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Loyalists During the Revolutionary War

October 10, 2018 by | 59 Comments

At the time of the American Revolution, Great Britain was the most powerful country on the earth. When Patriots decided to stand up to British rule, it became necessary for colonists to choose sides. For some, the decision was not easy. As many as one-third chose to align with the crown. They were known as “Loyalists” or “Tories.”

Fold3 Image - Hutchinson house, Boston
Loyalists had a variety of reasons for supporting Great Britain. Some were successful merchants who relied on a working relationship; others were pacifists who wanted to avoid war; and some served in prominent roles appointed by the British government.

One prominent Loyalist was Thomas Hutchinson who served as the Governor of Massachusetts. Hutchinson was born in Boston and was an avid collector of historical materials related to early Massachusetts colonial history. In 1765, after the Stamp Act, angry colonists burst into his Boston house, ransacked it and destroyed the contents. Hutchinson and his family barely escaped. Most of the historical documents were destroyed. Hutchinson was eventually replaced as Governor and left the colonies for London, where he later died.

Patriot or Loyalist? The question created division within communities. In a letter to John Hancock, George Washington expressed concerns about Loyalists who are “in Arms against us.” Yet Washington wanted to leave the door open for those who were willing to join the revolution. “I should suppose, that it would be expedient and founded in sound policy, to give every suitable assurance to induce them to come. Such an event would be attended with Salutary effects – would weaken the enemy – distress them greatly and would probably have a most happy influence in preventing Others from joining their Arms,” Washington wrote.

In order to alleviate the burden on British troops, British officials developed a plan to enlist more loyalists to fight. Lt. General Charles Cornwallis rallied Loyalists in southern colonies. They initially had success at the Battle of Camden in South Carolina, but as they marched north, many Loyalists feared retribution and inadequate protection and chose to stay out of the fray.

Cornwallis issued a proclamation urging Loyalists to take up arms. “It is his Majesty’s most gracious wish to rescue his faithful and loyal subjects from the cruel tyranny under which they have groaned for several years,” Cornwallis wrote. “I invite all such loyal & faithful subjects to repair without loss of time with their arms and ten days Provisions to the Royal headquarters now erected at Hillsborough, where they will meet with the most friendly reception.” His proclamation did not elicit the volunteers he needed. Cornwallis was eventually defeated at Yorktown and the military aspect of the American Revolution ended. After the revolution, some Loyalists chose to remain in the colonies and were offered protection without fear of retribution under the Paris Peace Treaty.

If you would like to learn more about the role of Loyalists in the American Revolution, search our Revolutionary War collection on!

The Battles of Saratoga: October 7, 1777

September 30, 2018 by | 35 Comments

The Battles of Saratoga were two battles, fought 18 days apart in 1777, and are considered a turning point in the Revolutionary War. When they were over, British Gen. John Burgoyne and his army of nearly 6,000 surrendered. As a result, France recognized America’s independence and entered the war as an American ally.

Fold3 Image - Gen. Burgoyne surrenders his troops at the Battle of Saratoga
The British strategy was a three-pronged approach meant to cut off New England from the Southern colonies. Burgoyne would march his army (that consisted of British soldiers, Hessian soldiers, and Native American scouts) south from Canada. He would then rendezvous with two additional British armies led by Barry St. Leger and Sir William Howe. Those armies never showed up.

Barry St. Leger’s army was turned back by forces led by Benedict Arnold; while William Howe decided to use his army to attack the Patriot capital of Philadelphia. That left Burgoyne’s troops alone to contend with the Continental Army. Emboldened by his success at capturing Fort Ticonderoga, Burgoyne continued down the Hudson River Valley.

As Burgoyne’s troops approached the John Freeman farm in upstate New York, the Northern Department of the Continental Army led by Gen. Horatio Gates, along with Benedict Arnold, were waiting (just two years later Benedict Arnold would enter secret negotiations with the British).

On September 19th, the two armies engaged at Freeman’s farm. Fierce fighting led to casualties on both sides, though British casualties numbered twice that of the Continental Army. Still, the British held their ground.

Burgoyne pulled back to regroup. He was running low on supplies and was still waiting for troop reinforcements that never arrived. In the meantime, the Continental Army came in from behind and cut off the British supply lines. On October 7th, a second battle known as the Second Battle of Freeman’s farm or the Battle of Bemis Heights was fought.

