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Thursday, August 23, 2012

When Congress Fled

Today it’s hard for us to think of the possibility that our government might ever be forced to flee before an approaching enemy force. But this has, in fact, happened several times in our history, and the first was during the American Revolution.

Delegates to the Second Continental Congress—which after the passage of the Declaration of Independence became the Congress of the fledgling United States—met at the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia, now known as Independence Hall. In the fall of 1776, the British drove Washington’s battered army out of New York, all the way across New Jersey to Trenton, and finally, in early December, across the Delaware River into Pennsylvania. Terrified that British General William Howe would pursue Washington across the Delaware and push all the way to Philadelphia, residents of the city began to flee in panic, and on December 12, Congress also evacuated.

On December 20, the delegates reconvened at the Henry Fite House in Baltimore, Maryland, where they remained until late February 1777. The largest building in Baltimore at the time, the Fite House was originally built as a tavern in 1770 and eventually burned down in 1904. During its brief use by Congress, it became known as Congress Hall and later as Old Congress Hall. Thus Baltimore became the nation’s capital for a two-month period. While meeting here on December 27, 1776, Congress conferred upon George Washington “extraordinary powers for the conduct of the Revolutionary War,” making him essentially a military dictator. Thankfully he proved to be worthy of their trust by always deferring to Congress’s control.

Instead of attacking Philadelphia, however, Howe settled into winter quarters, and Congress returned to the city on March 4, 1777. They continued to meet at the Pennsylvania State House until September 19, 1777, after Washington’s defeat at Brandywine Creek, which left Philadelphia once again vulnerable to British attack. In book 4 of my American Patriot Series, Crucible of War, I included the scenes of panic that took place while the American and British armies essentially played a chess match, while Howe progressively tightened the noose around Philadelphia. I was delighted to find a number of eyewitness accounts of those tense days to lend accuracy and vividness to my descriptions.

According to an account by loyalist resident Sarah Fisher, “ . . . two nights ago the city was alarmed about two o’clock with a great knocking at people’s doors & desiring them to get up, that the English had crossed the Swedes ford at 11 o’clock & would presently be in the city. . . . wagons rattling, horses galloping, women running, children crying, delegates flying, & altogether the greatest consternation, fright & terror that can be imagined. Some of our neighbors took their flight before day, & I believe all the Congress moved off before 5 o’clock, but behold when morning came, it proved a false alarm. The English had only made their appearance opposite the Swedes ford, & some of our people whose fears had magnified it into a reality that they had crossed brought the alarm to town, & terror & dismay spread itself amongst them. Thus the guilty fly when none pursue.”

On the patriot side, congressional delegate John Adams wrote that “At 3 this Morning [September 19] was waked by Mr. Lovell, and told that the Members of Congress were gone, some of them, a little after Midnight. That there was a letter from Mr. Hamilton Aid de Camp to the General, informing that the Enemy were in Poss[essio]n of the Ford and the Boats, and had it in their power to be in Philadelphia, before Morning, and that if Congress was not removed they had not a Moment to loose. Mr. Merchant and myself arose, sent for our Horses, and, after collecting our Things, rode off after the others.”

On September 27 Congress convened at the courthouse in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, then removed to York, Pennsylvania, where they held their first meeting at the courthouse on September 30. In November, Congress approved the Articles of Confederation at York and submitted them to the States for ratification. The Articles went into effect on March 1, at which time Congress became the Congress of the Confederation. After the British withdrew from Philadelphia in June 1778, Congress reconvened at College Hall in Philadelphia on July 2 before once more making their home at the State House.

Considering the internal strife taking place in so many countries today, the United States has experienced very few disruptions of our government due to war since our inception. We truly have been extraordinarily blessed to have God’s hand of protection over us, and I pray that this nation will never turn away from the One who has given us such favor.

Now, since I inadvertently posted a day late, I’m offering a surprise drawing for those who stop by to comment. I just received my first copies of Crucible of War a couple of days ago, and those who make a comment on this post will be entered in a drawing for a free copy! The ebook edition is already available, but the print edition doesn’t release until September 3. You have until Friday at midnight to leave a comment, and please specify whether you’d like the ebook edition (Kindle, Nook, or CBD) or the print edition.

21 comments:

  1. I always learn something new from you, Joan. Actually, MANY new interesting facts about or country's beginnings. Turbulent times yet God was with them. I pray, like you, that God's favor remains on this country and that our nation returns to its roots of faith and trust in Him. Blessings for a lovely post.

