The Crawford Expedition

Okay, so we looked at the Gnadenhutten Massacre of 1782, here:
where Pennsylvania Militiamen under the American Army murdered 96 peaceful Christian Native Americans in Ohio. Their people vowed revenge. Today we are going to take a quick look at what led up to this period, and then happened next.

A few years prior to the slaughter at Gnadenhutten, in February 1778 Captain Pipe, a Chief of the Delaware Indians had lost several family members to the Americans in continuously retaliatory acts of violence between the two factions. The Americans, led by General Edward Hand, and consisting of a band of 500 Pennsylvania men had led a surprise march into Ohio, with the hope of locating and destroying British supply camps being used to feed and arm supporting Natives, whilst they carried out their raids on American settlements. The objective failed and the army were forced to withdraw and return to their base. On their return journey, several small incidents occurred whereby the militia committed their own violent attacks on Native villages. It was during one of these incidents, later named the ‘Squaw campaign’ as a derisive nod to the victims being only women and children, that Captain Pipe lost his family members.

Despite this, Pipe determined to remain neutral and as such was one of the signatures on the Fort Pitt Treaty devised and offered to the Americans by fellow chief White Eyes in September of that year. White Eyes passed away shortly after the treaty was signed, although it remains uncertain whether by disease or murder, and the agreement was not ratified. As a consequence, it was put to one side and the terms of the Treaty were not upheld. The main conditions of the treaty being that in return for the Natives in the agreeing tribes remaining neutral, they would receive their lands in Ohio in Perpetua as a Native state following resolution of the conflict between America and Britain. The American forces in their signing, were hoping that the treaty would enable them to cut through the Indian territories to reach British held land and enable them to cut marching times and distances.

Following the death of White Eyes, the alliance fell apart and the Americans resumed their campaign against the Natives, irrespective of whether they were neutral or part of the enemy raiders allied with Britain. Pipe lost his patience with the Americans, and reluctantly moved towards the British side, leading his tribe towards Detroit, re-settling near the Sandusky River. By 1780 violence had increased with several hundred colonists being killed or captured by the British-Indians in the area of Kentucky, and revenge attacks by the American forces led by George Rogers Clark of Virginia decimating two Shawnee towns in August of that year.17359186_429987677343320_1950803457753709285_o

By April 1781 Colonel Daniel Brodhead, as we saw in part one, destroyed Coshocton with those natives finding their way to British held territory, and support, whilst Clark rounded up volunteers for an attack on Detroit, but were defeated and routed by a 100 strong Native force along the Ohio River. Survivors escaped towards Sandusky, where there remained American held towns. Raids continued, between the two opposing forces, during which a white woman and her baby were allegedly killed by Natives. This act enraged Colonel David Williamson who given orders to take part in a further expedition to Sandusky in order to defeat the British and neutralise the threat from the Natives, took 160 Pennsylvania men and rode on towards Native held areas, coming across the Christian Moravians at Gnadenhutten as we have already seen, with the resulting slaughter in March 1782.

This expedition was the brainchild of General William Irvine, commander of the western branch of the Continental Army, following requests from American settlers in the Frontier areas around Ohio to act to stop the persistent Native raids on their settlements. It was felt that if the British were defeated in the West as they all but had been in the East, following a surrender at Yorktown, then their support of the Native raiding parties would be removed and the threat would end. Irvine formulated a plan of attack, and wrote to Commander-in-Chief George Washington, in December 1781 outlining his proposed objective of capturing Detroit, forcing British surrender and then quashing the Indian threat.

Washington agreed the plan was necessary. Irvine worked out his needs, and in February 1782 requested 2000 men, cannon and supplies. Washington refused his request for the supplies and equipment citing US Congress bankruptcy. He did however agree to the outline of the plan, but instructed Irvine to recruit the men, and order that the force provide their own horses, weapons and supplies. None of the men would be paid, however they would receive two months’ exemption from military duty, and would be allowed to plunder and keep whatever gains they could from the Natives.

