All The World Would Be Upside Down: Yorktown Surrender 1781 October 19th


The British Surrender at Yorktown October 19, 1781

America declared its independence in 1776, but it took another five years to win a battle that spelled the end for the British.  That day came on October 19, 1781, when the British General Charles Cornwallis surrendered his troops in Yorktown, Virginia.

The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis is an oil painting by John Trumbull. The painting was completed in 1820, and hangs in the rotunda of the United States Capitol in Washington, D. C. (see above)  The cast of characters (along with two extra canines – Wyatt and Gavin numbers 34 and 35) is provided below:


French intervention made the British position in America much more tenuous.

Until 1778, the British army had been able to depend on the dominance of the Royal Navy. After all, they were successful o the world stage.  British troops could be transported anywhere along the Atlantic coast of the colonies, and British generals had no need to fear for their extended Atlantic supply line.  The British plans got complicated when until leaders in Paris gummed up the works.   Once the French joined the war, their navy posed an immediate threat. If French ships could get on the same playbook with American troops on land, isolated British garrisons could be captured.

At first, the French and Americans failed to co-ordinate their operations.  However at Yorktown, Virginia, they succeeded to dramatic effect in autumn 1781. Their success lead to the defeat of the British. General Cornwallis’s British army was trapped by American and French troops and cut off from relief by the French navy. Cornwallis’s surrender effectively ended the war in America        

General Cornwallis brought 8,000 British troops to Yorktown. They relied on help from British ships sent from New York. The British ships never arrived.  The British navy was intercepted by the French.The French navy kept British ships from entering through the York River or Chesapeake Bay  The British returned to New York. That was lucky for General George Washington and the Continental army. The thirteen colonies found their opportunity to beat the world’s largest empire.

On September 5, 1781, at the Battle of the Capes, a French fleet under the Comte de Grasse forced a British fleet to return to New York City. It was de Grasse who decided to sail to the Chesapeake, and not New York City – changing the course of the war.

French troops led by General Jean-Baptiste Rochambeau joined General Washington.  Rochambeau and Washington gathered an army of 17,000 soldiers to take Yorktown back from the British in early October. The army continued a siege on Yorktown. They surrounded the town. The siege cut off supplies.  The joint American-French force laid siege to Yorktown, with Alexander Hamilton also involved in an attack to capture a key British defensive position.

After awhile, the British ran out of food and ammunition. They could not continue fighting.

Following an abortive attempt to evacuate his army from Yorktown, Lord Charles Cornwallis faced the reality that aid from Sir Henry Clinton would not arrive in time. French and American guns resumed bombardment of the British position at dawn on October 17. By mid-morning, Cornwallis came to a decision and sent a drummer to a visible location on the fortification, where he beat out the call for a parley. The guns were quickly silenced and a British officer came forward to the American lines; he was blindfolded and taken to confer with George Washington.

On October 17, 1781, aides appointed by Cornwallis started surrender negotiations with Washington’s subordinates.

One surrender condition seemed harsh and it was related to treatment by Cornwallis’s superior officer, General Henry Clinton, of the American General Benjamin Lincoln.

A little over a year earlier, Clinton had forced Lincoln to surrender his force of about 5,000 troops after British forces laid siege to Charleston, South Carolina. Then Clinton insulted Lincoln by not allowing the Americans to surrender with honor by displaying their colors and playing a song to honor the British. General Lincoln was then exchanged for another prisoner, and by the time of the Yorktown siege he was Washington’s second-in-command on the battlefield.

The formal surrender ceremony was held October 19, 1781.

British agreed to the Washington’s capitulation  terms, but then Cornwallis refused to meet Washington in public to finalize the surrender. Claiming he was ill, Cornwallis sent the Irish General, Charles O’Hara, with Cornwallis’s sword. The British-German forces were denied the same surrender honors as Lincoln’s forces had experienced in Charleston.

At the end of the surrender march, General O’Hara offered the sword to Washington, who turned to Lincoln and instructed Lincoln to receive O’Hara’s sword and supervise the surrender of arms.

