Today’s Keyhole to History takes us back to March 1, 1780, the day that Pennsylvania passed the “Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery.” Beginning with an expression of gratitude for deliverance from the “tyranny of Great Britain” and for the opportunity to “extend a portion of that freedom to others,” the new act granted complete freedom to newborn children of enslaved women once they were aged twenty-eight. It also prohibited new slaves from being brought into Pennsylvania and started a registry to accurately record the enslaved and their masters’ compliance. While the act was the first of its kind in America, the issue of slavery unfortunately remained complicated. Heated arguments on both sides of the issue continued for years, but by 1850, there were no remaining slaves in Pennsylvania.
Keyhole to History May 26, 1780, the Battle of St. Louis is won. In 1780 St. Louis was a French settlement in Spanish Louisiana. Spain had entered the Revolutionary War in 1779. Hoping to gain control of the Mississippi River, the British and their Native American allies targeted St. Louis, the governing center of northern Louisiana. The local militia in St. Louis, led by Fernando de Leyba, Lieutenant Governor of Spanish Louisiana, had received word earlier in the year from traders about a coming attack by the British, allowing them time to secure the city by building a tower, trenches, and strategically placing cannons. While many settlers were captured or killed, the local forces were able to hold off the British, making it the last British attempt to control the Mississippi River during the war.
Today’s Keyhole to History examines Colonel Tye, who escaped slavery and became a respected Loyalist commander. Following Lord Dunmore’s Proclamation in 1775 to give freedom to enslaved men who aided the British Army, a man named Titus left Monmouth, New Jersey, shortened his name, and joined Dunmore’s Ethiopian Regiment. His ruthless raids and success earned him the honorific title of “colonel” from his men. He was well-paid and respected by the British. Tye’s infamous Black Brigade joined with the Queen’s Rangers to free many slaves. In August 1780, Colonel Tye led his forces in a surprise attack against the home of Captain Josiah Huddy. During the two-hour battle, Tye was shot in the wrist. Days later, tetanus set in and Tye died on September 3, 1780.
Today’s Keyhole to History September 29, 1780, Adjutant General to the British Army John André is sentenced to death. A dashing young officer, André distinguished himself and quickly rose through the ranks during the American Revolution. In 1779 he was appointed the head of British Secret Intelligence and began secretly writing to American General Benedict Arnold. During a secret meeting with Arnold, André became trapped behind enemy lines. When he was captured out of uniform with secret letters hidden in his boots, André was accused of spying. Despite pleas with Washington to be tried as an officer, he was found guilty of spying and hung on October 2, 1780. His gallant behavior drew both British and American mourners.
Keyhole to History: December 8, 1780. That’s when John Rutledge, as governor of South Carolina, accused Colonel Banastre Tarleton of barbarity. In a letter to the Continental Congress, he related the following: “Tarleton has burnt many homes, forcing women and children, almost naked, into the woods. At the home of General Richardson, he exceeded his usual barbarity. For, having dined there, he not only burnt it to the ground but also drove a number of cattle, hogs, and poultry into the barn and set it ablaze as well. He did this pretending not to know that the old general was dead; he would have known this had he opened the grave outside the front door. He is determined to break every man’s spirit if he cannot ruin him first.”