aph: american revolution


The Attack of the Turtle

A man of scientific vision, in the early 1770’s David Bushnell was only a college freshman, yet he was developing ideas that were centuries ahead of his time.  In between his college studies at Yale, Bushnell studied two revolutionary subjects; underwater explosives and submersible vehicles.  By 1775 he had developed two new important inventions, a explosive mine that could be detonated underwater, and a functioning submarine named the Turtle.  The Turtle was a submersible built from watertight wooden planks and reinforced steel bands.  It was a very small submarine, only large enough for one person.  Atop the Turtle were six glass windows which provided natural light.  In case it was dark, all of the instruments of the Turtle were covered in foxfire, the ooze from a certain type of fungus which glowed in the dark.  The Turtle was propelled forwards and vertically by two hand cranked propellers and steered with a rudder.  A water tank filled by a hand pump served as ballast, as well as 200 pounds of lead weight.  In calm waters, the Turtle could swim around three miles an hour.  It only had enough air for a thirty minute journey.

Bushnell intended to use the Turtle and his explosives to attack British warships that were blockading American ports during the American Revolution.  Thus Bushnell and his invention caught the attention of Gen. George Washington in 1776, who provided funding for the testing and preparation of the Turtle. The plan was to stealthily enter a harbor, sneak up on an expecting warship, bore a hole into it’s hull with which to attach a charge of timed explosives, then swim out of the way before the warship exploded. Bushnell himself could not pilot the sub, as he suffered from a number of debilitating illnesses.  Instead, three volunteers from the Continental Army stepped forward to conduct the daring mission.

On the night of Sept. 6th, 1776, the Turtle, piloted by Sgt. Ezra Lee, quietly swam in New York Harbor and approached the British flagship HMS Eagle.  Coming up against her hull, the Turtle went unnoticed as it bored a small hole in the warship’s hull.  However he was not able to drill into the hull as he struck a large iron plate.  Abandoning the attempt due to low oxygen, he made his way to safety but was followed by the British in a rowboat.  Releasing his explosives, the British turned back to avoid being blown up.

Although the attack by the Turtle failed, it would go down in history as the first act of submarine warfare.  On October 9th, Sgt. Lee and the Turtle tried again, this time targeting a British frigate near Manhattan.  Again, the attempt failed when British lookouts spotted the submarine and open fire on it, forcing it to retreat.  Some days later, the British found the Turtle’s anchorage in New Jersey, sinking it and the barge it operated from.

After the sinking of the Turtle, Bushnell was made a captain in the Continental Army, although he never saw combat.  Instead, he built his famous “Bushnell mines”, naval mines which were deployed in ports all over the colonies and became the terror of besieging British warships.  Bushnell claimed to have salvaged the Turtle after the war, however its fate remains unknown.

Painting of Deborah Sampson by Louis Glanzman. Records show that Sampson joined the Continental Army in 1782 and fought for 18 months in the last days of the war. She was stationed in New York and New Jersey, where there were still fierce guerrilla operations. She would be wounded twice (which is how she was discovered), and would be commended for bravery.

Later in life she claimed to have been at Yorktown, though not records survive showing that she was there at that time (though her unit was stationed there, the records show her joining up later). 


Okay, people. This here is a statue of Sybil Ludington.

In 1777, just a few weeks after her 16th birthday, Sybil rode forty miles across New York, warning residents about the oncoming British Army, and telling militia members to prepare to march. She started at 9pm and rode until dawn.

She beat off a highwayman with a stick.

She rode twice as far as Paul Revere, and unlike him, was not captured, and was able to complete her mission. Also, Paul Revere was one of three riders that night. Sybil went alone.

Sixteen years old. Riding 40 miles through the countryside and small towns of New York. By herself. In the middle of the night.

George Washington later dropped by the Ludington house to say thanks.

The statue above was sculpted by Anna Hyatt Huntington in 1961, and is in Lake Carmel, New York.


So I’m taking a course on the American Revolution, and a friend and I had the joking idea to make fake posters/covers based on the titles of the academic articles we had to read. :0 Mine was An American Tory by Morton Borden, which explores the complexity of Loyalism in the Revolution. This cover doesn’t really have anything to do with the content, but I did want to draw Alfred looking hesitant and suspicious, with a people of different positions and backgrounds behind him. Something about the title “American Tory” felt very weirdly cinematic and so I decided to make a fake indie/graphic novel type of cover.

Who knows? maybe I’ll make some “fake” comic book pages to go with it as well…..

Shawnee reenactor at Colonial Williamsburg. Native people played an important role in the Revolutionary War, especially in Ohio and Pennsylvania. They fought on both sides of the conflict, just as they fought on both sides in the French & Indian War. 

In South Carolina fear of native attacks (and Whig propaganda) made many people who would otherwise have been Loyalist (or at least neutral) pick up arms and join the rebellion. 

The role they played is one one that’s been under-reported.

The kinda guy you love to hate

Have I ever mentioned how much I hate Horatio Gates? Someone asked me why he is on my mug of disgraced generals, and honestly, I could go on and on about how terrible he was.

