May 17, 1777


Almost one-third of Colonel John Baker’s 109 men are captured after Baker’s troops are attacked by Indians and the British regulars at Thomas’ Swamp.  The Indians kill 15 of the captives before British Colonel Augustine Prevost intervenes to stop the massacre.

John Adams writes to Abigail about the money problems facing the congress and the failure of all of the colonies – except for Massachusetts – to do their duty:  I never fail to inclose to you the News papers, which contain the most of the Intelligence that comes to my Knowledge.  I am obliged to slacken my Attention to Business a little, and ride and walk for the Sake of my Health, which is but infirm.—Oh that I could wander, upon Penns Hill, and in the Meadows and Mountains in its Neighbourhood free from Care! But this is a Felicity too great for me.  Mr. Gorham and Mr. Russell are here with a Petition from Charlstown. It grieves me that they are to return without success. I feel, most exquisitely, for the unhappy People of that Town. Their Agents have done every Thing in their Power, or in the Power of Men to do, and the Mass. Delegates have seconded their Efforts to the Utmost of their Power, but all in vain.  The Distress of the States, arising from the Quantity of Money abroad, and the monstrous Demands that would be made from Virginia, N. Jersy, N. York and elsewhere, if a Precedent should be once set, has determined the Congress, almost with Tears in their Eyes, to withstand this Application at present.  Every Man expressed the Utmost Tenderness and Humanity, upon the Occasion: But at the same Time every Man except the Mass. Delegates expressed his full Conviction of the ill Policy of granting any Thing at present.”

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January 22, 1777


George Washington writes to Congress about the victorious Battle of Millstone:  “My last to you was on the 20th instant. Since that, I have the pleasure to inform you, that General Dickinson, with about 400 Militia, has defeated a foraging Party of the Enemy of an equal number, and has taken forty Waggons and upwards of an hundred Horses, most of them of the English draft Breed, and a number of Sheep and Cattle which they had collected.  The Enemy retreated with so much precipitation, that General Dickinson had only an opportunity of making nine prisoners, they were observed to carry off a good many dead and wounded in light Waggons.  This Action happened near Somerset Court House on Millstone River. Genl Dickinsons behaviour reflects the highest honour upon him, for tho’ his Troops were all raw, he lead them thro’ the River, middle deep, and gave the Enemy so severe a charge, that, altho’ supported by three feild peices, they gave way and left their Convoy.  I have not heard from Genl Heath, since the firing near Kingsbridge last Saturday, which I cannot account for, unless the North River should have been rendered impassable by the Ice. But the account of his having surprized and taken Fort Independance on Friday Night last, comes so well authenticated by different ways, that I cannot doubt it. It is said that he took 400 prisoners in that Fort, and that he invested Fort Washington on Saturday, which occasioned the firing. This is brought out by three of our Officers who made their Escape from New York on Sunday, and is confirmed by a Spy who went into Amboy, who says, an Express had arrived at Amboy from New York, with an Account of the Loss of Fort Independance, and calling for a Reinforcement to protect the City, in consequence of which a number of Troops had gone over.  I have sent in Spies to Brunswic and Amboy to know the Truth of this, and if it appears that they have weakened themselves to reinforce New York, I shall probably make some attempt upon them, if we have men enough left to do it.  I shall be glad to know what Stock of small Arms you at present have, and what are your Expectations shortly. The Necessity that we have been, and are now under, of calling in and arming the Militia, scatters our Armoury all over the World in a Manner, their Officers are so irregular, that they generally suffer their men to carry home every thing that is put into their Hands, which are forever lost to the public. The new raised Regiments will call for a great Number of Arms, and I do not at present see how they are to be supplied.  I would again beg leave to recall the Attention of Congress to the appointment of General Officers. I will not suppose the nomination of them is postponed upon a saving principle, because, the advantage in having proper Officers to examine the pay Rolls of their several Regiments, & compare them with the Returns of their Brigades—to see that the Regiments are provided with what is proper, and that no more than a sufficiency is allowed—to keep Officers to their duty, and not, while the spirited Officer is encountering all the fatigues and hardships of a rigorous Campaign, suffer a number of others, under various frivolous pretences and imaginary sicknesses, to enjoy themselves at the public Expence at their own fire sides. I say, if the Appointments are withheld upon parsimonious principles, the Congress are mistaken, for I am convinced, that by the correction of many Abuses, which it is impossible for me to attend to, the public will be benifitted in a great degree, in the article of Expence. But this is not all, we have a very little time, to do a very great work in. The arranging, providing for, and disciplining an hundred and odd Battalions, is not to be accomplished in a day, nor is it to be done at all with any degree of propriety, when we have once entered upon the active part of a Campaign. These duties must be branched out, or they will be neglected and the public injured—Besides, were the Brigadiers appointed, they might be facilitating the recruiting Service, they would have time to get a little acquainted with their Brigades, the Wants of them, and ease me of the great Weight and Burthen which I at present feel.  On whom the Choice will, or ought to light, I cannot undertake to say: In a former Letter, I took the liberty of submitting to the consideration of Congress, the propriety of appointing, out of each State, Brigadiers to command the Troops of that State, thinking, as a distinction is now fixed, a spirit of Emulation might arise by this means. At any Rate I shall take the liberty of recommending General Cadwallader as one of the first for the new Appointments. I have found him a Man of Ability, a good disciplinarian, firm in his principles, and of intrepid Bravery. I shall also beg leave to recommend Colonel Reed to the Command of the Horse, as a person, in my opinion, every way qualified; for he is extremely active and enterprizing, many signal proofs of which has he given this Campaign. For the rest, the Members of Congress can judge better than I can, I can only say, that as the Army will probably be divided, in the Course of the next Campaign, there ought in my opinion to be three Lieutenant Generals, Nine Major Generals and Twenty Seven Brigadiers. In other words, there ought at least to be a Brigadier to every four Regiments, and a Major General to every three Brigades.  The Lieutenant Generals will, I presume, be appointed out of the oldest Major Generals, and the Major Generals from the oldest Brigadiers. New Brigadiers will then be to nominate.I forgot, before this, to inform Congress, that including the Regiment of light Dragoons from Virginia, and Colo. Sheldons to be raised in Connecticut, I have only commissioned Officers for four Regiments. I was willing to try how those could be equipped, before I put more Officers into Commission. It is apprehended we shall find difficulty in providing Necessaries or even Horses for these four Regiments. If we should not, I shall immediately set about the residue. Colo. Baylor, Colo. Moylan (who as [a] Volunteer has remained constantly with the Army since his discontinuance in the Quarter Masters department) and Colo. Sheldon, command[s] the three new Regiments of light Dragoons.  The Treasury has been for sometime empty, and the Army has laboured under the greatest inconvenience for want of Money. The recruiting Service is particularly injured by this, as many Officers are now waiting only for Bounty Money. I have also complaints from the Eastward of the want of Money to carry on their recruiting Service. If we are not supplied with that necessary Article, all Matters must be at a stand. I must therefore beg, that if Mr Palfrey has not been already supplied with a large Sum, that it may be done with the utmost expedition, and that you will endeavour to keep up the Supply by constantly sending on smaller parcels.”

