Today’s Keyhole to History February 4, 1779, Captain John Paul Jones takes command of the Bonhomme Richard, a ship France gave to the Continental Navy. Launched in 1766 as the Duc de Duras, Jones renamed the ship in honor of Benjamin Franklin, taking the name from the French translation of Poor Richard’s Almanac. Captain Jones personally approved all 380 male crew members, indicating his bold plans to take the fight to the British. On September 23, 1779 just off the coast of England, the Bonhomme Richard attacked the British vessel HMS Serapis. The battle was fierce and when it appeared Serapis would win the day, Captain Richard Pearson asked Jones if he was ready to surrender, to which Jones famously replied: “Sir, I have not yet begun to fight”. Jones rallied his crew and the Serapis was captured. The Bonhomme Richard was so heavily damaged that it sank two days later and Jones sailed on the Serapis.
The Keyhole to History for today takes us to July 6, 1779, when Margaret Cochran Corbin became the first woman to receive a federal pension in the United States. When the Revolutionary War started, Margaret’s husband John Corbin joined the First Company of the Pennsylvania Artillery. Margaret joined her husband and became a “camp follower” helping the Company with laundry, sewing, and cooking. While stationed at Ft. Washington, Margaret, dressed as a soldier, assisted her husband in operating the cannon. When both her husband and the other soldier operating it were killed, Margaret took over and eventually became injured. She was never able to use her left arm again. Because of her service and injury, Congress awarded her half a male soldier’s pension for the remainder of her life.
Keyhole to History: July 16, 1779. That’s when the battle of Stony Point took place. Seven miles south of West Point along the Hudson River were two forts: Stony Point on the west and Verplanck’s Point on the east. When Stony Point was taken, Washington appointed “Mad” Anthony Wayne to retake it, and over thirteen hundred men were assigned to the task. Washington himself planned the attack, directing that bayonets be used, and except for one battalion, not a musket was loaded. By attacking the fort’s entrance, Wayne forced the British to counterattack. While this was going on, two columns breached the rear wall and rushed inside. The plan was skillfully executed and the fort was retaken with little loss of men.
Today’s Keyhole to History focuses on the battle of Lake Pontchartrain near New Orleans on September 10, 1779. At this time, the Spanish governor of Louisiana and local merchants were secretly funding the American rebel cause to quietly move goods along the Mississippi River, while British ships patrolled the British-held province of West Florida which bordered the lake. One such ship outfitted to protect trading vessels was the schooner Morris, captained by American William Pickles. Pickles and his crew were falsely posing as a British ship when they confronted a real British sloop-of-war, the HMS West Florida, commanded by Lieutenant John Payne. The Morris’ crew quickly changed their flag and boarded the enemy ship, subduing the crew, mortally wounding Payne in the process, and claiming the craft for the American campaign.
Today’s Keyhole to History gives us a peek into the life of Revolutionary War General Casimir Pulaski. Pulaski was a Polish noble living in exile in France when he met Benjamin Franklin, who told him of the American colonial struggle. In 1777, Pulaski was introduced to George Washington and quickly gained the general’s trust. Later called the “father of the American Cavalry,” Pulaski was put in charge of training the new mounted forces, using European tactics and at times even personally funding the units. His distinguished leadership at Brandywine and Germantown earned him fame throughout the colonies. During a daring charge to end the British siege at the Battle of Savannah in 1779, Pulaski was shot down from his horse by cannon fire and died several days later on October 11, 1779.

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