Archive for the ‘British soldiers’ Category

” . . . . I think we may call our Jaunt an agreeable one”

New York City was occupied by the British from 1776, when George Washington’s campaign against the British failed, until 1783, the end of the war. In September 1776, a terrible fire, suspicious in origin, broke out and destroyed almost a quarter of the city. Large numbers of residents had already fled to avoid being caught in the fighting. (See post called “this deplorable cyte”.) Most Patriots departed when the the British occupied the city, while a few stayed to try to hold on to their property. Loyalist refugees flocked in as did escaped slaves who thought to obtain their freedom by fighting for the British. New York City became the command center of British military and political operations in North America. The wealthy and well connected, including British officers, restored a semblance of the social scene which featured plays and parties, dinners and dances.

On occasion members of certain families were allowed by the authorities to visit friends and relatives in New York City under a white flag of truce. CATHERINE ALEXANDER and her mother were granted this privilege. Catherine was the daughter of William Alexander, a major general in the American army who was called “Lord Stirling” because of his claim (never validated) to be a Scottish earl and Sarah Livingston. (Sarah’s brother was William Livingston, governor of New Jersey.) The couple had two daughters, Mary and Catherine. In 1776 Lord Stirling was in White Plains, following the American defeat in New York City. His wife and daughter Catherine called “Lady Kitty” joined him there and the two women obtained permission to enter New York City to visit the elder daughter Mary and her husband Robert Watts who were resident there, living quietly and trying to be neutral. “Lady Kitty” wrote the following letter to her father from New Jersey where she was visiting the family of her uncle William Livingston which had relocated from Elizabethtown to Persippany for safety’s sake. It gives some indication of what life was like in New York City during the British occupation.

I have made several attempts to perform an injunction [request], laid on me by my dear Pappa, in a letter to Genl. Maxwell but have always been interrupted, or entirely prevented by some trivial accident which tho’ important enough to prevent my writing are scarce worth mentioning to you, Coll. Livingstons [Brockholst, Kitty’s cousin, son of William Livingston] going to camp at last furnishes me with an opportunity of acquainting you with every thing that my memory retains of our Jaunt to N.York.

In the first place we had the satisfaction of being civilly treated by the British officers, one indignity indeed we receiv’d from Genl. Grant who order’d a Serjeant to conduct the Flag to town instead of an officer but we were so happy at getting permission to go on that we readily excused his want of politeness in that instance—our acquaintances in town were also, in general, very polite to us: many indeed were remarkably attentive—but whether it proceeded from regard to themselves or no, is hard to determine—the Truth is, they are a good deal alarmed at their situation, & wish to make as much interest as possible on our side. [T]he sentiments I really believe of a great number have undergone a thorough change since they have been with the British Army as they have had many opportunities of seeing flagrant acts of injustice & cruelty which they cou’d not have believed their freinds capable of; if they had not been witnesses to, & which convinces them that if they conquer we must live in abject slavery.

Mamma has I suppose mention’d to you the distressed situation, in which we found poor Mary, the alarms of the Fire & explosion added to her recent misfortune kept her for several days in a very weak state—but we had the satisfaction to leave her perfectly recovered. [T]he Child she now has is one of the most charming little creatures I ever saw— & by all accounts more likely to live than either of the others. Mr. Watts, I was very glad to find is among the number of those who are heartily sick of British Tyranny, & as to Mary, her political principles are perfectly Rebellious.

[S]everal Gentlemen of your former acquaintance in the British Army made particular enquiries after you . . . .

