Archive for the ‘Patriots’ Category

“what is to be the fate of this once rising country”

Over time the tone of the letters of Esther De Berdt Reed to her brother Dennis in England began to change. She became more sympathetic to the patriot cause, eventually becoming a committed supporter. She wrote to Dennis on 2 November 1774 of the determined resistance to the Parliamentary Acts which Americans perceived as depriving them of their rights as Englishmen.

when I tell you I have another daughter, you will not wonder that I have this time been a little negligent in answering letters. I assure you my hands are pretty full of business. Three children seem to take up all my time and attention. . . .
Many people here are very sanguine in their expectations that the Acts will be repealed immediately. . . . The People of New England . . . are prepared for the worst event, and they have such ideas of their injured Liberty, and so much enthusiasm in the cause, that I do not think that any power on earth could take it from them but with their lives. The proceedings of the Congress will show you how united the whole continent is in the cause, and from them you may judge of the sense of the people. . . .

She wrote again on 13 February 1775:

[Mr. Reed’s] business requires so much head work. . . . This with his late attention to politics has engrossed him more than common. . . . Of politics, I suppose you will expect me to say something, though everything now must come from you, and we are anxious to know what is to be the fate of this once rising country. It now seems standing on the brink of ruin. But the public papers will tell you everything, and Mr. Reed will also write you on the subject, so that little will be left for me to say, only that the people are in general united. The Quakers are endeavouring to steer a middle course, and make perhaps a merit of it to Government at home. How far their conduct will answer, I don’t know, but it is despised here. One great comfort I have is, that if these great affairs must be brought to a crisis and decided, it had better be in our time than our childrens. . . .
I love to think of England and of old times, perhaps I may see it again. It is surely a noble country, but such wishes and hopes I must keep concealed: perhaps they had better not rise at all. . . . adieu. Believe me, ever most assuredly and affectionately,
Yours, E. Reed

The above excerpts can be found on page 95 of In the Words of Women.

posted October 15th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Britain,Children,New England,Patriots,Philadelphia,Quakers,Reed, Esther De Berdt,Reed, Joseph

“Nothing is heard now . . . but the trumpet and drum”


When I was a student at Barnard in the 50s, I had the opportunity of attending lectures at Columbia by Henry Steele Commager. I was thrilled because the two-volume work The Growth of the American Republic by Commager and Samuel Eliot Morison was my favorite history of the United States. The accompanying volume of primary sources, The Spirit o f Seventy-Six, was, and still is, impressive, although few women are represented. Below is one of the entries by a woman from Philadelphia—she is anonymous—responding to a friend, a British officer in Boston, who had written a letter to her husband following the battles of Lexington and Concord. “C. S.” assures him that though he may be a public enemy he will continue to be a private friend. She gives a good summary of the various actions the Patriots, both military and civilian, were undertaking. Women doing their share, on their own and pressuring the males in their lives to act.

Sir—We received a letter from you—wherein you let Mr. S. know that you had written after the battle of Lexington, particularly to me—knowing my martial spirit—that I would delight to read the exploits of heroes. Surely, my friend, you must mean the New England heroes, as they alone performed exploits worthy fame—while the regulars, vastly superior in numbers, were obliged to retreat with a rapidity unequalled, except by the French at the battle of Minden. Indeed, General Gage gives them their due praise in his letter home, where he says Lord Percy was remarkable for his activity. You will not, I hope, take offence at any expression that, in the warmth of my heart, should escape me, when I assure you that though we consider you as a public enemy, we regard you as a private friend; and while we detest the cause you are fighting for, we wish well to your own personal interest and safety. Thus far by way of apology. As to the martial spirit you suppose me to possess, you are greatly mistaken. I tremble at the thoughts of war; but of all wars, a civil one: our all is at stake; and we are called upon by every tie that is dear and sacred to exert the spirit that Heaven has given us in this righteous struggle for liberty.

I will tell you what I have done. My only brother I have sent to the camp with my prayers and blessings; I hope he will not disgrace me; I am confident he will behave with honor and emulate the great examples he has before him; and had I twenty sons and brothers they should go. I have retrenched every superfluous expense in my table and family; tea I have not drank since last Christmas, nor bought a new cap or gown since your defeat at Lexington, and what I never did before, have learnt to knit, and am now making stockings of American wool for my servants, and this way do I throw in my mite to the public good. I know this, that as free I can die but once, but as a slave I shall not be worthy of life.
I have the pleasure to assure you that these are the sentiments of all my sister Americans. They have sacrificed both assemblies, parties of pleasure, tea drinking and finery to that great spirit of patriotism that actuates all ranks and degrees of people throughout this extensive continent. If these are the sentiments of females, what must glow in the breasts of our husbands, brothers and sons? They are as with one heart determined to die or be free.

