Battles

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.

“there is a God of Battle, as well as a God of peace”

As the year 1776 came to a close, MARGARET HILL MORRIS confessed to fluctuating emotions: pity for the soldiers of all sides and gratitude that her family had a roof over its head. On December 27, news was received about an action that took place on Christmas night. Here is what she wrote in her journal.

Washington had had an engagement with the Regulars on the 25th early in the Morning, taking them by surprize, killd fifty, & took 900 prisoners. The loss on our side not known, or if known, not sufferd to be publick.—It seems this heavy loss to the Regulars was oweing to the prevailing custom among the Hessians of getting drunk on the eve of that great day which brought peace on Earth & good Will to Men—but oh, how unlike Christians is the Manner in which they Celebrate it, can we call ourselves Christians, while we act so Contrary to our Masters rules—he set the example which we profess to follow, & here is a recent instance that we only profess it; instead of good will, envy & hatred seem to be the ruling passions in the breasts of thousands. This evening the 27th about 3000 of the Pensylvania Militia, & other Troops landed in the Neck, & marchd into Town with Artillery, Baggage &c, & were quarterd on the inhabitants, one Company were lodged at J Vs & a guard placed between his house & ours, We were so favord as not to have any sent to our House. An Officer spent the Evening with us, & appeard to be in high spirits, & talkd of engaging the English as a very triffling affair, Nothing so easy as to drive them over the North River &c—not considering there is a God of Battle, as well as a God of peace, who may have given them the late advantage, in order to draw them out to meet the Chastisement that is reservd for them.

As shown in the illustration, captured Hessian soldiers were paraded through the streets of Philadelphia. It was hoped that their appearance would boost morale and aid in the recruitment of Continental soldiers.

The passage comes from In the Words of Women, page 101. The illustration of the captured Hessian soldiers can be found here.

posted December 28th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: American soldiers,Battles,Hessians,Morris, Margaret Hill,Washington, George

“Where sleeps the Virtue & Justice of the English Nation?”

This post is a repeat of one dated February 6, 2012 as it properly belongs in this extended examination of Esther DeBerdt Reed. In July, 1775, increasing danger as well as the poor health of her daughter Martha forced Esther to move in with a friend in Green Bank (Burlington), New Jersey, and from there to Perth Amboy. After George Washington asked her husband Joseph Reed, now a lieutenant colonel with the Pennsylvania troops, to be his military secretary, he was absent from home a great deal. In this letter to her brother in England she shows herself to be a staunch supporter of the American cause.

Amboy Septr 8th 1775You will see by the date of this my dear Dennis that I am from home; the health of my dear Girl which always suffers in the Summer Months was the Chief reason of my coming here. I find it very beneficial to her & pleasant for myself. . . . My dr Mr. R . . . . is . . . there amidst all the confusion & horrors of War, before this time you knew our dreadful situation, here indeed & every Southern Province. We only here the Sound, but it is such a one, as sometimes shakes my firmness & resolution, but I find the human Mind can be habituated to all most anything, even the most distressing Scenes, after a while become familiar.
I am happy that Mr. R’s situation at the Camp is the most eligable he coud have been placed in, his accomodations, with the General [Washington], in his Confidence, & his Duty in the Councils, rather than the Field. While his person is safe from danger I chearfully give up his profitts in Business (which were not trifling) & I acquies without repining at his being so long absent from me. I think the Cause in which he is engaged so just, so Glorious & I hope will be so victorious that private interest & pleasure may & ought to be given up without a murmur.
But where sleeps all our Friends in England? Where sleeps the Virtue & Justice of the English Nation? will nothing rouse them? or are they so few in Number & small in Consequence that tho’ awake, their voice cannot be heard for the multitude of our Enemies—how strange woud this Situation of things have appeared even in Prospect a few years ago? coud we have forseen it when we parted in England it would probably have prevented that Seperation. We might often, if we coud forsee Events provide against approaching evils, but I believe it is right we shoud not, for tho our private happiness might have been promoted, yet our Country woud not been benefited, for at this time she requires all her friends & has a right to expert services from such heads & hearts as can most conduce to her Safety. We impatiently wait to hear what effect the Battle of Bunker Hill has both on our friends & Enemies. A few weeks I suppose will let us know. . . .
I take it for granted that I am writing to some curious person in office & that my Letter, insignificant as it is, will be open’d before you get it. One from Mr. Lane Secry of the Jersey Society to Mr. R came here with the seal quite broke as if it was done on purpose to shew they dare & woud do it.
I hope it is no Treason to say I wish well to the cause of America tho’ guess Treason is not now tho’t much of—however I am safe in telling you how much my love is kept alive tho’ at this distance & with what undiminished Affectn I am Ever truly Yours,
No Reason sign name now

The excerpt is from In the Words of Women, Chapter 4, pages 95-96.

posted October 19th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Battles,Britain,Children,Patriots,Reed, Esther De Berdt,Reed, Joseph,Washington, George

“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

next page

   Copyright © 2017 In the Words of Women.