kettles Together” who took an active role with the American Army in 1777 and beyond.
Michelson, Karin, and Mercy Doxator. Oneida-English/English-Oneida Dictionary.
I used this wonderful dictionary for authentic names and dialogue to the best of my ability based on its scope.
Anonymous. A Soldier’s Journal. London: 1770.
I really enjoyed reading this unvarnished account of a soldier (whose period of service obviously predated the American Revolution and who didn’t end up spending much time in America during the French and Indian War) as a real sense of personality arose, like that which always does with the best primary sources. The anonymous soldier, who calls himself Jonas, wrote the account ultimately to draw attention to the fact that though regular soldiers were generally reviled in England during this period, his occupation was hazardous and without pension or safety net: he wanted recognition and a little bit of credit for what he’d been doing. Naturally, “Jonas” contributes a lot to our understanding of recruitment and basic training practices in the second half of the 18th century.
Jonas was born in 1743 in Oxford. He was educated to the age of 12, apprenticed, but because of a rambling disposition, joined the 68th, commanded by Gen. Lambton, without his parents’ knowledge, when he was just under 15. He was marched from Dover to the Isle of Wight to be stationed in France. Jonas’ experiences with cooking for the first time are highly endearing. He and his messmates gathered their money to go buy provisions; Jonas was chosen to be the cook. He had to put some mutton into the kettle with vegetables and water and boil it. It was the first time he had ever cooked anything. He asked the other cooks nearby if they thought he had done it long enough or not. He brought the kettle back to his mess, seated on the grass. Some had knives, no one had bowls. The best carver carved up and divvied out the meat and vegetables onto the grass. Jonas, being the new recruit, got the worst of the meat. They ate the broth in their canteen tops.
Jonas’ adventures continue as he and the other soldiers are shipped to France, and everyone gets seasick. In 1759, he saw service in Jersey holding the garrison, an assignment he liked very much, enjoying the food, the civil inhabitants, and the goods to be got there. After returning home from service in the West Indies in 1764 during peacetime, he was on 1/3 pay and in miserable circumstances. In addition to his details about British soldiery, he also has some very interesting information on cost of living c. 1770. You can read more about my experiences with Jonas here.
Detroit to Fort Sackville, 1778-79: The Journal of Norman MacLeod. Ed. William A. Evans. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1978.
I didn’t have time to dip much into MacLeod’s account of this campaign, but his journal is an authentic look at frontier warfare. MacLeod was born in the Isle of Skye and came to New York as part of the Black Watch in 1756, under General Abercrombie. His regiment was inactive at Albany for a month before being sent to Halifax. In the fall of 1760 he transferred to the 80th, Gage’s Light Infantry. In 1761 he met William Johnson, who was a big influence on him, an active Mason in Johnson’s lodge, which evidently is why he ended up with the British in the Revolution. By 1766 he was married, though probably his wife did not accompany him to frontier posts, and he had Indian mistresses. He left New York City with his family for land along the Mohawk River. He then moved to Detroit after Johnson’s death. He set up a rum store, “no Indian should have more than one glass at a time” (xxxii). In 1777 he was elected chief executive officer of the garrison, which was like being mayor.
MacLeod’s turn of phrase is fairly idiosyncratic. He says of the New York Sons of Liberty in 1770, “The Sons of what ever you chuse to call them are at the present pritty quiet and I suppose studying what mischief they’ll do when they can get a proper opportunity” (xxviii). In his role as pacifier of the British-aiding Native Americans, he recorded that he said to their leaders, “But I am Suprisd you Would listen to Such bad Birds. The long knives [Americans, Pennsylvania-Virginia frontiersmen] you know has been thretning not only the Indians But you[r] father at Detroit this three Years Past, But you See with Pleasure they could do nothing” (32).
American Revolution 1776: Letters from New York, Boston, and London. Nigel Knowles, ed. Bewdley, Worcester: Star and Garter Publishers, 1998.
This book gives some of the letters of Captain William Glanville Evelyn who died early in the war. His letters paint the picture of a frivolous young British officer (though not quite as bad as Charles Stuart). “The weather is delightful beyond description, and we are in perfect good health and spirits,” he writes from Boston (15). In April 1775 he evidently downplayed the whole Lexington and Concord thing: “It is impossible but you must hear an account, and probably a most exaggerated one, of the little fracas that happened here a few days ago, between us and the Yankey scoundrels” (15).
The Revolution Remembered: Eyewitness Accounts of the War for Independence. John C. Dann, ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977.
