September 23, 1776

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Congress orders the German Battalion raised in Maryland and Pennsylvania to join Washington immediately.

Arthur Lee observes that a military defeat in New York would be fatal to the British but not for America.  He is not disturbed by the hatred and suspicion directed against him by the followers of the Ministry, since he believes in the expression that “enmity of bad men is the most desirable testimony of virtuous merit.”

Abigail writes to John Adams to tell her of her unease about both the war, and the reticence of his recent letters (the original spellings are retained).  There are perticuliar times when I feel such an uneasiness, such a restlessness, as neither company, Books, family Cares or any other thing will remove, my Pen is my only pleasure, and writing to you the composure of my mind.  I feel that agitation this Evening, a degree of Melancholy has seazd my mind, owing to the anxiety I feel for the fate of our Arms at New York, and the apprehensions I have for your Health and Safety.

We Have so many rumours and reports that tis imposible to know what to Credit. We are this Evening assurd that there has been a field Battle between a detachment of our Army commanded by General Miflin and a Detachment of British Troops in which the Latter were defeated. An other report says that we have been obliged to Evacuate the city and leave our cannon, Baggage &c. &c. This we cannot credit, we will not Believe it.

Tis a most critical day with us. Heaven Crown our arms with Success.

Did you ever expect that we should hold Long Island? And if that could not be held, the city of New York must lie at their mercy. If they command New York can they cut of the communication between the Colonies?

Tho I sufferd much last winter yet I had rather be in a situation where I can collect the Truth, than at a distance where I am distressd by a thousand vague reports—

War is our Buisness, but to whom is Give’n

To die, or triumph, that determine Heav’n!

 I write you an abundance, do you read it all? Your last Letters have been very short. Have you buried, stifled or exausted all the—I wont ask the question you must find out my meaning if you can.  I cannot help smileing at your caution in never subscribeing a Letter, yet frank it upon the outside where you are obliged to write your name.  I hope I have a Letter by Saturdays Post. You say you are sometimes dissapointed, you can tell then How I feel. I endeavour to write once a week.”

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September 22, 1776

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The British execute Captain Nathan Hale for espionage without a trial, creating America’s first widely acclaimed martyr.

Nathan Hale was a Yale graduate who joined a Connecticut militia and served in the siege of Boston.  Hale accepted a commission as first lieutenant in the 7th Connecticut Regiment under Colonel Charles Webb of Stamford. The following Spring, they joined the Continental Army’s effort to prevent the British from taking New York City.  It is believed that Hale was part of daring band of patriots who captured an English sloop filled with provisions from right under the guns of British man-of-war.

General Washington was desperate to know where the British planned to invade Manhattan Island, writing on September 6, 1776:  “We have not been able to obtain the least information on the enemy’s plans.”  Washington sought a spy to penetrate the British lines at Long Island to get information, and Nathan Hale was the only volunteer.

Fellow officer Captain William Hull attempted to talk him out it, but Hale responded:  “I wish to be useful, and every kind of service necessary to the public good becomes honorable by being necessary. If the exigencies of my country demand a peculiar service, its claim to perform that service are imperious.”  On September 21, 1776, Hale was captured by the “Queen’s Rangers” commanded by an American loyalist, Lieut. Col. Robert Rogers.  General William Howe ordered him to be hanged the next morning.  Hale wrote a letter to his mother and brother, but the British destroyed them.   He asked for a Bible, but was refused.  Nathan Hale was marched out and hanged from an apple-tree in Rutgers’s orchard, near the present streets of East Broadway and Market in New York City.

The Essex Journal stated of Nathan Hale, February 13, 1777:  “At the gallows, he made a sensible and spirited speech; among other things, told them they were shedding the blood of the innocent, and that if he had ten thousand lives, he would lay them all down, if called to it, in defense of his injured, bleeding Country.”

Nathan Hale drew inspiration for his last words “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country” from the well-known English play “Cato,” written by Joseph Addison in 1712.  (Hale had been involved in theater while a student at Yale):  “How beautiful is death, when earn’d by virtue!  Who would not be that youth? What pity is itThat we can die but once to serve our country.”

