March 12, 1777


Congress convenes in Philadelphia.

Arthur Lee writes the following letter to Benjamin Franklin and Silas Deane in Paris:  “In my return to this place, I receivd the joyful intelligence which I enclose; and in which I congratulat you a thousand and a thousand times. The Congress had removd to Baltimore, and General Putnam was providing for the defence of Philadelphia, before this happy change in the posture of the hostile Army. It is said that the cruelties exercised in the Jerseys, had so exasperated the People, that the Militia fought with irresistible fury. I am afraid Genal. Lee is a prisoner. Upwards of a thousand of the Prisoners in New York have died of famine and cruel treatment.  The barbarity of these Sarracen Invaders went so far as to destroy the Philosophical Apparatus at Princeton College, with the Orrery constructed by Dr. Rittenhouse. The Papers say, that Genl. Howe had removed part of his baggage to Staten Island, and orderd a reinforcement from Rhode Island. There is an account in the Papers of the taking of Elizabeth Town, but that makes the number of Prisoners less than 200 among whom were 80 highlanders. The loss of the enemy in all these rencounters is stated at upwards of 2000, with Artillery, Baggage, and Stores to a considerable amount. I think we may now say the Scales are at least even, and I shall continue all my life to thank General Howe for dividing his Army, from which I always hop’d for the greatest advantages to us.  I am to wait here, an Answer to what I transmitted to Court in consequence of my conference with the Duke of Grimaldi who is to meet me here to-morrow. I have represented that my not going to Madrid will be construed a refusal on the part of Spain to receive a Deputy from the States and may therefore have a very bad effect both in Europe and America. I have askd at the same time for a credit in Holland and expect that to soften the former, they will be more liberal in the latter.4 I send an Account of the late intelligence to Madrid, London and the Hague, desiring Dumas to have it inserted in the Gazettes, and translated into German to be distributed among the german troops, before they embark, with a hint that as the King of G. Britain refuses to settle a Cartel, they may remain Prisoners for life. Surely this will be a good reason for them, especially the Officers to refuse to go. I intended to have written to Mr. Dean and Sir Roger le Grand at Amsterdam to the same purpose, but I perceive by a Letter from the latter, in the post office here, going to Madrid that he is yet in Paris, which makes me suppose they have laid aside or postpond the intended journey. Mr. Carmichael can assist you in contriving to distribute the Account among the german troops, from which I think some good must arise.  It seems to me that something ought to be transmitted to the States General, representing that their agreeing to let the mercenaries notoriously hird to desolate the States of America, have a passage, will be considered as a breach of that strict neutrality which the United States expect from all those nations, who woud wish to remain in Amity with them. Vatel acknowledges that granting such passage has often been warmly[?] remonstrated against; tho he maintains that it is no breach of neutrality, nor any just cause of war. I differ from him so much, that I am willing to have my name put to such a remonstrance. It is a palpable imposition upon common sense to say, that a nation who facilitates the enterprizes of my Enemy against me, preserves a neutrality: The pretence that they woud do the same for us, is incompetent; also why will it not justify the furnishing Arms, Ammunition and Provisions in the way of trade? They both stand upon the same foot, that of contributing directly to my distruction. For in what does he who opens the way to the employment of Arms &c. against me, differ from him who furnishes them?  I had almost forgot to mention that the Ships which brought the news, are the Alexander, Capt. Williamson and the Charlotte Capt. Sinclair from Newberry port. They saild the 4th of Feby. and arrivd at Bilboa the 8th of March.  Please to remember me to Sir Roger and all our friends. If Mr. Dean shoud go to Amsterdam, he will probably meet with a Mr. Paul Wentworth; of whom I woud advise him to be much upon his guard.”

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January 12, 1777


Benjamin Franklin writes to his friend, Mary Hewson, and notes the new clothing style he is sporting in order to impress the French with the honest republicanism of his country:  “My dear dear Polley – Figure to yourself an old Man with grey Hair appearing under a Martin Fur Cap, among the Powder’d Heads of Paris.  It is this odd Figure that salutes you; with Handfuls of Blessings on you and your dear little ones.”

