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.