Frank Landon Humphreys.

Life and times of David Humphreys, soldier--statesman--poet, belov'd of Washington, online

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in learning the rank and purpose of Major Andre; the
sending by special messenger to Washington, information
of his important capture and the incriminating papers
he had concealed; were features of a scheme that if carried

180 The French Allies

out as intended would have prolonged the war and tried
the patience and endurance of the people.

It was under the weight of this terrible secret that
Arnold received the aides on that bright September day,
with outward cordiality but inward trembling, and even
Mrs. Arnold's cheerful and witty conversation could not
remove from him an apprehension that the unexpected
early return of Washington from Hartford would lead to
a discovery of his treachery.

The delivery to him while at the table of Col. Jameson's
letter announcing the capture of "John Anderson" and
the forwarding of his papers to the Commander-in-Chief;
his abrupt departure from the room and quick return
to announce his intention of visiting West Point to pre-
pare for its inspection by Washington ; the frenzy of Mrs.
Arnold and precipitate flight of Gen. Arnold; the surprise
and perplexity of Washington to find no commandant
at West Point and not to receive the proper salute;
the arrival at the Robinson house of the travel-stained
messenger who had gone as far as Danbury on his way
to Hartford with the dispatches for Washington; the
opening of them by Col. Hamilton and the consternation
they aroused ; the return of Washington and the rest of the
party and the disclosure to him of the shameful proceeding,
are incidents of that beautiful September Sunday morning
which destroyed the peace and quiet of the day of rest.
Washington's control of himself was remarkable and he
was outwardly calm. Taking Gen. Knox and the Mar-
quis de La Fayette into his confidence and sadly exclaim-
ing: "Whom can we now trust?" he took energetic
measures to arrest Arnold, dispatching Hamilton as soon
as the necessary papers could be made out to endeavour
to overtake him before he reached the Vulture. Andr6
was ordered to be brought under a strong guard to the
Robinson house, but was not seen by Washington. From

Capture of Andre 181

there he was conducted to Tappan and confined in a large
room in "the '76 Stone House" under a double guard.
So carefully did Washington provide against any attempt
to escape that he ordered two officers with drawn swords
to be always in the room and the sentries constantly on
the watch and relieved at frequent intervals.

His capture had created an almost greater sensation
than even the treason of Arnold. He was almost indis-
pensable to Sir Henry Clinton ; a favourite with his brother
officers, he held the pen of a ready writer and could quickly
indite a sweet sonnet or ballad, or discourse learnedly
upon some point of military science or literature; his
artistic taste was shown in many pen and ink sketches
wluch were both graphic and suggestive. In society
his graceful carriage, polished manners, and witty sayings
made him to all the Tory maidens in Philadelphia and
New York "the mould of fashion and the glass of form. "

All the younger officers in the Highlands soon suc-
cumbed to his charms and felt for him both affection and
pity. He was then in his twenty-ninth year, and had all
the ambition and enthusiasm of youth and also many of
the qualities that mark the good soldier.

Strong efforts were made to effect his release and to
mitigate his offence of being within the American lines
without the protection of a flag of truce. Sir Henry
Clinton pleaded for him, and appealed to the well-known
clemency of Washington. Even Arnold, with great ef-
frontery, argued that the pass given to "John Anderson"
by him when still commandant at West Point was suffi-
cient protection and told Washington that Andre could
not be treated as a spy. The personal dignity and manly
bearing of Major Andre impressed the Commander-in-
Chief, and he treated him with courtesy and consideration,
but he also knew that his offence could not be condoned,
for then there would be an end of all discipline, if he were

1 82 The French Allies

not firm in applying to it the rule of civilized warfare.
Washington convened at Tappan on September 29th, a
Court of Inquiry, composed of the ablest and most judi-
cial of his general officers of the main body of the Con-
tinental army. Its members were Gen. Greene, Lord
Stirling, Gen. St. Clair, Marquis de La Fayette, Gen.
Robert Howe, Baron Von Steuben, and Brigadier Gen-
erals Parsons, James Clinton, Knox, Huntington, Glover,
Patterson and Stark; Col. James Laurens was the Judge
Advocate General and Gen. Greene was the President of
the Board.

There was a scrupulous desire to give the accused all the
rights to which he was entitled and to make the inquiry
full and exact.