Meanwhile, George Washington writes to congress about his concerns over the treatment by the British of American prisoners:  “I have your several Favors of the 7th and 9th instant. Complaints of the usage of the prisoners both in the land and Sea Service have been the subjects of many of my Letters to Lord and General Howe, but all the Satisfaction or Answer, that I could ever obtain, was, that the Reports were groundless. However upon the Authority of Capt. Gambles relation, and the miserable emaciated Countenances of those poor Creatures who have lately been released, I shall take the Liberty of remonstrating sharply to his Lordship and the General, and let them know in very plain terms, that if their rule of Conduct towards our prisoners is not altered, we shall be obliged, however disagreeable it may be, to make retaliation.  I think your plan of appointing Agents to attend the prisoners would answer many good purposes, that particularly of seeing them regularly and honestly supplied with whatever their Allowance may be. And then any Accounts of ill Usage coming thrô them, would be so authentic, that we might safely proceed to take such measures towards their prisoners as would be fully justifiable.”

To John Hancock, President of the Congress, Washington writes concerning his attempts to trade prisoners with the British in order to obtain the release of Charles Lee:  “I am honored with yours of the 6th inclosing several Resolves of Congress respecting an Exchange to be proposed between General Lee and the Hessian Feild Officers taken at Trenton. Colo. Rall died the day after the Action and we left one of the Majors so ill of his Wounds, that I am in doubt of his recovery. I can however make an Offer of all that remain, in exchange for Genl Lee, except one, who you order to be proposed by Colo. Allen.  If the offer is rejected by Genl Howe, I shall think myself then at liberty to remonstrate to him on his treatment of Genl Lee. If he will not exchange him, he should at least admit him to his Parole, as we have ever done their prisoners who have fallen into our Hands.  I understand from undoubted Authority, that they intend to try the General by a Court Martial, as a deserter from their Service, pretending that his Resignation was never accepted of. But I shall inform General Howe that if any such Step is taken, under so shallow and illegal a pretext, and their Sentence should extend either to affect his Life or Liberty, that they may depend upon the most severe and adequate Retaliation upon our part.”   It was not until years after Lee’s death that evidence was recovered showing his aid to the British during his time as prisoner .

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December 13, 1776


Charles Lee, who has been continuing to take his slow, meandering journey towards Washington, had stayed the night at an inn some distance from his army, and was lounging about when British light horse galloped up.  Seeing them through the window Lee cried out, “For God’s sake, what shall I do?”  The widow who kept the Inn attempted to hide him upstairs, but he gave himself up when the British commander threatened to burn down the house.  The British celebrated capturing the man they believed was the best of the military minds on the American side, and celebrated by making Lee’s horse drink so many toasts to King George that it became staggeringly drunk.  Lee said that he mourned not for himself, but for “a great continent…frustrated in the honest ambition of being free.”  George Washington, upon hearing the news, says, “This is an additional misfortune, and the more vexatious as it was by his own folly and imprudence (and without a view to answer any good) he was taken, “ having gone “three miles out of his own camp for the sake of a little better lodging.”  Washington ordered Lee’s forces to meet him in Pennsylvania.

Former loyalist Governor Thomas Hutchinson, from Massachusetts, writes, “A fast on account of the American War, observed with strictness and a great external devotion, the churches crowded more than ever known on Sundays, and shops everywhere shut, and few people to be seen in the streets.

Governor Cooke of Rhode Island writes both Massachusetts and Connecticut asking for a Council of War to oppose the British force of some 6 to 8,000 that landed in Newport on December 8, 1776.

British army goes into winter quarters.

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June 14, 1776


Congress orders Major General Philip Schuyler to confer with Six Nations Indians (Mohawk, Oneida, Tuscarora, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca) and “engage them in our interest upon the best terms that can be procured” and to proceed to erect a fortification at Fort Stanix, New York.

Major General John Sullivan with 2500 men decides to evacuate Canada and make a stand at Ticonderoga.  The British fleet occupied Sorel in about 2 hours.

