Unknown heroes of the American Revolution

Here, as promised, is the expose of the first of the  earliest, least-known, if not totally UNKNOWN, UNSUNG HEROES of the American Revolution.

Col. Jeremiah Lee of Marblehead, MA

Col. Jeremiah Lee of Marblehead, MA

Lee smuggled funds and war materiel funneled from Holland through France and Spain to Massachusetts at great peril to himself and to his family!

The following are pages 33-35 from my book, Rochambeau, Washington’s Ideal Lieutenant:

Since virtually all American records were either lost or intentionally destroyed at the time of the revolt against their  British overlords, little is known of the methods chosen by colonists to import the supplies and armaments needed to aid the organizing insurgents.

France and Spain were willing to help, but covertly. Some insight can be gained from the role of Colonel Jeremiah Lee, successful shipping magnate and devoted revolutionary patriot, who is largely neglected in history books. He served for twenty-five years as a colonel in the British militia at Marblehead, Massachusetts. In 1774, in collusion with French and Spanish shippers, at great danger to himself, Colonel Lee initiated covert importation of armaments.

It is unclear whether the arms originated in Holland, France, or Spain, but they were routed to Massachusetts through Lee’s shipping agent, Joseph Gardoqui et Fils, in Bilbao, Spain. At the same time, Lee served as liaison between the citizens of Marblehead and the British king’s agent in Boston, giving voice to the colonists’ grievances.

Colonel Lee was, according to the 1771 Massachusetts tax records, the wealthiest merchant in that colony during the pre-revolutionary period. He was very likely America’s largest colonial ship owner, holding full share in twenty-one vessels, mostly fishing and trading schooners from seventy to one hundred twenty tons each, and at least one transoceanic brig. A letter addressed to Colonel Lee dated February 15, 1775, Bilbao, Spain, and signed, Joseph Gardoqui et Fils, refers to an order being filled at Lee’s request. Although the letter never reached Lee, it stands as a record of the clandestine dealings between Lee, the Dutch, and the Spanish.

The Gardoqui agent writes, “We were determined at all events to assist you accordingly, we found out means to procure as many Muskets & pistols as were ready made on the parts for the Kings Army, the quantity was but small having only 300 Muskets & Bayonets, and about double the number of Pair of Pistols ready… besides which they must be got with a good deal of Caution & Ship… as to secrecy you may depend it is as much our Interest as any ones as the English…will look sharp in every port…however by having timely advise we can bring them [arms and powder] from Holland on Reasonable Terms & ship them as you desire. [You know we] long to see it settled with all our hearts, but should it be otherwise (which God forbid) command freely and you will find us at your service.”

Faithful to the American cause of independence, Colonel Lee met regularly with John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and other members of the secret committee in charge of supplies to plan the procurement of provisions and weapons. Each time that Lee arranged to ship supplies from Spain, Holland, and France to America he risked his business and his life, as the British had him under surveillance.

Colonel Lee’s last meeting was on April 18, 1775 (the day preceding the now famous Battles of Lexington and Concord), at Newell’s Tavern in Menotomy (now Arlington), Massachusetts, with another scheduled for the following morning at the Black Horse Tavern where Lee and two other patriot colleagues from Marblehead were lodging overnight. The meeting scheduled for April 19 did not happen.

During the British army’s pre-dawn march to Lexington to engage in the battle that officially began the war, the British raided the tavern Lee and the others, Azro Orne and Elbridge Gerry, fled and hid in a cornfield. In the early morning hours the men suffered from exposure, and Lee contracted a fever that led to his death on May 10, 1775. Following Lee’s untimely demise, Gerry continued working seamlessly with Gardoqui. Lee died an unsung hero of the revolution. Fortunately the incriminating letter did not fall into British hands. It remains, however, proof that aid received from the French, Spanish, and Dutch had begun much earlier than the British suspected.

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Merci beaucoup! Excelsior!

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Follow-up on the arrival of Hermione, Newport July 2015

Hermione Highlights in Newport: Lafayette’s Freedom Frigate Part 1 of 4:

An Unrelenting Francophile Also Arrives in Newport!

