Today’s Keyhole to History highlights the First Rhode Island Regiment. In February 1778, the Rhode Island legislature approved freeing enslaved men in return for military service. The resulting regiment, commanded by white Quaker Christopher Greene, was the 1st Rhode Island Regiment. It became the only regiment of the Continental Army to have segregated companies of black, biracial, and non-white soldiers. The unit continued to be known as the “Black Regiment” even though only whites were thereafter recruited into the regiment to replace losses, a process eventually integrating the unit. The enlistment of enslaved and free black citizens had been controversial and, after June 1778, no more were enlisted. The 1st Rhode Island Regiment was eventually disbanded in December 1783.
Today’s Keyhole to History gives a peek into the past for February 6, 1778, the day that the Treaty of Alliance was signed between the United States and France. It was negotiated by Benjamin Franklin, Silas Deane and Arthur Lee, and was the first treaty of the new American government. This military treaty promoted stronger trade and commercial ties, while stating that neither France nor America would sign a separate treaty with Great Britain, and that American independence would be a necessity on any future accord. France was eager to assist the American colonists’ battle against Great Britain, as it had hoped to regain some of its North American territories. The French government had been quietly sending aid to America prior to this coalition, but the Treaty of Alliance made France’s full support official.
Keyhole to History February 8, 1778, the day that Daniel Boone was captured near Blue Licks, Kentucky. Boone was leading an expedition to find food and salt for the winter when he was apprehended by a group of Shawnee Indians. He surrendered himself and secured the safe treatment of his men while in custody at Chillicothe, Ohio. After several months, Boone escaped and covered his 160-mile return to Fort Boonesborough in only four days’ time. Community members back at the fort had heard reports during Boone’s time away and thought he may have aided the loyalist Shawnees due to his easy capture and mild treatment. Though Boone successfully negotiated with his former captors to end a ten-day siege of the fort that autumn, many questions still remained about his true intentions and loyalty to the American cause.
Keyhole to History: April 24, 1778. That’s when the first sea battle was won by a ship flying the American flag. At the beginning of the war, each colony sent out privateers to prey on the British merchant ships. Since they flew local flags, the neutral countries could not tell our ships from the pirates’. Then along came John Paul Jones in his eighteen-gun sloop the Ranger, flying our first American flag at sea. On February 14, 1778, he convinced the admiral of the French fleet to exchange salutes with him, thereby receiving their first formal naval recognition of our flag by a foreign power. Then on April 24, John Paul Jones struck along the northern coast of Ireland, baptizing our flag in a victorious sea battle against the British sloop Drake.
Keyhole to History: May 18, 1778. That’s the date that the twenty-year-old Marquis de Lafayette was about to outsmart two of England’s greatest soldiers. Lafayette, with two hundred men, was ordered to harass the British supply lines and capture what they could. He camped atop Barren Hill in Pennsylvania, not far from a British encampment of over fourteen thousand troops. Generals Howe and Clinton knew of his camp and were so sure of capturing him that they began inviting guests to a dinner party for that night to present their young prisoner. Lafayette, sensing something was wrong, found an unguarded back road that led them to safety, so when the British finally closed in for capture, everyone was gone. Needless to say, the party was cancelled.
Keyhole to History: July 9, 1778. That’s the date when the Articles of Confederation were ready to be signed. The first delegates to sign were from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and South Carolina. Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and North Carolina signed it over the next two years. This confederation provided for a league of friendship among the states. This new quasi-government had the power to declare war, create treaties, establish an army and navy, regulate the value of money, deal with the Indians, and settle disputes between states regarding land claims. The problem was that they were not provided with any funds to do this, thus the need for the United States Constitution which was ratified in 1788.
Today’s Keyhole to History gives a peek into the past for July 10, 1778, the day King Louis XVI of France declared war against Great Britain. Prior to this official stance by Louis, France had been providing aid to the American colonies, both in secret and more publicly. French figures such as the Marquis de Lafayette and Pierre L’Enfant had already volunteered to help fight with the colonial forces. The French population and educated classes were in favor of helping the United States fight against their historical rival after hearing about the Declaration of Independence. Many viewed the American struggle as an example of the Enlightenment Spirit and philosophy and enthusiastically welcomed figures like Benjamin Franklin who visited Europe to rally support for the colonies.
Keyhole to History: July 29, 1778, the day the French fleet under the command of Count D’Estaing arrived in Newport, Rhode Island, thus kicking off the ill-fated Franco-American campaign. The Franco-American campaign was doomed from the start: American reinforcements arrived two weeks late and there was a total lack of cooperation between both sides. Plus, when the four thousand French troops disembarked there, there was a near riot in Newport. The French presence opened old religious wounds dating back to the Saint Bartholomew Massacre. On August 10, 1778, when the English and French fleets were squaring off to do battle, a violent storm scattered both squadrons, thus forcing both sides to abandon any further land or sea attacks.