British and Continental armies engaged in heavy fighting. Colonists were strengthened by a fresh brigade led by Brig. Gen. Benedict Arnold. The Continental Army surrounded overwhelmed British troops who later negotiated a surrender under the Convention of Saratoga. The Convention required British troops to lay down their weapons and return to Great Britain with the condition they not serve in North America during the rest of the war.

The Battles of Saratoga were the impetus for the French to enter the war. France recognized America’s cause and provided financial and military assistance. If you would like to learn more about the Battles of Saratoga or other Revolutionary War battles, search our Revolutionary War collection on!

New Naval Records Added to Fold3!

September 20, 2018 by | 17 Comments

Fold3 Image - Letter from Captain Stephen Decatur to Secretary of Navy Paul Hamilton requesting a court martial for seaman Daniel Dailey after he murdered fellow seaman William Brown.
This month, Fold3 is pleased to highlight two new collections of naval records we’ve added to our archives. The first collection is Letters Received by the Secretary of Navy (“Captains’ Letters”) dated 1805-1885. The second collection is Letters Received by the Secretary of the Navy from Commanding Officers of Squadrons between 1841-1886. These letters are in original manuscript form.

The Captains’ Letters collection is organized by year and contains correspondence from captains at sea to the Secretary of the Navy related to a variety of issues, including shipboard discipline, repairs of vessels, and conflicts with foreign governments. For example, this letter is from Captain Stephen Decatur. He was the youngest man to reach the rank of captain in the US Navy. In January 1812 he wrote to Secretary of the Navy Paul Hamilton requesting a court-martial for seaman Daniel Dailey. Dailey had strangled his fellow seaman, William Brown.

Another example is this letter from Captain Sam Evans. He informed Secretary of Navy Benjamin W. Crowninshield about a duel that had taken place in 1817 between Lt. Richard S. Heath of the USS Saranac and midshipman John D. Hopkins of the USS Enterprise, that resulted in the death of Heath.

In addition to captains’ letters, there are letters from the commandants of navy yards and shore facilities like this letter from Thomas Tingey of the Washington Navy Yard. It’s dated July 1805, and was sent to Congressman Charles W. Goldsborough to inform him that the heavy canvas needed to make sails for the brigs USS Hornet and USS Wasp was available.

Our second new collection contains correspondence from commanding officers of squadrons. This collection is organized by squadron location; date; and finally alphabetized by the author of the letter. In this letter from the James River Flotilla during the Civil War, Commander Maxwell Woodhull wrote to Commodore Charles Wilkes commending a gunner’s mate named John Merrett. Merrett was sick during an engagement at Harrison’s Landing, but managed to get out of bed and report to his station. There he bravely engaged and repelled the enemy, then collapsed from exhaustion and had to be carried to his hammock, where he almost died.

In 1864, the steamship USS Connecticut was part of the North Atlantic Blockade Squadron. In this letter to Rear Admiral Samuel P. Lee from May 1864, Captain John J. Almy described a dramatic four-hour chase to capture the English Steamer Minnie. To avoid capture, the Minnie dumped 40 bales of cotton, but she was still taken. She contained 540 bales of cotton, 25 tons of tobacco, 12 barrels of turpentine and $10,000 in gold, and was one of the most valuable prizes taken during the war. On board, they discovered Lt. Lincoln C. Leftwich of the Confederate Army. He was taken prisoner.

Come search these historic naval correspondence collections and other naval records, on Fold3!

The Civil War Home Front

September 10, 2018 by | 93 Comments

During the Civil War more than two million soldiers left their families, homes, farms, and jobs to join the fight. The women were left to maintain the home front. This shift brought increased responsibility and opportunity that would shape the country long after the war ended.

Fold3 Image - Unidentified Civil War soldiers with women and child
Women were needed to fill critical gaps outside of their typical domestic spheres. In addition to managing homes and families, women worked in factories, mills, and munition plants. They sewed uniforms and bandages. Some served as nurses, such as Carrie Wilkins Pollard, who spent two years caring for the wounded. In 1892, she appealed to Congress and was granted a pension. Although women weren’t eligible to enlist as soldiers, as many as 400 did; many under male aliases.

