THE BRIBE THAT WON THE WARThe story of how one French aristocrat may have been responsible for the American victory has never before been told. The American Revolutionary War is an illustrious tale of victorious moments. The first was the remarkable turning point at Saratoga, which served as the catalyst for bringing in America's potential allies. The second was the surprise crossing of the Delaware at Christmas, where the ragtag starving American army defeated the well-trained, well equipped Hessians. The climax came at Yorktown, where the Americans and their new allies, the French, surrounded the army of General Cornwallis.
Students of the war, however, see another side. They see the few victories weighing against the multiple losses of the Americans through Brooklyn, Manhattan, and White Plains; the English chasing Washington from one defeat to another; the starvation and deprivation of untrained continentals, and their subsequent desertion and mutiny. The army of freedom fighters was half destroyed in battle and nearly finished off by starvation and sickness, but the colonies were still populated by many who were not loyal to the new cause. Tories dominated the population of eastern Long Island, where the British army was able to buy cattle. New Jersey was mostly Tory and provided food for the English army while Washington starved across the river in Pennsylvania. Tory landowners dominated the Carolinas, their loyalty often to their personal pocketbooks, which were closely tied to England. Many Americans, while loyal to the cause of liberty, still put their personal fortunes first, denying food to Washington's army and refusing the Continental as a currency.
Despite the state of the economy, the constant defeats in skirmish after skirmish, and the loss of most of the American army to disease, capture, and desertion, the outcome of the war was an outstanding victory. The serious student might be led to wonder just how this was possible.
There is a third side of the story that might seem even stranger. Sir William Fraser once said, "The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton." His statement refers to the school where England's future leaders were trained. It may be valid to paraphrase Fraser when discussing how the Revolutionary War was won: The battle of Yorktown was lost on the playing tables of a London gambling house known as White's.
HIGH SOCIETY IN LONDONAt a time where the sun never set on Britain's empire, London society may have been at its most decadent. It was the largest city in the world and England, of course, was the master of the ocean. While the poor starved in the streets, the upper crust of society delighted in heavy drinking, wild gambling, practical jokes, and bawdy behavior. As the world's largest port city, there could be as many as eight thousand ships in the Thames at any one time. The number of drinking houses and brothels to serve the thousands of sailors and officers was staggering. The upper classes distanced themselves from the lower classes even in partaking of London's vices.
From an establishment called Shakespeare's Head, a Covent Garden tavern popular with sea captains and directors of the British East India Company, John Harris published a list of the better prostitutes and where their services could be found.1 But for those at the pinnacle of London society, there were gentlemen's clubs.
The fashion of eighteenth-century London gentlemen was to belong to one or more of the gentlemen's clubs. Many of them moved from place to place; others were anchored in a specific tavern or hall. A handful of the clubs were as spectacular as modern-day casinos, and becoming a member was everything to the aristocratic class. Almack's, Brooke's, and White's were among the top clubs. Almack's had a large ballroom that could accommodate seventeen hundred of London's fashionable dandies. Gaining admittance was important to London's young social scene, and the Duke of Wellington was once turned away because he arrived in trousers rather than the required knee breeches. Women were admitted at Almack's, and it became a marriage mart for London's most eligible.
The main attraction of the gentlemen's clubs was gambling. At a time when the average wage earner was paid a pound a week, it was not uncommon to see ten thousand pounds sterling on the table. Brooke's and White's were strictly men's clubs, and the chief amusement was gambling. They kept an open betting book where one could wager on anything, and seats at the card tables were occupied all night. Whist, loo, faro, and hazard were the favorite games, and the size of the wagers ruined many of England's young elite.
White's and Brooke's would occasionally attract members divided by politics, and in the years before the American Revolution Brooke's was regarded as a Whig club and White's a Tory club. White's members included the Duke of Devonshire and the Earl of Rockingham. Brooke's members included Charles James Fox, Lord Robert Spencer, and Sir Joshua Reynolds.
Charles Fox may epitomize London's macaronis. Born with the proverbial silver spoon, Fox's wealth brought him election to the House of Commons at the age of nineteen. At the time of his election he was traveling throughout the Continent, so he did not suffer the boredom of a campaign. In fact, according to his own letters, he was laid up with a bout of the clap in Nice. Back in London, Fox would spend days hopping from Brooke's to White's to Almack's to other clubs, where a bad night might cause a loss of ten to fifteen thousand pounds and a good night might see its return.
While the Fox family fortune supported such excess, the same could not be said of all of the young dandies who made up the Saint James Club scene of London. A massive gambling debt incurred at the gaming tables of White's in London led to the bribery of the one man whose role would be so pivotal in the final outcome of the Revolutionary War: Sir George Brydges Rodney.
