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Chapter 10:

The war in the northern department.


while congress employed the summer in debates
Chap. X.} 1779.
on the conditions of peace, the compulsory inactivity of the British army at the north encouraged discontent and intrigues. There rose up in rivalry with Clinton a body styling themselves ‘the loyal associated refugees,’ who were impatient to obtain an independent organization under Tryon and William Franklin. Clinton wrote that his resources were insufficient for active operations: the refugees insisted that more alertness would crush the rebellion; they loved to recommend the employment of hordes of savages, and to prepare for confiscating the property of wealthy rebels by their execution or exile.

The Virginians, since the expulsion of Lord Dunmore, free from war within their own borders, were enriching themselves by the unmolested culture of tobacco, which was exported through the Chesapeake; or, when that highway was unsafe, by a short land [223] carriage to Albemarle Sound. On the ninth of May,

Chap. X.} 1779 May 9.
two thousand men under General Matthew, with fivehundred marines, anchored in Hampton Roads. The next day, after occupying Portsmouth and Norfolk, they burned every house but one in Suffolk county, and plundered or ruined all perishable property. The women and unarmed men were given over to violence and death. Parties from a sloop of war and privateers entered the principal waters of the Chesapeake, carried off or wasted stores of tobacco heaped on their banks, and burned the dwellings of the planters. Before the end of the month, the predatory expedition, having destroyed more than a hundred vessels, arrived at New York with seventeen prizes, and three thousand hogsheads of tobacco.

The legislature of Virginia, which was in session at Williamsburg during the invasion, retaliated by confiscating the property of British subjects within the commonwealth. An act of a previous session had directed debts due to British subjects to be paid into the loan office of the state. To meet the public exigencies, a heavy poll-tax was laid on all servants or slaves, as well as a tax payable in cereals, hemp, inspected tobacco, or the like commodities; and the issue of one million pounds in paper money was authorized. Every one who would serve at home or in the continental army during the war was promised a bounty of seven hundred and fifty dollars, an annual supply of clothing, and one hundred acres of land at the end of the war; pensions were promised to disabled soldiers and to the widows of those who should find their death in the service; half-pay for life was voted to the officers. Each division of the [224] militia was required to furnish for the service one

Chap. X.} 1779. May.
able-bodied man out of every twenty-five, to be drafted by fair and impartial lot.1

The law defining citizenship will be elsewhere explained; the code in which Jefferson, Wythe, and Pendleton adapted the laws of Virginia to reason, the welfare of the whole people, and the republican form of government, was laid before the legislature. The law of descents abolished the rights of primogeniture, and distributed real as well as personal property, equally among brothers and sisters. The punishment of death was forbidden, except for treason and murder. A bill was brought in to organize schools in every county, at the expense of its inhabitants, in proportion to the general tax-rates; but in time of war, and in the scattered state of the inhabitants, it was not possible to introduce a thorough system of universal education.

The preamble to the bill for establishing religious freedom, drawn by Jefferson, expressed the ideas of America: ‘that belief depends not on will, but follows evidence; that God hath created the mind free; that temporal punishment or civil incapacitations only beget hypocrisy and meanness; that the impious endeavor of fallible legislators and rulers to impose their own opinions on others hath established and maintained false religions; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion destroys all religious liberty; that truth is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and [225] debate: errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is

Chap. X.} 1779.
permitted freely to contradict them.’

It was therefore proposed to be enacted by the general assembly: ‘No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his belief; but all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion; and the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities. And we do declare that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind.’2

These enunciations of Jefferson on the freedom of conscience expressed the forming convictions of the people of the United States; the enactment was delayed that the great decree, which made the leap from an established church to the largest liberty of faith and public worship, might be adopted with all the solemnity of calm and careful deliberation and popular approval. Who would wish that a state which used its independent right of initiating and establishing laws by abolishing the privileges of primogeniture, by cutting off entails, by forbidding the slave-trade, and by presenting the principle of freedom in religion as the inherent and inalienable possession of spiritual being, should have remained without the attribute of original legislation?

The British expedition to the Chesapeake, after

May 30.
its return to New York, joined a detachment conducted by Clinton himself forty miles up the Hudson [226] to gain possession of Stony Point and Verplanck's
Chap. X.} 1779.
Point. The garrison withdrew from their unfinished work at Stony Point. The commander at Verplanck's Point, waiting to be closely invested by water, on the second of June made an inglorious surrender.3 The
June 2.
British fortified and garrisoned the two posts which commanded King's ferry, and left the Americans no line of communication between New York and New Jersey, south of the highlands.

