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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September 11, 1776


General William Howe meets with the Congressional Committee in the Bilop Mansion.  Howe urged peace, but admitted he could not recognize Congres, or an independent America.  Benjamin Franklin and John Adams replied that independence was now an established fact from which the states would not retreat.  Aware of the mood of the King and the Ministry, Howe chose not to transmit to London their proposals regarding independence.

Edward Rutledge wrote to General Washington regarding the meeting.  “I must beg Leave to inform you that our Conferrence with Lord Howe has been attended with no immediate Advantages—He declared that he had no Powers to consider us as Independt States, and we easily discover’d that were we still Dependt we would have nothing to expect from those with which he is vested—He talk’d altogether in generals, that he came out here to consult, advise, & confer with Gentlemen of the greatest Influence in the Colonies about their Complaints, that the King would revise the Acts of Parliament & royal Instructions upon such Reports as should be made and appear’d to fix our Redress upon his Majesty’s good Will & Pleasure—This kind of Conversation lasted for several Hours & as I have already said without any Effect—Our Reliance continues therefore to be (under God) on your Wisdom & Fortitude & that of your Forces—That you may be as succesful as I know you are worthy is my most sincere wish—I saw Mrs Washington the Evening before I left Philadelphia, she was well—I gave Mr Griffin a Letter from her for you .”

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August 8, 1776


On board the HMS Eagle, Ambrose Serle, Admiral Howe’s secretary confides in his journal:  “I almost wish that the colonies never existed.  They have weakened our national force; and are now a force turned against us.  They have wated our treasures and laid upon us a heavy debt for their protection, and are plunging us into expenses that keep them under that protection.”

In New York, George Washington becomes alarmed by the rapid expansion of the British forces and seeks desperately to secure additional militia from neighboring states.  “The new levies are so incomplete, the old regiments deficient in their complement, and so much sickness, that we must have an immediate supply of men.”

Benjamin Franklin and Robert Morris, as part of the Secret Committee of Correspondence, write the following to Silas Deane:  “With this you will receive the Declaration of the Congress for a final separation from Great Britain. It was the universal demand of the people, justly exasperated by the obstinate perseverance of the Crown in its tyrannical and destructive measures, and the Congress were very unanimous in complying with that demand. You will immediately communicate the piece to the Court of France, and send copies of it to the other Courts of Europe.6 It may be well also to procure a good translation of it into French, and get it published in the gazettes.  It is probable that, in a few days, instructions will be formed in Congress directing you to sound the Court of France on the subject of mutual commerce between her and these States.  It is expected you will send the vessel back as soon as possible, with the fullest intelligence of the state of affairs, and of everything that may affect the interest of the United States. And we desire that she may be armed and prepared for defence in her return, as far as the produce of her cargo will go for that purpose.”

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July 22, 1776


Congress, sitting as a committee of the whole, considered the printed draft of John Dickinson’s “Articles of Confederation.”  They would become finally adopted in November 1777.

Richard Cranch writes to John Adams with word about his family and their inoculations:  “Those that are dearest to you are here, under Inocolation. Charles was Inocolated with me on Thursday, the 11th. Instt. Our Symptoms are very promising; Mrs. A. and the other three Children underwent the operation the next Day. I suppose the enclos’d will be more particular.  The Declaration of Independency which took place here last Thursday, was an Event most ardently wish’d for by every consistant Lover of American Liberty, and was received accordingly by the loudest Acclamations of the People, who Shouted—God Save the united States of America!—We have various Stories current here of Vessels having spoken with Lord Howe, and that he inform’d them he had Powers to treat with Congress &c. Beware of Punic Faith.”

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July 19, 1776


The Congress resolved to publish in “several gazettes” a copy of the circular letter and enclosed declaration, which Lord Howe had sent to former Royal Governors Franklin, Eden, Penn, Dunmore, Martin, and Wright.  They hoped that in publishing the Commission’s terms, the few who still remain suspended by the hope found in justice or moderation of their late King, mauy now, at length, be convinced, that the valor alone of their country is to save its liberties.

Off the coast of Charlestown, South Carolina British General Henry Clinton sailed with his troops convoyed by the one frigate that Commodore Peter Parker had in condition to go to sea.  He would join Howe on Staten Island on August 1, 1776.

