[Transcriber's Note: In quoted passages and in the documents in Part II of this e-book, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, hyphenation, and abbreviations have been retained as they appear in the original. In the remainder of the text, obvious printer errors have been corrected, but archaic spellings (e.g., "reconnoissance" for "reconnaissance," "aid" for "aide") have been retained.
This book contains a few instances of the letters m and n with macrons, indicating that the letter is to be doubled. The letter with the macron is represented here in brackets with an equal sign. For example, "comittee" stands for "committee"; "canon" stands for "cannon."]
CAMPAIGN OF 1776
NEW YORK AND BROOKLYN.
INCLUDING A NEW AND CIRCUMSTANTIAL ACCOUNT OF
THE BATTLE OF LONG ISLAND AND THE LOSS OF NEW YORK,
REVIEW OF EVENTS TO THE CLOSE OF THE YEAR,
CONTAINING MAPS, PORTRAITS, AND ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS.
HENRY P. JOHNSTON.
BROOKLYN, N.Y.: PUBLISHED BY THE LONG ISLAND HISTORICAL SOCIETY. 1878.
COPYRIGHT, 1878, BY HENRY P. JOHNSTON, FOR THE SOCIETY.
S.W. GREEN, PRINTER AND ELECTROTYPER, 16 and 18 Jacob Street, NEW YORK.
The site now occupied by the two cities of New York and Brooklyn, and over which they continue to spread, is pre-eminently "Revolutionary soil." Very few of our historic places are more closely associated with the actual scenes of that struggle. As at Boston in 1775, so here in 1776, we had the war at our doors and all about us. In what is now the heart of Brooklyn Revolutionary soldiers lay encamped for months, and in the heat of a trying summer surrounded themselves with lines of works. What have since been converted into spots of rare beauty—Greenwood Cemetery and Prospect Park—became, with the ground in their vicinity, a battle-field. New York, which was then taking its place as the most flourishing city on the continent, was transformed by the emergency into a fortified military base. Troops quartered in Broad Street and along the North and East rivers, and on the line of Grand Street permanent camps were established. Forts, redoubts, batteries, and intrenchments encircled the town. The streets were barricaded, the roads blocked, and efforts made to obstruct the navigation of both rivers. Where we have stores and warehouses, Washington fixed alarm and picket posts; and at points where costly residences stand, men fought, died, and were buried. In 1776 the cause had become general; soldiers gathered here from ten of the original thirteen States, and the contest assumed serious proportions. It was here around New York and Brooklyn that the War of the Revolution began in earnest.
The record of what occurred in this vicinity at that interesting period has much of it been preserved in our standard histories by Gordon, Marshall, Irving, Hildreth, Lossing, Bancroft, Carrington, and others. In the present volume it is given as a single connected account, with many additional particulars which have but recently come to light. This new material, gathered largely from the descendants of officers and soldiers who participated in that campaign, is published with other documents in Part II. of this work, and is presented as its principal feature. What importance should be attached to it must be left to the judgment of the reader.
The writer himself has made use of these documents in filling gaps and correcting errors. Such documents, for example, as the orders issued by Generals Greene and Sullivan on Long Island, with the original letters of Generals Parsons, Scott, and other officers, go far towards clearing up the hitherto doubtful points in regard to operations on the Brooklyn side. There is not a little, also, that throws light on the retreat to New York; while material of value has been unearthed respecting events which terminated in the capture of the city by the British. Considerable space has been devoted to the preparations made by both sides for the campaign, but as the nature of those preparations illustrates the very great importance attached to the struggle that was to come, it may not appear disproportionate. The narrative also is continued so as to include the closing incidents of the year, without which it would hardly be complete, although they take us beyond the limits of New York.
But for the cheerful and in many cases painstaking co-operation of those who are in possession of the documents referred to, or who have otherwise rendered assistance, the preparation of the work could not have been possible. The writer finds himself especially under obligations to Miss Harriet E. Henshaw, of Leicester, Mass.; Miss Mary Little and Benjamin Hale, Esq., Newburyport; Charles J. Little, Esq., Cambridge; Mr. Francis S. Drake, Roxbury; Rev. Dr. I.N. Tarbox and John J. Soren, Boston; Prof. George Washington Greene, East Greenwich, R.I.; Hon. J.M. Addeman, Secretary of State of Rhode Island, and Rev. Dr. Stone, Providence; Hon. Dwight Morris, Secretary of State of Connecticut; Dr. P.W. Ellsworth and Captain John C. Kinney, Hartford; Miss Mary L. Huntington, Norwich; Benjamin Douglas, Esq., Middletown; Mr. Henry M. Selden, Haddam Neck; Hon. G.H. Hollister, Bridgeport; Hon. Teunis G. Bergen, Mr. Henry E. Pierrepont, J. Carson Brevoort, Esq., Rev. Dr. H.M. Scudder, and Mr. Gerrit H. Van Wagenen, Brooklyn; Mr. Henry Onderdonk, Jr., Jamaica, L.I.; Frederick H. Wolcott, Esq., Astoria, L.I.; Hon. John Jay, Charles I. Bushnell, Esq., Miss Troup, Mrs. Kernochan, Prof. and Mrs. O.P. Hubbard, Gen. Alex. S. Webb, Rev. A.A. Reinke, New York City; Mr. William Kelby, New York Historical Society; Prof. Asa Bird Gardner, West Point; Hon. W.S. Stryker, Adjutant-General, Trenton, N.J.; Richard Randolph Parry, Esq., Hon. Lewis A. Scott, and Mr. J. Jordan, Philadelphia; Hon. John B. Linn, Harrisburg; Mrs. S.B. Rogers and Mr. D.M. Stauffler, Lancaster; Dr. Dalrymple, Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore; Hon. Caesar A. Rodney, J.R. Walter, and W.S. Boyd, Wilmington, Del.; Oswald Tilghman, Esq., Easton, Md.; Hon. Edward McPherson, Rev. Dr. John Chester, and Lieutenant-Colonel T. Lincoln Casey, Washington; President Andrews and Mr. Holden, Librarian, Marietta College; and Mr. Henry E. Parsons and Edward Welles, Ashtabula, Ohio.
The cordial and constant encouragement extended by the Rev. Dr. Richard S. Storrs, President of the Long Island Historical Society, and the interest taken in the work by Hon. Henry C. Murphy, Benjamin D. Silliman, Esq., and the Librarian, Mr. George Hannah, are gratefully acknowledged.
NEW YORK CITY, June, 1878.
CHAPTER I. SIGNIFICANCE OF THE CAMPAIGN—PLANS AND PREPARATIONS 13
CHAPTER II. FORTIFYING NEW YORK AND BROOKLYN 35
CHAPTER III. THE TWO ARMIES 105
CHAPTER IV. THE BATTLE OF LONG ISLAND 139
CHAPTER V. RETREAT TO NEW YORK 207
CHAPTER VI. LOSS OF NEW YORK—KIP'S BAY AFFAIR—BATTLE OF HARLEM HEIGHTS 225
CHAPTER VII. WHITE PLAINS—FORT WASHINGTON 263
CHAPTER VIII. TRENTON—PRINCETON—CLOSE OF THE CAMPAIGN 287
LIST OF DOCUMENTS:
No. 1. General Greene's Orders—Camp on Long Island 5
" 2. General Sullivan's Orders—Camp on Long Island 27
" 3. General Orders 30
" 4. Washington to the Massachusetts Assembly 32
" 5. General Parsons to John Adams 33
" 6. General Scott to John Jay 36
" 7. Colonel Joseph Trumbull to his Brother 40
" 8. Colonel Trumbull to his Father 41
" 9. Colonel Moses Little to his Son 42
" 10. Lieutenant-Colonel Henshaw to his Wife 44
" 11. Deposition by Lieutenant-Colonel Henshaw 47
" 12. Colonel Edward Hand to his Wife 48
" 13. Major Edward Burd to Judge Yeates 48
" 14. Lieutenant Jasper Ewing to Judge Yeates 49
" 15. John Ewing to Judge Yeates 50
" 16. Colonel Haslet to Caesar Rodney 51
" 17. Colonel G.S. Silliman to his Wife 52
" 18. Colonel Silliman to Rev. Mr. Fish 57
" 19. Account of the Battle of Long Island 58
" 20. Journal of Colonel Samuel Miles 60
" 21. Lieutenant-Colonel John Brodhead to —— 63
" 22. Colonel William Douglas to his Wife 66
" 23. General Woodhull to the New York Convention 73
" 24. General Washington to Abraham Yates 74
" 25. Colonel Hitchcock to Colonel Little 75
" 26. Major Tallmadge's Account of the Battles of Long Island and White Plains 77
" 27. Account of Events by Private Martin 81
" 28. Captain Joshua Huntington to —— 84
" 29. Captain Tench Tilghman to his Father 85
" 30. Captain John Gooch to Thomas Fayerweather 88
" 31. Account of the Retreat from New York and Affair of Harlem Heights, by Colonel David Humphreys 89
" 32. Testimony Respecting the Retreat from New York 92
" 33. Major Baurmeister's Narrative 95
" 34. Colonel Chester to Joseph Webb 98
" 35. Colonel Glover to his Mother 99
" 36. General Greene to Colonel Knox 100
" 37. Diary of Rev. Mr. Shewkirk, Moravian Pastor, New York 101
" 38. Major Fish to Richard Varick 127
" 39. Surgeon Eustis to Dr. Townsend 129
" 40. Captain Nathan Hale to his Brother 131
" 41. Extract from a Letter from New York 132
" 42. Extracts from the London Chronicle 133
" 43. Extract from the Memoirs of Colonel Rufus Putnam 136
" 44. Scattering Orders by Generals Lee, Spencer, Greene, and Nixon 141
" 45. General Lee to Colonel Chester 145
" 46. Captain Bradford's Account of the Capture of General Lee 146
" 47. General Oliver Wolcott to his Wife 147
" 48. Captain William Hull to Andrew Adams 151
" 49. Colonel Knox to his Wife 152
" 50. Colonel Haslet to Caesar Rodney 156
" 51. Journal of Captain Thomas Rodney 158
" 52. Position of the British at the Close of the Campaign 162
" 53. Narrative of Lieutenant Jabez Fitch 167
" 54. Extract from the Journal of Lieutenant William McPherson 168
" 55. Deposition of Private Foster 169
" 56. Letters from Captain Randolph, of New Jersey 170
" 57. Extract from the Journal of Captain Morris 172
" 58. British Prisoners Taken on Long Island 174
" 59. A Return of the Prisoners Taken in the Campaign 175
" 60. List of American Officers Taken Prisoners at the Battle of Long Island 176
" 61. List of American Non-Commissioned Officers and Soldiers Taken Prisoners, Killed, or Missing, at the Battle of Long Island 180
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES 187
THE MAPS 193
THE PORTRAITS 195
LIST OF MAPS.
