The West Florida Expedition

American history is quite fascinating —I would say even more so than the revisionist accounts offered in our public schools and universities over the past sixty years.  Two of my interests are the colonial and early founding periods of the United States.  History isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, of course, but there is so much we can learn from it —lessons that would positively contribute to modern society.  Ut est rerum omnium magister usus[1], and if true, if experience is the teacher of all things, then our learning from past mistakes can only aid us in the future.

One of the things I find interesting about the American Revolutionary War is how little attention historians have paid to the British loyalists.  After all, they too were part of that story.

1763 was a banner year for the British because, in that year, England finally triumphed over France after fighting one another to a standstill since 1689.  In the Treaty of Paris of 1763, England acquired Spanish Florida and French Canada.  British divided Florida into two provinces: West and East Florida.  West Florida included the southern half of present-day Mississippi, a rectangular region straddling the Gulf of Mexico from Lake Pontchartrain and Maurepas and the Mississippi River in the west, to the Chattahoochee and Apalachicola rivers on the east.  It extended northward to an imaginary line running east from the confluence of the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers, including the old Spanish port of Pensacola and the former French settlements of Mobile, Biloxi, and Natchez.

In the late 1760s, West Florida was sparsely settled because, except for a narrow strip of land along the eastern bank of the Mississippi River, the soil was unsuitable for agriculture, which led settlers to rely on raising livestock.  The British anticipated settling West Florida effortlessly and for reasons of security, they reserved the area west of the Appalachian Mountains for Indians.  British policy at that time intended to avoid confrontations with the Indians by channeling white settlers either to Canada or to one of the two Florida settlements.  The British also decided to offer land to members of the British court as a reward for faithful military service.  As an example, 40,000 acres were set aside for the Earl of Eglinton near the Natchez and Pensacola settlements.  An untended consequence of land grants to noblemen was that they almost immediately began selling these lands, and by every measure, they were quite successful in doing so.

The British accorded settlers of lesser rank, 100 acres to the head of household and 50 acres for each member of his family, including slaves.  The head of a family could also purchase an additional 1,000 acres for a reasonable price —but clear title to this land was withheld until the settlers had cultivated their land for three to five years.  The settlement of West Florida increased steadily, especially in the Natchez area, until in 1773 when the foreign office inexplicably canceled the governor’s authority to grant land.

In 1775, with the outbreak of the American Revolution, the situation in West Florida changed rapidly.  Both Florida provinces were converted into sanctuaries for British loyalists escaping from colonial terrorists.  After 1775, West Florida enjoyed its greatest period of growth, an attraction among sturdy pioneers of Englishmen and Scotsmen.

Who were the loyalists, and why weren’t they interested in freedom from Great Britain?  They were generally older people, conservative by nature, well-established in the colonies with long-standing business interests in England.  Older people tend to resist change and the Revolutionary War period was nothing at all if not an era of momentous changes.  In the minds of British loyalists, a rebellion was not only morally wrong but also unwarranted.

Taxation without representation was a key issue at the outset of the American Revolution.  Parliamentary taxation affected everyone, including loyalists.  There was no overwhelming repudiation of taxes among the loyalists because, in the first instance, Parliament had the right to tax colonists.  Second, the colonists had long benefitted from the security provided by the British Army.  Among loyalists, it was entirely reasonable that Parliament expected colonists to help pay for the costs of maintaining these forces.  The loyalists also had no objection to “quartering soldiers in private homes.”  These were young men from back home who had come to America to protect British citizens from the ravages of the French and Indian attacks, why not give them a nice place to sleep?  Besides, which would be cheaper (tax-wise)?  Quartering soldiers in the homes of citizens, or constructing barracks for the same purpose?  Since everyone benefitted from these tax levies, why object to them? Of course, the British Parliament could have addressed this issue with greater sophistication, but the British people (especially those living in England) were used to an authoritarian legislature.

When the so-called “American patriots” resorted to violence against the Crown and those who remained loyal to Great Britain, the older, conservative, well-settled colonists felt alienated —and with good reason.  The patriots burned down their homes, torched their businesses, and physically and verbally assaulted them.  In many ways, patriot behavior was more like that of  hooligans and domestic terrorists than of good neighbors with interesting ideas about government and society[2].

Many loyalists, at least initially, were fence-sitters.  Among those, optimists who believed that if there was to be a separation from the mother country, it should take place naturally and amicably, under circumstances mutually beneficial to both sides of the Atlantic.  Some pessimists believed that the only possible result of revolutionary thought and action would be chaos, corruption, and mob rule[3].  In either case, when patriots began terrorizing them, they either became apathetic to the cause, or they moved even further to the right.  Some returned to England, others decided to stay in the colonies and fight for their King.  In New York, many loyalists were part of influential families, some of these with unmistakable ties to the French Huguenot-Dutch De Lancey[4] faction supporting the British Crown.  There were also “black” loyalists —slaves who had been promised freedom from slavery by the British government.  Colonial patriots made no such promises, from any quarter —north or south.

There were many prominent families among American patriots[5].  One of these was the family of a man named James Willing … a wealthy Philadelphia family.  His father Charles twice served as Philadelphia’s mayor; his mother was Anne Shippen, the granddaughter of Philadelphia’s second mayor.  James’ older brother was a merchant, a business partner with Robert Morris[6], and a delegate to the Continental Congress from Pennsylvania.  In his younger years, James sought his fortune in British West Florida operating a general store within the Natchez settlement.  The folks of Natchez were happy to live in America, but they were loyalists —and intensely so.  Willing, not being able to share those sentiments, and being rudely vocal about it, soon decided to return to Philadelphia[7].

In 1777, serving as a congressional spokesman, Willing returned to Natchez to convince the residents there to join the American independence movement.  His proposals rebuffed, he returned to Philadelphia with greatly exaggerated claims that the people of West Florida posed a serious threat to the cause of American independence, although he was probably right in thinking that loyalists would interrupt trade on the Mississippi River, a major source of colonial resupply.

Oliver Pollock, meanwhile (an Irish-born colonist with many years devoted to trading with the Spaniards in the West Indies), established a close working relationship with Alejandro O’Reilly[8] and other Spanish-Louisiana officials.  Granted the privilege of free trade with New Orleans, Pollock became a successful businessman, married, and raised his family there.  In 1777, Pollock was appointed Commercial Agent of the United States in New Orleans.  He used his influence and wealth to help finance American operations in the west, including the campaign by Major General (militia) George Rogers Clark[9].  In September 1778, Pollock introduced Colonel David Rogers and Captain Robert Benham to Louisiana Governor Bernardo de Gálvez.  Rogers delivered a letter to Governor Gálvez from Virginia patriot Patrick Henry —a letter that led to Spain to join the war against England.  In the British view, there could be no better example of treason than that.

In 1778, James Willing was calling himself a naval captain[10] in the service of the United Independent States of America[11]  Pollock received a letter from Robert Morris stating that Willing would be leading an expedition against loyalist settlements above New Orleans.  In his capacity as a naval captain, Willing led 29 men of the 13th Virginia Regiment from Fort Pitt and sailed down the Ohio River[12].  Willing’s mission may have been more on the order of moving supplies from New Orleans to Fort Pitt than it was conquering West Florida, but the correspondence Willing carried with him to Florida could be construed as authorization to punish British loyalists.  With his desire for adventure and a somewhat reckless nature, Willing boarded the gunboat Rattletrap[13] with his Virginians, now dubbed “marines.”

Willing and his marines departed Fort Pitt early on the night of 10 January.  A short distance from where the Wabash empties into the Ohio River, the Willing Expedition seized the large bateau[14] belonging to the Becquet Brothers, which was laden with pelts.  They also arrested a man named  La Chance and impounded his cargo of brandy —which Willing and his crew subjected to extensive tests for impurities.  Willing’s notoriety thus established, off they went into the Ohio River and southward.  The commander at Fort Kaskaskia, a Frenchman named Rocheblave, suspected that the Willing Expedition was moving toward Illinois and believed that the sort of insults offered to Becquet and La Chance was the sort of thing frontier settlers could expect from colonial hoodlums should they ever achieve a foothold into the western (French) colonies.

Painting by Charles Waterhouse

By the time the expedition reached the Mississippi River, Willing had added two canoes and ten recruits to his entourage.  One of these was a youngster named George Girty, whom Willing commissioned a second lieutenant.  George was the youngest of four brothers, a family whose only claim to history was that they all became British loyalists.  Historians know that Willing stopped at a Spanish post at the mouth of the Arkansas River, where, having warned the few American settlers living there that their lives were in peril from British loyalists, proceeded on his journey.  The then-petrified settlers ended up petitioning Spanish officials for their protection.

Willing arrived at the Natchez plantation of Colonel Anthony Hutchins[15], a loyalist, on 19 February, promptly arrested him and seized his property —including his slaves.  Willing then divided his force by sending two canoes on a scouting mission further south to the Natchez settlement —a farming community populated by American, English, and French settlers (all of whom lived together in harmony) —and until recent times, the home of James Willing.  The scouting party, well-armed and dressed as hunters, arrested all settlement inhabitants and secured their property.

Willing and his main body arrived the following morning.  According to later testimony, captive townspeople sent a delegation of four citizens to parlay with Willing.  They agreed to surrender and promised their neutrality if Willing restored their property.  Willing agreed, adding these stipulations: (a) that the settlers must agree to re-provision his expeditionary force, (b) that single men join the expedition, and (c) that all married persons relocate to Spanish territory within fifteen days.  From among the single men who joined the expedition, Willing appointed Richard Harrison a lieutenant of marines.

South of Natchez, Willing carried out a campaign of destruction to crops, livestock, and the homes of Loyalist settlers and carried off their slaves (likely sold in New Orleans).  William Dunbar and Frederick Spell, who witnessed Willing’s behavior, suggested in their later testimony that Willing was more interested in enriching himself than he was in any patriotic endeavor (which, by every account, seems to have been the case).  Willing, however, did not molest any “patriotic” Americans.

By this time, the British were aware of Willing’s marauders —which given the expanse of the territory and poor communications back then, is quite amazing.  In any case, the British dispatched their sloop Rebecca (well-armed with sixteen 4-pound and six swivel guns) up the Mississippi to interdict Willing’s campaign.  On 23 February, 18 marines under lieutenants McIntyre and Harrison captured Rebecca, which for a time ended Great Britain’s control of the Mississippi River.  McIntyre and Harrison sailed the vessel to New Orleans as a prize of war.  The ship would be renamed, Morris.

Oliver Pollock established and maintained a close relationship with Governor Bernardo de Gálvez.  During a future Spanish campaign against the British, Pollock would serve as Gálvez’ aide-de-camp.  When Pollock received word that Willing was approaching New Orleans, he recruited an additional 40 men to join the expedition and assisted him in transporting “British” property to New Orleans.  Of these 40 men, 26 men took it upon themselves to float downriver to join McIntyre and Harrison.  McIntyre’s group soon came upon the British Brig Neptune and seized her.  Neptune was laden with lumber and a handful of passengers bound for Jamaica.  McIntyre off-loaded the passengers, retained the cargo, and sailed her to New Orleans —the expedition’s second prize.

News of Willing’s expedition quickly spread throughout British West Florida and caused some panic among the loyalists.  They abandoned their large plantations, loaded their slaves, livestock, and valuables on boats and barges, and headed toward New Orleans where they petitioned Spanish officials for protection.  For their part, at least initially, Spanish officials were intent on remaining neutral in the conflict between the British and Americans, so they graciously received these refugees and accorded them Spanish hospitality.  Governor Gálvez similarly welcomed James Willing, which in large measure as a result of Oliver Pollock’s efforts.

Willing and his men were granted freedom of the city, provided with housing, and they were allowed to auction the property taken from loyalists, including their slaves[16].  The precise amount of the profits gained by Willing’s auction is unknown, but some estimates ranged as high as £60,000.00.  While appreciative of the courtesy and hospitality accorded to their subjects, British officials strongly protested the fact that Gálvez extended those same courtesies to James Willing, who in their view was nothing more than a pirate.  Neither were the British pleased about Willing’s auctioning British property.

Gov. Gálvez ignored British protests, and the longer he did so, the louder their protests became.  Within a short time, British petitions for redress were filed almost every day.  Finally, Gálvez appointed a commission to consider the merits of British complaints.  Until mid-March, Gálvez remained unconcerned with British protests.  But then came the arrival of the British sloop Sylph under the command of Captain John Ferguson.  In addressing the problem, Ferguson was simple and direct:

Having the honor to command one of His Britannic Majesty’s ships in this river, and having information that your excellency has received into your government a body of armed men, enemies to my Sovereign and that you have suffered them from the Spanish Territory to commit depredations on this River by forcibly seizing upon the vessels, property, and persons of British subjects, in violation of the Treatise of Peace, the Law of Nations, and the Rights of Men.  I cannot help looking at such conduct on your part, as a tacit if not an open declaration of war against the King, my master.

Governor Gálvez answered Ferguson with equal fervor[17].  He had no obligation (he said) to protect British citizens residing on British soil but (pending the report by his commission), Gálvez offered to return British goods and property seized by Willing.  This decision came as a blow to the Willing/Pollock clique.  They offered a stout defense of their activities, particularly as it related to the capture of the two British ships.  Neptune, argued Willing, having been seized on open water in British territory, was a  lawful prize of war.  Gálvez remained inflexible; Neptune must be returned.  When it appeared that Morris (formerly Rebecca) seemed more secure, Oliver Pollock proceeded to refit and man her.  William Pickles was selected to serve as Morris’ Captain, and Robert Elliott was chosen to serve as Commanding Officer of Marines (Daniel Longstreet was appointed to serve as Marine First Lieutenant)[18].

In April, Captain Ferguson and Sylph was relieved by Captain Joseph Nunn, commanding HMS Hound.  Nunn continued to press Gálvez on the issues raised by Ferguson; Gálvez continued to resist all British suppositions and remained firm with the Americans.  Nevertheless, believing that the British would initiate military action, Governor Gálvez requested reinforcements from the Viceroy of New Spain and began working on New Orleans defenses.  He also demanded that every British/American person living in New Orleans take an oath of neutrality or leave the city.  A few British departed the city, but most remained.  Americans were unanimous in their acceptance.

Gov. Gálvez felt better once the American and British had offered their oaths respecting Spanish neutrality.  Captain Nunn, on the other hand, did not feel better.  In his view, Gálvez had openly demonstrated his support for the colonial rebellion, and this placed Spain in opposition to the British Crown.  It wasn’t enough to cause Captain Nunn to initiate war with Spain, of course, but Gálvez’s cozy relationship with the colonists did prompt the British into reasserting their authority on the Mississippi River.