Born into a Somerset family that traced its lineage for twenty generations, Rodney studied at Harrow. Like many other naval commanders of his day, he left school at an early age, twelve, to train in the navy. But prestige and profit did not always go hand in hand. An elegant, handsome figure, Rodney was a rake and a gambler without any of the inherited wealth to pay off his losses. The young dandy lost his family's fortune on the playing tables of White's.
Even worse than his losses were the debts he incurred. Rodney planned to go to sea in order to share in the booty that was promised to the commanders. In one early action in the West Indies he was able to partially repair his finances. While the income bought him time, the sea would disappoint him as much as the gaming tables of White's. Rodney spent his remaining funds to get into Parliament, but even this campaign failed. His debts were all too often to men in office, and his connections soon became a detriment to his career.
Unable to stay away from White's or regain his finances, Rodney was forced to flee London and his creditors. While in exile in France he heard that he had been picked to head the British navy. But he owed French creditors as well, and was told he would have to pay off his debts before he left. The prospects were gloomy indeed. Even if he found enough money to get out of France, he could still be thrown in a debtors prison in England before he even saw a warship.
Taking command of the navy was the light at the end of Rodney's tunnel. In his darkest hour Rodney was approached by a representative of one of the wealthiest families in France. Rodney would be provided with enough money to satisfy his monumental debts, but what was required for such a favor was equally monumental.
MASONIC BROTHERS FROM ABROADThe winter of 1777 to 1778 was particularly hard for the American army under Washington's command. Many soldiers had little more than blankets to keep out the cold, as their shirts and pants were in tatters. Shoes were a luxury, and many soldiers lost their feet and legs to the cold. Often those on sentry duty stood in their hats to keep their bare feet warmer. The food was so scant that the Thanksgiving treat was four ounces of rice cake.2 At the same time, German farmers in nearby Valley Forge were driving cattle to Philadelphia for the British.
Washington himself had to contend with the constant excuses of Congress when he pleaded for food, clothing, funds, and medicine. And a handful called the Conway Cabal plotted against Washington. The army was undernourished and poorly clad and had been forced to retreat from one defeat to another for years. It appeared that if victory were to be had, it would be a miracle. That miracle finally became a reality with the arrival of assistance from Europe.
The efforts of American agents in Europe brought the French on board as allies. Early in 1778, while Rodney was hiding in Paris, the French had signed an alliance to join the Americans. They would not actually declare war against England until July, however. One of the first conflicts featured the French navy and the English fleet near the island of Ushant. The two forces were equal, but the English were used to winning. When the French fleet was forced to retreat, the two English commanders somehow confused their signals and also retreated. In a move that was very reminiscent of the numerous land battles fought in America, it appeared that the English refused to press the advantage.
Because the battle was so close to home for the English and the failure was so public, the citizens rioted in the streets of London and both commanders were court-martialed. Each blamed the other for the failure to exact a victory.
The English army appeared unable to press its advantage on land, as well, although the public was less aware of what occurred across the Atlantic. There had been worse blunders. After the war Sir William Howe, Sir Henry Clinton, and Lord Charles Cornwallis were blamed for incompetence. The famous story of Howe sipping tea while letting the defeated Continental army escape Long Island is one that most likely plagued him. But Howe was competent. He had served with Amherst, who had taught the American commanders and Howe alike the values of guerrilla fighting. He was a knowledgeable battle-hardened commander who had fought at Montreal, Louisbourg, and Quebec before the American Revolution. Howe did make serious mistakes. He had allowed Washington, whose army spent the night in the rain without tents and low on ammunition, to escape Long Island. And this was not the last time Howe allowed the American army to escape. He followed Washington across New Jersey, where desertions reduced the small force to less than ten thousand. With victory again simply a day away, Howe allowed Washington to cross into Pennsylvania.
When winter came, Howe's army was camped within twenty-five miles of the Americans, but Howe had no desire to shiver through winter in a camp. Instead he headed back to New York City, where his mistress, Elizabeth Loring, kept the general warm. Her husband had been sent by Howe to Boston to watch over the prisons. A London newspaper accusing the general of ineptitude was brought to Howe. He decided to turn in his resignation, and while he waited for it to be accepted, he and Loring enjoyed dinners, concerts, and ballroom dancing in Philadelphia. When Franklin was asked by the French if Howe had taken Philadelphia, Franklin replied that Philadelphia had taken General Howe.3
Sir Henry Clinton was a military man as well. He started his career at the age of thirteen in the Coldstream Guards, where he was commissioned as a lieutenant. He also distinguished himself in battle and rapidly rose through the ranks to become a major general in 1772. When he took over for Howe, he was more interested in being in New York than in commanding his troops in the field. After the war Clinton was called on to explain his failure as a commander. He blamed Cornwallis and the other generals, even going as far as writing a book about his actions. He claimed that three times his army was in danger of starving, although compared to Washington's forces, starving was a relative term. With twelve thousand pounds to cover his salary and expenses, Clinton's provision orders included brandy in ten-gallon lots, beef, veal, mutton, fish, sweetbreads, and eggs.4 He held four houses in New York City, which, he claimed, were used for hiding because his life was in danger, and he also had a mistress in the city.