Williamson’s foray came first, as we have seen, resulting in the murders at Gnadenhutten. Meanwhile in May 1782 a report of the murder and scalping of a Baptist Minister’s wife and children ensured no shortage of volunteers to back up the expedition. Around 500 men, mostly of Scots-Irish descent from the county areas of Washington and Westmoreland, Pennsylvania rendezvoused at Mingo Bottom, Ohio (now Mingo Junction). Several were veterans of the Continental Army and had taken part in previous conflict between colonists and natives, prior to the Revolutionary War. As a volunteer force, the men were given the right to vote on their own commander; the two candidates being Williamson – who was out of favour with the regular officers for his part in Gnadenhutten, but a favourite of the men – and Irvine’s own choice, retired Continental Army Colonel William Crawford, who had taken part in the distasteful ‘Squaw’s campaign’ some years earlier. Crawford was also a friend of Washington’s and his land agent. He won the vote by a majority of just five. Williamson took second in command. Other Officers included Majors Thomas Gaddis, John B McLelland and James Brenton. Dr John Knight, another Continental Army officer was added as expedition Surgeon, and foreign volunteer John Rose was appointed as Crawford’s Aide-de-camp. (More about him in a later post!)

The force’s march towards Detroit began on May 25th 1782, in high spirits. However, the majority of the men were not professional soldiers, and soon found themselves very much out on a limb they didn’t care for. They were ill-prepared, poorly trained and lazy. They ate their rations in the first few days, and resorted to shooting for game, despite orders to the contrary. They were belligerent, slow to muster in a morning and often failed to show up for guard duty. Crawford, for his part, was an equally ineffectual commander. His man struggled to understand his directives which were poorly presented, and they soon lacked respect for him. Rose documented this atmosphere in his journal. As a result of his poor command, the party often had to stop and debate their advance; the men meanwhile began to desert.

On June 4th, the force reached the edge of Upper Sandusky. Unknown to them, the village had relocated a few days previously to a position 8 miles further North. Close to the new village was Captain Pipe’s town, near modern Carey, Ohio. The Americans were unaware of the proximity. A call was made by Williamson to burn the deserted settlement, but Crawford refused on the grounds that this would divide the force, leaving them vulnerable should they be attacked. Many of the men were concerned that the abandonment of the town proved that the enemy were aware of their plans and stated that they should retreat and return home immediately. This proposal was also denied. Instead a scouting party under the leadership of John Rose was sent North to investigate. Two of the men returned shortly thereafter to report that the rest of their group were engaged in a skirmish with a large body of Natives in an effort to delay their advance on the Americans.

In the planning stages, Irvine had reiterated the necessity for surprise attack on the Indians of Sandusky. Washington had also advised the men to avoid being captured alive, at all costs. British forces had been somewhat efficient in their attempts to prevent the traditional torture of prisoners by Indians, prior to their execution, but following Gnadenhutten, all bets were off and torture had recommenced. A captured American had given extensive details of the expedition to his captors before the Americans had even left the meeting point at Mingo Bottom, 10 days prior. British agent, Simon Girty had passed those details to the British Forces in Detroit in order for them to prepare a counter. Girty and his comrades, Alexander McKee and Matthew Elliott – working under Major Arent Schuyler DePeyster, had forged close ties with American Natives. DePeyster was in turn answerable to Sir Frederick Haldimand, Governor-General of British North America.

After a meeting with Tribal chiefs, in the middle of May when they first became aware of the expedition in planning, DePeyster and McKee had warned the Natives of the plan and told them to recruit and prepare. McKee had journeyed to Shawnee territory to recruit further warriors and Captain William Caldwell accompanied by a mounted force of Butler’s Rangers – British Loyalist Troops from the colonies – Detroit Natives and Matthew Elliott headed for Sandusky. A reserve force of British Troops were positioned nearby, and reinforcements from the Shawnee were half a day away and en route. Scouts had spied on the American force from the outset and as they neared, all the women, children and other non-combatants had been hidden in nearby ravines and safe places. British traders had been warned of the impending conflict and had packed up and left town. Captain Pipe appeared with his Delawares and Dunquat with his force of Wyandots and Mingos also arrived.

