The Explainer General
The Revolutionary War should have won us independence from Britain. Britain’s Royal Navy didn’t care. In the early 1800’s it was busy fighting Napoleon but it had time to stop United States merchant ships on the high seas from trading with France or British colonies. It always needed sailors, so its officers seized our sailors, claiming they were Royal Navy deserters.
We needed a more independent independence. President James Madison declared a second war against Britain in 1812. Britain declared an embargo, forbidding our ships to leave port.
The Royal Navy had hundreds of big warships; we had six. To supplement our tiny Navy, the United States issued letters of marque, government licenses for privateers, private men o’war.
The boldest and most successful privateer was Captain Thomas Boyle’s Chasseur. It was a new kind of vessel, a Baltimore pilot schooner, the fastest ship afloat.
No sailboat can go directly into the wind. A square-rigged ship could manage to sail only 80° to the left or right of the wind’s direction. The Chasseur sailed 55° off the wind. Working into the wind by tacking (sailing to one side of the wind, then the other) she could go 10 miles to windward by sailing about 24 miles on diagonal courses. The Royal Navy’s square rigged men o’war would log almost 59 miles to reach the same point.
Chasseur carried only 16 small cannon – no match for a big man o’war’s 30 to 40 guns. But Boyle had no intention of slugging it out. If a man o’war appeared, he would scamper away to windward. Chasseur couldn’t be caught.
Boyle crossed the Atlantic and quickly took 18 British merchant ships. He was bold as a lion: he sent the last vessel back into port, so its captain could nail a proclamation to the door of Lloyd’s Coffee House, where London ship-insurers gathered. It was a politely worded embargo on all the British Isles – the same embargo Britain had attempted to force on the United States!
Did Boyle succeed? Yes and no. Many British ships sailed, but fear of the Chasseur raised the price of insurance 300%! Some of Lloyd’s insurers wouldn’t write policies on ships voyaging near America. Our Navy was small but mighty: our six heavy frigates (including Constitution, “Old Ironsides”) beat many Royal Navy frigates ship-to-ship. Our combination of daring, skill and brass audacity won the War of 1812 against the largest navy in the world.
You know all about pirates. They were big guys with fancy hats, silk jackets, peg legs, and parrots cursing on their shoulders. They sailed big ships with brass guns and made lubbers walk the plank . . . right?
Wrong! If you want to know what pirates were really like, then read Jan Adkin's book, What if You Met a Pirate? Click here for more information.
Jan Adkins is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through Field Trip Zoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 Citation
Adkins, Jan. "The Man Who Held Up Britain." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 6
Feb. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
“My heart was enlisted,” the Marquis de Lafayette wrote in his memoirs, “and I thought only of joining my colors to those of the revolutionaries.”
Who were the revolutionaries Lafayette referred to? Americans, bien sûr!
Lafayette was just 19 when he paid for his ship, hired a crew and set sail from France to attach his colors to ours. He defied his king, who denied him permission to leave, and left his pregnant wife and child behind.
Seasick every day of his month-long voyage, he nevertheless learned English along the way. Docking at Charleston, NC, he trekked hundreds of miles to Philadelphia, suffering a month of broken carriages, lame horses, and nightly mosquito raids. He remained buoyant, and dedicated to our fight.
Finally at Continental Congress, he enthusiastically introduced himself—only to be turned away. There were too many foreign officers, they told him.
S'il vous plaît, Lafayette pleaded. He’d come so far—and he would work for free.
They accepted his services, but refused to give him what he yearned for: troops to command.
At least Lafayette could stay—and meet his idol, Commander-in-Chief George Washington!
Lafayette felt an instant connection with Washington, who invited the young Frenchman to live with him. Washington was diplomatic. He knew Lafayette was of noble descent, and he needed France’s aid in order to win the revolution. But Lafayette mistook the invitation for affection. “I am established in his house, and we live together like two attached brothers…” he wrote his wife.
It wouldn’t be long before Washington felt genuine affection for Lafayette. As the situation in Philadelphia grew dire—they were surrounded by the British and awaited an inevitable attack—Washington took a moment to have a “great conversation” with Lafayette. Think of me as your father, he told him. Lafayette was touched in the deepest way.
At the Battle of Brandywine, the Americans were overwhelmed and defeated. Our soldiers panicked—deserting their lines. Lafayette requested permission to rally the troops. Though he feared for Lafayette’s life, Washington granted his wish.
Lafayette’s great spirit convinced the troops to stay. The Americans still had an army, to fight another day. A musket ball ripped through Lafayette’s leg! He eventually collapsed. Back at headquarters, Washington instructed his personal physician, “Treat [Lafayette] as if he were my son. For I love him the same.”
The father/son relationship of George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette developed while they were under British siege. A multiple award-winning choice in history books for kids, and a compelling account in American history by a research-loving writer!
You can buy it here.
