A Friend in Need

It didn’t take Stephen long to analyze the situation with the British occupation of Philadelphia. With his experience as a mariner and a merchant, he understood that the young republic could not succeed against the British without enlisting Great Britain’s longtime enemy to the cause, a country that understood the quest for freedom and independence, a country with a strong army and a stronger navy– France. Stephen anticipated that the founding fathers of the United States would approach the French government. Benjamin Franklin and others would plead their case.

     What he did not anticipate was that the federalist leanings of George Washington who felt more kinship with England than with France, gladly accepted the support of France but never intended to return the favor when France needed it. General Lafayette, a French nobleman serving in the American Army, convinced the French King Louis XVI to send overwhelming forces against the British to assist the Americans. It was June 1778. This action gave heart to the Americans and helped greatly in the war effort. When George Washington made the bold decision to cross the Delaware, his decision affected at least the newly married couple Stephen and Mary. Seeing that the French had joined the American forces against the British, the couple believed that the war would soon end and began making plans to move back to Philadelphia. When George Washington surprised the British with his move over the freezing water of the Delaware to land in New Jersey, the British moved thousands of troops into the Mount Holly area. Stephen changed his plan and decided not to return to Philadelphia yet, not wanting to draw attention to himself or his business at that time. Together they watched about fifteen thousand British troops leave Philadelphia and head right to Mount Holly.
     With France now fighting on the side of the American patriots, Great Britain had to revise its military strategy. Holding Philadelphia was now too risky. French troops immediately took control of New Jersey.  And what was the victory that gave the American Army the advantage and brought about the defeat of the British? On September 5th, the French naval forces reached the Chesapeake Bay and sealed off the only escape route the British had. This brought Yorktown into play and led to its significant role in ending the war. Girard biographer George Wilson writes: “By September 11, American troops were already at Yorktown under the command of General Marquis de Lafayette. Cornwallis made a tragic mistake by not attacking a relatively weak force in early September.” By September 28th, some sixteen thousand American and French troops had gathered in a semicircle around Yorktown. They had now outnumbered Cornwallis by about ten thousand troops.
     What was relative apathy on the part of Girard in 1776 when he first arrived in Philadelphia, concerning the destiny of the new nation had turned into a deep fervor and support for his native country and his adoptive country as they chased the British out. The British would not admit they had been beaten. They knew the vulnerability of the United States, which had no navy of its own and not much of an army. The British would continue to conduct  a war of harassment against America by seizing its merchant ships and warships almost at will. It would not be until the War of 1812 that Great Britain finally knew and accepted that their colonies were lost to them forever.  

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