American Heritage Library and Museum

American Heritage Library and Museum These posts are created by Mark J. Denger, President Emeritus, Sons of the Revolution, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Society.

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On This Day in History > September 16, 1776:
Battle of Harlem Heights

"Early in the morning of September 16, 1776, General George Washington began composing a letter to the President of Congress. "We are now encamped with the main body of the army on the Heights of Harlem," Washington explained, "where I should hope the enemy would meet with a defeat in case of an attack."1 The Continental Army had retreated to the northern end of Manhattan following its humiliating loss at the Battle of Long Island the previous month.

But before Washington could finish his letter, an alarm went up in the camp. British soldiers were spotted heading north toward the American position. Washington sent 150 rangers under the command of Lieutenant Thomas Knowlton and his Adjutant General Joseph Reed to investigate. Subsequently, Washington rode two miles from his post at the northern end of the American camp to its southernmost point to observe the situation himself.

When Washington arrived, he met General Reed who had raced back to tell him that Knowlton's rangers were in a skirmish with an advance party of British regulars in the woods just to the south. Reed recommended that Washington send reinforcements immediately. Before Washington could agree, Knowlton's rangers made their way back to the American camp with the redcoats in hot pursuit. The British were soon close enough for Washington to hear their bugle calls.

The British, however, were not directing their troops to advance or deploy. Instead, they were playing "Gone Away," the tune sounded when a fox has been killed and the chase was over in a hunt. It is unknown whether the call was meant to mock the retreating Continental Army or was a direct insult to General Washington, well-known for his many foxhunts at Mount Vernon. Either way, the effect was the same. "I never felt such a sensation before," General Reed later remembered, “It seemed to crown our disgrace.

Washington, showing no signs of humiliation, decided to counterattack. He sent a 1,000 man brigade directly toward thecounterattack. He sent a 1,000 man brigade directly toward the advancing British line. He then ordered Knowlton's rangers along with three companies of Virginia Continentals to work their way south around the right flank of the redcoats. The group was ordered to open fire on the British once they were directly behind. Washington's plans went awry when Knowlton's rangers and the Virginia Continentals turned west too early and attacked the British right flank directly in its center.

The British understood Washington's strategy and retreated as a result. Casualties were high with 150 men lost on both sides including Lieutenant Knowlton who was mortally wounded. With the skirmish concluded, Washington completed his letter to Congress. While he was disappointed that his men failed to execute his orders, he had actually won his first battlefield victory in the war. His soldiers were equally elated that they had forced the British to flee before them. As General Reed explained to his wife, "You can hardly conceive the change it has made in our Army."


Battle of Brandywine Aftermath
The official British casualty list detailed 587 casualties: 93 killed (eight officers, seven sergeants and 78 rank and file); 488 wounded (49 officers, 40 sergeants, four drummers and 395 rank and file); and six rank and file missing unaccounted for Only 40 of the British Army's casualties were Hessians. Historian Thomas J. McGuire writes that, "American estimates of British losses run as high as 2,000, based on distant observation and sketchy, unreliable reports".
No casualty return for the American army at Brandywine survives and no figures, official or otherwise, were ever released. Most accounts of the American loss were from the British side. One initial report by a British officer recorded American casualties at over 200 killed, around 750 wounded, and 400 prisoners taken, many of them wounded. A member of General Howe's staff claimed that 400 rebels were buried on the field by the victors. Another British officer wrote that, "The Enemy had 502 dead in the field". General Howe's report to the British colonial secretary, Lord George Germain, said that the Americans, "had about 300 men killed, 600 wounded, and near 400 made prisoners".
The nearest thing to a hard figure from the American side was by Major General Nathanael Greene, who estimated that Washington's army had lost between 1,200 and 1,300 men. On September 14, 350 wounded Americans were taken from the British camp at Dilworth to a newly-established hospital at Wilmington, Delaware. This would suggest that of the "near 400" prisoners reported by Howe, only about 50 had surrendered unwounded. If General Greene's estimate of the total American loss was accurate, then they had between 1,160 and 1,260 killed, wounded or deserted during the battle. The British also captured 11 out of 14 of the American artillery guns. Among the American wounded was the Marquis de Lafayette.
In addition to losses in battle, 315 men were posted as deserters from Washington's camp during this stage of the campaign.
The Battle of Brandywine cost Washington around 1,000- 1,200 killed, wounded, and captured as well as most of his artillery. Among the American wounded was the newly arrived Marquis de Lafayette. Retreating from Brandywine, Washington's army fell back on Chester feeling that it had merely lost a battle and desiring another fight. Though Howe had won a victory, he failed to destroy Washington's army or immediately exploit his success.
The picture below is of the Brandywine Flag. The Brandywine flag was a banner carried by Captain Robert Wilson's company of the 7th Pennsylvania Regiment. The company flag received the name after it was used in the Battle of Brandywine, 11 September 1777. The flag is red, with a red and white American flag image in the canton.
The Brandywine Flag was featured on a 33¢ postage stamp issued in 2000, as a part of the US Postal Service's Stars and Stripes series. The colors and pattern on the stamp may have been altered for aesthetic purposes.