First of all, he coveted Washington’s position and was willing to do almost anything to get it. He lied to Congress, inflated his experience and accomplishments, and was associated with the Conway Cabal, that conspiracy to oust Washington from the commander-and-chief post.

He alienated one of the colonies’ very best generals, Benedict Arnold, then took credit for his and Schuyler’s success at Satatoga – so much so, that he is in the glorious paintings and everyone knows him as “the hero of Saratoga” when he actually almost let the victory slip through his fingers (and would have, too, if it weren’t for Arnold defying his orders and bravely rallying the troops, getting wounded in the process). If you had gone to Congress or any of the colonists a few months after the battle and asked them who won it, they would say “Horatio Gates!” But if you had gone to the soldiers of the army who served during that battle, they would tell you “Benedict Arnold!” Gates got command of the southern army after Saratoga; Arnold got a measly command of any post he wanted, and this only after Washington interceded on his behalf. There is no doubt this horrid treatment was a main reason for Arnold’s turning traitor after his recovery. And most Americans don’t even know who Philip Schuyler is.

Worst of all, though, worst of all in my eyes is the Battle of Camden. As per usual, Gates wouldn’t listen to anyone’s advice and went ahead and led his army into a swamp, where the British trapped it against water on three sides. He then chose to engage the British, who greatly outnumbered his men. General Johann DeKalb, a wonderful, experienced officer who came over from Europe with Lafayette under noble principles, fought ferociously with his American men in this battle he knew they would lose. When his body was found, it was riddled with no less than eleven wounds. The American casualties? More than 2,000 Americans killed, wounded and imprisoned.

But where was their intrepid leader? Why, Gates had leapt on his horse and ridden as fast as he could away from the battle, ABANDONING HIS MEN. He was discovered three days later nearly 200 MILES away from the battlefield, and finally (rightfully) stripped of his command of the southern army.

This set of pistols was owned by the Marquis de Lafayette, who gave them to George Washington. Washington carried them through the Revolutionary War. For a time they were also carried by Andrew Jackson, before ending back up in the hands of the Lafayette family. In 2002 they were auctioned by Christies and sold for $1,986,000.

Lot Description


Marked by Jacob Walster (w. 1761-c.1790), Saarbruck, France (now Germany), circa 1775-1776

Each with octagonal to round barrel of “Damascus” steel embellished with silver and gold wire inlay, the steel locks with chamfered edges and engraved borders, the tails engraved with a panoply of arms, all mounted on European walnut stocks with relief carved detailing holding wooden rammers with bell-shaped horn finials and iron cleaning tips, the first barrel markedWALSTER, the second marked A SAARBRVCK, both housed in an American Black Walnut case, 1830-1847; together with four accompanying manuscripts comprising an envelope addressed to Geo. W. Lafayette; a presentation document signed by J.L. Martin addressed to Geo. W. Lafayette, the verso inscribed by G.W. Lafayette (figs. 8,9); Madame Hennocque’s copy of M. Edmond de Lafayette’s 1890 will (figs. 10,11); a copy of the exhibition catalogue, “Les Etats-Unis & La France au XVIII Siecle” (Paris: Hotel Jean Charpentier, 1929)
17¾in. long (5)


The Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834)
George Washington (1732-1799), by gift
William Robinson (1782-1857), by inheritance
Andrew Jackson (1767-1845), by gift
George Washington Lafayette (1779-1849), by bequest
Edmond Lafayette (1818-1890), son
Antonin de Beaumont (d. 1910), nephew
Marie de Beaumont (Mme. Edmond Hennocque), daughter
Charles Marchal, 1958, by sale
Charles Dresser, a French private collector
Couturier Nicolay Paris (Auctioneers), Collection de Monsieur X: Tres Important Ensemble D'Armes a Feu et D'Armes Blanches du XIVe au XIXe Siecle, 19 October 1983, lot 124

Pre-Lot Text

Presented by the Marquis de Lafayette to George Washington during the American Revolution, these pistols stand as a supreme testament to the enduring friendship between America’s most revered historical figures and their struggle for American Independence. After just a quarter century following Washington’s death, the pistols were recognized as important icons of the New Republic and in 1824 were given to Andrew Jackson in support of his quest for the presidency. Not only did the pistols pay homage to the battlefield successes of America’s first and seventh presidents, but they also provided a symbolic link between military prowess and political leadership. With the return of the pistols to the Lafayette family in the mid-nineteenth century, the pair came to symbolize Franco-American ties and the mutual quest for liberty. Today, the pistols stand as one of the most important pair extant and the story of their illustrious ownership speaks to the ideals and aspirations of America’s founders.


The life-long friendship between George Washington and Lafayette began in August 1777 at a dinner party in Philadelphia.1 Just two months earlier, Lafayette had arrived in South Carolina, a twenty-year old French aristocrat intent on fighting for the American cause. He later recalled,

The moment I heard of America, I lov’d her. The Moment I knew she was fighting for freedom I burnt with a desire of bleeding for her–and the moment I schall be able of serving her in any time or any part of the world, will be among the happiest in my life.