Not long after that, a battle was fought at Lexington, near Boston.
Everybody saw that there must be a war. Congress called on all the colonies for volunteers, and appointed George Washington commander-in-chief of the American army. General Washington soon drove the British out of Boston, and hurried away to prevent them from taking New York.
Then King George sent over a great fleet with cannon and armed men. Some of the men were Hessians. They could not speak a word of English, yet they were hired by the king to fight his English subjects. This made the Americans more angry than ever. They said that a king who would do such a thing as that was not worthy of obedience, and that the colonies should not be a part of England any more. The Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence, and then war with England began in real earnest.
Meanwhile, Alexander Hamilton was studying how to build forts and drill soldiers. When it was known that the British fleet was coming against New York, he joined a company of volunteers. They called themselves "Hearts of Oak," and made a very brave showing indeed in their green uniforms and leather caps, with "Freedom or Death" on the bands.
It became necessary to remove some cannon from the battery. The "Hearts of Oak" agreed to do it. As they stood on the shore, pulling and tugging at a heavy gun, the British fired at them from the ships. A comrade fell dead at Hamilton's side; but the young men stood their ground, and the gun was at last removed to safety.
Now, when the people in the city heard this firing from the British ships, they rushed into the streets, crying: "Down with the Tories!" "Down with the hirelings of the king!" And one of the first men they wanted to hang was Dr. Cooper, the president of Columbia College.
You remember that this was the Tory whom Hamilton had opposed in the newspapers. Yet Hamilton knew that it would be a wicked thing to seize a defenseless man.
He was tired and heated from his work with the gun; but when he saw the angry mob surging toward the president's house, he hurried to it by a short street, and stood on the steps.
He told the people they were bringing disgrace on the name of liberty. He thought he would keep on talking in a very loud voice until the president might escape by a back door.
Dr. Cooper could not believe that Hamilton was generous enough to defend him. He thought he was down there on the front steps inciting the mob to burn his house. So he looked out of the window and called: "Don't listen to him, gentlemen; he's crazy! he's crazy!"
At last, the old scholar learned the truth, and escaped through a back door to a British man-of-war which lay in the harbor.
At another time, while the mobs were rushing to destroy the printing presses of the Tories, Hamilton again interfered. He said the rights of all citizens should be protected, and begged the frantic men to respect the law.
Soon after this, Hamilton was made captain of an artillery company.
He was very proud of his company. He spent all his money to equip his men, and trained them until they were the best soldiers in New York.
One day, as they were at drill, loading and unloading the big guns, taking them apart, putting them together again, and running with them back and forth, who should pass but Washington himself! The great general stopped at the drill ground to watch the artillery company.
He was so pleased with the bright face and the
commanding tones of the little captain that he asked
who he was; and then he slowly passed on, repeating to
himself: "Alexander Hamilton, the 'Vindicator of
Another day the great commander-in-chief rode by as Hamilton was constructing some earth works at Fort Washington. He stopped his horse and watched the little engineer. And when he saw that it was the captain who had drilled the artillery company so well, he invited him to his tent.
They had a long and delightful talk together. Young Hamilton sat on a camp stool answering questions; he was so modest and intelligent that he quite won the heart of Washington; and from that very day a friendship began between George Washington and Alexander Hamilton such as few men ever know. It was a friendship that lasted till death.
Some time you will read all about the war between the British and the Americans. I can only mention a few of the battles in this little book.
The king's troops seized New York. Then they followed Washington's army up the Hudson, and there were several engagements. Hamilton was always in the thickest of the fight. At Fort Washington he held the enemy back with his guns for a time; and when they had captured the fort, he hurried into the presence of Washington and proposed to re-capture it with his company. As he stood there with his cocked hat in his hand, he looked very eager and impatient to hurry to the task. But the prudent general thought the risk was too great, and ordered a retreat.
Hamilton soon won the name of the "Little Lion" by his boldness. He gloried in fighting for liberty. It is said that as he marched along beside his cannon, with his hand resting on the barrel, he patted and stroked it as if it were a favorite horse.
Washington kept on retreating toward Philadelphia. His army was poorly clothed and half fed and only numbered about three thousand men. Following after it came the great British army, under Cornwallis. There were over eight thousand soldiers in scarlet and gold, with banners flying and music playing; they were certain of victory.
When Washington reached the Raritan River, Cornwallis was close behind; but Hamilton planted his cannon on a high ledge of rocks above the ford of the river, and kept back the red coats until the rear of the ragged Americans was safe.
The "Little Lion" was soon rewarded for his pluck; he was appointed aide-de-camp and private secretary to General Washington, and he was given the rank of lieutenant-colonel; that was a proud day for Alexander Hamilton.