Friday, December 23, 2016

"They Were Not Treated as Prisoners of War" - The Loyalist Escape from an Albany Jail

Following the outbreak of the American Revolution, many Loyalists began to secretly recruit men for provincial regiments that would assist in suppressing the rebellion. One such man was Daniel Fraser. A prosperous farmer from Ball’s Town, New York, Fraser quietly recruited forty men on behalf of the British government. Unfortunately, a rebel spy learned of the recruitment scheme and reported it to Colonel James Gordon, commander of an Ulster County (NY) militia regiment. Gordon, in turn, mobilized his men to arrest Fraser and the recruits.

Fraser immediately recognized the danger he and his men were in. The men fled to the woods north of Ball’s Town and remained in hiding for almost ten days. When the group realized they could not return home, Fraser decided to lead the men to Canada, following “infrequented and impassable ways.”

Twenty miles north of Ball’s Town, Colonel Gordon and his party ambushed Fraser. The Loyalist and his men changed course and tried to cross a waterfall. (According to period accounts, there was a thirteen foot single plank which served as a footbridge.) Regrettably, Fraser’s attempt failed and all but one man was captured.

The group was marched back to Albany and promptly thrown into a jail below the town hall. One by one, the loyalists were brought before the Tory Committee, tried and found guilty. All but William Fraser were ordered to remain jailed until payment of a fine of fifteen dollars was received and an oath to the State of New York was given. Fraser was sentenced to one year in jail.

According to Fraser, “They were not treated as prisoners of war, but handcuffed like ordinary criminals . . . the rebels did not undertake to feed their prisoners and it was custom for [Tory families] to come every day to the gaol with provisions.”

One day, Fraser’s wife arrived at the jail with her husband’s daily provisions. Surprisingly, she was not searched by the rebel guards. According to two period accounts from Loyalists James Dearin and Alexander Laughlen, inside a loaf of bread were tools and coil of rope. After some effort, Fraser and twenty of his men were able to break free of their shackles, remove at least one of the iron bars on the window and escape. 

Unarmed and without provisions, the men fled from Albany towards Fort Edward. Fraser and his men were forced to remain in hiding until the arrival of General Burgoyne in August, 1777.

The jail break caused outrage in Albany. The local Committee of Safety immediately conducted an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the escape. Unaware that Fraser’s wife had provided material assistance, she was never questioned.  None of the guards were held responsible for the break. However, those prisoners who were left behind were quietly transferred to jails in New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania to avoid a repeat of Fraser’s actions.    

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Samuel Hastings Jr. - The Lexington Connection to the Capture of General Charles Lee

When war appeared inevitable with England, Charles Lee expected to be named Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, as he was the most experienced candidate in terms of military service. Instead, overall command of the American army was given to George Washington. By the end of 1776, Lee's animosity and disdain for Washington began to show. During the retreat from Forts Washington and Lee, his army was supposed to join Washington's in Pennsylvania.  Instead, Lee set a very slow deliberate pace.

On the night of December 12, 1776 Lee, his staff and bodyguards stopped for the night at White's Tavern in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. The tavern was approximately three miles away from his army. The next morning, a British patrol of two dozen mounted soldiers appeared, found Lee and captured him.

In a December 19, 1776 letter to his wife Mary, Massachusetts Colonel Loammi Baldwin recounted the capture of American General Charles Lee. "General Lee was taking by a party of the Enemy's Light Horse about 5 or 6 miles in the Rear of our Army, a French officer was taken with him, but nobody else. I think he is chargable with the highest degree of imprudence for suffering himself to be at such a distance from his Army when he knew he was amongst some the most iveterate Tories and the Publick Enemy nigh at hand."

Baldwin's letter asserted that only a "French officer" was taken with Lee. In reality, the general had upwards of thirty men with him prior to his capture. Most fled the tavern when British troopers approached. However, by the time the raid was over, the general, his aides and a body guard were prisoners of the Crown.

General Charles Lee

The body guard was eighteen year old Samuel Hastings Jr. of Lexington, Massachusetts.

In December, 1775, Hastings enlisted in the Continental Army. However, unlike most men from Lexington who joined Captain John Wood's Company of Loammi Baldwin's 26th Continental Regiment, Hastings enlisted in the Captain Nathaniel Wade's Company of Colonel Moses Little's 12th Continental Regiment.

