Daily readings about people, places, and events in American history.
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January 17th
“A Devil of a Whipping”
On January 17, 1781, Patriots under Brig. Gen. Daniel Morgan defeated a British force under Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton at the Battle of Cowpens in South Carolina, a crucial victory in the American Revolution.

Morgan was a rough-and-tumble fellow. As a young man in Virginia, he had worked as a wagoner, driving supplies to settlers west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. During the French and Indian War, while driving wagons for the British, he managed to offend a British officer, who struck him with the flat of his sword. Morgan responded by decking the officer and was sentenced to 500 lashes. In later years, he liked to say that the British miscounted and gave him only 499, and that they still owed him one.

During the Revolution, Morgan fought at Quebec and Saratoga. In 1780, he headed south to help fight the British in the Carolina backcountry.

Tarleton, a brilliant commander, was determined to destroy Morgan’s army. He once declared that “these miserable Americans must be taught their places!” The Americans viewed Tarleton as a butcher because his troops had been known to slaughter men who tried to surrender.

When Morgan realized that Tarleton was on his trail, he sent word to local militia: meet at the Cowpens, a frontier pasturing ground. The night before the battle, “the Old Wagoner” moved among his troops, bucking them up and showing them the whipping scars on his back. By dawn he had perhaps 1,500 men carefully placed on the field.

Tarleton’s fearsome dragoons charged straight into a trap. The Americans managed to surround the attackers, killing or capturing most of Tarleton’s 1,050 men. Tarleton himself managed to escape. But the battle was a staggering blow to the British – “a devil of a whipping,” as Morgan put it – and helped turn the tide of the war.

American History Parade
Benjamin Franklin is born in Boston.

A Patriot army led by General Daniel Morgan wins a decisive victory over the British at Cowpens, South Carolina.

Thomas Jefferson’s daughter Martha gives birth to James Madison Randolph, the first child born in the White House.

American sugar planters led by Sanford B. Dole overthrow Hawaii’s Queen Liliuokalani.

The United States buys the Virgin Islands from Denmark for $25 million.

A magnitude 6.7 earthquake strikes Southern California, killing at least 61 people.
This content is courtesy of The American Patriot's Almanac
© 2008, 2010 by William J. Bennett and John T.E. Cribb

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