J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

John Adams Sits Tight in Philadelphia

On 23 Aug 1777, John Adams wrote home to Abigail about the British military’s approach to Philadelphia, where the Continental Congress was meeting:

It is now no longer a Secret, where Mr. [Gen. William] Hows Fleet is. We have authentic Intelligence that it is arrived, at the Head of Cheasopeak Bay, above the River Petapsco upon which the Town of Baltimore stands.

I wish I could describe to you the Geography of this Country, so as to give you an Adequate Idea of the Situation of the two great Bays of Cheasopeak and Delaware, because it would enable you to form a Conjecture, concerning the Object, he aims at.—

The Distance across Land from the Heads of these Bays is but small, and forms an Istmus, below which is a large Peninsula comprehending the Counties of Accomack and Northampton in Virginia, the Counties of Somersett and Worcester in Maryland, and the Counties of Kent and Sussex on Delaware. His March by Land to Philadelphia, may be about sixty or seventy Miles. I think there can be no doubt that he aims at this Place, and he has taken this Voyage of six Weeks, long enough to have gone to London, merely to avoid an Army in his Rear.

He found he could not march this Way from Somersett Court House, without leaving G. Washington in his Rear.

We have called out the Militia of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and Pensilvania, to oppose him, and G. Washington is handy enough, to meet him, and as G. Washington saved Philadelphia last Winter, by crossing the Delaware and marching to Morristown, and so getting in the Rear of Howe, so I conjecture he will still find Means to get in his Rear between him and Cheasapeak Bay.

You may now sit under your own Vine, and have none to make you afraid.—I sent off my Man and Horse at an unlucky Time, but, if We should be obliged to remove from hence, We shall not go far.
Adams was apparently sure that Howe feared having Washington “in his rear.” But wouldn’t that mean no Continental troops between the British army and Philadelphia? I might not have been so confident.

TOMORROW: Revisiting the Battle of Brandywine.

(German map of the 1777 Philadelphia campaign above from Wikipedia.)

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