Cornwallis was a very well-trained military commander born into a wealthy and prestigious family. His grandfather had been awarded a baronetcy by Charles II, his father was the first Lord Cornwallis, his mother was the daughter of Lord Townsend and was related to Prime Minister Robert Walpole. Charles Cornwallis likely chose the military at an early age. He enrolled at Eton, where the younger classmen were the object of harsh treatment by older classmates. Cornwallis, a tall man, thrived at Eton and went on to be tutored by a Prussian officer. He bought an officer's commission in the Grenadiers Guards. At age eighteen he took a tour of Europe with his Prussian tutor and then enrolled in the Military Academy of Turin. It was one of Europe's finest, and the young officers combined military strategy with ballroom dancing in their curriculum. Over the course of Cornwallis's career, his training helped him serve with distinction in the Seven Years War, in Ireland, and in India. After he married he took a brief respite from the military and enjoyed the estate lifestyle with his bride. He was favored by King George III but at the same time counseled against the harsh measures exacted by the king against his colonial subjects. Cornwallis's loyalty was never in question, however, and when war broke out he volunteered for his command against the American rebels.
Cornwallis lost heart soon enough. His wife at home in England had taken ill, and his commanders, Clinton and Howe, disappointed him. Cornwallis had outflanked Washington on Long Island only to watch Howe allow his escape. Cornwallis beat the Americans at Brandywine in 1777 and Monmouth in 1778, and was then sent south. Clinton, with Cornwallis as the field commander, effectively stopped the resistance in the South, so Clinton headed for New York, leaving Cornwallis in charge. The war heated up as Cornwallis fought several major battles and worked his way north. From New York Clinton ordered Cornwallis to find an area where his army could position itself to be supplied. He chose Yorktown, which turned out to be a fatal decision as the French, by sea, and the Americans, by land, surrounded him. Eight days under siege ended the war. Cornwallis's actions in the Revolution did not hurt his career for long, however, and he went on to serve with distinction in India and to quell rebellion in Ireland.
Baigent and Leigh's The Temple and the Lodge examines how the effect of Mason fighting Mason may have hindered determination. Howe had served with Amherst, where most of the officers were brothers in the craft. Twenty-nine of the thirty-one regiments under Amherst's command had field lodges. Cornwallis served in two regiments that had military lodges. His brother Edward had served as well, and was the founder of a lodge in Nova Scotia. Clinton served as aide de-camp to Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick, one of the most influential Masons of his day.5 Three seemingly capable British commanders chose to avoid making the coup de grace at every turn, instead simply continuing the war until, like America's Vietnam War, the soldiers in the field and the citizens back home despaired of ever seeing victory. If conspiracy is the secret behind defeat, then the final battle of Yorktown was the stage. Nevertheless, there is no evidence that Cornwallis had planned for anything less than victory. But there is evidence that one man would serve to destroy the chances of the British.
BEHIND THE SCENES IN FRANCEAs the efforts of the Americans Franklin and Deane in France paid off, a French fleet and French soldiers headed to America. When the American effort was exhausted, France stepped in to provide most of the troops, the arms, the food, and the money to fight the final offensive of the war.
The commander Rochambeau was one of the first and most important figures of the French effort. He was quickly followed by the troops of Count William Deux-Ponts, who led a regiment from the Saar Valley; the Viscount de Noailles, from whose regiment in France Napoleon would later emerge; Count Mathieu Dumas, who would become a hero at Waterloo; the Marquis Claude-Henri de Saint-Simon; and the Duke de Lauzun. All had been enlisted through the diplomatic efforts of Franklin and Deane and had supplied clandestine aid before France officially committed to war with England.
Rochambeau and his troops were ferried by seven transport ships to Rhode Island in July 1780. They stayed for a brief time, with the well funded army enjoying the good life, but they were shocked with the allies they came to save. The Americans overcharged them for supplies, openly traded with the British who blockaded their coast, and on occasion shot at them. The first French troops did not see any action until Yorktown; however, when it came time for action, the French impressed both the Americans and the English with their order and discipline.6
General Jean-Baptiste-Donatien de Vimeur, the comte de Rochambeau, was a career military man with a mission. He, like Lafayette and others, wanted to see the rebels break their ties with the monarch of England. When the French king Louis XVI signed a treaty with the Continental Congress, his first act of assistance was to supply America. His second was to send over a six-thousand-man army called the Expedition Particuliere under Rochambeau's command.
