Life in Washington's Army (1776-1777)

Soldiers often endure hardships and make many sacrifices while serving their country.  During America’s struggle for Independence, for example, many soldiers went without adequate food or sleep; clothing or bedding.  Most of General Washington’s troops, however, endured without a single complaint.  “It will be a terrible night for the soldiers who have no shoes… but I have not heard a man complain.”  An OfficerDiary of an Officer on Washington’s Staff, December 25, 1776

William Hull, an officer serving with Washington, provided a good description of the soldier’s life in 1776 – 1777.  “When we left the Highlands [Hudson River, NY], my company consisted of about fifty, rank and file. On examining the state of the clothing, I found there was not more than one poor blanket to two men: many of them had neither shoes nor stockings; and those who had, found them nearly worn out. All the clothing was of the same wretched description.

These troops had been almost a year in service, and their pay which was due, remained unpaid. Yet their privations [lack of provisions] and trials were only equaled by their patience. They knew the resources of their country did not admit of their being more comfortable; yet.  In a noble spirit of patriotism, they served her in her greatest need without compensation, and almost without the hope of more prosperous days…

In the attacks at Trenton and Princeton we were in this destitute situation, and continued to sleep on the frozen ground, without covering, until the seventh of January, when we arrived at Morristown, New Jersey, where General Washington established his winter quarters. The patient endurance of the army at this period, is perhaps unexampled in this or any other country.”   William HullRevolutionary Services and Civil Life of General William Hull, January 1777


Crossing the Delaware (1776)

The majority of Washington’s militia enlistments were expiring at the end of the year.  Suspecting few to reenlist, Washington desperately needed a victory.  Beginning at sunset on Christmas Day, Washington’s plan was to move his army and artillery across the Delaware River and march quietly to Trenton.  If all went well, his army would surprise the Hessian Garrison in an early morning attack.  River ice and a violent storm, however, created delays and prevented many troops from crossing.  Washington lost all hope of surprising the enemy but going back across the river was not an option.  When the muskets became wet, Washington ordered, “use the bayonets.  I am resolved to take Trenton.”

“… without tents and some of our men without even shoes, [we were ordered] over the mountains to a place called Newton, [PA]…   A day or two after reaching Newton we were paraded one afternoon to march and attack Trenton.  If I recollect aright the sun was about half an hour high and shining brightly, but it had no sooner set than it began to drizzle or grow wet, and when we came to the river it rained…  Over the river we then went in a flat-bottomed scow, and as I was with the first that crossed, we had to wait for the rest and so began to pull down the fences and make fires to warm ourselves, for the storm was increasing rapidly…

During the whole night it alternately hailed, rained, snowed, and blew tremendously. I recollect very well that at one time, when we halted on the road, I sat down on the stump of a tree and was so benumbed with cold that I wanted to go to sleep; had I been passed unnoticed I should have frozen to death without knowing it…”  John GreenwoodThe Revolutionary Services of John Greenwood, December 1776


The American Crisis (1776)

In the fall of 1776, the American army lost to British forces at Long Island (NY), White Plains (NY), Ft. Washington and Ft. Lee.  Historians estimate over 500 Americans were killed and over 4000 American soldiers were taken prisoner.  The British captured over 100 cannon and 1000’s of muskets.  Present at Ft. Lee, and serving as aide to General Nathanael Green, was Thomas Paine.  In December 1776, Thomas Paine later recalled, “I sat down, and in what I may call a passion of patriotism, wrote the first number of the [American] ‘Crisis.’”

“THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value…  Not a man lives on the continent but fully believes that a separation [from Great Britain] must some time or other finally take place…  I am as confident, as I am that God governs the world, that America will never be happy ‘till she gets clear of foreign dominion… 

I call not upon a few, but upon all: not on this state or that state, but on every state: up and help us…  better [to] have too much force than too little, when so great an object is at stake… The heart that feels not now is dead; [and] the blood of his children will curse his cowardice, who shrinks back at a time when a little might have saved the whole, and made them happy.  I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. 'Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.”  Thomas PaineThe [American] Crisis No. 1, December 23, 1776


Proclaim Our Independence (1776)

During the night of July 4, 1776, John Dunlap, the official printer to the Continental Congress, printed approximately 200 single-sided copies, called broadsides, of theDeclaration of Independence.  Congress had ordered, “… copies of the declaration [of Independence] be sent to the several assemblies… that it be proclaimed in each of the United States, and at the head of the army.”  Journals of Congress, July 4, 1776

In compliance with the orders of Congress, George Washington issued the following instructions to the army:  “The blessing and protection of Heaven are at all times necessary but especially so in times of public distress and danger—  The General hopes and trusts, that every officer, and man, will endeavor so to live, and act, as becomes a Christian Soldier defending the dearest Rights and Liberties of his country.

