December 13, 1776

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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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December 10, 1776

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The Congress prepares and publishes an address to the American people.  It is a plea for military support against the advancing British army.  “What a pity it is then that the rich and populous city of Philadelphia should fall into the enemy’s hands.”

General Washington is uncertain whether General Charles Cornwallis will cross the Delaware above here or below from Trenton.  He also writes to General Charles Lee at Chatham, New Jersey, once again requesting that he join him to save Philadelphia:  “I last night received your favor by Colo. Humpton & were it not for the weak and feeble state of the force I have, I should highly approve of your hanging on the Rear of the Enemy and establishing the Post you mention; But when my situation is directly opposite to what you suppose it to be, and when Genl Howe is pressing forward with the whole of his Army except the Troops that were lately embarked & a few besides left at N. York, to possess himself of Philadelphia, I cannot but request and entreat you & this too by the advice of all the Genl Officers with me, to march and join me with your whole force with all possible expedition. The utmost exertions that can be made, will not be more than sufficient to save Philadelphia, without the aid of your force, I think there is but little if any prospect of doing it. I refer you to the Route Majr Hoops would inform you of. The Enemy are now extended along the Delaware at Several places. By a prisoner who was taken last night, I am told that at Penny Town there are two Battallions of Infantry—3 of Grenadiers, The Hessian Grenadiers, 42d of Highlanders & 2 Others—Their object doubtless is to pass the river above us or to prevent your joining me. I mention this that you may avail yourself of the information. do come on, your arrival may be happy & if it can be effected without delay may be the means of preservg a City whose loss must prove of the most fatal consequence to the Cause of America. I am &c.

pray exert your influence & bring with you All the Jersey Militia you possibly can, Let them not suppose their State is lost or in any danger because the Enemy are pushing thro it. if you think Genl Sinclair or Genl Maxwell would be of Service to command em I would send either.”

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December 9, 1776

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Governor Trumbull asks:  “Is America to be lost?”  He opens a strong plea to Massachusetts urging the New England states to meet to discuss their finances, defense, and “to bring about a general reformation of the people.”  In the meantime, the state begins moving militia and supplies to Rhode Island to counter the arrival of the British fleet.

General Henry Clinton informed Lord Germain in London that he had landed his troops and was in the possession of this city “without the least opposition.”

In the meantime, George Washington writes to Congress about his movements and his concern for the defense of Philadelphia.  “I did myself the honor of writing to you Yesterday, and informing you that I had removed the Troops to this Side of the Delaware, soon after, the Enemy made their Appearance, and their Van entered, just as our Rear Guard quitted.  We had removed all our Stores except a few Boards. From the best Information, they are in two Bodies, one, at and near Trenton, the other some Miles higher up, and inclining towards Delaware, but whether with intent to cross there, or throw themselves between Genl Lee and me is yet uncertain.  I have this Morning detatched Lord Stirling with his Brigade to take post at the different landing places, and prevent them from stealing a March upon us from above, for I am informed if they cross at Coriels Ferry or thereabouts, they are as near to Philadelphia as we are here. From several Accounts, I am led to think, that the Enemy are bringing Boats with them, if so, it will be impossible for our small Force to give them any considerable Opposition in the Passage of the River, indeed they make a Feint at one place, and by a sudden Removal carry their Boats higher or lower before we can bring our Cannon to play upon them.

Under these Circumstances, the Security of Philadelphia should be our next Object. From my own Remembrance, but more from Information (for I never viewed the Ground) I should think that a Communication of Lines and Redoubts might soon be formed from the Delaware to Schuylkill on the North Entrance of the City. The Lines to begin on the Schuylkill side about the Heights of Springatsbury and run Eastward to Delaware upon the most advantagious and commanding Grounds. If something of this kind is not done, the Enemy might, in Case any Misfortune should befall us; march directly in and take Possession. We have ever found that Lines, however slight are very formidable to them, they would at least give a Check till people could recover of the Fright and Consternation that naturally attends the first Appearance of an Enemy.

In the mean time every Step should be taken to collect Force not only from Pennsylvania but from the most neighbourly States, if we can keep the Enemy from entering Philadelphia and keep the Communication by Water open, for Supplies, we may yet make a Stand, if the Country will come to our Assistance, till our new Levies can be collected.  If the Measure of fortifying the City should be adopted, some Skillful person should immediately view the Grounds and begin to trace out the Lines and Works. I am informed there is a French Engineer of eminence in Philadelphia at this time.”