The Natives engaged with Rose’s scout party who had stashed their supplies in a small wooded grove, which formed the initial battle on that first afternoon. Rose was soon reinforced by Crawford and the main body of the men, who had hastened North after receiving word from the returning scouts. Pipe and his Delawares formed the main branch of the Native force that afternoon with the Wyandot hanging back in reserve and the British secreted nearby for reinforcement. At the end of two hours, the Americans had secured the grove, and Crawford after ordering his men to dismount, continued to engage with the natives on the plains outside the woods. Dunquat entered the fray with the Wyandots, joined rapidly by Elliott with his force. Elliott being a skilled soldier, took charge of the natives and co-ordinated the defence. The Delawares managed to outflank the Americans and attacked them from the rear. The Americans responded by climbing trees and sniping from above, the Natives hiding nearby in long grass.

With minimal losses to both sides, around five dead each and slightly more wounded from the Americans to the Natives, the battle tailed off as darkness fell. Fighting ceased and the men slept surrounded by fires, fully clothed and armed. Several of the Americans deserted that night, reporting that Crawford’s army were decimated when they reached home. Scalpings of the dead took place in the night, on both sides.

The next morning, fighting resumed, although the Natives hung back, firing from a considerable distance of around 2-300 yards, which rendered their muskets ineffectual at that range. Americans mistakenly believing that the Indians had suffered far heavier losses on the first day, leaving them reluctant to engage. In reality, it was a false lure they were providing, keeping the American’s somewhat engaged, but from a safe distance while they awaited their reinforcements. Crawford feeling that victory was within his grasp, decided to hold his position until nightfall and then mount a surprise attack in the dark, a time when Indians were well known to disengage from battle. Despite being low on water and ammunition, he was confident of defeating the natives, even after Simon Girty rode up carrying a white flag and advised them to surrender. Crawford refused. Shortly afterwards, it was noted that around 100 British forces were amongst those they were fighting. This was a bit of a surprise to Crawford and the others, who drew aside to discuss how the British managed to reinforce so quickly from Detroit, and what their next plan was in light of this development. As they debated, Alexander McKee quietly slipped in behind the American force with around 140 Shawnee warriors, led by Chief Blacksnake. The Americans were surrounded.

A great cacophony of “joyful fire” was shot into the air by the Shawnee, which alerted the Americans to their presence, and their own possible fate, which completely destroyed any morale that may have lingered. A hasty decision was taken to withdraw under nightfall, rather than mount that attack. Discreet preparations were made, wounded were loaded onto biers, the dead were buried and fires lit on their graves to prevent desecration. As darkness fell, the Americans began a quiet withdrawal, but their movement was detected by highly attentive Indian sentries, who attacked causing widespread panic and confusion. The retreating force was split into many small groups, unable to locate each other in the dark. The militia, by now terrified and disorientated, abandoned the wounded and fled. As they ran past Crawford and Dr Knight at the edge of the battlefield, Crawford called out for his missing son, John, his nephew William and his son in law William Harrison. Once alone, unable to find his boys, and with all the men now departed, Crawford, Knight and two men who had chosen to stay with them rather than go it alone, made their retreat.

By the following morning, the main body of around 300 remaining Americans had reached the same deserted Wyandot town that they had wanted to destroy just three days earlier. With Crawford missing, Williamson took command. The British force chased them but were slightly unorganised due to their commander, Caldwell having sustained injuries to both legs, hindering their progress somewhat. Williamson convinced the men that their only chance of escape was to stay together and retreat as a mass body, as further attacks would be forthcoming. Separation meant certain death when one was part of a small group. The Natives eventually caught up to the Americans and engaged them again. Several of the militia fled, some stood around unsure what to do. Williamson gathered a small party who defended and successfully put off the attack after about an hour of battle. The remainder remustered under Williamson and kept retreating. After about 30 miles of following, and firing from a distance, the natives abandoned the hunt the next day, knowing victory was theirs, and returned home, killing two stragglers they happened upon. The surviving Americans eventually reached Mingo Bottom on June 13th, followed over several days by small numbers of stragglers.

