Hancock orders the first Northern troops to defend the South, telling them to prepare immediately.
In June, 1775, at the order of the Continental Congress, George Washington assumed command of the fledgling American army which was encircling British forces in Boston. The troops which poured into his camp were initially from New England, but soon their number swelled men from Virginia, Maryland and other colonies. Although the...
In June, 1775, at the order of the Continental Congress, George Washington assumed command of the fledgling American army which was encircling British forces in Boston. The troops which poured into his camp were initially from New England, but soon their number swelled men from Virginia, Maryland and other colonies. Although the primary attention of the country was on the front in Boston, neither the Congress nor the individual colonies were under any illusions that the war would be confined to New England, and in the colonies recruiting was undertaken for troops to be used wherever needed. Congress was also active in recruiting, and in November, 1775, authorized the formation of battalions in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. On November 25, the Journal of the Continental Congress states that it elected field officers for the Pennsylvania Battalion, and that “John Bull, Esq. was elected colonel.” This was the senior command position of the Battalion. Bull was then 41 years of age, and a natural choice for command. He had been an officer in the French and Indian War and had commanded Fort Allen, served at Fort Duquesne, and been instrumental in the negotiations with the Indians in his sector. After his election by Congress, Bull immediately began organizing and training Pennsylvania troops.
Trouble was brewing in Virginia. The British governor, the Earl of Dunsmore, was rallying Tories, and headquartered in Norfolk, began raiding Tidewater plantations. On November 7, 1775, he issued a proclamation declaring martial law, calling on all citizens to actively support the Crown, and offering freedom to the slaves of those in rebellion who would join his cause. Virginia was in an uproar and asked Congress for help to overcome this royalist threat.
On December 4, 1775, Congress acted. Its Journal notes that it voted to urge Virginia to resist Dunsmore, and ordered three companies of the Pennsylvania Battalion to “immediately march under the command of the Lieutenant-Colonel Irvine [Bull’s second in command] into Northampton County in Virginia for the protection…and for the defense thereof against the designs of the enemies of America.” Thus did Congress take an important step in the unification of the colonies, ordering the first northern troops to help defend the south in the Revolutionary War. With southerners ordered to New England and northerners to the south, all could see that there was but one cause.
This resolution was sent by John Hancock in this Autograph Letter Signed, Philadelphia, “Congress Chamber, December 4, 1775,” to “Colonel Bull.” “Sir: I am to inform you that the Congress have this day come into the resolution which I now inclose you, and you will immediately determine upon the companies, & see that they are properly equip’d, & when ready inform me thereof, that you may receive the further orders of Congress as to your particular route. I am Sir, Your very huml. servt., John Hancock, Presidt. It is probable the companies will embark on board vessells in this river.” The next night, pursuant to this letter, Bull met with his company captains.
A few days after this letter was written, Virginia troops, aided by some nearby North Carolinians, defeated Dunsmore at Great Bridge and eliminated him as a threat to the colony. (Dunsmore did, however, burn Norfolk as he left, which made a great impression throughout America.)
What is crucial is the vision of Congress, seeing that the war was national in scope, and its action to make assistence reciprocal and treat the separate colonies as one country. Just seven months later, the very principles manifested by this letter led the same men to declare American independence, and to pledge to each other not merely military aid, but “our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”
As for Col. Bull and his men, Congress ordered them on January 19, 1776, to head for Canada to assist Gen. Schuyler in the unsuccessful adventure there. However, although the men went, Bull did not; he had resigned effective January 22. Congress must have had complete trust in him, as on February 13, it entrusted him with the task of carrying money from the treasury in Philadelphia to Gen. Washington at Cambridge, Mass., and advanced him $150 for personal expenses. Later in the war, Bull was a commissioner at the Indian Treaty in Easton in 1777, and then became Adjutant General of Pennsylvania. He returned to command the 2nd Pennsylvania Brigade and set up defenses on the Delaware River to protect Philadelphia. He had an active career after the war, and served in the Pennsylvania Assembly, dying in 1824 at age 90.
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