Today’s Keyhole to History August 7, 1782. On this day George Washington created the Purple Heart Award for “any singularly meritorious action.” This was the nation’s first military decoration. It was intended to honor the lower enlisted non-commissioned ranks of the military, allowed the wearer to pass sentinels and guard stations without challenge, and have his name listed in the Book of Merit. Only three soldiers during the Revolutionary War, Elijah Churchill, William Brown, and Daniel Bissell, Jr., were awarded the Purple Heart. After the Revolutionary War, the Book of Merit was lost and the award fell out of use until the twentieth century, when General Douglas MacArthur and the U.S. War Department reinstated the medal on February 22, 1932, Washington’s 200th birthday.
Keyhole to History, January 13, 1783, when the Newburgh Conspiracy brought its demands to Philadelphia. As negotiators in Paris continued to work toward peace between America and Great Britain, much of the Continental Army in New York remained on duty without pay. Many officers became restless. An anonymous letter was passed amidst the ranks condemning Congress, encouraging the army not to disband after a successful treaty, and hinting at a military coup. When Washington heard of the unrest, he rushed to address the soldiers in Newburgh and pleaded for patience, confidence, and patriotism. During his address, he reached for his glasses and, in a moment of vulnerability, asked for those present to forgive his ailing eyesight. This sign of humility made the soldiers rethink their intentions toward Washington, who had already given so much to his country.
Keyhole to History: January 15, 1783, the day Major General William Alexander died in Albany, New York. If the name William Alexander does not ring a bell, maybe you’ll recognize the Scottish name that he was better known by: Lord Stirling, a title that belonged to his father. He married the sister of New Jersey’s Governor Livingston and served on the provincial council for over a dozen years. When it came time to choose sides, Lord Stirling was found on the side of the patriots. At the battle of Long Island, his troops defended the Red Lion Inn, where his historic stand did not go unnoticed. Lord Stirling held command of every brigade except those of South Carolina and Georgia, something only George Washington could match.
Keyhole to History: March 10, 1783, which marks the final naval battle of the Revolutionary War. On March 10, Commodore John Barry and his ship the Alliance, along with a French ship called Duc de Lauzun, were filled with Spanish bullion which was destined for Congress to establish our first national bank. As they were sailing along the coastline of Cape Canaveral, Florida, they spied a couple of English frigates and decided to outrun them, but the Duc de Lauzun was too slow, so Barry stood and fought. With a fifty-gun French warship nearby, only one, the Sybil, decided to engage the Alliance. After a short sea battle, the Sybil’s guns were silenced. Thus the last naval battle of the revolution goes to Florida, even before it became a state.
Today’s Keyhole to History takes us to September 3, 1783 when the Treaty of Paris was signed. This treaty between the United States and Great Britain was the official end of the Revolutionary War. It established the independence of America as a nation and outlined U.S. borders. The United States gained land westward to the Mississippi River while Canada remained in British hands. All debts owed to creditors in both countries were still to be collected and British Loyalists in the United States were offered protections and the return of their confiscated property. Three men represented the United States in the negotiations: John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and John Jay, while Richard Oswald represented Great Britain. The Continental Congress ratified the treaty on January 14, 1784.
Today’s Keyhole to History focuses on the proposed fourteenth state of the union: Franklin, a territory in present day Tennessee. In 1784, the North Carolina government surrendered a portion of its western counties to Congress to help pay war debts. Some of the local residents pushed for independent statehood. One leader to emerge was John Sevier. Sevier negotiated land claims with nearby Cherokees and even approached the Spanish government. Despite this, skirmishes broke out and agreements were disregarded. Officials in North Carolina exploited this conflict in order to cancel the Congressional offer and gather its stray counties. Although Franklin lost its campaign for statehood in February 1789, the communities and leaders involved became vital in Tennessee’s formation in 1796.