Charles Lee writes to Benjamin Franklin on his ideas to create an army and prepare for war:  “I am very happy that my letter to Lord Thanet meets with your approbation. I send you here some crude notions of what ought be adopted.  1st  A solemn league and covenant defensive and offensive to be taken by every man in America, particularly by those in or near the Sea Port Towns; all those who refuse, to have their estates confiscated for the public use, and their persons remov’d to the interior par[t of] the Country with a small pension res[erved?] for their subsistance.2dly  New York to [be] well fortify’d and garrison’d or totally destroy’d.  3dly  No Regiments to be rais’d f[or any?] particular local purposes, but one general g[reat?] Continental Army adequate to evry purpose. South Carolina may be excepted from its distance and peculiar circumstances.4thly.  The Regiments to be exchang’d those who are rais’d in one Province to serve in another rather than in their own, viz. the New Englanders in New York the N. Yorkers in New England and so on. This system will undoubtedly make ’em better Soldiers.5thly.  A general Militia to be establishd and the regular Regiments to be formd by drafts from the Militia or their substitutes.  6thly.  A certain portion of lands to be [assign]ed to evry Soldier who serves one campaign [a d]ouble portion to him who serves two, and so on.7thly.  A strong flying camp to be kept about Hampton Bay, another about Annapolis and Charles Town in S. Carolina to be well watch’d and guarded.  8thly.  The greatest [pains?] to be taken and no expence to be spar’d in securing the Indians to our interest.  These measures may appear bold but I am sure they will be efficacious and decisive decision is the onset[?] of success. I wish I had time to write a longer letter, and I wish my pen was better to be more legible.”

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May 10, 1776

Congress recommends to the colonial assemblies and conventions, “Where no government sufficient to the exigencies of their affairs have ben hitherto established, to adapt such government as shall best conduct to the happiness and safety of their constituents in particular, and Americas in general.”


In Rhode Island, John Paul Jones is appointed to command USS Providence.

The Commissioners from Canada (Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Chase, Charles Carroll) inform Congress of a defeat in Montreal  (original spellings retained):  “By Col: Campbell, who arrived here early this morning from Quebeck, we are informed that two men of war, two Frigates and one Tender arrived there early on monday the 6th. instant about eleven o’clock the enemy sallied out, to the number, as is supposed, of one thousand men. Our forces were so dispersed at different posts, that not more than two hundred could be collected together at Head Quarters; this small force could not resist the enemy: all our cannon, five hundred muskets, and about two hundred sick unable to come off have fallen into their hands. The retreat, or rather flight was made with the utmost precipitation and confusion; however Col: Campbell informs us, that he imagines we have lost very few men except the sick abovementioned. Genl. Thomas was last Thursday evening at De Chambeau; at a Council of war it was determined by eleven to three to retreat to the mouth of the Sorel: this day Genl. Arnold goes down here; and if he can get information of the enemy’s real strength and it should be found inconsiderable, perhaps a council of war on reconsideration, may think proper to march the army back to Dechambeau, which is now strengthened by Col: Gratton’s, Burrels, and Sinclair’s regiments. Besides the above losses, one batteau loaded with powder, supposed to contain thirty barrels, and an armed vessel, which the Crew were obliged to abandon, were intercepted by one of the enemy’s frigates. We are afraid it will not be in our power to render our Country any farther services in this Colony: if our army should maintain possession of any considerable part of this country, it will be absolutely necessary to keep some power to controul the military.”