Before dawn on 19 April, Nunn sent a force of fifty men to recapture Fort Bute at Manchac (115 miles north of New Orleans) which had been seized by Willing’s expedition.  British riflemen killed two men and a woman and wounded ten others.  Fourteen Americans were taken, prisoner.  Willing was, by this time, concerned about retaining control of Natchez, which led him to dispatch a force of marines under Lieutenant Harrison to observe whether Natchez loyalists were keeping their oaths of neutrality.

Meanwhile, Colonel Hutchins had violated his parole by returning to his plantation.  In Natchez, Hutchins agitated among the citizens and urged them to take up arms against American colonists.  We do not know what Hutchins told these people, but we do know that he alarmed them to the point of organizing a stout defense at a location known as White Cliffs.

En route to Natchez, Lieutenant Harrison was forewarned by a man named John Talley of Colonel Hutchins’ mischief.  Harrison sent Talley ahead to offer assurances that his intentions were peaceful.  Hutchins’ work was well done, however, and upon Harrison’s approach, loyalist gunfire inflicted a heavy toll on the marines.  Harrison lost five men killed with several more wounded and captured; Harrison returned to New Orleans with only a few of his remaining force.

British West Florida Governor Peter Chester (—1799), with service between 1770-81, encouraged British settlers to return to their homes and “restore yourselves to that full allegiance and fidelity which you owe to your sovereign and country.”  And, he added, that should these citizens not comply with Chester’s advice, then they would be judged guilty of criminal neglect of their solemn duty.  With a British army garrison of  110 men from Pensacola guarding Fort Bute at Manchac, a British ship with a crew of 150 men, and 200 British militia protecting Natchez, loyalist settlers finally felt secure.  Thus renewed, British presence also stopped the flow of goods between New Orleans and Fort Pitt.

The Willing Expedition had aroused British loyalists along the river to such extent that Willing could no longer return to Philadelphia via the Mississippi.  And, the longer Willing remained in New Orleans, the less Gálvez and Pollock wanted to deal with him.  Gálvez was highly incensed when Willing circumvented the governor’s prerogatives by issuing a proclamation to Americans living in New Orleans.  The proclamation not only violated Willing’s oath, a condition of his being allowed to remain in New Orleans, it was also a violation of Spanish sovereignty.  But if the rift between Willing and Gálvez was significant, the break with Pollock was even worse.  With some justification, Willing criticized Pollock for his poor administration and questionable financial accounting[19].  Willing’s unpaid marauders were displeased to the point of deserting in large numbers.  It was only the consistent discipline and fair treatment of Lieutenant Harrison and Lieutenant George that kept most (not all) marines on duty.  In any case, Pollock was anxious to be rid of Willing and did not hesitate to express his annoyance with Willing in his reports to Congress.

Hoping for James Willing’s departure from New Orleans was one thing; witnessing his departure was another.  Effectively, Captain Willing had become a prisoner in New Orleans, but he had no one to blame but himself.  It was his actions that caused the British to block the Mississippi.  Willing had but two options for returning to Philadelphia: an overland march, or by sea.  Willing had no interest in walking back to Pennsylvania.

By mid-June, Oliver Pollock decided he’d had enough of James Willing and formally petitioned Governor Gálvez to allow work to proceed on Morris so that it might carry Willing and his men back to Philadelphia.  Without much consideration, Gálvez consented and the ship’s refit was soon started.  Unhappily for both Gálvez and Willing, the refit project experienced several delays.

Fed up with life in New Orleans, Lieutenant George and Lieutenant Harrison requested the governor’s permission to leave New Orleans via the overland route.  Governor Gálvez gave his consent conditionally: George and Harrison had to give their oath not to cause further dismay to any British subject.  Having offered their oaths, the officers soon departed.  After a year of overland travel, the marines finally returned to Fort Pitt.  After the marine detachment was officially disbanded, George accepted an appointment as a captain of an artillery in the Continental Army.

Accompanied by Lieutenant McIntyre, James Willing finally departed New Orleans in mid-November carrying dispatches for the Continental Congress.  The ship, however, was captured by a British privateer off the coast of Delaware and Willing was taken as a prisoner to New York where he remained until exchanged for British Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton.  Some historians contend that Willing spent two years as a prisoner of war.  If this is true, when one considers his many depredations imposed on Mississippi River settlements, then a reasonable man might conclude that his internment was warranted.

James Willing died at his home in Haverford Township, Pennsylvania in 1801.  He was 51 years old.  For additional insight into the corruption of early-American officials, see also:  James Wilkinson, Image of Respectability.  The amount of dishonesty during the Revolutionary and early founding periods of the United States could lead one to conclude that as despicable as James Willing was, he had much in common with more than a few of our founding fathers.

Sources:

  1. DuVal, K. Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution.  Random House, 2016.
  2. Eron, R. Peter Chester, Third Governor of the Province of West Florida Under British Domination 1770-1781.  Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 1925.
  3. Haynes, R. V. The Natchez District, and the American Revolution. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2011.
  4. James, A. J. Oliver Pollock, Financier of the Revolution in the West.  Mississippi Historical Review, 1929.
  5. Smith, C. R. Marines in the Revolution: A History of the Continental Marines in the American Revolution.  Washington: History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps, 1975. 

Endnotes:

[1] Attributed to Julius Caesar, De Bello Civille.

[2] The same thing is happening today within the so-called Progressive Movement; modern conservatives (the classic liberals of the colonial era) are being regularly attacked because of their values.  Progressivism, as it turns out, is not very enlightened.

[3] It is impossible to say the pessimists were completely wrong about the level of political corruption in America.

[4] Followers of Oliver and James De Lancey.  Oliver was a wealthy merchant, politician, and British Provincial soldier; James was his nephew.

[5] Modern leftists define “patriotism” as an anti-government “far right” movement.  In 1775, it was a far-left movement.

[6] Robert Morris, Jr., (1734-1806) was an English-born financier who served in the Pennsylvania legislature, the Second Continental Congress, and the United States Senate.  He was a signer to the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, and the U. S. Constitution.

[7] According to his “friends and neighbors” in Natchez, Mr. Willing drank too much, talked too much, and thought too little.  This may be a fair assessment.

[8] O’Reilly (1723-1794) was born in Ireland became the Inspector-General of Infantry in the Spanish Empire, served as Captain-General and the second Spanish governor of Louisiana, and the first official to exercise power in Louisiana after France ceded it to Spain.  He was later made a count of Spain but known to creoles as “Bloody O’Reilly.”

[9] The older brother of William Rogers Clark.  A surveyor and militia officer who became the highest-ranking officer of the Revolution in the western frontier.  Most of his accomplishments occurred before his 40th birthday; subsequently, his drinking and indebtedness destroyed his reputation.  When Virginia refused to pay him for his Revolutionary war  expenses, he turned his attention toward the Spanish as a source of income, but mostly through questionable land speculation schemes.  His is not one of the great American stories of our founding years.

[10] James Willing is not listed as a commissioned officer of the Continental Navy.

[11] The title claimed was something Willing made up.  There is an organization today with a similar title claiming to consist of ten states, five provinces of Canada, and Guam.  ISA announced its independence in 2007 where its officials all wear tin foil hats.

[12] What the Continental Congress did not want was a sizeable expedition to West Florida to attack Pensacola and Mobile, an ambitious plan that had the support of Benedict Arnold.  Congress decided instead on a more modest expedition and placed Willing in charge of it.

[13] I’m not sure how to respond to questions about the naming convention involve with this vessel, but Rattletrap was purchased from John Gibson for 300 pounds in Pennsylvania currency.  It was a galley-type vessel with ten oars, and she/it was armed with two ¾-pound swivel guns.

[14] A long, light, flat bottom boat with a sharply pointed bow and stern.

[15] Colonel Hutchins was a retired British Army officer whose grant of land for military  service was 250,000 acres.  His home was located at White Apple Acres, which he occupied in 1773.  He served as a representative representing the Natchez district in the provincial assembly in Pensacola in 1778.  At times during the Willing Expedition, Hutchins was the de facto governor of the Natchez district.  He remained active in political and military affairs in present-day Mississippi for many years.

[16] Despite Spanish law, which forbade commerce with foreigners.

[17] The British were hardly in a position of strength in West Florida.  Eventually, Gálvez would seize both Pensacola and Natchez (1779).

[18] Both Robert Elliott and Daniel Longstreet’s names appear in the lineal list of officers of the Continental Navy and Marine Corps.

[19] Pollock was, as previously stated, a businessman whose every action was motivated by profit.  He is not remembered as a man having an abundance of scruples.

The Captain …

… was as Mad as a Hatter[1]

Pierre de Landais (1731-1820) was born in Saint-Malo, Department d’Ille-et-Vilaine, Bretagne, France.  He was the son of one of Normandie’s oldest families whose wealth enabled him to attend the Ecole de la Marine.  Pierre might have had a notable career in the French Navy were it not for the fact that his father exhausted the family fortune providing a brilliant display of fireworks to entertain Mme. De Pompadour[2].  Under these circumstances, Pierre was unable to purchase promotion[3] and Pierre remained a midshipman until he was 32-years old.

In 1762, Pierre served aboard a French ship during France’s unsuccessful defense of Quebec.  During an engagement with a British warship, Landais was wounded, taken prisoner, and transported to England.  As a midshipman, Landais had no value as a prisoner and he was soon returned to France.  He later participated in the first French circumnavigation of earth (1766-1769), sponsored and led by Admiral Louis-Antoine, Comte de Bougainville.

French Lieutenant Landais

In 1775, aged 44-years, Lieutenant Pierre was discharged from the French Navy.  Two years later, Pierre accepted an appointment to command a merchantman for Hortalez et Cie —a shell company controlled by French entrepreneur Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais[4] (1732-1799).  Through the shell company, Beaumarchais smuggled arms and money to America through the West Indies.  Landais delivered his illicit goods to an American agent at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, which made him a hero among the American rebels.

Massachusetts was so pleased that they granted Pierre “honorary citizenship” and paid him in French currency the equivalent of £12,000.  To these grateful people, Landais proudly proclaimed that he “had served as a captain in the royal navy of France, had commanded a ship of the line, had served as chief officer of the port of Brest, and was of such worth and estimation for his great abilities at sea that he could have any honors or advancement in his own country that he pleased to accept.”

In 1777, the gratitude of Americans toward the French was such that they looked for ways of manifesting their appreciation in some public act.  In Massachusetts, Landais spent a great deal of time in the company of John Adams[5], who later observed that Landais was an enigma: he was frustrated in his ambitions, disappointed in love, unable to win the affection or respect of his officers, and intensely jealous of everyone else.  From John Adams diary, “There is in this man an inactivity and an indecisiveness that will ruin him.  He is bewildered and possesses an embarrassed mind.”  Worse, perhaps, Landais was deeply paranoid, convinced of plots against him.

In 1778, someone (we aren’t sure who) encouraged Landais to apply for a commission in the Continental Navy.  The Marine Commission of the Congress dutifully considered his application and initially rejected it (for reasons unknown[6]), but six weeks later, on 9 May, Congress did offer him a captain’s commission to serve as the officer commanding USS Alliance.

USS Alliance, 1778

Alliance was a 36-gun frigate originally named Hancock.  Her keel was laid in 1777 on the Merrimack River near Amesbury, Massachusetts.  The ship was launched on 28 April 1778, renamed Alliance on 29 May.  Alliance is believed to have been the first warship built in America.  She was brought down the Merrimack River from Salisbury to Newburyport and then to Boston in early August.  In Boston, the ship was ordered to prepare to receive the entourage of the Marquis de la Lafayette[7] and transport them to France; Lafayette’s mission was to petition the French Court for increased financial support for the American cause.  Preparations for sea did not proceed very well because not long after taking command of his new ship, Captain Landais encountered problems with his officers, which delayed the marquis’ departure.

Captain Matthew Parke American Marine

Apparently, the Alliance’s officers were happy to remain aboard ship, but unhappy with serving under Landais.  These were all experienced seamen.  We do not know their specific complaint, but I assume that they were underwhelmed, either by the quality of Landais’ seamanship or his leadership.  The officers probably anticipated that this would not be a happy cruise.  In any case, Landais requested that Congress replace several of his officers.   At an inquiry to determine the cause of this unhappy relationship between Alliance’s Captain and his officers, Marine Captain Matthew Parke[8] served as spokesman for disgruntled ship’s officers.  In Parke’s view, if even one officer was replaced, then the Navy Committee would have to replace them all.  Ultimately, Landais withdrew his demand for the removal of officers, but the animosity between Landais and his officers continued; Captain Parke of the Marines had earned no favor with Captain Landais.

Worse than Landais’ dysfunctional relationship with ship’s officers was his poor treatment of the crew.  Port towns are renowned for rumor, innuendo, and the rapid transmission of unhappy news.   It did not take long for word of Landais’ shoddy treatment of the crew to spread among those looking for birthing.  Consequently, Alliance was unable to recruit a full crew for service at sea.  Although, part of this was that eligible crewmen preferred instead to join privateers, where the pay was better.

Significantly short of the number of crewmen needed to man a frigate, Alliance was forced to draft seamen from USS Boston, and an additional 30 French crewmen from the squadron of Admiral d’Estaing —all of whom were recovering from some sickness.  Additional shortages remaining, Alliance took onboard British prisoners who opted for service in the Continental Navy rather than spending their days locked up in rat-infested holding cells.  Most British prisoners “signed on” as Marines.

Alliance finally shoved off on 14 January 1779 and for the most part, the journey was peaceful and calm —although Alliance did seize two Swedish vessels as prizes and the frigate lost her topmast in a storm.  During the early morning hours of 2 February, a mutinous plot was uncovered among the ship’s English-speaking crew.  All hands were called on deck and held there while officers searched personal belongings for weapons and evidence of the conspiracy.  Landais convened a court of inquiry to question alleged ringleaders.  Two of the ringleaders were Master at Arms John Savage and Marine sergeant William Murray.  Eventually, Sergeant Murray admitted that he and Savage (along with 70 men) intended to seize the ship and sail her to England.  Lafayette, Murray said, was to be placed in irons and delivered to the British government.  Landais ordered the mutineers placed in irons and the ship continued to Brest, France —arriving on 6 February.

Commodore Jones

In Brest, Alliance remained in port for a month while undergoing repair.  In early April, John Schweighauser, an American commercial agent, informed Captain Landais that he was to proceed to port on the Loire River.  There, John Adams had arranged for a swap of prisoners with the British at Nantes.  Adams boarded Alliance expecting to return with Landais to America, but while in port, Landais received new orders directing that he report to Commodore John Paul Jones[9] at L’Orient.