The arrival of Lafayette’s Freedom Frigate has been awaited breathlessly by me for 20 years. I am a nut about anything and everything French, so this is an event­ not-to-be- missed! For ages I had been getting letters, construction up-dates on the building of the 1780 Hermione replica, brochures and postcards of the finally-finished frigate from my friend, Lily, in France. All these publicity materials built up on my desk to a dizzying height.

An Hermione look-see was rising to the top of my to-do list for this July. I simply had to convince my husband to drive to Newport and spend 3 days taking in all the Lafayette military events and VIP luncheons we could cram into our short stint by the sea. After all, Newport was a key component in the history I had written on Rochambeau and his American campaign. I could, as they say, kill two birds with one visit. I knew Lafayette way before I knew Rochambeau. Lafayette was my first love as a hero on two continents way before Rochambeau eclipsed him.

I cajoled my daughter and my granddaughter from Cape Cod into joining us along with 4 others from as far away as New Jersey. Nearly everyone in our group professed at least a passing interest in history.

My daughter, on the other hand, after working with me to edit my military history on Rochambeau, shyly confessed to me when finished, that she really did not even vaguely like history!! This admission came after we had spent multi hours each week over 3 ½ years, editing my book on the phone between Connecticut and Massachusetts! One of us had to be crazy about something to hand on that long!

Anyway, here we were in Newport with her precise list of the events and iPhone in hand. We got up at the screech and broke out of the Jailhouse Inn in the center of old Newport to make our way to the first stop. Trinity Church.

We ambled up to the front door only to find that it was guarded by the legendary Rhode Island Regiment in their unmistakable white uniforms. I spoke with their commander whom I met at an earlier re0enactment, posed for a few photos with the soldiers and entered the church.

July 18th 2015

There was to be a dedication inside followed by a memorial ceremony outside by the grave of French Admiral de Ternay.

I remember him well. He played an important part in the early section of my book.

De Ternay commanded the 40 ship convoy to a safe harbor at Newport after a 70 day crossing. Rochambeau sailed with him on the flagship. The Admiral did his part in bringing about the last turning point of the American Revolution. He deserves to be remembered.

When we four entered the church, my daughter said we should look for Washington’s pew at the front, which we did. We mogged along behind her and seated ourselves at the front of the church beside the raised lectern. The pews were reminiscent of those at Paul Revere’s Old North Church in Boston, with tall sides and a door opening into each pew. We settled in to wait for the action.

In a few minutes there was a tap on my shoulder. Someone said, “Would you mind moving back just one pew please? This one is reserved for General Rochambeau.” I assented, and we happily removed ourselves to the next pew.

Presently a man in fine French military regalia slipped quietly into Washington’s pew.

This was truly an unexpected opportunity for me, always ready to step back in time to make conversation with one of the characters in my book.

Wasn’t this the reason I came to Newport after all? Here was a real live Rochambeau up close and personal.

I asked my daughter to take a few close-up pics of the General and myself as I   deftly stepped forward to greet him. Not knowing if he spoke French or English, I began in French and found him most agreeable. I believe he welcomed my company as sitting alone in the midst of a large crowd can make one uneasy. I asked him if he was American. He said, “presque” (“almost”) I did not inquire further, thinking that perhaps he had moved here, but was not fully acclimated.

He intimated that he was new at re-enacting the part of Rochambeau. One would not have guessed that since his uniform was perfect in every way. I was puzzled that he did not remove his tricorne hat in church.

I felt that it was more than opportune that I should be seated next to the object of my biography and told him of my having written his bio. He was shocked into silence. We exchanged business cards and, I returned to my pew after we posed together for the required photos for my second burgeoning scrapbook on the subject of the general himself .

After the short dedication to de Ternay ( and Rochambeau ( the former alive here and the latter buried outside) by the female Canon of Trinity Church, we marched out first-row-first, with the four of us just behind the General.

As we reached the door it popped into my head that as the General had risen to his feet to lead the procession to the graveyard, I could not help but notice that he was super tall and narrow of build, more like a George Washington than that of the shorter, stocky, Rochambeau. One cannot expect true-to-life at the last minute.

