Luckiest? Who should have bought a lottery ticket? Who benefited most from being in the right place at the right time? Explain.
I believe the luckiest man in the Revolution by far was George Washington – not because he could have been killed a number of times in the war and wasn’t, but rather because he survived so many life-threatening illnesses and diseases.
In 1749, he contracted malaria (Ague) on survey mission of Lord Fairfax’s property;
In 1751, he contracted s mall pox when he was with his brother, Lawrence, in Barbados;
In 1751, he also contracted tubercular pleurisy (Consumption) probably contracted from his brother;
In 1752, he suffered a flare-up of malaria flare-up after campaign against Fort Duquesne;
In 1755, he contracted dysentery (Bloody Flux) when marching with General Braddock;
In 1757, he suffered a flare-up of d ysentery during the French and Indian War;
In 1759-1760, he a flare-up of tubercular pleurisy;
In 1761, he suffered a very serious flare-up of malaria simultaneously with a flare-up of dysentery;
In 1779, he suffered his first bout of tonsillitis (Quinsy) while stationed at Morristown and
In 1784, he suffered another flare-up of malaria but for the first time was treated with the bark of the cinchona tree.
He also chronically suffered from teeth and gum problems – so much so that by middle age, he had no natural teeth left in his mouth. From illness and disease alone, he used up all of his nine lives.
John Stark of New Hampshire. He was one of many who got pouty because someone else go the appointment that he wanted. Feeling slighted, he refused to follow orders to take his militia brigade to reinforce the Continental Army in the Hudson Highlands in 1777. His superiors appeased him by allowing him to stay in Vermont, where he just happened to be available to obstruct and thwart the attempted British raid (by mostly German, Loyalist and American Indian troops) on Bennington. His victory at Bennington (which wasn’t really *at* Bennington, but that’s another story) changed the dynamics of the 1777 campaign – all because he had refused to play with the rest of the army.
And after that, he got his promotion.
Thomas Jefferson. The first term of his presidency was full of stumbles toward disaster. He picked a pointless quarrel with the British ambassador about where he should sit at the White House dinner table. He violated a promise made to Federalists to keep Hamilton’s financial system. He ordered his Secretary of the Treasury to probe Hamilton’s tenure. To Jefferson’s dismay, the search produced not even a hint of corruption. Meanwhile a journalist produced evidence of the president having sex with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings. Newspapers published mocking songs about it. Jefferson was forced to confess, privately, that he had once attempted to seduce a friend’s wife. Meanwhile he foolishly had given Napoleon permission to invade Santo Domingo to restore that valuable sugar colony to the French Empire. He was unaware that this was a first step in Bonaparte’s plan to send another army to New Orleans and create a “wall of brass” along the Mississippi that would reduce America to satellite status, while France colonized the vast Louisiana Territory, which the dictator had browbeaten Spain into ceding to him. Instead the French army in Santo Domingo was destroyed by a secret American ally, aedes egypti, the mosquito that produces yellow fever. A disgusted Napoleon, hard up for money, offered to sell Jefferson the Louisiana Territory. Jefferson hesitated, convinced the acquisition of such a huge swath of the continent required a constitutional amendment. Advisors talked him into accepting the offer. Doubling the size of the nation made Jefferson one of the most popular presidents in American history. He won a second term in a landslide and his chief followers, James Madison and James Monroe, each won two terms, establishing a virtual dynasty.
If there was ever a case of “luckiest – right place at the right time” example, it would have to be for the bloody remnants of the Colonial Army after the Battle of Long Island. In the “Revolution’s Dunkirk”, Washington’s army had been outflanked, beaten badly, and now had their backs up against the East River. It was a perfect trap.
But instead, a nor-easter wind kept British ships from coming up the river finishing the trap. Then, darkness and an “unusual fog” shielded the silent evacuation – all night and into the fogged morning – the muffled oars and whispers of Washington’s men, horses, cannon and stores crossed the river without casualties and in total stealth.
Two classes of people stand out in my mind:
First, the settlers in the New Hampshire Grants (now Vermont) were able to take advantage of the war’s confusion and put substantial efforts towards separating out that area from the legitimate claims of New York rather than fully participating in the war against Britain. By continually focusing on denying oversight by New York and the Continental Congress as others fought the war, the settlers succeeded in keeping any thought of Washington’s intervention in their separatist actions at bay. In the end, they created a state, but only through a blatant rejection of otherwise lawful authority and at significant cost to their credibility.
Second, those speculators able to purchase from discharged and distressed soldiers at significantly reduced prices their rights to pay, pensions, etc. that they expected to receive in the future. Many soldiers rightfully entitled to those payments suffered as a result, while many of the purchasers made out like bandits.
The luckiest were those soldiers who experienced combat in the Revolutionary War, but were not wounded. The second luckiest were those who were wounded, yet survived more or less intact. James Monroe, for example, was one of the fortunate few. At Trenton, he took a ball to the shoulder that severed an artery. Luckily, his party had met up with a physician only a couple hours before the fighting began. The doctor decided to accompany the men in the Third Virginia and was present to save the eighteen year old Monroe.