General Washington writes the following missive to Horatio Gates:  “I expected ’ere this to have heard from you; as I have not, I will open the corrispondance by expressing my exceeding great concern on acct of the determination of your board of General Officers, to retreat from Crown Point to Ticonderago; assigning (contrary to the opinion of all your Field Officers) for reason, that the former place is not tenable with your present force, or the Force expected.  My concern arises from information, and a firm belief, that your relinquishing Crown point is, in its consequences, a relinquishment of the Lakes, and all the advantages to be derived therefrom; for it does not admit of a doubt, but that the Enemy will possess themselves, if possible, of that pass (wch is a key to all these Colonies) the moment you leave it, & thereby confine your Vessels to the narrow part of the Lake in front of that Post, or, by having them in the Rear of it cut off all kind of Supplies from, & intercourse between your Camp & them; securing by this means a free and uninterrupted passage into the three New England Governments for Invasion thereof.  Nothing but a belief that you have actually removed the Army from the point to Tyconderago, and demolishd the Works at the former; and the fear of creating dissentions, & encouraging a Spirit of remonstrating against the conduct of Superior Officers by inferiors, have prevented me by Advice of the Genl Officers here, from directing the Post at Crown point to be held till Congress should decide upon the propriety of its Evacuation—As the case stands I can give no Order in the matter, least between two opinions; & places, neither are put into such a posture of defence, as to resist an advancing Enemy. I must however express my sorrow at the Resolution of your Council—& wish, that it had never happened; as every body who Speaks of it also does; & that the measure could yet be changed with Propriety.  We have the Enemy full in view of us, but their operations are to be suspended ’till the Reinforcement hourly expected, arrives, when I suppose there will soon be pretty warm work—Lord Howe is arrived. He & the Genl his Brother are appointed Commissioners to dispense pardons to Repenting Sinners.”  Note the sarcasm with which Washington refers to his upcoming meeting with the British Peace Delegates.

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July 18, 1776


Loylist lawyer William Lynchon of Salem wrote, “at noon the Congress read the Declaration of Independence of the colonies of Great Britain from the balcony of the town house, a regiment under arms, and artillery company in King Street, and the guns at the several batteries were fired.  Three cheers given, bell ringing, etc.  In the afternoon the King’s arms were taken down and broken to pieces in King Street, and carried off by the people.”

John Adams writes to a young lawyer, Jonathan Mason, to advise him to stick to his books:  I cannot advise you, to quit the retired scene, of which you have hitherto appeared to be so fond, and engage in the noisy Business of War. I doubt not you have Honour and Spirit, and Abilities sufficient, to make a Figure in the Field: and if the future Circumstances of your Country should make it necessary, I hope you would not hesitate to buckle on your Armour. But at present I See no Necessity for it. Accomplishments of the civil and political Kind are no less necessary, for the Happiness of Mankind than martial ones. We cannot be all Soldiers, and there will probably be in a very few Years a greater Scarcity of Lawyers, and Statesmen than of Warriours.  The Circumstances of this Country, from the Years 1755 to 1758, during which Period I was a student in Mr. Putnams Office, were almost as confused as they are now. And the Prospect before me, my young Friend was much more gloomy than yours. I felt an Inclination, exactly Similar to yours, for engaging in active martial Life, but I was advised, and upon a Consideration of all Circumstances concluded, to mind my Books. Whether my determination was prudent or not, it is not possible to say, but I never repented it. To attain the real Knowledge, which is necessary for a Lawyer, requires the whole Time and Thoughts of a Man in his youth, and it will do him no good to dissipate his Mind among the confused objects of a Camp. Nocturnâ versate manu, versate diurnâ [Give your days and nights to the study of these authors”]—must be your Motto.  I wish you had told me, particularly, what Lawyers have opened Offices in Boston, and what Progress is made in the Practice, and in the Courts of Justice. I cannot undertake to Advise you, whether you had better go into an office in Boston or not. I rather think that the Practice at present is too inconsiderable to be of much service to you. You will be likely to be obliged to waste much of your Time in running of Errands, and doing trifling drudgery without learning much.—Depend upon it, it is of more Importance that you read much, than that you draw many Writts. The common Writts upon Notes, Bonds and Accounts, are mastered in half an Hour. Common Declarations for Rent, and Ejectment and Trespass, both of Assault and Battery and Quare Clausum fregit, are learn’d in very near as short a Time. The more difficult Special Declarations, and especially the Refinements of Special Pleadings are never learnd in an office. They are the Result of Experience, and long Habits of Thinking.  If you read Ploudens Commentaries, you will see the Nature of Special Pleadings. In Addition to these read Instructor Clericalis, Mallory, Lilly, and look into Rastall and Cooke. Your Time will be better Spent upon these Authors, than in dancing Attendance upon a Lawyers Office and his Clients. Many of our most respectable Lawyers never did this att all. Gridly, Pratt, Thatcher, Sewall, Paine. Never served regularly in any office.  Upon the whole, my young Friend, I wish that the State of public Affairs, would have admitted of my Spending more Time with you. I had no greater Pleasure in this Life, than in assisting young Minds possessed of ambition to excell, which I very well know to be your Case. Let me intreat you not to be too anxious about Futurity. Mind your Books. Set down patiently to Ploudens Commentaries, read them through coolly, deliberately, and Attentively. Read them in Course. Endeavour, to make yourself Master of the Point on which the Case turns. Remark the Reasoning, and the Decision. And tell me a year hence, whether your Time has not been more agreably, and profitably Spent than in drawing Writs and running of Errands. I hope to see you eer long. I am obliged to you for this Letter, and wish a Continuance of your Correspondence. I am anxious, very anxious, for my dear Mrs. Adams, and my Babes. God preserve them. I can do them no kind office, whatever.

