“entreating Friends not to join in the present measure”

The marriage of SARAH LOGAN to Thomas Fisher in 1772 united two of the most important and wealthy families in Philadelphia. As Quakers the Fishers did not approve of violence and theoretically did not take sides in the American Revolution but their sympathies were clearly with the British. Sarah kept a diary that contains her observations on the Revolution and is an important source of information about life in Philadelphia under the control of Pennsylvania officials anticipating a British attack and later during the British occupation. Sarah’s father had recently died and she makes mention of him. She called her husband “Tommy”. They somehow received news of what was going on by word of mouth, by messengers, or by newspapers, such as they were.

November 30, 1776— …. men by order of the Committee of Safety* came for blankets; they took two by force….

* The Committee of Safety was established by the Pennsylvania Assembly in June 1775 and entrusted with the defense of the state.

December 2, 1776— Heard in the morning that [British General William] Howe’s army were on this side of Brunswick. The town in very great confusion. A party of armed men went about the city to shut up the shops & break up the schools, by an order of the Committee of Safety. Dined alone. In the afternoon a company of men came to take Tommy’s name down, & to look at our servant boy Jim, with the intention if he was big enough to take him by force for a soldier, but as he was under 15 they left him, tho’ they took several others not much older….

December 3, 1776— …. Many people moving out of town, but we are as yet preserved in stillness….Dined alone….Sup’d alone.

December 8, 1776— Morning at Meeting….After Meeting heard there was an express come to town last night with an account that Howe’s army were within 3 miles of Princeton & on his march….Stepped over in the afternoon to see Neighbor Evans who was in great distress for fear they should force her sons to the camp….

December 12, 1776— Busy in the morning mending clothes. Heard that 2 men-of-war were in the bay & that several vessels were seen off the Capes …. In the afternoon an edict came out signed by General Putnam*, warning all the inhabitants to be in their houses at 10 o’clock, at the peril of their being sent to jail, & that no physicians are to go out without a pass from Headquarters … which edict greatly alarmed the inhabitants….

* American General Israel Putnam of Massachusetts was the military governor Philadelphia. He ordered what was virtually a state of martial law.

December 13, 1776— …. General Putnam issued a proclamation declaring that any person that set fire to the city should be capitally punished. The evening before a bellman had gone through the city, ordering every person to go this day and assist in entrenching the city. If they did not, their effects were to be seized, but there were few people [who] obeyed the summons. I did not hear of one person going that I knew. Drank tea with my Tommy, who to me is always the best of company….

December 19, 1776— Morning at home at work ….met with John Foulke, who told us that the disorder among the poor sick soldiers was better, that not above 3 or 4 died of a day, but that there had died 10 of a day, & that the smallpox was broken out among them, which he expected would make a great destruction, as not above one in 50 of the Maryland soldiers had had it, many of them not having a bed to lie on or a blanket to cover them ….

December 21, 1776— Morning at home at work …. Heard this day that Howe’s army were in many parts of the Jersies, plundered those that they looked upon as rebels, but were civil & kind to them that were friends to the government, & paid for what they took from them.

December 22, 1776— Morning at Meeting. An Epistle read from the Meeting of Sufferings, entreating Friends not to join in the present measure….

December 25, 1776— …. Morning at Monthly Meeting …. An extract from my dear father’s will was read, wherein he bequeathed £50 to the Women’s Meeting to be given to poor widows, a laudable example & worthy of imitation ….

December 27, 1776— This morning heard an account of the success of our American army against the English at Trenton on Christmas night, which was a very stormy night. Report says that General Washington crossed the river before day at the head of a large body of his army & surprised the Hessians & English before day, that there was not a sufficient number there to oppose them, & that they surrendered themselves prisoners to General Washington except what betook themselves to flight, with he took about 700 prisoners & some cannon with a thousand stand of arms. This piece of news greatly exalted our Whigs, & as much depressed the Tories, but I sincerely hope & believe that before long General Howe will subdue their rebellious spirit & give them but little reason to rejoice….

December 29, 1776— …. Dr. Bond* called here after Meeting & gave us a very melancholy account of the sick soldiers, & says they have the true camp fever which is near akin to the plague. He says 15 or 20 frequently die of a day, that they bury 8 or 10 in a grave, & not above a foot underground. He thinks the disorder will spread & that the inhabitants are in great danger….

* Dr. Thomas Bond was a distinguished Philadelphia physician who supported the patriot cause and volunteered his services.

December 30, 1776— Morning set off to go see Grandmother … but was interrupted by the way, & turned back by a multitude of people going to see the Hessian prisoners march to the barracks. Some people think about 700 marched, with some women & children. They looked but poorly clad, were dressed in blue, & their outside clothes appeared to be dirty. What is remarkable, they say there is not among them one English or Scotch prisoner, but all Hessians. This morning my Tommy conversed with the man who has the care of burying the sick soldiers. He says it is not true that the graves are so shallow, but that they die so fast that he cannot dig graves for them all, & so digs a large hole 15 feet square & 10 feet deep for them all, & so buries them two tier, & that the highest coffin is about five feet underground….

January 1, 1777— …. After supper my Tommy read me a paper called the American Crisis [by Thomas Paine], a most violent, seditious, treasonable paper, [written] purposely to inflame the minds of the people & spirit them on to rebellion, calling the King a sottish, stupid, stubborn, worthless, brutish man. Heard today that our army are going in great numbers towards Princeton, intending to make an entire conquest of the English, if they can.

January 4, 1777— …. This evening a paper came out from the Committee of Safety unlike anything I ever before heard of, except the Spanish Inquisition, declaring that every person who refused the Continental money should be liable for the first offense to forfeit the goods & a sum of equal value, for the second offense to forfeit the same & to be banished what they are pleased to call this state, to what place & in what manner they shall judge most proper, that all those who have been imprisoned & whose stores have been shut up by them on the account of their refusing it formerly are to be opened, & they are to be subject to this new law, after having experienced all the rigors of the old one—a most extraordinary instance of arbitrary power & of the liberty we shall enjoy should their government ever be established, a tyrannical government it will prove from weak & wicked men.

January 8, 1777— …. Morning went to meeting, which was silent. In the afternoon went to see Sally Allen at William Allen’s, where she had come a few days before, being turned out of her house by our troops because her husband had gone over to General Howe.

January 9, 1777— Morning at home viewing the eclipse of the sun….

More from SARAH LOGAN FISHER in the next post.

Wainwright, Nicholas B., and Sarah Logan Fisher. “”A Diary of Trifling Occurrences”: Philadelphia, 1776-1778.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 82, no. 4 (1958): 414-21. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20089127. Illustrations: A view of Philadelphia in 1777 by the artist Archibald Robertson—The New York Public Library Digital Collections; The Crisis by Thomas Paine; Continental money 1777.


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