At L’Orient, Captain Landis and Mr. Adams called upon Captain Jones, who was then aboard his ship Bonhomme Richard.  At this meeting, Landis learned that he would be placed under the command of Captain Jones.  Captain Landais did not want to serve in a squadron; he preferred to sail on his own and he deeply resented having to join Captain Jones’ flotilla.  Added to this, from every account, Landais and Jones detested one another almost from the start.  For his part, Mr. Adams was disappointed in not being able to return to America aboard Alliance.

Disagreement between Jones and Landais wasn’t long in coming.  In terms of modern command relationships, disagreement between commodore and captain may seem strange.  In 1779, Captain Jones served as commodore of a flotilla of American and French naval vessels, but he did not command them because each ship’s captain was free to act as he pleased irrespective of the commodore’s wishes.  On 25 August, Jones’ flotilla was at sea and Jones became troubled by the fact that several of his squadron’s small boats were lost in the dense fog off the Irish coast[10].  Captain Landais desired to pursue a prize vessel into the treacherous waters along the coast with limited visibility, but Jones, fearing the loss of Alliance, ordered Landais to remain with the fleet.  Landais was not obliged to obey, arguing that he had the right to pursue when and where he thought proper “in this and every other matter.”

Jones, with a full realization that the command relationship was at best tentative, tried to reason with Landais, but Captain Landais was adamant and proceeded to accuse Jones of incompetence in losing the small boats, to begin with.  Jones, now in a fury, responded that Landais had slandered his superior officer and would not have it.  Both officers believed themselves affronted, and according to the code of gentlemanly behavior in 1779, Landais challenged Jones to a duel … choosing the sword.  This would, of course, give Landais an advantage given the French tradition of swordsmanship.  Jones was known as a hothead, but at this moment, there were larger fish to fry.  Jones suggested that duty must be their priority; he suggested they put aside their animosity until they were on land, where they could resolve the matter —as gentlemen.

American Sailor 1778

During the Revolutionary War period, sailing ships were crewed by seaman representing a variety of countries.  With the naval powers of Europe being constantly at war, neutral seaports in the North Atlantic abounded in captured ships, taken to port as prizes of war, auctioned and sold with some proceeds distributed among the officers and crew.  Once the ships were sold, the men who crewed them were left stranded in the neutral port until they could sign on to another ship.  It was in this way that the number of seafaring men increased; it also explains why there was among them no sense of national allegiance.  Captain Jones’ crew aboard Bonhomme Richard was a crew like this.  They were multilingual, scurvy-ridden, argumentative louts; they obeyed orders because they would have a close encounter with a cat o’ nine tails[11] if they didn’t.  To keep the crew in line, Jones divided them into watches with one of these always keeping a wary eye on the other.

During one foray, Jones’ squadron searched for British shipping in the Bay of Biscay.  During a squall, both Bonhomme Richard and Alliance were blinded and on a collision course.  The bow watch aboard Bonhomme Richard gave shouts of warning in a language other than English or French.  Captain Landais assumed that Bonhomme Richard was under siege of a mutinous crew and left his quarterdeck to retrieve weapons from his cabin.  The bowsprit of Bonhomme Richard tore into Alliance’s rigging, which damaged her mizenmast.  At that moment, Jones was asleep in his cabin.  It was no more than an accident at sea, but the incident did nothing to ease the tension between Jones and Landais.

On the late afternoon of 23 September 1779, sailing off Flamborough Head, England, Commodore Jones’ squadron came across the 44-gun HMS Serapis[12] and her consort HMS Countess of Scarborough.  The British ships escorted 44 small merchant vessels carrying naval stores.  The unarmed or poorly armed cargo ships hastily changed course for the nearest British port for safety.  Jones hoisted his signal lantern ordering Alliance to join Bonhomme Richard in the upcoming battle, but Captain Landais ignored Jones’ signal and maintained his course.  The battle was joined when Serapis opened fire, blasting Bonhomme Richard in a devastating broadside.  Jones lost several guns and crew in the first volley.  Worse for Bonhomme Richard, her hull was breached, and her rudder was badly damaged.  Alliance finally joined the battle, approaching from Bonhomme Richard’s stern.  Serapis, intending to fire on Alliance, raked Bonhomme Richard again.  Jones ordered identity lanterns hoisted higher to keep Captain Landais from getting confused.  Captain Landais was not confused, however, when he fired point-blank into Bonhomme Richard and then, turning away, unleashed a second barrage into his commodore’s ship.

Captain Richard Pearson, Royal Navy

The British Officer commanding HMS Serapis, Captain Richard Pearson[13], RN, was horrified by the damage done to Bonhomme Richard, but the two ships were locked together in a desperate struggle, each ship hoping to survive.  Jones’ Marines were killing the crew of Serapis from their perches in the topsails.  The crew of Bonhomme Richard continued to fight valiantly even as the ship began to sink beneath them.  The battle lasted more than four hours.  HMS Serapis finally struck her colors and Captain Pearson surrendered his sword to Captain Jones.  When morning arrived, the American ensign was flying over both ships, but Bonhomme Richard was sinking and would not last the day.  After the battle, Captain Landais confided to one of his officers that he intended to help Serapis sink Bonhomme Richard.

British flotilla operating nearby posed a serious threat to Commodore Jones’ squadron, so he was anxious to depart, but before Jones could return to the sea, the captured Serapis needed considerable rework to make her seaworthy.  The work took seven days.  Jones’ squadron then consisted of Serapis, Alliance, Countess of Scarborough, Pallas, and Vengeance.  His orders were to put in at Texel[14], but Jones preferred instead to call at Dunkirk where his prizes and prisoners could be placed under French jurisdiction.  His captains refused, however, insisting that Jones follow his original instructions; if the commodore did not wish to follow those orders, then he must proceed to Dunkirk alone.  Jones opted to accompany the squadron to Texel.

The American fleet’s very presence in Texel made his Dutch hosts nervous.  They agreed to allow the refitting of the squadron’s damaged ships but refused to accept any of his 500 prisoners.  Consequently, Jones was forced to retain his prisoners in the cold, damp, rat-infested hold of Serapis.  Many of these men were sick, but the Dutch remained adamant.  In late October, Jones’ Dutch hosts finally allowed him to remove wounded men and house them in the fort.  If Jones wanted these men cared for, then he would have to do that himself; Jones assigned this task to his Marines, which were also employed as guards for the prisoners at Texel, the prisoners aboard Serapis, and as members of the work crew repairing damaged ships.

On 15 October, when American Commissioner Benjamin Franklin[15] received charges of cowardice against Captain Landais, which were validated by the statements and oaths of several squadron officers, he ordered Landais to Paris.  Based on the evidence presented, Franklin suspended Landais from command of Alliance, which infuriated Landis to no end.

Captured British Ship HMS Serapis

Once France agreed to assume financial responsibility for the squadron (all except for Alliance), and to avoid rupturing the delicate relations between France and Holland, Captain  Jones transferred his flag, all American officers and crew (and most of the ship’s stores) from Serapis to Alliance.  Captain Jones was not pleased with the state of the discipline of Alliance’s crew; he wasn’t encouraged by the conduct of Landais’ officers, either.  They were too fond of rum.

Disgusted with the Dutch, Captain Jones sought the first favorable wind to depart from Texel; he waited four weeks.  Jones finally made his break, escaping through British pickets without incident but Alliance was not a happy ship.  Quarrels broke out between ship’s officers, one group supporting Landais, the other devoted to Jones.  The primary issue was Landais’ cowardice in the fight off Flamborough Head.  Jones instructed his officers to carry out their orders smoothly, professionally, and quietly and dispense with petty arguments with Landais’ officers.

On 10 February 1799, Jones put in at L’Orient and moored beside Serapis, which was awaiting condemnation.  Alliance underwent repairs and refit.  By mid-April, Jones received orders to return Alliance to America with large supplies of arms and clothing for General Washington’s army.  There was still the question of prize money[16], however, and to resolve the issues, Captain Jones frequently traveled to Paris.  Captain Landais, meanwhile, plotted to regain command of Alliance.

It was not difficult for Landais to agitate the crew against Jones; he convinced them that Captain Jones had neglected their interests in the matter of prize money.  The crew even wrote to Benjamin Franklin declaring that they would not raise the ship’s anchor until their wages and prize money had been paid, or until their captain (Landais) was restored to duty[17].  Marine Captain Matthew Parke was vocal about his refusal to sign such a letter.

On 12 June, Captain Jones returned to L’Orient, assembled his crew, and solicited whether anyone had any complaints.  The crew remained silent; their stillness gave no occasion for Captain Jones to act on their behalf.  After Jones went ashore, Landais went aboard and seized control of Alliance.  All officers of the Bonhomme Richard were sent ashore.  Landais then ordered Captain Parke to arm his Marines with bayonets and station them to guard the gangplank.  Anyone attempting to board without Landais’ permission was to be impaled.

Neither Jones nor any of his officers made any attempt to regain control of Alliance.  Instead, Jones returned to Paris to ask for increased authority from Commissioner Franklin.  But, by the time Jones returned, Landais had already departed L’Orient for Port Louis.  French authorities responded to Franklin’s request for assistance by laying a boom across the narrow strait outside Port Louis, through which Landais would have to travel.  The boom would force Alliance to pass within cannon shot of two French forts guarding the straits.  The French also stationed a gunboat to guard the boom, as well.  Suddenly, surprising everyone, Captain Jones gave up his intent to regain Alliance.  According to Jones, he did not want squabbling between American and French officials to give aid to their common enemy.

No sooner had the French removed the barrier, Captain Landais sailed through the strait, destination America.  En route, Landais placed Captain Parke under arrest in quarters for eleven days as punishment for his refusal to take an oath of obedience to Landais.  Parke’s arrest soured the officers and crew of Alliance.  To emphasize his authority, Landais ordered into irons any crewman who complained about Parke’s treatment.  On 11 August, the ship’s officers and crew revolted.  By this time, the ship’s crew were convinced that Captain Landais was utterly mad.  According to the testimony of Seaman John Kilby, “Landais conduct was such that … [it convinced the officers and passengers] that he was in a measure beside himself.”

Dismissed Captain Landais

Upon Alliance’s arrival in Boston, the Navy Board ordered Captain John Barry to relieve Landais of his command.  Landais refused to resign, however, so three stout Marines under the command of Captain Matthew Parke dragged him out of his cabin and took him ashore.  At his court-martial, even Pierre’s friends opined that he was probably insane.  The verdict?  Landais was judged guilty of allowing private goods shipped aboard a warship, of being incapable of handling a ship.  He was “broke in rank” and judged unfit of serving in the Continental Navy.

Pierre Landais later became a resident of New York; his share of prize money paid him an annual annuity of $100.00.  From this amount, he saved enough to afford an annual visit to the seat of government (first, Philadelphia, and later the federal city named Washington) to petition the Congress for their reconsideration of his dismissal.  He asked for the restoration of his rank and payment in arrears.  Congress would not hear of it … and Captain Pierre de Landais went to his grave with an intense hatred of John Paul Jones. 

Sources:

  1. Allen, G. W. A Naval History of the American Revolution.  Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1913
  2. Crocker, III. H. W. Don’t Tread on Me.  New York: Crown Publishing, 2006
  3. Ford, W. C. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789.  Washington: Government Printing Office, 1937
  4. Norton, L. A. The Revolutionary War’s Most Enigmatic Naval Captain: Pierre Landais.  Journal of the American Revolution, Online
  5. Meany, W. B. Commodore John Barry: Father of the American Navy.  New York/London: Harper Brothers, 1911
  6. Morison, S. E. John Paul Jones: A Sailor’s Biography.  Boston: Little/Brown, 1999
  7. Smith, C. R., and Charles H. Waterhouse. Marines in the Revolution: A History of the Continental Marines in the American Revolution, 1775-1783.  Washington: History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps, 1975.
  8. Thomas, E. John Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of the American Navy.  Waterville: Thorndike Press, 2003.

Endnotes:

[1] This is a British phrase used to suggest that a person is suffering from insanity.  The phrase is thought to have originated from Bedfordshire where local men worked in the hatter business, which used mercury in the hat making process.  Their exposure to mercury caused symptoms like madness.  Louis Carol’s reference to a character in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is only casually related to Hatter’s Disease.

[2] Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour (1721-1764) was the official mistress of Louis XV (1745-51) and remained a favorite at Royal Court until her death.  Official mistress … those French!

[3] In these days, military officers purchased their promotions rather than earning them.

[4] Beaumarchais was a polymath with skills in watchmaking, invention, playwright, musician, diplomat, spy, publisher, horticulturist, arms dealer, satirist, financier, and revolutionary.

[5] In 1777, Adams was a delegate to the Continental Congress serving on as many as 90 separate committees, one of these being Chair, Board of War and Ordnance.  It was likely that in this position, Adams met with Landais.  In late 1777, Adams was appointed US Envoy to France, serving until March 1779.

[6] Rejection may have come from John Adams, who was a member of the Marine Commission.

[7] Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier.

[8] As one of the first Marine officers, Matthew Parke served alongside John Paul Jones on the Ranger during his highly successful cruise in British home waters, as well as serving on Alliance during the Battle of Flamborough Head.  The Continental Marine uniform consisted of green coats with white facings and tall leather collar to protect the neck from sharp edged weapons (hence, the term “Leatherneck”).  Captain Park’s portrait dates to around 1800.  Portraits of Continental Navy officers are rare; portraits of Continental Marines even more so.

[9] In 1778 “commodore” was an honorific title bestowed upon navy captains appointed to lead several ships, also referred to as a squadron.  The relationship between a commodore in command of a squadron and his subordinate captains was more on the order of a loose confederation since each ship’s captain was free to ignore the commodore and go their own way as they saw fit.  This was probably the result of the fact that one or more ships were captained by French officers who owed no allegiance to the birthing United States.

[10] It was customary in those days to lower boats, particularly in dense fog, to search for the presence of enemy ships.

[11] A multi-tailed flail commonly used to administer punishment in the British and Continental army and navy.

[12] HMS Serapis was named after the god Serapis in Greek and Egyptian mythology.  Captured by Jones, Serapis was later transferred to the French Navy serving as a privateer.  She was lost in 1781 to a fire.

[13] Pearson (1731-1806) was an experienced naval officer.  After his fight with Bonhomme Richard, the English people embraced him as a true British hero.  He was knighted and received many accolades from the English people.  Responding to a question about how he felt that the officer he defeated in battle received a knighthood, Captain John Paul Jones answered, “If he’ll meet me on the high seas again, I’ll make him a Lord.”

[14] Today, the Netherland’s largest and populated island.

