The first battle of the American Revolution

Posted by Helen Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Many of our readers will be shocked to see that we are celebrating or commemorating the first battle of that mighty rebellion. That was the consideration that prevented me from writing about Paul Revere's ride yesterday (that, and my inability to rid my memory of the other Paul Revere in Guys and Dolls "I gotta horse right here/ his name is Paul Revere").

The American Revolution, however, was in many ways the second English civil war and certainly a civil war within what we now call the Anglosphere. Furthermore, many of its principles were conservative, though the Tories at the time were clearly determined to bring the upstart rebels down.

And it's a cracking good tale. So here is the account of the battle of Lexington Green, as posted on Chicagoboyz.


  1. Anonymous Says:
  2. While I am happy to commemorate anything historical, I think we should give more serious attention to those who opposed the Revolution. They have had some attention recently, but are still largely ignored. Incidentally I am grateful to a historical novelist, Kenneth Roberts, for first making me aware of their story and of course Simon Schama has recently given some of them publicity.

    Perhaps we can get a debate started on historical novelists, many of whom seem to me perceptive observers of history. Kenneth Roberts is amongst the very best...

  3. Helen Says:
  4. Both terrific ideas, John. I do remember somebody promising an article ages ago about the Tories who opposed the American Revolution. I must chase that up. Schama's book is, of course, fascinating and gives a completely new view on the whole subject.

    Historical novelists? Indeed, yes. I was brought up on them until I discovered real history but a good historical novelist can illuminate a period and a series of events in a unique way. I shall try to put up a short posting that might, I hope, start a discussion.

  5. Jeff Scism Says:
  6. Various parties claim the US Congress recognized the Battle of Point Pleasant, of 10 October, 1774 as the first 'official' battle of the American Revolution. The below indicates that the Myth, which has various dates from 1906-1908, was never passed by both houses of Congress, and the issue never was enacted into law.
    Many claimants of Revolutionary patriots quote this "act" to establish claims for genealogical heritage societies, erroneously.

    "February 17, 1908, the United States Senate passed Bill Number 160 declaring the Battle of Point Pleasant the first battle of the American Revolutionary War"

    The Truth outs:

    S. 160 (60th Congress, 1st session) passed the Senate on February 21,
    1908. It did not pass the House, and never became law.

    It was entitled "A Bill to aid in the erection of a monument or
    memorial at Point Pleasant, West Virginia, to commemorate the battle of the Revolution fought at that point between the colonial troops and Indians October tenth, seventeen hundred and seventy-four."

    The bill makes no mention of the battle being the "first" battle of the American Revolution.

    Rodney A. Ross
    Center for Legislative Archives
    January 2, 2008

  7. Thank you for that fascinating comment. I suppose many of those battles were little more than skirmishes and hard to pinpoint.

  8. Unknown Says:
  9. Jeff, I appreciate your research. Thank you for submitting the letter from Rodney Ross. The Ross letter clarifies that the US Senate commemorates the Battle of Point Pleasant as a "battle of the revolution", fought on October 10, 1774.

    Ross advises that the US Senate did not explicitly cite the Battle of Point Pleasant as "the 'first' battle of the American Revolutionary War". Yet, was there a "battle of the revolution" prior to October 10, 1774?

    Yes, an Senate resolution is not a law. A Senate resolution expresses the view of the US Senate, in this case commemorating the Battle of Point Pleasant as a "battle of the revolution".

    Not withstanding the characterization of Mr. Ross with regard to the "'first' battle", do you suggest that another battle of the revolution preceded Point Pleasant? Or, do you dispute the authority of the US Senate to commemorate a battle of the Revolution?

    What is the point of your drama? Historians commonly disagree on the significance of various events. Some historians hold that Point Pleasant defined the course of the Revolutionary War. If Shawnee-Mingo remnants of the Algonquin Confederation had destroyed the Virginia Militia at their remote encampment, what militia may have expelled Lord Dunmore and the British Army from Virginia?

    If Lord Dunmore and the British Army had remained in Virgina, do you suppose George Washington would have abandoned Mt. Vernon to British confiscation in order to take command of the fledgling Continental Army on the Cambridge Common?

