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The Irish in the American revolution, and their early influence in the colonies online

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paign was crowned by a glorious -death at this same siege? He
received his death-wound on the ramparts while in the act of res-
cuing the American flag from the English, who had overwhelmed
the first assaulting party, "but his hold did not relax, and he bore
it off to a place of safety before he fell and died." Professor
Sparks says of him: "Sergeant William Jasper had probably
done more injury to the enemy than any one man in the Ameri-
can army." The city of Savannah has raised a monument in
honor of this brave Irishman, who, like many thousands of his
countrymen on later fields, willingly gave his life to "save the

Count Dillon was not the only notable Irishman present at
the surrender of Cornwallis ; there were others outside of his
regiment. The name of M. Lynch appears in the list of
Rochambeau's staff, whose chaplain, too, was an Irishman.


Exhaustive as are those articles of Richelieu Robinson and
W. J. Onahan, they leave many things unsaid as to the services
of Irishmen at Yorktown. It is safe to say that between the
Pennsylvania Line, the Irish in the French army and those in
the militia and Continental forces, our countrymen were present
in far greater numbers than all other nationalities combined
when the death blow was given to English power at Yorktown.

The surrender of Cornwallis was hailed with intense joy
throughout the country and thousands of citizens assembled to
witness his humiliation. If ever a commanding officer deserved
punishment at the hands of his captors Cornwallis was the man,
but the Americans, as was their custom throughout the war, re-
frained from giving him the same treatment which they had re-
ceived at his hands. They heaped coals of fire upon his head by
returning good for all the evil he had done them.

He was justly styled the terror of the South, and Lossing
says that his conduct during his march of over 1,500 miles
through that section was disgraceful to the British name. He
suffered dwelling houses to be plundered of everything that could
be carried off, and it was well known that his table was furnished
with plate thus obtained from private families. His march
was more frequently that of a marauder than an honorable gen-
eral, and it was estimated, on the best information, that during
the six months previous to his surrender the devastation of his
army amounted to about fifteen million dollars.

Among those of our race who gave up their lives at York-
town was Colonel Alexander Scammell, who had bravely dis-
tinguished himself throughout the entire war. He had been com-


mander of the First and Third New Hampshire regiments, nearly
all of whom were Irish, and adjutant-general of Washington's
army. He studied law in the office of General John Sullivan, and
was with that gallant officer when he struck the first blow of
the Revolution at Fort William and Mary. He was mortally
wounded by Hessian officers after he had surrendered, on Sep-
tember 30, and his death was justly denounced as a cowardly

Young Lieutenant Wilson, who had the honor of receiving
the surrendered flags at Yorktown, was, as Robinson says, the
nephew of a famous Irishman, Captain James Gregg, of New
Hampshire, well known in the history of the Mohawk Valley, in
New York.

Young Wilson was with his uncle at Fort Schuyler when it
was invested by St. Ledger in 1777. Captain Gregg was one of
the commanders of the garrison, and one day went out, with two
of his soldiers and his young nephew, to shoot pigeons. Fearing
the Indians, the boy was sent back, and the party had not pro-
ceeded far before they were attacked by some Indians in am-
bush, who shot down all three, scalped them, and made off. Cap-
tain Gregg, though badly wounded, was not killed. His two
soldiers, however, were lifeless, and, laying his bleeding head
upon the body of one of them, he expected soon to die. His dog
had accompanied him, and, in great agitation, whined, licked his
wounds, and otherwise manifested his grief and attachment. He
told the dog to go for help, and the animal, as if endowed with
reason, at once obeyed him. He ran about a mile and found two
man fishing. By piteous moans he induced them to follow him
to his wounded master. The captain was carried to the fort,
and, after much suffering, was restored to health. "He was a
most frightful spectacle," says Dr. Thacher. "The whole of his
scalp was removed ; in two places, in the forepart of his head, the
tomahawk had penetrated the skull; there was a wound on his
back with the same instrument, besides a wound in his side and
another through his arm with a musket ball."

