Today in History: October 19, 1781


The surrender at Yorktown, which ended the American Revolutionary War. Cornwallis realized that aid would not come in time – and after two days of bombardment – he sent a drummer out into view, who apparently beat the rhythm of: “STOP! LET’S TALK!!!” I love that the two sides would communicate this way – quite amazing. A British officer high in rank came forward – was blindfolded – and taken to George Washington (who was pretty much on his last legs himself).

The surrender document was drawn up, with Washington dictating the terms.

Over 7,000 soldiers surrendered at Yorktown. The war was over. There was still a lot of cleaning up to do, and negotiating, and brou-hahas, etc. – but the war was over.

And here is a story (perhaps a rumor – but I love it nonetheless) of Benjamin Franklin’s response to the news of the surrender. He was, of course, in Paris at the time.

Here is, apparently, what happened.

Franklin was in France, and word came to France of the decisive American victory, and the complete surrender to George Washington in Yorktown. Franklin attended a diplomatic dinner shortly thereafter – and, of course, everyone was discussing the defeat of the British, and the victory of America.

The French foreign minister stood, and toasted Louis XVI: “To his Majesty, Louis the Sixteenth, who, like the moon, fills the earth with a soft, benevolent glow.”

The British ambassador rose and said, “To George the Third, who, like the sun at noonday, spreads his light and illumines the world.”

Franklin rose and countered, “I cannot give you the sun or the moon, but I give you George Washington, General of the armies of the United States, who, like Joshua of old, commanded both the sun and the moon to stand still, and both obeyed.”

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12 Responses to Today in History: October 19, 1781

  1. Jayne says:

    I love that!

  2. Emily says:

    Bless Benjamin Franklin. He is truly one of the greatest wits in American history. Capable of such eloquence, yet still common enough to write an entire book about farting. How can you not love the man?

  3. red says:

    hahahaha, emily – I know.

  4. red says:

    One of my favorite stories from David McCullough’s biography of John Adams is of Franklin and Adams sharing a bed in a tavern one night – and the two of them arguing about whether or not to leave the window open. Franklin went on and on and on about the night air – the qualities of it, the blessings, the healing properties, whatever – until John Adams fell asleep. As Franklin was still talking.

    hahahaha Just the image of these two statesmen lying in bed together and bickering gives me so much joy!!!

  5. JFH says:

    Don’t forget that it was us in South Carolina that made the Battle of Yorktown even possible (Sob, we never get any credit for our participation in the Revolutionary War)

  6. Emily says:

    Well, on this of all days, cheers to South Carolina!

  7. red says:

    JFH – Thanks, South Carolina!! :)

  8. Cullen says:

    Yay South Carolina! My dad’s birthstate.

  9. Jon F. says:

    Great account! Isn’t it amazing that word didn’t reach Paris until a ship could sail across the ocean to deliver it? I think it took about 30 days back then. Fascinating.

  10. JFH says:

    Just so ya’ll know for future purposes, Carolina Day is June 28th, which celebrates the victory of The Battle for Sullivan’s Island. This was the first decisive win for the US in the Revolutionary War.

    OT, Sullivan’s Island is the setting for Poe’s The Gold Bug inspired when Poe was stationed at Fort Moltrie (which was named for Col. Moltrie who was commander of the fort during the battle)

  11. red says:

    JFH – didn’t know that about the Poe connection – thanks! I think The Gold Bug is my favorite Poe story.

  12. Ken Hall says:

    Turning one over for South Calinky….