Washington refused to make the same mistake that had been made four years earlier by Horatio Gates in the surrender at Saratoga, where the defeated soldiers were allowed to return to their homes in exchange for a promise not to reenter the war in North America at a later point. The obvious problem with such leniency was that those soldiers could be assigned to another theater, thus replacing soldiers in that location who could then be sent to America.

Terms included the following provisions:

surrendering soldiers were to march out of their fortification with colors folded, surrender their arms at a predetermined location, then depart to detention2

British officers were allowed to keep their side arms and to depart to Britain, or to a British-occupied American port.  Officers and soldiers were allowed to retain personae possessions.

In a breech of military etiquette, Cornwallis declined to attend the surrender ceremony, claiming illness. The second in command, Brigadier General Charles O’Hara, filled that role. To avoid the humiliation of turning over Cornwallis’ sword to Washington — known contemptuously to many British as “General Buckskin” — O’Hara attempted to present the token to General Rochambeau. The French commander refused to accept the sword and pointed to Washington. When O’Hara turned to make the presentation, Washington called on his second-in-command, General Benjamin Lincoln, to accept. Thus, General Buckskin won some satisfaction in the wake of his humiliation at the surrender of Charleston.


According to a widely recounted report, the defeated army departed to the strains of The World Turned Upside Down, a popular song whose words in part expressed the sentiments of the day:

If ponies rode men and grass ate cows,

And cats were chased into holes by the mouse . . .

If summer were spring and the other way round,

Then all the world would be upside down.

If ponies rode men and grass ate cows,

And cats were chased into holes by the mouse . . .

If summer were spring and the other way round,

Then all the world would be upside down.

There is some dispute as to whether the British actually played “The World Turned Upside Down” as they surrendered at Yorktown. Tradition says yes, but at least one scholar has claimed that the earliest mention of the song being played as arms were laid down didn’t occur until 1828, almost fifty years after the event.

Contemporary accounts are certain, however, of the importance “Yankee Doodle” had in the ceremony. Henry Knox, Washington’s chief of artillery, says that the British band was specifically not allowed to play the song. The Marquis de Lafayette writes that the French army played the song to “discomfort” the British as they marched from the fort between the French and Americans.


The “Sloopers” Are Coming: 1825 October 9th / Happy Leif Erikson Day


October 9, 1825, the sloop Restauration arrived in the United States, marking what is frequently considered the first planned emigration from Norway to the U.S.  Norsemen from Greenland and Iceland were the first Europeans to reach America, led by Leif Erikson around the year 1000. They founded a settlement in present-day Newfoundland, Canada, but didn’t endure due to struggles with the indigenous people.

On July 4, 1825, a group of 52 Norwegian immigrants boarded the single-masted sloop Restauration (also known as Restauration, Restoration, Restaurasjonen, and Restorasjon) in Stavanger harbor. Often called the Norwegian Mayflower, it was only about half the size of that famous ship. During the three-month voyage, the ship’s habitation increased by one, with the birth of Margaret Allen Larsen.

The Restauration finally arrived in New York on October 9, 1825. Upon entrance in America, the captain was arrested for carrying 52 passengers, far too many for such a small ship. President John Quincy Adams pardoned him a month later. The passengers from the ship established their first settlement at Kendall, New York.  Over the next century, some 800,000 Norwegian settlers would follow them to North America, with most settling in the U.S

Leif Erikson Day is a United States observance happening on October 9. It honors Leif Erikson, who led the first Europeans known to have set foot on North American soil. In 1964, Congress authorized and requested the President to create the observance through an annual proclamation. Lyndon B. Johnson and each President since have done so. Presidents have used the proclamation to praise the contributions of Americans of Nordic descent generally and the spirit of discovery

Puritans hold first graduation ceremony from college named for John Harvard: 1642 September 23


Although founded in 1636, Harvard did not hold its first Commencement until September 23, 1642 . In so doing, the College gave the country its first taste of nonreligious European ritual.  Of course, there was the Puritan influence throughout

Charles A. Wagner sets the scene for us in “Harvard: Four Centuries and Freedoms”:

The academic procession on that far distant September morning of 1642 counted the nine “commencers,” four juniorsophisters, and eight or ten freshmen, with a motley audience of visitors from Boston and all the settlements nearby; ministers, Indians, residents, parents, and gloating familiars. The people made it a holiday of annual joy in learning. And there were orations by the commencers in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. Then, in the afternoon session, came the series of disputations in Latin between commencers on many of the age-old topics of the theses philosophicae and philologicae.