The high-minded Major, however, by his statement of
his movements from September 20th, to the time of his
capture, made the presence of witnesses unnecessary and
after due deliberation the Board determined: "That
Major Andre, Adjutant General of the British Army ought
to be considered as a spy from the enemy, and that
agreeably to the law and usage of Nations, it is their
opinion that he ought to suffer death. "

With unfeigned sorrow and regret the Commander-in-
Chief approved the sentence. A delay of one day was
granted before it was carried into effect that a delegation
from Sir Henry Clinton might lay before Washington
some considerations which possibly would modify the
sentence. Gen. James Robertson, Lieut. Gov. Andrew
Elliott and Chief Justice William Smith proceeded in the
Greyhound with a flag of truce to Dobbs Ferry. Here
Gen. Greene met Gen. Robertson unofficially; the others
not being military men were not allowed to land. The
conference was long, but no new facts were brought out
which could take from the Adjutant-General the odium
of being within the American lines without a flag of truce,

Execution of John Andre 183

and thus by all military law a spy. On October 2d, Major
Andre was executed by hanging. He was brave, collected
and calm, and the execution which was witnessed by
many officers and soldiers affected them deeply.

Pew incidents of the war are tinged with deeper shades
of sadness than this. No occasion more severely tested
the conflict between Washington's inclination and his
sense of duty.

The part borne in these transactions by Col. Hum-
phreys does not appear from any available documents.
But as one of the General's aides and a personal friend
of Col. Wadsworth he undoubtedly went to Hartford,
where his knowledge of French was probably of service.
The subjoined letter appears to be conclusive on this
point : written to a friend of his in Connecticut, probably
Col. Wadsworth, the Colonel expresses himself as follows:

Head Quarters near
Passaic Falls

Oct 28th 1780

My dear Sir,

. . . What a scene of horror has displayed itself since I
saw you last ! Arnold has now become like a twice told tale of
infamy and so let him sink in perdition tho not oblivion.

The Proceedings of the Board of General Officers on Major
Andre' are published by Order of Congress. — There is also a
handsome account of the whole affair written by a friend of

ours (Col. H n) J & printed in the Philadelphia Papers — To

these let me refer you.

The plan for reducing the number of Regiments in service
is at last compleated, and Congress have resolved to give half
pay to the reduced as well other Officers of the Army for life, —
General Parsons is promoted to be a Major General.

I am happy to learn from Col. Meigs that the Assembly of

1 Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton and Humphreys were at this time
Washington's aides.

184 The French Allies

Connecticut are taking up the affairs of the Army with Spirit.
I know it is unnecessary to impress on you the necessity of hav-
ing an Army for the War & Magazines to subsist it ; had this
been the case, His Excellency's Letter I am sure would have
superseded this necessity. . . . For Heaven's sake let us
have an Army for the War, or no Army at all ... . A few
days will point out the necessity of looking out for Winter
Quarters. You shall hear from me anon.

Your most Obedt Hble Servt

D. Humphrys. 1

In the exciting and distressing scenes that followed the
return he would find full occupation in preparing necessary
papers, in reporting to his chief the deliberations of the
Court, and with his associates in the military family of
Washington admiring the talents and sympathizing with
the sufferings of Major Andre.

Col. Humphreys only briefly alludes to this event in
his Life of Putnam: "The British, who considered this
post as a sort of American Gibraltar, never attempted it
but by the treachery of an American officer. All the
world knows that this project failed." 2

He probably could give to Washington some details
of the life of Benedict Arnold in New Haven, as he was the
only one of the aides who had lived there. Many young
men of family and position had the noble ambition to be
useful to their country, not only in the ranks and as
subordinate officers, but desired to secure thorough mili-
tary science by serving the Commander-in-Chief as aides.
Among them was Thomas Wooster, a college companion of
Col. Humphreys, and a graduate of Yale in 1768. He was
a son of that brave veteran Gen. David Wooster who was
killed at Redding Ridge. Capt. Wooster served under his

* Published from the collection of George Brinley. Dawson's Historical
Magazine, Second Series, vol. i., p. 204.
2 Humphreys' Putnam, Edition of 1788.