Cato was a favorite of George Washington’s as well, and he had it performed for his soldiers at Valley Forge.

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September 21, 1776

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A letter arrives in London from Paris describing the debate in the French Cabinet on the question of entering a treaty with America.  Many ministers were opposed to the idea but the Queen (Marie Antoinette) has sided with the rebels.

Patriot General Robert Howe on his way north from Georgia warns the authorities of that state that the ilands off their coast were undefendable and urged every effort be made to remove the livestock to prevent seizure by the British.  Stripping the islands of livestock and all other property would be a most effective deterrent to enemy occupation.

The city of New York breaks out in fire, ¼ of the city, about 493 buildings are destroyed.   British accuse the Americans of starting the fire to make the city less useful to them.  Particularly, they accuse George Washington, who had asked for and been denied permission to burn down the city of New York.

Join us at Bow Tie Tours for Philadelphia’s Best Historical Walking Tours.  Our “Independence Tour Extraordinaire” includes tickets to Independence Hall, as well as numerous other sites, such as 2nd National Bank, Graff House, Carpenter Hall, and Christ Church.  If you are interested in learning about George Washington, join us for our Valley Forge Tour.  For Civil War buffs, come experience the Battle of  Gettysburg at our Gettysburg Tour.  Or, for the true history buffs, contact us about taking part in our American History Vacation Packages.

 

September 20, 1776

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Congress adopts a new body of Articles of War, which was formulated to resolve the problems of discipline, administration, organization, recruitment, etc., which have persistently plagued General Washington.

In New Jersey the Legislature votes an act to make both the Continental money and that of New Jersey legal tender and set punishment by death for counterfeiting either bill.

Pennsylvania ratifies its Declaration of Rights and Constitution.

From New York, George Washington writes to John Hancock:  “Since I had the honor of addressing you Yesterday, Nothing material has occurred, However It is probable in a little time, the Enemy will attempt to force us from hence, as we are informed they are bringing many of their Heavy Cannon towards the Heights and the Works we have thrown up. they have also Eight or Nine Ships of War in the North River, which It is said, are to Canonade our right Flank when they open their Batteries against our Front. Every disposition is making on our part for defence, and Congress may be assured that I shall do every thing in my power1 to maintain the post so long as It shall appear practicable and conductive to the General good.”

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September 17, 1776

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Silas Deane promises Robert Morris that he would forward to America vast quantities of military stores in October, including clothing for 20,000 troops.

Congress adopts a plan of a treaty to be proposed to the King of France by the American Commissioner to that country.

The Maryland Convention completes a draft of a Bill of Rights and Constitution.

John Adams writes his official report regarding the failed peace commission with Lord Howe:  “Tuesday. September 17th. 1776. The Committee appointed to confer with Lord Howe, agreable to the order of Congress, brought in a report in Writing, which was read as follows:

In Obedience to the orders of Congress, We have had a meeting with Lord Howe. It was on Wednesday last upon Staten Island, opposite to Amboy, where his Lordship received and entertained Us, with the Utmost politeness.

His Lordship opened the Conversation by Acquainting Us, that, tho’ he could not treat with Us as a Committee of Congress, yet, as his Powers enabled him to confer and consult with any private Gentlemen of Influence in the Colonies, on the means of restoring Peace, between the two Countries, he was glad of this Opportunity of conferring with Us, on that Subject, if We thought ourselves at Liberty to enter into a Conference with him in that Character. We observed to his Lordship, that, as our Business was to hear, he might consider Us, in what Light he pleased, and communicate to Us, any propositions he might be authorised to make, for the purpose mentioned; but that We could consider Ourselves in no other Character than that, in which We were placed, by order of Congress. His Lordship then entered into a discourse of considerable Length, which contained no explicit proposition of Peace, except one, namely, That the Colonies should return to their Allegiance and Obedience to the Government of Great Britain. The rest consisted principally of Assurances, that there was an exceeding good disposition in the King and his Ministers, to make that Government easy to Us, with intimations, that, in case of our Submission, they would cause the Offensive Acts of Parliament to be revised, and the Instructions to Ministers to be reconsidered; that so, if any just causes of complaint were found in the Acts, or any Errors in Government were perceived to have crept into the Instructions, they might be amended or withdrawn.