Upon the whole I think we may call our Jaunt an agreeable one, tho’ it was checkered with several unlucky circumstances[,] for my own part I liked it so well that I cou’d wish to repeat it in a few months if my Sister does not get permission to pay us a Visit—I left Mamma very well two days ago [at the family home in Basking Ridge, New Jersey] to pay a Visit to the Governors Family who sent the Coll down with an absolute command to fetch me—they all beg to be remember’d to you but believe me to be my dear Pappa with greater sincerity your
very affectionate D[aughte]r. C Alexander
Persipany Septr 6th. 1778

The New-York Historical Society, W. Alexander Papers, vol. II, #95, written in a small neat hand and including the red wax seal. The portrait is of Kitty after she had married William Duer in 1779. Source: The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. “Lady Catherine Duer (Lady Catherine Alexander, daughter of Lord Stirling)” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed January 19, 2018. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47da-2b5b-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.

posted January 18th, 2018 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Alexander, William, Lord Stirling,British soldiers,Duer, Catherine Alexander "Lady "Kitty",New Jersey,New York

Cannons and Concord

As a subscriber to J.L. Bell’s blog Boston 1775, and an admirer of his work, I am pleased to note that he has a book just out. Entitled The Road to Concord: How Four Stolen Cannon Ignited the Revolutionary War, it tells the story of four cannons smuggled out of militia armories in Boston and transported by Patriots to Concord in an attempt to build an artillery force. It was to capture these that General Thomas Gage sent British troops in April of 1775 to Concord via Lexington. The troops were challenged by Patriot militiamen and engaged with them along the route from and back to Boston. This operation is generally regarded as the beginning of the Revolutionary War. The book launch on June 2 will be hosted by the Massachusetts Historical Society. Kudos to Mr. Bell.
Coincidentally the U.S. Postal Service will be at the at the MHS to introduce a new stamp commemorating the 250th anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act in 1776.

“A fine quiet night no allarms no Cannon.”

I am taking a short respite, until March 31. This post and the next one are repeats: timely and interesting.
March 17, just past, was St. Patrick’s Day, but in Boston it is often called Evacuation Day, because it was on that day in 1776 that the British, having been besieged by the patriots for many months, withdrew their occupying forces from that city. Many Loyalists left with them. It is said that Bostonians sang this song as they departed: “The Tories with their brats and wives/Should fly to save their wretched lives.” Abigail Adams wrote to her husband in Philadelphia:

Sunday Noon [Braintree 17 March 1776]Being quite Sick with a voilent cold I have tarried at Home to day; I find the fireing was occasiond by our peoples taking possession of Nook Hill, which they kept in spite of the Cannonade, & which has really obliged our Enemy to decamp this morning on board the Transports; as I hear by a mesenger just come from Head Quarters. Some of the Select Men have been to the lines & inform that they have carried off [every] thing they could possibly take, & what they could not they have [missing] . . . many articles of good Household furniture having in the course of the week come on shore at Great Hill [Hough’s Neck], both upon this & Weymouth Side, Lids of Desks, mahogona chairs, tables &c. Our People I hear will have Liberty to enter Boston, those who have had the Small pox. The Enemy have not yet come under Sail, I cannot help suspecting some design which we do not yet comprehend; to what quarter of the World they are bound is wholy unknown, but tis generally Thought to New york. Many people are Elated with their quitting Boston, I confess I do not feel so, tis only lifting the burden from one shoulder to the other which perhaps is less able or less willing to support it. To what a contemptable situation are the Troops of Britain reduced! I feel glad however that Boston is not distroyed. I hope it will be so secured & guarded as to baffel all future attemps against it—I hear that General Howe said upon going upon some Eminence in Town to view our Troops who had taken Dorchester Hill unperceived by them till Sun rise, “My God these fellows have done more work in one Night than I could make my Army do in three months” & he might well say so for in one Night two forts & long Breast Works were sprung up besides several Barracks. 300 & 70 teems were imployed most of which went 3 load in the Night, beside 4000 men who worked with good Hearts.

Monday morning
A fine quiet night no allarms no Cannon. The more I think of our Enemies quitting Boston, the more amaz’d I am, that they should leave such a harbour, such fortifications, such intrenchments, and that we should be in peaceable possession of a Town which we expected would cost us a river of Blood without any Drop shed. Shurely it is the Lords doings & it is Marvelous in our Eyes. Every foot of Ground which they obtain now they must fight for.