Occasionally, the battlefront and the home front merged into one. Such was the case for Susan M. Alsop. The young widow was in her early 20s and struggling to maintain her farm when in 1864, the Battle of Spotsylvania raged in her front yard. Her property became a burial ground for many. Twenty years later, soldiers visited the Alsop farm, hoping to mark the exact spot where Union Gen. John Sedgwick was killed. One of them presented a $5 bill to the son of Susan Alsop saying, “On this day twenty years ago I stole a side of bacon from your mother, and I want you to give her this to pay for it.” When Alsop sold her farm in 1895, a newspaper article noted that “the Confederate earthworks were still in a good state of preservation.”

During the war, many soldiers suffered injuries that resulted in life-long disabilities, including thousands of amputation surgeries. After the war, men and women had to navigate and define new roles and responsibilities. Many women had become accustomed to making decisions, managing finances, and operating farms and businesses. With the men back home, adjustments were required. Some had to adjust to the fact that their men were never coming home. The death of 620,000 Americans left the country stunned and mourning. Typical of mourning practices at the time, many widows donned black dresses to express their grief.

Widows of Union soldiers were entitled to a federal pension. Confederate soldiers and widows weren’t eligible and needed to apply to the individual state where they resided to receive a state pension. It wasn’t until the 1900s that federal pensions were available to all Civil War soldiers and widows.

Women emerged from the Civil War with a taste of social empowerment that permanently shifted their attitudes. Wartime exposure to responsibilities traditionally managed by men taught women that they were, in fact, capable of filling these roles. This gave a boost to the suffrage movement, and in 1869, the National Woman Suffrage Association formed with the goal of procuring the vote for American women. Search our Civil War archives, including the Civil War Pensions Index and the Civil War Widows Pensions file to learn more about the role women played during the Civil War!

The Battle of Antietam: September 17, 1862

September 1, 2018 by | 108 Comments

On September 17, 1862, the Battle of Antietam, also known as the Battle of Sharpsburg, was fought. The battle was a decisive engagement in the American Civil War. It was the bloodiest one-day battle in American history, with 3,650 dead and more than 19,000 wounded, missing or captured.

Fold3 Image - Antietam, Maryland. Confederate dead in a ditch on the right wing
The battle came on the heels of the Maryland Campaign, an offensive led by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, that pushed troops northward and into Maryland in early September 1862.

Union troops, under the command of Gen. George B. McClellan, were demoralized. They had suffered defeats, including one at the Second Battle of Bull Run. The tides turned on September 13th, when Union soldiers discovered a copy of Special Order 191. The Order, issued by General Lee four days previously, outlined movement plans for Confederate troops. It was inadvertently left behind at a campsite that was later occupied by Union troops. An ecstatic General McClellan immediately planned a counter-offensive.

Four days later, the two armies met at the Battle of Antietam. During that day, Union soldiers would participate in three major attacks against the Confederacy. The first charge started that morning against Lee’s left flank in a cornfield on a farm occupied by the David R. Miller family.

In the center, a farm lane called Sunken Road (later known as Bloody Lane) became the scene of death and carnage during a fierce battle that resulted in 5,500 casualties. That afternoon, Union Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside led a battle for control of a stone bridge that spanned Antietam Creek. By the time Burnside took control of the bridge, more than 600 soldiers had been killed or wounded. One of those casualties was Pvt. Peter Mann. His widow Ann gave birth to a baby girl a few months after his death. She named the baby Antietam Burnside Mann. The bridge is still known as Burnside Bridge.

On September 18th, Gen. Lee withdrew his troops from the battlefield. The retreat emboldened the North and paved the way for President Lincoln to issue his Emancipation Proclamation five days later. The Emancipation Proclamation gave a dual purpose to the war; the preservation of the Union and the abolishment of slavery.

Do you have ancestors that fought in the Battle of Antietam? Search our Civil War records to learn more about this battle and other Civil War battles.

New Canadian Records

August 21, 2018 by | 28 Comments

Fold3 Image - WWI Canadian Soldier Example Doc
This month, we are pleased to highlight some of Fold3’s newest Canadian records!

Fenian Raids Bounty Lists: The Fenian Brotherhood was a fraternal organization committed to the establishment of an independent Irish Republic, free from British rule. Though the call for independence had been ongoing for years, the Irish potato famine reenergized the movement. Many believed the British indifference to the famine was purposeful, and even an act of genocide. A brotherhood formed that was actually a predecessor to the modern Irish Republican Army (IRA).