I vote for the Americans at Saratoga. In the fall of 1777, British General John Burgoyne was so overconfident of his proposed success that he accidently gave the Americans time to regroup. Burgoyne’s attempt to separate the rebellious New England colonies from those farther south ended with the surrender of 6,000 British regulars at Saratoga, shocking the British and encouraging France to come to America’s aid.
George Washington. Yes, he was a skilled and competent leader, but he was also extremely lucky from the start. He managed, thanks to William Howe’s dawdling, to escape from Long Island with his army intact after being defeated at Brooklyn. He also managed to evade Howe’s subsequent blows in New York, got his army safely to Pennsylvania, and then got a lucky respite when Howe called off the campaign. That gave Washington the chance to strike at Trenton, where he again benefited from luck when the Hessian commander either ignored or did not understand the warning of the American approach brought by a loyalist. Washington also managed to escape afterward when Howe sent Cornwallis after him, getting a lucky break when Cornwallis decided to delay his attack until the next day and Washington was able to march away undetected. Without catching these several lucky breaks early in the war, Washington might easily have been captured, his army destroyed, and we’d all be standing while they played “God Save the Queen” at the start of a ballgame.
Enoch Crosby was a counterintelligence office employed by John Jay and the New York Committee and First Commission for Detecting Conspiracies. Under various guises he penetrated Tory units in the lower Hudson River area. Since it was a rather small geographical area, he often found himself exposed while involved in his activities. However, through a remarkable series of circumstances, if you believe the documents available, he was always just able to get out of trouble. See “Enoch Crosby Deposition in Application for a Federal Pension, October 15, 1832’’ (Document S/10/505, National Archives, Washington, DC) and Dorothy Barch. ed., Minutes of the Committee and First Commission for Detecting Conspiracies, 1776-78, John Watts DePeyster Publication Fund Series, nos. 17-18, vols. 1-2.
Almost all of the British military commanders finished the American Revolution with diminished reputations. However, Admiral George Rodney is the exception, but even for him it was not looking favorable until a timely encounter war’s end. In charge of the British fleet in American/Caribbean waters, Rodney captured the lavishly rich Dutch island of St. Eustatius on February 3, 1781. Even with its capture, politicians and other military commanders highly criticized Rodney for his self serving looting of the islands treasure and for attacking St. Eustatius while leaving the French fleet to trap Cornwallis at Yorktown. In fact, the British government issued a formal recall and sent Admiral Sir Hugh Pigot to relieve him.
Before the recall could reach him, Rodney engaged the combined French and Spanish fleets in the Battle of the Saintes and achieved a life altering victory in April 1782. Rodney returned home a revered war hero with high acclaim from the press and the public. The king conferred a peerage and a lifetime pension. Further, Rodney avoided prosecution for looting St. Eustatius and ducked responsibility for Cornwallis’s surrender. In the right place at the right time, Rodney secured a famed place among Britain’s most successful admirals.
Alexander Hamilton. Born a bastard in the West Indies, Hamilton rose from total obscurity to become one of the most important patriots of them all in shaping issues and events both during and immediately after the Revolution. Luckily for young Hamilton, he made contact with three valuable patrons, George Washington, Robert Morris, and Philip Schuyler. Taking advantage of these associations, he became the founding father of the American public financial system. As presented in the current Broadway musical bearing his name, Hamilton refused to throw away his shot at greatness until the day he engaged in a duel with his nemesis Aaron Burr at Weehawken, New Jersey. He fired in the air that day, the point at which he was no longer in the right place at the right time.
One particular gentleman, Angus McDonald, comes to mind. He was so outraged by his treatment in a New York jail that he basically issued his own news release. McDonald claimed that on August 8, 1775 about a half dozen soldiers accosted him through the window of his cell, throwing sticks, stones, and bricks at him. When they discovered they weren’t getting anywhere with such methods, one of them stuck the end of a loaded weapon through the window. “I not thinking the villain intended to take my life,” explained McDonald, “laid hold of the muzzle of the gun to take it in.” The scuffle ended predictably. The gun went off, and when the smoke cleared, McDonald found that “the ball took part of my hair off one side of my head, and lodged in the chimney behind me.” He was apparently left more indignant than injured by such a close shave. “So,” implored McDonald, “I’ll leave that usage to the world to judge whether right or wrong.”
As a boy, John Hancock became the heir of one of Boston’s great fortunes because his uncle and aunt had no children of their own. Hancock turned out to be a terrible businessman, spending down his inheritance. But he had excellent political instincts, never losing a race he contested, so he was also lucky to live when electoral politics became supreme. On top of all that, Hancock literally did play the lottery. In 1772 the artist Henry Pelham wrote that “Mr. Hancock drew the day before yesterday 1500 Dollars the Highest Prise in the Present Lottery. . . . this is the second tim[e] he has drawn the Highest Prise.”