1. NEW YORK, BROOKLYN, AND ENVIRONS IN 1776.
2. PLAN OF THE BATTLE OF LONG ISLAND AND THE BROOKLYN DEFENCES.
3. PRESIDENT STILES' SKETCH OF THE BROOKLYN WORKS.
4. EWING'S DRAUGHT OF THE LONG ISLAND ENGAGEMENT.
5. MAP OF NEW YORK CITY AND OF MANHATTAN ISLAND, WITH THE AMERICAN DEFENCES.
6. FIELD OF THE HARLEM HEIGHTS "AFFAIR."
1. JOHN LASHER, COLONEL FIRST NEW YORK CITY BATTALION.
2. EDWARD HAND, COLONEL FIRST CONTINENTAL REGIMENT, PENNSYLVANIA.
3. JOHN GLOVER, COLONEL FOURTEENTH CONTINENTAL REGIMENT, MASSACHUSETTS.
4. JEDEDIAH HUNTINGTON, COLONEL SEVENTEENTH CONTINENTAL REGIMENT, CONNECTICUT.
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE CAMPAIGN—PLANS AND PREPARATIONS.
"Our affairs are hastening fast to a crisis; and the approaching campaign will, in all probability, determine forever the fate of America."
So wrote John Hancock, President of Congress, June 4th, 1776, to the governors and conventions of the Eastern and Middle colonies, as, in the name of that body, he reminded them of the gravity of the struggle on which they had entered, and urged the necessity of increasing their exertions for the common defence. That this was no undue alarm, published for effect, but a well-grounded and urgent warning to the country, is confirmed by the situation at the time and the whole train of events that followed. The campaign of 1776 did indeed prove to be a crisis, a turning-point, in the fortunes of the Revolution. It is not investing it with an exaggerated importance, to claim that it was the decisive period of the war; that, whatever anxieties and fears were subsequently experienced, this was the year in which the greatest dangers were encountered and passed. "Should the united colonies be able to keep their ground this campaign," continued Hancock, "I am under no apprehensions on account of any future one." "We expect a very bloody summer in New York and Canada," wrote Washington to his brother John Augustine, in May; and repeatedly, through the days of preparation, he represented to his troops what vital interests were at stake and how much was to depend upon their discipline and courage in the field.
But let the significance of the campaign be measured by the record itself, to which the following pages are devoted. It will be found to have been the year in which Great Britain made her most strenuous efforts to suppress the colonial revolt, and in which both sides mustered the largest forces raised during the war; the year in which the issues of the contest were clearly defined and America first fought for independence; a year, for the most part, of defeats and losses for the colonists, and when their faith and resolution were put to the severest test; but a year, also, which ended with a broad ray of hope, and whose hard experiences opened the road to final success. It was the year from which we date our national existence. A period so interesting and, in a certain sense, momentous is deserving of illustration with every fact and detail that can be gathered.
* * * * *
What was the occasion or necessity for this campaign; what the plans and preparations made for it both by the mother country and the colonies?
The opening incidents of the Revolution, to which these questions refer us, are a familiar chapter in its history. On the morning of the 19th of April, 1775, an expedition of British regulars, moving out from Boston, came upon a company of provincials hastily forming on Lexington Common, twelve miles distant. The attitude of these countrymen represented the last step to which they had been driven by the aggressive acts of the home Parliament. Up to this moment the controversy over colonial rights and privileges had been confined, from the days of the Stamp Act, to argument, protest, petition, and legislative proceedings; but these failing to convince or conciliate either party, it only remained for Great Britain to exercise her authority in the case with force.
The expedition in question had been organized for the purpose of seizing the military stores belonging to the Massachusetts Colony, then collected at Concord, and which the king's authorities regarded as too dangerous material to be in the hands of the people at that stage of the crisis. The provincials, on the other hand, watched them jealously. King and Parliament might question their rights, block up their port, ruin their trade, proscribe their leaders, and they could bear all without offering open resistance. But the attempt to deprive them of the means of self-defence at a time when the current of affairs clearly indicated that, sooner or later, they would be compelled to defend themselves, was an act to which they would not submit, as already they had shown on more than one occasion. To no other right did the colonist cling more tenaciously at this juncture than to his right to his powder. The men at Lexington, therefore, drew up on their village grounds, not defiantly, but in obedience to the most natural impulse. Their position was a logical one. To have remained quietly in their homes would have been a stultification of their whole record from the beginning of the troubles; stand they must, some time and somewhere. Under the circumstances, a collision between the king's troops and the provincials that morning was inevitable. The commander of the former, charged with orders to disperse all "rebels," made the sharp demand upon the Lexington company instantly to lay down their arms. A moment's confusion and delay—then scattering shots—then a full volley from the regulars—and ten men fell dead and wounded upon the green. Here was a shock, the ultimate consequences of which few of the participants in the scene could have forecast; but it was the alarm-gun of the Revolution.
Events followed rapidly. The march of the British to Concord, the destruction of the stores, the skirmish at the bridge, and, later in the day, the famous road-fight kept up by the farmers down to Charlestown, ending in the signal demoralization and defeat of the expedition, combined with the Lexington episode to make the 19th of April an historic date. The rapid spread of the news, the excitement in New England, the uprising of the militia and their hurried march to Boston to resist any further excursions of the regulars, were the immediate consequence of this collision.
Nor was the alarm confined to the Eastern colonies, then chiefly affected. A courier delivered the news in New York three days later, on Sunday noon, and the liberty party at once seized the public military stores, and prevented vessels loaded with supplies for the British in Boston from leaving port. Soon came fuller accounts of the expedition and its rout. Expresses carried them southward, and their course can be followed for nearly a thousand miles along the coast. On the 23d and 24th they passed through Connecticut, where at Wallingford the dispatches quaintly describe the turning out of the militiamen: "The country beyond here are all gone." They reached New York at two o'clock on the 25th, and Isaac Low countersigns. Relays taking them up in New Jersey, report at Princeton on the 26th, at "3.30 A.M." They are at Philadelphia at noon, and "forwarded at the same time." We find them at New Castle, Delaware, at nine in the evening; at Baltimore at ten on the following night; at Alexandria, Virginia, at sunset on the 29th; at Williamsburg, May 2d; and at Edenton, North Carolina, on the 4th, with directions to the next Committee of Safety: "Disperse the material passages [of the accounts] through all your parts." Down through the deep pine regions, stopping at Bath and Newbern, ride the horsemen, reaching Wilmington at 4 P.M. on the 8th. "Forward it by night and day," say the committee. At Brunswick at nine the indorsement is entered: "Pray don't neglect a moment in forwarding." At Georgetown, South Carolina, where the dispatches arrive at 6.30 P.M. on the 10th, the committee address a note to their Charleston brethren: "We send you by express a letter and newspapers with momentous intelligence this instant arrived." The news reaching Savannah, a party of citizens immediately took possession of the government powder.
The wave of excitement which follows the signal of a coming struggle was thus borne by its own force throughout the length of the colonies. And from the coast the intelligence spread inland as far as settlers had found their way. In distant Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, men heard it, and began to organize and drill. At Charlotte, North Carolina, they sounded the first note for independence. From many points brave and sympathetic words were sent to the people of Massachusetts Bay, and in all quarters people discussed the probable effect of the startling turn matters had taken in that colony. The likelihood of a general rupture with the mother country now came to be seriously entertained.
Meanwhile the situation to the eastward assumed more and more a military aspect. On the 10th of May occurred the surprise and capture, by Ethan Allen and his party, of the important post of Ticonderoga, where during the summer the provincials organized a force to march upon and, if possible, secure the Canadas. The Continental Congress at Philadelphia, after resolving that the issue had been forced upon them by Great Britain, voted to prepare for self-defence. They adopted the New England troops, gathered around Boston, as a Continental force, and appointed Washington to the chief command. Then on the 17th of June Bunker Hill was fought, that first regular action of the war, with its far-reaching moral effect; and following it came the siege of Boston, or the hemming in of the British by the Americans, until the former were finally compelled to evacuate the city.