Rochambeau had entered the military at age seventeen and fought at the siege of Maastricht in Holland during the War of Austrian Succession, in a French expedition against Minorca, and during the Seven Years War. Rochambeau was fifty-five when he brought over three regiments to fight the decisive battle at Yorktown. One unit was the Deux-Ponts. Under the command of Rochambeau, this thousandman unit was recruited from Germany. It was a typical unit in that the officers were often adventurers. Many sailed aboard the French fleet accompanied by their wives and children, and at least one officer, Baron Ludwig von Closen, brought his servants.7
Other military leaders who commanded troops in America were interested in the social experiment that became a new country. Saint Simon's cousin became the founder of French socialism. Like Lafayette, the duc de Lauzun was very interested in the New World's social experiment. His desire was to be present at the birth of a new age, to fight for the cause of liberty. Like many French nobles, the contradiction of the noble class fighting for democracy did nothing to dim his enthusiasm. Lauzun was from an ancient family that had titles from the time of the Crusades. As was tradition in such a titled military family, adventure called first. At age thirteen Lauzun became an ensign in the elite French Guard. At eighteen he married into another French royal family. Lauzun went to Corsica and proved himself in battle. He was rewarded with the title of colonel of the Legion Royale. But peace bored him, and he was among the first to volunteer to aid the American cause.
Lauzun sailed from France as part of the fighting force that joined Rochambeau. Lauzun's cavalry and infantry joined the ancient regiments of the French military, the Bourbonnais, the Deux-Ponts, the Saintonge, and the Soissonnais, and they marched to Yorktown.
Lauzun's Legion, as it was called, was made up of men from various European countries. Most had come from the Alsace-Lorraine corridor between France and Germany; others came from Sweden, Italy, Poland, and Russia. They spoke eight different languages, and by tradition they would curse in Hungarian. They were volunteers, and often adventurers; many were from noble families, others were rakes and thieves. They were the predecessors to another French fighting force, the French Foreign Legion.
For the duc de Lauzun, the American Revolution was just one more adventure. His exploits in both the battlefield and the boudoirs of Europe were legendary. He was said to have made love to every woman he met in France and Newport, Rhode Island, where he was first headquartered. His men followed his example, and despite their prowess against the British they also achieved the dubious distinction of fighting the most duels among themselves, typically over women. Lauzun continued to have great adventures after fighting in America, including becoming Marie Antoinette's lover. While Lauzun was aware of his rank and his importance—he was even privy to Rochambeau's and Washington's discussions of strategy—he may not have been aware that his presence in the war was the single most critical factor in its outcome.
While the Marquis de Lafayette, the duc de Lauzun, Count William Deux-Ponts, Count Mathieu Dumas, the Marquis de Saint-Simon, and the other nobles eagerly awaited battle, their supreme commander, Rochambeau, debated strategy with Washington. Washington thought that a move to recapture New York would advance the war effort. Rochambeau argued that a decisive victory against the English in the Chesapeake Bay would end the war. Rochambeau's logic won, and the focus was turned on beating the one commander who was a serious contender: Cornwallis. Rochambeau and Washington marched to Virginia to catch Cornwallis while both the Americans and the English were depending on the navy to arrive on time.
After the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, the forces under Cornwallis's command were low on supplies. At Yorktown, Cornwallis spent three months digging in while waiting for his rendezvous with Admiral Rodney. The British fleet commanded by Rodney was supposed to be the most important factor in the outcome of the showdown between the British army and the combined forces of the Americans and the French. Supplies and reinforcements were to be brought by Rodney; this was the reason Cornwallis hadn't marched farther north.
Rodney had other plans. Instead of sailing north when he had the advantage over the French, he launched a vicious attack on tiny Saint Eustatius. While Cornwallis's army had its head in an ever-tightening noose that could be relieved only by Rodney's ships, supplies, and fresh troops, Rodney stayed to loot Saint Eustatius. His army spent valuable time confiscating everything from almost every citizen of the tiny island. In fact, he instructed his men to go as far as looting graves, claiming that valuables had been buried.
Meanwhile, Washington and Rochambeau used the three months well, coordinating their cross-country march and the arrival of the French fleet. Lafayette used a small force to block an English retreat, Washington and Rochambeau rushed to cover five hundred miles, and Admiral de Grasse sailed up from the Caribbean with twenty ships and three thousand fresh troops.
Francois-Joseph-Paul, the Marquis de Grasse-Tilly and Comte de Grasse, had joined the fleet of the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem, also known as the Knights of Malta, at age twelve. This was the original order known as the Hospitallers of Saint John of Jerusalem, and was established even before the Knights Templar. While both orders were ostensibly Catholic, the exposure to different faiths may have had a lasting effect on the Templars, who supported the Cathari during the papal crusade and were accused of heresy. The Hospitallers had no such crisis of faith, but they needed a reason to exist after the Crusades. They took refuge in the Mediterranean, where they waged endless wars against the Barbary pirates to protect Christian shipping.
