Families were not only separated by the Revolutionary War but their loyalties were often divided. Cornelia Bell lived in Bridgewater, New Jersey, and sympathized with the Patriots, while her brother Andrew, a lawyer, supported the British cause and was in New york City, serving as secretary to Sir Henry Clinton. Despite their differences the close ties between brother and sister were not broken. In a letter to her brother Cornelia commented on the impact of plundering armies.
“Bellfield” Jan’y 30th, 1777I am much oblig’d to you for the anxiety you express on my account concerning the British Troops penetrating this part of the country. Thank Heaven I have seen none of them yet and hope I never shall, though we have been in daily expectation of them for some time past; but from the character we have of them they will not be very desirable visitors, as they mark their own way with ruin and devastation. ’Tis impossible to picture the distress they have brought upon innocent families who have lain in their route, by plundering them of their property, not leaving them the necessaries of life; even Protections are no security, as they have been known to plunder those who have taken them and remain’d peaceably at their habitations. I think their proceedings in that way all very impolitic, as they make themselves many enemies who would otherwise have been their friends.
But such are the effects of War, and those who are so unfortunate as to live within their reach must submit. Gracious Heaven! avert those evils that are impending over our devoted heads and grant us Peace. I am not yet without my fears of their coming up this way, tho this neighborhood is swarming with troops from Crooks to Boundbrook, which I hope will keep them from disturbing our quiet. We are so fortunate as to have General [Philemon] Dickinson at our house. . . . General Dickinson is really an acquisition, for the little inconveniences we must unavoidably suffer are greatly compensated for by his easy, genteel behaviour and the pleasure his conversation affords. . . .
Your sincere, affect. Friend and Sister, Cornelia BellI enclose you General Washington’s Proclamation, which, perhaps, will be new to you and the American Crisis, a mere piece of scurrility.
General Washington had urged those supporting the American cause to sign an oath of allegiance and those “who prefer the interest and protection of Great Britain” to “withdraw themselves and families within the enemy’s lines.” Thomas Paine’s The Crisis Number One with its famous opening line, “These are the times that try men’s souls,” was published on January 19, 1777.
Cornelia Bell’s letter can be found on pages 107-08 of In the Words of Women.