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December 29, 1776


Congress spent most of this Sunday in a committee of the whole discussing a plan for obtaining foreign assistance.

General Washington writes to Congress about his determination to once again cross the Delaware and enter New Jersey:  “I am just setting out, to attempt a second passage over the Delaware with the Troops that were with me on the morning of the 26th. I am determined to effect it, if possible but know that it will be attended with much fatigue & difficulty on account of the Ice, which will neither allow us to cross on Foot, or give us an easy passage with Boats. Genl Cadwalader crossed from Bristol on the 27th and by his Letter of Yesterday was at Borden Town with about Eighteen Hundred Men. In addition to these, Genl Mifflin sent over Five hundred from Philadelphia on Friday, Three hundred yesterday Evening from Burlington and will follow to day with 7 or 800 more. I have taken every precaution in my power for subsisting of the Troops, & shall without loss of time and as soon as circumstances will admit of, pursue the Enemy in their retreat—try to beat up more of their Quarters and in a word, in every instance, adopt such measures as the exigency of our affairs requires & our situation will justifye. had it not been for the unhappy failure of Genls Ewin and Cadwalader in their attempts to pass on the night of the 25, and if the several concerted attacks could have been made, I have no doubt but that our views would have succeeded to our warmest expectations. What was done, occasioned the Enemy to leave their Several Posts on the Delaware with great precipitation. The peculiar distresses to which the Troops who were with me, were reduced by the severities of Cold, rain, Snow & Storm—the charge of the Prisoners they had taken, and another reason that might be mentioned and the little prospect of receiving succours on account of the Season & situation of the River, would not authorize a further pursuit at that time. Since transmitting the List of Prisoners a few more have been discoverd & taken in Trentown, among ’em a Lieutt Colo. & a Deputy Adjutt Genl, The whole amounting to about a Thousand.  I have been honoured with your Letter of the 23d and Its several Inclosures, to which I shall pay due attention. A Flag goes in this Morning with a Letter to Genl Howe & Another to Genl Lee. For the latter, Rob. Morris Esqr. has transmitted a Bill of Exchange drawn by Two British Officers for 116:9:3 on Major Small for money furnished them in South Carolina, which I trust will be paid. This supply is exclusive of the Sum you have resolved to be sent him and which Mr Morris will procure in time..P.S. I am under great apprehensions about obtaining proper supplies of Provision for our Troops. I fear it will be extremely difficult if not impracticable, As the Enemy from every account, has taken & collected every thing they could find.”