* * * * *
It is here in these culminating events of the spring and summer of 1775 that we find the occasion for the preparations made by Great Britain for the campaign of 1776. Little appreciating the genius of the colonists, underrating their resources and capacity for resistance, mistaking also their motives, King George and his party imagined that on the first display of England's power all disturbance and attempts at rebellion across the sea would instantly cease. But the sudden transition from peace to war, and the complete mastery of the situation which the colonists appeared to hold, convinced the home government that "the American business" was no trifling trouble, to be readily settled by a few British regiments. As the season advanced, they began to realize the fact that General Gage, and then Howe succeeding him, with their force of ten thousand choice troops, were helplessly pent up in Boston; that Montreal and Quebec were threatened; that colonists in the undisturbed sections were arming; and that Congress was supplanting the authority of Parliament. A more rigorous treatment of the revolt had become necessary; and as the time had passed to effect any thing on a grand scale during the present year, measures were proposed to crush all opposition in the next campaign. Follow, briefly, the course of the British Government at this crisis.
Parliament convened on the 26th day of October. The king's speech, with which it opened, was necessarily devoted to the American question, and it declared his policy clearly and boldly. His rebellious subjects must be brought to terms. "They have raised troops," he said, "and are collecting a naval force; they have seized the public revenue, and assumed to themselves legislative, executive, and judicial powers, which they already exercise, in the most arbitrary manner, over the persons and properties of their fellow subjects: and although many of these unhappy people may still retain their loyalty, and may be too wise not to see the fatal consequence of this usurpation and wish to resist it, yet the torrent of violence has been strong enough to compel their acquiescence, till a sufficient force shall appear to support them. The authors and promoters of this desperate conspiracy have, in the conduct of it, derived great advantage from the difference of our intentions and theirs. They meant only to amuse by vague expressions of attachment to the parent state, and the strongest protestations of loyalty to me, whilst they were preparing for a general revolt. On our part, though it was declared in your last session that a rebellion existed within the province of the Massachusetts' Bay, yet even that province we wished rather to reclaim than to subdue.... The rebellious war now levied is become more general, and is manifestly carried on for the purpose of establishing an independent empire. I need not dwell upon the fatal effects of the success of such a plan.... It is now become the part of wisdom, and (in its effects) of clemency, to put a speedy end to these disorders, by the most decisive exertions. For this purpose, I have increased my naval establishment, and greatly augmented my land forces, but in such a manner as may be the least burthensome to my kingdoms. I have also the satisfaction to inform you, that I have received the most friendly offers of foreign assistance, and if I shall make any treaties in consequence thereof, they shall be laid before you."
A stranger in Parliament, knowing nothing of the merits of the controversy, would have assumed from the tone of this speech that the home government had been grossly wronged by the American colonists, or at least a powerful faction among them, and that their suppression was a matter of national honor as well as necessity. But the speech was inexcusably unjust to the colonists. The charge of design and double-dealing could not be laid against them, for the ground of their grievances had been the same from the outset, and their conduct consistent with single motives; and if independence had been mentioned at all as yet, it was only as an ulterior resort, and not as an aim or ambition. The king and the Ministry, on the other hand, were wedded to strict notions of authority in the central government, and measured a citizen's fidelity by the readiness with which he submitted to its policy and legislation. Protests and discussion about "charters" and "liberties" were distasteful to them, and whoever disputed Parliament in any case was denounced as strong-headed and factious. The king's speech, therefore, was no more than what was expected from him. It reflected the sentiments of the ruling party.
As usual, motions were made in both houses that an humble address in reply be presented to his Majesty, professing loyalty to his person, and supporting his views and measures. The mover in the Commons was Thomas Ackland, who, in the course of his speech at the time, strongly urged the policy of coercion, and emphasized his approval of it by declaring that it would have been better for his country that America had never been known than that "a great consolidated western empire" should exist independent of Britain. Lyttleton, who seconded the motion, was equally uncompromising. He objected to making the Americans any further conciliatory offers, and insisted that they ought to be conquered first before mercy was shown them.
The issue thus fairly stated by and for the government immediately roused the old opposition, that "ardent and powerful opposition," as Gibbon, who sat in the Commons, describes it; and again the House echoed to attack and invective. Burke, Fox, Conway, Barre, Dunning, and others, who on former occasions had cheered America with their stout defence of her rights, were present at this session to resist any further attempt to impair them. Of the leading spirits, Chatham, now disabled from public service, alone was absent.
Lord John Cavendish led the way on this side, by moving a substitute for Ackland's address which breathed a more moderate spirit, and in effect suggested to his Majesty that the House review the whole of the late proceedings in the colonies, and apply, in its own way, the most effectual means of restoring order and confidence there. Of course this meant concession to America, and it became the signal for the opening of an impassioned debate. Wilkes, Lord Mayor of London, poured out a torrent of remonstrances against the conduct of the Ministry, who had precipitated the nation into "an unjust, ruinous, felonious, and murderous war." Sir Adam Fergusson, speaking less vehemently and with more show of sense, defended the government. Whatever causes may have brought on the troubles, the present concern with him was how to treat them as they then existed. There was but one choice, in his estimation—either to support the authority of Great Britain with vigor, or abandon America altogether. And who, he asked, would be bold enough to advise abandonment? The employment of force, therefore, was the only alternative; and, said the speaker, prudence and humanity required that the army sent out should be such a one as would carry its point and override opposition in every quarter—not merely beat the colonists, but "deprive them of all idea of resistance." Gov. Johnstone, rising in reply, reviewed the old questions at length, and in the course of his speech took occasion to eulogize the bravery of the provincials at Bunker Hill. It was this engagement, more than any incident of the war thus far, that had shown the determination of the "rebels" to fight for their rights; and their friends in Parliament presented it as a foretaste of what was to come, if England persisted in extreme measures. Johnstone besought the House not to wreak its vengeance upon such men as fought that day; for their courage was deserving, rather, of admiration, and their conduct of forgiveness. Honorable Temple Lutrell followed with an attack upon the "evil counsellors who had so long poisoned the ear of the Sovereign." Conway, who on this occasion spoke with his old fire, and held the close attention of the House, called for more information as to the condition of affairs in the colonies, and at the same time rejected the idea of reducing them to submission by force. Barre entered minutely into the particulars and results of the campaign since the 19th of April, as being little to England's credit, and urged the Ministry to embrace the present opportunity for an accommodation with America, or that whole country would be lost to them forever. Burke, in the same vein, represented the impolicy of carrying on the war, and advised the government to meet the colonists with a friendly countenance, and no longer allow Great Britain to appear like "a porcupine, armed all over with acts of Parliament oppressive to trade and America." Fox spoke of Lord North as "a blundering pilot," who had brought the nation into its present dilemma. Neither Lord Chatham nor the King of Prussia, not even Alexander the Great, he declared, ever gained more in one campaign than the noble lord had lost—he had lost an entire continent. While not justifying all the proceedings of the colonists, he called upon the Administration to place America where she stood in 1763, and to repeal every act passed since that time which affected either her freedom or her commerce. Wedderburne and Dunning, the ablest lawyers in the House, took opposite sides. The former, as Solicitor-General, threw the weight of his opinion in favor of rigorous measures, and hoped that an army of not less than sixty thousand men would be sent to enforce Parliamentary authority. Dunning, his predecessor in office, questioned the legality of the king's preparations for war without the previous consent of the Commons. Then, later in the debate, rose Lord North, the principal figure in the Ministry, and whom the Opposition held mainly responsible for the colonial troubles, and defended both himself and the king's address. Speaking forcibly and to the point, he informed the House that, in a word, the measures intended by the government were to send a powerful sea and land armament against the colonists, and at the same time to proffer terms of mercy upon a proper submission. "This," said the Minister, "will show we are in earnest, that we are prepared to punish, but are nevertheless ready to forgive; and this is, in my opinion, the most likely means of producing an honorable reconciliation."
But all the eloquence, reasoning and appeal of the Opposition failed to have any more influence now than in the earlier stages of the controversy, and it again found itself in a hopeless minority. Upon a division of the House, the king was supported by a vote of 278 to 110. The address presented to him closed with the words: "We hope and trust that we shall, by the blessing of God, put such strength and force into your Majesty's hands, as may soon defeat and suppress this rebellion, and enable your Majesty to accomplish your gracious wish of re-establishing order, tranquillity, and happiness through all parts of your United Empire." In the House of Lords, where Camden, Shelburne, Rockingham, and their compeers stood between America and the Ministry, the address was adopted by a vote of 69 to 33.