On June 7th, two days after the main battle ended, a band of Delawares came across Crawford, Knight and four stray men who had joined them, around 28 miles from the battlefield. Knight was prepared to stand and fight, but Crawford told him it was pointless, and they surrendered. The four militiamen managed to escape, although two were later tracked down and killed. Crawford and Knight were taken prisoner and the Delawares took them to Chief Wingenund, the same day. When they arrived, there were nine other captives already there. The eleven men were held for four days, before Captain Pipe arrived and painted their faces black, a sign of sentence to execution. They were then taken to a Delaware Town on Tymochtee Creek, near to the present town of Crawford. Four of the men were killed and scalped on the march. When they arrived, the remaining men were forced to sit as a congregation of Natives were addressed by Captain Pipe. Crawford and Knight were separated from the others during this speech. The five remaining men were executed in front of them, by the women and young boys, one of the men being beheaded. Their scalps were then slapped in the faces of Crawford and Knight.

Captain Pipe told the gathered tribes, which included some Wyandot and Chief Dunquat, that Crawford was the commander of the men during the recent battle, who had previously carried out the massacre of the Christian Delawares at Gnadenhutten, although he wasn’t there on that occasion. Pipe also stated that Crawford had been present during the Squaw campaign when his family were killed amongst others. When Pipe finished talking, Crawford was stripped naked, and the torture began. He was beaten with rocks, his ears were cut off. He was tied to a post and a fire lit nearby. As warriors shot gunpowder charges into his body. He was poked with burning sticks from the fire and red-hot coals were thrown at him, before he was forced to walk on them. Girty and Elliott looked on, and at one point Crawford begged Girty to shoot him. Girty refused, unwilling to intervene in tribal justice.
After around two hours of torture, Crawford passed out. A bucket of hot coals was thrown onto his head by one of the women, which revived him. He was scalped. Following a further period of torture, by which time Crawford was delirious, and randomly walking around, he finally died. His body was then burned. Knight witnessed the whole incident. The next day, he was taken for his own execution by the Shawnee. However, en route, he managed to knock out his guard with a log and escaped on foot. After a number of weeks, he made it to Pennsylvania where he was found completely insensible and extremely sick, by a group of hunters who carried him to nearby Fort McIntosh where he recovered.

Six other prisoners were captured on the same day as Crawford was executed. They were taken to the Shawnee village of Wapatomica, where four of them were painted black. Two lines were then formed of the gathered natives, and the six men were forced to run through the line. The natives were armed with clubs and told to focus their beatings on the men who were painted. As they ran towards the council building 300 yards away at the other end of the line, they were beaten. Before they reached the end, they were hacked to death with tomahawks. Their bodies were then cut into pieces and set on spikes around the village perimeter. Three of those men were Major McLelland, and Crawford’s son in law and nephew, William Harrison and William Crawford.
The other two men were taken the next day to the village of Mac a chack where they were told they were going to be burned. One of them, a scout called John Slover managed to escape and stole a horse, which he rode naked, until the beast collapsed. He carried on, on foot reaching Fort Pitt on July 10th. He was one of the last survivors to return.

An Historical marker stands in the place where William Crawford’s body was burned following his execution. A replica memorial close to the original, which is no longer accessible, stands in Ritchy-Crawford Cemetery, Crawford, Ohio.…


The Gnadenhutten Massacre

It was 1782 and America had been at war with the British for several years as a part of their claim for independence. Caught up in this conflict were tribes of Native Americans, particularly along the Ohio river and into Ohio Country. These tribes consisted for the most part of Shawnee, Delawares. Mingos and Wyandots. For some years previously, as part of the Border conflict, there had been a series of raids on frontier settlements, by bands of aggressive Natives opposed to the expansion of the American colonists territory at the cost of native land. The resulting tension manifested in raids where small parties of natives would enter settlements and on occasion civilians from frontier families were killed, including women and children.