Humphreys to Thomas Wooster 185

father as aide in the fall of 1775 upon the borders of West-
chester County. In January 1777 he was commissioned
as Captain in Col. Samuel B. Webb's "additional" regi-
ment and was with it on the Hudson and in Rhode
Island during 1777 and 1778. From November 7, to
June 1, 1779, he was upon a furlough, at the expiration of
which he left the army. A letter to Col. Webb from him
declares that he did not draw his "supernumerary" pay
as an officer during his furlough "as I did not enter the
service for the sake of pay or rank, and imagine I should
not have quitted it till the war was over, if you had not
been so unfortunate as to be taken from it. " He entered
into business but his application to Washington shows
that there was still military ardour in him. Gen. Wash-
ington's reply does not seem to be extant. Its nature
can be imagined from this letter of Col. Humphreys :

Headquarters, October 24th, 1780.

Dear Sir:

It was not until within these two days that I have been
favoured with your letter of the 8th inst. That which you
mention to have sent enclosing the money has not yet come to
hand : and I fear it will not, unless some extraordinary precau-
tions were taken to make the bearer accountable for it. I
have not yet had occasion for the money, but shall in a few
days. You will see by his Excellency's letter to you the reason
why he could not accept of your proposal. He expressed to
me in conversation his entire satisfaction as to your character
and abilities; his unhappiness in not being able to gratify you,
repeating the names of the Gentlemen whose services he had
previously declined, and discovered a delicate apprehension
lest you should consider the matter in any improper point of
view Tho' the reasons for his conduct, I am confident will
be satisfactory to you.

It gives me real concern that I am not likely to be made
happy with your Company as I had flattered myself.

1 86 The French Allies

We have nothing new of any consequence.
My compliments wait on Mrs. Wooster and my other friends
of your acquaintance.

Believe me to be, Dear Sir,

Your most obdt. Hble. Servt.

D. Humphreys.
Thomas Wooster, Esq.
Endorsement :

To Thomas Wooster, Esq.
New Haven.

After the Revolution young Wooster removed to New
Orleans. It was on a voyage to his new home from New
Haven, in 1792, that he was lost at sea. 1

Washington, after strengthening the garrison at West
Point, which was put under the command of Gen. Heath,
removed the main body of the northern army to the
Passaic hills, and again occupied Col. Dey's house as
headquarters. Here was once more carefully planned an
attack upon the forts of the enemy near Kingsbridge in
the upper part of Manhattan Island. If there seemed to
be a favourable opportunity and the garrison of New York
was not increased it was intended to make a bold dash for
the city. The younger officers had chafed under the
inactivity of the campaign. La Fayette was particularly
anxious for some hostile demonstration, fearing that the
present course would be misunderstood and injure the
American cause in his own country. As Gen. Washington
had always desired to make an attack upon New York
he thought the present time when Sir Henry Clinton
would probably send large detachments to strengthen the
army in the South under Lord Cornwallis most opportune.
The ultimate design of Gen. Washington was known to
very few.

The amiable and learned Marquis de Chastellux, one

1 Prof. Henry P. Johnston's Yale in the Revolution, p. 250.

Attack upon New York Discussed 187

of the Major-Generals in the French army under Comte
de Rochambeau, was occupying his leisure in travelling
in those parts of the country where he could go with safety.
He was an acute observer, versed in military science, and
desirous of observing carefully the work of the great
American commander. He visited Washington at the
Dey house while spending some days with his relative,
La Fayette. A few days previously a memoir had been
prepared upon the feasibility of securing New York by
an attack upon Kingsbridge and Fort Washington. The
subject was discussed at headquarters by Washington,
La Fayette and others, in a general way, in the presence
of the traveller, who had been graciously received and
invited to join the company at the General's table. The
Marquis has given a detailed and lively description of
the dinner, the conversation, and his impressions of the
American chief whom he then saw for the first time. *

The carrying into execution of the plan was entrusted
to General Heath, who received confidential orders by
word of mouth from Col. Humphreys. In the papers of
Col. Pickering, Quartermaster-General, is a letter written
by Col. Humphreys as aide-de-camp dated November
6, 1780, requesting him to provide carriages for the trans-
portation of boats. 2 It was the intention that a "grand"
forage should be made under the command of Gen. Stark.
Several small parties also were to be sent on expeditions.

It was planned that all should meet the main army at
Kingsbridge. The Colonel thus explains the design of this
movement :

1 For La Fayette's "Memoirs," see The Writings of Washington, Being His
Correspondence, Addresses, Messages and Other Papers, Official and Private,
with a Life of the Author, Notes and Illustrations, by Jared Sparks, Russell
&c, Boston, 1835, vol. viii., p. 538. For a summary of the Marquis de
Chastellux's visit, see living's Washington, vol. iv., pp. 177, 181.