A pillaging expedition, sent to punish the patriotism of Connecticut, was intrusted to Tryon. The fleet and transports arrived off New Haven; and, at two in the morning of the fifth of July, one party

July 5.
landed suddenly on the west of the town, another on the east. Everything was abandoned to plunder: vessels in the harbor, public stores, and the warehouses near the sound, were destroyed by fire. The soldiers, demoralized by license, lost all discipline,
and the next morning retired before the Connecticut militia, who left them no time to execute the intention of General Smith to burn the town. At East Haven, where Tryon commanded, dwelling-houses were fired, and cattle wantonly killed; but his troops were in like manner driven to their ships. Some unarmed inhabitants had been barbarously murdered, others carried away as prisoners. The British ranks were debased by the large infusion of convicts and vagabonds recruited from the jails of Germany.

On the afternoon of the seventh, the expedition

landed near Fairfield. The village, a century and a quarter old, situated near the water with a lovely [227] country for its background, contained all that was
Chap. X.} 1779. July 7.
best in a New England community,—a moral, welleducated, industrious people; modest affluence; wellordered homes; many freeholders as heads of families; all of unmixed lineage, speaking the language of the English bible. Early puritanism had smoothed its rugged features under the influence of a region so cheerful and benign; and an Episcopal church, that stood by the side of the larger meeting-house, proved their toleration. A parish so prospering, with inhabitants so cultivated, had not in that day its parallel in England. The husbandmen who came together were too few to withstand the unforeseen onslaught. The Hessians were the first who were let loose to plunder, and every dwelling was given up to be stripped. Just before the sun went down, the firing of houses began, and was kept up through the night with little opposition, amidst the vain ‘cries of distressed women and helpless children.’4 Early the next morning the conflagration was made general.
When at the return of night the retreat was sounded, the rear-guard, composed of Germans, set in flames the meeting-house and every private habitation that till then had escaped. At Green Farms, a meeting-house and all dwellings and barns were consumed.

On the eleventh, the British appeared before Nor-

walk, and burned its houses, barns, and places of public worship. Sir George Collier and Tryon, the British admiral and general, in their address to the inhabitants of Connecticut, said: ‘The existence of a single habitation on your defenceless coast ought [228] to be a constant reproof to your ingratitude.’5 The
Chap. X.} 1779. July.
British had already lost nearly a hundred and fifty men, but the survivors were gorged with plunder.

The town of New London was selected as the next victim; but Tryon was recalled to New York by a disaster which had befallen the British. No sooner had they strongly fortified themselves at Stony Point, than Washington, after ascertaining exactly the character of their works, formed a plan for carrying them by surprise. Wayne, of whom he made choice to lead the enterprise, undertook the perilous office with alacrity, and devised improvements in the method of executing the design.

Stony Point, a hill just below the highlands, projects into the Hudson, which surrounds three-fourths of its base; the fourth side was covered by a marsh over which there lay but one pathway; where the road joined the river, a sandy beach was left bare at low tide. The fort, which was furnished with heavy ordnance and garrisoned by six hundred men, crowned the hill. Half-way between the river and the fort there was a double row of abattis. Breastworks and strong batteries could rake any column which might advance over the beach and the marsh. From the river, vessels of war commanded the foot of the hill. Conducting twelve hundred chosen men in single file over mountains and through morasses and narrow passes, Wayne halted them at a distance of a mile and a half from the enemy, while with the principal officers he reconnoitred the works. About twenty minutes after twelve on the morning of the sixteenth,

the assault began, the troops placing their sole dependence [229] on the bayonet. Two advance parties of
Chap. X.} 1779. July. 16.
twenty men each, in one of which seventeen out of the twenty were killed or wounded, removed the abattis and other obstructions. Wayne, leading on a regiment, was wounded in the head, but, supported by his aids, still went forward. The two columns, heedless of musketry and grape-shot, gained the centre of the works nearly at the same moment. On the right Fleury struck the enemy's standard with his own hand, and was instantly joined by Stewart, who commanded the van of the left. British authorities declare that the Americans ‘would have been fully justified in putting the garrison to the sword;’ but continental soldiers scorned to take the lives of a vanquished foe begging for mercy, and ‘not one man was put to death but in fair combat.’ Of the Americans, but fifteen were killed; of the British, sixty-three; and five hundred and forty-three officers and privates were made prisoners. The war was marked by no more brilliant achievement.

The diminishing numbers of the troops with Washington not permitting him to hold Stony Point, the cannon and stores were removed and the works razed. Soon afterwards the post was reoccupied, but only for a short time, by a larger British garrison.

