Outside of the big four (Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Charleston), which city was most critical to the success of the Revolution? Why?
Newport. British land and naval forces garrisoned in the rebellious nation’s fifth largest city for four years. Although the Continental Army failed to dislodge them in 1778, Newport served no great purpose for the British. They gained nothing while wasting resources that might have been employed elsewhere. Not until 1779 did the British Army and Navy pick up stakes and move southward, where chances of success were greater.
Fishkill, New York, a village a short distance east of the Hudson River and seventy-five miles north of New York City, was the site of a major encampment and supply depot during the war. Located at the north end of the Hudson Highlands, it was strategically located and served as one of the Continental Arm’s principal nerve centers.
Outside the village, which had been founded in 1714, George Washington ordered a small city to be built on seventy acres around the Van Wyck homestead. He modeled the facility on camps of the Roman legions, with barracks and officer huts to accommodate thousands of soldiers. The fort included a prison, a major hospital, an armory, blacksmith shops, stables, and a powder magazine. In 1778, Fishkill became the headquarters of the Northern Department. George Washington repeatedly visited Fishkill, which served briefly as the state capital in 1776.
Valley Forge is a well-preserved national treasure. Fishkill, a much more important site, is largely unknown. Worse, most of the historic ground has been obliterated by a highway, a shopping mall, and commercial development. An uphill battle to preserve the remaining fragments of the encampment, which contain the graves of many Revolutionary War soldiers, continues.
Versailles, if it counts as a city, and it should count as such because more people lived there in 1776 than in any city in the American colonies. Versailles was where France made its decision to aid the American rebels in 1776, to ally with them in 1778, to send over an army in 1780, and to repeatedly loan them money. Had these decisions not been made, the Americans would have lost the war and today their descendants, in all likelihood, would be subjects of the British crown.
Little Egg Harbor N.J. It was the headquarters for numerous privateers who preyed on British ships heading for New York. It was well up the Little Egg Harbor River (now the Mullica River) making it hard to attack. The British sent a 9 ship fleet to clear it out in 1778. They did a lot of damage but failed to capture a single privateer. During the Valley Forge winter a lot of supplies for Washington’s army were smuggled through Little Egg Harbor. It was a wild town, full of reckless sailors and loose women. It would make a great setting for an historical novel.
Certainly there are many possibilities, but my vote will be cast for New London, Connecticut. This kind of small port town was an important base of operations for rebel privateering vessels that could dart out into the Atlantic Ocean and seize British-sponsored ships carrying war-related supplies to America. These privateers have too often failed to get the credit they deserve for harassing and even having a disruptive effect on British supply lines back to England. For such reasons, British commander in chief Henry Clinton ordered turncoat Benedict Arnold to lead a detachment to wipe out privateering operations at New London. Arnold’s force struck on September 6, 1781. When a fire erupted in a munitions warehouse, the whole town eventually went up in flames. Of course, Arnold was blamed for causing this destructive fire, sure proof that he was an inherently malevolent man. In retrospect, bad mouthing Arnold is easy to do, but what should not be forgotten is that New London, as a major center of rebel privateering operations, was a legitimate military target that paid the price for its wartime-related activities.
-James Kirby Martin
Throughout the Revolution, Patriot and British forces hotly contested control of Newport, Rhode Island, strategically important all weather seaport and hot bed of revolutionary spirit. Whoever controlled Newport could affect shipping throughout New England and could disrupt communications between Boston and Patriot forces outside of New York and elsewhere in New England.
The British captured a lightly defended Newport in December 1776. In a first joint offensive, a joint Franco-Patriot force unsuccessfully attempted to seize it in August 1778. When British evacuated Newport in 1779, it became the base of operations for the French Army in North America.
Newport is overshadowed by its larger Boston and New York neighbors but was a vital military base and port. In the end, it served as a launching point for effective French and Patriot cooperation.
In the fall of 1774, Worcester was a small town in mid-state Massachusetts. But it was filled with feisty citizens who had just about enough of British tyranny. The first thing they had done was to fire the Crown-appointed court judges (the local arm of the British government) and made them all walk a gauntlet on Main Street saying they were sorry they ever existed.