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September 22, 1776


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 3, 1776


A resolution in Congress directs Virginia, North Carolina, and Rhode Island to send troops to reinforce General Washington.  A second resolution directs General Washington to refrain from any damage to New York if he must abandon the city.  This is in response to Washington’s request to be able to burn New York down in order to make it useless to the enemy.

President John Hancock writes to the Assemblies of North and South Carolina and Georgia, urging the return of delegates to Congress.  The matters before the Congress are “of the utmost importance to the welfare of America” and the States should be fully represented.Major General William Heath writes to General Washington:  “Dear General – I find many of the Soldiers belonging to the Battalions, that suffered the Most, in the late Action on Long Island much Dispirited, & often uttering Expressions that they have lost their Officers, lost their Blankets, & have no money, & the like, I could wish that your Excellency would just think of the matter, & if the Paymaster has Money in the Treasury, that they may be paid—I am confident that at this Time it would answer a very good purpose, & if agreeable to your Excellency, should be glad that I might have it in my power to inform them, that it shall soon be done.  Genl Clinton acquaints me that near one half of the Detachment, from his Brigade which are at Mount Washington are sick, & principally for the want of Covering, on which Account they have suffered much, he sollicits that your Excellency would order a Battalion (or part of one) to that post who have Tents, or if you should not think that proper, that his Men at that post may have Tents allowed them of which he says there are a number in the Store.  I have without Loss of time in Consort with General Clinton been endeavouring to effect what your Excellency was pleased to hint in your last, I think our Prospect appears promising.  I consider our present Situation on several accounts, one that requires the Exertions of all the Abilities of the most able Generals—a well connected Plan must connect & direct our opperations—I ever have been, I still am confident that we may defeat the Enemy; but Art & Stratagem must be our pole Star, & Vigilance & Alertness our Compass.  As great numbers of the Troops are daily marching from the City, & taking post in places where it will be impossible for them suddenly to erect Bake Houses, I beg leave to suggest to your Excellency, whether it would not be highly expedient, to keep all the Bakers in the City, baking of hard Bread, which may be easily conveyed a little back, & may prove of vast advantage—at some critical Time. I have the honor to be with great Respect your Excellency’s most humble Servt…”

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August 1, 1776


Congress continues to discuss issues regarding the Articles of Confederation, including the issue of how much money individual states must contribute to the central government, and the number of votes allocated to each state.  John Adams made the following notes of the on-going discussion:

Dr. Franklin moves that Votes should be in Proportion to Numbers.

Mr. Middleton moves that the Vote should be according to what they pay.

Sherman thinks We ought not to vote according to Numbers. We are Rep[resentative]s of States not Individuals. States of Holland. The Consent of every one is necessary. 3 Colonies would govern the whole but would not have a Majority of Strength to carry those Votes into Execution.

The Vote should be taken two Ways. Call the Colonies and call the Individuals, and have a Majority of both.

Dr. Rush. Abbe Reynauld Raynal has attributed the Ruin of the united Provinces to 3 Causes. The principal one is that the Consent of every State is necessary. The other that the Members are obliged to consult their Constituents upon all Occasions.

We loose an equal Representation. We represent the People. It will tend to keep up colonial Distinctions. We are now a new Nation. Our Trade, Language, Customs, Manners dont differ more than they do in G. Britain.

The more a Man aims at serving America the more he serves his Colony.

It will promote Factions in Congress and in the States.

It will prevent the Growth of Freedom in America. We shall be loth to admit new Colonies into the Confederation. If We vote by Numbers Liberty will be always safe. Mass, is contiguous to 2 small Colonies, R.[I]. and N.H. Pen. is near N.Y. and D. Virginia is between Maryland and N. Carolina.

We have been to[o] free with the Word Independence. We are dependent on each other—not totally independent States.

Montesquieu pronounced the Confederation of Licea the best that ever was made. The Cities had different Weights in the Scale.

China is not larger than one of our Colonies. How populous.

It is said that the small Colonies deposit their all. This is deceiving Us with a Word.

I would not have it understood, that I am pleading the Cause of Pensilvania. When I entered that door, I considered myself a Citizen of America.3

Dr. Witherspoon. Rep[resentatio]n in England is unequal. Must I have 3 Votes in a County because I have 3 times as much Money as my Neighbour. Congress are to determine the Limits of Colonies.

G[overnor] Hopkins. A momentous Question. Many difficulties on each Side. 4 larger, 5 lesser, 4 stand indifferent. V. M. P. M.4 make more than half the People. 4 may alw

C, N.Y., 2 Carolinas, not concerned at all. The dissinterested Coolness of these Colonies ought to determine. I can easily feel the Reasoning of the larger Colonies. Pleasing Theories always gave Way to the Prejudices, Passions, and Interests of Mankind.