[15] Franklin served as U. S. Commissioner to France from 1776 to 1785.  Among his accomplishments was the securing a critical military alliance between France and the United States, and the Treaty of Paris in 1783.

[16] Given the fact that France financially supported the combined American/French naval fleets, captured ships not converted to war ships or cargo vessels (and their cargoes) were sold at auction.  The proceeds from these sales were then divvied up between the treasury of France, and the officers and crews who had made the capture.  Delays in making these payments to crewmen was common and, not surprisingly, a major source of the crewmen’s complaints.

[17] It is almost laughable to imagine that this rather unsophisticated group of crewmen wanted (either) their money, or Captain Landais.  One suspects that Captain Landais himself slipped that one in …

RIVER FIGHTS: The Early Days

The purpose of the United States Navy is to defend America’s shores; the best way of doing that is by prosecuting war in the other fellow’s backyard.  American sea power achieves its greatest advantage by keeping an enemy’s main force away from America’s shore.  Our Navy controls the oceans for America’s use; it denies to our every foe access to the oceans and skies.  The enemy’s coastline is America’s naval frontier.  Our history over the past few hundred years tells us that our Navy’s strategy has worked out quite well for the American people.

The U. S. Navy is no one-trick pony and naval warfare isn’t confined to vast oceans or hostile coastlines.  Whether projecting naval power at sea, in the air, or ashore, the Navy is prepared to employ the full spectrum of its arsenal: surface ships, submarines, amphibious ships, naval guns, sophisticated aircraft, missiles, and shallow draft watercraft.  And then, whenever our enemies need a real ass­-kicking, the Navy asks for a handful of Marines.

Our understanding of the past helps us to better serve the future.  Naval technology in our early days was somewhat limited to ships of the line, cutters, barges, experimental submarines, and small boats (craft suited to rivers and estuaries).  Today we refer to combat operations on rivers as “Riverine Warfare,” and the US Navy has been doing this since the Revolutionary War.  In the modern day, watercraft intended for this purpose is designed and constructed for a specific operational environment.  In earlier times, watercraft used for riverine operations involved whatever was readily available at the time. 

Revolutionary War

The first significant example of riverine operations occurred on Lake Champlain in 1775-76.  Lake Champlain is a 136-mile long lake with connecting waterways north into Canada and southward toward New York City.  They were waterways that offered a prime invasion route to early settlements and colonies and involved a bitter struggle through the end of the War of 1812.  Our revolutionary-period leaders understood that the British would attempt to separate New England from other colonies by controlling Lake Champlain waterways.  Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold seized Ticonderoga on 19 May 1775 and Crown Point a few days later.  These were audacious operations that provided American patriots with badly needed cannon and munitions.

Arnold made a bold move to control Lake Champlain.  He hastily armed a captured schooner, pressed north to St. John’s on the Richelieu River, and in a pre-dawn riverine raid, surprised the British garrison.  He captured a 70-ton British sloop, seized numerous small boats, and helped himself to military stores, provisions, and arms before returning to Lake Champlain.  In one  stroke, the Americans had gained control of Lake Champlain, which thwarted British plans for their upcoming campaign season.

Arnold’s success at St. John’s was followed up with failure at Quebec, which precipitated the American evacuation of that city.  British and American interests initiated a vigorous ship/boat-building effort on Lake Champlain.  In the British mind, control of Lake Champlain had not been finally settled, but they did look upon Arnold as someone who needed their close attention.  For the British to utilize the Lake Champlain-Lake George-Hudson River highway to split the colonies, they had to first dispose of Arnold’s naval force.

From their base at St. John’s, the British rapidly constructed 29 vessels (some had been built in England and assembled in St. John’s).  The British squadron included Inflexible, Maria, Carleton, Thunderer, Loyal Convert, twenty gunboats, and four long boats.  Under Captain Thomas Pringle, the squadron commander, were 670 well-trained sailors and Marines.  In total, Pringle commanded 89 6-24-pound cannon.

The arms race of 1776 was on.  Spurred by the restless driving force of Benedict Arnold, the Americans sought to keep pace with the British at their Skenesborough shipyard, near the southern end of Lake Champlain.  They worked with scant resources, green timber, and a hastily assembled force of carpenters.  Drawing on his own experience as a sailor and his newly acquired knowledge of the waters in which he would fight, Arnold prepared specifications for a new type of gondola particularly suited to his task.  He wanted a small vessel of light construction that would be fast and agile under sail and oar. He hoped to offset the disadvantages of restricted waters with greater maneuverability against the slow moving, deeper draft British ships whose strength he could not match.

In all, Arnold fought fifteen American vessels, including the sloop Enterprise, the schooners Royal Savage, Revenge, and Liberty, eight of his newly designed gondolas, and three galleys.  He manned his squadron with 500 men from troops made available to him by General Philip Schuyler and from whatever was available from along waterfront taverns. With pitch still oozing out from the planking in his ships, Arnold, now a brigadier general, set a northward course.  On 10 October, Arnold stationed his flotilla west of Valcour Island where the water was deep enough for passage yet narrow enough to limit British access.  Pringle’s main failure was in conducting a proper reconnaissance of the area, so his fleet sailed past Valcour Island under a strong north wind, which required that he return direction from a leeward position.  The battle raged for most of the afternoon.  Arnold expended 75% of his munitions and his ships were badly cut up.  Taking advantage of the north wind and a foggy night, Arnold slipped through the anchored British ships and escaped.  By the 13th, British ships began to overhaul Arnolds fleet, or ran them aground.  Arnold managed to escape to Ticonderoga with six ships and the loss of (an estimated) 80 men.

Having regained control of Lake Champlain, the British quickly seized Crown Point.  General Horatio Gates and Arnold prepared to defend Ticonderoga but the British instead returned to Canada and went into winter quarters.  Circumstantially, Arnold had been thoroughly beaten on the “inland sea” but had scored a strategic victory.  A British advance southward was delayed for another year and the Continental Army had additional time to build its strength.

During the War of 1812, restricted naval warfare was again seen on Lake Erie and Lake Champlain.  This strategy also focused on inland waterways.  Initially, the British controlled the Great Lakes, which facilitated their capture of Detroit and the invasion of Ohio.  In September 1812, Commodore Isaac Chauncey, USN took command of the lakes along the Erie-Ontario frontier in order to thwart a British invasion from that direction.  Both sides strengthened their positions.  Master Commandant Oliver H. Perry, USN assumed command of all naval activity on Lake Erie, under the direction of Commodore Chauncey from Lake Ontario.  Commanding British naval forces was Commodore R. H. Barclay, RN operating on Lake Erie.  Barclay and Perry both began vigorous ship-building programs; neither side could well afford men or supplies, so corners were cut whenever possible.  Barclay had an advantage over Perry in ships, but through remarkable leadership and effort, Perry closed that gap.

On 10 September 1813, Perry joined Barclay in a desperate battle.  Perry had nine ships to Barclay’s six and an advantage in weight of broadside.  Barclay’s guns had a greater range, however, and Perry was always in danger of being destroyed.  In fact, Perry’s star came very close to setting on Lake Erie.  One of his two heavy ships failed to close with the British, rendering Perry’s flagship Lawrence a shamble.  Decks ran red with blood; 80% of his crew became casualties; defeat seemed inevitable—but not to Master Commandant Perry.  Embarking with a courageous boat crew, he rowed across the shot-splashed water, boarded the uninjured Niagara issued his orders, and steered the ship to victory.  Within a few short months, Perry had assembled a fleet, gave the United States control of Lake Erie, the upper lakes, all adjacent territory, and guaranteed to the United States its freedom of movement on these vital waterways.  Through Perry’s efforts, the United States also laid claim to the Northwest Territory.

Commodore Joshua Barney distinguished himself during the War of 1812, as well.  See also: The Intrepid Commodore.

In the defense of New Orleans, Commodore Daniel T. Patterson demonstrated keen insight and raw courage against attacking British ships.  Patterson correctly predicted that the British would assault New Orleans rather than Mobile and further, that their advance would be along the shortest route, through Lake Borgne and Lake Ponchartrain.  He deployed a riverine force of five gunboats, two tenders, and his two largest ships as a means of forcing the British to delay their arrival in New Orleans.  In doing so, he gave General Andrew Jackson time to complete his defensive works in Chalmette.  See also: At Chalmette, 1815.

The shoreline of the modern United States is 12,383 miles.  Even in America’s early days, the US shoreline was a considerable distance to protect and control.  Before and after the War of 1812, buccaneers, filibusters, and other intruders plagued the United States.  Using longboats, the Navy hunted down pirates through coastal estuaries, Caribbean inlets and lagoons, or waging guerrilla war against hostile Indians.  Their mission took sailors and Marines into the dank and dangerous swamps and bayous of Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana.  Whether employing large ships, ironclads, tin cans, rafts, or canoes, the Navy proved time and again that it had flexibility and adaptability in riverine operations, which has become part of the Navy’s proud heritage. 

The Pirates

Pirates had long infested the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, fueled in no small measure by the rapid growth of American commerce.  In the early 1820s, pirates attacked merchant ships nearly 3,000 times.  The associated financial losses were staggering; murder, arson, and torture were commonly inflicted upon American seamen.  Commodore James Biddle, USN, took on the pirates, filibusters, and free-booters.  In command of the West Indies Squadron, Biddle mounted raids in open longboats, manned by sailors for days at a time in burning sun or raging storm.  He reached into uncharted bays, inlets, and small but treacherous rivers—to locate, close with, and destroy the buccaneer menace.

Biddle utilized his heavy ships as the backbone of his riverine force and as sea-going bases for smaller craft.  This strategy steadily reduced piracy through such stellar efforts of Lieutenant James Ramage, USN and Lieutenant McKeever, who commanded the Navy’s first steamship to see combat action on the high seas, USS Sea Gull.  McKeever levelled the pirate base at Matanzas, Cuba in April 1825.  When buccaneers realized that their occupation was becoming less profitable and increasingly hazardous, they started looking around for other work.

Swamp Wars

Between 1836-42, Seminole and Creek Indian wars in the Florida Everglades produced a conflict uncannily like that waged in Southeast Asia 125 years later.  In 1830[1], the US Congress passed the Indian Removal Act to remove Florida tribes to reservation lands west of the Mississippi River.  Shockingly, many of these Indians refused to cooperate with the Congress.  Unsurprisingly, a band of Seminoles attacked and massacred a US Army detachment under the command of Major Francis Dade.  The event occurred in Tampa in December 1835.  Almost immediately, the US government moved more soldiers into Florida and Commodore A. J. Dallas’ West Indies Squadron landed parties of Marines and seamen to add weight to the military presence there.

The frustration of fighting a shadowy enemy who was completely at home in the swampy wilderness and rivers in West Florida prompted the Army to ask for naval assistance delivering supplies, establishing communications, and mounting operations along the Chattahoochee River.  One of the first naval units assigned was led by Passed Midshipman[2] J. T. McLaughlin.  In addition to his duties, McLaughlin served as Aide-de-Camp to Lieutenant Colonel A. C. W. Fanning.  McLaughlin was seriously wounded by Indians at Fort Mellon in February 1837.

As the pace of war quickened, the Navy’s riverine force grew.  The Navy purchased three small schooners in 1839, which operated in the coastal inlets to chart the water, harass the Indians, and protect civilian settlements.  In addition, McLaughlin, then a lieutenant, commanded many flat-bottomed boats, plantation canoes, and sharp-ended bateaux which he used to penetrate the Everglade Swamps.  In effect, McLaughlin commanded the “mosquito fleet,” a mixture of vessels manned by around 600 sailors, soldiers, and Marines.

Sources:

  1. Affield, W. Muddy Jungle Rivers: A River Assault Boat’s Cox’n’s Memory of Vietnam. Hawthorne Petal Press, 2012.
  2. S. Army Field Manual 31-75: Riverine Warfare. Washington: Headquarters, U. S. Army, 1971
  3. Friedman, N. US Small Combatants.
  4. Fulton, W. B. Vietnam Studies: Riverine Operations, 1966-1969.  Washington: Department of the Army, 1985
  5. Joiner, G. Lincoln’s Brown Water Navy: The Mississippi Squadron.  Rowman & Littlefield, 2007.
  6. Marolda, E. J. Riverine Warfare: U. S. Navy Operations on Inland Waters.  Annapolis: Naval History and Heritage Command, 2006
  7. Rowlands, K. Riverine Warfare: Naval War College Review, Vol 71, No. 1. Art. 5., Annapolis: Naval War College, 2018

Endnotes:

[1] In 1830, Democrats controlled the US House of Representatives.  Another shocker.

[2] In the 19th century, this term was used to describe a midshipman who had passed the examination for appointment to ensign but was waiting for a vacancy in that grade.  A passed midshipman was also occasionally referred to as a “sub-lieutenant,” but neither of these were ever official naval ranks.

The Twiggs-Myers Family, Part I

TWIGGS John 001John Twiggs (c. 1750-1816) was a prominent military leader during the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), leading Georgia militia against both the British and back-country Cherokee Indians.  After the war, Twiggs remained politically and militarily active in the area of Augusta, Georgia.  Twiggs County, Georgia was named in his honor.

While there is not an abundance of information about his early life, we know that John Twiggs was born on 5 June 1750, in the Maryland colony.  His parents’ names are unknown, and his antecedents and early life are shrouded in obscurity. Unsubstantiated family history records indicate that he may have been descended from the Jamestown colony, but later biographical sketches place him in Georgia around the 1760s, accompanying the family of David Emanuel, Sr., who had emigrated from either Maryland, Pennsylvania, or Virginia to St. George’s Parish (present-day Burke County), Georgia.  In his youth, Twiggs may have been trained as a carpenter or millwright.

John Twiggs married Ruth Emanuel, a daughter of his guardian.  Ruth was the youngest sister of David Emanuel, a prominent Georgia politician and former acting governor.  Together, John and Ruth Twiggs had five sons and a daughter.

John Twiggs began his military career in the Georgia militia.  In August-September 1775 he was a member of Captain John Lamar’s militia company, a unit organized by the Council of Safety and the Committee in Augusta.  During the Cherokee War of 1776 he commanded a company in Colonel Samuel Jack’s Georgia regiment.

During the Revolutionary War, the Georgia militia opposed the British advance on Augusta.  Twiggs fought as part of Lachlan McIntosh’s [1] brigade at the abortive Franco-American attack on Savannah in October 1779.  Twiggs was commissioned a colonel and appointed to command the Fourth Militia Regiment.  When Tory troops reoccupied Augusta in June 1780, Twiggs and his family escaped to the Georgia backcountry.  In the following autumn, Twiggs accompanied Elijah Clarke’s exodus to the Carolina mountains.  John Twiggs’s name appears on a list of Georgia Whigs proscribed from political activity by royal decree, that of Georgia Governor Sir James Wright, in the summer of 1780.

