Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Letters from the Front: Raiding Loyalist New York

"...we have little else to do this Winter but to purge the Land of such Villains, which I think almost as necessary as the keeping up Standing Armies."

While the siege of Boston continued to the northward, events were brewing in the environs of New York City. Although Tryon's retreat to the HMS Halifax had removed the immediate threat of British action, there yet remained a more subtle, home-grown challenge to Congressional authority: the Loyalists. Of all the areas in the Northeast, New York City and Long Island contained what was probably the largest and most active community of Loyalists. Following the British Army's seizure of the city in the late summer/early autumn of 1776, New York and Long Island would become the great center of Loyalist activity in America. As Isaac Sears' letter shows in this latest installment of the Letters from the Front series, there were many antecedents to this later blooming of Loyalist affection.

Sears was a Massachusetts man by birth, moving to New York after losing his ship during the French and Indian War. He quickly established himself as a member of the merchant elite and was involved in the Revolutionary cause from an early period, organizing protests against the Stamp Act and being active in the Sons of Liberty. In April 1775, Loyalist authorities attempted to arrest Sears for his inflammatory activities, but he escaped. As the letter below shows, he did not stay away for long, leading an infamous raid that was condemned by Congressional authorities, but nevertheless served to check Loyalist activity in the area. His commentary provides important insights into the extremes to which some Revolutionary leaders were willing to go in securing their gains from early 1775. As with many of the other letters in the collection, Sears' zeal for the service was tempered by concerns for his fortunes in civilian life, seen in his references to potential lost income on tea and his frustration at not being appointed to high rank in the new American Navy. Sears went on to be active in the privateering trade for much of the war and returned to New York City after the British evacuation.


Friday, August 26, 2011

Swain Report Special: War Office 28, Regimental HQ Papers, Installment 8

This latest installment of Library Research Assistant David Swain's catalog of the British Headquarters Papers sheds light on two important topics: the social dynamics of every-day life in the army and the closing years of the British occupation of New York City. As reflected below, the majority of this microfilm covers memorials and petitions written by a range of individuals to the successive commanders-in-chief in Canada. These documents, essentially formalized appeals for assistance, provide an insight into the every-day workings of the army by revealing the numerous problems and concerns that afflicted military personnel and associated civilians, as well as giving us an indication of the mass of paperwork that came to the commander-in-chief. Carleton's orderly book for New York City, comprising the latter portions of this reel, details an almost day-by-day account of the army's operations in that vicinity for the final years of the war. As these documents show, while not engaged in active hostilities, the British Army nevertheless stayed busy with the numerous other duties that afflict a military force in garrison. Our thanks go out to David Swain for faithfully sticking with this project, which has now absorbed several months of his hard work.


28.9 Memorials and petitions; General Sir Guy Carleton’s New York headquarters order book (Reel 7)

Summary contents:

* Military and provincial memorials and petitions to Sir Guy Carleton and General Frederick Haldimand, 1776 and with no date: 40 documents; documents 1 through 40, printed page numbers 1 through 50

* Military and naval memorials to Sir Guy Carleton, 1777: 30 documents; documents 41 through 70; printed page numbers 51 through 92

* Petitions from Royalists: 30 documents; documents 71 through 100; printed page numbers 93 through 135

* Military and provincial memorials and petitions to Sir Guy Carleton, 1778: 26 documents; documents 101 through 126; printed page numbers 136 through 175

* Memorials of Canadian and other inhabitants, 1777-1780 and with no date: 27 documents; documents 127 through 153; printed page numbers 176 through 213

* Military and provincial memorials to General Frederick Haldimand, 1779-1781: 25 documents; documents 154 through 178; printed page numbers 214 through 244

* Military and provincial memorials addressed to General Frederick Haldimand, 1782-1783: 32 documents; documents 179 through 210; printed page numbers 245 through 285

* Sir Guy Carleton’s headquarters order book, New York, Mortier House, and Lefferts House, 1782-1783: 301 documents; documents 211 through 511; printed page numbers 285a through 482

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Letters from the Front: Jedediah Huntington to Jabez Huntington, 11 Nov 1775, Roxbury Camp, MA

"some hundreds from Cambridge Side were very soon on the Ground to oppose them, although they were obliged to wade up to their Middles; a Skirmish with Small Arms ensued and a brisk Firing of cannon & grape shot..."