As the Revolutionary war intensified and dragged on, a large number of tribes were unsure of how to proceed, particularly those based around the Sandusky plains. With the Americans facing them to the far side of the Ohio river, and the British encamped to the rear, towards Detroit, their position was tenuous, and the natives often found themselves caught up in the fighting. Several bands had moved on North and West with the intent on continuing their aggression towards the Americans, particularly in areas of modern day Kentucky, Virginia and Pennsylvania. Other natives felt their better prospect would be to join the British forces. The majority chose to remain neutral in the hope that they would be able to bargain their way into retaining the new areas of Ohio Country that they had settled as a Native state, and a peace treaty was proposed to this effect – the Treaty of Fort Pitt (1778). Sadly, White-Eyes, the Chief who negotiated the deal, died, allegedly of smallpox, before the agreement was ratified and the new US Congress let the matter drop. In a letter to Congress some years later, American diplomat for the natives, George Morgan stated that White Eyes had in fact been murdered by American militiamen.

Following the demise of White Eyes, and the choice of natives to fight or remain neutral, several had chosen to remain in the area of Coshocton, in small villages. Amongst them were tribes of Christian converted Native Lenape, ministered by Moravian missionaries, David Zeisberger and John Heckewelder, amongst others. Hostile natives from the village of Coshocton were forced out by an expeditionary force led by American Colonel Daniel Brodhead in April 1781. Several were killed and survivors abandoned the village. Brodhead persuaded his men to leave the “friendly” Moravian Christian natives in peace, however Coshocton was razed to the ground.

If all this inter-fighting wasn’t enough, the American forces had an extra issue to deal with, in that the regular Continental Army the majority of whom were seasoned officers from the East, and the American Militiamen with whom they were united, were for the most part untrained civilian volunteers from the West, didn’t follow the same rule book when it came to rules of engagement. Couple with the American’s new policy of recruitment amongst the natives, many of whom were from tribes who were responsible for raids and deaths amongst the settlers in the west, whose family members they now fought alongside, and it wasn’t difficult for the militiamen to forget who was friendly and who was not. They viewed all the natives with the same mistrust and hate.
In September 1781, Native Americans fighting on the side of the British, moved into the area under orders and moved all the Lenape Moravian Indians Northwest to Sandusky to a compound village, Captive town. The missionaries, Zeisberger and Heckewelder were taken under guard to Detroit to answer charges of supplying intelligence information to the Americans, which they denied. They were subsequently acquitted. In their absence, the Indians were beginning to starve, due to lack of rations. By February of 1782, over 100 of the Moravians had decided to return to their former homes in the area of Gnadenhutten, in order to gather the harvest and other supplies that they had been unable to take with them.17191467_426213327720755_855489234442097550_n

After just a few short weeks, in early March, a raiding party of 160 Pennsylvanian Militiamen led by Lt Col. David Williamson, entered the village and took the Christian natives by surprise. They were quickly rounded up and accused of joining enemy natives allied to the British, in raids on American settlements, causing wounding and death to civilians. The natives of course denied the charges but faced a mock trial nonetheless where the majority of Pennsylvanians voted to put them to death. A number of the militia, horrified at the proceedings, refused to take part, and left the region. Obidiah Holmes Jr was one of those who refused to take a part in the injustice against the Lenape. Later in life as a minister himself, he wrote of his family’s part in the Revolution, and made mention of the events at Gnadenhutten.
“one Nathan Rollins & brother [who] had had a father & uncle killed took the lead in murdering the Indians […] Nathan Rollins had tomahawked nineteen of the poor Moravians, & after it was over he sat down & cried, & said it was no satisfaction for the loss of his father & uncle after all”
After being advised that they had been condemned to die, the Natives were led to two huts for the night, to prepare for their execution the next day. The men were locked in one, and the women and children in the other. They spent the night praying, singing hymns and comforting one another. The next morning, March 8th, 1782, the militia tied them up, forcing them to kneel, then set to work with mallet blows to their heads. Most also had their throats cut with a sharp blade. Several were scalped. In all, 96 were murdered, 28 men, 29 women and 39 children. The militia then looted all their belongings, taking whatever they thought they could use, sell or trade, weighing down several horses with the plunder.