    Consider the timeline of the Battle. Lord Dunmore ordered Col. Lewis to gather the virginia militia and arrive at Pt. Pleasant from the south, by October 1. Meanwhile, Lord Dunmore and his British traveled from Alexandria to Fort Pitt (Pittsburgh), then south toward Pr. Pleasant. At Fort Pitt Lord Dunmore met with Algonquin chiefs. Minutes of this meeting do not survive. Then Lord Dunmore marched his army south toward Pt. Pleasant. On October 6, Lord Dunmore stopped six miles north of Pt. Pleasant. During the night of October 9, Shawnee & Mingo warriors crossed the Ohio river in front of the British army, then moved south to attack the encamped Virginia militia at dawn.

    The battle ensued during October 10. In late afternoon, the colonials outflanked the attackers. As the British Army belatedly arrived from the north, the Shawnee and Mingo retreated through the British battle column. The British continued in battle formation. The Virginia Militia regrouped in anticipation of receiving the British assault.

    Then, two companies of Virginia militia arrived in the British rear. That day, the late-arriving Virginia frontiersmen-soldiers had rushed 16 miles toward the sound of gunfire, while the British had marched only 6 miles.

    At this point, the British column paused. Under a white flag, Lord Dunmore communicated with Col. Lewis. Fighting stopped. The two groups camped apart.

    After recrossing the Ohio River, Shawnee chiefs took refuge in British fortifications. The British allowed them inside, then murdered them.

    What was the point of the British excursion? Recall that the Virginia charter extended west and northwest to the Pacific. Then, the Quebec Act extended the Canadian border south, to the Ohio River, compromising Virginia claims to present-day Ohio, Indian, Illinois and Michigan. Yes, the Algonquin confederation resisted Virginia expansion across the Ohio River, with savage, reciprocal, escalating violence between Virginians and Algonquin. Yet, in the Quebec Act, King George proclaimed Ohio Canadian, rather then Virginian.

    Have you read the correspondence between George Washington and Lord Dunmore, in which George Washington seeks to confirm his vast land patents in the Ohio Valley; to which Lord Dunmore replies to the effect the he wishes to help George, except that Lord Dunmore's authority as Royal Governor of Virginia does not extend across the Ohio River into Canada?

    Have you considered the extent to which the Quebec Act also extinguished the value of George Mason's investments in the Ohio Valley?

    Does your analysis of the Revolution encompass the Fairfax Resolves passed in the summer of 1774?

    In the summer of 1774, in retaliation for it support of insurrection in Boston, Lord Dunmore dissolved the Virginia House of Burgess.

    The Donmore's stated cause for Dunmore's War was to make the Ohio Valley safe for Virgina settlement. Does this make sense when King George had given the Ohio Valley to Canada, in order to preserve the Ohio valley from the prospect of Virginia insurrection?

    When Lord Dunmore stole colonial powder from Williamsburg, his stated rationale was to protect the colonial powder from Negro insurrection. His "Negro insurrection" rationale is discredited as ploy for his efforts to eviscerate Colonial assertions of independence. Is his stated rationale for Dunmore's War more credible then his stated rationale for stealing Colonial powder?

    Lexington and Concord did nothing to shape the course of the Revolutionary War. In fact, the powder for which the British searched in Concord had been stolen by force of arms from a British Blockhouse in New Hampshire, with death to defending British.

    Point Pleasant estranged the Algonquin from the British, thereby avoiding a western front in the Revolutionary War, while also preserving internal lines of control and communication for the colonies.

    If the Virginia militia had not survived Point Pleasant--and the matter was clearly in doubt for much of October 10, 1774--could the British have reinforced New York via established roads from Alexandria, Virginia, instead of from Quebec through the wilderness of Saratoga?

    Could the colonies have prosecuted a Western front, as well as the war in the North and in the South?

    If the Virginia Militia had not survived Point Pleasant to expel Lord Dunmore from Virginia, does anyone envision George Washington abandoning his beloved Mt. Vernon to British confiscation?

    Longfellow's poem taught generations of American school children that Paul Revere rallied the Minutemen; and also that the Revolutionary War began on Lexington Green. When the US Senate recognizes Point Pleasant as a "battle of the revolution", is the Senate resolution of less intellectual weight then then Longfellow's poem?