[Footnote 1: Outside of Parliament, all shades of opinion found expression through the papers, pamphlets, and private correspondence. Hume, the historian, wrote, October 27th, 1775: "I am an American in my principles, and wish we could let them alone, to govern or misgovern themselves as they think proper. The affair is of no consequence, or of little consequence to us." But he wanted those "insolent rascals in London and Middlesex" punished for inciting opposition at home. This would be more to the point than "mauling the poor infatuated Americans in the other hemisphere." William Strahan, the eminent printer, replied to Hume: "I differ from you toto coelo with regard to America. I am entirely for coercive methods with those obstinate madmen." Dr. Robertson, author of The History of America, wrote: "If our leaders do not exert the power of the British Empire in its full force, the struggle will be long, dubious, and disgraceful. We are past the hour of lenitives and half exertions." Early in 1776, Dr. Richard Price, the Dissenting preacher, issued his famous pamphlet on the Nature of Civil Liberty, the Principles of Government, and the Justice and Policy of the War, which had a great run. Taking sides with the colonists, he said: "It is madness to resolve to butcher them. Freemen are not to be governed by force, or dragooned into compliance. If capable of bearing to be so treated, it is a disgrace to be connected with them."]
This powerful endorsement of the king's policy by Parliament, however, cannot be taken as representing the sense of the nation at large. It may be questioned whether even a bare majority of the English people were ready to go to the lengths proposed in his Majesty's address. The Ministry, it is true, pointed to the numerous ratifying "addresses" that flowed in, pledging the support of towns and cities for the prosecution of the war. Some were sent from unexpected quarters. To the surprise of both sides and the particular satisfaction of the king, both Manchester and Sheffield, places supposed to be American in sentiment, came forward with resolutions of confidence and approval; and in ministerial circles it was made to appear that substantially all England was for coercion. But this claim was unfounded. As the king predicted, the loyal addresses provoked opposition addresses. Edinburgh and Glasgow, despite the efforts of their members, refused to address. Lynn was said to have addressed, but its members denied the assertion, and claimed that the war was unpopular in that town. The paper from Great Yarmouth was very thinly signed, while Bristol, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Dudley, and other places sent in counter-petitions against the war. The justices of Middlesex unanimously voted that it was expedient to reduce the colonies to a proper sense of their duty; but at a meeting of the freeholders of the same county, held at Mile-end, to instruct their members in Parliament, little unanimity prevailed, "much clamor arose," a protest was entered against the proposed resolutions, and only one of the sheriffs consented to sign them all. London, as the country well knew, sympathized largely with America, but in a manner which nullified her influence elsewhere. Her populace was noisy and threatening; Wilkes, her Lord Mayor, was hated at court; her solid men kept to business. "Are the London merchants," wrote the king to Lord North, "so thoroughly absorbed in their private interests not to feel what they owe to the constitution which has enriched them, that they do not either show their willingness to support, either by an address, or, what I should like better, a subscription, to furnish many comforts to the army in America?" An address from this quarter, signed by "respectable names," he thought might have a good effect, and one was presented on October 11th, with 941 signatures; but it was entirely neutralized by the presentation, three days before, of another address more numerously signed by "gentlemen, merchants, and traders of London," in which the measures of government were condemned. When the point was made in the Commons that the war was a popular measure in England, Lutrell promptly replied that he had made many a journey through the interior of the country during the summer season, and had conversed with "a multitude of persons widely different in station and description," only to find that the masses were in sympathy with the colonists. The division of sentiment was probably correctly represented by Lord Camden early in the year, in his observation that the landed interest was almost wholly anti-American, while the merchants, tradesmen, and the common people were generally opposed to a war.
[Footnote 2: "Correspondence with Lord North." Donne.]
[Footnote 3: Upon this point Dr. Price said: "Let it be granted, though probably far from true, that the majority of the kingdom favor the present measures. No good argument could be drawn from thence against receding."]
Having voted to push the war in earnest, Parliament proceeded to supply the sinews. On November 3d, Lord Barrington brought in the army estimates for 1776. Fifty-five thousand men, he reported, was the force necessary and intended to be raised for the purposes of the nation, the ordinary expense of maintaining which would be something over L1,300,000. Of these troops, twenty thousand would be retained to garrison Great Britain, ten thousand for the West Indies, Gibraltar, Minorca and the coast of Africa, while the actual force destined for America was to be increased to thirty-four battalions, each of 811 men, including two regiments of light horse, amounting, in the aggregate, to upwards of twenty-five thousand men. Barrington, at the same time, frankly acknowledged to the House that these figures showed well only on paper, as none of the regiments for America were complete, and, what was a still more unwelcome admission, that great difficulty was experienced in enlisting new recruits. Nothing, he said, had been left untried to secure them. The bounty had been raised and the standard lowered, and yet men were not forthcoming. Anticipating this dearth, he had warned the king of it as early as July, when the latter first determined to increase the army. "I wish, sir, most cordially," wrote this faithful secretary, "that the force intended for North America may be raised in time to be sent thither next spring; but I not only fear, but am confident, the proposed augmentation cannot possibly be raised, and ought not to be depended on."
Barrington was compelled to give an explanation of this state of things, for the point had been made in and out of Parliament that few recruits could be had in England, because the particular service was odious to the people in general. For the government to admit this would have been clearly fatal; and Barrington argued, per contra, that the scarcity of soldiers was to be traced to other and concurrent causes. The great influx of real and nominal wealth of recent years, the consequent luxury of the times, the very flourishing state of commerce and the manufactures, and the increased employment thus furnished to the lower classes, all contributed to keep men out of the army. Above all, it was represented that the true and natural cause was an actual lack of men, which was due chiefly to the late increase of the militia, who could not be called upon to serve except in extreme cases, and who were not available for the regular force. Barrington, a veteran in official service, true to the king, and justifying the war—though not at all clear as to the right of taxing the colonies—no doubt expressed his honest convictions in making this explanatory speech to the House. There was much, also, that was true in his words; but, whatever the absolute cause, the fact did not then, and cannot now escape notice, that in preparing to uphold the authority of Parliament, and preserve the integrity of her empire in America, Great Britain, in 1775, found it impossible to induce a sufficient number of her own subjects to take up arms in her behalf.
It remained, accordingly, to seek foreign aid. Europe must furnish England with troops, or the war must stop. The custom of employing mercenaries was ancient, and universally exercised on the Continent. Great Britain herself had frequently taken foreign battalions into her pay, but these were to fight a foreign enemy. It would be a thing new in her history to engage them to suppress fellow-Englishmen. But the king regarded war as war, and rebellion a heinous offence; and the character of the troops serving for him in this case became a secondary matter. A more serious question was where to get them. No assistance could be expected from France. Holland declined to lend troops to conquer men who were standing out for their rights on their own soil. In Prussia, Frederick the Great expressed the opinion that it was at least problematical whether America could be conquered, it being difficult to govern men by force at such a distance. "If you intend conciliation," he said in conversation to a party of Englishmen, "some of your measures are too rough; and if subjection, too gentle. In short, I do not understand these matters; I have no colonies. I hope you will extricate yourselves advantageously, but I own the affair seems rather perplexing."
[Footnote 4: "A View of Society and Manners in France, Switzerland, and Germany." By John Moore, M.D. Lond., 1786. Vol. V., Letter 75.]
Of all the European powers, Russia and the German principalities alone presented a possible field of encouragement. To the former, King George looked first; for England's friendly attitude had been of the greatest advantage to Russia in her campaigns against Turkey. The king, therefore, at an early date, gave directions that Gunning, the British Minister at Moscow, should approach the Empress Catherine on the subject of lending aid; and, on the proper occasion, Gunning held an interview with Panin, the Russian Prime Minister. Catherine promptly returned what appeared to be a very favorable reply. To use Gunning's own words communicating Russia's answer: "The empress had ordered him (Panin) to give the strongest assurances, and to express them in the strongest terms, of her entire readiness on this and all other occasions to give his Majesty every assistance he could desire, in whatever mode or manner he might think proper. She embraced with satisfaction this occasion of testifying her gratitude to the king and nation for the important services she had received in the late war—favors she the more valued and should not forget as they were spontaneously bestowed.... We were as fully entitled to every succor from her as if the strongest treaties subsisted."
[Footnote 5: Respecting sentiment in Europe on American affairs, the English traveller Moore wrote as follows from Vienna in 1775: "Our disputes with the colonies have been a prevailing topic of conversation wherever we have been since we left England. The warmth with which this subject is handled increases every day. At present the inhabitants of the Continent seem as impatient as those of Great Britain for news from the other side of the Atlantic; but with this difference, that here they are all of one mind—all praying for success to the Americans, and rejoicing in every piece of bad fortune which happens to our army."—Moore's View, etc. Letter 96.]
[Footnote 6: "History of England from the Accession of George III. to 1783." By J. Adolphus. Vol. II., p. 326.]
Greatly elated by this unequivocal tender of aid, King George wrote to the empress in his own hand, thanking her for the proffer; and Gunning at the same time was instructed to ask for twenty thousand Russians, and enter into a treaty formally engaging their services. If he could not secure twenty thousand, he was to get all he could. But Gunning's negotiations were to fail completely. To his surprise and chagrin, when he opened the subject of hiring Russian troops, the empress and Panin answered with dignity that it was impossible to accommodate him; that Russia's relations with Sweden, Poland, and Turkey were unsettled, and that it was beneath her station to interfere in a domestic rebellion which no foreign Power had recognized. This sudden change in Catherine's attitude, which without doubt was the result of court intrigue, filled the English king with mortification and disappointment, and compelled him to seek assistance where he finally obtained it—in the petty states of the "Hessian" princes.
