John Graver Johnson.

A criticism of Mr. Wm. B. Reed's aspersions on the character of Dr. Benjamin Rush, with an incidental consideration of General Joseph Reed's character online

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Online LibraryJohn Graver JohnsonA criticism of Mr. Wm. B. Reed's aspersions on the character of Dr. Benjamin Rush, with an incidental consideration of General Joseph Reed's character → online text (page 1 of 4)
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" And he that stands upon a slippery place,
Makes nice of no vile hold to stay him up." — King John.



1 367.


Undeestaxdixg that the descendants of Dr. Ben-
jamin Rush will not reply to Mr. Win. B. Reed's
recent assault upon their ancestor, the writer, per-
sonally acquainted with many of them, and, as an
American, indignant at Mr. Reed's attempt to de-
preciate the national inheritance in the fair fame of
the Founders of our Independence, by exhibiting to
the public as a true picture of one of these patriots, a
portrait which, with' no light other than that of a
treacherous imagination, he has outlined by Little
stabs with a stiletto steeped in the gall of his pas-
sions, has felt impelled to do so himself and t<>
unmask the real motives of the attack.

In doing this, however, he has ventured upon no
systematic review of Mr. Reed's work, and has re-
spected the feelings of those universally esteemed
descendants of General Reed, who have never joined

in Mr. Wm, B. Reed's efforts to force their ancestor
into an undue prominence, nor in his assaults upon
those whom the sanctity of the grave should have
shielded. He has therefore declined a discussion of
the charge of treason so frequently made, and, in
support of those he has considered, has neither
searched for new materials, nor availed himself of
old ones not already known to the public through
the Cadwalader Pamphlet, and the "Life and Corre-
spondence of Joseph Reed, by his Grandson."

J. Gr. J.

13th May, 1867.


Mr. Benjamin Rush's Reply, which has been received since the comple-
tion of this Criticism, has removed one of the reasons which induced its




There are, in this community, many who, whilst
they might favorably consider an application for the
defendant's pardon, in Commonwealth vs. Reed, have
ever felt it their duty to frustrate, not only his
accomplished "advocate's" unprofessional attempts
to set aside a verdict, which has stood, for upwards
of eighty-four years, unappealed from and unshaken,
but still more his efforts to substitute for the notoriety
which justly attached to his client the greatness
which was not his due, by making astronomical
observations in the Revolutionary sky through a
telescope reversed whenever the Satellite Reed was
not in the field of vision. They have done this by
republishing, twice or thrice since 1847, the un-
answered and unanswerable charges, specifications,
and proofs, of the Cadwalader indictment.

There are others, however, of whom the writer,
until recently, was one, who, in admiration of the


untiring industry with which Mr. Reed has so long
labored at his Herculean task of cleaning the Augean
stable of his grandfather's reputation, and still more
out of regard for the sanctity of the grave and the
susceptibilities of the living, have felt no disposition
to interfere with his endeavors to deceive the public
as to the exceeding smallness of his patrimony in
that particular in which, according to Home Tooke,
the children of Sir John Scott were so unfortunate.
Such interference, however, has now become an im-
perative duty, since, not content quietly to submit to
his failure to remove the remains of his ancestor from
the Valley of Humiliation in which, though im-
honored, they were mouldering undisturbed, to that
Laurel Hill in which lie entombed only the "ac-
credited" patriots of the Revolution, Mr. Reed has
striven, in his revenge, to disfigure and overturn the
monuments which the gratitude of posterity had
erected over the honored dead.

During General Reed's lifetime he was publicly
charged by a responsible accuser, upon adduced
testimony, with,

First. Such cowardly disaffection during the month
of December, 1776, whilst holding a responsible
position in the American Army, as inclined him to
consider favorably the propriety of applying for the
protection offered by the British Commissioners to
those who accepted it prior to January, 1777.

Second. An actual application for this protection.

