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.


Sol Feinstone Collection No. 1254
Issac Sears to Roger Sherman, Eliphalet Dyer and Silas Deane, New Haven, Connecticut 28 November 1775                        
Transcribed by Andrew Dauphinee August 2011

“Gentlemen                                                                                         Newhaven 28 Novemr. 1775

            I have to inform you of an Expedition which I, with about 100 Volunteers from this & the other Towns Westward in this Government, set out upon for New York etc, which was to disarm Tories, & to deprive that Traitor of his Country James Rivington of the means of circulating Pison [sic, poison] in Print, the latter of which we happily effected by taking away his Types, & which may be a great means of puting an end to the Tory Faction there, for his press hath been as it were the very life & Soul of it__ & I believe it would not otherwise have been done, as there are not Spirited & Leading men enough in N. York to undertake such a Business or it would have been done long ago: & as there are many Enemies to the cause of Freedom, in that place, it is most likely I shall meet with many Censures for undertaking such an Enterprise.  I shall esteem it a particular favor to have your opinion upon the matter, & likewise to be inform’d how it is relished by the Members of the Congress in general, & if it meets with their approbation I shall not regard what others may say: I can assure you it is highly approved of by the People of this Colony a few Tories excepted, & they are almost all Disarm’d by this time, & what of them remains we expect in a few days to make a finish of; for which purpose I intend to set out with a party on Day in this Week for some of the Neighbouring Towns, when I expect [pg. 1] we  shall make a finish of that in this Colony: And I could wish that a Sistem might be fallen upon to compleat the same in N. York & its Province.  The People of Connectt. Have gone a great way in Disarming the Tories of N. York Government, but what has been done was Voluntary & at their own private expense, which has been considerable, & it will in a measure stop if a body of Men is not raised for that purpose―the Number of 500 would be sufficent for the undertaking, & should the C. Congress give an Order to this Government to raise that Number, under the Command of a General Officer, puting them under pay while in Actual Service, it is my opinion the Regiment might be made up in two days after the commencement of Inlisting, & that of the Principle Burgers of the different Towns.  I think a due attention to this by the Congress will be of no Small Importance for if the matter should not be carried into execution this Winter, it is my opinion that one Half of the People of the City & Province of N. York will be ready to take up Arms against the Country next Spring, & 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.
            In Case the Congress should order a Regimt. raised for the purpose aforesaid, I would recommend it to be General throughout the Continent, but the Regiment of 500 Men for N. York &c, & when we go upon Long Island it will be necessary to go with 1000 Men,  as the Tories there are a considerable Majority, & well equipt―not less than 500 Sons of Liberty in N. York would join us when were we to go on Long Island - & would it not be expedient [pg. 2] to take up & confine a few of the Principle Leading Men in the different Towns, who are notoriously Inimical to the Rights of this Country, for were that to be done it is reasonable to suppose many of the midling & lower Class of People, now under the influence of such persons, would become espousers of their Country’s cause
            For the particulars of our Expedition to N. York &c, I refer you to the N. Haven Gazette.
            I am sorry to tell you that the Tea holders in N. York have in general began to make Sale of their Tea.  I have not as yet sold one pound of mine,  nor shall I do it ‘till the Congress grants Liberty for the Sale of it-but shall think hard of it, especially as I have spent so much money in the common Cause,  if the Interest of £3000 in that Article should be sunk to me & my Son in Law which will be the Case,  if I can’t obtain leave from the  Congress to dispose of it, therefore beg you’ll favor me with laying my Case before the Congress, & with your Influence in backing the same.
            I have heard that the Command of the Ships fiting out at Phila. is to be given to Captain Hopkins, which I am much surprised at, for I judged that, that department was for me, which I had reason to expect from the hints given me by many of the Members of the Congress, but it is too often the case, when a Man has done the most he often gets the least reward.  It is not for the Lucre [pg. 3] of gain that I want the Command of a Squadron in the American Navy, but it is because I know myself capable of the Station, & because I think I can do my Country more Service in that department than in any other – the Congress not thinking proper to fix that Honor upon me, will by no means make me inactive in the Cause we are all engaged in, but cou’d wish nothing had been said about my being appointed to the Command, for it has spread thro’ the Country, that whenever a Navy were fited out by the Congress, I should have the Chief Command, but that not being the Case may tend to reflect dishonor on me.
                                                                                    I am with Esteem
                                                                                                Your most Hble Servt:
                                                                                                            Isaac Searrs

Roger Sherman Esqr
Elipht. Dyer Esqr
Silas Deane Esqr.                                 [pg 4]”

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

No comments:

Post a Comment