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July 14, 1776


Since the 12th, five British ships have been within sight of Manhattan Island.  Upon seeing the ships, the American defense fell apart, some soldiers running, others gaping at the British, and few firing pointlessly at their out-of-range ships.  Two of the ships entered the Hudson River unchallenged, and conducted a two-hour cannon attack of New York.  Washington observed that “the shrieks & cries of these poor creatures running every way with their children was truly distressing.”  This was followed by the entrance of the British man-of-war, the sixty-four gun HM Eagle, carrying none other than Admiral Lord Howe.  The two Howe brothers had now arrived.

However, they had come with the power not only to engage in war, but to offer peace.  It was still the hope of the British that the Americans would see the error of their ways, especially when they saw all of the ships with the armaments aimed directly at them.

On the 14th, a small boat under white flag was sent by Lord Howe to offer terms of peace.  Philip Brown was in the boat and he carried a letter from Lord Howe to “George Washington, Esqr, New York.”  Three Continental Army Officers (Henry Knox, Joseph Reed, and Samuel Webb) met with Brown, who, as Knox recalled, rose up, bowed, and said “I have a letter, sir, from Lord Howe to Mr. Washington.”  Colonel Reed understood well the importance of the designation of “Mr. Washington,” as opposed to his official title as General of the Continental Army.  “Sir, Colonel Reed replied, “we have no person in our army with that address.”  Perplexed, Brown pulled the envelope out again, showed it to him, and said, “Sir, will you look at the address?”  Reed responded, “No, sir, I cannot receive that letter.”  Replied Brown, “I am very sorry, and so will be Lord Howe, that any error in the superscription should prevent the letter being received by General Washington.”  Colonel Reed said, “You are sensible, sir, of the rank of General Washington in our army?”  Brown replied, “Yes, sir, we are.  I am sure my Lord Howe will lament exceedingly this affair, as the letter is quite of a civil nature, and not a military one. He laments exceedingly that he was not here a little sooner.”  By which Brown was saying that had he gotten there before the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, perhaps that lamentable action could have been avoided.

Washington himself had no deep concern over refusing the overture, although he wrote to John Hancock on this day that “I would not upon any occasion sacrifice essentials to punctilio, but in this instance…I deemed it a duty to my country and my appointment to insist upon that respect which in any other than a public view would willingly have waived.”  Nonetheless, at this point Washington was no longer looking toward reconciliation, and he saw British peace overtures as merely attempts “to distract, divide, & create as much confusion as possible.”  Lord Howe’s secretary, Ambrose Serle, was disgusted by the American action.  “So high is the vanity and the insolence of these men…There now seems no alternative but war and bloodshed, which must lay at the door of these unhappy people.  They pretend (or rather have pretended) to seek peace, and yet renounce it.  The faction have thrown aside all appearances at length, and declare openly for Independence & War.”

Washington believed, correctly, that the only offer Howe was permitted to make would be one of  pardon.  Washington, however, sought no pardon, either for himself or his people.  In his eyes, they had done nothing wrong that admitted of a pardon.

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