2 "Index to Pickering Papers," in Massachusetts Historical Society Collec-
tions, p. 226.

188 The French Allies

A multitude of proofs might be produced to demonstrate that
military facts cannot always be accurately known but by the
Commander-in-Chief and his confidential officers. The Mar-
quis de Chastelleux (whose opportunity to acquire general
information, respecting those parts of the American war which
he hath casually mentioned, was better than that of any other
writer) gives an account of a grand Forage which Gen. Heath
ordered to be made towards Kingsbridge in the autumn of 1 780.
The Marquis, who was present when the detachment marched,
and to whom Gen. Heath shewed the orders given to General
Stark, the commanding officer of the expedition, observes that
he had never seen, in manuscript, or print, more pertinent
instructions. Now the fact is, that this detachment, under
pretext of a forage was intended by the Commander-in-Chief
to co-operate with the main army, in an attempt against the
enemy's posts on York-Island ; and that General Heath himself
was then ignorant of the real design. The Commander-in-
Chief spent a whole campaign in ripening this project. Boats,
mounted on travelling carriages, were kept constantly with
the army. The Marquis de La Fayette, at the head of the
Light Infantry, was to have made the attack in the night
on Fort Washington. The period chosen for this enterprise
was the very time when the army were to break up their
camp and march into winter-quarters; so that the Com-
mander-in-Chief, moving in the dusk of the evening, would
have been on the banks of the Hudson, with his whole
force, to have supported the attack. The cautious manner
in which the co-operation on the part of the troops sent
by General Heath, on the pretended forage, was to have
been conducted, will be understood from the following secret
instructions :

To Brigadier General Stark
Headquarters, Passaic Falls, Nov. 21, 1780.


Colonel Humphreys, one of my Aides-de-Camp, is charged
by me with orders of a private and particular nature, which he

Attack on York-Island Planned 189

is to deliver to you, and which you are to obey . He will inform
you of the necessity of this mode of communication.

I am, Sir, &c.

G. Washington.

To Lieut. Col. David Humphreys, A. D. Camp


You are immediately to proceed to West Point and com-
municate the business committed to you, in confidence, to
Major Heath, and to no other person whatsoever; from thence
you will repair to the detachment at the Whit Plains on
Friday next, taking measures to prevent their leaving that
place, before you get to them. And in the course of the suc-
ceeding night you may inform the commanding officer of the
enterprise in contemplation against the enemy's posts on
York-Island. As the troops are constantly to lie on their arms,
no previous notice should be given; but they may be put in
motion precisely at 4 o'clock, and commence a slow and
regular march to King's Bridge, until they shall discover or
be informed of the concerted signals being made — when the
march must be pressed with the greatest rapidity. Parties
of horse should be sent forward to keep a look out for the
signals. Although the main body ought to be kept intact,
patroles of horse and light parties might be sent towards East
and West Chester, and upon the signals being discovered
Sheldon's regiment and the Connecticut State troops (which
may also be put in motion as soon as the orders can be com-
municated after 4 o'clock) should be pushed forward to inter-
cept any of the enemy, who may attempt to gain Frog's Neck,
and to cut off the Refugee-corps at Morrissania. A few men,
with some address, may spread such an alarm as to prevent
an attempt of the enemy to retreat to Frog's Neck, from an
apprehension of surrounding parties. You will communicate
these instructions to the commanding officer of the detach-
ment, who, upon his approach to King's Bridge, will receive
orders from me as early as possible. Should the signals not
be discovered, the troops will halt at least six miles from the
bridge, until further intelligence can be obtained. The

190 The French Allies

absolute necessity of the most perfect secrecy is the occasion
of communicating my orders through this channel.

Given at Head Quarters, Passaic Falls, this 22d. day of Nov. 1780.

