The New England Patriots may not have gained their name until 1960, or their mascot until shortly thereafter (thanks to Phil Bissell’s cartoon for the Boston Globe, earning him the sobriquet “Pat’s Pa”), but the history of their mascot stretches hundreds of years back into American history. Whether you’re more history buff than sports fan or you just want to revisit the Revolutionary War, we’ve got 10 fun facts about patriots to get you ready for the big game.
Ben Franklin popularized the label “patriot”
The term “patriot” was first used regularly by Benjamin Franklin in the years leading up to the war, and came to refer to those colonial soldiers fighting against the British Army for their independence (Franklin himself was a patriot as well, and he also championed American foods like cranberries, maple syrup and Indian corn).
Though the romantic version of the Revolutionary War would have us believe that the Patriots—those fighting against Loyalists or Tories for independence from Britain—were ideological soldier-farmers, General George Washington actually relied on poor laborers motivated to join the army because they were offered money and land for their service. By 1778, half the men in the Continental Army weren’t even of English descent. But the pay soldiers were promised often wasn’t forthcoming, and even Continental officers went months without being paid.
Taking sides could tear families apart
Patriot Timothy Pickering Jr. was an adjutant general in Washington’s Continental Army, while his father remained a staunch Tory till the end of his life. When the younger Pickering learned of his father’s imminent death, he wrote a letter to his father to thank him for his example, even when their opinions differed. “When I look back on past time, I regret our difference of sentiment in great as well as (sometimes) in little politics; as it was a deduction from the happiness otherwise to have been enjoyed.”
Even in war, pets were important to patriots
After the 1777 Battle of Brandywine, in which the Patriots were defeated by the British, Washington found a dog sniffing around the camp. It wore tags identifying it as the property of British General William Howe and was returned to him with a note likely penned by Alexander Hamilton: “General Washington’s compliments to General Howe. He does himself the pleasure to return him dog, which accidentally fell into his hands.”
Some patriots were pirates
Although Britain had the most powerful navy in the world in 1776, patriot forces managed to recruit privateers—armed ships commissioned by the government to attack foreign powers—to fight for the fledgling country. Nearly 800 vessels were commissioned, and they ultimately captured or destroyed approximately 600 British ships. Though an American navy could’ve never defeated their British counterpart, it’s estimated that the privateers caused about $18 million in damage to British shipping by the end of the war—over $302 million in today’s dollars.
Theatre Was a Topic of Controversy
When they weren’t busy fighting patriots, the British army found some unusual methods for staving off boredom—including turning to the dramatic arts. As the British army spread across New York City, Boston and Philadelphia, three men were charged with overseeing military theatrical companies: General John Burgoyne, General William Howe and General Henry Clinton. The plays staged by the army were inevitably politically charged, with soldiers portraying George Washington as a bumbling, uncouth figure and offering flattery for the British soldiers. Plenty of people at the time found the soldiers’ involvement in theater unusual, or even offensive, since they didn’t seem to be taking the war seriously. The soldiers were aware of the criticism, as proved by British fighter Thomas Stanley: “I hear a great many people blame us for acting, and think we might have found something better to do.”
Ironically, the First Continental Congress actually discouraged “exhibitions of shows, plays and other expensive diversions and entertainments” in 1774, which could be related to the colonies’ injunctions against theatrical performances for reasons of religious morality or for economic reasons. But not everyone agreed with the article, and in May 1778 George Washington actually approved performances by officers in the Continental Army.
George Washington had a network of spies
Washington has a reputation as a great general and exemplary first president, but he was also heralded for his work as a spymaster known as Agent 711 in the Culper Spy Ring. The undercover patriots included farmers, tailors, merchants and other ordinary men as well as military officials. The ring was directed by Benjamin Tallmadge or “John Bolton,” who created a complex system of coded messages for the operatives.
The spies listened in on British conversations in locations all over the colonies, and in 1780 uncovered the British soldiers’ plan to ambush French troops. Washington also encouraged members of the ring to spread misinformation about the size of his army among British supporters. Agent 711’s work was so successful that one British officer said, “Washington did not really outfight the British. He simply out-spied us.”
One patriot survived 500 lashings at the hands of the British
Daniel Morgan was an infamous guerrilla fighter during the Revolutionary War, disguising himself and his men as Native Americans and attacking British units then fleeing throughout 1777. But it was before the Revolutionary War that Morgan’s fiery reputation truly proved itself. While serving the British Army as a wagoner during the French and Indian War, Morgan was struck by a British Lieutenant and responded by knocking the man out. Morgan was court-martialed and received 500 lashes, enough to kill a man. He survived, and liked to tell people that the British had miscounted and only given him 499, and they owed him one more lashing.
There were women patriots, too
There may not be any women playing for the New England Patriots, but there were plenty of female patriots who assisted the Continental Army.
When Margaret Cochran married John Corbin in 1772, little did she anticipate that in the next four years she’d be joining her husband in the Revolutionary War. When John left, she followed, joining other women who cooked, did laundry and took care of the sick and wounded soldiers. In November 1776, Margaret dressed as a man to join her husband at the Battle of Fort Washington, assisting him with loading the cannon. He was killed, leaving her to take over firing the cannon. But Margaret, too, was hit, her left arm nearly severed and her jaw severely wounded. She survived the battle, which the British eventually won, and on July 6, 1779, was awarded a lifelong pension equivalent to half that received by male soldiers, becoming the first female combat veteran of the war to receive a military pension.
One of the most critical battles was fought in the South, not New England
In January 1781, South Carolina became the site of a major turning point in the Revolutionary War. Cowpens referred to South Carolina’s pastureland and young cattle industry, and the land meant there was plenty of forage for horses. Some of the troops in the Continental Army were familiar with the terrain and made use of it for setting up their camps. On January 17, the Battle of Cowpens began—and was a major success for the patriots, thanks to help from spy and messenger Catherine Moore Barry. Barry knew the trails well and notified the militia of the approaching British Army, which helped General Morgan lay a trap for Cornwallis and the British troops.
Native Americans largely supported the British
The Revolutionary War wasn’t a battle for an unoccupied stretch of land; Native Americans had been negotiating the politics of the competing European powers for centuries by the time the colonists fought for independence from the British. But the Native Americans were far from being monolithic when it came to where they stood in the war. Mohawks and other members of the Iroquois Confederacy fought for the British in the northeast, while tribes in the Ohio country tried to remain neutral. In 1778 at the Treaty of Fort Pitt, the Delawares and Americans agreed to “perpetual peace and friendship.” But when the patriots killed noncombatant Moravian Delawares, the Ohio Native Americans joined the British, and continued to fight American westward expansion long after the war.