Abigail’s letter can be found on page 42-43 of In the Words of Women.

“teach the Children to pronounce ‘Vicates’”

In December 1776, caught in the midst of military action in New Jersey by the Americans, the British, and the Hessians, MARGARET HILL MORRIS hoped that she, her sister and brother-in-law would be safe because they were Quakers. But this proved to be little protection. On the 20th a friend warned of advancing Hessians and advised Margaret “to put all things of gold & Silver out of thier way—& all linen too, or you’ll lose it.” To which Margaret responded “they pillaged none but Rebels—& we were not such, we had taken no part against them, &c— but that signified nothing, we should loose all &c. . . .

21th . . . more snow last Night. . . . get quite in the fidgets for News, send Dick to Town to collect some, he returns quite Newsless . . . W D [William Dillwyn, Margaret’s brother-in-law] —comes at last, tells us all we expected to hear, pleases us by saying we shall have timely notice of thier coming, gives a hint that the feeble & defenceless will find safety & protection, rank ourselves amongst the Number having no Man with us in the house—Determine not to be unprovided again, let them come, or not, as the Weather is now so cold, provisions will keep good several days—We pity the poor fellows who were obligd to be out last Night in the Snow. Repeat our Wishes that this may be a Neutral Island—quite sleepy—go to Bed, & burn a lamp all Night—talk as loud as usual & dont regard the creeking of the door—no Gondola Men listening about the Bank—before we retired to bed this Evening, an attempt was made to teach the Children to pronounce “Vicates” [Wie geht’s? or Hello] like a Dutch [Deutsch or German] Man. . . .

22nd . . . it is thought there will be an engagement soon. . . . We hear this afternoon that our Officers are afraid thier Men will not fight & wish they may all run home again. A peaceable Man ventured to Prophesy to day, that if the War is continued thro the Winter, the British troops will be scard at the sight of our Men, for as they Never fought with Naked Men, the Novelty of it, will terrify them & make them retreat, faster than they advanced to meet them, for he says, from the present appearance of our ragged troops, he thinks it probable, they will not have Cloaths to cover them a Month or 2 hence. . . .

24th. . . . We hear the Hessians are still at Holly, and our troops in possession of Church Hill a little beyond. The account of twenty-one killed the first day of the engagement and ten the next is not to be depended on, as the Hessians say our men run so fast they had not the opportunity of killing any of them. Several Hessians in town today. They went to Daniel Smith’s and inquired for several articles in the shop, which they offered to pay for. Two were observed to be in liquor in the street; they went to the tavern and, calling for rum, ordered the man to charge it to the king. We hear that two houses in the skirts of the town were broke open by the Hessians and pillaged.

26th—the Weather very stormy. . . . a Number of flat Bottom Boats gone up the River, we cant learn where they are going to.

In the next post Margaret learns what had happened on the 25th.

Selections are from In the Words of Women, pages 100-101 and from the National Humanities Center, Journal of Margaret Hill Morris of Burlington, New Jersey.

posted December 24th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: American soldiers,British soldiers,Hessians,Looting,Morris, Margaret Hill,New Jersey,Quakers

“bless me I hope you are not Hessians”

More on MARGARET HILL MORRIS, following on the previous post, as she dealt with events in December 1776 when she was living with her sister Sarah Dillwyn in Greenbank, New Jersey on the Delaware River. During this time British, Hessian, and American troops were active in the area which, along with patriot vessels on the river, gave ample reason for alarm even though her family were Quakers. She was especially concerned as she was harboring a Loyalist in the house.