Until Quincy’s discovery, the hand-drawn sketch (from records of an Overseers meeting on Jan. 6, 1644) had been filed away and forgotten. It became the basis of the seal officially adopted by the Corporation in 1843 and still informs the version used today.

Our rowers are wearing the crimson scarves.

Crimson was officially designated as Harvard’s color by a vote of the Harvard Corporation in 1910. But why crimson? A pair of rowers, Charles W. Eliot, Class of 1853, and Benjamin W. Crowninshield, Class of 1858, provided crimson scarves to their teammates so that spectators could differentiate Harvard’s crew team from other teams during a regatta in 1858. Eliot became Harvard’s 21st president in 1869 and served until 1909; the Corporation vote to make the color of Eliot’s bandannas the official color came soon after he stepped down.

Are you really sure about the color?

But before the official vote by the Harvard Corporation, students’ color of choice had at one point wavered between crimson and magenta – probably because the idea of using colors to represent universities was still new in the latter part of the 19th century. Pushed by popular debate to decide, Harvard undergraduates held a plebiscite on May 6, 1875, on the University’s color, and crimson won by a wide margin. The student newspaper – which had been called The Magenta – changed its name with the very next issue.

A Latin Ceremony:

Early in the afternoon of Sept. 23, 1642 — the first Commencement at Harvard College — all nine graduates lined up in front of President Henry Dunster. He conferred degrees on the group in order of their parents’ prominence, which made Benjamin Woodbridge Harvard’s first graduate. After delivering an address in Latin, Dunster handed each new scholar “a Booke of Arts,” wrote one witness. But after the ceremony, Harvard took each book back.

Diploma? What diploma?

It was not until 1813 that Harvard College graduates received something at Commencement they could keep: a uniformly sized, textually common diploma in Latin. (Medical diplomas were first given out in 1817, and law diplomas in 1827.) Before the era of printed diplomas, any graduate who needed a document attesting to a Harvard degree (usually for travel overseas) hired a local calligrapher to pen an inscription on parchment. Then he — always “he” in those days — paid the Harvard president to sign it. When it came to 17th- and 18th-century diplomas, you “rolled your own,” wrote historian Samuel Eliot Morison.

Go Team. Go Pilgrims!

The Harvard sports teams may go by the nickname “Crimson” but the mascot of Harvard University was an historical figure, the college benefactor John Harvard, the Pilgrim.

It is not Harvard, he was not the founder, and it was not in 1638.

The famous statue of John Harvard is located in front of University Hall, on the campus of Harvard University. The bronze sculpture was created by Daniel Chester French, was given to the college by Samuel James Bridge, and dedicated on October 15, 1884. It now sits in front of University Hall in historic Harvard Yard.

The statue is famous for several reasons. Traditionally, it is supposed to bring you luck if you rub John Harvard’s left shoe. It is also known as the “statue of three lies”. The statue has a three line inscription on the granite base. Every line is false.




  1. The sculpture does not depict John Harvard. There is no known image of John Harvard. So, when Daniel Chester French needed a model for the statue. Sherman Hoar, class of 1882, believed to be the most handsome student at Harvard, was selected.
  2. John Harvard was not the founder of Harvard. He was its earliest benefactor. John Harvard was a clergyman who bequeathing £780 as well as his 400 library of books to the New College. The college then renamed Harvard College in his honor.
  3. Harvard College was not founded in 1638 but in 1636. Sixteen thirty-eight was the year John Harvard died.

Walk right in…but not through there.

Harvard is full of other gates open around the clock (anyone can go to the territory on working days). But the Johnston Gate, the main gate of the campus, is closed most of the year.All because Harvard students have to go through them only twice. The first time –  when they are first-year students on campus, and the second time – as it is easy to guess – when they leave Harvard as graduates. It is considered a bad omen if students pass through the gate more than twice.