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December 7, 1776

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Commodore Lambert Wicks in USS Reprisal with Benjamin Franklin aboard arrives in Nantz, France, on this day.  Wrotes Stacy Schiff in A Great Imrpvisation:  Franklin, France, and the Birth of America, “Franklin knew that his name had been a passport in France for years.  As early as 1769 friends reported that they wre welcomed everywhere with open arms on his account; distinction was the best recommendation a man could claim in Paris.  It introduced where titles failed.  If Franklin knew he was vilified in London as the insidious ‘chief of the rebels’ he would have known too the effect of that epitaph on his stock in France.  Nowhere was his compound status as emblem, as thinker, as chief rebel on better display…  ‘You know that Dr. Franklin’s troops have been defeated by those of the King of England.  Alas!  Philosophers are beaten everywhere.  Reason and liberty are poorly received in this world,” wrote Voltaire.  And Franklin’s symbolic power only increased as he crossed the ocean.  Unwittingly, Congress sent France a sort of walking statue of liberty.”

Congressional President John Hancock writes the four New England states urging troops be sent to reinforce General Schuuyler in northern New York.

In Tapppan, New York, a force of Tories and British marauders known as “cowboys” pillatged the town.

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.  Or, for the true history buffs, contact us about taking part in our historical vacation packages.

 

 

December 6, 1776

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Major General Robertson orders that soldiers are not to pull down houses, fences, or damage the property of any person whatever under severe penalty.

George Washington writes the following letter to John Hancock, the President of the Congress:  “I have not received any intelligence of the Enemy’s movements since my Letter of Yesterday; from every information, they still remain at Brunswic, except some of their parties who are advanced a small distance on this side. to day I shall set out for Princeton myself, unless something should occur to prevent me, which I do not expect.

By a Letter of the 4th Inst. from a Mr Caldwell, a Clergyman & a Staunch friend to the Cause & who has fled from Eliz. Town & taken refuge in the Mountains about Ten miles from thence, I am inform’d that Genl or Lord Howe was expected in that Town to publish pardon & peace. His words are, “I have not seen his Proclamation, but can only say, he gives 60 days of Grace & Pardons from the Congress down to the Committee. No one man in the Continent is to be denied his Mercy.[”] In the language of this Good man, the Lord deliver us from his mercy.”

Major General William Heath writes to George Washington about a citing of General Clinton’s ships travelling toward Rhode Island.  I have Just received Intelligence that on the 4th Instant about Sun sit Seventy Sail of ships of war and Transport with Troops on Board Sailed with a fair Wind Down the Sound towards New England, Probably to Rhode Island.

I have Sent an Express to Governor Trumbull, and to Massachusetts Bay, and have Desired Governor Trumbull to Send an Express to Rhode Island, I have at this Post, Three Regiments of General Parsons’s Brigade and Three of General Clintons, and a number of Convalisents Lame and Rag[g]ed left By General Lee, General Clinton is pushing the obstructions in the River, any orders from your Excellency to move the Troops or any Part of them shall be Instantly obeyed, by him who has the Honor to be with the greatest respect

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December 5, 1776

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In New York a British officer writes about the 5,000 American prisoners being held.  “Many of them are such ragamuffins as you never saw in your life.  I cannot give you a better idea of them than by putting you in mind of Falstaff’s recruits, or poor Ton in King Lear, and yet they have strained every nerve to cover their nakedness by dismantling all the beds.”

