Revolutionary War Historical Article
The American Revolution Month-by-Month April 1779
By Compatriot Andrew "Andy" Stough
Editor's Note: This article was reprinted by Permission of the Gold Country Chapter No. 7 of the CSSAR and was slightly edited by the Sons of Liberty Chapter of the CSSAR
Schlesinger's Almanac (see references) of American History has only one entry for April 1779 as follows; "1-30 April, 1779 A combined force of North Carolina and Virginia troops led by Colonel Evan Selby successfully attacks a series of Chicamauga Indian villages in Tennessee, in retaliation for Indian raids on colonial settlements".
Additional information concerning this expedition is difficult to find but appears to be connected to a Cherokee Indian called "Dragging Canoe." Coastal tribes such as the so called "five Civilized Tribes" had developed agriculture as well as hunting for their sustenance. Inland tribes dominated greater areas and were nomadic and more warlike as they depended on hunting game and raiding other tribes for their living.
Tribal elders of the "Cherokee Nation" by 1779 had learned that war with the settlers inevitably ended in defeat, loss of territory and the lives of their most courageous and strongest "Braves". They realized that if accommodation with both the British and Americans could not be established that in the long run the tribes would be pushed ever westward facing enemies on the east, west and south. Elders resigned themselves to the belief that western expansion by the American's was inevitable and could not be stopped. Their only desire was an accommodation with the Americans so that they could live securely in their traditional style. Adding to this decision was the constant threat by the Spanish to their south. The Spanish were not as much a threat as the Americans but on occasion engaged in expeditions against the Indians to their north and west.
Younger men, revolting at this philosophy, looked for a "War Chief" who would lead them into battle to prove their strength as warriors and to win back the lands which had been stolen from the tribes by white settlers. They found such a leader in Dragging Canoe who led them into attacks on settlers along the frontier. This resulted in retaliatory expeditions not only by Virginians who claimed the entire territory but expeditions from both North and South Carolina. One such expedition may very well be the combined 30 day expedition referred to by Schlesinger.
The result was an even a greater retreat into more distant tribes; some even found refuge in Spanish Pensacola. Families divided generally along generational lines with the younger members following Dragging Canoe. Those remaining with the elders found accommodation with the Europeans while Dragging Canoe formed a new community along the Chicamauga River becoming the Chicamauga tribe of the Cherokee Nation. The warlike Chicamaugas became the center of resistance within the Cherokee Nation.
I am unable to find a Chicamauga river on a map, nor do I find a Chicamauga Tribe in the Encyclopedia Britannica. I do find Chicamauga, the Civil War battle which occurred in northern Georgia, approximately 12 miles south of present day Chattanooga, Tennessee.
I find no other occurrence in April mentioned in any reference. However, there was a beehive of activity in the French port of Lorient by John Paul Jones who was making improvements to the aging ship as well as fitting out Le Duc de Duras. Jones renamed the ship the Bonhomme Richard in honor of, and in gratitude for Doctor Franklin's assistance in even obtaining this old tub. Formerly a merchantman Le Duc de Duras was built in 1766 and used by the Compagne des Indies, the French rival of England's East India Company. Le Duc was old and slow being designed for cargo which made it a ship of last resort for Jones who preferred to be the attacker, not the attacked.
It was during this time that Jones' unknown past came to light. Jones shared his time between boat building in Lorient and consultation with Benjamin Franklin in Pasy, France. Both Jones and Dr. Franklin were favorites of, and shared a mutual enjoyment of the Ladies of the French nobility. While in Lorient, Jones received a business note from Franklin which in a postscript mentioned a mystery concerning Jones that needed clearing up. Jones mistakenly assumed that it referred to a 1773 incident in Tobago in which a minor mutiny turned into a disaster. It seems that Jones denied shore leave and payment of wages to a group of seamen from Tobago. When a man three times Jones size and identified by Jones as the ring leader of the mutiny attempted to bludgeon Jones, the captain ran the mutineer through with his sword, killing him instantly.
The mystery as Jones saw it was related to the Tobago incident. Today there is much that is not known about the incident, and what is known, is not understood. Why was Jones advised to flee the Island if the circumstances as told by Jones were true? And, what became of him in the 20 months before he appeared in North America with a new surname? Born in Arbigland in Scotland as John Paul he appeared twenty months after the Tobago incident, not as John Paul, but as John Paul Jones; a name that he would carry until his death and the name that would be engraved on his tomb. However, this was not the mystery to which Franklin alluded. Franklin's postscript concerned a prank performed in Pasy using Jones identity.
Jones was much put out to find that he had so candidly confessed the goings on at Scarborough, Tobago, when the allusion was merely a girl’s prank. Jones never spoke of the matter again and there is little evidence from Franklin’s memoirs concerning "L'Affaire Tobago" leaving it almost as much of a mystery today as it was before Doctor Franklin's letter.
It is time to consider the intelligence situation in the spring of 1779. Both sides were interested in learning more about their enemy; what was his current situation and future plans and was there anyone in a position of authority who would pass current plans? There was such a person in the Continental Army who maintained a coded stream of covert correspondence with Major John Andre, adjutant to Sir Henry Clinton. Due to an inability to meet with the unknown individual or to satisfy his demands for money and rank in the British Army the negotiations ceased - at least temporarily. The unknown correspondent was the military commander of Philadelphia - Major General Benedict Arnold.
References: Arthur Meier Schlesinger's"The Almanac of American History"; Colin C. Calloway's"The American Revolution in Indian Country"; Samuel Elliott Morrison's " John Paul Jones, A Sailor's Biography" ; Encyclopedia. Britannica "The Revolutionary Years"; Bruce Lancaster's "The American Revolution."