From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol I. Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.
August 17. –A gentleman who lately escaped from New York, and joined the army on Staten Island, says:
Every means of defence has been concerted to secure the city and whole island of New York from an attack of the royal army. Should General Howe succeed in that enterprise, his antagonist, Mr. Washington, has provided a magazine of pitch, tar, and combustibles, to burn the city before he shall retreat from his present station. The numbers of his men are daily diminishing; they desert in large bodies, are sickly, filthy, divided, and unruly. Putrid disorders, the small-pox in particular, have earned off great numbers. When I left the city there were six thousand in their hospitals, to which use they have devoted King’s College.
John Morin Scott is appointed Governor of New York, and Samuel Tucker, a cordwainer of Trenton, is exalted to that rank in New Jersey. The persecution of the loyalists continues unremitted. Donald M’Lean, Theophilus Hardenbrook, young Fueter, the silversmith, and Rem Rapelje, have been cruelly rode on rails, a practice most painful, dangerous, and, till now, peculiar to the humane republicans of New England. Mr. John Rapelje, of Brooklyn, and Mr. James Coggeshal, have been seized on their way to join General Howe, with a quantity of sheep in their possession; however, the latter afterwards escaped, and found means to carry a number of fat wethers to the army.
Mr. John Foxcroft, postmaster-general, Mr. Dashwood, Mr. Smith Ramage, Messrs. Hugh and Alexander Wallace, and Mr. Abraham Lott, the treasurer, are committed to gaol, having refused to take an oath of allegiance to the Congress; in short, every one suspected of an hostile disposition to that body, are disarmed and conducted into a d–nable durance, which was the case of the venerable chief justice Horsmanden, who, at eighty, was hurried into the country by a party of ruffians; but he proved so troublesome on the journey, that they chose to leave him on the road, without performing the injunctions of their demagogues.
Frequent have been the messages from General Howe to Mr. Washington, and Colonel Patterson has also been repeatedly in conference with the latter; but it seems that Mr. Washington’s ultimatum was, that he would hearken to no propositions from the British commissioners. The Phoenix and Rose men-of-war, have passed up the North River about twenty-four miles, where they were attacked by row galleys and floating batteries, all which they either burnt or sunk, with a vast number of men. It was a dangerous service, and to the honor of Captain Hyde Parker and Captain James Wallace, most intrepidly and effectually performed. They are just returned, having expended all their ammunition.
On my arrival in General Howe’s camp, I found Mr. Cortlandt Skinner appointed colonel, and Mr. John Morris, late of the 47th regiment, lieutenant-colonel of a corps consisting of fifteen hundred loyal Americans, and Major Rogers, the famous partisan in the last war, colonel of a corps of rangers. The Hessians arrived here on the 12th instant, full of health and ardor for immediate service. The guards, on their arrival, were ordered to land and refresh themselves after a tedious voyage, but they desired to be led on directly to action, in resentment of the atrocious insults to their King and country. Their impatience was beyond expressing, when they were told of some indignities lately offered to the statue of their royal sovereign in New York. I find the whole British army is now increased to between twenty-four and twenty-five thousand men, and not more than one hundred sick and disabled men among them.
Some people, lately arrived here from Philadelphia, tell us that Mr. J. Dickinson is employed by the Congress, in digesting a code of laws for the United States of America. We are informed that Mr. John Alsop, one of the New York delegates, has escaped from the Congress, and is on Long Island, on his way to join General Howe. Dr. Peter Middleton, Mr. Theophilus Bache, Mr. Philip John Livingstone, sheriff of Duchess county, Mr. John Watts, jun., recorder of New York, Mr. Augustus Van Cortlandt, and Messrs. Robert and Samuel Auchmuty, are lately arrived in this island, having narrowly escaped from their pursuers.
Lady Johnson is seized by order of General Schuyler, by way of reprisal for Sir John, her husband, who has taken an active and loyal part, at the head of his faithful Mohawks. These have declared that, should the least injury be done to her, they would desolate and extirpate every person and property belonging to this same general. A person just escaped from New York informs us, that there is again a fresh hunt for the friends of government, who are called Tories, and that Mr. Augustus Van Horne, Mr. Vincent Pearce Ashfield, Captain Haradd, Mr. John Roome, jun., Mr. John Stone Fairholme, and Captain Turnbull, late of the Royal Americans, are made prisoners; Captain Archibald Kennedy, of the royal navy, is confined in Morristown, and Governor Franklin, accompanied by that merry heart, David Mathews, Mayor of New York, now under sentence of death for eminent proofs of loyalty to his King and the old constitution, are removed into Connecticut government for the better security of their persons. Early this morning a petiaugre, with sixteen of the provincial soldiers, completely armed, arrived here. They found means to desert to us, and have each man received £3 currency for their firelocks; the general has disposed of them on board the men-of-war, to act as marines. Five guineas a man is given for recruits, who daily enter in great numbers. We are told by persons escaped from Jersey, that Lord Stirling, who commanded and was reconnoitring at Amboy, was killed by a cannon ball from our batteries, and that he was buried at that place. Colonel Guy Johnson is arrived here from England.
On the passage in a Halifax packet, a privateer engaged her; but after Captain Boulderson had gallantly defended his ship three glasses, the adventurer ended the contest by a retreat. On this occasion Dr. Constable received a wound, but is likely to do well. The episcopal churches in New York are all shut up, the prayer books burned, and the ministers scattered abroad in this and neighboring provinces.
It is now the Puritan’s high holiday season, and they enjoy it with rapture all over the continent. Their behavior exactly assimilates the manners of the king-killing tribe during the English grand rebellion, but perhaps they may soon find an alteration in their spirits, from the execution of a plan for a general attack of the island of New York, &c., for which preparations are now making. The whole army is on ship board; General Clinton with the guards, Highlanders, and some other troops, is to land and attack the enemy’s posts on Long Island. Lord Cornwallis is on the point of departure, with a considerable detachment of troops, round Long Island, and to land at New Rochelle, near West Chester; and General Howe, with the main body of the army, to proceed up the North River, and make a descent into West Chester county, as nearly opposite as possible to the place where Lord Cornwallis may secure a landing. Should General Howe succeed in this arrangement, it will be difficult for Mr. Washington to move from the island of New York, so that a general engagement may be expected.
We fancy that several days will elapse before the attack is made, to give time for Lord Cornwallis to get into the Sound, before General Howe attempts his landing in West Chester county. It is said that Mr. Washington’s magazines are all in Cortlandt’s Manor, and to get possession of them must surely be an object of General Howe’s serious attention, and an additional inducement to attempt a landing in the rear of the provincial forces.1
1 Extract of a letter, dated Staten Island; Upcott, iv. 383.