This second count, for the reason given in the
Introduction, will not be discussed. If, goaded into
desperation by Mr. Bancroft's mere allusion to what,
in the shape of formal charges and proofs in a
pamphlet published upwards of eighty-fonr years
ago, neither his ancestor, himself, nor any of his
immediate descendants ever refuted, Mr. Reed has
succeeded in demonstrating that his grandfather was
unjustly accused of being a traitor, none more than
the writer will rejoice. Though he may not de-
sire to have General Reed canonized, even in the
order of "Latter-Day Saints," he cannot, if he was
innocent, sufficiently deplore the singular hardness
of the fate by which, without concert or mutual
knowledge, he became the victim of entries in pri-
vate "Journals," of the adverse "rumors" of the
enemy's camp, of the accusations of his countrymen,
and of the harsh criticisms of travellers. How
thoroughly Mr. Reed has succeeded in demolishing
the " Donop Diary," and in convicting Mr. Bancroft
of perversions and false assertions, with materials
admitted to have been furnished by the "malicious
defamer" himself; and how far, even upon bis own
version,* the words "Colonel Reed having received a
protection" are to be taken as the statement, in

* Page 91 of Mr. Reed's Reply.


parenthesis, of a fact, or as a part of the rumors,
must be for others to discuss and decide.

This charge, however, does not necessarily imply
the existence of a treacherous heart. General Reed's
sympathies must have ever been, not with the British,
but with the people amongst whom his life had been
passed; and if he was led astray, it must have been
by his fears. If this "Reed," which the sun of King
George's royal favor could not warp, was broken at
last, it was not until after it had been "shaken by
the winds" of adversity which swept with such ter-
rible force over the sands and through the pines of
New Jersey. Whilst he lay at Burlington, with his
family safely disposed of, on that memorable Decem-
ber morning when the days of grace were so nearly
numbered, he must have still hoped for news of such
a victory for America as would render safe, in the
future, adhesion to her cause. His " Pomroy" letter,
though manifesting no desire to lead or even to join,
the forlorn hope he counselled, shows an anxiety not
only that it should be formed, but also that it should
attack with success, before "the sixty days expire
which the commissioners have allowed."

" There is in this country," says Mr. Reed, "a class
of men, happily not numerous, who take pleasure in
disparaging the accredited patriots of the first Revo-
lution. They do so either from hereditary or jjersoual
animosity, or on a principle of paradox and contradic-


tion." Before attempting to demonstrate the truth
of Dr. Rush's statements concerning General Reed,
and the groundlessness of Mr. "W. B. Reed's attacks,
which will involve an incidental consideration of the
first of the above counts, it will be shown that the
attack was unnecessary and unprovoked, and could
only have originated in the instincts of one of the
class which Mr. Reed, fearlessly disregarding the
odium attaching to the accomplice-informer, has so
graphically described.

^Tot altogether unmindful of the public censure
usually visited upon assaults like his, Mr. Reed has
endeavored, by innuendoes, to stigmatize Dr. Rush
as the persecutor of his grandfather, and to fasten
upon him the authorship of the "Brutus" queries and
of the charges in the Cadwalader pamphlet ; but, he
has adduced no proof either that Dr. Rush was
" Brutus," that he commenced the attack upon General
Reed, or that he did more than give his testimony
when summoned by a gentleman whose assertions
had been questioned. That any other member of Dr.
Rush's family ever, directly or indirectly, raised hand,
voice, or pen, against General Reed or his descend-
ants, Mr. Reed does not even hint. His failure 1<>
produce any such evidence, after thirty years'' search
with a microscope, proves its non-existence.

The nature of Dr. Rush's connection with the
charges against General Reed will best appear in a
brief history of the controversy, divested of what, in


other cases, Mr. Reed has called " gloss"— China
gloss as it will be termed, when nsed by him.

Rumors — many of which reached him* — had been
for years circulating in Philadelphia, charging Gene-
ral Reed upon the authority of General Cadwalader
with contemplated, and upon that of Major Lennox
with consummated, treachery, during the month of
December, 1776. Though, as a politician, he must
have been keenly sensitive to the importance of in-
stantly meeting them with indignant denial and over-
whelming proof, General Reed never noticed them
until those which rested on the authority of General
Cadwalader, in the form of queries, signed " Brutus,"
were published in the " Independent Gazetteer" of
Sept. 7, 1782. This publication, rather than General
Cadwalader's frequent statements in conversation
and the often repeated rumors, has been capriciously
designated by Mr. Reed, the commencement of the
attack. General Reed then, for the first time, de-
manded of General Cadwalader a contradiction of
the report ; but, having received in its stead an
emphatic and unqualified confirmation, he published
a pamphlet in which he joined issue with the latter
on some of his statements. In March, 1783, Gene-
nil Cadwalader published his celebrated reply. In
connection with other certificates from Thomas Pry or,

f " After repeated gross and illiberal attacks of every kind from weakness
In (reason, for great pains have been taken to prove me in the interests of
the enemy," &c. Letter of Reed to Greene in June, 1781.