This is a remarkable collection of primary sources and biographical sketches of a range of people who had a range of roles in the conflict. Much of the information was taken from post-Revolution depositions of people wishing to receive pensions for war work. I’ll give you a few examples, just as a taster of these remarkable stories. Jacob Francis (1754-1836), from Anwell, New Jersey, enlisted in the militia and did several tours, once substituting for another person (the going rate was $75 apparently). His mother was a slave, his father unknown, and he served 5 masters before securing his freedom at 21 in 1775. After the Battle of Trenton, he went to stay with his mother because she was in ill health and never received the pay and discharge owing to him (4.5 months x 40 shillings = £9 proclamation money equal to $24).
Israel Trask (b. 1765), who was 10 years old in 1775 when he enlisted, caring for baggage and mess duty on the Massachusetts line. During the winter months of 1776 at Cambridge, a rifle regiment from Virginia joined them, and the Marblehead men thought them peculiar. A snowball fight commenced. Washington and his valet Billy Lee appeared on the scene, Washington thrusting the reins at Billy Lee, jumping into the mêlée and seizing two burly riflemen by the throats. Within 15 minutes he got everyone to calm down.
William Johnson from New Jersey (not the Irishman in the British Army) was a volunteer in the state militia and served almost continuously. After the Battle of Monmouth Court House, he and a friend, Abraham Ward, recruited by Washington through Johnson’s uncle, served as spies in New York City by posing as black-market merchants. “We were associated together in business,” he said in his deposition, “purchasing goods in New York for country merchants, which business was necessarily conducted by us with great secrecy and without the knowledge of the officers or members of our company. Sometime after, Ward received a letter from General Washington with instructions, enclosing a pass containing our names to protect us in case were suspected or taken by our own people for being seen in the enemy’s lines. We were often engaged in this business and frequently communicated information that he obtained to General Washington. Those with whom we conferred in New York supposed us to be friendly to the British cause” (356).
Martin, James Kirby, ed. Ordinary Courage: The Revolutionary War Adventures of Joseph Plumb Martin, 2nd Ed. New York: Brandywine Press, 1993.
I’ve sung the praises of Joseph Plumb Martin before on many occasions. His book is a goldmine, and every student of history should read it. In fact, everyone should read it. To quote from my previous blog, JPM was raised by his farming grandparents and forbidden to join the army until 1776, by which time the rage militaire had dried up and he was in it mostly because of peer pressure. He soon came to accept being poorly equipped and mostly starved, out in all kinds of weather, and, at first, flying by through the skin of his teeth because of mainly non-existent training and discipline. He was not eager to re-enlist in 1777 for his second campaign, but economic necessity gave him little choice.
Seaver, James E. Deh-He-Wa-Mis; or a narrative of the life of Mary Jemison, otherwise called the White Woman, who was taken captive by the Indians in 1755, and who continued with them seventy-eight years ... Also the Life of Hiokatoo and Ebenezer Allen, and historical sketches of the six nations, ... and other interesting facts ... by E. Mix. Devon: 1847.
I’ve also previously written about Mary Jemison. As I said previously, Deh-he-wa-mis was not strictly a Revolutionary War personage as she was abducted on the New York frontier by Senecas during the French and Indian War. She was, however, still living with her Seneca family during the duration of the Revolution. It was only during the post-Revolution repatriation (in 1784 – a treaty of amnesty between the US and the Six Nations was negotiated and all prisoners were to be set at liberty) that she was, more or less against her will, released to live again with white settlers. As she explains, “I had got a large family of Indian children that I must take with me; and that if I should be so fortunate as to find my relatives, they would despise them, if not myself, and treat us as enemies, or at least, with a degree of cold indifference, which I thought I could not endure” (88). She did not, however, throw herself upon the mercy of her white relatives and did not actually see any other white people until 1794. She was still living more or less independently when her story was taken down in 1823.
Williamson, Peter. French and Indian Cruelty; Exemplified in the Life and Various Vicissitudes of Fortune of Peter Williamson. Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 1996 .
Captivity narratives were best-sellers in the 18th and 19th centuries (see above), whether they were truthfully taken down or just fiction. The lucrative quality no doubt inspired Peter Williamson to write about his experiences, though it isn’t clear whether his account can be substantiated. An indentured servant, he was abducted by the Cherokee in 1754, then escaped. Williamson’s experiences follow a similar pattern to those of many captives, who were expected to show their fortitude in order to earn their captors’ respect. In any case, upon his return to Scotland he capitalized on his fame in print to open taverns and run a postal service.
Grose, Francis. A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. London: S Hooper, 1785.