  10. Unknown Says:
  11. The Battle of Point Pleasant was an essential battle of the American Revolutionary War. By force of arms, the Virginia Militia defeated the British expansion of Canada south to the Ohio River. What is this business of Lord Dunmore's War, except giving positive credit to Lord Dunmore's self-serving account of his intent, an account inconsistent with the reality of the battle.

    If Point Pleasant had been a British victory in a war against the Iroquois Confederation, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Michigan would be Canadian, consistent with the Quebec Act. In fact, Point Pleasant was a Virginia victory which displaced British authority from the Ohio Valley. Point Pleasant preserved Virginia sovereignty over present day Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and lands west.

    If not Point Pleasant, what was the basis of Virginia's continuing sovereignty over the Ohio Valley, contrary to the express declaration of King George in the Quebec Act?

    If Cornstalk was not acting in concert with Lord Dunmore, pursuant to Lord Dunmore's promise at Fort Pitt to preserve Ohio from Virginia expansion:

    Why did Lord Dunmore stop the British Army six miles short of his published intent to operate jointly with the Virginia Militia.

    How were the Shawnee and Mingo able to cross the Ohio River, in front of the British encampment, in order to attack the sleeping Virginia Militia from their rear: attacking into the peninsula formed by the confluence of the Ohio and Kanawha Rivers, so that the militia had no possibility of retreat or escape?

    Why did Lord Dunmore order the Virginia Militia to await his army at such a vulnerable location, then spend three days encamped six miles short of the meeting?

    As the British regulars approached Point Pleasant in battle formation, why did the British allow the Shawnee and Mingo warriors to retreat unimpeded through the British ranks--then continue in battle formation toward the reforming Virginia militia--until the late-arriving companies of Virginia militia appeared in the British rear, as daylight dwindled?

    If Iroquois chiefs had not been acting in concert with the British, why did Iroquois chiefs seek refuge within British fortifications? Why did the British so promptly murder the refugee chiefs, except to quell revelation of the British-Iroquois conspiracy to destroy the Virginia Militia.

    After serving as Royal governor of New York, King George moved Lord Dunmore to Virginia with instructions to quell the Virginia insurrection. When Lord Dunmore was contemporaneously dissolving the Virginia House of Burgess and stealing Colonial gunpowder in Williamsburg, does it make any sense that Lord Dunmore would contravene King George and the Quebec Act by doing anything to facilitate Virginia expansion into Canadian Ohio?

    Clearly, as recognized by the US Senate, Point Pleasant was an essential battle of the Revolutionary War with decisive, lasting effect.

    Lexington and Concord were fought the next year, in full glare of the activist Boston/Massachusetts press. When General Gage sent his battle report to London, his report arrived weeks after the American reports. Hence, General Gage's self-serving account of Lexington/Concord was irrevocably superseded by the American account in public opinion.

    In contrast, Point Pleasant occurred at the extreme of European settlement, several weeks journey from the nearest newspaper. In the aftermath of the battle, Lord Dunmore's account was the initial, widely distributed description of the battle.

    Whatever Lord Dunmore may have written, Point Pleasant defeated King George's proclamation to expand Canada south to the Ohio River and shaped the ensuing Revolutionary War. For this reason, Point Pleasant was an essential Battle of the American Revolutionary War, as recognized by the US Senate.

    Was there an essential battle of the Revolution which preceded Point Pleasant?

    Tell me again how Lexington and Concord shaped the war, when the British excursion to Concord was an attempt to recover British gunpowder captured from a British blockhouse. New Hampshire militia stormed the British blockhouse with deadly force in December 1774, two months after Point Pleasant and four months before Lexington and Concord. Has anyone written a wildly popular poem about the daring, fruitful and deadly raid which evoked the British excursion to Concord?

  12. Rev War Stew Says:
  13. Seems to me that the Rev War was when Americans fought England. Americans were formed via the Dec of Independance - July 4, 1776. Before that, it was Colonists rebelling against England. Not Americans, Colonists. Otherwise, lets go back in time to 1770 - Boston Massacre or 1771 War of Regulation. Even Battle at Moores Bridge in Mar 1776 was pre July 4.

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