Twiggs and his regiment participated with Colonel Thomas Sumter in the defeat of British Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton at Blackstocks, South Carolina in November 1780.  Twiggs was promoted to brigadier general in August 1781.  He was tasked with two important missions: drive the British out of Georgia and quell disturbances among the Creek Indians.  As a result of his efforts, Twiggs became known as the “Savior of Georgia.”

In addition to his military activities, Twiggs was named to Governor George Walton’s executive council, and served as a land settlement commissioner in the Georgia backcountry.  Twiggs served as a member of the State Legislature in 1779, 1781, and 1782.  In 1782, Twiggs was appointed to serve as Justice of the Peace in Burke County.

After the Revolutionary War, Twiggs and his family settled in Richmond County, located south of Augusta along the Savannah River. He established a working plantation of approximately 1,500 acres which he called New Hope [2].  He continued his public service as State Indian Commissioner and in this capacity was able to conclude land cession treaties with the Creek Indians.  When George Washington visited Georgia in 1791, John Twiggs was part of the welcoming committee.  He also served on the commission that selected the site for the University of Georgia and served as a trustee during the university’s earliest days.

In 1795, Twiggs and six others formed a partnership to invest in the so-called Yazoo lands.  The effort didn’t work out, however, and after the scandal [3] was made public, Twiggs aligned himself with the efforts of James Jackson to demand land reform [4].

John Twiggs died on 29 March 1816 and was buried in the family cemetery, where his grave marker stands.  Among John’s six children included Major General David Emanuel Twiggs, USA/CSA, Major George Lowe Twiggs, USA, Abraham Twiggs, and Major Levi Twiggs, USMC, all of whom served during the Mexican-American War (`846-1848).  A great-grandson of John Twiggs was Lieutenant General John Twiggs Myers, USMC.

TWIGGS D E 002David Emanuel Twiggs (14 February 1790—15 July 1862) was the eldest son of John Twiggs, who served during the War of 1812, the Black Hawk War, the Mexican-American War, and the American Civil War.  David Twiggs was born on the Good Hope plantation in Richmond County, Georgia.  He was the nephew of David Emanuel, a governor of Georgia, through his mother.

At the outset of the War of 1812, David was commissioned a captain and subsequently decided to make a career in the Army.  In 1828, he was dispatched to lead three companies of the First Infantry Regiment to Wisconsin in order to establish a fort at the portage between the Fox and Wisconsin rivers.  The fort was named Fort Winnebago, which became the primary base of operations during the Black Hawk War.

In 1836, David Twiggs served as the colonel commanding the US Second Dragoons during the Seminole Wars in Florida.  His fierce temper earned him the nickname “Bengal Tiger.”  Twiggs was an aggressive military commander who decided to launch pre-emptive offensive operations against the Seminole, rather than waiting for them to make the first strike.  To avoid the American army, many Seminole moved deep into the Everglade Swamps. The Seminole never surrendered and, with but few exceptions, the Seminole were able to avoid being forcibly removed to the Indian Territories in present-day Oklahoma.

During the Mexican-American War, David Twiggs led a brigade in the US occupation at the battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma.  He was advanced to brigadier general in 1846 and in this capacity, commanded a division of infantry during the Battle of Monterey.  Subsequently joining Winfield Scott’s expedition, he commanded the 2ndDivision in all its battles, from Veracruz to Mexico City.  Twiggs was wounded during the assault of the citadel at Chapultepec.  After the fall of Mexico City, Twiggs was appointed military governor of Veracruz. In recognition for his service in Mexico, the US Congress awarded him a ceremonial sword.  Twiggs was a founding member of the Aztec Club of 1847, a society of US military officers who had served during the war with Mexico.

At the conclusion of the Mexican-American War, Twiggs one of four general officers serving on active duty in the United States Army [5].  Advanced to brevet major general, he was placed in command of the Army’s Department of Texas, a position he held until the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861.

In 1860, Twiggs wrote to the Commanding General, U. S. Army (Winfield Scott) to inform him that as a son of Georgia, he would follow his state in the matter of secession from the Union.  At this time, Twiggs commanded about twenty percent of the entire US Army.  General Scott undertook no action to relieve Twiggs of his command in Texas.  As the southern states began to secede, Twiggs met with a trio of Confederate commissioners (including Philip N. Luckett [6] and Samuel A. Maverick [7]) and surrendered his command to the Confederacy. The surrender included the arsenal at the Alamo, all federal property in Texas, and all of his men (4,000) —including Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee, who was then commanding Fort Brown (present-day Brownsville, Texas).  In addition to the 20 federal installations, Twiggs turned over 44 cannon, 400 pistols, 1,900 muskets, 500 wagons, and nearly 1,000 head of horses—all valued at around $1.6 million.

In his agreement to surrender, however, Twiggs insisted that federal officers be permitted to retain their personal firearms and all flags and standards of the U. S. Army.  Notwithstanding this chivalry, the United States government was not at all pleased with General Twiggs and he was subsequently “dismissed” from the service effective on 1 March 1861.  In May 1862, he accepted a commission as a major general of the Army of the Confederacy and appointed to command the Confederate Department of Louisiana (which included Louisiana and the southern portions of Mississippi and Alabama).  By this time, David E. Twiggs was 71-years of age and, owing to his poor health, Twiggs resigned his commission on 11 October 1861, turning his command over to Major General Mansfield Lovell.  Returning home to Augusta, Twiggs passed away from pneumonia on 15 July 1862.  He was placed to rest on the Good Hope Plantation in Richmond County.

Sources:

  1. A Continent Divided: The US-Mexico War, Center for Greater Southwestern Studies, University of Texas, Arlington, 2019
  2. Winters, J.D. The Civil War in Louisiana, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1963
  3. Warner, E. J. Generals in Gray: Lives of the Confederate Commanders.  Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1959
  4. Russell K. Brown, New Georgia Encyclopedia, History and Archeology, 29 Jan 2010: John Twiggs

Endnotes:

[1] McIntosh emigrated to Georgia with his family from the Scottish Highlands in 1736.  Lachlan came of age during the time when Darien township Scots defended the Georgia colony during England’s commercial war with Spain (1739-1748).  After his father, John McIntosh Mohr was captured and imprisoned by the Spanish in 1740, Lachlan was placed in the care of George Whitefield at the Bethesda orphanage in Savannah.  In 1742, General James Oglethorpe appointed Lachlan to serve as a cadet in the military regiment at Fort Frederica.  Lachlan solidified his sympathies with the American protest movement and worked to help organize delegates to the Provincial congress.  Promoted to colonel in 1776, he was appointed to command the Georgia Battalion in the defense of Savannah.  McIntosh was later commissioned brigadier general in the Continental Army.

[2] This land was partially comprised of lands confiscated from British sympathizers awarded to Twiggs for his war time service. He farmed tobacco and engaged in shipping and warehousing.  Twiggs was a slave-owner, but as to the number of slaves he may have had, we only know that when he died, he left his widow with seven persons in human bondage. New Hope later became part of Augusta’s Bush Field Airport and the only remnant of the estate is the family cemetery.

[3] The Yazoo land fraud was one of the most significant events in the post-Revolutionary War period (1775-83) history of Georgia. The bizarre climax to a decade of frenzied speculation in the state’s public lands, led by then Governor George Mathews and cronies in the Georgia General Assembly.  In essence, Georgia politicians sold large tracts of land in portions of present-day Alabama and Mississippi to political insiders at very low prices.  The laws passed to enable this fraud were overturned in the following year, but the issue was challenged in the courts and eventually reached the US Supreme Court (Fletcher v. Peck (1810).  The Yazoo sale of 1795 did much to shape Georgia politics and to strain relations with the federal government for well over a generation.

[4] Land speculation was one frequently overlooked cause of the American Revolution.  In the 1740’s land companies (Ohio Land Company and Vandalia Company) formed to claim lands west of the Appalachian Mountains in territories claimed by France.  The shareholders of these companies had tremendous influence in the colonial assemblies and in the British Parliament.  Their first concern was to remove the threat to their claims by the French, achieved for the most part by the French and Indian War.  The land companies were then thwarted further by the British Proclamation of 1763, which prohibited settlement in these western territories.  To remove British control over these western lands, the land companies supported the American independence movement, hoping for better terms and a stronger influence within a new government.  Federal land policy governing the expansion westward proceeded without clear direction throughout the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. The Ordinance of 1785 initially laid out the orderly protocol by which the western territories were to be settled and incorporated into townships. Under the ordinance, each township was allotted 640 acres, in the expectation that no single farmer would be able to afford all 640 and that groups of farmers from the same region in the East would join together to form western townships. However, during the 1790s, the Federalist Party, in control of the national government, favored the sale of large parcels of land to wealthy speculators who bought the parcels in anticipation of their rising value, and then sold them in smaller pieces to farmers. To this end, the Federalists passed a law setting the minimum individual purchase at 640 acres and the minimum price at two dollars per acre, which was by far more onerous than land development in Texas in the next several decades.

[5] Along with Winfield Scott, John Wool, and William Harney.  As there was no mandatory retirement at this time, all four generals were over the age of 60-years, and three of these men had served in the War of 1812.

[6] Luckett was a graduate of the USMA and a physician who established roots in Texas after the Mexican-American War.  In Texas, he served as a physician with the Texas Rangers under Captain John Ford.  An ardent advocate of States’ Rights, he was elected as a delegate to the Texas State Secession Convention in late 1861 and when Texas voted to secede from the Union, Luckett was appointed to the commission of public safety, whose aim was to secure the transfer of federal military property to the Confederacy without engaging in hostile actions.  Luckett was later appointed as the Quartermaster General of the Confederate States’ Army in Texas, serving under Earl Van Dorn.

[7] Maverick was a signatory of the Texas Declaration of Independence in 1835, a land baron and cattle rancher.  His name is the source of the term “maverick,” which means “independently minded.” As a rancher, he steadfastly refused to brand his cattle or enclose his property.  Consequently, unbranded cattle found wandering the open range were called “mavericks.”

The Pork & Beans War

I’m always amused when historians label a particular incident “a war,” particularly when in spite of displays of hostility, not a single shot was fired in anger.  The Pork and Beans War [1] (also known as the Aroostook War) was more on the order of a diplomatic kerfuffle, an undeclared confrontation.  So —no war.  Sorry.

UK-US FlagsThe relationship between the United States and Great Britain between 1812 and 1850 was one of continual disagreement and some of these had significant consequences.  In 1838-39, the United States and Great Britain had one of several disagreements over the international boundary between British North America (Canada) and the US state of Maine.  The dispute was eventually resolved but going down that road both sides began ruffling their feathers and squawking about going to war.  The rattling of swords did little more than upset people who lived in the area of contention.

High tensions and heated rhetoric in Maine and New Brunswick led both sides to raise a militia, arm them, and march them to the disputed territories.  President Martin Van Buren quickly sent Brigadier General Winfield Scott and Daniel Webster to work out a compromise —which they did.  It was called the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842, establishing an agreed-to boundary between Canada and the United States.  Most of the disputed area went to Maine and the British were accorded a vital connection between the Canadian provinces.

The Treaty of Paris (1783) ended the Revolutionary War, but it failed to clarify the British Canadian/US border.  Thereafter, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts began issuing land grants in its (then) district of Maine —including areas that the British claimed were theirs. During the War of 1812, Great Britain occupied most of eastern Maine, including the counties of Washington, Hancock, and portions of Penobscot.  The British occupation lasted eight months.  While it was Britain’s intent to permanently annex the region to Canada when the war ended with the Treaty of Ghent in 1814, the initial understanding from the Treaty of Paris left intact.

Both the Americans and British made a collaborative effort to survey and mark the source of the St. Croix River, which was the primary geographical feature identified in the earlier treaty.  The eastern boundary of the United States ran north to the highland, where it met the northwest angle of Nova Scotia.  A marker was placed where the waters passed through the Chiputicook Lakes.

When Maine broke away from Massachusetts in 1820 as a separate state, the status and location of the border emerged as a chief concern to the new state government.  Massachusetts asserted a continual interest in the matter, as it retained half of the public lands in Maine, including a large part of the disputed territory as its sole property.

As late as September 1825, land agents in both Maine and Massachusetts were issuing deeds, timber permits, collected census data, recorded births, deaths, and marriages within the contested area of the St. John River valley and its tributaries.  Massachusetts Land Agent George Coffin, exercising his duty, recorded that a thunderstorm had ignited a forest fire.  The Miramichi Fire destroyed thousands of acres of prime New Brunswick timber, killed hundreds of settlers, left thousands more homeless, and destroyed several thriving communities. The journal entries of the newly appointed Governor of New Brunswick also recorded this destruction with comments indicating that the economic survival of New Brunswick depended on the vast forests in the disputed area.

A mixed population inhabited this region, mostly early Acadians (descendants of the original French colonists) that settled in Saint John and the Madawaska River basins. Some Americans later settled in the Aroostook River Valley.  Between 1826-1830, provincial timber interests also settled the west bank of the Saint John River and its tributaries; British families made their homes in Woodstock, Tobique, and Grand Falls, in New Brunswick.

The French-speaking population of Madawaska were nominally British subjects —who considered themselves otherwise.  They belonged to the unofficial “République du Madawaska.“  They professed no allegiance to the United States or to British Canada. The population of the area increased with migratory lumberjacks, which caused some anxiety in the governments of Maine and Massachusetts.  After all, in their view, the states were responsible for the protection of natural resources within their borders and were entitled to the revenues of their respective states.  Some itinerant lumbermen eventually settled year-round in the Saint John valley.  The remoteness of the land and the penchant the states had for taxing settlers caused them to ignore making land claims.  Various groups maneuvered for control over the forested areas caused disputes.

Then, on 4 July 1827, patriotic John Baker raised a homemade American flag above his homestead; he was arrested by British authorities and fined £25.  To ensure the flag wasn’t raised again a second time, the British held Baker in jail until he paid the fine.

In preparation for the US census of 1830, the Maine Legislature sent John Deane and Edward James to northern Maine (also regarded as northwestern New Brunswick) to document the numbers of inhabitants and to assess the extent of British trespass. Their point of view was hardly subjective, however.  Later in that summer, several residents of the west bank of the Saint John River at Madawaska filed requests for incorporation into Maine. Acting on the advice of Penobscot County officials, a meeting was called to select representatives preparatory to incorporating Madawaska township.  A local resident from the east bank of the Saint John river alerted local representatives of the New Brunswick militia, who entered the meeting hall and threatened to arrest any resident attempting to organize.  Reflecting the stubbornness of local culture, these citizens continued their meeting.  The militia called for reinforcements and New Brunswick authorities ended up arresting some residents while others fled into the nearby wood.  Local Americans notified Maine authorities of the incident, and they also sent letters to the United States Government in the city of Washington, which prompted the US Secretary of State to contact his British counterpart.

