Friday, January 22, 2010

The Man Who Almost Shot George Washington

Major Patrick Ferguson was a British officer in the Revolutionary War.  Born in 1744, educated in the London Military Academy and given a commission in the famed Scottish cavalry regiment, the Scots Greys.  He invented a superior gun that weighted a mere 7.5 pounds as compared to the old rifle that weighted 14 pounds.  It could fire 4 rounds per minute at a target 300 yards away.  It was named the Ferguson rife and used by the British army for the next 100 years.

The Major was sent to America to form a small force of sharp shooters.  One day, while scouting along Brandywine Creek, he heard the approach of two horsemen.  The first was a brilliantly clad Hussar and the second was wearing a blue and buff uniform of an American Senior Office.  He was riding a bay horse and wearing a large cocked hat.  Ferguson stepped into a clearing and order both men to halt.  The Hussar shouted and Washington, riding a horse he called Nelson, turned and galloped off.

Ferguson later wrote:  "As I was with the distance, at which in the quickest firing, I could have lodged a half dozen balls in or about him before he was out of my reach, I had only to was not pleasant to fire at the back of an unoffending individual who was acquitting himself coolly of his duty, so I let him alone."  (This letter is archived in the Edinburgh University Library.)

In the 18th century, shooting an enemy officer in cold blood was looked upon as an act of dishonor.

This British officer whose code of honor spared the life of George Washington died in action at the battle of Kings Mountain on 7 October, 1780.  Today there is a traditional Scottish stone pile, or cairn mound,  lying over the grave of Major Ferguson.  A stone monument was erected in 1930 and dedicated by President Hoover to the man who might have ended the American Revolution by shooting George Washington.

So, who was the other person dressed as a Polish officer?  

The Count de Pulaski was a refugee from the Polish Army and living in Paris, France, when it was suggested he go to America and served in the American army.  Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter of introduction and the Count was assigned to General Washington as an Aide-de-Camp.

In Illinois, we know this Polish officer as Casimir Pulaski.  He has a street named for him and his birthday is a legal holiday.  The first Monday of every March is declared Casimir Pulaski Day and it is an official state holiday.  In 2010 the date is March 1st.

Chicago has the largest Polish population of any city in the world, except Warsaw.

1 comment:

  1. Was Major Patrick Ferguson since he designed the gun known to customize his own gear in the field? I ask this because to this day soldiers are known to modify theirs. I assume this was also true back in the day. Rick of the History Channel series "Pawn Stars" would be in heaven if Ferguson's own gun showed up and there was a way to confirm it was indeed the every gun that had Washington's back that very fateful day.