In this installment of the Letters from the Front series, we are introduced to Jedediah Huntington, a major Continental Army figure from Connecticut. Huntington began the war as Colonel in the Lexington Alarm and went on to become Colonel of the 8th Connecticut Regiment, in which capacity he served until 10 December 1775. He went on to command several other Continental regiments through the beginning of 1777, when he was promoted to Brigadier General.

The first of Huntington's letters in the Library's collections (we have 14 in all) provides an update on the Siege of Boston. This lengthy event was punctuated by several small unit actions that, though keeping the American forces on their toes and inflicting small loses on both sides, have generally been overlooked. In this example, we see a British raid for cattle, which would have provided fresh rations for the troops, foiled by a swift response from American troops at Cambridge. The capture of a British store ship from Cork, Ireland, (noted at the end of Huntington's Letter) punctuates their need for local food sources. The rifleman that Huntington mentions was probably from a unit of Virginians that had joined the American forces in the late summer, which were the object of a diatribe by William Tudor in an installment. This letter also shows how personal concerns ranked equally with those of military duty: Huntington's commentary on his wife's condition provides a stark reminder of how close this conflict was to the homefront and to where the officers' and soldiers' thoughts often strayed.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Letters from the Front: Charles Lee to Alexander McDougall, October 1775

"...the tragedy acted by these hell hounds of an execrable Ministry with a more accursed Tyrant at their head now calls out for decision"

This installment of Letters from the Front introduces the notorious General Charles Lee, several of whose letters appear throughout the collection. Charles Lee was one of several Continental generals with a background in the British service (Horatio Gates and Richard Montgomery are other examples). Combined with his revolutionary zeal, Lee's background made him an obviously choice for high command in the new American Army. His letter to Alexander MacDougall, a prominent New York Whig, focuses on two key events of the early Revolutionary struggle: the burning of Falmouth, Massachusetts, (now Portland, Maine) by the British Navy on 18 October 1775 and New York City's entrance into the rebellion. While attention focused on Boston throughout 1775, the thirteen colonies' other major seaports were significant scenes of revolutionary struggle. New York City was one of the few that had recently hosted redcoats: British soldiers of the 18th (or Royal Irish) Regiment of Foot had arrived in the city late in 1774 and been escorted out to waiting transports in the Spring of 1775 by an angry mob. Governor William Tryon, formerly of North Carolina, remained in an attempt to maintain royal rule. Tryon was forced to retreat to the safety of a Royal Navy sloop-of-war (the Halifax) on 19 October, in a move that was probably un-related to the incident at Falmouth, which nevertheless served to galvanize Revolutionaries into action across the colonies. Lee's lack of awareness of Tryon's removal shows just how slowly news could travel in the eighteenth-century, just as his prose highlights the level of passion present in the revolutionary cause.


Friday, August 19, 2011

Letters from the Front: The Siege of Boston

"They are now convinced that Americans will fight, & seem loth to make any further Trial of their Bravery."

Following the Battle of Bunker Hill, Congressional forces settled into an uneasy siege of Boston, concerned at the potential for a British break-out assault, but unwilling to reduce the pressure on the "ministerial troops." The Siege would continue until March 1776, when the British abandoned their post, retreating by sea to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Most of the documents in the Letters from the Front series chronicle this siege, which has largely been overlooked by recent writers on the American Revolution. As will be seen in this and other letters, the siege loomed large in the minds of contemporaries. 

This installment provides a view of the siege in its relatively early days, through the eyes of William Tudor. A 1769 graduate of Harvard College, Tudor had trained as a lawyer under John Adams in Boston during the pre-war years. In July 1775, General Washington appointed him to serve as the Judge Advocate of the Continental Army at Boston, responsible for guiding courts martial and other elements of the military justice system. Tudor would rise to the position of Judge Advocate General of the entire army the following year, and also ranked as Lieutenant-Colonel of Henley's Additional Continental Regiment. Tudor's dual posts remind us that, unlike in the modern army, regimental officers were often permanently detached from their units to serve in other capacities. Tudor's letter provides vivid details on the siege, weighing in especially hard on the rifleman who had arrived from Virginia and Pennsylvania in the late summer. His concern with events to the southward, particularly as regarded the economy, demonstrates how American soldiers retained their links to their civilian origins while engaged in our founding struggle.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Letters from the Front: The Battle of Bunker Hill

"General How[e] Says that the Battle of Mindon was nothing so hot at this, that the persons who think the Provincials are undisciplined, are much mistaken..."