We gave it, as our Opinion to his Lordship, that a return to the domination of Great Britain, was not now to be expected. We mentioned the repeated humble petitions of the Colonies to the King and Parliament, which had been treated with Contempt, and answered only by additional Injuries; the Unexampled Patience We had shewn, under their tyrannical Government, and that it was not till the late Act of Parliament, which denounced War against Us, and put Us out of the Kings Protection, that We declared our Independence; that this declaration had been called for, by the People of the Colonies in general; that every colony had approved of it, when made, and all now considered themselves as independent States, and were settling or had settled their Governments accordingly; so that it was not in the Power of Congress to agree for them, that they should return to their former dependent State; that there was no doubt of their Inclination for peace, and their Willingness to enter into a treaty with Britain, that might be advantageous to both Countries; that, though his Lordship had at present, no power to treat with them as independent States, he might, if there was the same good disposition in Britain, much sooner obtain fresh Powers from thence, for that purpose, than powers could be obtained by Congress, from the several Colonies to consent to a Submission.

His Lordship then saying, that he was sorry to find, that no Accommodation was like to take place, put an End to the Conference.

Upon the whole, it did not appear to your Committee, that his Lordships commission contained any other Authority, than that expressed in the Act of Parliament, namely, that of granting Pardons, with such exceptions as the Commissioners shall think proper to make, and of declaring America or any part of it, to be in the Kings Peace, upon Submission: for as to the Power of enquiring into the State of America, which his Lordship mentioned to Us, and of conferring and consulting with any Persons the Commissioners might think proper, and representing the result of such conversation to the Ministry, who, provided the Colonies would subject themselves, might, after all, or might not at their pleasure, make any Alterations in the former Instructions to Governors, or propose in Parliament any Amendment of the Acts complained of, We apprehended any expectations from the Effects of such a Power would have been too uncertain and precarious to be relied on by America, had she still continued in her State of dependence.

Ordered that the foregoing Report, and also the Message from Lord Howe as delivered by General Sullivan, and the Resolution of Congress, in consequence thereof, be published by the Committee, who brought in the foregoing report.

“Two or three Circumstances, which are omitted in this report, and indeed not thought worth notice in any of my private Letters, I afterwards found circulated in Europe, and oftener repeated than any other Part of this whole Transaction. Lord How was profuse in his Expressions of Gratitude to the State of Massachusetts, for erecting a marble Monument in Westminster Abbey to his Elder Brother Lord How who was killed in America in the last French War, saying ‘he esteemed that Honour to his Family, above all Things in this World. That such was his gratitude and affection to this Country, on that Account, that he felt for America, as for a Brother, and if America should fall, he should feel and lament it, like the Loss of a Brother.’ Dr. Franklin, with an easy Air and a collected Countenance, a Bow, a Smile and all that Naivetee which sometimes appeared in his Conversation and is often observed in his Writings, replied ‘My Lord, We will do our Utmost Endeavours, to save your Lordship that mortification.’ His Lordship appeared to feel this, with more Sensibility, than I could expect: but he only returned ‘I suppose you will endeavour to give Us employment in Europe.’ To this Observation, not a Word nor a look from which he could draw any Inference, escaped any of the Committee.