Because of his size and agility, Samuel Hastings was quickly transferred to General Charles Lee’s “lifeguards”.  Along with over a dozen other soldiers, Samuel was responsible for protecting General Lee from harm. Hastings served as the general's body guard in New York, Philadelphia and Yorktown, Pennsylvania. While in Yorktown, the young man became infected with small pox and was hospitalized. Upon his recovery, Samuel rejoined the general.

According to a 19th Century pension application from Hastings and supporting documentation from superior officers and Lexington residents, he was present at General Lee's capture at Basking Ridge. Although most of the general’s life guard fled, Hastings apparently stood firm. Documentation in the pension file is vague, but post war accounts from Lexington residents suggest that he may have received a saber slash to the head prior to being captured.

Old Sugar House, Manhattan, 1830, in an illustration from 1858

As an enlisted man, Hastings was immediately separated from Lee and sent to Trenton, New Jersey. Afterwards, he was imprisoned in New York City with soldiers captured at Fort Washington. It is likely he was incarcerated in a sugar house on Crown (now Liberty) Street. According to fellow prisoner Elias Cornelius, conditions in the sugar house were deplorable. “The top of the House was open to the weather, so that when it rained the water ran along and through every floor and on that account it was impossible for us to keep dry. . . 4 pounds of poor Irish Pork and 4 pounds of mouldy bread for 4 days . . . a hideous place."

Hastings remained a prisoner for at least a year. His next recorded event was his marriage to Lydia Nelson in Lexington on October 1, 1778.

Hastings later asserted in his pension application that he was "never exchanged and did not again enter the service". Lexington records and period accounts from neighbors state Hastings often declined to enlist in subsequent military campaigns because he was on "parole".

Whether he truly was on parole or wished to avoid the risk of recapture remains unclear.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Tear Gas and Brawls - An Account of Bowdoin Students Gone Wild

Note to self....Bowdoin students and Newburyport Massachusetts apparently do not mix.  From a pre-World War II newspaper article

Monday, December 12, 2016

An Appeal to Heaven - The Reverend Jonas' Clarke Influence on Lexington Politics

Religion in the 17th and 18th centuries was the very lifeblood of Massachusetts society.  On the eve of the American Revolution, the unique position of the minister guaranteed that Lexington’s Reverend Jonas Clarke would play a significant role in the unfolding political drama.  In fact, Reverend Clarke quickly emerged as the political leader and the voice of Lexington’s opposition to British policy.

Through his skilled diagnosis of the issues, Jonas Clarke ensured Lexington’s unity against England.  He gradually drew the townspeople into a national debate and accustomed them to the idea and practice of acting on a broad political stage that extended beyond mere town affairs.  Each time Parliament passed a series of new acts affecting the colonies, Jonas Clarke wrote long, closely reasoned responses that were quickly adopted and endorsed by the citizens of Lexington at their town meetings.  

Microfilm Copy of Jonas Clarke Journal

Initially, Clarke’s arguments to his people relied heavily upon the rights of Englishmen set forth in the Magna Carte and the Massachusetts Provincial Charter of 1690.  In 1763, Clarke wrote “We shall have and enjoy all Liberties and Immunities of Free and Natural Subjects within any of his Majesties Dominions . . . as if we were every one of us born in his Majesties Realm in England.”  As the years passed and grievances mounted, Clarke began to lay the groundwork for an assertion of rights independent of those granted by the Crown. As the Massachusetts assembly defied British ultimatums, some provincials, including Clarke, held that Crown and parliamentary powers were not without limit.  Drawing on Enlightenment philosophy, he contended that “in a state of nature, every man has a right to liberty, property and life: And no one . . . can, reasonably, deprive him of either. Society is formed for the preservation and defense of the common rights of mankind, to that end, that the blessings of life may be secured to all.  The liberties and privileges, the property and possessions of society, ought always to be held sacred; and no one is at liberty to invade, violate, or even incroach upon them, upon any pretence whatsoever.”