    Would LOVE to be in the drawing for a PB copy of "Crucible!" elainemariecooper(at)yahoo(dot)com

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  2. Hey, Elaine! They were turbulent times, indeed, but God brought us through then, and He's still able to do the same today! Thank you for stopping by and commenting, and you're entered in the drawing. :-)

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  3. I am nearly finished reading Long Knife by James Alexander Thom from Laura Frantz's favorites list. I have not been a good student of the Revolution until recently, and I am surprised to cast off a childhood myth from poor primary education--that the British didn't leave our soil the second we signed the Declaration of Independence. Duh--I know. I think I knew this, but never took the time to think how it all unfolded. This is another great story of our history. Thanks for filling in more blanks. I shudder to think how many Americans know less than me, a lover of history. :o)

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    1. Anne, I just finished Long Knife too, after reading some of Laura's comments! Excellent story! I really think the problem with most people's lack of knowledge about the Revolution is that it hasn't been emphasized in the schools as it should be, and also that the typical textbooks make history cut and dried and boring: names, dates, places. Blah. I'm trying to help readers see how very fascinating and exciting this period is!

      Thanks so much for stopping by and entering the drawing!

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    2. Anne, you're the winner of a copy of Crucible of War! Please email me at jmhochstetler [at] msn [dot] com and let me know whether you want the ebook or print version, and if the latter, your mailing address. So glad you won!

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  4. Great article, Joan. I picked up an ebook copy of Crucible of War recently and read the first chapter. You can see what I had to say here.

    Many blessings,

    Cheryl

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    1. Oh, cool! Thank you so much for your lovely review of Ch. 1! I agree that it's harder to jump into the series in the middle, though I've tried to include enough info in both the summaries of the previous books and the backstory in the story itself to help. But there's a lot readers will miss unless they read the series in sequence.

      BTW, If you're interested in getting the rest of the books, please stop by my American Patriot Series blog. I'm doing drawings this month for the 1st 3 books--or winners can request just certain ones, too. You might win. :-)

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  5. A moving capital! What a strange idea. I'd love to win a copy of your book.

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    1. Hi, Jane! It is a strange idea, and the location of our capital changed a number of times until Washington D.C. was established and the Capitol built. I love running across details like this while researching my books. :-)

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  6. Excellent post Joan. I would love to be entered for a print edition of Crucible of War. The more I read and learn about our founders and those who have done so much to preserve our country since its beginning I am increasingly convicted to pray for revival in our nation.

    “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14

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  7. Hi, Janet! Thank you for stopping by and entering the drawing. I think you're so right about praying for revival for our nation. It seems to me that by any standard we've wandered away from the founding principles that caused God to bless us. Not that our founders were perfect or followed those precepts perfectly, but they KNEW the truth and sought to conform their lives to it. It seems to me that today there's so much darkness, and that we need to get back to those great principles and the God who provided them. Then our land will be healed. Amen!

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  8. Joan, I love love love your posts. I absolutely love history.
    I hope our country "will never turn away from the One who has given us such favor". Thank you for a great post.
    Crucible of War would be great in print. :)

    campbellamyd at gmail dot com

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  9. Oops forgot my name!

    Amy C

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  10. I read the Crucible of War in Kindle for I did not have money to buy it in print. I love the feel of book in my hands and I missed it when I read it on the Kindle on my PC. A print book would be lovely and I can display it on my table with my other Rev War books. I would love to be entered in the drawing.

    Thank you for a great post, as usual. :)

    My e-mail address is 18thcenturydreamer@gmail.com

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  11. Hey, Amy, thanks for stopping by and entering the drawing! And Amber, I've got you on the list too. :-)

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  12. Great post, Joan. Lots of good information. I'd love to win a copy of your book.

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  13. Thank you, Joan. Would love to know your source for the first hand accounts. If you don't mind sharing a secret.

    Loved the first three books and would be pleased to be entered in the drawing for Crucible of War. Kindle edition preferred. (Friend-husband can't complain about the space Kindle editions take.) ;-)

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Judith! You're entered in the drawing. I found these accounts and more in Stephen R. Taaffe's The Philadelphia Campaign, 1777-1778, and in the May/June 2012 issue of Patriots of the American Revolution magazine, both great resources.

      I love my Kindle too--love to be able to carry a lot of books with me in one little device. :-)

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  14. Great Post, Joan. I knew some of that, but learned a great deal more! People might also be interested to know that Congress also fled Washington DC during the War of 1812 when the British marched into town and burned it nearly to the ground. Dolly Madison, the president's wife.. stayed behind as long as she could to wait for her husband, but then finally grabbed as many papers and paintings and important artifacts as she could and got away.

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    1. MaryLu, I did think about including the attack on Washington during the War of 1812 and Dolly's heroism, plus the danger during the Civil War, when staying in Washington got pretty dicey for the President and Congress with some of the battles very close to the city. But I was trying to not be my usual wordy self and keep the word count down, so thank you very much for bringing it up!

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