Since 1775, Americans in the 13 British Colonies had been fighting to free themselves from mighty Great Britain. The French didn’t care for the British, having had their own wars with them, so many a Frenchman came to help the Americans. One was a teenaged aristocrat, the Marquis de Lafayette. He so admired America’s revolutionary ideals of liberty and democracy that he sailed there in 1777 to offer his money and services to his idol, General George Washington. By 1781, General Lafayette was leading French and American troops, battling the British in Virginia. Now a fellow there named James Armistead joined the fight, once he got his master’s permission. After all, Armistead was an enslaved African American.
What did he do? He hung around the British, finding out what they were up to – dangerous work! Then Armistead, patriot spy, took his info to General Lafayette, who used it to help beat the British at Yorktown in October 1781, which, in turn, led to the United States’ victory in the Revolutionary War.
The Marquis went back to France. Armistead went back to work for his master. Though he’d helped win America’s independence, he did not win his. When Lafayette made a return visit in 1784, he was outraged to find his fellow veteran still enslaved! The Marquis saw to it that Armistead was freed and the former slave showed his gratitude by changing his name to James Armistead Lafayette.
But this isn’t how the story ends. Forty years later, the Americans invited the Marquis to come for a visit. He’d grown old. He’d suffered in prison during France’s own revolution in the 1790s. How splendid it was, visiting the United States— all 24 of them! Oh, the parties and banquets the Americans had for their old friend! But one of the happiest moments of all was in early 1825. The old aristocrat was riding in a parade through Richmond, Virginia, when he spotted a white-haired black gentleman in the crowd. The Marquis reined in his horse, dismounted, and went to greet James Armistead Lafayette. And the two old heroes of the American Revolution flung their arms around one another.
Cheryl Harness uses her wonderfully vibrant art and down-to-earth writing style to present George the adventurous boy, tromping through the woods with his dog and his hunting rifle; George the courageous military leader fighting alongside his men; George the cunning military strategist, outfoxing the British and forcing their surrender at Yorktown; George the brilliant statesman presiding over the Constitutional Convention; and George the President, wisely protecting our country from enemies foreign and domestic so it could grow strong. For more information, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Harness, Cheryl. "The Aristocrat and the Spy." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think
Tank, 10 Apr. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
This story happened in 1778, a time of terrible war. As General George Washington’s troops shivered in their winter camp in Pennsylvania, at Valley Forge, Daniel Boone was hunting out west, in the future state of Kentucky. Nearby, in the forest, his friends were boiling down mineral-rich spring water to make salt for their families in Boonesborough. It was a community of cabins in and around a log stockade, to protect the pioneers from attackers.
Of whom were they afraid? The First Nations, who’d been living in the so-called New World for countless generations. Specifically, Daniel Boone’s people feared the Shawnee and Cherokee peoples—and vice versa. The Native Americans were fighting an endless supply of white settlers determined to take their ancestral lands. All through and after the Revolutionary War years, American, British, and Native warriors fought throughout the wilderness west of the Appalachian Mountains and east of the Mississippi River.
We know Daniel Boone as a frontier explorer and trailblazer. To the Natives, he was “Wide Mouth,” a leader of the invasion that threatened to end their ways of life forever. So it was a BIG deal when, on a winter day in 1778, Shawnee Chief Blackfish and his warriors captured him! Daniel used all of his wits to work out a trade: In return for making him and his salt-making friends their prisoners, the Shawnee would put off attacking Boonesborough.
For ten days, the captives were marched through the snowy woods to Chillicothe, the big Shawnee town in Ohio. The British paid bounties for colonial prisoners, so some of Daniel’s friends were sold. They and others were lost to history, but we know that Daniel had to prove his courage in the gauntlet, dashing between rows of Shawnee warriors, getting hit by clubs.
Now, he’d known Natives and studied their ways since he was a boy. To stay safe until he could get back to his family, he knew he needed to let Chief Blackfish do as he wished: adopt him into his tribe. Daniel got scrubbed. He got all of his hair plucked out except for a “scalp lock” atop his head. He got a new name too: Sheltowee or “Big Turtle.” But it was June before he got the chance to escape. Then Daniel ran, hid, hiked, and limped 160 miles home to Boonesborough, in time to prepare for the attack of the angry Shawnee.
But that’s another story for another day.
Once again, Cheryl Harness combines lively storytelling with vividly detailed illustrations to transport readers back to an exciting era in American history. During Daniel Boone's 86-year life, Colonial America is transformed into a revolutionary republic, trails morph into roads and highways, and Americans discover new ways to travel—by canal, and by steam-powered boats and trains. Readers journey through these formative milestones in America's great westward expansion with the aid of a time line running along each page, 200-plus illustrations, maps, sidebars, primary-source quotations, and resource lists. For information on The Trailblazing Life of Daniel Boone: How Early Americans Took to the Road, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Harness, Cheryl. "Kidnapped!" Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 4 June 2018,
For Vicki Cobb's BLOG (nonfiction book reviews, info on education, more), click here: Vicki's Blog
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