On this day in 1789, only one day after the fall of the Bastille marked the beginning of a new revolutionary regime in France, the French aristocrat and hero of the American War for Independence, Marie-Joseph Paul Roch Yves Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, becomes the colonel-general of the National Guard of Paris by acclamation. Lafayette served as a human link between America and France in what is sometimes known as The Age of Revolutions.
At the age of 19, the young Frenchman’s willingness to volunteer his services without pay won the American Congess’ respect and Lafayette a commission as a major-general in the Continental Army on July 31, 1777. Lafayette served in the battle at Brandywine in 1777, as well as at 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 against France, 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, Benjamin 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. That service involved bringing many of the ideals of the American Revolution to France.
On July 11, 1789, Lafayette proposed a declaration of rights to the French National Assembly that he had modeled on the American Declaration of Independence. Lafayette’s refusal to support the escalation of violence known as the Reign of Terror—that followed the French royal family’s attempt to flee the country in 1791 resulted in his imprisonment as a traitor from 1792 to 1797. Lafayette returned to military service during the French Revolution of 1830. He died in Paris four years later, where he was buried among many of his noble friends executed during the Reign of Terror at the Cimetière de Picpus.
June 9, 1772
British customs vessel, Gaspee, burns off Rhode Island On this day in 1772, colonists, angered by the British Parliament’s passing of the Townshend Acts restricting colonial trade, blacken their faces and board the HMS Gaspee, an armed British customs schooner that had run aground off the coast of Rhode Island. They then wounded the ship’s commander and set it aflame.
The Gaspee was pursuing American Captain Thomas Lindsey’s packet from Newport, when it ran aground off Namquit Point in Providence’s Narragansett Bay on June 9. That evening, John Brown, an American merchant angered by high British taxes on his goods, rowed out to the Gaspee with eight long-boats with muffled oars and as a many as 67 colonists and seized control of the ship, shooting its Scottish captain, Lieutenant William Dudingston, in the abdomen. After sending the wounded captain and his crew to shore at Pawtuxet, the Americans set the Gaspee on fire.
When British officials arrived in Rhode Island to investigate the incident and send the perpetrators to Britain for trial, they found no one willing to identify those involved and the inquiry closed without result. The idea that the perpetrators would not be tried in the colonial justice system deeply angered the colonial assemblies, which established permanent committees of correspondence for the purpose of inter-colonial communication. They hoped to be able to learn of British plans to restrict Americans rights before the empire had time to act against colonial freedom. Colonists now feared a British conspiracy against their liberties.
Each year Pawtuxet Village remembers the burning of the HMS Gaspee with the month-long festival “Gaspee Days,” which includes a parade and a symbolic burning of the schooner.
On this day in 1775, Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold lead a successful attack on Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York, while the Second Continental Congress assembles in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The Congress faced the task of conducting a war already in progress. Fighting had begun with the Battle of Lexington and Concord on April 19, and Congress needed to create an official army out of the untrained assemblage of militia laying siege on Boston.
The transformation of these rebels into the Continental Army was assisted by the victory of the Vermont and Massachusetts militia under the joint command of Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold at the British garrison at Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain. Their major achievement was to confiscate enough British cannon to make the Patriot militias into an army capable of an artillery barrage.
Allen and more than 100 of his Green Mountain Boys had already decided to take the fort when Arnold arrived with formal military commissions from Massachusetts and Connecticut and a militia of his own. The Green Mountain Boys were unwilling to follow anyone but Allen into battle, so Allen and Arnold shared command as the Patriot militia surprised and overwhelmed the 50 Redcoats in the isolated garrison, who were completely unaware of the bloodshed in Massachusetts. The cannon seized at Ticonderoga and the next day at Crown Point, also on Lake Champlain, allowed the new Continental Army under General George Washington to drive the British from Boston the following spring.
Ironically, both Allen and Arnold would eventually be accused of treason against the Patriot cause they had served so well in its earliest and neediest moments. Allen avoided conviction for his attempt to reattach Vermont to the British empire in the unstable days of the new republic. Arnold’s name, however, became synonymous with traitor for his attempt to sell the fort at West Point, New York, to the British in 1780.
Acknowledgement: American Minute, January 17, 2018
“The Bloody Butcher” defeated at Battle of Cowpens, portrayed in “The Patriot” movie – the strategic turning point of Revolutionary War!