The Acadian majority was ambivalent about joining either the United States or British Canada but they identified more with French-speaking Quebec and supported its territorial claims in Madawaska.

In 1830, someone even went so far as to petition King William I of the Netherlands to arbitrate the border dispute.  King William thought the best solution was a compromise between the squabbling parties. He suggested a border very close to the eventual settlement.  Surprisingly, the British accepted King William’s solution.  Not surprisingly, the State of Maine rejected it, arguing that King William exceeded his authority.  More to the point, the king represented an unwarranted (and unwanted) foreign influence upon the prerogatives of the United States.  Beyond this, King William’s proposal would surrender territory to Britain that US citizens and residents of Maine and Massachusetts had already surveyed, sold, and settled.  Neither Maine nor Massachusetts was interested in surrendering a territory held by them since 1800.

President Andrew Jackson was inclined to accept King William’s proposal, if for no other reason than to avoid diverting attention away from his Indian removal policy, and particularly with regard to the emerging Republic of Texas.  Moreover, the United States Constitution forbade the federal government from altering state ownership of properties without the consent of the state government, which Maine and Massachusetts would not grant.

US Senator Peleg Sprague of Maine was outspoken in his opposition to Jackson’s Indian policy and of the president’s interference in the internal affairs of the government of Mexico.  Sprague led the US Senate to reject King William’s proposal.

Great Britain and the United States agreed to a provisional settlement in 1831-32 —the band-aid approach.  Both government’s agreed that the territory already in the exclusive jurisdiction and authority of the respective state and provincial authorities would remain as such and that neither would be permitted to extend jurisdictional authority over areas still in dispute.

As a consequence of President Jackson’s closing the Second Bank of the United States in 1837, Maine decided to issue a refund to all its residents who paid taxes.  The state also created a special census to determine the identity of eligible recipients.  Penobscot County’s Census Representative thus began work in the upper Aroostook River territory.  Word of an official from Maine offering money to settlers quickly reached New Brunswick authorities.  The newly appointed governor of New Brunswick, Sir John Harvey, ordered the arrest of the Census Representative.  Additionally, New Brunswick accused the Governor of Maine of bribery and threatened military action if Maine continued to exercise jurisdiction in the basins of the Aroostook river and its tributaries. Maine Governor Robert Dunlap issued a general alert announcing that a foreign power had invaded Maine.

According to the legislature of Maine, both American and New Brunswick lumbermen were cutting timber in the disputed territory during the winter of 1838-39.  On 24 January 1839, the Maine Legislature authorized the newly elected Governor John Fairfield to send the Maine State Land Agent, Rufus McIntire, the Penobscot County Sheriff, and a posse of volunteer militia to the upper Aroostook to pursue and arrest the squatters from New Brunswick.  The posse left Bangor, Maine, on 8 February 1839 and established an encampment at the junction of the Saint Croix River and the Aroostook River.  They confiscated New Brunswick lumbering equipment and arrested foreign lumbermen. After learning of these activities, a group of New Brunswick lumbermen broke into the Woodstock arsenal.  Now armed, they formed their own posse and arrested the Maine Land Agent and his assistants in the middle of the night. Both men were transported in chains to answer charges in Woodstock.

Describing these two officials as political prisoners, Sir John Harvey notified the US government in Washington that since he lacked the authority to act on the arrests both men would remain in custody until he received instructions from the British government.  Meanwhile, he intended to exercise his authority over the Aroostook.  He also demanded the removal of Maine officials from the contested region.  To back up his demand, he dispatched a militia to confront Maine officials and order them to depart Brunswick territory.

Maine officials refused to leave the area and to underscore this point, arrested the senior Brunswick militia commander.  On 15 February 1839, the Maine Legislature authorized Major General Isaac Hodsdon to lead 1,000 volunteers to augment the posse on the upper Aroostook River.  Sir John Harvey warned that the British government had ordered in regular army reinforcements from the West Indies.  Beyond this, the Mohawk nation offered their allegiance and services to Quebec.

The Governor of Maine ordered the conscription of citizens to augment the State Militia.  Infantry and dragoon companies mustered in Bangor and on 26 February 1839, began moving toward Fort Fairfield along the Upper Aroostook.

Back in Washington, Representative Francis Ormand Jonathan Smith briefed the House of Representatives on these events.  Smith emphasized that it was the federal government’s responsibility to protect and defend American territory and its citizens but declared that Maine would defend its territory alone if the government chose to not fulfill its obligations.  It was at this point that President Van Buren directed General Winfield Scott, who was then involved with Cherokee relocation, to attend the area of the border dispute.  He arrived in Boston in early March 1839.

In May 1839, the US Congress appropriated $10-million and authorized a military force of 50,000 men, placed at the disposal of the President in the event foreign military troops crossed into United States territory.  Maine committed an additional 10,000 militia —one of these was a young lieutenant by the name of James Henry Carleton.

During the War of 1812, Sir John Harvey had supervised (then) Lieutenant Colonel Winfield Scott during the time he spent as a prisoner of war.  President Van Buren and his advisers saw this relationship as one of mutual respect.  Pursuant to the terms of the truce for administration within the disputed area, and with the advice of General Scott, Maine recalled its militia, substituting instead a civil posse of armed men.  Deputy Land Agent William Parrott and Captain Stover Rines supervised the posse. Meanwhile, the US Army began construction of permanent structures at Fort Fairfield and Fort Kent.  Major R. M. Kirby commanded the military barracks at Hancock near Houlton, Maine; his forces included an artillery regiment.

Representing Canada were four companies of the British 11th Regiment from Quebec; they began to construct a barracks across the St. Johns River.  New Brunswick authorities provided regular and militia forces and stationed them at every tributary of the Saint John River that flowed from the Aroostook Territory.

In 1840, Maine created Aroostook County to administer the civilian authority of the area. However, reports of collusion resulted in the Maine Executive Council assigning Alphus Lyons to investigate County Sheriff Packard and County District Attorney Horace Tabor.  As Brunswick and Maine continued to squabble, American and British diplomats agreed to refer the dispute to a boundary commission.

Daniel Webster and Alexander Baring, 1st Baron Ashburton settled the boundary dispute in 1842.  Included in the agreement was not only a resolution to the Maine/Canada border issue but also the boundary between Canada and New Hampshire, Michigan and Minnesota.  The treaty awarded 7,015 square miles to the United States and 5,012 square miles to Great Britain.  The British retained the northern area of the disputed territory, including the Halifax Road with its year-round overland military communications between Quebec and Nova Scotia. The U.S. federal government agreed to pay the states of Maine and Massachusetts $150,000 each for the loss of the lands of their states while the United States reimbursed them for newly acquired territory in the Northwest Territories and for expenses incurred during the time Maine’s armed civil posse administered the truce period.

Webster used a map that Jared Sparks, an American citizen, discovered in the Paris Archives (and which Benjamin Franklin supposedly marked with a red line in Paris in 1782) to persuade Maine and Massachusetts to accept the agreement. The map showed that the disputed region belonged to the British and so helped convince the representatives of those states to accept the compromise, lest the truth should reach British ears and convince the British to refuse.

Later historians have varying points of view with regard to this map.  Some claim that the Americans hid their knowledge of the Franklin map.  Others say that Britain apparently used a map supposedly favorable to the United States claims but never revealed its reliance on this map.  Some even claim that Britain faked the Franklin map to pressure the American negotiators.  Available evidence today, however, suggests that the British map did place the entire disputed area on the American side of the border.

The only real losers to this dispute were native Indians in the region.  Moreover, the Aroostook War, though devoid of actual combat, did not lack casualties.  Private Hiram T. Smith from Maine died of unknown causes in 1828.  Additional Maine militiamen died from illness or injury while engaged on the Aroostook expedition and several more went out on patrol and were never seen again.

Endnotes:

[1] I would like to see what a Pork and Beans Campaign Medal looks like …

An Age of Patriotism

Burrows WW 001
William Ward Burrows I

William Ward Burrows (16 Jan 1758 – 6 March 1805) was born in Charleston, South Carolina.  He served with distinction in the Revolutionary War with the South Carolina state militia.  After the war, he moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to practice law.  On the day following an act of Congress to establish a permanent United States Marine Corps (11 July 1798), President John Adams appointed Burrows Major Commandant.  During his tenure as Commandant, the manpower strength of the Marine Corps never exceeded 881 officers, noncommissioned officers, privates, and musicians.  Note that by tradition, Samuel Nicholas was the first officer to serve as Commandant of Continental Marines, but Burrows was the first appointed Commandant of the U. S. Marine Corps.  In history, Burrows is regarded as the Second Commandant of the Marine Corps.

After the United States won its independence from Great Britain, America no longer benefitted from the protection of the British Navy.  America was suddenly facing the arduous and expensive task of protecting its own seacoast and merchant fleet.  Few American ships were available to take on this task, and few were even capable of such a mission.  The Kingdom of France was a crucial ally of the United States during the Revolutionary War, had loaned the Continental Congress large sums of money, and in 1778, signed an agreement with the United States for an alliance against Great Britain.  In 1792, Louis XVI was overthrown during the French Revolution and the French monarchy was abolished.

In 1794, the United States forged an agreement with Great Britain in the Jay Treaty, which was ratified in the following year.  The Jay Treaty resolved several issues between the US and Great Britain that had lingered since the end of the revolution.  The Jay Treaty encouraged bilateral trade and expanded trade between the two nations, the effects of which stimulated America’s fledgling economy.  Between 1794 and 1801, the value of American exports tripled.  Not every American supported the Jay Treaty, however. Jeffersonian Democrat-Republicans were pro-French and fought an alliance with Great Britain at every turn.

France and Great Britain were at war, but the United States declared neutrality.  As US legislation was being formulated for a trade deal with the British, Congress refused to continue making payments on the debt owed to France from the Revolutionary War.  The United States argued that their obligation was to the King of France.  Since there was no longer a king in France, the United States no longer had an obligation to pay this debt.

France was not pleased. Initially, the French government authorized privateers to seize American ships trading with Great Britain, taking the ships to France as prizes of war, and sold for compensation.  Next, the French refused to receive the United States Ambassador to France, Charles C. Pinckney.  The effect of this was the complete severance of diplomatic relations between the United States and France.  President John Adams delivered his annual message to Congress, reporting to them that France refused to negotiate a settlement.  Adams warned Congress: the time had come “to place our country in a suitable posture of defense.”  The so-called XYZ Affair (French agents demanding bribes before engaging in substantive negotiations with US diplomats) incensed members of Congress and the general population.

It was in this setting that the Navy and Marine Corps had their humble beginnings.  The Navy had few ships, and the Marines had few troops.  Still, six or so months in advance of hostilities with France, the War Department began recruiting and enlisting able seamen to serve as Marines aboard frigates that had been authorized by Congress to meet the French threat.  These initial units were small detachments assigned to ships of the U. S. Navy; ships that were still under construction.

During Major Burrows first several months, his principal concern was supplying men to serve with sea-going Marine Detachments.  At this time, Headquarters Marine Corps was situated at a camp near Philadelphia until the national capital in Washington was ready to receive the government in 1800.  Burrows sent a Marine guard detail to the Washington Navy Yard in March to protect government property.  Burrows and his staff relocated to Washington in late July, settling into what today is called the Marine Barracks, 8th& I Streets.

Burrows was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel on 1 May 1800.  The Quasi-War with France continued until September when the two countries finally settled their differences —and once these matters were resolved, Congress had no further interest in maintaining a naval establishment. Congressional attitudes embarrassed Burrows because he was trying to establish a war-ready Marine Corps on a peace time budget.  The Barbary Wars broke out soon after the end of the Quasi-War.  Adams lost the Presidency in 1801, and Thomas Jefferson, who was no friend of the Navy or Marine Corps, was inaugurated as President.  In spite of Jefferson’s lack of interest, Burrows continued his struggle to man the much needed ship’s detachments gearing up for duty in the Mediterranean.

Lieutenant Colonel Burrows’ stewardship is credited with beginning many of the Marine Corps’ institutions, most notably the U. S. Marine Corps Band (now called the “President’s Own”). To create the band, Burrows relied heavily on personal contributions from his officers.  Burrows was also a disciplinarian, demanding high standards of professional conduct from his officers.  Due to ill health, which may be related to his relocation to Washington City, then an insect infested swamp, Burrows resigned his office on 6 March 1804.  He died a year later while still residing in Washington.  He was initially buried in the Presbyterian Cemetery in Georgetown, but on 12 May 1892, his remains were re-interred at the Arlington National Cemetery.

Part of Colonel Burrows’ legacy is his son, William Ward Burrows II (1795 – 1813), who served in the United States Navy from 1799 to his death in 1813.  Lieutenant Burrows distinguished himself at Tripoli while serving aboard the USS Constitution.  He died from wounds received during an engagement with HMS Boxer, while in command of the brig [1] USS Enterprise during the War of 1812 (derisively known at the time as Mr. Madison’s War).  Burrows was buried at Eastern Cemetery in Portland, Maine, next to the slain commander of HMS Boxer, Samuel Blyth.

In recognition of his courage under fire, Lieutenant Burrows was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal [2]:

Congressional Gold Medal
Congressional Gold Medal; See endnotes for attribution.

That the President of the United States be requested to present to the nearest male relative of lieutenant William Burrows, and to lieutenant Edward R. McCall of the brig Enterprise, a gold medal with suitable emblems and devices; and a silver medal with like emblems and devices to each of the commissioned officers of the aforesaid vessel, in testimony of the high sense entertained in the conflict with the British sloop Boxer, on the fourth of September, in the year one thousand eight hundred and thirteen. And the President is also requested to communicate to the nearest male relative of lieutenant Burrows the deep regret which Congress feel for the loss of that valuable officer, who died in the arms of victory, nobly contending for his country’s rights and fame.

Endnotes:

[1] A brig is a sailing vessel with two square-rigged masts.  They were fast and maneuverable and used as both warships and cargo vessels.  Brigs were among the first casualties of the age of steam because they required relatively large crews for their small size, and they were difficult to sail into the wind.  A war brig was outfitted with between ten and eighteen guns.