The Honorable Continental Congress, impelled by the dictates of duty, policy and necessity, having been pleased to dissolve the Connection which subsisted between this Country, and Great Britain, and to declare the United Colonies of North America, free and independent STATES: The several brigades are to be drawn up this evening on their respective Parades, at six O’clock, when the declaration of Congress, showing the grounds & reasons of this measure, is to be read with an audible voice.

The General hopes this important Event will serve as a fresh incentive to every officer, and soldier, to act with Fidelity [loyalty] and Courage, as knowing that now the peace and safety of his Country depends (under God) solely on the success of our arms: And that he is now in the service of a State, possessed of sufficient power to reward his merit, and advance him to the highest Honors of a free Country.”   George WashingtonGeneral Orders, July 9, 1776


Declaration of Independence

Declaration of Independence: Original Draft (1776)

Thomas Jefferson used many opportunities to oppose slavery.   One example is his Original Draft of the Declaration of Independence.  John Adams, writing almost 50 years later, praised Jefferson’s original draft.  “I was delighted with its high tone, and the flights of Oratory with which it abounded, especially that concerning Negro Slavery, which though I knew his Southern Brethren would never suffer to pass in Congress, I certainly never would oppose…  I have long wondered that the Original draft has not been published.  I suppose the reason is the vehement Philippic [bitter discourse] against Negro Slavery.”  John Adams, Letter to Timothy Pickering, August 6, 1822

Here is a portion of Jefferson’s original draft:  “… [King George] has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere…  [He has denied] every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable [detestable] commerce…  [and] he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he had deprived them, by murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded [forced] them: thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against thelives of another.”  Thomas JeffersonJefferson’s Draft of the Declaration of Independence, June 28, 1776

If slavery continued, Jefferson believed America would eventually suffer harsh consequences. “… can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God?  That they are not to be violated but with His wrath?  Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever…”  Thomas JeffersonNotes on Virginia, February 27, 1787

Declaration of Independence

All thirteen Colonies approved a Resolution of Independence on July 2, 1776.  The completed Declaration of Independence was approved on July 4, 1776.   On display, at the National Archives Bldg. in Washington, DC, is the copy ordered on July 19, 1776.  It was engrossed [w/ large characters] on parchment and presented to Congress on Aug 2, 1776.

IN  CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776, The unanimous Declaration  of  the  thirteen united  States of America,

When  in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature, and, of nature’s God, entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind, requires, that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes…   But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security…    Journals of Congress,Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776


In Pursuit of Liberty (1765)


In Pursuit of Liberty (1765)

Without a reminder, the human mind simply forgets.  Thomas Paine wrote, “It is at all times necessary… that we frequently refresh our patriotism by reference to first principles.”[1]  Writing about America’s first settlers, John Adams reminded his readers of the Puritan’s courageous pursuit of liberty.

“It was this great struggle [between the people and tyranny] that peopled America. It was not religion alone, as is commonly supposed; but it was a love of universal liberty, and a hatred, a dread, a horror, of [tyranny]…  [The Puritans] had been so vexed and tortured by the powers of those days, for no other crime than their knowledge and their freedom of inquiry… that they at last resolved to fly to the wilderness for refuge…

It may be thought polite and fashionable by many modern fine gentlemen, perhaps, to deride the characters of these persons… But such ridicule is… grossly injurious and false.  Religious to some degree of enthusiasm it may be admitted they were; but this can be no peculiar derogation [dishonor] from their character…  Whatever imperfections may be justly ascribed to them… their judgment in framing their policy was founded in wise, humane, and benevolent principles…  Tyranny in every form, shape, and appearance was their disdain and abhorrence; no fear of punishment, nor even of death itself in exquisite tortures, had been sufficient to conquer that steady, manly [courageous], pertinacious [unshakeable] spirit with which they had opposed the tyrants of those days in church and state.