General Washington writes to Congress that he is moving supplies and men across the Delaware to Pennsylvania protected by a rear guard in Princeton commanded by Lord William Stirling (William Alexander) and General Adam Stephens.  He then made a long plea for a standing army instead of the militia:  I shall now, having removed the greatest part of the above Articles, face about with such Troops as are here fit for service, and march back to Princeton and there govern myself by circumstances and the movements of Genl Lee. At any event the Enemy’s progress may be retarded by this means, if they intend to come on, & the Peoples fears in some measure quieted, if they do not. Sorry I am to observe however, that the frequent calls upon the Militia of this State—the want of exertion in the Principal Gentlemen of the Country—or a fatal supineness and insensibility of danger, till it is too late to prevent an evil, that was not only foreseen, but foretold, have been the causes of our late disgraces. If the Militia of this State had stepped forth in Season, and timely notice they had, we might have prevented the Enemy’s crossing the Heckenseck, although without some previous notice of the time & place it was impossible to have done this at the North River. We might with equal probability of success, have made a stand at Brunswic on the Rariton; but as both these Rivers were fordable in a variety of Places, (knee deep only) it required many men to defend the passes & these we had not. At Heckenseck our force was insufficient, because a part was at Elizabeth Town, Amboy & Brunswick, guarding a Coast which I thought most exposed to danger—and at Brunswic, because I was disappointed in my expectation of Militia, and because on the day of the Enemy’s approach, and probably the occasion of it, the term of the Jersey & Maryland Brigades service expired, neither of which would consent to stay an hour longer.

These among Ten thousand other Instances might be adduced to shew the disadvantages of Short inlistments & the little dependance upon Militia in times of real danger; But as yesterday cannot be recalled, I will not dwell upon a Subject which no doubt has given much uneasiness to Congress, as well as extreme pain and anxiety to myself. My first wish is, That Congress may be convinced of the impropriety of relying upon the Militia, and of the necessity of raising a larger standing Army than what they have voted. The saving in the article of Stores, Provisions and in a thousand other things, by having nothing to do with Militia unless in cases of extraordinary exigency, & such as could not be expected in the common course of events, would amply support a large Army, which well officered would be daily improving, instead of continuing a destructive, expensive, disorderly Mob.

I am clear in Opinion, that if 40,000 Men had been kept in constant pay since the first commencement of Hostilities, and the Militia had been excused doing duty during that period, the Continent would have saved Money. When I reflect on the losses we have sustained for want of good Troops, the certainty of this is placed beyond a doubt in my mind. In such case the Militia, who have been harrassed & tired by repeated calls upon them, and farming & manufactures in a manner suspended, would upon any pressing emergency have run with alacrity to Arms, Whereas the cry now is, they may be as well ruined in one way as another, & with difficulty are obtained. I mention these things to shew, that in my Opinion, if any dependance is placed in the Militia another year, Congress will be deceived. When danger is a little removed from them, they will not turn out at all—When it comes Home to ’em, the well affected instead of flying to Arms to defend themselves, are busily employed in removing their Families & Effects, whilst the disaffected are concerting measures to make their submission & spread terror & dismay all around to induce others to follow the example. daily experience & abundant proofs warrant this information.”

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December 1, 1776

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George Washington writes to Congress on this day that he did not have the troops to stop the enemy at the Raritan River and had started moving stores toward Philadelphia.

British Corporal Thomas Sullivan heard that General Charles Corwallis’ vanguard had reached New Brunswick and found the bridge destroyed and was unable to follow the “enemy” to Princeton.

Mercy Otis Warren writes to her friend Abigail Adams, voicing the concerns all parents of their time lived with.  “It is A Long time since I had the Happiness of hearing from my Braintree Friends. Dos my dear Mrs. Adams think I am Indebted a Letter. If she dos Let her Recollect A Moment and she will find she is mistaken. Or is she so wholly Engrossed with the Ideas of her own Happiness as to think Little of the absent. Why should I Interrupt for a moment if this is the Case, the Vivacity and Cheerfulness of Portia Encircled by her Children in full health (her kind Companion sharing this felicity,) to Look in upon her Friend in this hour of solitude, my Husband at Boston, my Eldest son abscent, my other four at an Hospital Ill with the small pox, my Father on a bed of pain Verging fast towards the Closing scene, no sisters at hand nor Even a Friend to step in and shorten the tedious hour. I feel with the poet, ’poor is the Friendless Master of a World.’ But before I quit talking of myself I must tell you that the Lovely Image of Hope still spreads her silken Wing, and Resting on her pinion I sooth myself into tranquility and peace amidst this Group of painful Circumstances. A few days will make a very material Change in the feelings of my Heart. It may be filled with the Highest sentiments of Gratitude for the preservation and Recovery of my Children, with their Father siting by my side partaking the Delight. Or! I May—My pen trembles. I have not the Courage to Reverse the scene. I Leave the Theme, When you in unison with my soul shall Have Breathed a sigh that your Friend may be prepared for Every designation of providence.”

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.  Or, for the true history buffs, contact us about taking part in our American History Vacation Packages