[Footnote 7: Two views have been expressed in regard to this. The English historian Adolphus charges Frederick of Prussia and secret French agents with having changed Catherine's mind, and he gives apparently good authority for the statement. The secret seems to have been known in English circles very soon after Catherine's refusal. On November 10th Shelburne said in the House of Lords: "There are Powers in Europe who will not suffer such a body of Russians to be transported to America. I speak from information. The Ministers know what I mean. Some power has already interfered to stop the success of the Russian negotiation." Mr. Bancroft, on the other hand, concludes (Vol. V., Chap. L., Rev. Ed.) that "no foreign influence whatever, not even that of the King of Prussia, had any share in determining the empress;" and Vergennes is quoted as saying that he could not reconcile Catherine's "elevation of soul with the dishonorable idea of trafficking in the blood of her subjects." But since Catherine, four years later, in 1779, proposed to offer to give England effective assistance in America in order to be assured of her aid in return against the Turks, it may be questioned how far "elevation of soul" prompted the decision in 1775. (See Eaton's "Turkish Empire," p. 409.) In view of England's relations with most of the Continental Powers at that time, Shelburne and Adolphus have probably given the correct explanation of the matter.]
Success in this direction compensated in part for the Russian failure. What the British agent, Colonel Faucett, was able to accomplish, what bargains were struck to obtain troops, how much levy money was to be paid per man, and how much more if he never returned, is all a notorious record. From the Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel, Faucett hired twelve thousand infantry; from the Duke of Brunswick, three thousand nine hundred and a small body of cavalry; and from the reigning Count of Hanau, a corps six hundred and sixty strong. These constituted the "foreign troops" which England sent to America with her own soldiers for the campaign of 1776.
The plans for the campaign were laid out on a scale corresponding with the preparations. When Sir William Howe was sent out to reinforce General Gage at Boston, in the spring of 1775, it was assumed by the Ministry that operations would be confined to that quarter, and that if Massachusetts were once subdued there would be nothing to fear elsewhere. But the continued siege of Boston changed the military status. Howe was completely locked in, and could effect nothing. The necessity of transferring the seat of war to a larger field became apparent after Bunker Hill, and military plans were broached and discussed in the Cabinet, in the army, and in Parliament. Lord Barrington, who well knew that men enough could not be had from England to conquer the colonies, advocated operations by sea. An effective blockade of the entire American coast, depriving the colonists of their trade, might, in his view, bring them to terms. Mr. Innes, in the House, proposed securing a strong foothold in the south, below the Delaware, and shutting up the northern ports with the fleet. But the basis of the plan adopted appears to have been that suggested by Burgoyne at Boston in the summer of 1775, and by Howe in January, 1776. "If the continent," wrote the former to Lord Rochfort, Secretary of State for the Colonies, "is to be subdued by arms, his Majesty's councils will find, I am persuaded, the proper expedients; but I speak confidently as a soldier, because I speak the sentiments of those who know America best, that you can have no prospect of bringing the war to a speedy conclusion with any force that Great Britain and Ireland can supply. A large army of foreign troops such as might be hired, to begin their operations up the Hudson River; another army, composed partly of old disciplined troops and partly of Canadians, to act from Canada; a large levy of Indians, and a supply of arms for the blacks to awe the southern provinces, conjointly with detachments of regulars; and a numerous fleet to sweep the whole coast, might possibly do the business in one campaign." To Lord Dartmouth, Howe represented that with an army of twenty thousand men, twelve thousand of whom should hold New York, six thousand land on Rhode Island, and two thousand protect Halifax, with a separate force at Quebec, offensive operations could be pushed so as to put "a very different aspect" on the situation by the close of another year.
[Footnote 8: Fonblanque's Life of Burgoyne, p. 152.]
The plan as finally arranged was a modification of these two views. It was decided that Howe should occupy New York City with the main body of the army, and secure that important base; while Carleton, with Burgoyne as second in command, should move down from Canada to Ticonderoga and Albany. By concert of action on the part of these forces, New England could be effectually cut off from co-operation with the lower colonies, and the unity of their movements broken up. It was proposed at the same time to send an expedition under Lord Cornwallis and Admiral Parker, to obtain a footing in Virginia or either of the Carolinas, and encourage the loyal element in the South to organize, and counteract the revolt in that quarter. By carrying out this grand strategy, King George and his advisers confidently expected to end all resistance in America at one blow.
Thus Great Britain, instead of attempting to recover her authority over the colonists by a candid recognition of privileges which they claimed as Englishmen, resolved in 1775 to enforce it. The government went to war, with the nation's wealth and influence at its back, but with only half its popular sympathies and moral support. Parliament refused to listen to the appeals of its ablest members to try the virtues of concession and conciliation. A heavy war budget was voted, the Continent of Europe was ransacked for troops which could not be enlisted in England, and every effort made to insure the complete submission of the colonies in 1776.
* * * * *
How America prepared to meet the coming storm is properly the subject of the succeeding chapter of this work. But we find her in no position in 1775 to assume the character of a public enemy towards the mother country. She still claimed to be a petitioner to the king for the redress of grievances. If she had taken up arms, it was simply in self-defence, and these she was ready to lay down the moment her rights were acknowledged. A revolution, involving separation from England, was not thought of by the mass of the American people at this time. The most they hoped for was, that by offering a stout resistance to an enforcement of the ministerial policy they could eventually compel a change in that policy, and enjoy all that they demanded under the British constitution. Towards the close of the year, however, when the intelligence came that the king had ignored the last petition from Congress, and had proposed extreme war measures, the colonists felt that serious work was before them. Independence now began to be more generally discussed; Washington's troops were re-enlisted for service through the following year, and Congress took further steps for the common defence.
Future military operations were necessarily dependent on the plans to be developed by the British. But as the siege of Boston progressed, it became obvious that that point at least could not be made a base for the ensuing campaign. No other was more likely to be selected by the enemy than New York; and to New York the war finally came.
The topography of this new region, the transfer to it of the two armies, and the preparations made for its defence by the Americans, next claim attention.
FORTIFYING NEW YORK AND BROOKLYN.
New York City, in 1776, lay at the end of Manhattan Island, in shape somewhat like an arrow-head, with its point turned towards the sea and its barbs extended at uneven lengths along the East and Hudson rivers. It occupied no more space than is now included within the five lower and smallest of its twenty-four wards. Excepting a limited district laid out on the east side, in part as far as Grand street, the entire town stood below the line of the present Chambers street, and covered an area less than one mile square. Then, as now, Broadway was its principal thoroughfare. Shaded with rows of trees, and lined mainly with residences, churches, and public-houses, it stretched something more than a mile to the grounds of the old City Hospital, near Duane street. Its starting-point was the Battery at the end of the island, but not the Battery of to-day; for, under the system of "harbor encroachments," the latter has more than trebled in size, and is changed both in its shape and its uses. The city defences at that time occupied the site. Here at the foot of Broadway old Fort George had been erected upon the base of the older Fort Amsterdam, to guard the entrance to the rivers, and with its outworks was the only protection against an attack by sea. It was a square bastioned affair, with walls of stone, each face eighty feet in length, and within it stood magazines, barracks, and, until destroyed by fire, the mansion of the colonial governors. For additional security, about the time of the French war, an extensive stone battery, with merlons of cedar joists, had been built just below the fort along the water's edge, enclosing the point from river to river, and pierced for ninety-one pieces of cannon.
[Footnote 9: The site of Fort George is now covered in part by the buildings at the west corner of the Bowling Green block, where the steamship companies have their offices. South and west of this point the Battery is almost entirely made-land. (Compare Ratzer's map of 1767 with the maps recently compiled by the New York Dock Department.) As to other old defences of the city, Wm. Smith, the historian, writing about 1766, says: "During the late war a line of palisadoes was run from Hudson's to the East River, at the other end of the city [near the line of Chambers street], with block-houses at small distances. The greater part of these still remain as a monument of our folly, which cost the province about L8000."]
At this period, the city represented a growth of one hundred and sixty years. Give it a population of twenty-five thousand souls—more rather than less—and line its streets with four thousand buildings, and we have its census statistics approximately. The linear characteristics of the old town are still sharply preserved. Upon the west side, the principal streets running to the North River—Chambers, Warren, Murray, Barclay, Vesey, Dey, and Cortlandt—retain their names and location; but the water-line was then marked by Greenwich street. The present crowded section to the west of it, including Washington and West streets and the docks, is built on new ground, made within the century. Behind Trinity Church, and as far down as the Battery, the shore rose to a very considerable bluff. Necessarily, much the greater part of the city then lay east of Broadway. The irregular streets to be found on this side are relics of both the Dutch and English foundation; of their buildings, however, as they stood in 1776, scarcely one remains at the present time. New streets have been built on the East River as well as on the North, materially changing the water boundary of this part of the island. Front and South streets had no existence at that date. On the line of Wall street, the city has nearly doubled in width since the Revolution.
[Footnote 10: The last census before the Revolution was taken in 1771, when the population of the city and county of New York was returned at 21,863. (Doc. Hist. of N.Y., Vol. I.) At the time of the war alarm, in 1775, this total must have risen to full 25,000. Philadelphia's population was somewhat larger; Boston's, less.]
Before its contraction, and in view of its convenience and protection from storms, the East River was the harbor proper of New York. Most of the docks were on that side, and just above Catherine street lay the ship-yards, where at times, in colonial days, an eight-hundred-ton West Indiaman might be seen upon the stocks.