Another Circumstance, of no more importance than the former, was so much celebrated in Europe, that it has often reminded me of the Question of Phocion to his Fellow Citizen, when something he had said in Public was received by the People of Athens with a clamorous Applause, “Have I said any foolish Thing?”—When his Lordship observed to Us, that he could not confer with Us as Members of Congress, or public Characters, but only as private Persons and British Subjects, Mr. John Adams answered somewhat quickly, ‘Your Lordship may consider me, in what light you please; and indeed I should be willing to consider myself, for a few moments, in any Character which would be agreable to your Lordship, except that of a British Subject.’ His Lordship at these Words turn’d to Dr. Franklin and Mr. Rutledge and said ‘Mr. Adams is a decided Character:’ with so much gravity and solemnity: that I now believe it meant more, than either of my Colleagues or myself understood at the time. In our report to Congress We supposed that the Commissioners, Lord and General Howe, had by their Commission Power to [except] from Pardon all that they should think proper. But I was informed in England, afterwards, that a Number were expressly excepted by Name from Pardon, by the privy Council, and that John Adams was one of them, and that this List of Exceptions was given as an Instruction to the two Howes, with their Commission. When I was afterwards a Minister Plenipotentiary, at the Court of St. James’s The King and the Ministry, were often insulted, ridiculed and reproached in the Newspapers, for having conducted with so much folly as to be reduced to the humiliating Necessity of receiving as an Ambassador a Man who stood recorded by the privy Council as a Rebell expressly excepted from Pardon. If this is true it will account for his Lordships gloomy denunciation of me, as ‘a decided Character.’—Some years afterwards, when I resided in England as a public Minister, his Lordship recollected and alluded to this Conversation with great politeness and much good humour. Att the Ball, on the Queens Birthnight, I was at a Loss for the Seats assigned to the foreign Ambassadors and their Ladies. Fortunately meeting Lord How at the Door I asked his Lordship, where were the Ambassadors Seats. His Lordship with his usual politeness, and an unusual Smile of good humour, pointed to the Seats, and manifestly alluding to the Conversation on Staten Island said, ‘Aye! Now, We must turn you away among the foreigners.’  The Conduct of General Sullivan, in consenting to come to Philadelphia, upon so confused an Errand from Lord Howe, though his Situation as a Prisoner was a temptation and may be considered as some Apology for it, appeared to me to betray such Want of Penetration and fortitude, and there was so little precision in the Information he communicated that I felt much resentment and more contempt upon the Occasion than was perhaps just. The time was extreamly critical. The Attention of Congress, the Army, the States and the People ought to have been wholly directed to the Defence of the Country. To have it diverted and relaxed by such a poor Artifice and confused tale, appeared very reprehensible.”

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September 14, 1776

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Congress finally focuses attention on the northern military department and votes to send large quantities of flints, lead, and cartridge paper to General Horatio GatesGeneral Philip Schuyler is ordered to erect suitable winter quarters for the soldiers.

Informed that two African-Americans captured by a privateer were offered for sale in Salem, the General Court resolved that all persons concerned with them are forbidden to sell them or treat them differently than white prisoners.  Any sale of Negroes is null and void for the present and future.

John Adams writes to Abigail about his trip to meet with Lord Howe:  “Yesterday Morning I returned with Dr. F. and Mr. R. from Staten Island where We met L[ord] H[owe] and had about three Hours Conversation with him. The Result of this Interview, will do no disservice to Us. It is now plain that his L[ordshi]p has no Power, but what is given him in the Act of P[arliament]. His Commission authorises him to grant Pardons upon Submission, and to converse, confer, consult and advise with such Persons as he may think proper, upon American Grievances, upon the Instructions to Governors and the Acts of Parliament, and if any Errors should be found to have crept in, his Majesty and the Ministry were willing they should be rectified.

I found yours of 31. of Aug. and 2d. of September. I now congratulate you on your Return home with the Children. Am sorry to find you anxious on Account of idle Reports.—Dont regard them. I think our Friends are to blame to mention such silly Stories to you. What good do they expect to do by it?

My Ride has been of Service to me. We were absent but four days. It was an agreable Excursion. His L[ordshi]p is about fifty Years of Age. He is a well bred Man, but his Address is not so irresistable, as it has been represented. I could name you many Americans, in your own Neighbourhood, whose Art, Address, and Abilities are greatly superiour. His head is rather confused, I think.”

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September 13, 1776

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A resolution by the Massachusetts Legislature orders one-fifth of the militia to assist General Washington.