It is not a quibble in politics, a science which few understand, which we are contending for; it is this plain truth, which the most ignorant peasant knows, and is clear to the weakest capacity, that no man has a right to take their money without their consent. The supposition is ridiculous and absurd, as none but highwaymen and robbers attempt it. Can you, my friend, reconcile it with your own good sense, that a body of men in Great Britain, who have little intercourse with America, and of course know nothing of us, nor are supposed to see or feel the misery they would inflict upon us, shall invest themselves with a power to command our lives and properties, at all times and in all cases whatsoever? You say you are no politician. Oh, sir, it requires no Machivelian head to develop this, and to discover this tyranny and oppression. It is written with a sun beam. Every one will see and know it because it will make them feel, and we shall be unworthy of the blessings of Heaven, if we ever submit to it.

All ranks of men amongst us are in arms. Nothing is heard now in our streets but the trumpet and drum; and the universal cry is “Americans, to arms!” All your friends are officers: there are Captain S. D., Lieut. B. and Captain J. S. We have five regiments in the city and country of Philadelphia, complete in arms and uniforms, and very expert at the military manoeuvres. We have companies of light-horse, light infantry, grenadiers, riflemen and Indians, several companies of artillery, and some excellent brass cannon and field pieces. Add to this that every county in Pennsylvania and the Delaware government can send two thousand men to the field. Heaven seems to smile on us, for in the memory of man never were known such quantities of flax,and sheep without number.

We are making powder fast and do not want for ammunition. In short, we want for nothing but ships of war to defend us, which we could procure by making alliances: but such is our attachment to Great Britain that we sincerely wish for reconciliation, and cannot bear the thoughts of throwing off all dependence on her, which such a step would assuredly lead to. The God of mercy will, I hope, open the eyes of our king that he may see, while in seeking our destruction, he will go near to complete his own. It is my ardent prayer that the effusion of blood may be stopped. We hope yet to see you in this city, a friend to the liberties of America, which will give infinite satisfaction to
Your sincere friend, C.S

The letter is from The Revolution in America: or, an attempt to Collect and Preserve some of the Speeches, Orations, & Proceedings with Sketches and remarks on Men and things and other Fugitive or neglected Pieces Belonging to the Revolutionary Period in the United States by H. Niles (Baltimore: Printed and published for the Editor by William Ogden Niles, 1822), pp 505-506, which can found here. It is quoted in Commager, Spirit, 94-96.

The Wyoming Massacre

I was born and grew up in northeastern Pennsylvania, not far from Wilkes-Barre. My earliest impressions of the Wyoming Valley, bisected by the Susquehanna River, were physical. Of the anthracite or hard-coal fields in the area: a landscape dotted with collyeries, steam locomotives and railroad sidings, mine shafts and culm banks, refuse heaps which were often burning fueled by bits of discarded coal. Eventually this sort of mining deep underground became too expensive and was replaced by surface or strip mining which further ravaged the land until laws were passed requiring reforestation. Some of the area today still resembles the dead landscape of the moon.

As I grew up I also became aware of the early history of the Wyoming Valley—in the 1760s when the beautiful lands and fertile soil bordering the Susquehanna were claimed by Connecticut according to its founding charter. Many settlers from that colony, and some from Rhode Island, moved into the area. Periodically, conflict broke out between the locals and the “intruders” but nothing like what happened in 1778 in what is known as the Battle of Wyoming and the subsequent “Massacre.”

During the Revolution the British sought to put pressure on the American rebels by harassing frontier settlements with the assistance of the Indians who felt they had been displaced from land which was rightfully theirs. Settlers in the Wyoming Valley feeling exposed and insecure constructed several small forts for their protection. In July of 1778, British Colonel John Butler put together a force of some 1,000 consisting of British soldiers, Tories, and Seneca Indians and marched to the head of Wyoming Valley intending to clear out the settlers. Receiving news of this impending raid a small band of patriot soldiers and citizens hurriedly assembled, under the command of a Continental Army officer named Colonel Zebulon Butler, and attempted to repel the invaders. A battle ensued in which the heavily outnumbered soldiers and settlers were completely routed. Rampaging Indians slaughtered and scalped some 225 fighters and in the following days killed civilians and devastated the area, destroying dwellings and crops. Survivors fled to the east where many perished in the wilderness that was the Pocono Mountains.