12th—The people of the gallies [Americans], Suspecting that some troops were yet either conceald in Town or in the Neighborhood of it, have been very Jealous of the inhabitants, who have been often alarmd with reports, that the City [Philadelphia] woud be Set on fire, Many have gone in haste & great distress into the Country, but we still hope, no Mischief is Seriously intended—A Number of Men landed on our Bank this Morning, & told us it was thier settled purpose to set fire to the Town—I begd them not to set my house afire—they askd which was my House, I showd it to them, & they said they knew not what hinderd them from fireing on it last Night, for seeing a light in the Chambers, they thought there were Hessians in it, & that they pointed the Guns at it Several times, I told them my Children were Sick, which obligd me to burn a light all Night—Tho they did not know what hinderd them from fireing on us, I did, it was the Guardian of the Widow & the Orphan, who took us into his Safe keeping, & preservd us from danger, oh—that I may keep humble, & be thankful for this, as well as other favors Vouch safed to my little flock—

13th—This day we began to look a little like ourselves again. The troops were removd some miles from Town as we heard. . . . but the Suspicions of the Gondola Men still continued, & search was made in & about the Town for Men distinguishd by the Name of Tories. . . . There was no appearance of the formidable Hessians. . . . some of the Gentlemen who entertaind the foreigners were pointed out to the Gondola Men—2 Worthy inhabtants were seizd upon & dragd on board—from the 13th to 16th we had various reports of the advancing & retireing of the Enemy—Parties of Armd Men rudely enterd the Houses in Town, & diligent search made for Tories, the 2 last taken releasd & sent on Shore.

About noon this day, (the 16) a very terrible account of thousands coming into Town—& now actually to be seen on Gallows Hill—My incautious Son [John] catchd up the Spy Glass, & was running to the Mill to look at them. I told him it wd be liable to misconstruction, but he prevaild on me to let him gratify his curiosity, & he went, but returnd much dissatisfyd, for no troops coud he see. As he came back poor Dick took the glass & resting it against a tree, took a view of the fleet—both of these was observd by the people on board, who suspected it was an Enemy that was watching thier Motions— They Mannd a boat & sent her on Shore—aloud knocking at my door brought me to it—I was a little flutterd & kept locking and unlocking that I might get my ruffled face, a little composd. At last I opend it, & half a dozen Men all Armd, demanded the keys of the empty House—I asked what they wanted there they said to Search for a D—-d tory who had been spying at them from the Mill—the Name of a Tory so near my own door seriously alarmd me—for a poor refugee [Dr. Jonathan Odell] dignifyd by that Name, had claimd the shelter of my Roof & was at that very time conceald, like a thief in an Auger hole*—

I rung the bell violently, the Signal agreed on, if they came to Search—& when I thought he had crept into the hole—I put on a very simple look & cryd out, bless me I hope you are not Hessians—say, good Men are you the Hessians? do we look like Hessians? askd one of them rudely—indeed I dont know; Did you never see a Hessian? no never in my life but they are Men, & you are Men & may be Hessians for any thing I know—but I’ll go with you into Col Cox’s [Colonel John Cox] house, tho indeed it was my Son at the Mill, he is but a Boy & meant no harm, he wanted to see the Troops—so I marchd at the head of them, opend the door, & searchd every place but we coud not find the tory—strange where he coud be—we returnd; they greatly disapointed, I pleasd, to think my house was not Suspected—the Capt smart little fellow Named Shippen [William Shippin] said he wishd he coud see the Spy glass—S D [Sarah Dillwyn] produced it—& very civilly desird his acceptance of it, which I was sorry for—as I often amusd myself in looking thro it—they left us, & Searchd [other] houses—but no tory coud they find.

*a secret, windowless room entered through the back of a closet; a warning bell, activated by a knob near the front door, hung nearby.
†John Cox, a Philadelphia businessman, owner of Batsto (site of an iron furnace), which supplied the Continental Army with cannon shot and bomb shells, kettles, etc. He and his wife Esther Bowes Cox were also friends of Esther DeBerdt Reed.

Margaret Hill Morris’s account continues in the next post.

The passages quoted can be found on page 98-100 of In the Words of Women. Dr. Jonathan Odell’s likeness is from the New York Public Library. Odell eventually fled to England but returned to his family in America after some years.

posted December 21st, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: American soldiers,British soldiers,Hessians,Morris, Margaret Hill,New Jersey,Philadelphia,Tories

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