They then piled up all the bodies in the missionary building where just nine years earlier on July 4th 1773, the first white child to be born in Ohio, had been birthed in and set the building on fire. They went around and burned all the other buildings, in an attempt to remove all traces of the existence of the natives. They continued their fiery justice into the other villages in the area, the aim being to make it difficult for any to return. Two young native boys however, survived the massacre and after quietly escaping, reached safety where they told the horrified greeters the story of the murders. The news of the massacre soon spread. Several frontiersmen received the news with glee, however most settlers were disgusted at the actions of their countrymen against innocent women and children, and were of course terrified of retaliation.

It would be a few years before John Heckewelder was able to return to Gnadenhutten, but when he arrived, he set to work and gathered as many of the remains as he was able to find, carrying them to the South side of the village, where he buried them in a mound as was custom of the time. A monument to the massacre victims was erected in June 1872 where the centre of the village once stood. Some buildings have been reconstructed, the entire area is preserved and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. No criminal charges were brought against Williamson and his command, despite it being common knowledge that they were responsible for the massacre. George Washington was forced to issue an official warning to the American armies to avoid being captured alive at all costs. The British Lenape had vowed vengeance….


Agent 355

In August 1776, George Washington and the Americans had to beat a hasty retreat leaving the British in control of New York City.  This was thought by many as the death blow to the Revolution.  Washington tried to regroup and desperately needed intelligence from the occupied city of New York.  Out of this need, the Culper spy ring was born.

It was organized by Major Benjamin Tallmadge and two main members of the ring were Abraham Woodhull, under the pseudonym of Samuel Culper Sr., and Robert Townsend, who used the pseudonym of Samuel Culper Jr.  The covert activities began in 1778 and they were charged with reporting on the troop movements through New York.  They were so good at secrecy, that even today we are unsure of some of their agents.  Agent 355 is one of these.

We only know her as “355”, which was the code designation for “a lady”.  However, this lady was responsible for passing along important intelligence to the revolutionaries.  Information gathered by her lead to the arrest of Major John André, who was the head of England’s intelligence operations in New York.  André was a dashing and handsome officer, and as such attracted the attention of several members of the opposite sex.  355 took advantage and found herself at the same parties as André and made sure to take heed of what he was saying, especially after a few drinks.  It was at one of these parties that she got wind of the British plan to gain West Point by subversion.

West Point was an important strategic fortification on the Hudson River.  Whoever held West Point, held the Hudson River Valley.  André was actively searching for a way to help his British bosses, and he struck gold in the person of Peggy Shippen.  Peggy was a debutante whom he had courted in Philadelphia a few years earlier.  Peggy was, to put it frankly, a gold digger.  She loved the high life and felt that her husband should keep her in the manner to which she had become accustomed.  Who was her husband?  Just a guy called Benedict Arnold (Read about him in this post: )  Arnold was getting disillusioned with the lack of cash and fame he was getting from the revolution.  It probably just took a tiny nudge from his loyalist wife to put him in touch with the dashing André to see if he could do any better if he turned his coat.  André offered him 20,000 pounds to hand over West Point without a shot.  That’s 3.5 million dollars in today’s money.  That would keep dear old Peggy in lots of diamonds.  Arnold took the deal.  Unfortunately for them, 355 was on the job and got wind of the plot.  André was caught with passes signed by Arnold and the plans for West Point at Tarrytown, New York.  He was hung for a spy on Washington’s orders.  Arnold got away, but West Point was kept out of British hands. In 1780, a female spy was captured and died on the prison ship Jersey.  This was thought to be the end of 355.

