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10 Lesser-Known Facts about the American Revolution

American Revolution

The American Revolution was filled with rivalry, war, conspiracy plots, and broadway excursions. It was hard to imagine what kind of life was actually like during that time. If you have studied in a US school, you would have known mostly everything about the American Revolution, but there are still some things that are hard to cover. Many fascinating historic details would have been left out, which would have been exciting to know. Let’s learn now about these 10 lesser-known facts about the American Revolution.

1. In 1781, during the American Revolution, an enslaved man named Billy was convicted for treason and sentenced to death. Two judges objected to that verdict since a slave was not considered a citizen. An enslaved person could not commit treason against a government to which he owed no loyalty. Eventually, he was pardoned by a general assembly.

Slavery
Original Document in the Collection of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation. The right image is for representational purposes only. Image credit: historyisfun, Shutterstock

In 1781, White leaders were forced to confront the logic of slavery when an enslaved man was tried for treason yet escaped from execution because he was not accepted as a citizen.

During the American Revolution, an enslaved man named Billy was tried in Prince William County Court for waging war against the state and joining a British warship. He testified that he was forced to board the British vessel and had never raised arms on behalf of the British.

Still, Billy was convicted for treason and was sentenced to be hanged by the court. Two weeks after the death sentence, two judges named Henry Lee and William Carr overruled the verdict by then-Governor Thomas Jefferson.

They argued that an enslaved person is not considered a citizen and hence cannot commit treason against the government to which he owed no loyalty. Eventually, on June 14, 1781, he was pardoned by the state’s General Assembly and left a mark on history. (1, 2)

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2. James Armistead Lafayette was an African American slave who acted as a spy during the American Revolution. He worked as a double agent for the Continental Army and freely traveled between American and British camps. He successfully destroyed Benedict Arnold’s plan to attack Yorktown. Eventually, the British surrendered after this incident.

James Armistead Lafayette
Portrait of James Lafayette by Ruth Major. Image credit: LaVonne Allen via houseandhomemagazine

James Armistead Lafayette is a historical figure who led to the British surrender during the American Revolution. James Armistead was an African American slave who volunteered to join the US Army. In 1781, his master permitted him to join, and he was stationed under the commander of the allied French forces, the Marquis de Lafayette, who was an ally of General George Washington.

Armistead was employed as a spy who would work as a double agent for the Continental Army and would freely travel between American and British camps. He was employed as a spy in the hopes of gathering critical information regarding British movements.

He successfully infiltrated the British headquarters of General Charles Cornwallis and learned details about British movements without being noticed. In summer 1781, Armistead delivered a very important piece of information to Lafayette. He wrote detailing the plan of General Charles Cornwallis, which included the expected arrival of 10,000 British troops from Portsmouth to Yorktown.

Using the information, General George Washington and Lafayette set a blockade by land and sea around Yorktown, Virginia. They successfully weakened Cornwallis’s forces and forced the British to surrender on Oct. 19, 1781. Later in 1787, Armistead received his freedom and changed his surname to Lafayette. (1, 2)

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3. During the American Revolution, a superior British force was repeatedly attacked by 400 Maryland soldiers at the Battle of Long Island. Over 3,000 Americans were killed or wounded, which forced George Washington to escape with his army to Manhattan to avoid more casualties. When he saw these 400 soldiers charging six times directly into the British lines, he exclaimed, “Good God! What brave soldiers I have lost today.”

The 400 Maryland soldiers were the lifesaver at the Battle of Long Island during the American Revolution. After the Declaration of Independence of America on July 4, the Battle of Brooklyn Heights was the first major battle and began on August 27, 1776.

This battle was initiated to seize control over New York City and cut off New England from taking over the rest of the colonies.

The 400 Maryland soldiers were part of the First Maryland Regiment. They repeatedly charged the superior force of the British at the Battle of Long Island during the American Revolution. Around 3,000 Americans were wounded or killed.

To avoid more casualties, George Washington fled with his army to Manhattan. When General George Washington was escaping with his army to avoid more casualties, he said “Good God! What brave soldiers I have lost today.” (1, 2)

4. During the American Revolution, a British officer, Patrick Ferguson, did not take the opportunity to shoot an American officer who turned his back and rode away. Later, he came to know that the American officer was most likely General George Washington. It was not revealed whether Washington knew about the twist of fate with Ferguson.

Patrick Ferguson
Major Patrick Ferguson. Image credit: thoughtco

What if the British officer, Patrick Ferguson, had aimed and shot the American officer who turned his back and rode away? No one knows how the American Revolution would have turned out.

British troops landed at the northern end of  Chesapeake Bay on September 11, 1777. British marksmen, along with Captain Patrick Ferguson, a British officer who was reported to be their finest shooter, were covering the flank and were hiding in the woods looking out for American forces which were led by General George Washington.

An officer in the uniform of a European hussar along with a senior American officer who was wearing a hat came riding along. Ferguson whispered to his riflemen to carefully pick off the unsuspected officers, but before his men could take their place, he ordered them not to fire.

Ferguson called out to the American officer, but he rode off after turning his back. A day later, when he was seriously wounded, he came to know that he might have spared General George Washington’s life, who was that American officer he didn’t shoot.

Later, in the battle of Kings Mountain, Ferguson was killed, and it was not revealed whether Washington learned the truth about the twist of fate with Ferguson. (1, 2)

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5. Bayonets developed in the 17th century were used during the American Revolution. Earlier American soldiers used bayonets over the fire to cook meat. Later American soldiers used bayonets to win an entire battle without firing after they received training from a Prussian general.

Bayonets
Image is used for representational purposes only. Image credit: Shutterstock

Bayonets, invented in the 17th century, were the most important war weapons used in the American Revolution. They were developed in France and were earlier used to insert in the muzzle of the firearm.

These bayonets contained a four-inch socket that was fitted over the muzzle of the firearm. They also carried a blade of great length. The blades were mostly triangular and were primarily designed for thrusting. These were used by American soldiers over the fire to cook meat.

Later, a Prussian general named Friedrich Wilhelm August Heinrich Ferdinand von Steuben trained the American soldiers to fight using the bayonets. The soldiers used bayonets to win an entire battle without needing to fire their volleys. It was used for hand-to-hand combat, as its sharp point was used to jab or thrust at the enemy. (source)

Also read: 10 of the Noteworthy Firsts Throughout History

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