What is now the City Hall Park was called in 1776 "the Fields," or "The Common." The site of the City Hall was occupied by the House of Correction; the present Hall of Records was the town jail, and the structure then on a line with them at the corner of Broadway was the "Bridewell." The City Hall of that day stood in Wall street, on the site of the present Custom-House, and King's, now Columbia, College in the square bounded by Murray, Barclay, Church, and West Broadway. Queen, now Pearl, was the principal business street; fashion was to be found in the vicinity of the Battery, and Broad and Dock streets; the Vauxhall Gardens were at the foot of Reade; and to pass out of town, one would have to turn off Broadway into Chatham street, which extended through Park Row, and keep on to the Bowery.
John Adams has left us a brief description of New York, as he saw it when passing through to the first Congress at Philadelphia in 1774, in company with Cushing, Paine, and Samuel Adams. His diary runs:
"Saturday, Aug. 20.—Lodged at Cock's, at Kingsbridge, a pretty place.... Breakfasted at Day's [127th street], and arrived in the city of New York at ten o'clock, at Hull's, a tavern, the sign the Bunch of Grapes. We rode by several very elegant country-seats before we came to the city.... After dinner, Mr. McDougall and Mr. Platt came, and walked with us to every part of the city. First we went to the fort, where we saw the ruins of that magnificent building, the Governor's house [burned Dec. 29, 1773]. From the Parade, before the fort, you have a fine prospect of Hudson River, and of the East River, or the Sound, and of the harbor; of Long Island, beyond the Sound River, and of New Jersey beyond Hudson's River. The walk round this fort is very pleasant, though the fortifications are not strong. Between the fort and the city is a beautiful ellipsis of land [Bowling Green], railed in with solid iron, in the centre of which is a statue of his majesty on horseback, very large, of solid lead gilded with gold, standing on a pedestal of marble, very high. We then walked up the Broad Way, a fine street, very wide, and in a right line from one end to the other of the city. In this route we saw the old Church and the new Church [Trinity]. The new is a very magnificent building—cost twenty thousand pounds, York currency. The prison is a large and a handsome stone building; there are two sets of barracks. We saw the New York College, which is also a large stone building. A new hospital is building, of stone. We then walked down to a shipyard. Then we walked round through another street, which is the principal street of business. Saw the several markets. After this we went to the coffee-house, which was full of gentlemen; read the newspapers, etc.... The streets of this town are vastly more regular and elegant than those in Boston, and the houses are more grand, as well as neat. They are almost all painted, brick buildings and all."
Other glimpses we get from English sources. The traveler Smyth, while visiting this city during the British occupation, has this to say: "Nothing can be more delightful than the situation of New York, commanding a variety of the most charming prospects that can be conceived. It is built chiefly upon the East River, which is the best and safest harbour, and is only something more than half a mile wide. The North River is better than two miles over to Powles Hook, which is a strong work opposite to New York, but is exposed to the driving of the ice in winter, whereby ships are prevented from lying therein during that season of the year. The land on the North River side is high and bold, but on the East River it gradually descends in a beautiful declivity to the water's edge.... Amongst the multitude of elegant seats upon this island, there are three or four uncommonly beautiful, viz., Governor Elliot's, Judge Jones's, Squire Morris's, and Mr. Bateman's. And opposite, upon the Continent, just above Hell-gates, there is a villa named Morrisania, which is inferior to no place in the world for the beauties, grandeur, and extent of perspective, and the elegance of its situation." Eddis, who had been compelled to leave Maryland on account of his loyal sentiments, was hardly less impressed with the city's appearance when he stopped here on his way to England in 1777. "The capital of this province," he wrote, August 16th, "is situated on the southern extremity of the island; on one side runs the North, and on the other the East River, on the latter of which, on account of the harbour, the city is principally built. In several streets, trees are regularly planted, which afford a grateful shelter during the intense heat of the summer. The buildings are generally of brick, and many are erected in a style of elegance.... Previous to the commencement of this unhappy war, New York was a flourishing, populous, and beautiful town.... Notwithstanding the late devastation [fire of 1776], there are still many elegant edifices remaining, which would reflect credit on any metropolis in Europe."
[Footnote 11: "A Tour in the United States," etc. By J.F.D. Smyth. London, 1784.]
[Footnote 12: "Letters from America, 1769-1777." By Wm. Eddis. London.]
Beyond the limits of the city, Manhattan Island retained much of its primitive appearance. Roads, farms, country-seats, interspersed it, but not thickly; and as yet the salient features were hills, marshes, patches of rocky land, streams, and woods. Just upon the outskirts, midway between the rivers, at about the corner of Grand and Centre Streets, the ground rose to a commanding elevation on the farm of William Bayard, which overlooked the city and the island above a distance of more than three miles. Further east, a little north of the intersection of Grand and Division Streets, stood another hill, somewhat lower, where Judge Jones lived, from which opened an extensive view of the East River and harbor. On the west side, on this line, the surface sank from Bayard's mount into a spreading marsh as far as the Hudson, and over which now run portions of Canal and Grand and their cross streets. Where we have the Tombs and surrounding blocks, stood the "Fresh Water" lake or "Collect," several fathoms deep, with high sloping banks on the north and west, and on whose surface were made the earliest experiments in steam navigation in 1796.
One nearly central highway, known as the King's Bridge or Post Road, ran the entire length of the island. Where it left the city at Chatham Square, it was properly the Bowerie or Bowery Lane. Continuing along the present street by this name, it fell off into the line of Fourth Avenue as far as Fourteenth Street, crossed Union Square diagonally to Broadway, and kept the course of the latter to Madison Square at Twenty-third Street. Crossing this square, also diagonally, the road stretched along between Fourth and Second Avenues to Fifty-third Street, passed east of Second Avenue, and then turning westerly entered Central Park at Ninety-second Street. Leaving the Park at a hollow in the hills known as "McGowan's Pass," just above the house of Andrew McGowan, on the line of One Hundred and Seventh Street, west of Fifth Avenue, it followed Harlem Lane to the end of the island. Here, on the other side of King's Bridge, then "a small wooden bridge," the highway diverged easterly to New England and northerly to Albany.
[Footnote 13: "King's Bridge, which joins the northern extremity of this island to the continent, is only a small wooden bridge, and the country around is mountainous, rocky, broken, and disagreeable, but very strong."—Smyth's Tour, etc., vol. ii., p. 376.]
This portion of the island above the city was known as its "Out-ward," and had been divided at an early date into three divisions, under the names of the Bowery, Harlem, and Bloomingdale divisions. Each contained points of settlement. The Bowery section included that part of the city laid out near Fresh Water Pond and around Chatham Square below Grand Street, and the stretch of country above beyond the line of Twenty-third Street. In this division were to be found some of the notable residences and country-seats of that day. James De Lancey's large estate extended from the Bowery to the East River, and from Division nearly to the line of Houston Street. The Rutgers' Mansion stood attractively on the slopes of the river bank about the line of Montgomery Street, and above De Lancey's, on the Bowery, were the De Peysters, Dyckmans, and Stuyvesants.
The Harlem division of the Out-ward, with which are associated some of the most interesting events of 1776, included what is now known as Harlem, with the island above it as far as King's Bridge. Dutch farmers had settled here a hundred years before the Revolution. As early as 1658, the Director-General and Council of New Netherland gave notice that "for the further promotion of Agriculture, for the security of this Island, and the cattle pasturing thereon, as well as for the greater recreation and amusement of this city of Amsterdam in New Netherland, they have resolved to form a New Village or Settlement at the end of the Island, and about the lands of Jochem Pietersen, deceased, and those which adjoin thereto." The first settlers were to receive lots to cultivate, be furnished with a guard of soldiers, and allowed a ferry across the Harlem River, for "the better and greater promotion of neighborly correspondence with the English of the North." In 1776, the division was interspersed with houses and fields, especially in the stretch of plains or flat land just above One Hundred and Tenth Street, and from the East River to the line of Ninth Avenue. The church and centre of the village were on the east side, in the vicinity of One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street, and the old road by which they were reached from the city branched off from the main highway at McGowan's Pass.
[Footnote 14: Laws and Ordinances of New Netherlands.]
Bloomingdale was a scattered settlement, containing nearly all the houses to be found along the Bloomingdale Road, but the name appears to have identified principally the upper section beyond Fiftieth Street. Here lived the Apthorpes at Ninety-second Street; the Strikers, Joneses, and Hogelands above; and, lower down, the Somerindykes and Harsens. As fixed by law, at that time, this road started from the King's Bridge Road, at the house of John Horn, now the corner of Twenty-third Street and Fifth Avenue, and followed the line of the present Broadway and the recent Bloomingdale Road to the farm of Adrian Hogeland, at One Hundred and Eighth Street. Nearly on a line with Hogeland, but considerably east of him, lived Benjamin Vandewater; and these two were the most northerly residents in the division.
[Footnote 15: The caption to the act in the case passed 1751, and remaining unchanged in 1773, reads: "An Act for mending and keeping in Repair the publick Road or Highway, from the House of John Horne, in the Bowry Division of the Out-ward of the City of New York, through the Bloomendale Division in the said ward, to the house of Adrian Hoogelandt."]