Living in the area I also knew of the township of Slocum but had no idea of the derivation of its name. Research led me to the story of Frances Slocum, her connection with the Wyoming Valley, and her abduction and captivity by the Indians. More of Frances’ story in the next post.

posted July 30th, 2015 by Janet, comments (2), CATEGORIES: Battles,Indians,Patriots,Pennsylvania,Slocum, Frances,Wyoming Massacre

“where Virtue reigns”

Charity Clarke (1747-1838) was the daughter of Thomas Clarke and Mary Stillwell of New York City. See posts here and here. Her father was a retired major in the British army who had served in the French and Indian War. He had an estate in lower Manhattan named Chelsea, which Charity inherited. Despite her Loyalist roots, Charity was early disposed to the Patriot cause and carried on a lively exchange of letters with her cousin in England, Joseph Jekyll, on the events surrounding the American Revolution. In 1778, she married the Right Reverend Benjamin Moore who was the Episcopal Bishop of New York, the Rector of Trinity Church, and the President of Columbia College. They had one child, Clement Clarke Moore, who was a prominent biblical scholar and is thought to be the author of the poem A Visit from St. Nicholas.

You smile at our Routs & talk of Strange matamorpheses, but they are only supposed ones, yes the Rigid Beauties of N York frequent assemblies, where inocent amusement promotes good humour, where modesty may appear without a Blush, where Inocence has no foe, & where Virtue reigns; are the assemblies of Great Britain such? If they are, unjustly do we condemn them, as Fashion is an Usurper submitted to in most part of the Globe. America is not free from her Governmint, but then it is only the Habit she takes directions of; our manners are Governed by Reason, and Religion forms our principles—
That Spirit which led Americans to their distress, & made them clad themselves in Homespun, is not fled, & when cause is given will exert itself with double vigor, while we can with Honor wear the soft & ornamental Garbs which Britain furnishes us with, we will repay her for them,—But no sooner do they appear the Badges of disgrace & the marks of true submission to unjustifiable exertions of power than with disdain we will cast them from us, & shew you we can do without them.
[W]hen americans marry[,] affection founded on esteem unites them, Truth & Virtue their choice—Love & Constancy their reward; they marry not Gold nor form Alliances with Titles—so need not fear divorce. Coteries we know not the meaning of—affective patriotism & True Virtue will I trust distinguish America in every Age; and among every nation. —So my Dear Coz you see your fears are grownd[l]ess, America still practices the long (though unboasted) list of Virtues which the Generality of English men have scarce an Idea of. . . .
Many thanks for your care in having my orders (as you call them) so well executed, it will be the highest pleasure to me to have it in my power to execute any you may have in America—I wish you was near enough to mend my pen it has almost exhausted my patience, least it should have the same effect on you, I will hasten to conclude, with my best love to your Sister, Mr. & Mrs. Jekyll, & your uncle my best wishes always attend them & you, that you may long enjoy every blessing of Heaven, & obtain every wish of your [hear]t is the most earnest wish of your affectionate
your affectionat Cousin & friend
Cha Clarke
[New] York Octr 28 1771

The first part of the letter can be found on pages 9-10 of In the Words of Women, the latter part at the Columbia Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbiana Ms. 2, Moore Family Papers. The illustration of the mansion house of the Chelsea estate was made by Clement Clarke Moore’s daughter Mary C. Ogden for the first color edition of A Visit from St. Nicholas in 1855. It appears HERE.

posted May 21st, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Clarke, Charity,New York,Patriots,Resistance to British

“Hail Specimen of Female Art!”

Annis Boudinot Stockton lived with her husband Richard Stockton, a noted attorney and signer of the Declaration of Independence, in their home called Morven near Princeton, New Jersey. Born into a well-to-do Huguenot family, Annis was well educated and acquired a reputation as a poet—she had 21 poems published during her lifetime, including odes to George Washington, whom the Stocktons counted as a friend.

Since Princeton was in the path of invading and defending armies Annis and her family were forced to flee to a safer location in 1776. It was in Monmouth, New Jersey, that her husband was captured by Loyalists. He was held prisoner and, contingent upon his release, was compelled to take an oath to withdraw from politics, a commitment which he honored.

When the British occupied Princeton in 1777, General Cornwallis made Morven his headquarters; his troops ransacked the property and destroyed important papers as well as one of the most important libraries in the colonies. Annis survived her husband, who died of cancer in 1781, and remained active throughout her life. See other posts related to Stockton here, here, and here.

Morven, having been home to five generations of Stocktons and five New Jersey governors, is now a National Historic Landmark (2004). Currently on exhibit until March 29 is a collection of some 30 samplers by girls, generally between the ages of 8 and 16, entitled: “Hail Specimen of Female Art! New Jersey Schoolgirl Needlework, 1726-1860”. It was a mark of social status for girls during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to become skilled at needlework. Pictured is the sampler created in 1798 by Anne Rickey, when she would have been about 15 years old. The first line of the poem provides the title for the exhibit.

Read a New York Times review of the exhibition HERE.

posted January 9th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Children,Education,Patriots,Stockton, Annis Budinot

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