Alexander Hamilton, P. Dickinson, John Xixon,
Jacob Rush, Joseph Ellis, Franklin Davenport, Wil-
liam Bradford, David Xiennox, and Francis Nichols,
there appeared one from Dr. Rush, in which it was
stated that, whilst holding a responsible position in
the army, General Reed, in conversation with him,
had displayed great want of firmness, had regretted
that the war was ever commenced, and had justified
the conduct of those who had deserted the cause. It
was in these words : —

A few days before the battle of Trenton, on the 26th of De-
cember, 1YT 6, 1 rode with Mr. Reed from Bristol to headquarters
near Xew Town. In the course of our ride, our conversation
turned upon public affairs, when Mr. Reed expressed himself in
the manner following.

He spoke with great respect of the bravery of the British
troops, and with great contempt of the cowardice of the Ameri-
can, and more especially of the Xew England troops. So greal
was the terror inspired by the British soldiers into the minds of
our men, that he said, when a British soldier was brought as a
prisoner to our camp, our soldiers viewed him at a distance as a
superior kind of being.

Upon my lamenting to him the supposed defection of Mr.
Dickinson, who it was unjustly said, had deserted his country,
he used the following words: "Damn him— I wish the devil had
him, when he wrote the Farmer's letters. He has begun an oppo-
sition to Great Britain which we have not strength to finish."

Upon my lamenting that a gentleman of his acquaintance had
submitted to the enemy, he said "that he had acted properly, and
that a man who had a family did right to take that care of them."

The whole of his conversation upon the subject of our affairs
indicated a great despair of the American cause.


Upon my going to Baltimore, to take my seat in Congress, the

latter end of January, I mentioned the above conversation to my

brother. I likewise mentioned it to the Hon. John Adams, Esq.,

with whom I then lived in intimacy, a day or two after his return

from Boston to Congress. I did not mention it with a view of

injuring Mr. Reed, for I still respected him, especially as I then

believed that the victory at Trenton had restored the tone of his

mind and dissipated his fears, but to show Mr. Adams an instance

of a man possessing and exercising military spirit and activity,

and yet deficient in political fortitude. To which I well remember

Mr. Adams replied in the following words : " The powers of the

human mind are combined together in an infinite variety of ways."

Philadelphia, March 3, 1783.

General Cadwalader charged General Reed with a
rapidly forming intention to imitate the treachery
which, in the conversation with Dr. Rush, had been
merely justified. He said: —

I had occasion to speak with you a few days before the intended
attack on the 26th December, ITT 6, and requested you to retire
with me to a private room at my quarters ; the business related
to intelligence ; a general conversation, however, soon took place,
concerning the state of public affairs; and after running over a
number of topics — in an agony of mind, and despair strongly
expressed in your countenance and tone of voice, you spoke
your apprehensions concerning the event of the contest — that our
affairs looked very desperate, and we were only making a sacrifice
of ourselves; that the time of General Howe's offering pardon
and protection to persons who should come in before the 1st
January, 1 TTT, was nearly expired, and that Galloway, the Aliens,
and others, had gone over, and availed themselves of that pardon
and protection, offered by the said proclamation; that you had
a family, and ought to take care of them, and that you did not


understand following the wretched remains (or remnants) of a
broken army; that your brother (then a colonel or lieutenant-
colonel of militia — but } T ou say of the five months' nun, which is
not material) was then at Burlington, with his family; and that
you had advised him to remain there, and, if the enemy took pos-
session of the town, to take a protection and swear allegiance;
and in doing so he would be perfectly justifiable.

This was the substance, and I think nearly the very words :
but that "you did not understand folloioing the wretched remains
(or remnants) of a broken army," I perfectly remember to be the
very words you expressed.

Mr. Philemon Dickinson said : —

Hermitage, 5th October. 1782.