Still another suburb of the city was the village of Greenwich, overlooking the Hudson on the west side, in the vicinity of Fourteenth Street, to which the Greenwich Road, now Greenwich Street, led along the river bank in nearly a straight line. The road above continued further east about as far as Forty-fifth Street, and there connected, by a lane running south-westerly, with the Bloomingdale Road at Forty-third Street. Among the country-seats in this village were those of the Jeaunceys, Bayards, and Clarkes; and above, at Thirty-third Street and Ninth Avenue, stood the ample and conspicuous residence of John Morin Scott, one of the leading lawyers of the city, and a powerful supporter of the American cause.
Across the East River, the "Sister City" of Brooklyn in 1776 was as yet invisible from New York. A clump of low buildings at the old ferry, and an occasional manor-seat, were the only signs of life apparent on that side. Columbia Heights, whose modern blocks and row of wharves and bonded stores suggest commercial activity alone, caught the eye a century ago as "a noble bluff," crowned with fields and woods, and meeting the water at its base with a shining beach. The parish or village proper was the merest cluster of houses, nestled in the vicinity of the old Dutch church, which stood in the middle of the road a little below Bridge Street. The road was the King's highway, and it ran from Fulton Ferry—where we have had a ferry for two hundred and forty years at least—along the line of Fulton Street, and on through Jamaica to the eastern end of Long Island. Besides the settlements that had grown up at these two points—the church and the ferry, which were nearly a mile and a half apart—a village centre was to be found at Bedford, further up the highway, another in the vicinity of the Wallabout, and still another, called Gowanus, along the branch road skirting the bay. These all stood within the present municipal limits of Brooklyn.
As it had been for more than a century before, the population on the Long Island side was largely Dutch at the time of the Revolution. The first-comers, in 1636 and after, introduced themselves to the soil and the red man as the Van Schows, the Cornelissens, the Manjes, and the like—good Walloon patronimics—and the Dutch heritage is still preserved in the names of old families, and even more permanently in the name of the place itself; for the word Brooklyn is but the English corruption of Breukelen, the ancient Holland village of which our modern city appears to have been the namesake. Smyth, the English traveler, makes the general statement towards the close of the Revolution, that two thirds of the inhabitants of Long Island, especially those on the west end, were of Dutch extraction, who continued "to make use of their customs and language in preference to English," which, however, they also understood. "The people of King's County [Brooklyn]," he says, "are almost entirely Dutch. In Queen's County, four fifths of the people are so likewise, but the other fifth, and all Suffolk County, are English as they call themselves, being from English ancestors, and using no other language." Major Baurmeister, one of the officers of the Hessian division which participated in the battle of Long Island, leaves us something more than statistics in the case. He appears to have noted every thing with lively appreciation. To a friend in Germany, for instance, we find him writing as follows: "The happiness of the inhabitants, whose ancestors were all Dutch, must have been great; genuine kindness and real abundance is everywhere; any thing worthless or going to ruin is nowhere to be perceived. The inhabited regions resemble the Westphalian peasant districts; upon separate farms the finest houses are built, which are planned and completed in the most elegant fashion. The furniture in them is in the best taste, nothing like which is to be seen with us, and besides so clean and neat, that altogether it surpasses every description. The female sex is universally beautiful and delicately reared, and is finely dressed in the latest European fashion, particularly in India laces, white cotton and silk gauzes; not one of these women but would consider driving a double team the easiest of work. They drive and ride out alone, having only a negro riding behind to accompany them. Near every dwelling-house negroes (their slaves) are settled, who cultivate the most fertile land, pasture the cattle, and do all the menial work." That the English element, however, had crept in to a considerable extent around Brooklyn at this time, is a matter of record.
[Footnote 16: The Hon. Henry C. Murphy, who visited this place in 1859, says of it: "The town lies in the midst of a marshy district, and hence its name; for Breukelen—pronounced Brurkeler—means marsh land." "There are some curious points of coincidence," continues Mr. Murphy, "both as regards the name and situation of the Dutch Breukelen and our Brooklyn. The name with us was originally applied exclusively to the hamlet which grew up along the main road now embraced within Fulton Avenue, and between Smith Street and Jackson Street; and we must, therefore, not confound it with the settlements at the Waalebought, Gowanus, and the Ferry, now Fulton Ferry, which were entirely distinct, and were not embraced within the general name of Brooklyn, until after the organization of the township of that name by the British Colonial Government. Those of our citizens who remember the lands on Fulton Avenue near Nevins Street and De Kalb Avenue before the changes which were produced by the filling-in of those streets, will recollect that their original character was marshy and springy, being in fact the bed of the valley which received the drain of the hills extending on either side of it from the Waalebought to Gowanus Bay. This would lead to the conclusion that the name was given on account of the locality; but though we have very imperfect accounts as to who were the first settlers of Brooklyn proper, still, reasoning from analogy in the cases of New Utrecht and New Amersfoort, we cannot probably err in supposing that Brooklyn owes its name to the circumstance that its first settlers wished to preserve in it a memento of their homes in Fatherland. After the English conquest, there was a continual struggle between the Dutch and English orthography.... Thus it is spelled Breucklyn, Breuckland, Brucklyn, Broucklyn, Brookland, Brookline, and several other ways. At the end of the last century it settled down into the present Brooklyn. In this form it still retains sufficiently its original signification of the marsh or brook land."—Stiles' History of Brooklyn, vol. i., App. 4.]
[Footnote 17: Part II., Document 33. On the other hand, some later English descriptions are not as pleasant; but the wretchedness the writers saw during the war was what the war had caused.]
The topography of this section of Long Island was peculiar, presenting strong contrasts of high and low land. Originally, and indeed within the memory of citizens still living, that part of Brooklyn lying south and west of the line of Nevins Street was practically a peninsula, with the Wallabout Bay or present Navy Yard on one side of the neck, and on the other, a mile across, the extensive Gowanus creek and marsh, over which now run Second, Third, and Fourth Avenues. The creek set in from the bay where the Gowanus Canal is retained, and rendered the marsh impassable at high-water as far as the line of Baltic Street. Blocks of buildings now stand on the site of mills that were once worked by the ebb and flow of the tides. The lower part of what is known as South Brooklyn was largely swamp land in 1776. Here the peninsula terminated in a nearly isolated triangular piece of ground jutting out into the harbor, called Red Hook, which figured prominently in the military operations. From this projection to the furthest point on the Wallabout was a distance of three miles, and the scenery along the bank presented a varied and attractive appearance to the resident of New York. The "heights" rose conspicuously in all the beauty of their natural outline; lower down the shore might be seen a quaint Dutch mill or two; on the bluffs opposite the Battery, the mansions of Philip and Robert Livingston were prominent; and not far from where the archway crosses Montague Street stood the Remsen and, nearer the ferry, the Colden and Middagh residences. From every point of view the perspective was rural and inviting.
[Footnote 18: In describing some of the characteristic features of Long Island, Smyth, the traveler already quoted, mentions what seemed to him "two very extraordinary places." "The first," he says, "is a very dangerous and dreadful strait or passage, called Hell-Gates, between the East River and the Sound; where the two tides meeting cause a horrible whirlpool, the vortex of which is called the Pot, and drawing in and swallowing up every thing that approaches near it, dashes them to pieces upon the rocks at the bottom.... Before the late war, a top-sail vessel was seldom ever known to pass through Hell-Gates; but since the commencement of it, fleets of transports, with frigates for their convoy, have frequently ventured and accomplished it; the Niger, indeed, a very fine frigate of thirty-two guns, generally struck on some hidden rock, every time she attempted this passage. But what is still more extraordinary, that daring veteran, Sir James Wallace, to the astonishment of every person who ever saw or heard of it, carried his Majesty's ship, the Experiment, of fifty guns, safe through Hell-Gates, from the east end of the Sound to New York; when the French fleet under D'Estaing lay off Sandy Hook, and blocked up the harbor and city of New York, some ships of the line being also sent by D'Estaing round the east end of Long Island to cruise in the Sound for the same purpose, so that the Experiment must inevitably have fallen into their hands, had it not been for this bold and successful attempt of her gallant commander." The other spot was Hempstead Plains, which presented the "singular phenomenon," for America, of having no trees.]
Vastly changed to-day is all this region, which was now to be disturbed by the din and havoc of war. Its picturesqueness long since disappeared. Upon Manhattan Island, the city's push "uptown"-ward has been like the cut of a drawing knife, a remorseless process of levelling and "filling-in." Forty times in population and twenty in area has it expanded beyond the growth of 1776. Brooklyn is a new creation. Would its phlegmatic denizen of colonial times recognize the site of his farms or his mills? Even the good Whig ferryman, Waldron, might be at a loss to make out his bearings, for the green banks of the East River have vanished, and its points become confused. The extent of its contraction he could learn from the builders of the bridge, who have set the New York pier eight hundred feet out from the high-water mark of 1776, and the Brooklyn pier two hundred or more, narrowing the stream at that point to a strait of but sixteen hundred feet in width.