Between 1866-1871, the Fenians launched a series of armed incursions in Canada. They were meant to put pressure on Britain to withdraw from Ireland. The incursions were put down by government forces but resulted in loss of life on both sides.

The raids took place at Campobello Island, New Brunswick; Ridgeway, Ontario; along the Quebec/US border at Eccles Hill and Huntingdon; and in 1871, an attempt was made to invade the province of Manitoba.

To combat the Fenian threat, the Canadian Militia in Ontario and Quebec were called out several times, usually for just a few days at a time. Later, the Canadian government decided that those who were called up in defense of Canada would be provided a grant or bounty of $100 upon application. This collection contains the names of those who applied for this bounty along with related pensions for those who were wounded, sick, or killed in active duty. The collection is organized in alphabetical order.

WWI Canadian Soldiers: We have updated our collection of records for members of the WWI Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). The CEF consisted of about 630,000 Canadians who enlisted between 1914-1918. They served as soldiers, nurses, doctors, and forestry and railway crews. More than 234,000 were wounded or killed while in service.

This collection contains service files from the original records at the Library and Archives of Canada. Each service file contains the soldier’s name, regiment, unit, and HQ file number, along with service file documents. The service file documents (as many as 24 pages for some soldiers) contain things like medical records, dental history, distinguishing physical characteristics, medal forms, and in some cases, photographs. The collection is organized alphabetically.

To search these collections and other Canadian records, visit!

The Bombing of Balikpapan: August 13-18, 1943

August 10, 2018 by | 67 Comments

Fold3 Image - Bombing of Balikpapan
In the early morning hours of August 13, 1943, twelve US B-24 Liberators from the 380th Bombardment Group (also known as the Flying Circus), began a low approach over the harbor of Balikpapan, Borneo. They were about to break records for the longest bombing run in history. Their 17-hour non-stop flight would take the Japanese completely by surprise and result in destruction in Balikpapan.

Intelligence had suggested that Balikpapan refineries were producing half of Japan’s WWII aviation fuel.

Under the command of Lt. Col. William A. Miller, a risky plan was conceived for a bombing run to Balikpapan. Pilots would need to cover 2600 miles – roughly the distance between Los Angeles and New York City.

The planes and crews were readied at the Royal Australian Air Force Base Darwin in Northern Australia. Each plane was loaded with six 500-pound bombs, 3500 gallons of fuel, and weighed nearly 66,000 pounds.

The runway at Darwin was especially short and ground crews watched nervously as the planes, including one piloted by Lt. Col. Miller, took off. They cleared the tree line by just inches.

Approaching the harbor, the first plane dropped its load without encountering any resistance. A massive explosion ensued. The next 11 planes encountered flak but managed to successfully drop their bombs on refineries and ships. The harbor exploded into a ball of flame. Burning oil ran down the hillsides. Lt. Col. Miller found the heat so intense that he was forced to drop his load from 7,000 feet.

After the successful run came the challenge of returning to Darwin. The planes headed back to Australia but as they crossed over a Japanese base on Timor, a B-24 piloted by Capt. Doug Craig was engaged by enemy fighters. Craig was forced to take evasive maneuvers all the way back to the coast of Australia. He was short on gas and 100-miles off course when he touched down on a stretch of sand.

Fold3 Image - Curious Australian Aborigines at the site of Capt. Doug Craig's crash landing
The exhausted crew rolled to a stop. As they deplaned they found themselves surrounded by a large group of Aborigines. Craig tried to communicate using exaggerated sign language but was surprised when the Aboriginal leader asked him, “What are you trying to say?” The Aborigines protected the crew until a rescue party arrived.

Days later, the 380th participated in a risky daylight flight to Balikpapan to assess the damage. Another Liberator performed a high elevation photo run of the harbor before dropping his load. The element of surprise was gone, and the Japanese scrambled to engage the B-24. Though riddled with bullets and running on fumes, the plane successfully returned to Darwin. Photos revealed more ships in the harbor and a third bombing run was planned for August 18th. The Liberators successfully bombed the harbor again. They were under heavy attack that resulted in bullet-riddled planes and wounds, but managed to return to Australia. The Flying Circus received a Distinguished Unit Citation. Search our records for the 380th Bombardment Group and others like it on!