Media Matters

If the Times Covered the American Revolution

We'd still be paying exorbitant taxes on breakfast tea.

By 7.7.06

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If the New York Times had been around to report on the American Revolution, its coverage might have looked something like this...

* Dec. 16, 1773: Sons of Liberty to raid East India Company ships

BOSTON -- Members of the undergound organization called the Sons of Liberty are plotting to raid three East India Company ships tonight and dump the cargo -- thousands of pounds worth of Darjeeling tea -- into Boston Harbor, the Times has learned. Contacted at his headquarters, Gov. Thomas Hutchinson said, "We'll be ready and waiting for them. Thanks, New York Times!"

The plot called for members of the shadowy group to dress as Mohawk Indians, board the ship, and dump the tea into the harbor. The move is portrayed as a protest of the Stamp Act, but some analysts say it might be nothing but a racist plot to turn the public against Indians.

* April 18, 1775: Hancock, Adams hiding in Lexington

BOSTON -- Patriot leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock, sought by British authorities for fomenting rebellion, are hiding in the Lexington home of the Rev. Jonas Clark, a Patriot sympathizer. The two are protected by a secretive web of spies and messengers, including well-known silversmith Paul Revere and physician Joseph Warren.

Warren, in charge of dispatching messengers, intends to send riders Revere and William Dawes to Lexington should Gov. Thomas Gage make any move to arrest Hancock and Adams or seize the arms Patriots have hidden in their homes and plowed under their fields in Lexington and neighboring Concord, according to sources. Some families have stored munitions in barrels on their farms, and at least one set of cannons is buried in a field to prevent the authorities from finding them.

* July 1, 1776: Continental Congress prepares divisive, religiously based "declaration"

PHILADELPHIA -- The all white, all male and all landed members of the 2nd Continental Congress have written a document declaring that "all men are created equal," though it is unclear whether the phrase includes women, minorities and people who don't own property.

"There is no mention in this document of women, indentured servants, slaves, renters, or people of color," according to College of New Jersey professor Cornell East. "Nor does it include any reference to affordable health care. That is appalling when an estimated 100 percent of colonials lack health insurance."

In what is sure to be offensive to many, the document contains religious references and claims that God is the source of citizens' rights. It also asserts that the colonies are independent of Great Britain.

* Oct. 18, 1777: Generals call for Washington to resign

SARATOGA, N.Y. -- Confidence in Gen. George Washington is collapsing at the most senior government levels and some top Army brass as well as New Englanders in Congress want the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army replaced with the more successful Gen. Horatio Gates, government sources say.

Gen. Washington has yet to win a single major battle against British forces. His defeats at Long Island and Kip's Bay allowed the British to capture New York City, and during his retreat Gen. Washington was again defeated at White Plains. The British routed Gen. Washington's forces at Fort Washington, leading to the capture of 2,800 American soldiers.

Gen. Washington won two minor battles at Trenton and Princeton, N.J., but in October suffered more setbacks at Brandywine and Germantown. In the wake of yesterday's stunning defeat here of British Gen. John Burgoyne by American Gen. Horatio Gates, some in the Army and in Congress are calling for Washington to be replaced by the more militarily successful Gates.

Gen. Washington has little formal military training and has never won a decisive battle. He prefers to play a game of cat and mouse with the British rather than engage them in a major pitched battle like the one Gen. Gates won here yesterday. Allies of Gen. Gates say the hero of Saratoga is the obvious choice to replace the unsuccessful Washington as Commander in Chief of the Army, and many in Congress agree.

* July 23, 1780: American spies uncover British attack plans

NEW YORK -- A spy network run here by Major Benjamin Tallmadge of the 2nd Connecticut Light Dragoons has uncovered British plans to attack the French Navy at Newport, R.I., The New York Times has learned. A spy known only by his or her codename "Lady" reported the plans to Maj. Tallmadge, who passed them on to Gen. George Washington, Commander in Chief of the Continental Army.

Gen. Washington plans to prevent the British attack by drawing up false plans for an assault on New York City and seeing that the "plans" fall into the hands of British Gen. Sir Henry Clinton stationed in New York, according to sources inside Gen. Washington's camp.

Tallmadge's spies are known as the Culper ring and are reputed to be the most successful and important spies in America's service. They have infiltrated the British command in New York City and repeatedly deliver useful information to American forces on the outside.

* Sept. 7, 1781: French fleet blocks British Navy from Chesapeake Bay

YORKTOWN -- French Admiral Francois Joseph Paul de Grasse, fresh from a victory over the Royal Navy, has blockaded the Chesapeake Bay, cutting off any hope that the British Army here could be supplied, reinforced or rescued by sea.

British Gen. Lord Charles Cornwallis is encamped here in hopes that the Royal Navy will be able to use the port. With the French Navy blockading the bay, Gen. George Washington and French Lt. Gen. Comte de Rochambeau are marching their armies from Philadelphia to Yorktown at this moment. Meanwhile, Lord Cornwallis is busy reinforcing his defenses at Yorktown, cementing his own trap.

*****
Good thing the New York Times was founded in 1851, and not 1751.

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About the Author

Andrew Cline is editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader. You can follow him on Twitter at @Drewhampshire.