After six years of training, de Grasse was attached to the French navy. Like his fellow Knights of Malta, de Grasse had an interest in the American cause of liberty. He was joined by nineteen other knights in the effort. After the war, fourteen joined Washington's Society of Cincinnati.8 Admiral de Grasse became part of the French Revolution, retiring when the excessive bloodshed stained the cause of liberty.
Admiral de Grasse had overnight become a key figure in the Revolutionary War.9 With a fleet of twenty ships, he sailed from France in March. His fleet, including the Ville de Paris, the largest warship in the world, guided a convoy of 150 merchant ships carrying supplies for the war. De Grasse reached Martinique in late April and sent thirty ships with troops and supplies to Rochambeau. The resupply included the infantry of Marquis Claude-Henri de Saint-Simon, and the ancient regiments of Agenais, Gatinais, and Touraine. De Grasse's fleet found action almost immediately after landing the merchant ships.
In late April, de Grasse encountered the British navy. This first brief action was later described as indecisive, but the British lost six warships, which had a lasting effect. De Grasse had outmaneuvered the fleet of Admiral Hood, which was under the command of Admiral Rodney. Hood blamed his early loss on Rodney's incorrect positioning of his ships; it was Rodney's second mistake but certainly not his last.
Five weeks later Rodney again ran into the French fleet. On June 5 Rodney's navy reached the French fleet, counted twenty-four ships and five frigates, and chose to do nothing. Rodney had the advantage of size, yet he failed to pursue de Grasse, allowing the French admiral to head north to Virginia. But Rodney was aware of the crucial importance of French naval and military support in determining the outcome at Yorktown. Still, he failed to give priority to stopping or even slowing the French assistance. The most critical engagement of the war was decided on which side was more prepared for the battle. The American and French side needed Admiral de Grasse; the British side needed Admiral Rodney. There is ample evidence that both naval commanders were aware of their importance.
Admiral de Grasse was scheduled to rendezvous with thirty American pilots who were necessary for navigating Chesapeake Bay. De Grasse supplied his food stores in a hurry and chartered fifteen new merchant ships to carry food. Not wishing to wait for letters of credit, he paid for the supplies with his own money.
While it seems that Rodney had failed to understand the implications of his delay, his actions prove otherwise. He dispatched a warning to Admiral Graves in New York, stating that the French navy was on the way. He told Graves that both fleets needed to link up to prevent the French navy from supplying Rochambeau and Washington. The first message was intercepted; the second arrived days after the French fleet had already destroyed part of Graves's fleet. Rodney even wrote to his wife that he would attack the French if given the opportunity, and that the "fate of England may depend upon the event." Given the evidence of Rodney's letters, it is shocking that he chose to then split his forces and sail home with his loot from Saint Eustatius. This final action can hardly be deemed a mistake; Rodney deserted his post. At the same time that he abandoned his mission, Rodney warned his charge, Admiral Graves, of just how important it was to bring the fleet to Yorktown. Rodney's actions, combined with the lack of timeliness of his warnings, contributed to the American and French victory.
Historians have pointed out that Rodney's errors may have been attributable to problems with his health. But the true cause of the victory at Yorktown is that Admiral Rodney allowed himself to be defeated on purpose. In doing so, he ensured the French-American victory, which was allowed to repay a monumental debt.
THE MOTIVEAs mentioned earlier, in 1774 Rodney fled to Paris to escape debtors prison.10 The gambler was still in Paris in 1778 and still an admiral, though he did not have a post. Rodney had been put on a half salary by his superior, the Earl of Sandwich. The Earl of Sandwich, when not at the gambling tables himself, served as Lord of the Admiralty. The earl was also a friend of Benjamin Franklin's through their shared adventures at Wycombe.
After nearly four years in exile, Rodney was informed that he was being recalled to active duty. It was an opportunity to rebuild his fortune and his career, but because of new debts incurred in France, the down-and-out admiral could not return to England to accept his command. Even worse, he could not rebuild his fortune without the command.
Then, seemingly out of the blue, a French noble and commander of the French Guard offered to help Rodney. The Marechal duc de Biron offered Admiral Rodney the money needed to pay off his debts and assume his command. Some historians call it a loan; others call it a gift. In either case, the implications are staggering.
It seems that at least one of the two parties was committing an act that could be deemed treason. While Rodney's reasons were evident, one must wonder, What was the French commander's motivation?
When the offer was made, the duc de Biron's nephew was Armand Louis de Gontaut, the duc de Lauzun. It is unreasonable to think that the duc de Biron actually wished to help Rodney take his post; in doing so the duke would be aware that he might be contributing to his nephew's defeat or even death. Apparently the well-timed loan or gift to Rodney was the one way the duc de Biron could ensure his nephew's success. The loan was a bribe. And that bribe won the war.
