Keyhole to History: January 21, 1743, when John Fitch was born near Hartford, Connecticut. John Fitch constructed and sailed the world’s first steamboat along the waters of the Delaware River on August 22, 1787. This was sixteen years before Fulton and Livingston steamed along the Seine River in France, and twenty years before Fulton’s Clermont steamed up the Hudson River in New York. Throughout the Revolutionary War period, he expressed his firm belief that steamboats would someday rule the seas. But, with a war raging, backers were hard to find and he died penniless on a small farm in Kentucky. Had Fitch found some backers, the glory awarded to Fulton would have been his.
Keyhole to History: October 10, 1745. That’s the birth date of one of the unsung heroes of the American Revolution, Private Joseph DuBose. His grandfather, like many others in South Carolina, was a French Huguenot who came to the New World in 1685. They descended from French knights who fought in the Crusades and with the likes of Joan of Arc. The DuBoses lived along the Santee River with the Marions and the Porchers, all outspoken leaders of the American Revolution. Joseph, along with his father, all three of his brothers, several cousins, and an uncle or two, joined the local militia and fought with the noted “Swamp Fox,” Francis Marion. At least one member of the DuBose family was at every major battle fought in South Carolina during the Revolutionary War.
Keyhole to History: April 4, 1748. That’s the day Reverend William White was born in Philadelphia. Ordained in England in 1772, White returned to become the assistant minister of Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. He was a firm believer in freedom and on the Sunday following the signing of the Declaration of Independence, he refused to officially pray for the king during his services. He and Reverend Patrick Allison, a Presbyterian from Baltimore, were named the official chaplains for our Congress, a position White held until 1801, when the seat of our new government was moved to Washington, D.C. Only through the efforts of Reverend White and the provisions granted in our new Constitution did the Episcopal Church survive in Pennsylvania.
Today’s Keyhole to History highlights military leader Henry Dearborn. Born on February 23, 1751 to a wealthy New England family, Dearborn intended to become a doctor. When war broke out military service called him to action. Dearborn formed his own militia and fought at Bunker Hill, Saratoga, and Yorktown. He journaled his experiences throughout the war and later published them in six volumes. After the war Dearborn served as the U.S. Representative for Massachusetts as well as President Jefferson’s Secretary of War. He again served in the War of 1812 as a Major General in charge of the Northeast troops, though his efforts were generally unsuccessful. After the war Dearborn failed to renew his political career, except for serving as Minister to Portugal from 1822-24.
Keyhole to History: January 1, 1752, the day Betsy Ross, the woman credited with being the mother of the American Flag, was born. Although legend has it that Betsy made the first Stars and Stripes in Philadelphia at the request of the Continental Congress, no historical records support that event. In fact, that story was first made public in 1870, by one of her grandsons. Today, most historians agree that it was one Francis Hopkinson who, in 1780, asked Congress to reimburse him for his services in designing that first flag. One part of this original legend does have some basis in fact: Betsy is said to have suggested that the stars have five points instead of six. One wonders if that was done for its artistic value or to make it easier to sew.
Today’s Keyhole to History looks at George Rogers Clark, Revolutionary War general. Clark was born November 19, 1752 and began surveying land in 1771. Starting at Pittsburgh and working his way south, he explored much of the Ohio River Valley and the American frontier, which opened the Northwest Territory for settlement. Clark’s western military campaigns allowed him to collaborate with American and French leaders, disrupt British operations, and gather important allies along the way. He helped define Canadian and U.S. boundaries while successfully capturing several key forts in the region. Despite his best efforts, Detroit remained under British control. Clark established both Louisville, Kentucky, and Clarksville, Indiana, where in 1803, he built a cabin and retired.