Outside our front pew General in his handsome black leather knee-high boots stood at the head of the oversize wide, long, flat stone that more than covered the grave of Admiral de Ternay. Rochambeau removed his hat for the playing of taps and the singing of the French and American national anthems. The Canon spoke a eulogy, the Admiral of the Navy War College of Newport extolled de Ternay’s valiant effort, and the Commander of the Rhode Island Regiment placed a wreath of delicate white flowers on the gravestone below the Latin inscription.

We stood with hands over our hearts during the anthems, sorry for the fact that the French admiral who did a yeoman’s job of avoiding capture by the British on the high seas to land his 5,500 Special Expeditionary French forces on friendly soil in Newport almost 235 years ago to the day, would die after only 5 months into his land mission in America.

Next episode: Viewing the Hermione sail into Newport

Happy New Year 2015!

A Most Happy New Year to everyone who has helped me to remember Rochambeau!

Let’s drink a toast to Rochambeau!              Buvons un coup; buvons en quatre!

Vive l’Amerique!                                               Vive la France!

Rochambeau

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Hugs and Best Wishes in the New Year from Jini and John!

Do you recognize this beautiful property and peaceful setting?

It is The Moore House with out buildings as seen today, very close to the battlefield at Yorktown, Virginia. It is important because it was here in October 1781 that the Articles of Capitulation were negotiated and drafted, finally bringing the British to their knees!

Rochambeau was instrumental in planning the winning battle of Yorktown.

The Moore House at Yorktown, Virginia

The Moore House at Yorktown, Virginia

Plans for the formal negotiations were made at the nearby Moore House overlooking the York River. According to the National Park Service, which now owns the house, the modest frame edifice had once been a part of York Plantation on a site first claimed by Governor John Harvey in the 1630s and later known as the five hundred – acre Temple Farm. Robert Smith was the owner until 1760  when he sold  the acreage to his brother-in-law, Augustine Moore.

The home is on the edge of the battlefield not far from the center of action. However, in 1781, when General Cornwallis settled into town with his army, many locals moved out of town in anticipation of the battle. It is believed that the Moores moved to Richmond for the time being to escape the coming siege.

Unlike that of the Nelson House, which was Cornwallis’s headquarters, the beautiful lines of the well-kept Moore house emerged in perfect condition from the battle at Yorktown, but it was marred during the Civil War. The National Park Service later bought and restored the building.
(Text from my book, Rochambeau, Washington’s Ideal Lieutenant; A French General’s Role in the American Revolution.)

King George III of England is cow-towed! And hog-tied!!

November 1st

Here are a few things you may not know that happened after the Surrender of Yorktown, VA, October 19th 1781

 

October 19, 1781
Later that afternoon the Duc de Lauzun, French cavalry officer, faced his opposite on the battlefield of Gloucester Peninsula, Lieutenant Colonel Tarleton, British cavalry, as the latter surrendered to him.

 

October 19, 1781
That night Rochambeau invited the vanquished Cornwallis for supper, but was turned down.  He had pled ill and skipped the Surrender Ceremonies as well.

 

October 21, 1781
French Commissary-in-Chief, Claude Blanchard finally took time away from the busy hospital in Williamsburg. “I went to see the City of York.”

 

October 24, 1781
The Duc de Lauzun was dispatched to Paris to tell King Louis XVI  the good news!

 

October 26, 1781
Comte Guillaume de Deux Ponts was dispatched to Paris to tell the King the Good News too! (on a separate ship)

Not long after – no date given: British King George III penned a letter saying, “America is lost. Must we fall beneath the blow?”

And so it went that glorious month of October 1781!!!

Imagine the illustrious double military career…

… of  Louis-Alexandre Berthier.

His career began with Rochambeau  and ended with Napoleon!

 

Louis-Alexandre Berthier

Louis-Alexandre Berthier

 

Louis-Alexandre Berthier marched with Rochambeau in America. Years later he also marched with Napoleon as his trusted adviser in many of his campaigns ini Europe, Africa and even into Russia. As a skilled cartographer Berthier and his brother, Charles-Louis, drew beautifully detailed maps of the Route of Rochambeau in his American campaign.

Read in my book, Rochambeau, Washington’s Ideal Lieutenant, to learn about the brothers and their misadventure, the crazy  way  they missed the Rochambeau convoy of ships that left from Brest, France without them!