Rodney upheld his part of the bargain. When he could have pursued the advantage, he chose to wait. When he could have stopped the French fleet, he chose to defend Tobago. When he could have raced to Yorktown, he decided it was time to punish Saint Eustatius. Finally, he simply headed home.
THE WORLD TURNED UPSIDE DOWNRochambeau and Washington continued to tighten the siege around Yorktown. Lafayette had been reinforced with the fresh troops of Saint Simon. Meanwhile, four thousand British troops sat in New York Harbor and Rodney's partner Graves waited. When Rodney's message arrived, the Brits set sail. It was then two days after the surrender at Yorktown; when the British fleet was informed of Cornwallis's defeat, they simply turned around.
After losing the war, Britain would go through a long series of blaming people. While others pointed their fingers at their fellow commanders, Rodney seemed above the fray. The reason was that before any charges of incompetence, cowardice, or treason could be leveled against him, he returned to the West Indies to become a hero.
Despite the surprising victory at Yorktown, it would still be more than a year before Britain ended the hostilities. Clinton in New York still had a standing army during this lull, and Rodney returned to pursue the French fleet. He sighted the French fleet under de Grasse sailing for Jamaica; the same French commander that he avoided meeting prior to Yorktown he now chased. For three days Rodney followed the French fleet until he was in position in the passage between Dominica and Guadeloupe known as the Saints. He had thirty-six ships against the French fleet of thirty-three, and the battle was a standard line battle in which ships form a line and fire directly at each other. A fleet captain, Sir Charles Douglas, recommended Rodney break the line after the French left a gap in their formation. But this was against the Fighting Instructions, the British navy's rules of engagement, and it was a gamble that could result in a court-martial or even a firing squad if it failed. Rodney was not even sure his captains would follow such an order.
Years of gambling, however, inspired Rodney to take such a great bet, and he won. Five ships followed him and he circled several French ships to fire upon them from both sides. His other captains also exploited gaps in the French line. Even the Ville de Paris, the world's largest fighting ship, was overtaken, abandoned by its crew, and set on fire by the British. Of course, this had no effect on the outcome of the war in the colonies. It did serve to make Rodney a hero, however, and so his motives would not be challenged after the war.
The deal made between the duc de Biron and the indebted Admiral Rodney worked out very well for both men. Admiral Rodney had his fortune back, and despite abandoning Cornwallis at Yorktown, Rodney was still regarded as a war hero for the naval battle he chose to win. The duc de Biron's nephew was safe, for the time being, and was now regarded as a hero in a war against England. However, the duc de Lauzun's status would not save him from the terrors of the French Revolution. He would go to the guillotine, but not before offering his executioner a glass of wine. The deal that allowed Rodney's gambling debt to be repaid also allowed America to win independence.
ONE NATION UNDER
THE GREAT ARCHITECTEven though the war ended in February 1783, it would still be almost ten more months before the peace treaty was signed in Paris. The new nation then turned to winning the peace.
From the very beginning of American history it was evident that a handful of Masons would exert a powerful influence both in the open and in secret. The Declaration of Independence was drawn up by the non-Mason Thomas Jefferson. It was first signed by a Mason, John Hancock, and on its first vote on July 1, 1776, the document was approved by nine of the states—a clear majority. The next day the vote reached twelve, with the New York delegation not voting. (John Adams had predicted that July second would forever be celebrated as the day of independence for the American colonies.) On the fourth New York voted and the Declaration was signed by the president and the secretary of Congress, not by Hancock or any of the other fifty-six signers, which would come later. When the Declaration was signed, up to forty-one of the signers were Masons, even though not all of these Masons were publicly acknowledged as such. Among Masons July 4 was held as a sacred day. It marked the rising of Sirius, which in ancient religions was related to the god Thoth, who brought knowledge to man. It was also considered the guardian to the goddess Isis; as such it was the most important star in the sky, and at least seven major Egyptian temples were oriented to it. The Fourth of July was now sacred to the new nation, as well.1
The Constitution was also drawn up by several influential Masons—including Washington, Franklin, and Randolph—and by non-Masons John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. All of them had been influenced by the philosophical movement that swept Europe and included Sir Francis Bacon, Rousseau, and Voltaire. The Founding Fathers, however, had ambiguous feelings toward the secret societies that spread these philosophies. Washington was known never to willingly promote a non-Mason in the military, but John Adams, on the other hand, wrote several anti-Masonic tracts. Adams believed Masonry was one of the greatest moral and political evils, and regarded it as a conspiracy of the few against the many.2
Jefferson was not a Mason, although his attendance at Masonic meetings has been documented. There is some evidence of his flirtation with Rosicrucianism, including some Rosicrucian codes that were found among his writings.3 There is stronger evidence that Franklin was connected to the Rosicrucian group that was centered in Germantown, Pennsylvania. And certainly there is no shortage of evidence of Franklin's numerous Masonic affiliations.