… they saw clearly, that popular powers must be placed as a guard, a control, a balance… in every government, or else it would soon become… a great and detestable system of fraud, violence, and usurpation.”  John AdamsA Dissertation on The Canon and Feudal Law, 1765


Common Sense: Independence (1776)

Common Sense: Independence (1776)

After reading Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, many citizens shared the pamphlet with friends.  George Washington described the general reaction to Common SenseMy countrymen I know, from their form of government, and steady attachment heretofore to royalty, will come reluctantly into the idea of independence, but time and persecution bring many wonderful things to pass; and by private letters, which I have lately received from Virginia, I find "Common Sense" is working a powerful change there in the minds of many men.”  George Washington, Letter to Joseph Reed, April 1, 1776

“… We ought to reflect, that there are three different ways by which an independency may hereafter be effected, and that one of those three, will, one day or other, be the fate of America…  [1] By the legal voice of the people in Congress; [2] by a military power, or [3] by a mob…  Should an independency be brought about by the first of those means, we have every opportunity and every encouragement before us, to form the noblest, purest constitution on the face of the earth. We have it in our power to begin the world over again.

… WHEREFORE, instead of gazing at each other with suspicious or doubtful curiosity, let each of us hold out to his neighbor the hearty hand of friendship, and unite in drawing a line, which, like an act of oblivion, shall bury in forgetfulness every former dissension. Let the names of Whig and Tory be extinct; and let none other be heard among us, than those of a good citizen, an open and resolute friend, and a virtuous supporter of the RIGHTS of MANKIND, and of the FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES OF AMERICA.”  Thomas PaineCommon Sense, January 10, 1776

Common Sense: Tyranny (1776)

According to some historians, Thomas Paine’s, Common Sense, was the most influential pamphlet in American history. Widely popular, it sold over 120,000 copies in the first three months of publication and 500,000 copies by the end of the Revolution.

“… Britain is the parent country, say some.  Then the more shame upon her conduct.  Even brutes do not devour their young, nor savages make war upon their families…  Europe, and not England, is the parent country of America. This new World hath been the asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty from EVERY PART of Europe.  Hither have they fled, not from the tender embraces of the mother, but from the cruelty of the monster; and it is so far true of England, that the same tyranny which drove the first emigrants from home, pursues their descendants still…

No man was a warmer wisher for reconciliation than myself, before the fatal nineteenth of April 1775 [Lexington], but the moment the event of that day was made known, I rejected the hardened, sullen tempered Pharaoh of England for ever; and disdain the wretch, that with the pretended title of FATHER OF HIS PEOPLE, can unfeelingly hear of their slaughter, and composedly sleep with their blood upon his soul… 

A government of our own is our natural right: And when a man seriously reflects on the precariousness of human affairs, he will become convinced, that it is infinitely wiser and safer, to form a constitution of our own in a cool deliberate manner, while we have it in our power, than to trust such an interesting event to time and chance.”  Thomas PaineCommon Sense, January 10, 1776


Common Sense: Monarchy (1776)

Common Sense: Monarchy (1776)

In 1776, many colonists still considered themselves British Citizens.  Thomas Paine’s pamphlet, Common Sense, helped immensely to transition the minds of the people to consider Independence.  In this portion of Common Sense, Paine wrote a very unflattering history of monarchical governments.

“… Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil…  Wherefore, security being the true design and end of government, it unanswerably follows that whatever form thereof appears most likely to ensure it to us, with the least expense and greatest benefit, is preferable to all others.

… There is something exceedingly ridiculous in the composition of Monarchy…  Male and female are the distinctions of nature, good and bad the distinctions of Heaven; but how a race of men came into the world so exalted above the rest, and distinguished like some new species, is worth inquiring into…  In the early ages of the world, according to the scripture chronology there were no kings…  Near three thousand years passed away, from the Mosaic account of the creation, ‘till the Jews under a national delusion requested a king.  ‘Till then their form of government… was a kind of Republic, administered by a judge and the elders of the tribes.  Kings they had none, and it was held sinful to acknowledge any being under that title but the Lord of Hosts.

… For all men being originally equals, no one by birth could have a right to set up his own family in perpetual preference to all others for ever…  [Hereditary right] is one of those evils which when once established is not easily removed: many submit from fear, others from superstition, and the more powerful part shares with the king the plunder of the rest.” Thomas PaineCommon Sense, January 10, 1776

James Still (Mar 2016)