But who was she?  Multiple theories abound.  It is thought she was the member of a prominent loyalist family as she had access to so many upper class British officers.  Also the designation of “lady” in code was thought to be significant.  A lady meant upper class.  Candidates include Anna Strong, a known member of the Culper Spy ring and Abraham Woodhull’s neighbor.  She transmitted messages via laundry hanging on her clothes line.  Other candidates include Sarah Horton Townsend , Robert Townsend’s cousin, or Elizabeth Brugin, who helped American prisoners on British prison ships.  The popular television series Turn: Washington’s Spies, theorizes 355 was a former slave of Anna Strong.

One of the most popular theories is that 355 was Robert Townsend’s common law wife.  There are stories that Townsend was in love with 355 and when she became pregnant with his child, he insisted she give her dangerous espionage job.  However, Arnold found out her identity and turned her over to the British who imprisoned her on the Jersey.  There she supposedly gave birth to her son, whom she named Robert Townsend Jr.  Then she died.  However, most academics do not believe this story.  There is one tantalizing piece of information though.  Robert Townsend Jr. did exist, and was supposed to be the son of James Townsend, Robert Townsend Sr.’s brother.  He became a lawyer and a politician, and was very active in creating a monument to those who lost their lives in the British prison ships.  This monument, nearly 150 feet tall commemorates the men and women who lost their lives aboard these ships.

We may never know.  Abraham Woodhull wrote she could “outwit them all”, and she still is outwitting us to this day.  Hail and Farewell, 355.


James Armistead Lafayette- Unsung Hero of the American Revolution


Copy of Lafayette's commendation Photo Credit-  Virginia Historical Society image from the Library of Virginia website
Copy of Lafayette’s commendation Photo Credit- Virginia Historical Society image from the Library of Virginia website

There are many heroes we know about in the American Revolution- George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton- but there are many that gave their all for this country that have remained in the shadows.  Their names are not bywords for freedom, but should be.  James Armistead Lafayette is one of those men.


It is not known for sure when and where James was born.  James was a slave, and these things were not important.  General consensus says he was born some time in 1748 in New Kent County, Virginia.  James was the property of William Armistead.  Not much else is known about James’ life until the American Revolution broke out.  William Armistead was appointed as a manager of military supplies for the state of Virginia.  James requested permission to join the war effort as a soldier, and was stationed to serve under the Marquis de Lafayette.  Lafayette was a French nobleman who did not wait for the French crown to join in the American war for independence.  He was the commander of the French forces allied with the American Continental Army.  Lafayette had a mess on his hands.  The army was in chaos after the defection of Benedict Arnold to the British (please see post )  Lafayette’s forces were being depleted by the forces of British General Charles Cornwallis’.  He needed information.  He needed an ace in the hole.  He got James Armistead.

James went to the British camp and posing as a runaway slave found work as a forager.  His movements looking for food in the countryside, allowed him greater freedom of movement between the British and American camps.  By the end of July 1781, James was a trusted servant to General Cornwallis himself.  Any information he could get, he passed on to Lafayette.  Lafayette reported to Washington Cornwallis “is so shy of his papers that my honest friend says he cannot get at them.”  It wasn’t easy and James was in danger at all times.  Soon, James was trusted enough that he was approached by the British to spy on the Americans.  At great personal danger, James began passing on false information to the British about American numbers and troop movements.  His misinformation kept the British troops in Yorktown after their move from Portsmouth long enough for the French fleet to arrive to bottle them up.  This directly led to Cornwallis’ surrender on October 19, 1781.

And how did this country reward this brave man for directly aiding in its founding?  It sent James back to his master to go back to being a slave.  Nice work, America.  A law in Virginia passed in 1782 freeing slave soldiers did not apply to him as he was not considered a regular soldier but a spy.  Lafayette found out James was still a slave after the war and was sorely disappointed.  James petitioned the Virginia Assembly for freedom in 1786, and presented a hand written testimonial from his former commander, Lafayette.  It read,

“This is to certify that the Bearer has done essential services to me while I had the honour to command in this State. His Intelligence from the ennemy’s [sic] camp were industriously collected and most faithfully delivered. He perfectly acquitted himself with some important commissions I gave him and appears to me entitled to every reward his situation can admit of.”