The enterprising spirit of Major Henry Lee, of Virginia, had already been applauded in general orders; and his daring proposal to attempt the fort at Paulus' Hook, now Jersey city, obtained the approval of Washington. The place was defended by a ditch, which made of it an island, and by lines of abattis, but was carelessly guarded. The party with Lee was undiscovered, until, in the morning of [230] the nineteenth of August before day, they plunged

Chap. X.} 1779. Aug. 19.
into the canal, then deep from the rising tide. Finding an entrance into the main work, and passing through a fire of musketry from block-houses, they gained the fort before the discharge of a single piece of artillery. This they achieved within sight of New York, and almost within the reach of its guns. After day-break they withdrew, taking with them one hundred and fifty-nine prisoners.

Moved by the massacres of Wyoming and Cherry Valley, congress, on the twenty-fifth of February, had directed Washington to protect the inland frontier and chastise the Seneca Indians. Of the two natural routes to their country, both now traversed by railroads, that of the Susquehanna was selected for three thousand men of the best continental troops, who were to rally at Wyoming; while one thousand or more of the men of New York were to move from the Mohawk river.

Before they could be ready, a party of five or six hundred men, led by Van Schaick and Willet, made a swift march of three days into the country of the Onondagas, and, without the loss of a man, destroyed their settlement.

The great expedition was more tardy. Its command, which Gates declined, devolved on Sullivan, to whom Washington in May gave repeatedly the

instruction: ‘Move as light as possible even from the first onset. Should time be lost in transporting the troops and stores, the provisions will be consumed, and the whole enterprise may be defeated. Reject every article that can be dispensed with; this is an extraordinary case, and requires extraordinary [231] attention.’6 Yet Sullivan made insatiable demands
Chap. X.} 1779.
on the government of Pennsylvania.

While he was wasting time in finding fault and writing strange theological essays, the British and Indian partisans near Fort Schuyler surprised and captured twenty-nine mowers. Savages under Macdonell laid waste the country on the west bank of the Susquehanna, till ‘the Indians,’ by his own report, ‘were glutted with plunder, prisoners, and scalps.’ Thirty miles of a closely settled country were burned. Brandt and his crew consumed with fire all the settlement of Minisink, one fort excepted. Over a party of a hundred and fifty men, by whom they were pursued, they gained the advantage, taking more than forty scalps7 and one prisoner.

The best part of the season was gone when Sullivan, on the last of July, moved from Wyoming. His arrival at Tioga sent terror to the Indians. Sev-

eral of their chiefs said to Colonel Bolton in council: ‘Why does not the great king, our father, assist us? Our villages will be cut off, and we can no longer fight his battles.’8

On the twenty-second of August, the day after he was joined by New York troops under General James

Aug. 22.
Clinton, Sullivan began his march up the Tioga into the heart of the Indian country. On the same day, Little David, a Mohawk chief, delivered a message from himself and the Six Nations to Haldimand, then governor of Canada: ‘Brother! for these three years past the Six Nations have been running a race against [232] fresh enemies, and are almost out of breath. Now
Chap. X.} 1779.
we shall see whether you are our loving strong brother, or whether you deceive us. Brother! we are still strong for the king of England, if you will show us that he is a man of his word, and that he will not abandon his brothers, the Six Nations.’9

The savages ran no risk of a surprise; for, during all the expedition, Sullivan, who delighted in the vanities of command, fired a morning and evening gun. On the twenty-ninth he opened a distant and useless

Aug. 29.
cannonade against breastworks which British rangers and men of the Six Nations—in all about eight hundred—had constructed at Newtown; and they took the warning to retire before a party which was sent against them could strike them in the rear.

The march into the country of the Senecas on the left extended to Genesee; on the right, detachments reached Cayuga lake. After destroying eighteen villages and their fields of corn, Sullivan, whose army had suffered for want of supplies, returned to New. Jersey. Meantime, a small party from Fort Pitt, under command of Colonel Brodhead, broke up the towns of the Senecas upon the upper branch of the Alleghany. The manifest inability of Great Britain to protect the Six Nations inclined them at last to desire neutrality.

