“four to five feet of snow had fallen in the night”

In the fall of 1779, General Friederich von Riedesel received news that he had permission to leave Virginia, where he and his Hessian troops were being held after their defeat at Saratoga. He was to go to New York City where he would be exchanged. His wife and their children would join him there. The Baroness was pregnant and the journey was hard on her. British General Henry Clinton arranged for her and the children to stay at a country estate* that he had at his disposal, an hour from the city, which was at the tip of Manhattan Island at that time. There the children were to be inoculated against smallpox which had been rampant in the city. The Baroness described their stay.

The estate was lovely, as was also the house, but the house had been built more for a summer residence, so that, as we were there in December, I suffered a great deal from the cold. However, the inoculation was a success. When it was over, and we henceforth no longer had to fear contagion,we prepared for our return to the city and sent our cook and the rest of the servants on ahead to get everything ready for our arrival the next day. However, we had such a terrible storm that night, that we thought the house would be blown down. In fact, an entire balustrade actually was torn off and fell to the ground with a dreadful crash, and when we woke up the next morning we saw that four to five feet of snow had fallen in the night, and in some places there were snowdrifts eight feet deep, so that it would be impossible for us to leave without sleighs. I tried therefore to get together whatever food I could for our dinner. An old chicken which had been forgotten was used for soup, and this with a few potatoes given us by the gardener and some corned meat, which was the last of our supplies, formed our whole dinner for fourteen people. In the afternoon, as I was sorrowfully looking out of the window, thinking of how we could get along, I saw our cook approaching on horseback. Full of joy, I turned around to tell the others about this. When I looked out again the cook was nowhere to be seen. Horrified at his disappearance, the gentlemen ran out and found him with his horse buried so deep in the snow that he could never had gotten out alone and probably would have died. Our people in the city had become uneasy when we did not come, and knowing that we had no supplies, the cook brought us some food for supper. It was impossible for a carriage to drive to the city. The next morning Captain Willoe brought us two large sleighs. We got in and I was rather worried about the children, because their inoculation had not yet entirely healed on account of the awful cold. But the trip did not hurt them a bit. While their inoculations were healing, Caroline did not have her whooping cough, but it set in again immediately afterwards and hung on for a whole year.

*The house was the Beekman mansion “Mount Pleasant,” built in 1763 for the New York City merchant James Beekman. On a rise between 50th and 51st Streets between First and Second Avenues, it is commemorated nearby as Beekman Place. The mansion served as the British military headquarters during the Revolutionary War. American spy Nathan Hale was held, tried, convicted, and condemned there in 1776.

The above passage was taken from pages 97-98 in Baroness von Riedesel and the American Revolution, Journal and Correspondence of a Tour of Duty, 1776-1783, A Revised Translation with Introduction and Notes, by Marvin L. Brown, Jr. (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1965). The illustration is a wood engraving, 1876, from the Granger Collection.

posted February 3rd, 2014 by Janet, CATEGORIES: British soldiers, Children, Hessians, Inoculation, New York, Travel, Weather


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