General Lee writes to General Washington from Williamsburg, Virginia:  “My command (as you may easily conceive) is extremely perplexing from the consideration of the vast extent of vulnerable parts of this Country intersected by such a variety of navigable waters, and the expedition with which the Enemy (furnish’d with canvass Wings) can fly from one spot to another—had We arms for the Minute Men and half a dozen good field Engineers—We might laugh at their efforts—but in this article (like the rest of the Continent) We are miserably deficient—Engineers We have but two—and They threaten to resign as it is impossible that They shou’d subsist on a more wretched pittance than Common Carpenters or Brickl[ay]ers can earn—I have written to the Congress intreating ’em to augment the pay—a word from you, woud, I make no doubt, effect it—I wish, My Dr General, You woud send me Capt. Smith on condition the Congress make it worth his while, otherwise I have not the conscience to propose it—I am well pleas’d with your Officers in general, and the Men are good, some Irish Rascals excepted—I have form’d two Companies of Grenadiers to each Regt arm’d with spears of thirteen feet long—their Rifles (for they are all Rifle Men) slung over their Shoulders—their appearance is formidable and the Men are conciliated to the weapon—I am likewise furnishing myself with four ounc’d Rifled Amusets which will carry an infernal distance—the two ounc’d hit a half sheet of Paper at five hundred yards distance—so much for military—a noble spirit possesses the Convention—They are almost unanimous for independence but differ in their sentiments about the mode—two days will decide it—I have the pleasure to inform you that I am extremely well in the opinion of the senatorial part as well as of the People at large—God send me the grace to preserve it—but their Neighbours of Maryland (I mean their council of safety) make a most damnable clamour (as I am inform’d) on the subject of a letter I wrote to the Chairman of the Committee of Baltimore to seize the person and papers of Mr Eden upon the discovery which was communicated to me of his treacherous correspondence with the Secretary of State—it was a measure not only justifiable in the eyes of Gods and Men, but absolutely necessary—the Committee of safety here are indeed as deep in the scrape as myself—the Congress must, and will, I dare say support and vindicate the measure Capt. Greer and his party are upon their March as you order’d, I was a damn’d Blockhead for bringing ’em so far—as their accounts will be intricate—but I hope not so intricate as not to be unriddled—I send you an account of the Money I advanc’d to the different Officers—to Capts. Smith Lunt and Greer—I have taken the liberty to appoint a Serjt Denmark, of the Rifle Battalion to do duty as Ensign—He is a Man of worth and I beg you will confirm his commission—another Serjt of the same Battalion I have promoted to the rank of second Lt in the Artillery of this Province—He is a German—his name Holmer and very deserving—if little Eustace cannot be provided for with you—I cou’d wish if there is a cheap method of doing it, You wou’d send him to me—as I have it in my power to place him and quite doat upon him9—my love to Mrs Washington Gates and her bad half—to Moyland—but Palfrey is a Scoundrel for not writing adieu, My Dr General…”

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May 9 1776


General Washington urges General Artimus Ward, commander of the continental troops in Boston, to continue working on the defenses for the city.  He fears the British might return to the city.  Ward submitted his resignation on April 23, but was convinced to stay until a replacement could be found.

Washington also writes to General Lee a comprehensive letter discussing the siege of Boston and its aftermath:  “Your favour of the 5th Ulto from Williamsburg (the first I have receivd from you since you left this City) came to my hands by the last Post. I thank you for your kind congratulations on our Possession of Boston—I thank you also for your good wishes in our future operation’s—and hope that every diabolical attempt to deprive Mankind of their Inherent Rights and Priviledges, whether made in the East—West—North—or South, will be attended with disappointment and disgrace; and that the Authors—in the end—will be brought to such punishment as an injured People have a right to Inflict.  General Howe’s retreat from Boston, was precipitate—beyond any thing I could have conceived—the destruction of the Stores at Dunbars Camp from Braddocks defeat, was but a feint Immage of what was seen at Boston1—Artillery Carts cut to pieces in one place; Gun Carriages in another; Shells broke here; Shott buried there; and every thing carrying with it, the face of disorder & confusion—as also of distress.  Immediately upon their Imbarkation I detach’d a Brigade of five Regiments to this City—& upon their Sailing, remov’d with the whole Army hither, except four Regiments at Boston, and one at Beverley, &ca for Protection of those places—the Stores & Barracks there—and for erecting Works for defending the Harbour of the first—Immediately upon my arrival here I detached four Regiments by Order of Congress to Canada—(to wit, Poors, Pattersons, Greaton’s, and Bonds) under the Command of Brigadier Thompson—& since that, by the same Authority, and in consequence of some unfavourable Accts from that Quarter, Genl Sullivan & Six other Regiments, namely Starkes, Reeds, Wains, Irvines, Winds & Daytons have movd of[f] for that Department—(the four last Regiments are of Pensylvania & New Jersey)—The first Brigade arrived at Albany the 24th Ulto & were moving on when Accts came from thence the 27th2—the other Brigade must all be at Albany before this, as some of the Regiments Sailed ten days ago, and the last four, & the Winds very favourable—this has left us very weak at this place, whilst I have my fears that the Re-inforcement will scarce get to Canada in time, for want of Teams to transport the Troops &ca to Fort George, & Vessels to convey them on afterwards.  We have done a great deal of Work at this place—In a fortnight more I think the City will be in a very respectable posture of defence. Governors Island has a large & strong Work erected, & a Regiment Incamp’d there—the point below (call’d red hook) has a small, but exceeding strong Barbet Battery—and several New Works are constructed and many of them almost executed at other places.

