Archive for the ‘British soldiers’ Category

“To declare them all Prisoners of War”

HANNAH WINTRHOP continued her correspondence with MERCY OTIS WARREN. She reported in January 1778 that the British officers of the Convention Army, which had surrendered at Saratoga in 1777 and marched to Cambridge, “live in the most Luxurious manner Possible, rioting on the Fat of the Land, Stalking at Large with the self-importance of Lords of the Soil.”

The status of the British and Hessian troops quickly became a bone of contention. The Americans were not about to allow them to return to Europe as promised until the British government signed the Convention. Signing would have meant recognizing American independence and the British, unwilling to treat the Americans as anything but rebels, declined. As HANNAH WINTHROP wrote in February 1778 “an important order just arrivd, To declare them all Prisoners of War. O amazing reverse of Circumstances!” So prisoners of war they became.

According to the practice of the time prisoners of war were to be provided with food and supplies by their own authorities. For a time British General Henry Clinton based in New York sent some supplies. But these soon stopped and it fell to the American forces and local communities to provide for them. This quickly became a heavy burden, especially given the severe New England winter. It was therefore decided that the so-called Convention Army, now prisoners of war, should be moved south to Virginia, in late 1778, where the climate was less harsh and it would be less costly to maintain them. During the year the prisoners remained in Cambridge it is reckoned that 1,300 of the original 5,700 troops escaped. Many married local women and blended into the local population.

To return to HANNAH WINTRHOP, her husband died in 1779 and her letters to MERCY OTIS WARREN constantly allude to her grief. Looking forward, she hopes that Warren “would oblidge the world, for the Honor of America, with Her arrangement of facts, which will, certainly make as Conspicuous a Figure as any Else Era in the History of the World.” MERCY OTIS WARREN does write and publish a History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution.(1805) HANNAH WINTHROP dies in 1790.

More about the relocation of the British and Hessian troops of the Convention Army in the next post.

The letters of Hannah Winthrop from which the quotations above are taken can be found HERE, HERE, and HERE.

posted May 14th, 2018 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: British soldiers,Cambridge,Clinton, General Henry,Convention Army,Hessians,Prisoners of war,Warren, Mercy Otis,Winthrop, Hannah Fayerweather

The Convention Army

In 1777, in an attempt to divide New England from the other colonies, British and Hessian forces, under Lieutenant General John (Johnny) Burgoyne, marched from Canada through the Champlain Valley and Lake George intending to rendezvous at Albany with General Henry Clinton’s troops coming up the Hudson River from New York City (which was occupied by the British) and another British contingent marching eastward from Lake Ontario. The plan failed. The help Burgoyne expected did not arrive. His troops fought two battles, at Bemis Heights and Saratoga in upstate New York; they were overwhelmed by superior American forces, and Burgoyne was forced to capitulate on October 17.

The victory is considered by many as the turning point of the Revolutionary War because it convinced the French that the Americans could fight and win battles against the British, and thus were deserving of French support. Without assistance from the French it is unlikely that the Americans could have won the war.

General Burgoyne and General Horatio Gates negotiated the Convention of Saratoga by which the surrendering forces, numbering 5,900, were marched under guard to Boston, the plan being to allow them to return to England contingent on a promise not to fight in America again. The so-called Convention Army wended its way eastward and reached Cambridge. HANNAH WINTHROP described the scene in a letter to her friend MERCY OTIS WARREN dated November 11. Her comments remind us that armies of that time were accompanied by many women camp followers. During the winter of 1777-78, ordinary soldiers were housed in crude barracks on Winter Hill and Prospect Hill in the vicinity of Cambridge. Officers lodged in private homes and in some buildings at Harvard where classes were suspended.

It is not a great while since I wrote my dear Friend on my disappointment in not paying her a Visit. Now methinks I hear her wondring how it is with her Cambridge Friends, who are at this time delugd with British & Hessian, what shall I call them? who are Prancing & Patrolling every Corner of the Town, ornamented with their glittering Side arms, Weapons of destruction. A short detail of our Situation may perhaps amuse you. you will be able to form a judgment of our unhappy Circumstances.

Last thursday, which was a very Stormy day, a large number of British Troops Came Softly thro the Town Via Watertown to Prospect hill. on Friday we heard the Hessians werto make a Procession in the same rout, we thot we should have nothing to do with them, but View them as they Passd. To be sure the sight was truly Astonishing, I never had the least Idea, that the Creation producd such a Sordid Set of Creatures in human Figure—poor dirty emaciated men, great numbers of women, who seemd to be the beasts of burthen, having a bushel basket on their back, by which they were bent double, the contents seemd to be Pots & kettles, various sorts of Furniture, children peeping thro gridirons & other utensils. Some very young Infants who were born on the road, the women barefoot, cloathd in dirty raggs Such Effluvia filld the air while they were passing, had they not been smoaking all the time, I should have been apprehensive of being Contaminated by them. After a noble Looking advanced Guard Genl J-y B n. headed this terrible group on horseback, The other Gl also, cloathd in Blue Cloaks. Hessians Waldecker Anspachers Brunswickers &c. &c. &c. followd on. The Hessian Gl gave us a Polite Bow as they Passd. Not so the British their Baggage Waggons drawn by poor half starved horses. But to bring up the rear, another fine Noble looking Guard of American Brawny Victorious Yeomanry, who assisted in bringing these Sons of Slavery to Terms, Some of our Waggons drawn by fat oxen, driven by joyous looking Yankees Closd the cavalcade. The Generals & other Officers went to Bradishs, where they Quarter at present. The Privates trudgd thro thick & thin To the hills, where we thot they were to be Confind, but what was our Surprise when in the morning we beheld an inundation of those disagreable objects filling our streets? How mortifying is it? they in a manner demanding our Houses & Colleges for their genteel accomodation. Did the brave G- Gates ever mean this? Did our Legislature ever intend the Military should prevail above the Civil? is there not a degree of unkindness in loading poor Cambridge, almost ruined before with This great army seem to be let loose upon us. & what will be the Consequence time will discover.