[2] Since the American Revolution, Congress has commissioned gold medals as its highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions. Shown above is the gold medal issued to John Paul Jones, the only Continental Navy Officer to receive this award. I could not find a likeness of the medal issued to Lieutenant Burrows.  Credit for the image of the gold medal belongs to Jules Jaquemart, Loubat, J. F.  Medallic History of the United States of America, New Milford (1878).

The Marines’ First Amphibious Raid

Gunpowder 001At the outset of the American Revolution, Great Britain’s governor in Virginia recognized that stores of arms and gunpowder within his control were now threatened by colonial rebels.  Accordingly, he directed that these stores be removed from Virginia and transported to New Providence Island in the Bahamas.  In August 1775, General Gage [1] alerted Governor Montfort Browne, the governor of the Bahamas, that rebels might undertake operations to seize these supplies.

Gunpowder was in short supply in the Continental Army. It was this critical shortage that led the Second Continental Congress to direct planning for a naval expedition to seize military supplies in Nassau.  Congressional instructions issued to Captain Esek Hopkins, who had been selected to lead the expedition, simply instructed him to patrol and raid British naval targets along the Virginia/North Carolina coastline. Hopkins may have been issued additional instructions in secret, but we know that before sailing from Delaware on 17 February 1776, Hopkins instructed his fleet [2] to rendezvous at Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas.

Continental Fleet At Sea
Continental Fleet

Upon sailing, the fleet encountered gale-force winds but in spite of this, the fleet managed to say together for two days.  Then, Fly and Hornet became separated.  Hornet was forced to return to port for repairs, while Fly did eventually rejoin the fleet.  Undeterred by the loss of two ships, Hopkins continued his mission believing that the gale had forced the British fleet in to port.

In late February, Governor Browne became aware that a rebel fleet was in the process of assembling off the coast of Delaware.  In spite of this, he took no action to prepare an adequate defense.  There were two primary defense works at New Providence: Fort Nassau and Fort Montagu. Fort Nassau was poorly equipped to defend the port against amphibious raids; its walls were not strong enough to support its 46-cannon.  Fort Nassau’s poor state prompted the British to construct Fort Montagu on the eastern end of the harbor in 1742, a position that commanded the entrance to the harbor. At this time, Fort Montagu was fortified with 17-cannon but most of the gunpowder stores and ordnance was held at Fort Nassau.

Hopkins’ fleet arrived at Abaco Island on 1 March 1776. It soon captured two sloops owned and operated by British loyalists, one of whom was Gideon Lowe of Green Turtle Cay. Hopkins pressured the owners to serve as pilots.  George Dorsett, a local ship’s captain, escaped capture and alerted Browne of Hopkins’ arrival.

On the next day, Hopkins directed the transfer of Marines to Providence and the two captured sloops; plans were formulated for an amphibious assault.  The main fleet would hold back as three ships carrying the landing force entered the harbor at daybreak on 3 March.  The intention was to gain control of the town before an alarm could be raised.

As it turned out, a daybreak assault was a huge mistake because the alarm was sounded when the three ships were observed entering the harbor in the morning light.  Roused from his bed, Governor Browne ordered four guns fired from Fort Nassau to alert the militia.  Unhappily, two of these guns came off their mounts at the moment they were fired.  At 0700, Browne held a council of war with Samuel Gambier.  Browne wondered whether he should remove the gunpowder to the Mississippi Packet, a fast ship then docked in the harbor. It was a good idea, but Browne failed to act on it.  Ultimately, Browne ordered thirty unarmed militia to occupy Fort Montagu before retiring to his home for his morning ablutions.

Fort Montagu
Fort Montagu, Nassau

The landing force realized that they had been discovered the moment they heard the guns fired at Fort Nassau; the element of surprise was lost, and the assault was aborted.  Hopkins signaled his fleet to rejoin at Hanover Sound, some six nautical miles east of Nassau.  When the ships were assembled, Hopkins consulted with his captains to rethink the plan of attack [3].  The landing force was increased by fifty sailors.  Along with the Wasp, the three ships of the landing force would proceed to a point south and east of Fort Montagu (pictured right).  The Marines made an unopposed landing between noon and 1400 … it was the first amphibious landing of what became the United States Marine Corps.

Hearing commotion, a British lieutenant by the name of Burke led a detachment of troops out from Fort Montagu to investigate.  Suddenly finding himself significantly outnumbered, he sent a flag of truce to determine the intentions of these men.  He was quickly informed, and perhaps even forthrightly so, that it was their purpose to seize military stores.

Meanwhile, Governor Browne (now freshly coiffed) arrived at Fort Montagu with another eighty militiamen (some of whom were actually armed).  Upon being informed of the size of the landing force, Browne ordered three of Fort Montagu’s guns fired and then withdrew all but a few men back to Nassau. In Nassau, he ordered the militia back to their homes; he retired to the governor’s house to await his fate.

Sometime later, Governor Browne sent Lieutenant Burke to parley with the rebel force.  Burke was instructed to “wait on command of the enemy and know his errand, and on what account he has landed troops here.”

Samuel_Nicholas
Capt Samuel Nicholas

The firing of Montagu’s guns had given Captain Nicholas [4] some pause for concern even though his Marines had already occupied the fort.  He was consulting with his officers when Lieutenant Burke arrived and stated Governor Browne’s message.  Nicholas restated that their mission was to seize the military stores, adding that they intended to do this even if they had to assault the town. Burke carried this message back to Browne; Nicholas and his Marines remained in control of the fort throughout that night —which was another mistake.

That night, Governor Browne held a council of war. The decision was taken to attempt the removal of the gunpowder.  At midnight, 162 of 200 barrels of gunpowder were successfully loaded aboard the Mississippi Packet and HMS St. John.  The ships sailed at 0200 bound for St. Augustine.  This feat was made possible because Commodore Hopkins had anchored his fleet in Hanover Sound, neglecting to post a single ship at the entrance of the harbor.

On the next morning, Captain Nicholas and his Marines occupied Nassau without encountering any resistance.  In fact, the Marines were met by a committee of city officials who offered up the keys to the city.  Commodore Hopkins and his fleet remained in Nassau for two weeks, loading as much weaponry as he could fit into his ships—including the remaining casks of gunpowder.  Hopkins also pressed into service the Endeavor to transport some of the materials.

Governor Browne complained that the rebel officers had consumed most of his liquor stores during their occupation (which is probably true), and that he was placed in chains like a felon when he was arrested and taken aboard Alfred —which is also likely true.

Hopkins’ fleet sailed for Block Island off Newport, Rhode Island on 17 March 1776; he took with him Governor Browne and other British officials as prisoners.  On 4 April, the fleet returned to Long Island where they encountered and captured HMS Hawk.  The next day, the captured HMS Bolton, which was laden with stores including armaments and gunpowder. Hopkins met stiff resistance on 6 April when he encountered HMS Glasgow, a sixth-rate ship [5], but the outnumbered Glasgow managed to escape capture and severely damaged Cabot, wounding her captain, who was Hopkins’ son, John Burroughs Hopkins, and killing eleven crew.  Hopkins’ fleet returned to New London, Connecticut on 8 April.

Governor Browne was eventually exchanged for the American general William Alexander [6] (Lord Stirling).  Browne came under severe criticism for his handling of the defense of Nassau, even though Nassau remained poorly maintained and was subjected to American threats again in early 1778.

Commodore Hopkins, while initially lauded for the success of the assault upon Nassau, his failure to capture HMS Glasgow and complaints from fleet crewman resulted in several investigations and courts-martial.  In spite of the fact that his crew suffered from disease, the captain of Providence was relieved of his command, which was turned over to John Paul Jones —who received a commissioned as captain in the Continental Navy.  Eventually, Commodore Hopkins was forced out of the Navy due to further missteps and accusations relating to his integrity.

The Second Continental Congress promoted Captain Samuel Nicholas to the rank of major and placed him “at the head of the Marines.”

Notes:

[1] Thomas Gage (1718-1787) was a British general officer and colonial official who had many years of service in North America. He served as the British Commander-in-Chief in the early days of the American Revolution.

[2] Hopkins’ fleet consisted of the following ships: Alfred, Hornet, Wasp, Fly, Andrew Doria, Cabot, Providence, and Columbus.  The fleet consisted of 200 Continental Marines under the command of Captain Samuel Nicholas.

[3] Hopkins’ executive officer was John Paul Jones. Initially, it was believed that Jones urged Hopkins toward a new point of attack and then led the assault.  This notion has been discredited because unlike most other of Hopkins’ subordinates, Jones was unfamiliar with the local area. It was more likely that the assault was led by one of Cabot’s lieutenants, Thomas Weaver.

[4] Samuel Nicholas (1744-1790) was the first commissioned officer of the Continental Marines; by tradition, he is considered the first Commandant of the United States Marine Corps.

[5] A sixth-rate ship of the British navy typically measured between 450-550 tons, contained 28-guns, and had a crew of about 19 officers, including the captain, two lieutenants, chaplain, and Royal Marine lieutenant.  Quarterdeck warrant officers included the ship’s master, surgeon, assistant surgeon, purser, gunner, bosun, carpenter, two master’s mates, four midshipmen, and a captain’s clerk.  The rest of the crew were lower deck ratings.

[6] At the beginning of the American Revolution, Alexander was commissioned a colonel in the New Jersey colonial militia.  His personal wealth permitted him to outfit the militia at his own expense and he was willing to spend his own money in support of patriot causes.  During an early engagement, Alexander distinguished himself leading volunteers in the capture of a British naval transport.  By an act of the Second Continental Congress, Alexander was commissioned Brigadier General in the Continental Army.

During the Battle of Long Island, Alexander led an audacious attack against a superior British army under General William Howe.  Taking heavy casualties, Alexander was forced to withdraw, which he did in an orderly and distinguished manner.  During this withdraw, he inflicted heavy casualties upon the British, who were in pursuit.  Alexander’s brigade, overwhelmed by a ratio of 25-to-one, Alexander was taken prisoner. Because of his actions, American newspapers hailed him as “the bravest man in America.”

Alexander was exchanged as a prisoner for British Governor Montfort Browne and promoted to major general. He subsequently became one of George Washington’s most trusted generals.

Happy Birthday, America

Your Marines have been with you every step of the way.

Marines—defined as soldiers, who serve at sea, are as old as naval warfare. When Themistocles mobilized Athenian sea power against invading Persians in 480 BCE, one of his first decrees was to order the enlistment of Marines for the fleet. He called these enlistees Epibatae; heavily armed sea soldiers. He assigned them to triremes at Salamis and they fought successfully against Xerxes and saved Athens. Much later, the Romans employed what Polybius described as Milites Classiarii (soldiers of the fleet), a category of legionnaire organized and specially armed for duty on Roman warships. One of the earliest of these was a young officer named Julius Caesar. However, it was not until much later that the British and Dutch almost simultaneously rediscovered a distinct role for Marines. They raised the first two modern corps of Marines in 1664 and 1665, respectively.

Revolution Marines 001Americans of the 17th and 18th centuries were notably a maritime people. The British colonies were close to the sea, but scattered along 1,000 miles of coastline. In the absence of good roads, communication took the form of ships at sea; ships that required protection from raiding adversaries. Maritime training took place in the northeastern colonies where men learned how to handle small vessels along the Newfoundland banks, in all seasons of the year, in all kinds of seas. This was how large numbers of colonists evolved into a maritime society. They learned the art and science of naval warfare while serving on British ships, who frequently warred with the European powers of the time. Americans were first employed as Marines by Admiral Edward Vernon who commanded the British fleet against the Spaniards in the War of the Austrian Succession.

There being no further use for Marines after the Peace of Utrecht in 1712, the British government disbanded all but four small companies. However, with the outbreak of hostilities with Spain in 1739, King George II once more ordered Marines to serve aboard ships of the line. Subsequently, the government authorized six regiments of Marines, each consisting of 1,100 officers and men. Soon after, however, the British crown authorized three additional regiments for duty in the colonies. The British Crown seized upon a notion put forward by Alexander Spotswood to recruit Marines for service in the colonies from the colonies. Men for war were somewhat scarce in England.

Gooches Marines 1740It was argued that no one was better suited for service as Marines than men in the colonies who, by 1739, had established a strong maritime tradition. An order went out to the ten colonial governors to raise 30 companies of 100 men each. Each company would consist of one captain, two lieutenants, one ensign, four sergeants, and four corporals. Colonel Spotswood would command these Marines in the colonies. Not all colonies responded to the demand for Marine companies, but eventually the companies combined into a single regiment. With Spotswood’s death, command of the regiment passed to the lieutenant governor of Virginia, Colonel William Gooch. Gooch’s Marines joined Admiral Vernon’s fleet in October 1740 and served as an attacking force at Cartagena, New Granada (Colombia). The general attack began on 9 March. In one month, English and American Marines were fighting side-by-side at Fort Lazar —but it was a poor effort. Forced back by overwhelming musket fire, the American Marines left stranded their English counterparts and the battle turned into a disaster for the English. No more than one in ten American Marine returned home after this war with Spain.

American Marines again served the British Fleet during the Seven Years’ War. It was thus that American colonists gained the necessary training and experience, which made them the best material for an efficient Marine force. There did remain significant limitations on the Americans, however: there was no tradition of naval leadership in the colonies at the outbreak of the American Revolution, the Americans faced an overwhelming force, and the colonies, individually and collectively, could ill-afford a strong military force. What the colonists did have, however, was patriotism toward the cause for liberty.

The Gentlemen delegates of the Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia on the morning of 10 November 1775. They discussed the unhappy facts that confronted them. First, a course of action regarding a petition from the inhabitants of Passamaquoddy, Nova Scotia whose citizens asked for admittance to the association of North Americans, and for preservation of their rights and liberties.

Second, delegates knew that Colonel Benedict Arnold was somewhere near the St. Lawrence River and prevented from mounting an attack against the city of Quebec because of the horrible weather. Time was of the essence because British reinforcements were on the way to protect the city. Arnold had barely 350 men.

At the same moment, General Washington camped with 17,000 troops outside the city of Boston, short of everything needed to command an efficient field operation in what appeared to be an endless siege.

Revolutionary Marines 003The Committee of Five soon arrived to offer their recommendations respecting the petition from Nova Scotia. The committee, consisting of John Jay of New York, Silas Deane of Connecticut, Stephen Hopkins of Rhode Island, John Langdon of New Hampshire, and John Adams of Massachusetts, presented its proposal in simple, straightforward language: first, create two battalions of Marines from the forces then under the command of General Washington. The Marine force would require one colonel, two lieutenant colonels, two majors, with the remaining commissioned and non-commissioned structured to mirror the organization of an Army regiment. At the conclusion of their presentation, the Continental Congress resolved:

That two battalions of marines be raised, consisting of one colonel, two lieutenant colonels, two majors, and other officers as usual to other regiments, and that they consist of an equal number of privates with other battalions, that particular care be taken that no person be appointed to office or enlisted into said battalions, but such as are good seamen, or so acquainted with maritime affairs as to be able to serve to advantage by sea when required: that they be enlisted and commissioned to serve for and during the present war between Great Britain and the colonies, unless dismissed by order of Congress: that they be distinguished by the names of the first and second battalions of American Marines, and that they be considered as part of the number which the continental Army before Boston is ordered to consist of.

