Today’s Keyhole to History takes us to 1781, the year Robert Morris began issuing promissory notes, known as “Morris Notes”, to fund the Continental Army. Inflation of Continental Dollars and lack of financial support from the states had nearly bankrupted the Army. As the nation’s Superintendent of Finance, Morris offered his vast personal wealth as credit to give his notes value. General Washington desperately needed the infusion of Morris Notes to supply the Army as they marched to Yorktown. For the remainder of the war, Morris would be the Army’s primary financier. In 1783, he issued an additional $500,000 in Morris Notes ($15 million today) for soldiers who refused to disband before being paid. Morris personally signed 6,000 notes in one week to ensure soldiers went home with pay.
Today’s edition of Keyhole to History focuses on Catherine “Kate” Moore Barry and the Battle of Cowpens which took place on January 17, 1781. Kate’s husband Andrew Barry was a captain in the South Carolina militia. During the Revolutionary War she served as a scout for the local troops. When General Daniel Morgan was attempting to raise more troops before the battle of Cowpens, Barry roamed the countryside on horseback recruiting men. She was eventually captured by the British but refused to disclose the location of her husband’s company. The Battle of Cowpens was a turning point in the Southern Campaign of the war and Barry’s contributions helped drive the British out of South Carolina.
Keyhole to History: the clear and chilly morning of March 15, 1781. That’s when the battle of Guilford Courthouse took place in North Carolina. General Cornwallis was out for revenge after his loss at Cowpens, South Carolina. He had pursued General Greene for over one hundred miles and a decisive battle was about to take place. Cornwallis’ anticipated reinforcements of four hundred Tories had been massacred by Pickens, while Greene’s once outnumbered troops grew. At Guilford Courthouse, the battle seesawed back and forth with much hand-to-hand combat. When Cornwallis realized his victory was about to be turned into a defeat, he ordered his artillery to fire grapeshot into the masses, thus killing many of his own men. Then both sides disengaged with no clear victor.
Keyhole to History: May 23, 1781, when Augusta, Georgia, was taken back from the British. Augusta was taken by the British in January 1779 with the assistance of Colonel Thomas Brown, a rich Tory who was then placed in command of the city. While General Nathanael Greene was moving south, local militiamen decided to retake Augusta. Brown’s command consisted of about three hundred soldiers and Tories and about three hundred Creek Indians, while the patriots had almost twice that force and growing every day. After winning a few skirmishes and cutting off some Tory relief columns, the militia leaders convinced General Greene that Augusta could be taken. The Continental Army arrived in late May of 1781 and Augusta was freed from the enemy.
Today’s Keyhole to History examines the hard work of Jack Jouett, the “Paul Revere of the South.” Following the burning and evacuation of Richmond, Virginia, in 1781, the state legislature decided to meet in Charlottesville, near Governor Thomas Jefferson’s home at Monticello. British General Cornwallis sent Banastre Tarleton to capture the American leaders. When Tarleton and his 250 troops stopped to rest in Louisa County, Jack Jouett noticed the soldiers and foresaw their destination. Jouett rode almost forty miles on horseback the night of June 3 to reach Monticello the next morning. He warned Jefferson of Tarleton’s intentions before continuing on to Charlottesville. Because of Jouett’s decisive action, Jefferson and most of the other American leaders had time to escape British capture.
Keyhole to History: September 8, 1781. That’s when the last major southern battle of the Revolutionary War occurred at Eutaw Springs in South Carolina. General Greene placed the North Carolina militia in the center of his front lines, with South Carolina militia on either side, and posted cavalry on both flanks. His plan was working smoothly until the Virginia and Maryland Continentals broke ranks as they overran the British campsite. Naked, starved, and thirsty, they stopped to taste the spoils of war. This gave the English major, Major Marjoribanks, the opportunity to reassemble his fleeing army and then push the American Regulars into the woods. Three hours of bloody battle and intense heat was enough for both sides, so they disengaged. Major Marjoribanks did: he died, as did twenty percent of his men.
Keyhole to History: September 28, 1781, when the Allied Army, with a force of seventeen thousand strong, moved from Williamsburg, Virginia, to what would become the final major battle of the American Revolution at Yorktown. Colonel Trumbull, Washington’s secretary, made the following comments in his journal: “The enemy, on our approach, made some show of opposition with their cavalry, but upon our bringing up some field cannon and firing a few muskets, they retired and we took a quiet position for the night.” He went on to give this insightful description of his leader: “General Washington and his family sleep in the field without any other covering than the canopy of the heavens and the small spreading of branches of a tree.”
The Keyhole to History for today highlights James Armistead Lafayette, a Revolutionary War spy who played a pivotal role in the battle of Yorktown. He was born enslaved in Virginia around 1748. In 1781 with the permission of his owner he began serving as a spy under the Marquis de Lafayette. He became a double agent by acting as a servant for Cornwallis allowing him to relay information to Lafayette about British troop movements to Yorktown as well as provided false information to Cornwallis. Armistead Lafayette’s spying helped lead to victory at Yorktown and the end of the war. In 1787 Armistead Lafayette was finally granted his freedom for his service in the war and took on the last name of “Lafayette” in honor of the general he fought under.
Keyhole to History: October 19, 1781, when the English surrendered at Yorktown, Virginia. This final British disaster may be attributed to several causes: Cornwallis’ unwise encampment, his triangular division of troops, frightened British naval commanders, but most of all, Washington’s flexible strategy. The siege of Yorktown began in the afternoon of October 10 and continued until the English surrendered nine days later. The official ceremony was to take place on October 19, 1781, though General Cornwallis refused to attend. This ended the last major engagement of the American Revolution.

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