G. Washington.

Never was a plan better arranged, and never did the circum-
stances promise more sure or complete success. The British
were not only unalarmed, but our troops were likewise entirely
misguided in their expectations. The accidental intervention
of some prevented at this time the attempt, which was more
than once resumed afterwards. Notwithstanding this favour-
ite project was not ultimately effected, it was evidently not
less bold in conception or feasible in accomplishment, than that
attempted so successfully at Trenton; or than that which
was brought to so glorious an issue in the successful siege of

It is true the Marquis de Chastellux, whose professional
knowledge and fountain-head intelligence have enabled him to
describe several actions better than they are elsewhere de-
scribed, speaks in this instance of an ulterior object, and says
that secrets were preserved more inviolable in the American
than in the French army. His words are : ' ' C'est que le secret
est gard6 tres exactement a l'armee Americaine; peu de per-
sonnes ont part a la confiance du Chef, et en general on y
parle moins que dans les armees Francaises des operations de
la guerre, et de ce que Ton appelle chez nous les Nouvelles." 1

At the last moment Washington was compelled to
abandon his well matured plans and accordingly issued
the following order to Colonel Humphreys:

To Lieut. Col. David Humphreys, A . D. Camp

Head Quarters, Nov. 24, 1780.
Dear Sir,

Some intelligence having been received from New York
unfavourable to the project I had in contemplation, I have

1 Life of Putnam, p. 247, note. The instructions to Colonel Humphreys
are also given in Sparks' Washington, vol. vii., pp. 306, 307.

Continental Army Reorganized 191

relinquished it, and am to desire the detachment under
General Stark will discontinue its co-operations and take such
measures as are necessary for its security and for making the
Forage originally intended.

I am, with great Regard &c,

G. Washington.

At the close of this year, 1780, the Continental Army
was reorganized by the consolidation of the regiments of
the several State "Lines. " The number was reduced, as
Humphreys states in his letter of October 28, 1780. The
eight or nine regiments of Connecticut were re-arranged
in five battalions, with a general transfer of many of the
officers. Humphreys, who had been borne on the rolls
for the past three years as Captain in the Sixth Regiment,
was assigned to the new Fourth Regiment commanded
by Col. Zebulon Butler. It is an interesting fact, seldom
referred to in histories of the Revolutionary War, that a
considerable number of negroes enlisted in the Continental
Army. Two months after the battle of Monmouth, in
1778, Adjutant-General Scammell made a return of such
troops then in the army. They were enrolled in fourteen
different regiments and represented several States. Five
hundred and eighty-six were in active service, out of a
total muster of seven hundred and fifty-two. There were
about one hundred of them scattered throughout the
fifty or more companies in the Connecticut Line. When
the above consolidation took place however, going into
effect on January 1, 1781, the Connecticut negro soldiers
appear to have been brought together into one company
in Colonel Butler's regiment and put under the nominal
command of Col. Humphreys. It is a tradition that he
was one of the first men in the country to recognize the
possibilities of the negro as a soldier, and by his own in-
fluence and that of his faithful body-servant, Jethro


The French Allies

Martin, among people of his own race, created much
enthusiasm for the cause of freedom among the negroes
of Connecticut, who were largely household servants. 1

The following is the roll of Captain Humphreys'
consolidated negro company in 1781-83; as given in the
official record of Connecticut men in the Revolution,
published by the Adjutant-General, Hartford. It may
contain many a gallant name which should be rescued
from oblivion :

Jack Arabas
Casar Bagden
Casar Chapman
Sampson Cuff
Ned Freedom
Prinnis Freeman
Andrew Jack
Alexander Judd
Jeffery Liberty
Jack Little
John Rogers
Solomon Soutree
Ezekiel Tuphand
Cato Williams
Dick Freedom
London Sawyer

The Negro Company

Bristol Baker
Hearper Camp
Timothy Casar
James Dinor
Cuff Freedom
Peter Gibbs
Prince Johnson
Peter Lyon
Sharp Liberty
Lewis Martin
Sharp Rogers
Jeffery Sill
Hector Williams
Dick Violett
Congo Jack (?)
Simon Rose

Peter Mix
Job Casar
Pomp Cyrus
Jube Dyer
Peter Freeman
Prince George
Shubael Johnson
Pomp Liberty
Cuff Liberty
Jesse Otis
Cato Robinson
William Sowers
Harry Williams
Jube Freeman
Pomp McCuff
Pomp Edore

1 The National Portrait Gallery, vol. ii., states that "Humphreys, when
in active service, had given the sanction of his name and influence in the
establishment of a Company, of Coloured infantry attached to Meigs',
afterwards Butler's regiment, in the Connecticut Line. He continued to
be the nominal Captain until the establishment of peace. " The Connecti-
cut Revolutionary rolls fail to show a negro company in Meigs' regiment.

Online LibraryFrank Landon HumphreysLife and times of David Humphreys, soldier--statesman--poet, belov'd of Washington, → online text (page 15 of 36)