As anyone who has spent time in the archives knows, there are occasions when documents do not survive intact. In these cases, we have to make some guesses on when, and sometimes to whom, they were written. This installment of the Letters from the Front series provides a case in point. Document #184 is the final page of a letter penned by William Coit. There is no date, nor a location specified on this fragment. As will be seen below, however, the letter clearly references the Battle of Bunker Hill, which was actually fought on Breed's Hill on 17 June 1775. This engagement pitted the British garrison of Boston against Congressional militia drawn mostly from the New England area. Given Coit's references to this event as "news," we can surmise that this letter, audience as yet unknown, was written shortly after the battle. While some of the details included below are not factually correct (British General John Burgoyne did not die in the battle), this document nevertheless provides us with an excellent insight into the way news traveled in the colonies, as well as showing just how uncertain the details of battles were to contemporaries.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Letters from the Front: Dr. Samuel Adams to Samuel Adams, 7 Feb 1775

"...should be desirous to hear the judgment of a Gentleman so well acquainted with our Publick affairs as yourself, and to have his hands strengthened & his heart encouraged in the Glorious Cause of Liberty..."

 The first document in our Letters from the Front series comes from Dr. Samuel Adams, a relation of the more famous revolutionary, to whom he addresses himself in this letter. The good doctor was born in Killingly, Connecticut, on January 28, 1745. At the time of this letter, Adams was the physician for the town of Truro Massachusetts, where he stood out amongst his Loyalist neighbors. Adams would go on to serve as a surgeon for various Continental Artillery regiments through the end of the war. In this letter, we find him full of fire for the American cause and looking to his elder statesman cousin for guidance. The Gray Maggot referred to in his letter was a treatise written by former Receiver-General of Massachusetts Harrison Gray (who also carried that nickname), formally titled A Few Remarks upon some of the Votes and Resolutions of the Continental Congress,...and the Provincial Congress. By a Friend to Peace and good Order.” Harrison's work challenged the validity of the Continental Congress and cast aspersions upon its members. Our thanks go to David Library Volunteer Andrew Dauphinee for this and many other transcripts in the series. The full text of the letter is posted below.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Introducing the Letters from the Front Series

Courtesy of funds from the Pew Charitable Trust Grant, the Library has been able to digitize a select number of documents from our primary manuscript collection, the Sol Feinstone Collection. Dr. Patrick Spero, past historian at the David Library, selected 350 pieces for digitization that became the Letters from the Front Sub-collection. These include letters from Continental officers and soldiers home, as well as correspondence between generals and other items of note. We will be posting these items in rough chronological order, with a few departures due to the vagaries of transcribing material. These posts are intended to spark some new conversations on the nature of our revolutionary origins, as well as to provide a window into the nature of the American experience over these crucial years.


Have something you want to share, such as a question, research find, or a personal story about the Library? Email Will Tatum at tatum@dlar.org 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Intern's Perspective: the British General Courts Martial Project

The David Library has benefited from the services of a host of volunteers and interns this summer, whose work has helped us further the development of our collections enormously. One of our many on-going projects has been to create a database finding aid for our microfilmed British General Courts Martial Records (Film 675), the originals of which are held in the British National Archives as War Office Series 71. Steve Gorman, an undergraduate at Rider University, spent many hours going through these records and entering them into the database, advancing the project much farther and faster than we could have done without his help. In this installment, Steve provides an account of his role in the project and investigates one of the more interesting cases he encountered along the way.



"A few years ago our Sol Feinstone Scholar, Will Tatum, traveled to England to investigate several collections of documents in the British archives containing various military court trials during the latter half of the Eighteen Century. Will took hundreds of photographs of each page of each record in the collection and then compiled the files into JPEG images. My job, in what he referred to as the “Courts Martial Project,” was to go through as much of the pictures as I could and organize the necessary information into a Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet to be used as a guide for the Library."

"I find these trials interesting, but from time to time a particular trial stands out and decisively makes a great story. After having some difficulty attempting to select my most intriguing court case, I finally settled with the 1755 Trial of Francis McManus and Solomon Welsh in Oswego, New York."

For more, read below the fold.