The American Colonies – Part 2

To have a better understanding of what happened during the American Revolution, one that may have directly affected your ancestors and should be added to any family history, here is Part Two. The first part appeared on April 17th.

At first General George Washington was unsure about having African blacks, some free and others still slaves to serve in the Continental Army. After he learned they had fought very well at Bunker Hill, he changed his mind. There would be eventually 5,000 African-Americans to serve during the American Revolutionary War, one out of seven soldiers. It was Rhode Island which had the first all-black regiment comprised of 33 free black men and 92 slaves. The British Army also recruited African-Americans, many who were promised freedom from slavery, with 20,000 in service to England.

A great deal of espionage was done on both sides, American and English, to learn of troop strengths, supplies, movements and plans. General Washington sent out many spies into New York and Philadelphia, which was held by the English, to gather information. The hardest working and most successful spies were women. It was Lydia Barrington Darragh who learns British secrets in Philadelphia and sent the information to the American officers. In New York was the famous Culper Ring, a spy network with the most knowledgeable spy being a woman with the code name of ‘355’. She was eventually captured in October 1780 by the British and kept on a ship off the coast in spite of being pregnant. She gave birth to a son on the ship and died very soon afterward.

To assist the British Army they recruited 30,000 German soldiers known Hessians, most from the German state of Hesse-Cassel. Approximately 3,500 Hessian soldiers after the war settled permanently in the new United States. Look to see if maybe an ancestor was one of those German soldiers.

One of General George Washington’s best ideas was to have the American Continental and Militia troops inoculated against the smallpox epidemic. At first, Washington ordered his doctors to keep a sharp watch for smallpox and to send infected men to the isolation hospital immediately. Washington still feared triggering an epidemic, so he took careful precautions to ensure the isolation of soldiers undergoing inoculation, moving them out of Philadelphia and into nearby segregated hospitals. He suggested sheltering newly infected soldiers in houses in the remote countryside and urged that inoculated Soldiers remain in isolation until fully recovered, and then issued either new or “well washed, air’d and smoaked” clothing. He recommended that the individual states immunize their recruits before sending them to join the Army. Even in spite of that preventive measure, some 17,000 American soldiers died from various diseases. Only about 6,800 died during battles and 6,100 wounded. Those (about 20,000) who were captured by the British, some 8,000 to 12,000 died as prisoners of war. Most of the prisons were actually very old, leaky ships stationary in harbors like New York – just ripe for diseases.

Women also served on the battlefields during the American Revolutionary War. There was Margaret Corbin, a nurse, who served on the gun crew with her husband’s artillery regiment. Margaret was seriously wounded at the Battle of Harlem Heights on November 16, 1776. Then Mary Ludwig Hays, who was nicknamed “Molly Pitcher”, as many ladies who assisted. She first assisted her husband, William Hays in the winter of 1777. She had replaced her wounded husband at his cannon during the Battle of Monmouth in June 1778. Many other women followed the American Army and served as cooks and nurses.

At the final Battle of Yorktown in Virginia, which went from September 28 to October 19, 1781, there were about 11,000 soldiers and militia members with General Washington. From France, assisting Washington, were nearly 9,000 French soldiers plus 30 French warships with over 20,000 sailors which proved too strong for the British and a peace was negotiated. The English had over 300 soldiers died in that final battle and only 88 Americans and Frenchmen total died at Yorktown.

Even after the huge defeat at Yorktown, England’s King George III wanted to keep fighting the Americans. When the English Parliament raised objections to continue the war, King George drafted a letter of abdication, but quickly reconsidered his action. He withdrew the letter and remained king. It was not until 1785 that King George III finally accepted the new relationship between Great Britain and the new States. He remarked to John Adams, “I was the last to consent to the separation; but the separation having been made and having become inevitable, I have always said, as I say now, that I would be the first to meet the friendship of the United States as an independent power.”

Photos: Lydia Barrington Darragh; Margaret Corbin; Mary Ludwig Hays; and Battle of Yorktown.

Related Blogs:

American Prisoners taken by the British

Database of American Revolution Soldiers and Sailors

Sons of the American Revolution

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