Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Price of Rebellion

By Christopher F. Minty, Guest Blogger

 Christopher Forbes Minty was in residence this summer as a David Library Fellow from the University of Sterling in Scotland.
       When the War of American Independence officially began on 19 April 1775, the impact it would have soon reverberated around the world. As blood was spilt in Massachusetts, the battle lines were officially drawn and support for the colonial movement against the British gained tremendous support throughout the colonies. Indeed, when news of Lexington and Concord arrived in New York, Lieutenant Governor Cadwallader Colden, an elderly Scotsman who had been in the colonies for two generations, reluctantly informed the earl of Dartmouth that he would continue to give him “the most material Transaction of the People.” Writing on 3 May, he realised the news would not be well received, noting that it would “almost entirely destroy the Expectations you have had reason to entertain of the Conduct which this Province would pursue”. Despite this, Colden lamented that “[e]very species of public and private Resentment was threatened, to terrify the Inhabitants of the Province, if they continued disunited from the others” and “[t]he Minds of the People in the City were kept in constant agitation, by Riots and Attempts to prevent the Transports from loading Here, with Stores, Provisions &c. for the Army.”[1]

            As similar reports began to filter into Parliament, coffeehouses, and taverns, Americans in Britain quickly understood that conflict between British and American troops could destroy their lives. With the unpredictability of war and the customary delay in the diffusion of knowledge from the colonies, British statesmen were left frustratingly unaware over the American Revolution on the most local level. For Americans living in Glasgow, Bristol, or London, they could not have been aware of the fates and safety of their friends and family. Across the water, “good Accounts,” as John Adams admitted, soon began to circulate regarding the colonial effort. In fact, Adams believed that accounts he had received from New York and North Carolina were “very good,” and he had “no Doubts…of the Union” of the colonies.[2] This was not the type of information the American MP Henry Cruger would want to hear. Having been elected in 1774 alongside Edmund Burke for Bristol, Henry Cruger became one of a handful of MPs born in the American colonies. He came from a wealthy mercantile family in New York and left behind numerous relatives who were still immersed in the Atlantic trade with Britain at the start of the Revolution. In one letter in particular, written to John Harris Cruger, and available at the David Library, he outlined his anxieties and fears with such histrionic flair that he comes across as almost nonsensical.

Writing on 5 July 1775 shortly after news of Lexington and Concord arrived in London, Cruger noted how he had just arrived in town from Bristol. As he rushed into his accommodation and scrambled his quill pen, he desperately sought to let his family know “how and where I am”. Unfortunately for the Crugers still in New York, Henry informed them that as his “[h]eart is almost broke” because the British ministry, led by Lord North, were “finding every Thing in this Country go to their Liking, are bent upon carrying Matters to the utmost Extremities”. More troops were being dispatched across the Atlantic and more were being mustered. “Poor America,” he opined, “will be utterly undone”. According to the MP, there was, however, a glimmer of hope. In order to alleviate America’s ultimate capitulation and ruin, Cruger suggested that “some Concession[s]” must be “speedily made” and if they did this, he alleged, it would be “speedily grasped at here”. Indeed, according to Cruger “all good Men wish for a Reconciliation.” But Cruger’s wish for reconciliation between Britain and its American colonies was not solely predicated upon his desire to protect the colonies. Instead, as he noted to John Harris, he alleged that he had “£50,000 or £60,000 Sterling in America,” and with the onset of hostilities the chances of recovering any of this became increasingly unlikely. To give some degree of context, these figures equate to roughly $7,606,380 or $9,127,656.44 in modern terms. Needless to say, Cruger was clearly a wealthy man, and the thought of losing this infatuated him. He could see “[n]othing but certain Ruin” unless conflict stopped. He knew he could not travel to America; opponents of the Revolutionary movement, Loyalists, were being forcibly driven out of New York. Months before Cruger was even aware of Lexington and Concord, John Adams wrote how notable New York Patriots such as Isaac Sears and Alexander McDougall had “siezed the City Arms and Ammunition, out of the Hands of the Mayor,” with the assistance of “the Friends of Liberty” in New Jersey, and consequently “[t]he Tories there, durst not shew their Heads.”[3] Cruger could not return to this; instead, he anxiously waited on news. “Oh Johny!,” he exclaimed, “one Thing or other deprives me of my rational Faculties – drives me almost to Madness and Desperation.” Despite his self-proclaimed temporary loss of reason, Cruger still had to perform his duties as a MP, which were being increasingly drawn towards American affairs. This, he alleged, “afflict[ed]” him more than his private concerns and it was because of this he declared that “Oh that my Head was Water, and my Eyes a Fountain of Tears that I might weep Day & Night for the Distress of my Native Country.”[4] Although the War of American Independence had only just begun, its impact had already touched one American in Britain, Henry Cruger.

Henry Cruger to John Harris Cruger, Dartmouth Papers, 1765–1782, D(W) 1778/I ii/983/I #1144, Staffordshire Record Office, United Kingdom

            I am just arrived here from Bristol, where I left your Father well, and in tolerable Spirits, the Want of which myself, and some important Business brought me hither. In the midst of my Hurry and Confusion I sit down to write a few Lines that you and all our Family may know where and how I am – By one Thing or other my Heart is almost broke: Administration finding every Thing in this Country go to their Liking, are bent upon carrying Matters to the utmost Extremities – many more Troops are going out and more recruiting – Poor America will be utterly undone, unless some Concession on their Part is speedily made, which I am persuaded will be as speedily grasped at here; for all good Men wish for a Reconciliation.

            I have now £50,000 or £60,000 Sterling in America, and can see Nothing but certain Ruin. Thank God I have but a slender Family to participate in my approaching Distresses. – This Appearance of Bankruptcy, I assure you Johny, does not annoy me equal to the Letters I have lately received from New York, in which I am suspected of Want of Honor in my Treaty of Marriage with my dear Miss John —; Heavens! One would imagine that Reason and Reflection had lately totally forsaken Mankind – These are the Days in which – “many that are married should wish they were not” – And my Brother, in Spite of all that I feel, or Calumny can say – there is still a Consolation in reflecting that if the impending Storm overwhelms me, I shall sink singly.    It is impossible for me to come to America – The Idea savours of Madness Neither Constituents, Creditors nor Reason will hear of it. Oh Johny! one Thing or other deprives me of my rational Faculties – drives me almost to Madness and Desperation. I am indeed but illy calculated just now for a Husband – I wish my adorable Betsey a much better [one]. My private concerns afflict me much, but those of the Publick, in which I am deeply involved, afflict me more, and make me exclaim – Oh that my Head was Water, and my Eyes a Fountain of Tears that I might weep Day & Night for the Distress of my Native Country.

            The Mail is just closing, and I have neither Time nor Spirits to add more. I hope soon to be composed and will write to you again, and to all my Female Friends in a free, full and honest Manner. In the interim, give to them and all Friends the dearest–tenderest Love, of your distracted and unhappy Brother.

[1] Cadwallader Colden to the earl of Dartmouth, 3 May 1775, CO 5/1106, ff. 171–173, The National Archives, Kew
[2] John Adams to Abigail Adams, 30 April 1775, in The Adams Papers, Adams Family Correspondence, vol. 1, December 1761May 1776, ed. Lyman H. Butterfield (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1963), 188–189.
[3] Ibid.
[4] All quotes from Henry Cruger taken from Henry Cruger to John Harris Cruger, 5 July 1775, Dartmouth Papers, 1765–1782, D(W) 1778/I ii/983/I #1144, Staffordshire Record Office, United Kingdom.