In June the British general Maclean, who com-

manded in Nova Scotia, established a British post of six hundred men at what is now Castine, on Penobscot bay. To dislodge the intruders, the Massachusetts [233] legislature sent forth nineteen armed ships,
Chap. X.} 1779. June.
sloops, and brigs; two of them continental vessels, the rest privateers or belonging to the state. The flotilla carried more than three hundred guns, and was attended by twenty-four transports, having on board nearly a thousand men. So large an American armament had never put to sea. A noble public spirit roused all the towns on the coast, and they spared no sacrifice to ensure a victory. But the troops were commanded by an unskilled militia general; the chief naval officer was self-willed and incapable. Not till the twenty-fifth of July did the
July 25.
expedition enter Penobscot bay. The troops, who on the twenty-eighth gallantly effected their land-
ing, were too weak to carry the works of the British by storm; the commodore knew not how to use his mastery of the water; and, while a re-enforcement was on the way, on the fourteenth of August Sir
Aug. 14.
George Collier arrived in a sixty-four gun ship, attended by five frigates. Two vessels of war fell into his hands; the rest and all the transports fled up the river, and were burned by the Americans themselves who escaped through the woods. The British were left masters of the country east of the Penobscot.

Yet, notwithstanding this signal disaster, the main result of the campaign at the north promised success to America. For want of re-enforcements, Clinton had evacuated Stony Point and Rhode Island. All New England, west of the Penobscot, was free from an enemy. In western New York the Senecas had learned that the alliance with the English secured them gifts, but not protection. On the Hudson river the Americans had recovered the use of King's ferry, [234] and held all the country above it. The condition of

Chap. X.} 1779.
the American army was indeed more deplorable than ever. The winter set in early and with unwonted severity. Before the middle of December, and long before log huts could be built, the snow lay two feet deep in New Jersey, where the troops were cantoned; so that they saved themselves with difficulty from freezing by keeping up large fires. Continental money was valued at no more than thirty for one, and even at that rate the country people took it unwillingly. The credit of congress being exhausted, there could be no regularity in supplies. Sometimes the army was five or six days together without bread; at other times as many without meat; and, once or twice, two or three days without either. It must have been disbanded, but that such was the honor of the magistrates of New Jersey, such the good disposition of its people, that the requisitions made by the commander-in-chief on its several counties were punctually complied with, and in many counties exceeded. For many of the soldiers, the term of service expired with the year; and shorter enlistments, by which several states attempted to fill their quotas, were fatal to compactness and stability. Massachusetts offered a bounty of five hundred dollars to each of those who would enlist for three years or the war, and found few to accept the offer. The Americans wanted men and wanted money, and yet could not be subdued. An incalculable strength lay in reserve in the energy of the states and of their citizens individually. Though congress possessed no power of coercion, there could always be an appeal to the militia, who were the [235] people themselves; and their patriotism, however it
Chap. X.} 1779.
might seem to slumber, was prepared to show itself in every crisis of danger. The buoyancy of hope, and the readiness to make sacrifices for the public good, were never lost; and neither congress nor people harbored a doubt of their ultimate triumph. All accounts agree that, in the coldest winter of the century, the virtue of the army was put to the severest trial; and that their sufferings for want of food, and of clothes and blankets, were borne with the most heroic patience.

In this hour of affliction, Thomas Pownall, a member of parliament, who, from observation and research and long civil service in the central states and as governor of Massachusetts, knew the United States as thoroughly as any man in Britain, published in England, in the form of a memorial to the sovereigns of Europe, these results of his experience:—

‘The present crisis may be wrought into the great-

1780. Jan.
est blessing of peace, liberty, and happiness, which the world hath ever yet experienced.’ ‘The system of establishing colonies in various climates, to create a monopoly of the peculiar product of their labor, is at end.’ ‘It has advanced, and is every day advancing, with a steady and continually accelerating motion, of which there has never yet been any example in Europe.’ ‘Nature hath removed her far from the old world and all its embroiled interests and wrangling politics, without an enemy, or a rival, or the entanglement of alliances.’ ‘This new system has taken its equal station with the nations upon earth.’ ‘Negotiations are of no consequence, either [236] to the right or the fact.’ ‘The independence of
Chap. X.} 1780. Jan.
America is fixed as fate.’

‘The government of the new empire of America is liable, indeed, to many disorders; but it is young and strong, and will struggle by the vigor of internal healing principles of life against those evils, and surmount them. Its strength will grow with its years, and it will establish its constitution.’

‘Whether the West Indies are naturally parts of this North American communion, is a question of curious speculation, but of no doubt as to the fact. The European maritime powers may by force, perhaps for an age longer, preserve the dominion of these islands. The whole must in the course of events become parts of the great North American dominion.’

‘The continent of South America is much further advanced to a natural independence of Europe as to its state of supply, than the powers of Europe or its own inhabitants are conscious of.’ ‘Whatever sovereignty the Spanish monarch holds is a mere tenure at good-will. South America is growing too much for Spain to manage: it is in power independent, and will be so in act as soon as any occasion shall call forth that power.’