Left without a government and still miffed, the townsfolk instructed their Provincial Congress representative to tell the other delegates that Worcester has dissolved Britain’s ownership of them and that they had voted for “independency.” The shock of this treasonous talk flowed through the halls of the First Continental Congress like a shock from one of Dr. Franklin’s lightning rods. But it may have been the first serious jump-start ever for Congressmen hearing the peoples’ call for radical “independency.”
Newport, Rhode Island is location #1 on the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route (W3R-NHT), and I have many happy memories of working on the W3R up there, so I pick Newport. In the fall of 1776, the British took over Newport for a naval base to attack New York City. The British abandoned the city in 1779. On July 10, 1780, a French expedition commanded by General Rochambeau, arrived with an army of 450 officers and 5,300 men in Narragansett Bay with Newport becoming the base of the French forces. In July 1781, Rochambeau’s force left Rhode Island, marching across Connecticut to join Washington on the Hudson River at Mount Kisco, New York to begin the decisive march to Yorktown, Virginia. A decade later, in 1791, the Rhode Island General Assembly, seated in Newport, voted to ratify the Constitution and become the 13th state.
I would say Newport, Rhode Island. It hosted the French fleet and Rochambeau’s army from 1780 to 1781, until the time that Rochambeau’s army joined Washington’s to trap Cornwallis’s army at Yorktown, and eight warships from Newport joined de Grasses’s fleet off of the Virginia Capes.
In addition, the British occupied Newport from December 1776 to October 1779. Newport’s role in the Revolutionary War has been underestimated and underreported, which accounts for my last three books!
Albany, NY was most critical beyond the big four. In addition to being the epicenter of upstate New York and the home of Phillip Schuyler Albany was the bulls-eye of the three-pronged attack strategy of the British to cut the Colonies. Schuyler was a wealthy landowner who was appointed a major general and whose daughter married Alexander Hamilton. Schuyler was too ill to command the Canadian expedition of 1775 but was the responsible general in planning the defense to the British Saratoga Campaign. While Albany’s importance waned somewhat after 1777, it still served as protection, along with the Hudson Highlands, for Washington’s northern flank. Albany’s early establishment as a trade center for furs and a transportation hub made it an important economic city as well.
Lebanon, Connecticut, also known as the “Heartbeat of the Revolution.” From its strategically safe inland location at an important crossroads, Lebanon was the focal point for much of the war’s early support and from which men and provisions were repeatedly drawn. Under the auspices of Governor Jonathan Trumbull (1710-1785), the Council of Safety met in his mercantile business (called the “War Office”) over 1,100 times as it dealt with many issues, including the huge logistical needs in supplying Washington’s army and the nascent navy; all of which explains why Connecticut became known as the “Provision State.”
Marblehead, Massachusetts, the birthplace of the United States Navy, the hometown of much of the 14th Continental Regiment, and a source for American privateers.
The Marblehead schooner Hannah became America’s first naval vessel and in its brief service captured a British sloop carrying muskets, ammunition, and artillery. Before 1775’s end, the Continental Navy fleet was organized in Marblehead. Though decommissioned and renamed the Lynch, the schooner formerly called the Hannah later delivered diplomatic messages to Benjamin Franklin in France.
Colonel John Glover’s Marblehead militia (the 14th Continental Regiment) saved Washington’s army after the Battle of Long Island by safely ferrying American soldiers, horses, and supplies across the East River and avoiding British entrapment and capture.
Glover’s Regiment ferried American forces and artillery in Washington’s crossing of the Delaware, fought at Trenton, and carried spoils and prisoners back across the Delaware. When their enlistments expired, many Marblehead men went into privateering.
London. The merchants of the imperial capital supported the American cause in the 1760s and early 1770s, providing the political pressure to repeal the Stamp Act and most of the Townshend duties. Once fighting started, patriotic insurance traders and bankers kept the Empire financially afloat as it shipped men, weapons, and supplies to the far side of the ocean. But after Yorktown, all those same businessmen demanded an end to the expensive and disruptive war, bringing down Lord North’s government in favor of a Whig coalition that promised to seek peace.