This was the uncle of Lieutenant Wilson, and the young
man had accompanied him through the war since he was twelve
years of age, thereby earning for himself the great honor con-
ferred upon him at Yorktown, leaving out the sacrifices of his
uncle and other members of his family.

We cannot here recount the individual efforts of the many
Irishmen who were present in this decisive battle, but we may
mention, in addition to the many instances of their bravery re-
cited by Robinson and Onahan, that General James Clinton, Col-
onel Francis Barber, Colonel Stephen Moylan, Colonel Richard


Butler, and his brother, Captain Pierce Butler, distinguished
themselves during the siege.

With the exception of the action in the South which we
have already described, the siege of Yorktowr was the last en-
gagement of the war. The French army remained in Virginia
until the summer of 1782, when it joined Washington's army on
the Hudson, its headquarters being near Peekskill.

On his march northward Rochambeau everywhere met with
enthusiastic receptions, not only on account of the great aid he
rendered to the American cause, but for the order and discipline
of his army in its progress through the country. His soldiers
would not even take fruit from the trees without leave.

The French army remained at Peekskill until October, when
it commenced its march to Boston, going by way of Hartford and
Providence. At the latter place Rochambeau took leave of his
troops and returned to Washington's headquarters at New Wind-
sor on the Hudson.

Soon after the arrival of the French troops in Boston John
Hancock, the Irish-American Governor of Massachusetts, gave
a public dinner to the officers of the army and navy. On Decem-
ber 24, 1782, the French fleets sailed from Boston for St. Do-
mingo with all the troops except Lauzun's Legion, which had
been sent to the aid of General Greene in the South, the army
having been in the United States two years and six months.

Having paid a visit to Washington, Rochambeau, on Janu-
ary 14, 1783, embarked at Norfolk, Va., for France. Before he
left Congress presented him with resolutions praising his brav-
ery, the services he had rendered to the cause of independence,
and the discipline he had maintained in his army. It also gave
him two cannon that he had taken from the enemy at Yorktown,
and recommended him to the most favorable consideration of
the King of France. The blessings of the American people fol-
lowed him to his French home, and even in our own day a mag-
nificent statue keeps his memory green in our national capital.

Soon after the departure of Rochambeau two of the most
painful events in the life of Washington occurred at Newburgh.
One of these — that relating to what is called the Newburgh Ad-
dress — we have already described in our remarks on General
John Armstrong, Jr. The other was the proposition of Colonel
Nicola advocating, in a personal letter to Washington, the estab-
lishment of a monarchy and tendering him the title of King.
Nicola was quickly made to realize the true character of his illus-
trious chief by the following stinging rebuke which he received
at his hands :


"Sir — With a mixture of great surprise and astonishment, I
have read with attention the sentiments you have submitted to
my perusal. Be assured, sir, no occurrence in the course of this
war has given me more painful sensations than your information
of there being such ideas existing in the army as you have ex-
pressed, and which I must view with abhorence and reprehend
with severity. For the present, the communication of them will
rest in my own bosom, unless some further agitation of the mat-
ter shall make a disclosure necessary. I am much at a loss to
conceive what part of my conduct could have given encouragment
to an address which to me seems big with the greatest inischiefs
that can befall my country. If I am not deceived in the knowl-
edge of myself, you could not have found a person to whom your
schemes are more disagreeable. At the same time, in justice to
my own feelings, I must add that no man possesses a more serious
wish to see ample justice done to the army than I do, and, as far
as my power and influence, in a constitutional way, extend, they
shall be employed to the utmost of my abilities to effect it, should
there be any occasion. Let me conjure you, then, if you have
any regard for your country, concern for yourself or posterity, or
respect for me, to banish these thoughts from your mind, and
never communicate, as from yourself or any one else, a sentiment
of the like nature. GEORGE WASHINGTON."

When the final arrangements for the evacuation of the Brit-
ish came to be made Sir Guy Carleton was in chief command of
his majesty's forces in America, and thus it fell to the lot of an
Irishman to deliver the new nation into the hands of Washing-
ton — a task which must have been pleasing to him as the former
companion of the brave Montgomery and the most honorable
English commander in America.