This is a highly entertaining and helpful slang dictionary from the end of the 18th century. Be warned, the majority of the slang was, unsurprisingly, sexual in nature. There are some really interesting phrases: “he has had his air and exercise”=”he has been whipped at the cart's end”; “the man is in his altitudes”= ie, he is drunk; “Bill of sale”= widow's weeds; “To join giblets” = those cohabiting but not married . . . and so on.
BLACK PEOPLE IN THE ERA OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION
Harmsen, Jolien. Sugar, Slavery, and Settlement: A Social History of Vieux Fort St Lucia from the Amerindians to the Present. Castries: St Lucia National Trust, 1999.
Heinl, Robert Debs and Nancy Gordon Heinl. Written in Blood: The Story of the Haitian People, 1492-1995. Lanham MD: University Press of America, Inc, 1996.
While Gundersen, Rath, and Bilby & Bilby give good information on Black populations generally during the Revolution, I was specifically looking at slavery in Haiti and St Lucia during the French and Indian War for a different project, where I encountered both of the books above. Harmsen is necessarily brief about this particular period, but there were some interesting things I learned;mMost of the French people who settled in St Lucia were ordinary, some left France for political or religious reasons, others were adventurers. In 1713, a group of soldiers and deserters from the army and navy arrived. In the Vieux Fort area, there were even a handful of British/Irish families. By mid-century, St Lucia was divided into 11 parishes and quartiers. Until 1765, small-scale farms were manned by poor whites as well as African slaves, growing coffee and tobacco. Sugar production was then introduced, and the number of slaves tripled between 1765-1789.
In Heinl & Heinl, I was interested mainly in Macandal. François Macandal, the one-armed slave from Plantation Normand de Mézy, near Limbé, originally from Guinea, was Robin Hood-type figure to the slaves of Haiti. From 1751, he practiced pillage, cattle and sheep rustling, burning of refineries, proclaiming death to all whites. He was said to have killed 6,000 people, white and Black. He was burnt at the stake in January 1758. The fugitive force he organized, the marrons, established sanctuary areas in mountains and forests – they built entrenched camps with palisades, ditches and wells. As for “society” in Haiti, it suffered from suffocating materialism, very little education—unlike Peru, Argentina, New Spain and Santo Domingo, Haiti had no university but dozens of theatres. Free Hommes de couleur sent their children to France to be educated, some “crossed over” with prudent marriages and purchase of letters-patent that certified they were white.
Gelbert, Doug. American Revolutionary War Sites, Memorials, Museums and Library Collections. Jefferson NC: McFarland, 1998.
This is a useful guide, listed by state, and multiply cross-referenced. I took extensive notes for when I am able to visit these sites myself.
Hibbert, Christopher. Redcoats and Rebels: The American Revolution Through British Eyes. New York: Norton, 1990.
This is probably your best guide to the American Revolution, through, as the subtitle says, British eyes; it’s very well-written and engaging, though unfortunately for the researcher, it is not annotated.
Kelly, G. Brian and Ingrid Smyer. Best Little Stories from the American Revolution. Naperville: Cumberland House, 2002.
I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, its bite-sized chunks about nearly every aspect of the Revolution are a good starting point for anyone. On the other hand, much of what they’ve gathered is from older (not primary) sources, so a few inaccuracies get passed on (if you want an example, what they say about Koscuizko, “When he returned to Poland in 1784, he became involved in throwing off Russian rule and was a benevolent dictator for awhile” is oversimplification to the point of misinformation). I also don’t particularly like the writing style.
McCullough, David. 1776: America and Britain at War. London: Penguin, 2006.
I’ve written about this book extensively already, and it’s one of the best introductions to the American Revolution—personalities, contexts, social conditions, and military campaigns—I know. McCullough is a fine historian and a gifted writer.
Murray, Stuart. DK Eyewitness Books: American Revolution. New York: DK, 1999.
Although the text can be a bit simplistic in places, in terms of visual archive, this book can’t be beat. Seeing the objects from the daily lives of people in history is an excellent way, I think, of putting yourself in their shoes.
Volo, Dorothy Dennen and James M. Volo. Daily Life During the American Revolution. Westport: Greenwood Press, 2003.
And we finish with another overall dependable source which packs in a lot of varied information. I really like the “Daily Life” series; I’ve read many titles, and this one by the Volos is one of the best.
There are easily another 20 books I want to read on this subject, so onwards and upwards! Happy Independence Day!
 As I wrote about in the last blog, what to call these people is complicated and contentious, ranging from refugees (Benjamin Tallmadge) to Royalists, Tories, and disaffected persons (a term I first read in TH Breen’s book American Insurgents).