Finally, with the support of both Lafayette and his Armistead, James was awarded his freedom in November 1786.  He took the name of his former master and his former commander becoming legally James Armistead Lafayette.    He became a landowner, and had a forty acre farm in New Kent County, Virginia next to his former master, Armistead.  In 1818, he was granted a pension of $40 a year for his failing health.

In 1824, the Marquis de Lafayette returned to Yorktown, and his former soldier was in the crowd.  Lafayette saw him in the crowd and called him by name.  He then jumped from his carriage and embraced James in front of the cheering throng of people.  James Armistead Lafayette died August 9, 1830 on his farm.  Without him, we would not have a country.


John and Abigail Adams-   America’s Power Couple

John and Abigail Adams when young. Photo Credit-
John and Abigail Adams when young. Photo Credit-

John Adams was one of the founding fathers as well as our second president.  What is less well known is the extraordinary relationship he had with his wife, Abigail.  

The two first met when Abigail was fifteen and John was twenty-five and a practicing lawyer from Braintree, Massachusetts.  Abigail’s first impressions of the young man were less than complimentary.  She wrote in her diary he was “Not fond, not frank, not candid”.  However, from this unremarkable beginning, a relationship grew that would stand the test of time and tide.  Something happened to change Abigail’s opinion on the young lawyer, but we are not privy to what.  Soon he was addressing her in letters as “Miss Adorable” and saying “By the same token that the bearer hereof [JA] satt up with you last night, I hereby order you to give him, as many kisses, and as many Hours of your company after nine o’clock as he pleases to demand, and charge them to my account.”  A description that later generations found too scandalous to print.

We have an insider’s view into their relationship from the massive amount of letters the two interchanged during their courtship as well as into their marriage.  They spent most of their married life apart as Abigail stayed on the farm in Braintree with the children, and John traveled from Boston to Philadelphia to Europe in support of the colonies and later the new nation.  There are over a thousand letters between the two, and they show not only the extraordinary relationship between them but the influence Abigail had on John’s decisions.  Although, Abigail did not have a formal education she was quite well read, and John treated her as his intellectual equal.  It made sense, a woman he trusted to run his home and raise his children in his absence, would have the intellectual capacity to be his sounding board for the knotty political problems he was facing.  Through it all the remained devoted to one another, addressing each other as “My Dearest Friend.”

While John was in Philadelphia in the Continental Congress, Abigail wrote to him urging him to “remember the ladies”.  This was a revolutionary sentiment even in the middle of a revolution.  She wrote, “I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.” . Most scholars believe Abigail was not advocating women’s suffrage.  However, Abigail was no stranger to “man’s work” as she was left alone to run the house and farm while

John and Abigail in later years
John and Abigail in later years

John was gone.  It was not a role she liked, but felt it was her patriotic duty to support her husband as he fought for the country.  Because of this she was an advocate for women’s education and made sure her daughters were well educated.

Abigail supported John through the travails of his vice presidency and presidency and mourned his falling out with former friend, Thomas Jefferson.  She was a bit more outspoken in her criticism of Jefferson than Adams.  Jefferson had condoned the “lowest and vilest Slander” written about her husband by James Callender during the election of 1800, which was one of the bitterest the country had ever seen.  Abigail accurately predicted the outcome of the election, and prophesied that Callender would turn on the hand that fed him.  She was right as Callender was the one who broke the story about Jefferson’s affair with his slave, Sally Hemmings.  She bemoaned the state of the new country saying, “The Spirit of party has overpowerd the Spirit of Patriotism.”

After his defeat in the 1800 election, John retired from politics.  He wrote one his last letters to Abigail saying, “I am very glad you consented to come on… It is fit and proper that you and I should retire together and not one before the other.”  Their partnership continued while their extraordinary correspondence ended.  They were finally together.


Sources available on request