Ridpath's History of the United States
Volume II


Chapter V
France to the Rescue

Four months before the declaration of independence, Silas Deane of Connecticut was appointed commissioner to france. His business at the French court was to act as the political and commercial agent of the United Colonies. His first service was to make a secret arrangement with Beaumarchais, a rich French merchant, by which the latter was to supply the Americans with the materials necessary for carrying on the war. The king of France and his prime minister, Vergennes, winked at this proceeding; but the agents of Great Britain were jealous and suspicious, and it was not until the autumn of 1777 that a ship laden with two hundred thousand dollars' worth of arms, ammunition, and specie could be sent to America. In that ship came Baron Steuben, a veteran soldier and disciplinarian from the army of Frederic the Great. Being appointed inspector-general by Congress, Steuben repaired to Valley Force and reported to Washington for service. Immediately he was set to drilling and training the men according to the best standards of the Old World. By spring he had the army well trained, and capable of measuring up, man for man, with the British regulars, and never again were they beaten when confronted by the British in equal numbers.

In November of1776, Arthur Lee and Benjamin Franklin had been appointed by Congress to negotiate an open treaty of friendship and commerce with the French king. In the following month they reached Paris and began their conferences with Vergennes. For a long time King Louis and his minister were wary of the proposed alliance. They cordially hated Great Britain, they rejoiced that the British empire was about to be dismembered, they gave secret encouragement to the colonies to hold out in their rebeillion, they loaned money and shipped arms to America; but an open alliance was equivalent to a war with England, and that the French court dreaded.

Now it was that the genius of Dr. Franklin shone with a peculiar luster. At the gay court of Louis XVI. he stood as the representative of his country. No nation ever had an ambassador of greater wisdom and sagacity. His reputation for lerning had preceded him; the dignity of his demeanor and the simplicity of his manners added to his fame. Whether a philosopher or diplomatist, no man in that great city of fashion was the equal of the venerable American patriot. His wit and genial humor made him admired; his talents and courtesy commanded respect; his patience and perseverance gave him final success. During the whole of 1777 he remained at Paris and Versailles, availing himself of every opportunity to promote the interests of his country. At last came the news of Burgoyne's surrender. A powerful British army had been subdued by the colonists without aid from abroad. The success of the American arms and the prospect of commercial advantage decided the wavering policy of the king, and in the beginning of winter he made an announcement of his determination to accept an alliance with the colonies. On the 6th of February, 1778, a treaty was concluded; France acknowledge the independence of the United States and entered into relations of reciprocal friendship with the new nation. It was further stipulated that in case England should declare war against France, the Americans and the French should make common cause, and that neither should subscribe to a treaty of peace without the concurrence of the other. In America the news of the new alliance was received with great rejoicing; in England, with vindictive anger.

Benjamin Franklin, the author of the first treaty between the United States and a foreign nation, was born in Boston on the 17th of Januaru, 1706. His father was a manufacturer of soap and candles. To this humble vocation the young Benjamin was devoted by his parents; but the walls of a candle-shop were too narrow for his aspiring genius. At the age of twelve he was apprenticed to his brother to learn the art of printing; but the brother beat him, and he ran off to New York. There he found no employment. In 1723 he repaired to Philadelphia, entered a pringing office, and rose to distinction. He visited England; returned; founded the first circulating library in America; became a man of science; edited Poor Richard's Almanac; originated the American Philosophical Society; discovered the identity of electricity and lightning; made himself known in both hemispheres; espoused the cause of the patriots; and devoted the unimpaired energies of his old age to perfecting the American Union. The name of Franklin is one of the brightest in the history of any nation.

In May of 1778, Congress ratified the treaty with France. A month before this time a French fleet, commanded by County d'Estaing, had been dispatched to America. The object was to sail into the Delaware and blockade the British squadron at Philadelphia. Both France and Great Britain understood full well that war was inevitable, and each immediately prepared for the conflict. George III. now became willing to treat with his American subjects. Lord North, the prime minister, brought forward two bills in which everything that the colonists had at first claimed was conceded. The bills were passed by Parliament, and the king assented. Commissioners were sent to America; but Congress informed them that nothing but an express acknowledgment of the independence of the United States would now be accepted. Then the commissioners tried bribery and intrigue; and Congress would hold no further conference with them.

From September of 1777 until the following June the British army remained at Philadelphia. In the spring of 1778, General howe was superseded by Sir Henry Clinton. When the rumor came that the fleet of D'Estaing was approaching, the English admiral withdrew from the Delaware and sailed for New York. Finally, on the 18th of June, the British army evacuated Philadelphia and retreated across New Jersey. Washington occupied the city, crossed the river, and followed the retreating foe. At Monmouth, eighteen miles southeast of New Brunswick, the British were overtaken. On the morning of the 28th General Lee was ordered to attack the enemy. The first onset was made by the American cavalry under La Fayette; but they were driven back by Cornwallis and Clinton. Lee, who had opposed the battle, and was not anxious for victory, ordered his line to fall back to a stronger position; but the troops mistook the order and began a retreat, the British charging after them. Washington met the fugitives, rallied them, administered a severe rebuke to Lee, and ordered him to the rear. During the rest of the engagement the haughty officer, half-treacherous in his principles and practices, remained at a distance, making satirical remarks about the battle. The fight continued till nightfall; the advantage was with the Americans; and Washington, in hope of a complete victory, anxiously waited for the morning. During the night, however, Clinton succeeded in withdrawing his forces from the field, and thus escaped the peril of defeat.