‘In North America, the civilizing activity of the human race forms the growth of state.’ ‘In this new world we see all the inhabitants not only free, but allowing an universal naturalization to all who wish to be so.’ ‘In a country like this, where every man has the full and free exertion of his powers, an unabated application and a perpetual struggle sharpens the wits, and gives constant training to the mind.’ [237]

‘The acquirement of information gives the mind thus

Chap. X.} 1780. Jan.
exercised a turn of inquiry and investigation, which forms a character peculiar to these people. This inquisitiveness, which, when exerted about trifles, goes even to a degree of ridicule, is yet in matters of business and commerce most useful and efficient. Whoever has viewed these people in this light will consider them as animated with the spirit of the new philosophy. Their system of life is a course of experiments; and, standing on that high ground of improvement up to which the most enlightened parts of Europe have advanced, like eaglets they commence the first efforts of their pinions from a towering advantage.’

‘America is peculiarly a poor man's country. The wisdom and not the man is attended to. In this wilderness of woods the settlers move but as nature calls forth their activity.’ ‘They try experiments, and the advantages of their discoveries are their own. They supply the islands of the West Indies, and even Europe itself. The inhabitants, where nothing particular directs their course, are all land-workers. One sees them laboring after the plough, or with the spade and hoe, as though they had not an idea beyond the ground they dwell upon; yet is their mind all the while enlarging all its powers, and their spirit rises as their improvements advance. This is no fancy drawing of what may be: it is an exact portrait of what actually exists. Many a real philosopher, a politician, a warrior, emerge out of this wilderness, as the seed rises out of the ground where it hath lain buried for its season.’

‘In agriculture, in mechanic handicrafts, the [238] new world hath been led to many improvements of

Chap. X.} 1780. Jan.
implements, tools, and machines, leading experience by the hand to many a new invention. This spirit of thus analyzing the mechanic powers hath established a kind of instauration of science in that branch. The settlers find fragments of time in which they make most of the articles of personal wear and household use for home consumption. Here, no laws frame conditions on which a man is to exercise this or that trade. Here, no laws lock him up in that trade. Here are no oppressing, obstructing, dead-doing laws. The moment that the progress of civilization is ripe for it, manufactures will grow and increase with an astonishing exuberancy.’

‘The same ingenuity is exerted in ship-building. Thus their commerce hath been striking deep root.’

‘The nature of the coast and of the winds renders marine navigation a perpetually moving intercourse of communion; and the nature of the rivers renders inland navigation but a further process of that communion; all which becomes, as it were, a one vital principle of life, extended through a one organized being, one nation.’ ‘Will that most enterprising spirit be stopped at Cape Horn, or not pass the Cape of Good Hope? Before long they will be found trading in the South Sea, in Spice Islands, and in China.’

‘This fostering happiness in North America doth produce progressive population. They have increased nearly the double in eighteen years.’

‘Commerce will open the door to emigration. By constant intercommunion, America will every day approach nearer and nearer to Europe.’ ‘Unless [239] the great potentates of Europe can station cherubim

Chap. X.} 1780 Jan.
at every avenue with a flaming sword that turns every way, to prevent man's quitting this old world, multitudes of their people, many of the most useful, enterprising spirits, will emigrate to the new one. Much of the active property will go there also.’

North America is become a new primary planet, which, while it takes its own course in its own orbit, must shift the common centre of gravity.’

‘Those sovereigns of Europe, who shall find this new empire crossing all their settled maxims and accustomed measures, will call upon their ministers and wise men: “Come, curse me this people, for they are too mighty for me.” These statesmen will be dumb, but the spirit of truth will answer: “How shall I curse whom God hath not cursed.” ’

‘Those sovereigns of Europe, who shall call upon their ministers to state to them things as they really do exist in nature, shall form the earliest, the most sure and natural connection with North America, as being, what she is, an independent state.’ ‘The new empire of America is like a giant ready to run its course. The fostering care with which the rival powers of Europe will nurse it, ensures its establishment beyond all doubt or danger.’

So prophesied Pownall to the English world and to Europe in the first month of 1780. Since the issue of the war is to proceed in a great part from the influence of European powers, it behooves us now to study the course of their intervention.

1 Hening, x. 82.

2 Randall's Jefferson, i. 219, 220.

3 Moore's Diary, II. 163, 164.

4 Writings of Washington, ed. Sparks, VI. 367.

5 Moore's Diary, II. 190, note.

6 Washington to Sullivan, Middlebrook, 31 May, 1779.

7 Brandt to Bolton, 29 July, 1779.

8 Bolton to Haldimand, 16 Aug., 1779.

9 The message of Little David, a Mohawk chief, from himself and the Six Nations to Assaragawa (General Haldimand), Carleton Island, 22 Aug., 1779.

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