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The American Revolution:

a War for Independence

July 3, 2012 – July 31, 2012

curated by
Alexander C. Johnston

John Dickinson and Thomas McKean.

Autograph letter to Caesar Rodney. July 22, 1779. Delaware Miscellaneous Literary and Historical Manuscripts.

Thomas McKean (1734–1817) and John Dickinson (1732–1808) served on the Continental Congress and in the American militias during the American Revolution, and continued to serve as statesmen in the fledgling nation. McKean was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Dickinson opposed the Declaration as premature, but continued to serve in the war for independence. This letter was written concerning the guard and transport of sixty–four British prisoners of war whose ship, the sloop of war Harlem, had been captured by Captain John Barry (ca. 1745–1803) while en route to Haiti.

Charles Herbert.

[Prison Journal]. 15 November 1776 – 23 August 1780. Diaries, Journals, and Ships’ Logs.

Charles Herbert (1757–1808) enlisted as a sailor on the brig Dolton in November 1776, when he was nineteen. In December of that year the Dolton and her crew were captured by the British man–of–war Reasonable. Herbert spent the following two years as a prisoner of war in a series of prison ships and in a British jail. He kept this diary in secret while a prisoner of war, with portions of the diary being written in code. It records his day–to–day experiences as a captive and documents the hardships of prison life, including near starvation, brutal physical punishments, and solitary confinement in the “black hole.” Displayed here is an entry describing the case of a prisoner who, caught stealing food from another prisoner, was forced to run the gauntlet by his fellow captives. Herbert was released in a prisoner exchange organized in 1778 by Benjamin Franklin, after which Herbert continued to serve in the navy until 1780.

Thomas Paine.

Common Sense: Addressed to the Inhabitants of America. Philadelphia, printed; Boston re–printed and sold by Edes, & Gill and T. and J. Fleet, 1776.

Published anonymously, Thomas Paine’s pamphlet, Common Sense, argued that the cause of the American colonies should be not merely a revolt against taxation, but a struggle for complete independence from Britain. Common Sense was enormously successful: it sold over 500,000 copies in a few months and went through twenty different editions in its first year alone. Paine’s pamphlet did much to advance the cause for independence and helped pave the way towards the Declaration of Independence.

Caesar Rodney.

Autograph letter [to Thomas Rodney], with autograph note by Thomas Rodney. August 21, 1776. Rodney Family Papers.

Caesar Rodney (1728–1784) was one of three delegates sent from Delaware to the Continental Congress. His vote proved decisive in ratifying his colony’s support for the Declaration of Independence. During the Revolution he served as commander of the Delaware militia and was later elected president of Delaware, a position similar to that of governor. This letter was written to Rodney’s brother, Thomas Rodney (1744–1811), regarding military logistics and the elections for Delaware’s first constitutional convention.

United States. Continental Congress.

Journals of Congress. Philadelphia: Printed and Sold by R. Aitken, 1777

The Journals of Congress, first printed in 1777, were the official record of the Continental Congress and of the nascent United States of America. They document the day to day operations of the young nation from the organization of the First Continental Congress in 1774 through the ratification of the Constitution in 1788, and include detailed accounts of the political, financial and military logistics of the war for independence. Displayed here is one of the earliest printings of the text of the Declaration of Independence, which appears in the context of the congressional proceedings for July 4, 1776.

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