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Tag: revolutionary war

Thomas Jefferson: Governor of Virginia, Part II

Today’s guest post was written by Jim Zeender, senior registrar in Exhibits at the National Archives in Washington, DC. This post continues the story of Jefferson as Governor, began in Part I.

Thomas Jefferson. Charcoal drawing. (59-PP-3)

Jefferson’s term as Governor ended on June 2, 1781, a dangerous and chaotic time for Virginia. General Cornwallis had heard of the General Assembly’s move to Charlottesville and quickly dispatched Lt. Col. Banastre Tarlton’s cavalry unit to capture members. Jefferson had already retired to nearby Monticello. In the confusion and disruption of normal government activity, the Assembly was unable to elect a new Governor, and so the state remained leaderless for almost a week.

When the Assembly did meet, it initiated an official inquiry into Governor Jefferson’s actions. Ultimately, the inquiry would go nowhere, but the criticism would shadow Jefferson for the rest of his life.

* * *

After Benedict Arnold’s attack on Richmond in January, Jefferson remained worried about the limited state resources and growing British threats.

He wrote to Congress: “The fatal want of arms puts it out of our power to bring a greater force into the field than will barely suffice to restrain the adventures of the pitiful body of men they have at Portsmouth. Should any others be added to them, this country will be perfectly open to them by land as … [ Read all ]

Thomas Jefferson: Governor of Virginia

Today’s guest post was written by Jim Zeender,  senior registrar in Exhibits at the National Archives.

Photograph of a painting by Thomas Sully of Thomas Jefferson (ARC 532932)

This week, we celebrate Thomas Jefferson’s 270th birthday—April 13, 1743—and look at one particular year in his life, 1781. That year did not begin auspiciously for Jefferson, and on April 13 he would have matters on his mind more weighty than his birthday.  He was in the second of his two terms as Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The 10 months that preceded the great American victory at Yorktown were harrowing ones for the Governor, the General Assembly, and the rest of the Virginia government. Once in January and again in May, the British attacked and forced the evacuation of the new state capital at Richmond. To make matters worse, the initial British assault was led by none other than Benedict Arnold, the traitor who had escaped the Continental Army only months before, when his plan to turn over West Point to the British was discovered and foiled.

Before becoming Governor, Jefferson had spent 15 months in the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, where he drafted the Declaration of Independence in June 1776. In September, he returned home and was elected to serve in the Virginia House of Delegates. Three years later, at the age of 36, Jefferson was … [ Read all ]

In their own words: John Adams and Ben Franklin, Part I

Portrait of Ben Franklin (ARC 532834)

Portrait of John Adams (ARC 532843)

This is part of a series, written by Jim Zeender, devoted to letters written by the Founding Fathers in their own words and often in their own hand. Jim is a senior registrar in National Archives Exhibits.

John Adams of Massachusetts and Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania crossed paths during “critical moments” in the earliest days of the republic. They met for the first time at the First Continental Congress at Philadelphia in 1774, the first joint meeting of 12 American colonies (Georgia did not attend). Both were supporters of independence, Adams most publicly and Franklin more behind the scenes, though both were equally masterful wordsmiths.

During the Revolutionary War, Adams and Franklin worked together in Paris to obtain French support for the American cause, sometimes clashing on how best to do so. ­And they successfully negotiated peace with Great Britain. They saw each other for the last time in 1785, when Adams left Franklin in Paris for his assignment as the first Minister Plenipotentiary to Great Britain from the United States. During the years in between, their relationship had its ups and downs.

Their most intimate experience probably happened during an unsuccessful peace mission in September 1776. The British forces had recently raced across Long Island (New York) and almost destroyed the American Army. The British … [ Read all ]

Hemingway, JFK! What else do I have to say?!

Ernest Hemingway Holding His Son, ca. 1927 (ARC 192694)

Ernest Hemingway holding his son John ("Bumby"), 1924 (Kennedy Library. ARC 192694)

Americans love Paris. They even ended the Revolutionary War by writing and signing the Treaty of Paris in that city on September 3, 1783.

War brought other Americans to Paris. Almost 150 years later, it was home to Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and Ernest Hemingway.

Hemingway’s experience in Paris was colored by war. He arrived in Paris during World War I and went to the Italian front, where he worked briefly as an ambulance driver until injured by mortar fire. He returned to Paris as a correspondent for the Toronto Star in the 1920s, and it was during this time he wrote The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms, novels inspired by those experiences.

He returned again to Europe during World War II, and was present at the D-day landings at Omaha Beach (although as a noncombatant, he did not go ashore.) He won the Nobel Prize for Literature for the Old Man and Sea in 1954, but ended his own life in 1961.

But before that, he loved Paris too. The proof is in his dashing moustache and his stylish beret, evidenced in this picture.

In the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, MA, there are thousands of pictures in the Hemingway Archives, which is part of the collection of the National Archives. Hemingway … [ Read all ]

A funny thing happened on the way to the Revolutionary War

"Betsy Ross making the first flag, 1776 [according to legend]" Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer
“Betsy Ross making the first flag, 1776 (according to legend)”

(111-SC-92968)

On New Year’s day in 1776, Gen. George Washington and the Continental Army were laying siege to the British-controlled city of Boston. From Prospect Hill, General Washington ordered the Grand Union flag hoisted “in compliment of the United Colonies,” accidentally ending the Revolutionary War.

Or so the British thought.

In Boston, a speech by King George that offered favorable terms of surrender for the colonialists was making the rounds. Loyalists in the besieged city were elated when they saw what looked like the Union Jack flying above General Washington’s encampment at Prospect Hill, taking it as a sign that the Continental forces has accepted the terms and were calling it quits.

Washington remarked on the event in a letter to Joseph Reed on January 4: “By this time, I presume, they begin to think it strange we have not made formal surrender of the lines.”

That the Grand Union flag was so easily mistaken for the British Union Jack made it clear that, certainly, the 13 colonies had a flag problem.

Thankfully, on June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress took up the problem and declared “that the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.” … [ Read all ]