On the 2d of November, 1783, Washington issued his fare-
well address to the armies of the United States, and on the 14th
of the same month he made arrangements with Governor Clinton
to enter and take possession of the city of New York. As the re-
sult of a conference held at Dobb's Ferry by Washington, Clinton,
and Carleton, the 25th of November was appointed as the time
for the departure of the British troops.

On that day the American troops under General Knox took
possession of the city amid the roaring of the artillery and the
joyous shouts of the vast multitude, while Washington formally
entered, attended by Governor Clinton and a long procession of
leading citizens.

A week of feasting and thanksgiving followed, and on
Thursday, December 4, the officers of the army bade farewell to


their beloved chief at Fraunce's Tavern, where the deeply touch-
ing scene so well described by Robinson was enacted.

The last survivor of those affecting incidents was Major
Robert Burnet, the son of an Irish woman, who commanded the
rear guard of the Americans on the day of the evacuation, and
who died on December i, 1854, seventy-one years after the great
historic events.

Washington repaired immediately to Annapolis, where Con-
gress was then in session, his progress being attended by great
popular demonstrations. As he entered the National Assembly
he was met at the door by Secretary Thomson, who conducted him
to a seat, when President Miflin announced that the United
States, in Congress assembled, was prepared to receive his com-

Washington arose for the last time as commander-in-chief
of the Army of Independence and delivered a dignified and heart-
felt address, briefly stating that the great events upon which his
resignation depended had at length taken place, and recommend-
ing his soldiers, who, through their great sacrifices, had won the
freedom of their country, to the kindest consideration of Con-
gress. "I consider it," he concluded, "as an indispensable duty to
close this last act of my official life by commending the interests
of our dearest country to the protection of Almighty God, and
those who have the superintendence of them to His holy keeping.
Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the
great theater of action, and. bidding an affectionate farewell to
this august body, under whose orders I have so long acted, I
here offer my commission and take leave of all the employments
of public life."

In acknowledging the receipt of the communication Presi-
dent Miflin paid a glowing tribute to the career and character of
Washington, joined with him in commending the nation to divine
care, and closed with earnest prayers that God would foster a life
so well beloved and . finally grant him that reward which this
world cannot give.

After more than eight years of the most arduous and exact-
ing service Washington returned to his home at Mount Vernon,
having accomplished a task never before equaled in the history of

As New York was merely a prison house and a barrack dur-
ing the seven years of its occupancy by the British, the Americans
found it in a most deplorable condition when they entered it.
The wide tract swept by the fire of 1776 still lay in blackened
ruins, and every house bore evidences of destruction at the hands


of the soldiers. The streets were filled with filth and ashes, and
the whole city seemed a total wreck.

But with the spirit of freedom actuating its citizens it soon
arose from its ruins and started on that wonderful career which
has since made it the second city of the world and will soon make
it the first. James Duane, the son of Anthony Duane, of Cong,
County Galway, Ireland, had the honor of being its first mayor
of the new government, and under his wise and able direction it
bounded forward with flying leaps. He had been a member of
the Continental Congress during the whole period of its existence,
and while he was chief magistrate of New York he had the pleas-
ure of welcoming to the city the old Congress, of which he was
a member ; the First Congress under the present Constitution, and
George Washington as first President of the United States. He
was the founder of Duanesburg, Schenectady County, and lies
buried there under a church which he had erected during his life-

