Today’s Keyhole to History takes us to 1775 when David Bushnell invented the first submarine for military use. Known as the Turtle, this one-man egg-shaped submarine was made of wood and reinforced iron. It carried a detachable torpedo that could be attached underwater to an enemy ship. In September 1776 the Turtle, operated by Ezra Lee, attempted to attach the torpedo to a British ship in New York Harbor. The boring mechanism failed, and the mission had to be aborted. Attempts to use the Turtle in other attacks were not successful. Eventually the Turtle sank after the sloop carrying it was attacked by the British on October 9, 1776. Unsuccessful in the American Revolution, the Turtle was important advancing submarine technology.
Today’s Keyhole to History highlights Mary Katherine Goddard, a colonial printer and newspaper editor. In 1762 Mary Katherine began working in her brother William’s printing shop in Providence, Rhode Island. Eventually she followed him to Philadelphia managing the shop of the Philadelphia Chronicle. Later, they moved to Maryland where William started the Maryland Journal in 1774. In 1775, the paper began to read “Published by M.K. Goddard”, finally acknowledging Mary Katherine’s role at the paper. That same year, she became the postmaster of Baltimore, thought to be the first woman to hold that position in the colonies. She remained the postmaster until 1789 when she was fired by her superiors who thought the required travel was too much for a woman, even though she had the support of over 200 Baltimore businessmen.
Keyhole to History: April 21, 1775. On this day, a Lieutenant John Barker of the King’s Own wrote the following account of the battle of Lexington in his diary. “We were about five miles on this side of a town called Lexington, which lay in our road. We heard there were some hundreds of people collected together intending to oppose us and stop our going on. At five o’clock, we arrived there and saw a number of people, I believe between two and three hundred, formed in a common in the middle of the town. We still continued advancing, keeping prepared against attack, though without intending to attack them. On our coming near them, they fired one or two shots upon us, then our men, without any orders, rushed in and fired upon them. Several of them were killed. Shortly thereafter, we continued on to Concord.”
Keyhole to History: May 10, 1775. That’s when Colonel Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys from New Hampshire captured Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York. Although some history books give credit to Benedict Arnold for this capture, he had only a small band of men with him, while Allen, under orders from Connecticut, had two to three hundred Green Mountain Boys. In a report by Lieutenant Jocelyn Feltham, an officer at the fort, we learn the following: “Mister Allen held a drawn sword over my head while his men aimed their flintlocks at me. He insisted I give up the fort or else they would kill every man, woman, and child if I did not comply. Meanwhile, Mr. Arnold begged in a genteel manner, but without success, for us to surrender the fort.
Keyhole to History June 17, 1775, the Battle of Bunker Hill. After the Battles at Lexington and Concord, the Americans learned of British plans to surround the city of Boston with troops. This led the colonists to fortify Breed’s Hill (where most of the battle took place) and Bunker Hill. When the British attacked, General William Prescott was said to have uttered to “not fire until you see the whites of their eyes.” The Americans were able to hold off the British forcing them to retreat twice. Eventually ammunition began to run low and the colonists were forced into hand-to-hand combat. While the British won the battle, they suffered greater casualties than the Americans despite having more troops. The significant British casualties boosted the colonists’ self-confidence in their fighting abilities.