Of the forty men who signed the Constitution, many were already Masonic brothers and others would become Masons afterward. Masonic lodges claim that nearly all the signers at least participated in lodge activities, but most historians agree that several were not Masons, including Madison and Jefferson.
The Illuminati group was the most secretive and possibly the most conspiratorial entity in Europe, but members did not make headway in the colonies the way the Masons did. Washington spoke out against that group, condemning them as "self-created" and unrelated to Freemasonry.4 But Washington could trace his own family's aristocratic roots, and despite his efforts on behalf of a democracy, he was an elitist who would create the Society of the Cincinnati, which admitted only those with aristocratic backgrounds. This elite society caused widespread fear of a new aristocracy, and even fellow Virginian Thomas Jefferson immediately distrusted the institution. Washington later stepped back from the aristocratic leanings of the group.
On April 30, 1789, George Washington was inaugurated as president. The oath of office was administered by Robert Livingston, who was the grand master of New York's Grand Lodge. The marshal of the day was another Freemason, General Jacob Morton. Yet another Freemason, General Morgan Lewis, was Washington's escort. Washington, the master of the Alexandria lodge, took his oath of office on the Bible from Saint John's Lodge of New York.5
THE NEW ORDER OF THE AGESSoon the nation's new capital was laid out. The location was in a wilderness more suited for hunting grouse than for administering the new country, but it had its advantages. Washington feared that New York would serve as a bad example and allow the money men like Hamilton to control the country, and he did not want to place the capital there.6 Jefferson enjoyed the proximity of the new capital to Virginia. The city was blueprinted in a Masonic plan, designed by the French Mason Pierre-Charles L'Enfant, who had volunteered to fight for liberty. He was close to Washington and a member of the Society of the Cincinnati. The ceremony commemorating the laying of the Capitol's cornerstone was strictly a Masonic event. Washington served as master, wearing the apron and sash of his lodge. Members from lodges all over Maryland and Virginia were in attendance and accordingly dressed in Masonic regalia. The ceremony itself was a Masonic ritual performed with baptism by corn, wine, and oil to signify nourishment and refreshment. Masons were also called on to design, plan, and build university buildings, state houses, bridges, and war memorials, which they then consecrated with their corn, oil, and wine blessing. 7
The Capitol building and the east-west axis of the new city were oriented in a complicated way to correspond with the arc of the sun. The dome of the Capitol is "a symbol of the half-arc of the visible heavens . . . where the equinoctial and solstitial points meet."8 The tradition of incorporating arcane geometry and esoteric symbols continues to modern times. In May 1974 Senator Joe Biden of Delaware made an official inquiry into the astrological symbols on the ceiling of the Senate post office and the Civil Service Committee Room.9
The Great Seal of the United States was designed at the same time. It had been proposed that Franklin, Adams, and Jefferson design the new seal, but their suggestions of heraldic devices, twin goddesses, and the illuminati eye of God in a triangle were rejected. Two new design committees would be employed before the designs were acceptable to all. The final Great Seal is also full of arcane symbolism.
The bald eagle is said to represent Scorpio, who is associated with death and rebirth. The eagle holds a scroll that depicts the thirteen letter motto E pluribus unum, meaning "one out of many." Some believe this motto represents one nation arising from the thirteen colonies, but others believe that it refers to the concept of one God over all gods— a Masonic tenet. The reverse of the seal is a truncated pyramid, a common Masonic symbol. The pyramid has thirteen steps, one for each colony. Its face has seventy-two bricks, representative of another number that is sacred in religious writings from the Rig Veda to works of the Babylonian Berosus to the Finnish Kalevala. The pyramid without its cap is said to be the loss of wisdom by humanity because of the long reign of the Church over knowledge. This symbol first appeared on colonial money. The seal also depicts the all-seeing eye, which was a cult symbol that can be traced back to ancient Egypt. Many believe the eye represents the goddess Isis, who is also regarded as a personification of knowledge.
Another thirteen-letter motto, Annuit Coeptis, is taken from Virgil's Aeneid and is a prayer to the pagan god Jupiter to bless the new undertaking. In Virgil's work the prayer is annue coeptis, which contains twelve letters, but the spelling was purposely modified to give the phrase thirteen letters.10 In addition the Great Seal contains the words Novus Ordo Seclorum, meaning "the new order of the ages."11 This phrase too is taken from Virgil, and in modern times the New World Order has ominous meanings, although its Masonic meaning was a breakaway from the religious intolerance of Europe.
The eighteenth-century Masonic architects of the American nation did not stop using arcane symbolism with the Great Seal. The modern one-dollar bill includes the same Masonic symbolism of an unfinished pyramid topped by an all-seeing eye. The all-seeing eye was on American currency as early as 1778.