Some Polite ones say, we ought not to look in them as Prisoners they are persons of distinguishd rank. perhaps we too must not View them in the light of enemys. I fear this distinction will be soon lost. Surprising that our Gl, or any of our Cl should should insist on the first University in America being disbanded for their more genteel accomodation, & we poor oppressd people seek an Assylum in the woods against a piercing Winter. where is the stern Virtue of an A[dam]s who opposd such an infraction in former days? who is there to plead our Cause? Pity. Pity it is our Assembly had not settled these matters before their adjournment It will be vastly more difficult to abridg them after Such an unbounded Licence. perhaps you may see some of them at Plimouth. for my part I think, insults Famine & a Train of evils present to View. Gl. B-n din’d a Saturday in Boston with Gl. Hh. He rode thro the Town properly attended down Court Street & thro the main street, & on his return walkt on foot to Charlestown Ferry Followd by as great a Number of Spectators as ever attended a pope & generously observd to an officer with him the Decent & modest behavior of the inhabitants as he passd, Saying if he had been Conducting Prisoners thro the City of London, not all the Guards of Majesty Could have prevented Insults. He likewise acknowledges [Benjamin] Lincoln & [Benedict] Arnold to be great Generals. It is said we shall have not Less than Seven thousand persons to feed in Cambridge & its environs, more than its inhabitants. Two hundred & fifty cord of wood will not serve them a week, think then how we must be distresst. wood is risen to £5.10 pr Cord. & little to be purchasd. I never thought I could lie down to sleep Surrounded by these enemies. but we strangely become enured to those things which appear difficult when distant.

The letter is at the Massachusetts Historical Society and can be accessed HERE. John Trumbull’s painting of the surrender at Saratoga was completed in 1821 and hangs in the Capitol Building in Washington, DC.

“Boston . . . busily employd in communicating the Infection”

Having returned to Cambridge from Concord, HANNAH WINTHROP wrote to her friend MERCY OTIS WARREN in July 1776. She described the condition of her home, the reopening of Harvard, and life in Boston after the British evacuation (pictured) on March 17.

Last Saturday afternoon we went into Boston the first time since our removal from Concord . . . . Our Barrack or Wigwam, or whatever name you may please to give it, when you see it unornamented with broken chairs & unleggd tables with the shatterd Etcetteras, is intirely at your service. . . . we breath as sweet an air as ever Cam [bridge], afforded, the peacefull shades & meandring river conspire to give us delight. The Sons of Harvard who are collected here seem to be as well Settled & as happy as if they had not known an interruption, with zeal they are attending the Philosophic Lectures.

What an unexpected Blessing! the change from the din of arms & the shrill Clarion of war. Come my Friend taste & see if your too much dejected spirits will not revive in this Salubrious Soil. . . .

As to Political matters, Consonant to my natural ingenuity they appear rather gloomy, but the Settlement of these important points I hope an opportunity for, when you make me happy & indulge me with Laying our Political heads together.

The reigning Subject is the Small Pox. Boston has given up its Fears of an invasion & is busily employd in
communicating the Infection. Straw beds & cribs are daily carted into the Town. That ever prevailing Passion of following the Fashion is as Predominant at this time as ever. Men Women & children eagerly Crouding to innoculate is I think as modish, as running away from the Troops of a barbarous George was the last Year. . . .

But ah my Friend I have not mentioned the Loss I have met with which lies near my heart the death of
my dear Friend the good Madam Hancock, A powerfull attachment to this life broken off, you who knew her worth can Lament with me her departure. Ah the incertainty of all Terristrial happiness. . . .
Yours in Affection
Hannah Winthrop

The British forces, threatened by cannon mounted on Dorchester Heights, left Boston in March 1776 for Nova Scotia. Many Loyalists departed as well; some blacks and Native Americans joined them. Those inhabitants who remained faced the scourge of smallpox. The disease had once again become widespread in 1775. George Washington, concerned for his troops, had advised them not to associate with Bostonians leaving the city during the siege. When the British evacuated they left behind their soldiers infected with the disease, which further fueled the outbreak. Washington sent an occupying force of 1,000 troops who had already had smallpox and were therefore immune. Many fearful residents sought to be inoculated, a precaution strongly recommended by Benjamin Franklin, in spite of possibly serious complications. Hannah Winthrop, rather scornfully, termed this surge of interest “modish.” In 1777, Washington ordered that new recruits who had not had smallpox be inoculated. It was one of the most important decisions he made as commander of the Continental Army.

The correspondence between Hannah Winthrop and Mercy Otis Warren is at the Massachusetts Historical Society. The letter in this post can be read in its entirety HERE. The illustration of the British evacuation is a German woodcut c. 1776. It is at the Library of Congress. The title page of Zabdiel Boylston’s An Historical Account of the Small-pox Inoculated in New England is from Wikimedia Commons.

Some British Camp Followers on Trial

An article I would like to recommend to your attention appears in The Journal of the American Revolution —WOMEN ON TRIAL: BRITISH SOLDIERS’ WIVES TRIED BY COURT MARTIAL by Don N. Hagist. It is a reminder that British soldiers in America during the Revolution frequently married American women. It also describes the lives of camp followers, in this case wives, who followed their men on marches and campaigns. The particular women that the author writes about are those who were accused of committing certain crimes; they were tried at court martials and were either acquitted or punished. An interesting read.

posted March 2nd, 2018 by Janet, comments (1), CATEGORIES: British soldiers,Camp followers

” . . . . 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

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