However, Clarke also linked English rights and liberties to theology.  Clarke saw the colonists of Massachusetts Bay Colony as Chosen People who were tasked with the responsibility of reestablishing Israel’s purity of worship and moral authority.  Thus, the people of Massachusetts were required to defend their Chosen Land.  As Clarke declared in 1768 “the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people [was in fact] the cause of GOD… Militiamen who engage in the cause of [God’s] people, and set themselves for their defense, are therefore to consider themselves as guardians and trustees for GOD, having the rights, property, liberties, and lives of their fellow-men (a sacred trust!),committed to their charge.”

Through his tireless efforts, Clarke not only created a political climate in Lexington that was well ahead of most Massachusetts towns, he also influenced the public opinions of many other clergymen and statesmen within the colony as well.  Clarke often journeyed outside of Lexington to neighboring communities and Boston to give guest sermons, attend political rallies, offer lectures and observe business matters.  Clarke became so popular he was frequently asked to serve as a guest speaker at clergy ordinations.  
As the Lexington militia anxiously awaited the approach of the regulars in the early morning of April 19, 1775, the Reverend Clarke was confident he had adequately prepared his people for the coming conflict.  As Clarke had forewarned a little over a year earlier in January, 1774, “Our worthy ancestors after many struggles with their enemies, in the face of every danger, and at the expense of much treasure & bloode, secured to themselves & transmitted to us their posterity a fair and rich inheritance, not only of a pleasant & fertile lande but also of invaluable rights & privileges both as men & christians. . . . We looke upon ourselves as bounde by the most sacred ties to the utmost of our power to maintain, and defende ourselves, in our charter Rights and privileges, and as a sacred trust committed to us to transmit them, inviolate, to succeeding generations.”

Thursday, December 8, 2016

An Opportunity for Revenge - The Loyalist Evacuation Mission of 1780

In 1780, Loyalist units based in Canada launched a daring rescue mission into New York.  For these loyalists, participation in the 1780 operation was more than opportunity to get away from the boredom of garrison duty.  Instead, this activity represented an opportunity of revenge for the failures of Saratoga.  

In March, 1780, Ensign Walter Sutherland of the King’s Royal Regiment of New York returned from a scout to Johnstown, New York.  In his report to Governor Frederick Haldimand, Sutherland disclosed that New York rebels intended to force all military age men, including Loyalists, into units stationed along the Canadian border.  Those who refused would be arrested, their homes destroyed and their property confiscated. Horrified, Haldimand ordered Loyalist Sir John Johnson to organize a relief force to evacuate all military age loyalist men and their families from the Johnstown area.

Governor Sir Frederick Haldimand
In preparation for the raid, British military officials ordered three separate detachments to assemble.  The first consisted of thirty four men and two officers from the 29th, 34th and 53rd regiments.  The second was composed of an officer and twenty men from the Hesse Hanau Jaegers. The final detachment was composed of Loyalists.  One hundred and sixty-one men were from the King’s Royal Regiment were recruited for the mission, while an additional fifty men were drafted from the Loyal American Volunteers, Queen’s Loyal Rangers and King’s Loyal Americans.  

On April 13, 1780, the detachments assembled at Ile-aux-Noix.  Upon arrival, the entire raiding party, composed of over two hundred and fifty men and officers, was placed under the command of Sir John Johnson and Captain Thomas Scott of the 53rd Regiment.

The troops were transported by water from Ile-aux-Noix down Lake Champlain to Crown Point.  Once on land, the soldiers travelled south-west, skirting around Schroon Lake.  On May 21, 1780, the raiders attacked Kingsborough Patent, located north of Johnstown, and rescued one hundred forty three loyalists, including women and children, and thirty slaves.  Johnson then led his troops into Johnstown, burned several buildings, rescued dozens of loyalists and captured twenty-seven rebels.  Afterwards, the raiders burned one hundred and twenty barns, mills and houses located in a four mile arc south of Johnstown.

Belt Plate of King's Royal Regiment of New York

New York authorities rushed to stop the raids and dispatched over eight hundred Continental troops and militia to intercept Johnson and his men.  A second force of nine hundred rebels was raised in the Hampshire Grants and ordered west towards Johnstown.  Over the next four days, the raiders, their prisoners and loyalist refugees were doggedly pursued by the Americans and forced to continuously change direction as they withdrew towards Crown Point.  However, Johnson successfully reached the ruined fort and escaped by water just as two thousand rebel troops and militia arrived at the shoreline of Lake Champlain.  Fortunately, the rebels were unable to pursue and were forced to watch helplessly as their prey escaped north to Canada.  

