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Chapter 6 - Patriots
Flee, But Fight Back
Members of the
Continental Congress liked Thomas Paine's
writings, and on April 17, 1777, appointed him
Secretary of Foreign Affairs, a position today
called Secretary of State.
Days before the British
occupied Philadelphia on September 11, 1777,
Anna, Frederich and their parents, the Aitkens,
had packed all they could into a wagon and set
off to stay with their friends in Bordentown, New
Jersey, about 40 miles to the north on the other
side of the Delaware River.
The government had
already left Philadelphia and moved to Lancaster,
Thomas Paine wrote The
Crisis IV to boost the morale of the
residents leaving town:
"We fight not to
enslave, but to set a country free, and to make
room for honest men to live in."
In fact, throughout the
war, Paine wrote 13 The American Crisis
articles and three extra Crisis articles
until the very end of the war.
His first extra Crisis
piece was in 1780 when a shortage of money to
continue the war was, indeed, a crisis of extra
proportions. He calculated: "The peace
established then will, on an average, be five
shillings per head."
Money to run the war,
like any war, would continue to be a problem.
Later that year Paine read a letter from General
George Washington to the Pennsylvania Assembly.
It said the Army had no money! Without money, the
troops could not be paid and no equipment could
be bought. This was serious. The war could be
Even though Paine had
little money, he took some of his own, and asked
other wealthy patriots to do the same. An
association was formed that later became the Bank
of North America, just another way that Paine
would help the war effort and the new country
that would be formed.
Paine's ideas, like the
one for the first bank, were solutions to
problems the new America faced. As he learned
about these needs from those in the new
government, he became their advocate and their
cheerleader for solutions.
He wrote in great detail
about government or Army problems that needed a
solution from all the colonies. Thomas Paine
behaved then much like today's Presidential press
But before that happened,
much fighting was being done. The September
Frederich and Anna's family packed their
belongings into a wagon, it was still warm enough
to make the trip to New Jersey somewhat easy for
the new refugees.
Anna, always worried
about Mr. Paine, strained her neck, hoping to see
him in the crowds leaving Philadelphia.
Frederich, all six feet
of him, saw him, and called. Paine came, slowed
his horse along side, raised his hat and said,
"Good day. Are you going to
Anna. "But you already knew that, didn't
"Some friends told
me," Paine said. "Before the weather
turns I shall be with Joseph Kirkbride and his
family just north of here in Bucks County,
Pennsylvania. Likely, we shall see each other
again before the year is out. Take good care of
Paine then rode away the
night of September 19, 1777.
Weeks later Anna learned
that Paine had been with the American army in
Germantown (now part of Philadelphia) where a
dense November fog had clouded the vision of both
armies. The Americans lost another battle,
retreated, but were not discouraged. The soldiers
in Jersey Blues had fought well.
Paine met with General
Washington the next morning. Together they
watched the American blockade of the Delaware
Later that day Paine rode
on horseback to the Kirkbrides to stay for a few
weeks in their Bucks County home, Bellevue.
The village of Bordentown
had suffered the occupation of thousands of
British and Hessians the previous year and still
looked shabby. But the hospitality of the people
was bright and comforting for Anna, Frederich,
and their parents.
Mr. and Mrs. Francis
Hopkinson invited the Aitkens to their Bordentown
home for an evening of Mr. Hopkinson's
harpsichord music with much singing and, of
course, good food. It was a celebration that
included several Philadelphia
"refugees" and other friends.
When Paine arrived with
the Kirkbrides from Bucks County, on the other
side of the Delaware River from Bordentown, he
joined them with his good sound singing voice.
Joseph Kirkbride brought his violin and played it
spiritedly, while Mrs. Hopkinson's beautiful
voice enchanted everyone with some of her
Anna noticed that some of
the men went into the next room and closed the
"I wonder what is
said in that room," Anna whispered to
Frederich, who was busy eating a cookie. She
walked over to the elder Mrs. Borden and asked,
"Do you know what is the secret in that
"I think a
conspiracy is afoot," said Mrs. Borden, the
wife of Joseph Borden for whom the New Jersey
town is named.
"A conspiracy. What
is that?" asked Anna.
"The British have
taken our Philadelphia away from us and our men
are in a fit of outrage about that. They want to
destroy the British fleet in the harbor. They are
conspiring." Mrs. Borden said.
"Shhhh. It's a
"Oh, how will they
do that?" asked Anna.
experiment agreed to by my son-in-law, Mr.
Hopkinson. To happen sometime in January next, if
all goes well," said Mrs. Borden, as she
pressed her finger against her lips to signal the
secret. Hopkinson was the first Secretary of the
"What is the
experiment?" asked Anna.
combustible barrels floating down the
Delaware," said Mrs. Borden.
On January 5, 1778, as
the story goes, the conspirators from Bordentown
released 20 floating kegs of dynamite, tied
together, to hit the anchored British fleet in
Philadelphia and destroy it.
But did the experiment
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