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In December 1774, Benjamin Franklin met Caroline Howe in a London drawing room for “half a dozen Games of Chess.” These meetings weren’t about board games. That was the cover story. Caroline’s brothers—British General Sir William Howe and Richard Admiral Lord Howe—were there. They were all part of a last-ditch attempt to forestall the outbreak of the American War of Independence.

The distinguished Howe family has been known for two things.  The military exploits of the men is one of them. In 1775, Richard, commanding the HMS Dunkirk, fired the first shot signaling the beginning of the Seven Years’ War at sea; just three years later, George won the devotion of the American fighters he commanded at Fort Ticonderoga; and youngest brother General William Howe, his sympathies torn, commanded his troops to a bitter Pyrrhic victory in the Battle of Bunker Hill, only to be vilified for his failure as British commander-in-chief to subdue Washington’s Continental Army.

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