The loss of the Americans in the battle of Monmouth was sixty-seven killed and a hundred and sixty wounded. The British left nearly three hundred dead on the field. On the day after the battle Washington received an insulting letter from Lee demanding an apology for the language which the commander-in-chief had used. Washington replied that the language was warranted by the circumstances. This Lee answered in a still more offensive manner, and was thereupon arrested, tried by a court-martial, and dismissed from his command for twelve months. The brave, rash man never re-entered the service, and did not live to see his country's independence.

The British land and naval forces were now concentrated at New York. Washington followed, crossed the Hudson, and took up his headquarters at White Plains. Count d'Estaing's fleet sailed for Sandy Hook and later for Newport, Rhode Island, where the British, commanded by General pigot, were in strong force. At the same time a division of the American army, led by Genral Sullivan, proceeded to Providence to co-operate with the French fleet in the attack on Newport. Greene and La Fayette came with re-enforcements, and the whole army took post at Tiverton. On the 9th of August, Sullivan succeeded in crossing the eastern passage of the bay, and secured a favorable position on the island. A joint attack by land and sea was planned for the following day. On that morning, however, the fleet of Lord Howe, who had left New York in pursuit of the French, came in sight; and D'Estaing, instead of beginning the bombardment of Newport, sailed out to give battle to Howe. Just as the two squadrons were about to begin an engagement a violent storm arose by which the fleets were parted and greatly damaged. D'Estaing repaired to Boston, and Howe returned to New York.

Sullivan laid siege to Newport; but when the French squadron sailed away, he found it necessary to retreat. The British pursued the Americans, and overtook them in the northern part of the island; a battle ensued, and Pigot was repulsed with a loss of two hundred and sixty men. On the following night Sullivan succeeded in reaching the mainland; and it was well that he did so; for an the next day General Clinton arrived at Newport with a division of four thousand regulars. The Americans saved themselves by hastily retiring from the neighborhood. Clinton, having sent out a detachment under Colonel Grey to burn the American shipping in Buzzard's Bay, destroy the stores in New Bedford, and ravage Martha's Vineyard, returned to New York.

The command of the British naval forces in America was now transferred from Lord Howe to Admiral Byron. Sir Henry Clinton, unable to accomplish anything in honorable warfare, descended to marauding and robbery. Early in October a band of incendiaries, led by Ferguson, burned the American ships at Little Egg Harbor. For several miles inland the country was devastated, housed pillaged, barns burned, patriots murdered. To the preceeding July belongs the sad story of the Wyoming massacre. Major John butler, a Tory of Niagara, raised a company of sixteen hundred loyalists, Canadians, and Indians, and marched into the valley of Wyoming, county of Luzerne, Pennsylvania. The settlement was defenseless. The fathers and brothers were away in the patriot army. There were some feeble forts on the Susquehanna in the neighborhood of Wilkesbarre, but they were useless without defenders. On the approach of the Tories and savages the few militia remaining in the valley, together with the old men and boys, rallied for the defense of their homes. A battle was fought, and the poor patriots were utterly routed. The fugitives fled to the principal fort, which was crowded with women and children. On came the murderous horde, and demanded a surrender. Honorable terms were promised by Butler, and the garrison capitulated. On the 5th of July the gates were opened, and the barbarians entered. Immediately they began to plunder, then to burn, and then to use the hatchet and the scalping-knife. There is no authentic record of the horrible atrocities that followed. The savages, divided into parties, scattered through the valley, plundered, robbed, burned, and drove almost every surviving family into the swamps or mountains. In this way George III. would subdue the American colonies.

November witnessed a similar massacre at the village of Cherry Valley, Otsego county, New York. This time the invaders were led by Joseph Brant, the Mohawk sachem, and Walter Butler, a son of Major John Butler. The people of Cherry Valley were driven from their homes; every house in the village was burned; women and children were tomahawked and scalped; and forty miserable sufferers dragged into captivity. To avenge these outrages an expedition was sent against the savages on the upper Susquehanna; and they in turn were made to feel the terrors of war. In the preceding December the famous Major Clarke had received from Patrict Henry, then governor of Virginia, a commission to proceed against the Indians west of the Alleghanies. The expedition left Pittsburg in the spring of 1778; descended to the mouth of the Ohio; and on the 4th of the following July captured Kaskaskia. Other important posts were tkaen; and in August, Vincennes was forced to capitulate.

On the 3d of November, Count d'Estaing's fleet sailed from Boston for the West Indies. In December, Admiral byron, in command of the British squardron, left New York to try the fortunes of war on the ocean. A few days previously, Colonel Campbell, with a force of two thousand men, was sent by General Clinton for the conquest of Georgia. On the 29th of December the expedition reached Savannah. The place was defended by General Robert Howe with a regiment of five hundred and fifty regulars, and three hundred militia. Notwithstanding the superior numbers of the British, Howe determined to risk a battle; but the result was disastrous. The Americans were routed and driven out of the city. Escaping up the river, the defeated patriots crossed into South Carolina and found refuge at Charleston. Such was the only real conquest made by the British during the year 1778. It was now nearly four years since the battle of Concord, and Great Britain had lost vastly more than she had gained in her struggle with the colonies. The city of New York was held by Clinton; Newport was garrisoned by a division under Pigot; the feeble capital of Georgia was conquered; all the rest remained to the patriots.


Return to Ridpath's History of the United States Table of Contents
Return to E-Books Index
Return to California AHGP Home Page
Return to Sacramento County AHGP Home Page


Webmaster
© 2000-2002 by Jacque Rogers