Dear General, — In the winter of 1716, after we had crossed
the Delaware, General Reed, in conversation with me, said that
he and several others of my friends were surprised at seeing me
there. I told him I did not understand such a conversation:
that as I had engaged in the cause from principle, I was deter-
mined to share the fate of my country ; to which he made no
reply, and the conversation ended. As I had the honor of com-
manding the militia of Xew Jersej', both duty and inclination led
me to use every exertion in support of a cause I had engaged in
from the purest motives. I was really much surprised at General
Reed's manner, considering the station he then acted in. and his
reputation as a patriot; but I considered it as the effeel of de-
spondency, from the then gloomy prospect of our a Hairs.

This I mentioned to several of my friends at the time, who all
viewed it in the same point of light.

I am, dear General, yours,


General Cadwalader.


Mr. John Nixon said : —

I do hereby certify that, in December, IT 16, while the militia
lay at Bristol, General Reed, to the best of my recollection and
belief, upon my inquiring the news, and what he thought of our
affairs in general, said that appearances were very gloomy and
unfavorable; that he was fearful or apprehensive the business was
nearly settled, or the game almost up, or words to the same effect.
That these sentiments appeared to me very extraordinary and
dangerous, as I conceived they would, at that time, have a very
bad tendencj', if publicly known to be the sentiments of General
Reed, who then held an appointment in the army of the first con-


Philadelphia, March 12, 1783.

Col. Joseph Ellis said : —

Joseph Ellis, a colonel of militia, in the county of Gloucester,
and State of New Jersey, doth hereby certify that, upon the retreat
of a body of militia from before Count Donop, in the neighbor-
hood of Mount Holly, in Burlington County, in the month of
December, 1776, he met with Charles Pettit, Esq., then Secretary
of the said State; that a conversation ensued between them re-
specting the situation of the public dispute at that period ; that
Mr. Pettit, in said conversation, representing that our affairs were
desperate, Col. Ellis endeavored to dissuade him from such an
opinion, when Mr. Pettit replied, "What hurts me more than all
is, my brother-in-law, General Reed, has (or I believe he has)
given up the contest." That a good deal more passed between
Mr. Pettit and Col. Ellis during the said conversation, but omitted

here, as being thought unnecessary.


Woodbury, March 9, 1783.

Mr. William Bradford said : —

These are to certify that, in December, 1776, and January, 1777,
I, the subscriber, was major of the second battalion of Phila-


delphia militia, whereof John Bayard was colonel, and then lay
at Bristol, and part of the time opposite Trenton, on the Penn-
sylvania side. That while-we lay at Bristol, Joseph Reed, Esq.,
joined us; that during his being there and near Trenton, he often
went out for intelligence, as Col. Bayard told me, over to Bur-
lington, in which place the enemy frequently were; that being
absent frequently all clay and all night, I as frequently inquired
what could become of Gen. Reed. Col. Bayard often answered
me, he feared he had left us, and gone over to the enemy. One
time in particular, being absent two days and two nights, if not
three nights, Col. Bayard came to me with great concern, and
said he was fully persuaded Gen. Reed was gone to join the
enemy and make his peace. I asked him how he could possibly
think so of a man who had taken so early a part, and had acted
steadily. He replied, he was persuaded it was so; for he knew
the General thought it was all over, and that we could not stand
against the enemy; and at the same time wept much. I endea-
vored all I could to drive such notions from him, but he was so
fully persuaded that he had left us, and gone over to the enemy,
that arguing about the matter was only loss of time; Col. Bayard
often making mention that he knew his sentiments much better
than I did. After being absent two or three nights, (Jen. Heed
returned, and I never saw more joy expressed than was by Col.
Bayard; he declaring to me that he was glad Gen. Reed was
returned, for he was fully convinced in his own mind, that he was

gone over to the enemy.


Manor of Moreland, Philadelphia County, March 15, 1783.