The Germanic Confederation. The K. of Prussia has an equal Vote. The Helvetic Confederacy. It cant be expected that 9 Colonies will give Way to be governed by 4. The Safety of the whole depends upon the distinctions of Colonies.

Dr. Franklin. I hear many ingenious Arguments to perswade Us that an unequal Representation is a very good Thing. If We had been born and bred under an unequal Representation We might bear it. But to sett out with an unequal Representation is unreasonable.

It is said the great Colonies will swallow up the less. Scotland said the same Thing at the Union.

Dr. Witherspoon. Rises to explain a few Circumstances relating to Scotland. That was an incorporating Union, not a federal. The Nobility and Gentry resort to England.

In determining all Questions, each State shall have a Weight in Proportion to what it contributes to the public Expences of the United States.”

The bulk of General Sir Henry Clinton’s troops and Peter Parker’s warships arrived from their ill-fated expedition against Charlestown, South Carolina.

James Cresswell reported that Indian raids have converted the community into a frontier settlement.  “Plantations lie desolate and hopeful crops are going to ruin.  In short, dear sir, unless we get some relief, famine will overspeared our beautiful country.”

Abigail Adams writes to John, apologizing for her recent lack of correspondence:  “You complain of me. I believe I was to blame in not writing to you, I ought to have done it. I did not suspect you would hear of my intention till I told you myself. I had many cares upon my hands, many things to do for myself and family before I could leave it. The time granted was only ten days. I got here upon the 6th and then [wrot]e you a very long Letter. Since that I have scarcly omitted a Post, you will have more reason to complain of being tired out; I find the Method of treating the small pox here is similar to that sent by Dr. Rush, except that they use Mercury here. The common Practice here to an Adult is 20 Grains after innoculation. I took but 16; I dont admire this Mercury at this Season of the Year. Loyd I find practicess much more upon Dr. Rushs plan, makes use of the same medicines, but has not had greater success than others.  I greatly rejoice at the Spirit prevailing in the middle colonies. There is a fine company formed in this Town, call’d the independant Company consisting of young Gentlemen of the first families. Their Number is 80, they are the School for forming officers, they take great pains to acquire military Skill and will make a fine figure in a little while. Your Pupil Mason is one. He is an ambitious enterprizing creature and will make a figure some how or other, he always applies to his studies with method and diligence. I have lamented it that you have not been able to take him under your perticuliar care, as I know his abilities would have gratified you.  I Received by the Post a few lines from you july 20. It really greaved me to find you so anxious. Your kindness in so often writing shall be returnd in kind. I know not how you find the time amidst such a multitude of cares as surround you, but I feel myself more obliged by the frequent tokens of your remembrance, but you must not forget that tho my Letters have much less merrit, they have many more words, and I fill all the blank paper you send me. “

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July 13, 1776


In April, North Carolina Congress had passed a resolution that since the Moravians do not bear arms their guns shall be taken but they themselves shall not be forced into service.  “However,” they noted in their journal on this day, that “Brethren have been called for service, so the question is one, on whose authority it has been.”

The Declaration of Independence arrives in Rhode Island.

Abigail Adams receives her copy of the Declaration from husband John, and has this to say.  “By yesterdays post I received two Letters dated 3 and 4 of July and tho your Letters never fail to give me pleasure, be the subject what it will, yet it was greatly heightned by the prospect of the future happiness and glory of our Country; nor am I a little Gratified when I reflect that a person so nearly connected with me has had the Honour of being a principal actor, in laying a foundation for its future Greatness. May the foundation of our new constitution, be justice, Truth and Righteousness. Like the wise Mans house may it be founded upon those Rocks and then neither storms or temptests will overthrow it.I cannot but feel sorry that some of the most Manly Sentiments in the Declaration are Expunged from the printed coppy. Perhaps wise reasons induced it.

Poor Canady I lament Canady but we ought to be in some measure sufferers for the past folly of our conduct. The fatal effects of the small pox there, has led almost every person to consent to Hospitals in every Town. In many Towns, already arround Boston the Selectmen have granted Liberty for innoculation. I hope the necessity is now fully seen.I had many dissagreable Sensations at the Thoughts of comeing myself, but to see my children thro it I thought my duty, and all those feelings vanished as soon as I was innoculated and I trust a kind providence will carry me safely thro. Our Friends from Plymouth came into Town yesterday. We have enough upon our hands in the morning. The Little folks are very sick then and puke every morning but after that they are comfortable. I shall write you now very often. Pray inform me constantly of every important transaction. Every expression of tenderness is a cordial to my Heart. Unimportant as they are to the rest of the world, to me they are every Thing.”

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