During the Revolution thousands of American prisoners
\yere crowded into New York, and every building of any size
was a guardhouse and every cellar a dungeon. One of the gloom-
iest of these prisons, as described in the Story of Manhattan, was
an old sugar house close by the Middle Dutch Church. It was
five stories high, and was built in the days of Jacob Leisler, with
thick stone walls and small windows. The stories were so low
and the windows so small that there was no air, and underneath
was a black and dismal cellar. The pale and sunken faces of the
prisoners filled the openings by day and night seeking air, and
there were so many of them confined there that they had to divide
themselves into groups to do so. They slept on straw that was
never changed, and the food given them was not enough to keep
them alive. They might have freed themselves from this living
death by joining the British, but few deserted their colors even in
the face of death. They died by scores of fevers which always
raged. Their bodies were thrown out of doors every morning
and gathered up in carts and buried in trenches, like dogs, in
the outskirts of the city. This was only one of a dozen such in-
fernos ; but the worst of all was the New Jail, which was after-
ward turned into the Hall of Records, and which stood on the
site of the present Brooklyn Bridge Subway Station until 1903.

In Chapter XI of his Irish-American Historical Miscellany,
John D. Crimmins gives a harrowing account of the Brooklyn
prison ships and publishes a list of 354 patriots bearing Irish
names who had been confined there. Mr. Crimmins estimates
that 11,000 prisoners perished from all causes aboard these ships
during the Revolution, and quotes from many authorities to show


the manner of their horrible deaths. One of these is William
Burke, who had been a prisoner on the Jersey for fourteen
months, and who states that the cruel treatment was never re-
laxed by the English or Scots, but sometimes the more humane
Hessians evinced pity for the unfortunate sufferers.

"During that period," writes Burke, "among other cruelties
which were committed, I have known many of the American
prisoners put to death by the bayonet. In particular I well recol-
lect that it was the custom on board the ship for but one prisoner
at a time to be admitted on deck at night, besides the guards or
sentinels. One night, while the prisoners v/ere many of them
assembled at the grate at the hatchway for the purpose of obtain-
ing fresh air, and waiting their turn to go on deck, one of the sen-
tinels thrust his bayonet down among them, and in the morning
twenty-five of them were found wounded, and stuck in the heard,
and dead of the wounds they had thus received. I further recol-
lect that this was the case several mornings, when sometimes five,
sometimes six, and sometimes eight or ten were found dead by
the same mea:is."

Mr. Crimmins recites the following affecting^ incident regard-
ing one prisoner who died on the Jersey : "Two young men,
brothers, belonging to a rifle corps, were made prisoners and sent
on board the ship. The elder took the fever, and in a few days
became delirious. One night (his end was fast approaching) he
became calm and sensible, and, lamenting his hard fate and the
absence of his mother, begged for a little water. His brother,
with tears, entreated the guard to give him some, but in vain.
The sick youth was soon in his last struggles, when his brother
offered the guard a guinea for an inch of candle, only that he
might see him die. Even this he was denied. 'Now,' said he,
drying up his tears, 'if it please God that I ever regain my lib-
erty, I'll be a most bitter enemy I' He regained his liberty, re-
joined the army, and when the war ended he had eight large and
one hundred and twenty-seven small notches on his rifle stock."

Henry R. Stiles, in his History of the City of Brooklyn, as
quoted by Mr. Crimmins, describes the following scene which
took place on the Jersey on July 4, 1782. when the war may be
said to have been over, and an era of better feeling might have
been expected to prevail on the part of the English garrison :

"A very severe conflict with the guard occurred," writes
Stiles, in consequence of the prisoners attempting to celebrate the
day with such observances and amusements as their condition
permitted. Upon going on deck in the morrtng they displayed
sliirteen little national flags in a row upon the booms, which were
immediately torn down and trampled under the feet of the guard.


which on that day happened to consist of Scotchmen, Deigning
no notice of this, the prisoners proceeded to amuse themselves
with patriotic songs, speeches, and cheers, all the while avoiding
whatever could be construed into an intentional insult of the
guard, which, however, at an unusually early hour in the after-
noon, drov€ them below at the point of the bayonet and closed
the hatches. Between decks, the prisoners now continued their
singing, etc., until about 9 o'clock in the evening. An order to
desist not having been promptly complied with, the hatches were
suddenly removed, and the guards descended among them, with
lanterns and cutlasses in their hands. Then ensued a scene of
terror. The helpless prisoners, retreating from the hatchways as
far as their crowded condition would permit, were followed by
the guards, who mercilessly hacked, cut, and wounded every one
within their reach, and then, ascending again to the upper deck,
fastened down the hatches upon the poor victims of their cruel
rage, leaving them to languish through the long, sultry summer
night without water to cool their parched throats and v*rithout
lights by which they might have dressed their wounds. And to
add to their torment it was not until the middle of the next fore-
noon that the prisoners were allowed to go on deck and slake
their thirst or to receive their rations of food, which, that day,
they were obliged to eat uncooked. Ten corpses were found be-
low on the morning that succeeded that memorable 4th of July,
and many others were badly wounded."