Major David Lennox said : —

Having been called on by General Cadwalader respecting a
report which has been propagated concerning Mr. Joseph Heed —
I declare on my honor the circumstances are as follows. In the
spring of 1780 I obtained permission for an interview with my


brother at Elizabethtown. In the course of conversation, one da} r ,
he happened to mention that there were men among us, who held
the first offices, who applied for protection from the British •while
they lay in New Jersey. I was alarmed at this assertion, and
insisted on knowing who they were: — He said that when the
British army lay in Jersey, in 1776, Count Donop commanded at
Bordentown; that he was often at that officer's quarters, and pos-
sessed some degree of his confidence; that one day an inhabitant
came into their lines, with an application from Mr. Joseph Reed,
the purport of which was, to know whether he could have protection
for himself and his property (there was another person included
in the application whose name it is not necessary here to men-
tion). The man was immediately ordered for execution, but it
was prevented by the interposition of my brother and some other-
persons, who had formerly known him. Perhaps Mr. Reed and
his friends may say that Count Donop would not have ordered
the man executed, had he not thought he came for intelligence.
No doubt that officer would have justified his conduct by putting
upon the footing of a spj^, but why was another person included
in the application, and one who was not looked on as a trifling
character? His name I will mention to any one who will apply
to me. However, my brother said the man who was sent with
the application was a poor peasant, and the most unfit person in
the world to send for intelligence ; this argument was what had
weight with Count Donop, and which saved his life. These cir-
cumstances being mentioned by a brother, and which he declared
to be true, naturally produced an alteration in my sentiments of
Mr. Reed ; for, previous to this, there were few men of whom I
entertained so high an opinion. On my return to Philadelphia,
I made no secret of what I heard; indeed, I thought it my duty
to mention it publicly, that it might prevent further power being
put into the hands of a man who might make a bad use of it.
The report circulated daily, and I was often called on to mention
the circumstances, which I always did, and which I should have

clone to Mr. Reed, had he applied to me. I remember, among the
number who came to me was Major Thomas Moore, who said he
intended to inform Mr. Reed; but whether he did or not, I cannol
pretend to say.

There is another thing I wish to mention. My brother cam.'
into the river in a flag of truce, on special application of our
commissary of prisoners, to take a number of prisoners who were
exchanged, to save us the expense and trouble of sending them
by land; this was in the month of May, 1781. He was detained,
about nine miles below the city, upwards of four weeks, and uever
permitted to visit it, although application was made for that pur-
pose by several captains of vessels, who had been prisoners, and
to whom he had rendered civilities. I declined making applica-
tion myself, as I supposed my being in the service from the com-
mencement of the war, and having endured a rigorous confinement
for eighteen months, in the worst of times, to have been sufficienl
to have obtained permission for a brother to have been in my
house, in preference to a cabin in a small vessel in a river; how-
ever, I endeavored to make his situation as agreeable as possible,
b}^ visiting him often, and b} r taking my friends with me. 1 kk-
member Col. Francis Xichols went with me, one day, to whom
my brother mentioned Mr. Reed's intended desertion, ami who.
I doubt not, will acknowledge it, on any person's applying to
him; he is at present in Virginia, but is expected in town in a

few da vs.


Mr. Francis Nichols said : —

Having been called upon, by General Cadwalader, to certify,
so far as my knowledge extends, as to the matter hereinafter
mentioned, I do declare that in the spring of the year 1781 I
went with Major Lennox, of this city, on board of a flag of truce
vessel, then lying in the river Delaware, where Bhe had arrive. 1
from New York, and heard Mr. Robert Lennox, deputy commie-


sary of prisoners under the British king, say that in the year of
1776 a person had arrived at Count Donop's quarters, near Bor-
dentown, in New Jersey, who told the Count that he had been
sent to him by General Reed and another person, whose name I
do not think necessary to mention, to procure a protection for
them ; that the Count refused to grant them a protection in that
manner, and was about to treat the person who had applied to
him as a spy, but was prevented by the entreaties of the said
Robert Lennox and some other gentlemen.


Philadelphia, 17th March, 1783.

This mass of testimony, more damning than that
of Dr. Rush, shows that he was not the " chief wit-
ness" against General Reed, and that he was not
exceptionally active in the last stages of the contro-
versy. What was his connection with its earlier

Mr. Reed wishes his readers to infer, what he does
not dare positively to assert, that Dr. Rush was
"Brutus." As an unequalled specimen of literary
thimble-rigging, three of his paragraphs are given, in

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Online LibraryJohn Graver JohnsonA criticism of Mr. Wm. B. Reed's aspersions on the character of Dr. Benjamin Rush, with an incidental consideration of General Joseph Reed's character → online text (page 1 of 4)