Photos from U.S. Army Center of Military History's post

Photos from U.S. Army Center of Military History's post


September 7 1776: The world's first submarine attack was carried out by David Bushnell’s American Turtle. Piloted by Ezra Lee, Bushnell's brilliant creation was towed into position before submerging and was hand cranked to move forward. Lee was unable to attach the explosive charge (like a mine) to the HMS Eagle and so failed to damage his target. Even without seeing success in the attack this was the first time a submarine was used in battle.


World's First Submarine Attack
On this day in 1776, during the Revolutionary War, the American submersible craft Turtle attempts to attach a time bomb to the hull of British Admiral Richard Howe's flagship Eagle in New York Harbor. It was the first use of a submarine in warfare.
Submarines were first built by Dutch inventor Cornelius van Drebel in the early 17th century, but it was not until 150 years later that they were first used in naval combat. David Bushnell, an American inventor, began building underwater mines while a student at Yale University. Deciding that a submarine would be the best means of delivering his mines in warfare, he built an eight-foot-long wooden submersible that was christened the Turtle for its shape. Large enough to accommodate one operator, the submarine was entirely hand-powered. Lead ballast kept the craft balanced.
Donated to the Patriot cause after the outbreak of war with Britain in 1775, Ezra Lee piloted the craft unnoticed out to the 64-gun HMS Eagle in New York Harbor on September 7, 1776. As Lee worked to anchor a time bomb to the hull, he could see British seamen on the deck above, but they failed to notice the strange craft below the surface. Lee had almost secured the bomb when his boring tools failed to pe*****te a layer of iron sheathing. He retreated, and the bomb exploded nearby, causing no harm to either the Eagle or the Turtle.
During the next week, the Turtle made several more attempts to sink British ships on the Hudson River, but each time it failed, owing to the operator's lack of skill. Only Bushnell was really able to competently execute the submarine's complicated functions, but because of his physical frailty he was unable to pilot the Turtle in any of its combat missions. During the Battle of Fort Lee, the Turtle was lost when the American sloop transporting it was sunk by the British.
Despite the failures of the Turtle, General George Washington gave Bushnell a commission as an Army engineer, and the drifting mines he constructed destroyed the British frigate Cereberus and wreaked havoc against other British ships. After the war, he became commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stationed at West Point.

Timeline Photos

Timeline Photos

#OnThisDay September 6, 1776, at 11:00 pm, an odd egg-shaped vessel left the docks in New York City headed for the HMS Eagle anchored in the harbor. The odd vessel, known as the #Turtle, was the world’s first functioning #Submarine. Designed by David Bushnell, the turtle submerged below the surface by allowing water into the hull and surfaced when the one-man crew pumped the water out by hand. The Turtle was armed with a torpedo, that was designed to be attached to the hull of a ship. When the Turtle made its attack on the Eagle, the torpedo failed to attach and drifted off, exploding an hour later, harming no one.

The Turtle attempted other attacks on British ships but was unsuccessful. Bushnell's efforts did not go unnoticed though, George Washington, impressed by the design of the Turtle, made Bushnell an Army engineer. After the Revolutionary War, Bushnell became commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at West Point.

Diagram of the Turtle below. The diagram is public domain.


The First Continental Congress convened at Carpenters' Hall in Philadelphia on this day in 1774.

Delegates from 12 of the 13 colonies (Georgia did not attend) convened to organize resistance again the British Parliament-imposed Coercive Acts, which included the Boston Port Act, the Massachusetts Government Act, the Administration of Justice Act, and the Quartering Act. Peyton Randolph of Virginia served as the President of the First Continental Congress when it convened on Sept. 5, 1774.

Carpenters' Hall is located across the street from the Museum in Independence National Historical Park in Old City District:


#OTD September 3, 1783, the Treaty of Paris was signed, officially ending the Revolutionary War. Signed nearly two years after the Battle of Yorktown, The U.S. sent three representatives to Paris, France to negotiate the treaty: Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and John Jay. The treaty was later ratified January 14, 1784 by the Continental Congress.


On This Day in History >September 3, 1783:
Treaty of Paris

Read the text of the Treaty of Paris of 1783 between Great Britain and the United States formally ended the American Revolutionary War for independence. The Treaty was signed in Paris by American Commissioners Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, John Jay and Henry Laurens and by British Commissioner Richard Oswald, on September 3, 1783.

After the surrender of General Charles Lord Cornwallis and the loss of several of its territories to Spain and France during the war, the British government finally became willing to negotiate peace.