A MASONIC FAITHThere are numerous claims regarding just how many of America's Founding Fathers were actually Masons. Washington and Franklin were documented and active members of Masonic organizations, while Jefferson and Adams were not. They all shared a common belief, however—a variation of faith known as deism.
Adherents of deism believed that a superior power created the world and established nature as his law. Masons believed the supreme power was the great architect of the world, and his law was reflected in and revealed by science. The G symbol, which is so often debated, may simply be representative of the science of geometry. Deists, especially the eighteenth-century followers, held in contempt the wars between Christians in which people were killed over minor points of doctrine. Men of science, treated with suspicion by the Church, also held dear the respect Masonry held for science. This new religion, the deist religion of the Masons, found a conciliation between God and science, and the G symbol was revered as a sign of this progress.
The ranks of American Revolutionaries that held deist beliefs included George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Ethan Allen, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Quincy Adams.12 Paine was one of the most outspoken, and his Age of Reason is an anti-Church treatise. Washington attended the Episcopal Church but usually left before the communion. Jefferson regarded Christianity as a tyranny over the mind of man. Franklin, as a member of the Nine Sisters Lodge, was a brother to Voltaire, who, along with Jean-Jacques Rousseau, is given the credit for being the leading proponent of this "natural" religion.
Deism did not require a structured religion, nor did it oppose adherence to one. Although Franklin still called for prayer at the Constitutional Convention and Hamilton opposed it, both were Masons. Masonry allowed its members to transcend the divisions of religious pettiness and unite with each other. At the same time, there was a dark side to Masonry.
Like organized religion, Masonry preached equality and practiced elitism. The American government itself was formed not so much as a democracy as a hierarchical organization that could bar representation. For example, the right to vote was typically limited to men of property.
Those "inalienable rights" declared in 1776 were not a desire of all people. When Thomas Jefferson and George Mason pushed for a Bill of Rights for individuals, they had to overcome the staunch opposition of men such as the elitist Alexander Hamilton. George Mason believed slavery to be a crime and an abomination, but there were many opposed to any attempt at ending that institution. But Mason was joined by Virginians Richard Henry Lee and James Madison in overriding Hamilton, and the Bill of Rights was accepted.
Masonry had been born in the feudal Dark Ages when a small portion of the population had life-and-death control over the people in their realm. Liberty and equality were ideals that were not always shared by those higher up the food chain. The great American gamble achieved a result that somehow eluded countries that chose to follow its example.
Writers like Franklin and Jefferson had seemingly declared that challenging government by violent means was acceptable. Revolts ignited throughout Europe and South America and were mostly led by Masons. In some countries, new republics were formed quickly and without violence, such as in the Netherlands, in Switzerland, and among the various states of Italy. In Italy, the grand master and thirty-third degree Mason Giuseppe Garibaldi fought to unify Italy and place another Mason, Victor Emmanuel II, on the throne.13 In Russia Freemasons were the primary leaders of the Decembrist Revolt, which was planned in Masonic lodges. In Latin America, Freemason revolutionaries included Simon Bolivar, Jose de San Martin, and Benito Juarez.
In France, where Rousseau and Voltaire inspired freethinking and Masonic ideals, the revolution took bizarre and bloody twists, turning the country into a mob bent on murder and destruction. Sadly, many of the champions of the American cause suffered dearly, including the marquis de Lafayette and the duc de Lauzun.
In America, elitist concepts and an "end justifies the means" philosophy allowed a handful of men to steer the membership of lodges. The product of such organization would rear its ugly head in massive organized criminal activity. From the slave trade to Asian opium smuggling, the elite would prosper while the rank and file took the risks for them.
PART THREE From the Sacred to the Profane
1. David Cordingly, Women Sailors and Sailors' Women (New York: Random House, 2001), pp. 5-9.
2. Langguth, p. 467.
3. Ibid., pp. 473-4.
4. Barbara W Tuchman, The First Salute (New York: Ballantine Books, 1988), p. 250.
5. Baigent and Leigh, p. 218.
6. Tuchman, p. 191.
7. From Robert A. Selig, Deux-Ponts Germans, from the Web site www.american revolution.org.
8. Seward, p. 330.
9. Tuchman, p. 229.
10. Tuchman, p. 141.
1. David Ovason, The Secret Architecture of Our Nation's Capital (New York: Harper Collins, 1999), pp. 142-9.
2. A. Ralph Epperson, Masonry: Conspiracy against Christianity (Tucson: Publius Press, 1997), p. 281.
3. Hieronimus, p. 39.
4. Ibid., p. 28.
5. Baigent and Leigh, p. 261.
6. Thomas Fleming, The Duel (New York: Basic Books, 1999), p. 109.
7. Bullock, p. 150.
8. Ovason, p. 85.
9. Ibid., p. 269.
10. Ibid., p. 237.
11. Howard, p. 88.
12. Fleming, p. 4.
13. Bramley, p. 226.