G Washington 1774Delegates passed another resolution later in the day: it left the fate of Nova Scotia in the hands of General Washington. President Hancock transmitted the adopted resolutions to Cambridge for Washington’s information and comment. Alas, General Washington was not at all pleased.

Pushing Against the Tide

Continental 001In the early fall of 1777, the two American frigates Effingham and Washington found themselves trapped by the British, who had blockaded the Delaware River above Philadelphia. To prevent the British from capturing these vessels, the Navy Board ordered them scuttled —accomplished in November. Subsequently, several attempts to refloat the ships failed.

By the beginning of 1778, a number of Marines began to chafe at their inactivity, but it seems as though there were two camps: those without the experience of combat wanted to get into battle as soon as possible; those who had already had their fight were happy for the inactivity. Nevertheless, plans were afoot to avenge the defeat of the frigates. On January 29th, Captain John Berry received orders to organize a boat expedition down the river for the purpose of annoying the enemy, capturing or destroying their transports, and cutting off their supplies and/or diverting them for the use of the Continental army, which was suffering at a place called Valley Forge.

The Marines procured two flat-bottomed vessels and armed them with four-pounders; manning these two barges was a bit more difficult. After numerous attempts, 40 men signed on. In the first week of February, Marines Captain Berry and Lieutenant James Coakley took command of one barge, and Navy Lieutenant Luke Matthewman commanded the second.

Remaining close in to the Jersey shore, with oars muffled, the two boats slipped silently past Philadelphia. Below, five additional boats joined them —most of these half manned with Pennsylvania seamen and privateers. Meanwhile, General Anthony Wayne’s tattered brigade pushed in toward Wilmington in search of cattle and hay for Washington’s army. Barry’s small flotilla ferried Wayne’s force across the Delaware to Salem. Within a few days, Wayne had secured about 100 head of cattle —but now the question was how to transport these animals and the soldiers to Pennsylvania?

The plan was to drive the cattle through central New Jersey and across the Delaware north of Philadelphia, and while this was going on, Captain Barry’s men would set the hay afire, creating a diversion for the British forces. Following the successful hay burning expedition, Barry and his men successfully captured two ships and a schooner off Port Penn. Captured were crewmen numbering close to 70, their holds containing supplies intended for the British forces at Philadelphia.

Unfortunately, when the British heard about the capture of these vessels, they sent two ships of war upriver to interdict the Americans, forcing Barry to burn the transports and run the schooner aground near New Castle. With renewed interest in activity on the Delaware, Captain Barry maintained a low profile but the danger to him and his small crews had not yet passed. A British punitive expedition of some 700 men landed at Whitehall and began setting afire to moored and half-sunk ships; all in all, the British destroyed more than 40 vessels and, if that weren’t enough, seized control of Bordertown. It was a staggering loss for the Continentals but the misfortunes of our infant Navy and Marine Corps were not over just yet. The British remained aggressive through the early summer of 1778, which demoralized members of the Navy and Marine Corps committees. From their official report:

Continental ship Randolph“The Enemies ships do indeed swarm in the Seas of America and Europe; but hitherto, only one of our Frigates hath been captured on the Ocean. Two have been burned in North River, two sunk in Delaware, one captured there, and one in Chesapeake. The Alfred we are just informed was taken on her passage home by two frigates in sight of the Rawleigh. The particulars of this capture and why she was not supported by the Raleigh we are ignorant of. I hope Capt. Thompson is not culpable. I entertain a high opinion of him. The Columbus is a trifling Loss, and I should not much lament the loss of the Alfred if her brave Captain, Officers and men were not in the hands of a cruel enemy. Our little fleet is very much thinned. We must contrive some plan for catching some of the enemy’s Frigates to supply our losses; but we must take care not to catch tartars. It is reported that Capt. Biddle of the Randolph, in an engagement with a sixty-gun ship, was blown up. We have been so unfortunate that I am apt to believe almost any bad news; but this report I cannot believe.”

A massive explosion sunk the Randolph on 7 March 1778; only four of the 315 crew survived. The question of whether ships captains were culpable for these losses resulted in several “courts of inquiry.”

Revolutionary War Marines

“At no period of the naval history of the world is it probable that Marines were more important than during the war of the Revolution.”

—James Fenimore Cooper

Given the factual history of this period, Mr. Cooper may have overstated the role or significance of our Revolutionary Marines. What is undeniably true is that Continental Marines served aboard ship to enforce the captain’s orders, to attack the enemy with musket ball and shot from high in the ship’s rigging, and conduct operations ashore as their officers may direct.

I think it is fair to say that the formation of a new country and any of its constituent parts, including the Naval Services, was a difficult task. Hardly anything was working as a well-oiled machine. There was much to do in organizing a new country, and so little time within which to see it done.  Resources were scarce in terms of men, material, and money.  There was a dearth of anyone who could boast military experience; colonial populations were farmers, booksellers, tinkers, and lawyers.  To complicate matters further, not everyone was convinced that we should have a separation from the mother country.

The Second Continental Congress convened on 10 May 1775; it was mainly composed of the same delegates that participated in the first congress. On 13 October 1775, the Second Continental Congress appointed a Naval Committee, which consisted of John Adams, John Landon, and Silas Deane. These individuals exercised congressional oversight of the Continental Navy and Marines.

In accordance with the Continental Marine Act on 10 November 1775, Congress ordered:

“That two battalions of Marines be raised consisting of one Colonel, two lieutenant-colonels, two majors and other officers, as usual in other regiments; that they consist of an equal number of privates as with other battalions, that particular care be taken that no persons be appointed to offices, or enlisted into said battalions, but such as are good seamen, or so acquainted with maritime affairs as to be able to serve for and during the present war with Great Britain and the Colonies; unless dismissed by Congress; that they be distinguished by the names of the First and Second Battalions of Marines.”

It was initially supposed that these two battalions of men would come from George Washington’s army and that they would participate in the planned invasion of Halifax, Nova Scotia —the main British supply base. In reality, only one battalion of 300 men was formed by December 1775. It was a woefully inadequate number of troops to launch an amphibious assault against a garrison of Hessian soldiers numbering close to 3,000. In any case, General Washington was hesitant to support the Navy; he was having trouble raising his own army and suggested that recruitment for Marines take place in Pennsylvania and New York.

Tun Tavern PhiladelphiaAt this time, the senior Marine officer was a Captain by the name of Samuel Nicholas, whose commission was dated 28 November 1775. By his date of rank, Nicholas became the ranking Marine officer and is regarded as the Marine Corps’ first commandant. He established a barracks at Philadelphia and implemented a rigorous recruiting effort centered at Tun Tavern, Philadelphia.

The time between 10 November 1775 and the date upon which the Continental Marines embarked on their first amphibious assault mission on 4 January 1776 was hardly enough time to train men in this specialized form of warfare —and yet, this is precisely what happened.

On 4 January 1776, Commodore Esek Hopkins took command of the first American naval fleet, which consisted of seven small vessels: Andrew Doria, Alfred (commanded by John Paul Jones), Hornet, Columbia, Cabot, Providence, and Fly. A colonial newspaper reported, “The first American fleet that ever swelled their sails on the western ocean … sailed from Philadelphia amidst acclamation of many thousands assembled on the joyful occasion.[1]

In addition to normal stores and provisions, six of the ships embarked Continental Marines. Aboard the Alfred, Captain Sam Nicholas commanded two lieutenants and a company numbering 60 Marines. On Columbus Captain Joseph Shoemaker commanded two lieutenants and an additional company of 60 Marines. Andrew Doria accommodated Lieutenant Isaac Craig and 44 Marines. Captain John Walsh commanded Lieutenant John Hood Wilson and 40 Marines embarked on Cabot. Aboard Providence, Lieutenant Henry Dayton commanded 20 Marines.

The Naval Committee prepared two letters of instruction, which were delivered to Commodore Hopkins on the January 6th. The first letter was general in nature, directing him to ensure the good order and discipline of the fleet, that peace be preserved among ships company and Marines, that he feed and cloth all of those placed under his command, and that their health be properly administered should they become sick or wounded. He was ordered to provide sufficient instructions to his ships’ captains in the event of separation while at sea, appoint officers to command captured British ships, and accord special attention to the proper care of arms and munitions to ensure that they were always ready for action.

A second letter was marked “most secret.” In it, the Naval Committee sought to impress Commodore Hopkins with the need for successful operations, emphasizing the belief among some in the Congress that a Continental Navy was an inane scheme. Naturally, when a British fleet began operating in southern waters, Southern Delegates began to form more favorable ideas about an American Navy.

Congressional optimism was the genesis of Commodore Hopkins’ further orders: to visit upon the unnatural enemies of the colonies all possible distress upon the sea. Hopkins was first ordered to proceed to the Chesapeake Bay, there to “seek out and attack, take, or destroy all of the Naval forces that you might find there.” In part, the operation was directed in retaliation for John Murray, Earl of Dunmore’s destruction of Norfolk, Virginia.  Sadly for Hopkins, he did not obey these orders.

In spite of the best hopes of the Naval Committee, Commodore Hopkins, and all of his Navy and Marine Corps officers, nature interfered: the fleet’s seven ships were locked in ice and stood frustratingly idle until mid-day on 17 January 1776. The ships finally left their moorings in Philadelphia and headed south —directly into a raging gale, within which, Hornet and Fly collided. The Hornet was required to return to port, and the Fly remained behind the rest of the fleet in order to make minor repairs.

In spite of every attempt at secrecy, the British were well aware of Hopkins’ departure from Philadelphia —they just weren’t quite sure where the ships were heading. As early as the previous August, British General Thomas Gage began to suspect that a rebel naval force might engage British possessions and property in the Bahamas Islands. His warnings, along with those of British Captain Andrew Law that American ships may be moving against the Bahamas, were dismissed by Governor Montfort Browne as “another” in a series of false rumors. Governor Browne was not a prudent man.

Then, as now, Nassau was the administrative center of the Bahamas Islands. On 3 March 1776, Commodore Hopkins landed the first-ever amphibious assault by American naval infantry. The force consisted of 234 Marines and 50 sailors of ships’ company. Under covering fire of Providence and Wasp the Marines overwhelmed Fort Montague[2], from which the British retreated to Fort Nassau and then surrendered. While Commodore Hopkins did manage to secure some military hardware, the much-desired gunpowder consisting of 162 barrels escaped his attention and was safely evacuated to the Fort at St. Augustine, and this was attributed entirely to Hopkins’ lack of tactical experience.

Nichols 001On the morning of 4 March, Captain Nicholas led an assault into Nassau. An emissary of the governor met the Marines at the entrance to the town and demanded to know their intentions. Captain Nicholas informed them it was to seize all military equipment and to have a short visit with the governor. Nicholas learned that the town had been abandoned, the governor was in his residence, and members of the provincial council were hiding in the rocks. Captain Nicholas promptly moved his men into the town and took possession of the now-abandoned fort, and when in his judgment the town was secure, Nicholas sent word to Commodore Hopkins that it was then safe to bring the fleet into Nassau harbor.

Soon after Commodore Hopkins came ashore, he met with Governor Browne who, by every account, was an ill-mannered host. In fact, Browne’s insolence ultimately landed him and two other officials in the Alfred’s brig. Apparently, Governor Browne might have been able to forgive the American Marines for many of their transgressions, but drinking all of his liquor was not one of them.

Now came the task of loading captured weapons and munitions, which included 88-cannon, 15 mortars, 4,780 shot and shell, and 38 casks of gunpowder. Meanwhile, Captain John Trevett led a second landing in the Bahamas, a night raid that successfully captured several ships along with naval stores. Hopkins fleet returned to Rhode Island on 8 April 1776. Of the battalion of Marines, 7 were killed in action and four were seriously wounded.

In recognition of his intrepidity in action, Captain Nicholas was promoted to major on 25 June and tasked with raising four additional companies of Marines to man four new frigates then under construction.  Commodore Hopkins, on the other hand, was chastised for his failure to carry out his orders.

Continental Marine CaptainIn December 1776, the Marines were tasked to join General Washington’s army at Trenton to help slow the progress of British troops southward through New Jersey. Unsure of what to do with these Marines, Washington assigned them to a brigade of Philadelphia militia, who were similarly attired in green uniforms with white piping. Although the Marines arrived too late to have a meaningful impact at the Battle of Trenton, they did assist in the decisive victory at Princeton.

Continental Marines landed and captured Nautilus Island and the Majabagaduce peninsula —an effort to reclaim Maine (which the British had seized and renamed New Ireland). The Marines were forced to withdraw with heavy losses, however, when Commodore Saltonstall’s force failed to capture a nearby fort. Later, a group of Marines under Navy Captain James Willing departed from Pittsburg, traveled down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, captured a ship from the Gulf of Mexico, and conducted successful raids against British loyalists on the shores of Lake Ponchartrain, Louisiana. The last official act of the Continental Marines was to provide escort security for a stash of silver crowns, on loan from Louis XVI of France, from Boston to Philadelphia. These funds were used to open the Bank of North America.

What we can say about American Marines is that they have been in the fight to create and defend the United States of America even before the official Declaration of Independence, on 4 July 1776. At the end of the Revolution, both the Continental Navy and Marine Corps were disbanded in April 1793. In all, 131 Marine officers and roughly 2,000 enlisted men served in the Revolutionary War. Congress reestablished the Naval services as the United States Navy and United States Marine Corps in 1798.

OLD EGA 001

 HAPPY BIRTHDAY AMERICA — THANKS ONLY TO THOSE

WILLING TO PUT THEIR LIVES ON THE LINE IN THE CAUSE OF LIBERTY

 

 

Notes:

[1] I have always found it curious that the only people who appear dockside to send our sailors and Marines off to war are the mothers, fathers, wives, and sweethearts of those soon-to-be combatants, and a far larger number of our citizens who would never place them selves in harms way, for any reason, much less the defense of their nation.

[2] Neither Fort Montague nor Fort Nassau was in good state of repair and readiness for action. At the appearance of the American ships, Governor Browne sounded an alarm of three guns, the discharge of which caused two of the three carriages to collapse. Browne was also unable to muster more than 70-armed militia to defend Nassau.