Ben Franklin and Richard Oswald began secret discussions in April of 1782. The meetings were secret because the Americans were not supposed to deal with the British without the cooperation of their French allies. The Americans, however, did not fully trust the French, who were holding out in order to help their ally, Spain, retain as much territory as possible after the war. The negotiations consisted of complex arrangements between not only Britain and the United States, but also France, Spain and Holland, who were all allied with the Americans.

Other important issues included the questions of what the boundaries of the United States were to be; who would control the Mississippi, the Floridas, Canada and other possessions in the West Indies and elsewhere; who would control the fisheries around Newfoundland; what was to be done with the property of Loyalists in the United States and what would be done with the debts of people on both sides of the Atlantic.

John Jay and John Adams came to Paris to help Franklin with the negotiations, all of which were done in private and without the knowledge of the French. When a series of secret meetings between the British and French were exposed and because of his distrust of France, John Jay began to negotiate directly and openly with England. His more aggressive posture helped all sides put away their differences and finally push on to negotiate the remaining issues.

Formal talks began with Britain in September and the remaining issues were ironed out. A preliminary Treaty was signed on November 30, 1782. In this agreement, the United States was formally recognized by Great Britain and the boundaries of the new country were established, being roughly from the Atlantic to the Mississippi and from the Great Lakes to Florida.

The preliminary Treaty of Paris gave both countries the right to use the Mississippi River and gave the United States the right to use the fisheries off Newfoundland. Both countries agreed to release all prisoners from the war and to allow creditors the right to pursue payment of legal debts. Britain agreed not to harm any American property as its soldiers left the country and Congress agreed to encourage the states not to confiscate any more property from British Loyalists.

Through 1783, each country ratified the preliminary Treaty of Paris of 1783and announced a ceasefire. In September of 1783, the finalized version of the Treaty of Paris of 1783was signed by Ben Franklin, John Adams, John Jay and Henry Laurens. The document stated that both sides must ratify it within six months. Congress ratified the document on January 14, 1784 and Great Britain ratified on April 9th. A final exchange of the signed Treaty of Paris of 1783 took place in Paris on May 12, 1784."

Photos from U.S. Army Center of Military History's post

Photos from U.S. Army Center of Military History's post


August 23 1775 King George officially declared the American colonies to be in rebellion issuing the Proclamation for Suppressing Rebellion and Sedition.

Timeline Photos

Timeline Photos

This Friday and Saturday, mark the start of events honoring the 240th anniversary of the Washington-Rochambeau march of French and American armies through New Jersey. Starting at Ford Mansion in Morristown on Friday morning, cyclists will be stopping at sites along the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route in the state, including the Van Veghten House, Princeton Battle Monument and Trent House. More info:


"I return you my hearty thanks for your devout intercession at the throne of grace for my felicity both here and hereafter. May you also, Gentlemen, after having been the happy instruments of diffusing the blessings of literature and the comforts of religion, receive the just compensation for your virtuous deeds." George Washington, Address to the President and Faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, April 20, 1789

Compliments of George Washington Inn & Estate


Marquis de Lafayette Becomes a Major General Without Pay
On this day in 1777, a 19-year-old French aristocrat, Marie-Joseph Paul Roch Yves Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, accepts a commission as a major-general in the Continental Army—without pay.
During his service as the Continental Congress' secret envoy to France, Silas Deane had, on December 7, 1776, struck an agreement with French military expert, Baron Johann DeKalb, and his protege, the Marquis de Lafayette, to offer their military knowledge and experience to the American cause. However, Deane was replaced with Benjamin Franklin and Arthur Lee, who were unenthused by the proposal. Meanwhile, King Louis XVI feared angering Britain and prohibited Lafayette's departure. The British ambassador to the French court at Versailles demanded the seizure of Lafayette's ship, which resulted in Lafayette's arrest. Lafayette, though, managed to escape, set sail and elude two British ships dispatched to recapture him. Following his safe arrival in South Carolina, Lafayette traveled to Philadelphia, expecting to be made General George Washington's second-in-command. Although Lafayette's youth made Congress reluctant to promote him over more experienced colonial officers, the young Frenchman's willingness to volunteer his services without pay won their respect and Lafayette was commissioned as a major-general.
Lafayette served at Brandywine in 1777, as well as Barren Hill, Monmouth and Rhode Island in 1778. Following the formal treaty of alliance with Lafayette's native France in February 1778 and Britain's subsequent declaration of war, Lafayette asked to return to Paris and consult the king as to his future service. Washington was willing to spare Lafayette, who departed in January 1779. By March, Franklin reported from Paris that Lafayette had become an excellent advocate for the American cause at the French court. Following his six-month respite in France, Lafayette returned to aid the American war effort in Virginia, where he participated in the successful siege of Yorktown in 1781, before returning to France and the further service of his own country.


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