Patriot dog Zoe wanted to talk to you about American history today. She says All you have to do is listen to presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann talk about American history to see how people get it wrong. It’s not Bachmann’s fault entirely, (although Zoe thinks if she paid more attention, or got a bit more schooling she might have got the facts right.)
In American schools we are all taught the basics of American history and how this nation was formed. Interestingly enough, there are many facts that are left out of our basic education, and many things that simply aren’t true. Things Like Betsy Ross designed the first flag for the United States. Sorry, not true. And then there are things our teacher simply forgot, or didn’t know to teach us.
The list below contains 12 items, compiled by historian Thomas Fleming, that you probably didn’t know about the American Revolution. Happy 4th of July everyone.
1 The Americans of 1776 had the highest standard of living and the lowest taxes in the Western World!
Farmers, lawyers and business owners in the Colonies were thriving, with some plantation owners and merchants making the equivalent of $500,000 a year. Times were good for many others too. The British wanted a slice of the cash flow and tried to tax the Colonists. They resisted violently, convinced that their prosperity and their liberty were at stake. Virginia’s Patrick Henry summed up their stance with his cry: “Give me liberty or give me death!”
2 There were two Boston tea parties!
Everyone knows how 50 or 60 “Sons of Liberty,” disguised as Mohawks, protested the 3 cents per pound British tax on tea by dumping chests of the popular drink into Boston Harbor on December 16, 1773. Fewer know that the improper Bostonians repeated the performance on March 7, 1774. The two tea parties cost the British around $3 million in modern money.
3 Benjamin Franklin wrote the first Declaration of Independence!
In 1775, Franklin, disgusted with the arrogance of the British and appalled by the bloodshed at Lexington and Concord, wrote a Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson was enthusiastic. But, he noted, many other delegates to the Continental Congress were “revolted at it.” It would take another year of bitter conflict to persuade the Congress to vote for the Declaration of Independence written by Jefferson — with some astute editorial suggestions by Franklin.
4 John Adams defended the British Soldiers after the Boston Massacre!
Captain Thomas Preston led some British Soldiers to aid another British Soldier who was having things thrown at him and was also hit several times with a board. After their arrival, the people continued to pelt the soldiers and finally shots were fired and the infamous “Boston Massacre” was over. Captain Thomas Preston and eight soldiers were charged with murder. Future President John Adams took up the defense of the soldiers. He, along with Joshua Quincy, was able to get all but two acquitted by a local jury. Those two were found guilty of manslaughter, but claimed benefit of clergy. This means that they were allowed to make penance instead of being executed. To insure that they never could use benefit of clergy again they were both branded on the thumbs.
5 History’s first submarine attack took place in New York Harbor in 1776!
The Connecticut inventor David Bushnell called his submarine the Turtle because it resembled two large tortoise shells of equal size joined together. The watertight hull was made of 6-inch-thick oak timbers coated with tar. On September 6, 1776, the Turtle targeted the HMS Eagle, flagship of the British fleet. The submarine was supposed to secure a cask of gunpowder to the hull of the Eagle and sneak away before it exploded. Unfortunately, the Turtle got entangled with the Eagle’s rudder bar, lost ballast and surfaced before the gunpowder could be planted.
6 Benedict Arnold was the best general in the Continental Army!
“Without Benedict Arnold in the first three years of the war,” says the historian George Neumann, “we would probably have lost the Revolution.” In 1775, the future traitor came within a whisker of conquering Canada. In 1776, he built a fleet and fought a bigger British fleet to a standstill on Lake Champlain. At Saratoga in 1777, his brilliant battlefield leadership forced the British army to surrender. The victory persuaded the French to join the war on the American side. Ironically, Arnold switched sides in 1780 partly because he disapproved of the French alliance.
7 By 1779, as many as one in seven Americans in Washington’s army was black!
At first Washington was hesitant about enlisting blacks. But when he heard they had fought well at Bunker Hill, he changed his mind. The all-black First Rhode Island Regiment — composed of 33 freedmen and 92 slaves who were promised freedom if they served until the end of the war — distinguished itself in the Battle of Newport. Later, they were all but wiped out in a British attack.
8 There were women in the Continental Army, even a few who saw combat!
Probably the best known is Mary Ludwig Hays, nicknamed “Molly Pitcher.” She replaced her wounded husband at his cannon during the Battle of Monmouth in 1778. Another wife of an artilleryman, Margaret Corbin, was badly wounded serving in her husband’s gun crew at the Battle of Harlem Heights in 1776. Thousands of other women served in Washington’s army as cooks and nurses.
9 George Washington was the best spymaster in American History!
He ran dozens of espionage rings in British-held New York and Philadelphia, and the man who supposedly could not tell a lie was a genius at disinformation. He constantly befuddled the British by leaking, through double agents, inflated reports on the strength of his army.
10 By 1779, there were more Americans fighting with the British than with Washington!
There were no less than 21 regiments (estimated to total 6,500 to 8,000 men) of loyalists in the British army. Washington reported a field army of 3,468. About a third of Americans opposed the Revolution.
11 At Yorktown, the victory that won the war, Frenchman outnumbered Americans almost three to one!
Washington had 11,000 men engaged in the battle, while the French had at least 29,000 soldiers and sailors. The 37 French ships-of-the-line played a crucial role in trapping the 8,700 strong British army and winning the engagement.
12 King George almost abdicated the throne when the British lost!
After Yorktown, George III vowed to keep fighting. When parliament demurred, the King wrote a letter of abdication — then withdrew it. He tried to console himself with the thought that Washington would become a dictator and make the Americans long for royal rule. When he was told that Washington planned to resign his commission, the monarch gasped: “If he does that, sir, he will be the greatest man in the world.”