Nowhere in America were sufferings for the American
cause more heroically borne than on the prison ships moored in
the Wallabout, now occupied by the Brooklyn Navy Yard. As
Stiles says, it was this calm, unfaltering, unconquerable spirit
of patriotism — defying torture, starvation, loathsome disease, and
the prospect of a neglected and forgotten grave — which sancti-
fies to every American heart the scene of their suffering in the
Wallabout, and which will render the sad story of the prison
ships one of ever-increasing interest to all future generations.

The bones of these patriots, washed from their shallow graves
by the ever-recurring tides, continued to whiten the Brooklyn
shore for many years after the Revolution, and it was not until
1808 that a suitable vault was built for their reception by Tam-
many Hall, then, as now, mainly composed of Irishmen.

We have now come to the close of the War of the Revolu-
tion, which droA^e the English out of America and established its
freedom and independence, and in our hasty glance at the events
from the capture of Fort William and Mary by John Sullivan
to the surrender of Cornwallis, and further on to the fall of
Charleston, we think we have established the fact that our coun-


trymen, both as commanding officers and fighting soldiers —
alluded to as the Line of Ireland by Light Horse Harry Lee —
were among the most active participants of the long-continued
struggle which many times seemed hopeless of success.

From the first to the last they were ever at the front, and
even in the scenes which marked its glorious conclusion we have
seen General Knox entering New York as commander of the
victorious Americans, Governor George Clinton at the head of
the State troops, Major Burnet in charge of the rear guard, and
the venerable Charles Thomson, as the Secretary of the Conti-
nental Congress from its opening to its close, leading Washington
before that body to tender his resignation after his great work
was done.

We have written no new history on this matter, and all our
efforts have been directed to restore absolute facts to the readers
of the present day. The official records of the Revolution do
full justice to the Irishmen who took part in it, but these records
have been so deliberately laid aside by modern writers, or so
grossly distorted from their original shape, that great injustice
has been done the innumerable Irishmen and Irish-Americans who
freely sacrificed and bravely fought for the establishment and in-
dependence of this republic.

The evidence which we have collected in this connection, and
which we have been careful to duly credit to its various authors,
represents only a small part of what exists in the archives of the
thirteen original States or lies hidden away in private and public
libraries throughout the country. It is a vast field to cover, and
our means of reaching the sources of stored knowledge have been
very meager. We have done the best we could with the data at
our disposal, but we are confident that a more thorough study
of a local nature, which at present is beyond our reach, would
reveal far more to the credit of the Irish race than we have been
able to glean.

We are satisfied, however, that the facts we have set forth
in these chronicles, as they appeared from month to month in
The National Hibernian, have already aroused a deep and wide-
spread interest, and we believe it will continue to grow in strength
until we shall have a volume on the subject for every State in the

Theodore Roosevelt has publicly proclaimed that the people
who have come to this country from Ireland have contributed to
the stock of our common citizenship qualities which are essential
to the welfare of every great nation. "They are a masterful race
of rugged character," he says; "a race the qualities of whose
womanhood have become proverbial, while its men have the ele-
mental, the indispensable, virtues of working hard in time of peace
and fighting hard in time of war." ♦


The Irishmen of the present day are still marked by these
sterling qualities, and they may be depended upon through all

Online LibraryJames HaltiganThe Irish in the American revolution, and their early influence in the colonies → online text (page 65 of 67)