General William Heath writes to George Washington regarding his disagreement with those who recommend vacating New York City.  “Being so unhappy as to Differ in Sentiment from a Majority of the Honble Board of General Officers of the Army of the United States of america, in the Important Question whether, a Former Determination of the Board Should be reconsidered, and the City of new York no⟨w⟩ be Evacuated,1 and Some of the General officers Desiring that the reasons of the Gentlemen Differing in Sentiment from the Majority might be Stated, I Do most Freely and Heartily State mine, which I am ready to avow and Declare to the World.  1st objtn to the Evacuating the City, Because it gives Such unspeakable advantage to the Enemy, In all Invasions of a Country, a wise and Politick General will if Possible early avail himself of Some Place of Importance, Free and Easy of access to navigation and if Possible at the Conflux of the most Considerable Rivers, where He Can with Ease form His Magazines, fortify and Secure the Place for a Safe retreat in Case of necessity for an Assylum for his Sick & Wounded, and for the advantage of winter Quarters, all of which are Capital objects in the views of a Commander And Clear it is that the City of New York has from the very first Landing of the Enemy at Staten Island been the Object of their Commanders, Their Manoeuvre from Staten Island, to Long Island Together with the whole of their Present manoeuvres, are but So many Clear and Striking Evidences of it, The City and it[s] Environs being Surrounded with a great variety of works, has much Pusselled the enemy, The City being their object as I have before observed, Their whole Attention has been Centering to obtain the Possession of it which has Induced them to Keep their Fleet & army, as much as Possible together, and with all this Collected Force they have Discovered a Diffidence (fortifyed as our Camp has been) of Attacking us—The City being now about to be Put into their Hands, Gives them almost (not to Ennumerate) every advantage which they Can wish to Have, and leads to my

2nd objtn Because it gives the Enemy a unspeakable advantage, to Attack Differant States with great Ease and Advantage, 1st Because Having got Possession of the City—well Fortified a Small Garrison will be Sufficient to defend it, which will Enable them to Employ almost their whole Force against the Neighbouring States, where they will ravage the Country, Disarm the Inhabitants, and Derive to themselves many advantages, and Compel us unavoidably to Detach our Army which is a Manoeuvre often Times very Dangerous and in the Present Case will Serve only to Fatigue and Harrass our Troops.  3rdly Because it will Give the Enemy an Oppertunity to Infest our Sea Coast, with nearly the whole of their Ships of war, as they will be no Longer necessary, Here to Cover the Landing of Troops or Guarding the Transports and Storeships in the Harbour, which will now Ride in Safety at the wharves.  4thly Because from its Centrical Situation as a Safe Rendezvous for the Enemies Ships & Troops both Winter, and Summer the giveing them the City Entire, will afford them a great advantage, by winter as well as Summer Campaigns to Annoy and Distress the United States, both northward & Southward.  5thly Because I think it will greatly Dispirit both the army, and Country, Partly at this Time and much more So when they Come to Se[e] and Hear, that the Enemy are making Excursions both Eastward & Southward, which I think a man need nither be a Prophet or Son of a Prophet to fore See.  6thly Because, I think our Situation, (having So many works Thrown up) and numbers if Properly Disposed of as would have Enabled us to have Kept the Enemy at Bay, Untill the Campaign was Spun out, as the Enemy have all along Discovered no great fondness for Attacking our Lines I think that if the Army had been Posted Immediately (after) agreable to the Determination of the Preceeding Board, of Genl officers, The Enemy would not have Dar’d to attacke us, and if they had, would have met with a Rebuff.  The foregoing with Several others are the reasons for my being against a Reconsideration of a former Determination If your Excellency should Desire any further Explination of the Last objection as to our being in ability to Keep the Enemy at Bay I am ready to Do it.  I am Unhappy when I Differ from others in Sentiment, Especially those who I revere for their wisdom and Knowledge and more So if it be on Matters of vast Importance, But I must act agreable to the Dictates of my Own reason, and Cannot give up my own Opinion untill I am Convinced by better reasons than my own, that I am mistaken.”

Washington, no doubt, agreed with each of General Heath’s points as to the detriments of leaving New York.  However, the memo does not recommend any military strategy for avoiding doing so!

Join us at Bow Tie Tours for Philadelphia’s Best Historical Walking Tours.  Our “Independence Tour Extraordinaire” includes tickets to Independence Hall, as well as numerous other sites, such as 2nd National Bank, Graff House, Carpenter Hall, and Christ Church.  If you are interested in learning about George Washington, join us for our Valley Forge Tour.  For Civil War buffs, come see Gettysburg  – we have a one day trip and a more in-depth (and relaxing) two day trip.  Or, for the true history buffs, contact us about taking part in our American History Vacation Packages