* * * * *
The first active steps looking to the occupation of New York were taken by the Americans early in January of this year. Reports had reached Washington's headquarters that the British were fitting out an expedition by sea, whose destination was kept a profound secret. In Boston, rumors were afloat that it was bound for Halifax or Rhode Island. In reality it was the expedition with which Sir Henry Clinton was to sail to North Carolina, and there meet Cornwallis, from England, to carry out the southern diversion. Ignorant of the British plans, and suspecting that Clinton might suddenly appear at New York, Washington on the 4th of January called the attention of Congress to the movement, and suggested that it would be "consistent with prudence" to have some New Jersey troops thrown into the city to prevent the "almost irremediable" evil which would follow its occupation by the enemy. Two days later, General Charles Lee, holding rank in the American army next to Washington, pressed a plan of his own, to the effect that he be sent himself by the commander-in-chief to secure New York, and that the troops for the purpose (there being none to spare from the force around Boston) be hastily raised in Connecticut. This was approved at headquarters, and on the 8th inst. Lee received instructions as follows:
"Having undoubted intelligence of the fitting out of a fleet at Boston, and of the embarkation of troops from thence, which, from the season of the year and other circumstances, must be destined for a southern expedition; and having such information as I can rely on, that the inhabitants, or a great part of them, on Long Island in the colony of New York, are not only inimical to the rights and liberties of America, but by their conduct and public professions have discovered a disposition to aid and assist in the reduction of that colony to ministerial tyranny; and as it is a matter of the utmost importance to prevent the enemy from taking possession of the City of New York and the North River, as they will thereby command the country, and the communication with Canada—it is of too much consequence to hazard such a post at so alarming a crisis....
"You will therefore, with such volunteers as are willing to join you, and can be expeditiously raised, repair to the City of New York, and calling upon the commanding officer of the forces of New Jersey for such assistance as he can afford, and you shall require, you are to put that city into the best posture of defence which the season and circumstances will admit, disarming all such persons upon Long Island and elsewhere (and if necessary otherwise securing them), whose conduct and declarations have rendered them justly suspected of designs unfriendly to the views of Congress.... I am persuaded I need not recommend dispatch in the prosecution of this business. The importance of it alone is a sufficient incitement."
[Footnote 19: Washington had some misgivings as to his authority to assume military control of New York, and he sought the advice of John Adams, who was then at Watertown. The latter replied without hesitation that under his commission as commander-in-chief he had full authority. To President Hancock, Washington wrote: "I hope the Congress will approve of my conduct in sending General Lee upon this expedition. I am sure I mean it well, as experience teaches us that it is much easier to prevent an enemy from posting themselves, than it is to dislodge them after they have got possession."]
Washington wrote at the same time to Governor Trumbull, of Connecticut, Colonel Lord Stirling, of New Jersey, and the New York Committee of Safety, urging them to give Gen. Lee all the assistance in their power.
Lee, who had been an officer in the British army, serving at one time under Burgoyne in Portugal, had already established a reputation for himself in Washington's camp as a military authority, and enjoyed the full confidence of the commander-in-chief, despite certain eccentricities of manner and an over-confidence in his own judgment and experience. The defects and weaknesses of his character, which eventually brought him into disgrace as a soldier, were not as yet displayed or understood. At the present time he was eager to be of essential service to the colonies, and he entered into the New York project with spirit. In Connecticut the governor promptly seconded his efforts, by calling out two regiments of volunteers to serve for six weeks under the general, and appointed Colonels David Waterbury, of Stamford, and Andrew Ward, of Guilford, to their command. By the 20th, Lee found himself ready to proceed; but while on his way, near Stamford, he received a communication from the Committee of Safety at New York, representing that the rumors of his coming had created great alarm in the city, and earnestly requesting him to halt his troops on the Connecticut border, until his object were better known to the committee. Here was something of a dilemma, and it may be asked how it should have arisen. Why, indeed, was it necessary to organize a force outside of New York to secure it? Was not this the time for the city to prepare for her defence, and welcome assistance from whatever quarter offered? The answer is to be found in the exceptional political temperament of New York at this time. Her population contained a large and powerful loyalist element, which hoped, with the assistance of the three or four British men-of-war then in the harbor, to be able to give the place, at the proper moment, into the hands of the king's troops. Only a short time before, Governor Tryon had informed Howe that it only needed the presence of a small force to secure it, and develop a strong loyal support among the inhabitants of both the city and colony. The patriotic party had abated none of its zeal, but it recognized the danger of precipitating matters, and accordingly pursued what appeared to colonists elsewhere to be a temporizing and timid policy, but which proved the wisest course in the end. The city was at the mercy of the men-of-war. Any attempt to seize it could be answered with a bombardment. The situation required prudent management; above all, it required delay on the part of the Americans until they were ready for a decisive step. That the Committee of Safety was thoroughly true to the country, no one can doubt a moment after reading their daily proceedings. In their letter to Lee they say: "This committee and the Congress whose place we fill in their recess, are, we flatter ourselves, as unanimously zealous in the cause of America as any representative body on the continent: so truly zealous, that both the one and the other will cheerfully devote this city to sacrifice for advancing that great and important cause." But knowing the state of affairs in their midst better than others, they urged caution instead of haste in bringing the war to New York. In this case, they informed Lee that no works had been erected in the city, that they had but little powder, that they were sending out ships for more without molestation from the men-of-war, their object being kept secret, and that a general alarm then in the dead of winter, driving women and children into the country, would work great distress. "For these reasons," continue the committee, "we conceive that a just regard to the public cause, and our duty to take a prudent care of this city, dictate the impropriety of provoking hostilities at present, and the necessity of saving appearances with the ships of war till at least the month of March. Though we have been unfortunate in our disappointments with respect to some of our adventures, yet be assured, sir, we have not been idle. Our intrenching tools are almost completed to a sufficient number; we are forming a magazine of provisions for five thousand men for a month in a place of safety, and at a convenient distance from this city; we have provided ourselves with six good brass field-pieces; have directed carriages to be made for our other artillery, and are raising a company of artillery for the defence of the colony on the Continental establishment. These things, when accomplished, with other smaller matters, and with the arrival of some gunpowder, the prospect of which is not unpromising, will enable us to face our enemies with some countenance." Lee, with due consideration, replied to the committee that he should comply with their request about the troops, and do nothing that could endanger the city.
It was not until the 4th of February that the general entered New York. On the same day Clinton arrived in the harbor from Boston, with his southern expedition, but only to make a brief stay. The coming of these officers threw the city into great excitement. Many of the inhabitants expected an immediate collision, and began to leave the place. One Garish Harsin, writing from New York to William Radclift at Rhyn Beck, sums up in a single sentence the effect of the harbor news: "It is impossible to describe the confusion the place was in on account of the regulars being come." And when rumors magnified Clinton's two or three transports into a British fleet of nineteen sail, Harsin informs his friend that the people were taking themselves out of town "as if it were the Last Day." Pastor Shewkirk, of the Moravian Church, in his interesting diary of passing events, tells us that "the inhabitants began now to move away in a surprising manner," and that "the whole aspect of things grew frightful, and increased so from day to day." To add to the discomfort and suffering of the people, the weather was very cold, and the rivers full of ice.
[Footnote 20: "New York in the Revolution." Published by the New York Mercantile Library Association.]
[Footnote 21: Part II., Document 37.]
The Committee of Safety, in their anxiety as to the effect of Lee's occupation of the city, had already written to the Continental Congress on the subject, and that body at once sent up a committee, consisting of Messrs. Harrison, Lynch, and Allen, to advise with Lee and the New York Committee. The latter accepted the situation, consented to the entry of the troops into town, and at a conference with Lee and the Congress Committee on the 6th, agreed to the immediate prosecution of defensive measures.
Upon his arrival, the general sent his engineer, Captain William Smith, "an excellent, intelligent, active officer," to survey and report upon the salient points of the position, especially around Hell Gate and on Long Island. Lee and Stirling also went over the ground several times. As a result of these inspections, the general became convinced that to attempt a complete defence of the city would be impracticable, because the ample sea-room afforded by the harbor and rivers gave the enemy every advantage, enabling them, with their powerful fleet, to threaten an attack in front and flank. Lee saw this at once, and reported his views to Washington, February 19th. "What to do with the city," he wrote, "I own, puzzles me. It is so encircled with deep navigable waters, that whoever commands the sea must command the town;" and to the New York Committee he said that it would be impossible to make the place absolutely secure. In view of this, he proposed to construct a system of defences that should have an alternative object, namely, that in case they should prove inadequate for the city's protection, they should at least be sufficient to prevent the enemy from securing a permanent foothold in it.
Under this plan, the line of the East River required the principal attention, as here it seemed possible to offer the best resistance to British attempts upon the city. First, to cut off the enemy's communication between the Sound and the river, it was proposed to blockade the passage at Hell Gate by a fort on Horn's Hook, at the foot of East Eighty-eighth Street, as well as by works opposite, on the present Hallet's Point. A further object of these forts was to secure safe transit between Long Island and New York. In the next place, batteries were planned for both sides of the river at its entrance into the harbor, where the city was chiefly exposed. On the New York side, a battery was located at the foot of Catherine Street at the intersection of Cherry, and where the river was narrowest. This was called Waterbury's Battery. To cover its fire a stronger work was ordered to be built on Rutgers' "first hill," just above, which was named Badlam's Redoubt, after Captain Badlam, then acting as Lee's chief artillery officer. Lower down a battery was sunk in a cellar on Ten Eyck's wharf, Coenties Slip, a short distance below Wall Street, and called Coenties Battery. These three, with part of the Grand Battery and Fort George, included all the works planned by Lee to guard the East River from the New York side.