General Ward, upon the Evacuation of Boston, and finding that there was a probability of his removing from the smoke of his own Chimney, applied to me, & wrote to Congress, for leave to Resign—A few days afterwards (some of the Officers, as he says, getting uneasy at the prospect of his leaving them) he applied for his Letter of Resignation, which had been committed to my care; but behold! it had been carefully forwarded, and as I have since learnt judg’d so reasonable—want of health being the Plea—that it was instantly complied with. Brigadier Fry, previous to this, also conceiving that there was nothing entertaining or profitable to an old man to be Marching & counter-marching desired (immediately upon the evacuation of Boston which happen[ed] on the 17th of March) that he might Resign his Commission on the 11th of April: the choice of the day became a matter of great speculation, & remain’d profoundly misterious till he exhibited his Acct, when there appeard neither more nor less in it, than the completion of three Kalender Months; the pay of which he receivd without any kind of compunction, although he had never done one tour of duty, or I believe had ever been out of his House from the time he enterd till he quitted Cambridge. so much for two Generals—I have next to inform you, that the Paymaster Genl, Colo. Warren, not finding it convenient to attend the Army, from the various Imployments and avocations in which he was Ingaged, also resignd his Commission; & is succeeded by your old aid, Palfrey.  When I was speaking of the distressed Situation of the Kings Troops, and the Tories, at their evacuation of Boston, I might have gone on and added, that their Misfortunes did not end here6—It seems upon their arrival at Hallifax, many of the former were obliged to Incamp, although the ground was coverd deep with Snow; and the latter to pay Six dollars a week for sorry upper Rooms, and stow in them Men, Women, & Children as thick (comparitively) as the hair upon their heads; this induced many of these Gentry to return, and throw themselves upon the Mercy, & clemency of their Countrymen, who were for sending them immediately back as the properest, & severest punishment they could Inflict, but death being preferred to this, they now wait, in confinement, any other that may be thought due to such parricides.”

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May 4, 1776


General Charles Lee, commander of the southern military department, informs General Washington about the dire state of his men:   “I am just return’d from Suffolk and the Posts below, and the Post is just going out; so that this must rather be consider’d as an apology for not writing than as a letter—in a few days I shall set out for Carolina, but before I set out shall send you a full description of our state and situation—We want arms Medcines and blankets most cruelly indeed We want some Battalions—I wish, Dr General You woud prevail on the Congress to increase the pay of our Engineers—it is too wretched—no Men qualify’d for the buszness will serve on the terms—inclosd is an uncouth return of our force—adieu, Dr General…”

General Horatio Gates, who will later be a rival of General Washington’s, begins to cultivate his own connections with congress and writes to John Adams:  “Your Favour of the 27th: of April was put into my hands by Colonel Clinton, we had much conversation together upon the Critical and political State of this Country; He thinks with You, and I; and has besides a very Uncommon share of Knowledge, and penetration; I shall endeavour to Cultivate his Friendship, and Acquaintance.  The Six Regiments under General Sullivan, are Saild for Albany, with a Fair Wind, so by my Calculation, founded upon the best Authority, we shall have Ten Thousand Men near Quebeck, before the Enemy can throw any Succour into the Town; consequently, Sensible, and Spirited Management, must put that important place in Our possession. General Worster upon his Arrival near Quebeck, thought proper to Slight and Neglect my Worthy Friend Arnold; who, having received a considerable Bruize in his Wounded Leg, by a Fall from his Horse, applied for leave to go to Montreal for recovery. This with a Eager haste was Granted by Worster, and This altogether convinces me that Worster is not the Man fit to Command there, or any where. How happy must every good Officer be to find himself Seconded by so Capable and Brave a Spirit as that possess’d by Arnold, but Men of little Merit, are ever Jealous of those who have a Great deal.

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