Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - May - 2013 Issue

The American Revolution in Manuscript from Joe Rubinfine

Washphilab

Washington reports the British have abandoned Philadelphia.

Item 55 is a sad letter, written by a great patriot, Brigidier-General Joseph Palmer. Palmer was a very successful businessman and manufacturer from Quincy, Massachusetts, John Adams' hometown. He was also a strong supporter of the revolutionary cause. Though just a year shy of 60 years of age at the time, he participated in the Battle of Lexington and later at Breed's Hill. He also contributed financially to the cause with great generosity. The Revolution tore apart his business interests, but that did not deter Palmer from his ardent support. Having been advanced in the military for his great support and participation, he was placed in charge of an attack on the British in Rhode Island. That was probably not a great idea as Palmer was more businessman than military man, and when the support he expected from his superior, General Joseph Spencer, did not arrive, the mission turned into a disaster. Palmer was forced to retreat. He quickly became the scapegoat, with Spencer pressing charges, perhaps to protect his own reputation. In this letter, Palmer writes that he had no notice of the charges, and asks Hancock for time to prepare his defense. “If ever I exhibited any proof of public virtue, it was upon this expedition – and this is the reward!!! So long as life & liberty remains, I will justify my conduct, even if certain Death should be the consequence.” Hancock, a former neighbor and friend, provided little assistance, and Palmer was charged with neglect and disobedience. The charges later were thrown out and the Continental Congress, in which Palmer had served, cleared him after a lengthy investigation. Nonetheless, Palmer's reputation was damaged and he lost most of his fortune supporting the Revolution. $1,000.

Item 77 is an important document signed by George Washington at what was a major turning point in the war. The British had marched from New York to Philadelphia in the fall of 1777, forcing the Americans to abandon their capital. Washington and his troops had to survive the cold and terrible conditions of the long winter at Valley Forge. However, by the following spring, France had joined the war on the side of the patriots and England was forced to rethink its strategy. Fearful of attacks on New York by the French Navy, the British decided to abandon their capture of Philadelphia and return their troops to New York to fortify its defense. It effectively signaled an end to England's attempt to capture the northern colonies by land, turning instead to a strategy of naval harassment of ports and capturing of land in the less well defended south. On June 18, 1778, Washington learned that the British were evacuating Philadelphia. He whipped off this letter (written by his aid, Robert Harrison, and signed by Washington) to George Bryan, Vice-President of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania. Washington writes, “I have the pleasure to inform you, that I was this minute advised by Mr. Roberts's, that the enemy evacuated the City early this morning..” The General notes that many citizens had observed the retreat. At the end, he adds, “P.S. A letter from Capt. McClean dated in Philadelphia, this moment came to hand confirming the evacuation.” “Mr. Roberts” is likely Philadelphia merchant George Roberts, while Capt. Allen McLane was a cavalry commander. $45,000.

Joe Rubinfine may be reached at 321-455-1666 or Joerubinfine@mindspring.com

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