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

"To be Ready for Military Operation" - Five Examples of Regulations for Massachusetts Minute Companies on the Eve of Lexington and Concord

On the eve of the American Revolution, conflict with England seemed inevitable. As a result, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress ordered all minute companies to be properly armed and equipped. Specifically, it instructed "particular care should be taken by the towns and districts in this colony, that each of the minute men, not already provided therewith, should be immediately equipped with an effective firearm, bayonet, pouch, knapsack, thirty rounds of cartridges and balls."

To ensure compliance, many Massachusetts passed their own resolutions proscribing what it's minute company should carry when mobilized for war. Here is a sample of five such resolutions.

1. On December 26, 1774, Roxbury ordered its "militia minutemen [to] hold themselves in readiness at a minutes warning, compleat in arms and ammunition; that is to say a good and sufficient firelock, bayonet, thirty rounds of powder and ball, pouch and knapsack."

2. On January 8, 1775, the men of West Brookfield resolved "we the subscribers, soldiers inlisted from the several Militia companies within this town, and organized into a company called the Minute Company, do solemnly covenant that we will as soon as possible be provided and equipt with an effective firearm, cartouch box (or bullet pouch), 30 rounds of powder and bullets, and knapsack. That we will exert our best abilities to acquire the art military. That we will yield a ready obedience to the commands of our officers, and hold ourselves in readiness to march upon the earliest notice from our Commanding officers, and hazard our lives in resisting any armed force that shall attempt by force to put in execution the late revenue Acts — should any attempt be made between this time and the first of July next.”

3. On January 20, 1775, the Town of Bradford voted "that the Selectmen provide bayonets and cartouch boxes for the Minute-Men on the town cost, to be returned to the town after they are dismissed from the service.

4. On January 14, 1775, the men of Ipswich declared “We whose names are hereunto subscribed, do voluntarily Inlist ourselves, as minute men, to be ready for military operation, upon the shortest notice. And we hereby Promise & engage, that we will immediately, each of us, provide for & equip himself, with an effective arm, Bayonet, Pouch, Knapsack, & Thirty rounds of Cartridges ready made. And that we may obtain the skill of compleat Soldiers, We promise to Convene for exercise in the Art of Military, at least twice every week.”

5. Late to the game, on March 20, 1775 Amesbury voted that its minute men would be responsible for their own arms and equipment. “Voted that said Minnit men shall upon their own cost be well equiped with arms and aminition according to law fit for a march.”

Saturday, December 3, 2016

"A Bayonet Fitted to His Gun" - Why Massachusetts Militia Companies Lacked Bayonets on the Eve of the Revolution

The origins of the bayonet can be traced back to 17th century France. The first recorded military use of this weapon by the French army was in 1642. Twenty years later, the British army also adopted bayonets. The early version was known as the “plug bayonet”: a dagger having a tapered handle for insertion into the muzzle of a soldier’s musket. However, the plug bayonet had its limitations. Soldiers could not fire their muskets when the bayonet was inserted in the muzzle; the plug bayonet often jammed and it was easily lost during close combat. By 1720, both England and France adopted the socket bayonet. The socket bayonet, which slipped over the barrel of a musket, remained in use throughout the American Revolution.

The bayonet was an offensive tool with the dual purpose of serving as a weapon during close quarter combat and, at the same time, instilling “shock and awe” in the enemy. However, prior to the American Revolution Massachusetts militiamen were very reluctant to adopt this important weapon. In his work Swords and Blades of the American Revolution, George Neuman asserts “When the . . . bayonet . . . gained acceptance throughout Europe in the late 1600s the Americans apparently used it sparingly . . . [Specifications] by most colonies for their militia continued to stress swords and hatchets as the recommended side arms. Bayonets appear to have finally begun to receive official endorsement during the 1740s – but even then only as an elective alternate to the sword or hatchet.” This policy may have continued with Massachusetts militia units through the early years of the American Revolution. For example, a 1776 inspection of a Bristol County militia regiment suggests that there were only 175 bayonets available for 446 muskets.

