“Oh! How many wretched families were made that day.”

Mary Gould Almy, with her children and mother, lived in Newport, Rhode Island during its occupation by the British (1776-1779). As happened in so many families, the Revolution divided husband and wife. Mary opposed the war while her husband Benjamin sided with the Americans, serving under General John Sullivan. Having signed a treaty of alliance with the Americans, France sent a fleet under Count d’Estaing to Newport in July 1778, to prepare for a joint assault on that city with the Americans. Almy described for her husband what took place. She explained her motivation for keeping a record.

By your desire and my own inclination, I am to give you an account of what passes during the siege; but first let me tell you, it will be done with spirit, for my dislike to the nation that you call your friends, is the same as when you knew me, knowing there is no confidence to be placed in them, and I foresee that the whole will end, as this maneuvere did, in taking this island, to the discredit of the Americans. You will not be surprised at my warmth when you will find how I suffered, nor wonder at my freedom when you find this comes sealed and wrote for your perusal alone.

Saturday August 8.
At one o’clock, signals for unmooring throughout the French fleet, a brisk gale blew, and entirely fair. One hour, the longest time that could be thought, then we should all be prisoners. Heavens! what distress! what consternation seize me! where to fly for shelter! … Then that precious comforter to the female, came to my relief, a silent shower of tears behind the haystack, for my poor friends in town, who never were in half the danger as myself, and cousin C.’s cherry rum being brought, I grew more and more enabled to bear my sorrows.

Sunday, August 16.
Still carting, still fortifying; your people encroaching nearer, throwing up new works every night. Our people beholding it every morning, with wonder and astonishment. And … my curiosity was so great, as to wish to behold the entrenchment that I supposed you were behind; and a good young man … took me in a chaise to the hospital … [where] we had an excellent view of … all the encampments around it. Believe me, my dear friend, never was a poor soul more to be pitied, such different agitation as by turns took hold upon me. Wishing most ardently to call home my wanderer, at the same time, filled with resentment against those he calls his friends, so that I returned home more distressed, my spirits more sunk than when I went out.

Monday, August 17.
Nothing happened worth notice. … the day was spent in exchanging shots; in the evening they entertained us with throwing shells. It would have been an agreeable sight, had we not been sure it was meant to carry death along with it. I sat upon the top of the house till twelve, beholding and admiring the wonderful contrivances of mankind to destroy one another.

On August 22, there was a heavy exchange of fire between retreating Americans, including Mary Almy’s husband, and pursuing Hessians at the town’s main intersection. During this Battle [or Siege] of Rhode Island, nearly 500 men were either killed or wounded.

Oh! How many wretched families were made that day. it would have softened the most callous heart to see the cart loads of wretched men brought in, their wives screaming at the foot of the cart, in concert with their groans. Fine youths with their arms taken off in a moment. In short it’s too far beyond my power of description. … Every dejected look, and every melancholy countenance I saw, I trembled for fear they would say, your husband lies among the slain, or that he is wounded and a prisoner. Think you what a life I live, knowing your proneness to get into danger.

Monday, August 24.
At seven o’clock a light horseman with news; they [the Americans] are retreated. … At ten o’clock, Thos. Hill came in and told me he saw you at noon Friday and that you … should be home at breakfast on Monday morning. … Oh! Mr. Almy, what a shocking disappointment to you. Heaven, I hope, will support you, so positive, so assured of success. Remember, in all your difficulties and trials of life, that when the All-wise disposer of human events thinks we have been sufficiently tried, then our patience in waiting will be amply rewarded by a joyful meeting.

The attempt to free Newport from British occupation failed; the city would remain under British control until October 1779.

“Mrs. Almy’s Journal: Siege of Newport, R. I., August 1778,” Rhode Island Historical Magazine (Newport: Newport Historical Publishing Co., No. 1, Vol 1, 1880-81), pages 18, 24-25, 30-31, 34-36. The illustration is from Wikepedia Commons; the print is at the Library of Congress.

posted September 6th, 2012 by Janet, CATEGORIES: Battles, British soldiers, Hessians, Loyalists, Marriage, New England, Patriots

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