Thursday, June 14, 2012

Letters from the Front: Leaving the Army 1783

"Congratulate me on my freedom have obtained my discharge from the Army—in consequence have changed my condition from a public Servant, to a private Gentleman, Gentleman indeed..."

In my final blog post as the Sol Feinstone Scholar at the David Library, we fast-forward to the end of the Letters from the Front collection. In December 1783, the Continental Army was in the process of demobilizing after nearly eight years of warfare. Officers were receiving their discharges and settling long-overdue accounts. Lieutenant Oliver Rice of the 4th Massachusetts had been engaged in the American struggle for independence since the very beginning. Starting as a private in the Lexington Alarm company in April 1775, he later rose to the rank of sergeant in the 4th Continental Regiment in 1776, sergeant-major of the 9th Massachusetts in 1777, was commissioned an ensign on June 2, 1778 and promoted to lieutenant on September 5, 1780. He finally received his discharge from Continental Army on November 3, 1783. The Sol Feinstone Collection preserves several more of his letters from 1782 and 1783, which detail the hardships the characterized the closing years of the Continental Army. In his final letter to his brother (transcribed in full below), Oliver vividly describes the fate that awaited most American officers-- a long trip home in an impoverished state after many years of faithful service to the cause of independence and liberty. While most accounts of the American Revolution focus on the sacrifices of American officers and soldiers, few remember the relatively poor treatment these freedom fighters received in the post-war period. Rice's letter is a potent reminder that, despite tales of glory, the cost of warfare, then as now, is heavy and extends well into the post-war period.


Sol Feinstone Collection No. 1209
Oliver Rice to Jonathan Rice, 25 Dec. 1783. Banks of the Hudson near West Point, New York.
Transcribed by W. P. Tatum III, June 6, 2012

“Banks of Hudson near W: point 25 Decr. 83

Dear Brother____
            Congratulate me on my freedom have obtained my discharge from the Army—in consequence have changed my condition from a public Servant, to a private Gentleman, Gentleman indeed, destitute of money Horse or anything that the World holds Valuable__ But an uprigh Heart is an inexpressable Satisfaction to him that possesses it__ Expect in three or four Weeks to receive my public Securities and dispose of such a part (by discounting fourteen Shillings in the pound) as will be sufficient to transport me with a degree of decency to Sudbury___ Thus you see, what I have obtaind by a long series of innumerable hardships & Sufferings__ necessity obliges me to give to those who have a juster claim to a halter—Dam the rascally part of the Creation, which (I believe) would include ninety nine parts of Mankind-- & perhaps not exclude myself—Cannot fix on any particular time when I shall have the pleasure of Visiting you and friend at Sudbury—but depend on it as soon as I have filled my accounts & procured a sufficiency of solid Charms, to carry me [pg 1] Comfortable thro’ the Country, shall do myself The Honour___ which I believe will be in the course of the Winter—our friend Jack [?] Clap, has also left Service---

            My Duty, regards, Complements, &ca wait on all that have a just claim to them and I beg leave to refer the desscion to your better Judgment

            Excuse all improprieties I write in hast & with a Jurk [?]

                                                                        Your Affectionat
                                                                                    Brother &
                                                                                    O. Rice

Colo. Rice

P.S don’t think I mean to be extravagant, but I am determined not to make my first apearence at Sudbury (after so long absent) as an object of charity, unless reduced to it by some unavoidable Misfortune—I had of the two Evils rather be envied than despised----

                                                                        &c &c

[Pg 2]”

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

No comments:

Post a Comment