Surviving bayonet carriage attributable to Salem, Massachusetts 

Naturally, this begs the question why was the bayonet in short supply in 18th Century Massachusetts? It appears two factors influenced this condition, economics and governmental policy. In regard to the former, many gunsmiths actually elected not to sell bayonets to their customers. For example, John Pim of Boston advertised “To be sold by John Pim of Boston, Gunsmith, at the Sign of the Cross Guns, in Anne-Street near the Draw Bridge, at very Reasonable rates, sundry choice of Arms lately arrived from London, viz. Handy Muskets, Buccaneer-Guns, Fowling Pieces, Hunting Guns, Carbines, several sorts of Pistols, Brass and Iron, fashionable swords.” Twenty-two years later, Samuel Miller announced “Newly imported, and sold by Samuel Miller, Gunsmith, at the Sign of the Cross Guns near the Draw-Bridge, Boston: Neat Fire Arms of all sorts, Pistols, Swords, Hangars, Cutlasses, Flasks for Horsemen, Firelocks.”

Although business choices severely limited a militia man’s access to a bayonet, early government policy actually discouraged the use of bayonets. Most likely, officials saw little use for the bayonet on the battlefields of North America. As early as 1693, Massachusetts Militia laws dictated that “Every listed souldier ... shall be alwayes provided with a well fixt firelock musket, of musket or bastard musket bore, the barrel not less then three foot and a half long, or other good firearms to the satisfaction of the commission officers of the company, a snapsack, a coller with twelve bandeleers or cartouch-box, one pound of good powder, twenty bullets fit for his gun, and twelve flints, a good sword or cutlace, a worm and priming wire fit for his gun.” In 1733, it was advertised “Every listed Soldier, and other Householder shall be always provided with a well fixt Firelock Musket, of Musket or Bastard-Musket bore, the Barrel not less than three Foot and an half long, or other good Fire Arms to the satisfaction of the Commission Officers of the Company; a Cartouch Box: one Pound of good Powder: Twenty Bullets fit for his Gun, and twelve Flynts; a good Sword or Cutlass; a Worm, & priming Wire, fit for his Gun, on Penalty of six Shillings...”

During the French and Indian War, not all Massachusetts provincial soldiers were issued bayonets. Some were only provided with a “Canteen, Wooden bottle one hoop . . . Knapsacks…Arms and Cartridge Boxes.” Even on the eve of the American Revolution, militia regulations still discouraged the adoption of bayonets as a primary weapon. Massachusetts militia men were required to fall out with “his firelock in good repair, four pounds of lead in bullets, fitted to the bore of his piece, four flints, a cutlass or tomahawk, a good belt round his body, a canvas knapsack to hold a bushel, with a good matumpline, fitting easy across the breast and shoulders, good clothing, etc.”

Thus, when war seemed inevitable with England, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress surprisingly reversed decades of policy and ordered bayonets be carried by its soldiers. It is likely this change occurred because of the nature and skill of Massachusetts' new enemy. Where previous wars with the French typically involved le petite guerre tactics, a military conflict with England would likely involve more traditional 18th century tactics.

Massachusetts militia and minute man companies scrambled to adopt bayonets. In Lexington, the residents resolved “to provide bayonets at the town’s cost for one third of the training soldiers.” In Roxbury, minutemen were ordered to “hold themselves in readiness at a minutes warning, compleat in arms and ammunition; that is to say a good and sufficient firelock, bayonet, thirty rounds of powder and ball, pouch and knapsack.” In Bridgewater, Arthur Harris noted “Each soldier to provide himself with a good fire arm, a steel or iron ram rod and a spring for same, a worm, a priming wire and brush, a bayonet fitted to his gun, a scabbard and belt thereof, a cutting sword or tomahawk or hatchet, a . . .cartridge box holding fifteen rounds . . . at least, a hundred buckshot, six flints, one pound of powder, forty leaden balls fitted to the gun, a knapsack and blanket, [and] a canteen or wooden bottle to hold one quart [of water]”

The shortage of bayonets continued to be a source of frustration in the aftermath of Lexington and Concord. Although American and foreign sources began to supply the American army with bayonets as the war progressed, the problem did not subside within the ranks of militia.