“many expect they will leave us in a very few days”

SARAH LOGAN FISHER continued with observations in her diary of Philadelphia during the British occupation of 1777-1778. Officers commandeered rooms in the homes of Philadelphians and stories circulated about their behavior with young ladies. Sarah had looked forward to the arrival of the British and was dis-heartened at their departure: the decision had been made, after the American victory at Saratoga and the subsequent French treaty with the Americans, to consolidate their forces in New York City.

December 30, 1777— …. an officer came to desire & insist on taking up his lodgings here, which I was obliged to consent to & gave him my front parlor to lodge in & removed all my furniture upstairs, & gave some more ordinary.

January 28, 1778— Lieutenant Apthorp, our lodger….appears to be an agreeable, modest young man, is about 22 & is the oldest of 14 children.

March 15, 1778— …. Very bad accounts of the licentiousness of the English officers in deluding young girls.

March 17, 1778— A great parade before General Howe’s door with the soldiers, it being St. Patrick’s Day, & the anniversary of my happy marriage.

March 25, 1778— Had my clothes stolen. [Sarah advertised in the Royal Pennsylvania Gazette for them, offering 10 guineas reward. They were not recovered.]

May 29, 1778— A fit of illness & many engagements has prevented me continuing my journal to this time…. My beloved husband returned to his welcome home the 29th of the 4th Mo. [April] with health of body & peace of mind….

And now another severe trial is likely to befall us. The English, who we had hoped & expected would have stayed & kept possession of the city, are near leaving us & it is said are going to New York, & we may expect some great suffering when the Americans again get possession. Great preparations are making for their going somewhere. All their baggage, provisions, stores of every kind are putting on board their ships, & many expect they will leave us in a very few days.

Sarah reports that three peace commissioners arrived in June “with very full powers to treat with the Americans.” The mission failed and the British continued their preparations for departure.

June 12, 1778— …. Took a ride in the afternoon … down the Neck. Saw great devastations indeed. Fences much destroyed, soldiers cutting the grass & bringing it away by horse loads—such is the wanton destruction that is made of our property. Apthorp, our lodger, tells me that he expects the whole army will leave the city in a few days….

June 18, 1778— This morning about 6 the grenadiers & light infantry left us & in less than a quarter of an hour the Americans were in the city. Judge, O any impartial person, what were my feelings at this time.

Sarah Logan Fisher’s “Diary of Trifling Occurrences” ends with this entry. Her journal gives a great deal of information about the British occupation of Phila-delphia from the point of view of a Quaker woman with loyalist sympathies. With small children at home, and an absent husband, Sarah managed as best she could.

Since she did not move in the same social circles as the elite of Philadelphia it is understandable that she has little to say about the busy social life of the upper classes who remained in the city—and would have disapproved of their frivolous pursuits in amy case. There was, of course, the usual card playing, gambling, drinking and visiting “ladies of the night” engaged in by idle soldiers. The officers of the occupying army, on the other hand, organized dinners, balls, horse races, theatrical productions, and other entertainments. All this while American forces were enduring the harsh winter at Valley Forge.

In the next post a glimpse of one of the most incredible extravaganzas ever seen in Philadelphia. Mounted and overseen by Major John André, it was intended to honor General William Howe who had resigned his commission and was returning to England.

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), 460, 461, 462, 464, 465.


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