Richard Markham.

Colonial Days : being stories and ballads for young patriots ; as recounted by five boys and five girls ; in Around the yule log, Aboard the Mavis, On the edge of winter online

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Online LibraryRichard MarkhamColonial Days : being stories and ballads for young patriots ; as recounted by five boys and five girls ; in Around the yule log, Aboard the Mavis, On the edge of winter → online text (page 28 of 30)
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asked Ned.


The British destroyed it as soon as they secured the forts,"


said Mr. Longwood. " There were one or two American armed
vessels above the boom ; and these, when they saw how the
battle had gone, raised their sails, and tried to escape up the
river. The wind was against them though, and they could make
no headway : so their crews set them afire, and abandoned

" What a magnificent sight it must have been ! " said Charlie.

" Yes," said Will. " It was at night, you know, and of course
the guns would go off one after another as the fire reached
them ; and at last when it reached the magazine there would
be one grand crash, and then silence."

" There was a spy captured at the American general's head
quarters, a day or two after the battle, under very curious cir
cumstances," said Mr. Longwood. " He was discovered by the
pickets, and, having asked what general was stationed near, was
told, Clinton. Thereon he asked to see him at once. He was
led into his presence. He was noticed to change color, and
heard to exclaim, in a low tone, ' I am lost ! ' At the same
moment he put something into his mouth, and swallowed it.
They gave him an emetic, and soon brought to light a silver
bullet. He managed to secure it, and again swallowed it. They
gave him an emetic a second time. He refused to take it at
first ; but, on being told that he should be hanged and cut
open if he did not, he yielded, and the bullet was once more
produced. It was found to unscrew, and to contain a note from
Sir Henry Clinton to Burgoyne, telling of his success."

" But why in the world did the man act so like a fool ? " said
Tom. " He must have been crazy."


" No," said Mr. Longwood. " In the first place, he thought
the Americans totally cut up by the late battle, and he had no
idea that they could have re-organized in even the smallest way.
And he had never heard of an American Gen. Clinton. How
ever, in spite of all this, he hardly seems to have been the
man to make his way across a hundred miles or two of an
enemy's country."

" I suppose the discovery of the note was his death- warrant,' r
said Will.

" Yes : he was tried as a spy, and hanged to an apple-tree,'"
said Mr. Longwood.

" The fighting at these two forts about which you have told
us was not all that came off in tb~ Highlands, was it?" asked

" No," said Mr. Longwood. " There was the storming of
Stony Point by Wayne, Mad Anthony Wayne as he was called
on account of his reckless courage. That took place a couple of
years later. We shall be passing the point presently."

" That was a night assault, wasn't it ? " asked Will.

" Yes. The way was this. The British had captured the
works which the Americans had begun at Stony Point, and had
greatly enlarged and strengthened them. There were only forty
men in the fort at the time, so that its capture was an easy
affair. Then, on the other side of the river there was another
fort, which the British secured also. These two commanded the
river pretty effectually.

" When we pass the point, you can notice what a strong
position it is by nature. Three sides are surrounded by water ;


and, in old times, the fourth was a morass, where the tide came
in to a depth of two or three feet. Of ccTurse, the occupation
of these positions menaced the American posts at West Point,
and made it necessary to keep there a large force at all times.

"So it was resolved that Stony Point should be assaulted,
and Anthony Wayne was chosen to do the work. On a hot
July afternoon the Americans made their way in single file
through the wild defiles of the hills, and at sunset rendezvoused
a mile and a half from the fort. Meantime the darkness came
on, and the garrison within t^ie walls betook themselves to slum
ber, little dreaming of the foe that lay so quietly and so close
at hand.

" The patriot force did not move until near midnight, and
then not a sound betokened their forward march. Every dog in
the neighborhood had been killed the day before, lest some watch
ful bark might give the alarm. At their head marched Pompey,
an old negro, their guide ; and by his side two stalwart men,
disguised as farmers. Their business was to seize the sentinel,
when Pompey engaged his attention in talk."

" Did they expect that the sentinels would let him walk up
to them ? " asked Tom. " They surely would not do any thing
so foolish ! "

" Pompey was a privileged character," said Mr. Longwood. " He
had brought berries to the fort to sell all through the spring,
and the officers were only too glad to buy them. He belonged
to a strong patriot, who, by this means, knew about every
thing that went on within the walls, for the negro kept his eyes
well open while selling berries. Presently Pompey announced to



the officers that he could not come any more. He had to hoe
corn in the day-time, he said. They were in no mind to lose
their fresh berries, and so gave him the countersign, that he


might pass the guards at night. He had been in and out often
now, so that the sentry would not suspect him.


6G 5

There was a sentinel stationed on the high ground before


they came to the rnorass which they had to pass, and another


at the head of a narrow causeway, or road, that crossed it. Both
these men were made prisoners without an alarm being given.
Then the Americans divided into two bodies, so as to make their
attack at two different points. One followed the causeway ; the
others plunged into the morass, and waded on through water
two feet deep. Every man had in his hat a piece of white
paper, to distinguish him from the enemy in the darkness ; and
they had taken as their watchword the British countersign for
the night, ' The fort's our own.'

" Silently and steadily they marched. The pickets did not
discover them in the darkness, until they were within pistol-shot ;
but then the drum beat to arms, and the cannon opened upon
them. They fired not a shot in return, but pressed forward at
the point of the bayonet. Wayne led one column. As he was
almost entering the fort, a bullet struck him on the head, and
felled him. Stunned, and believing for the moment that he was


mortally wounded, he cried to his aides, ' March on ! Carry me
in, for I will die at the head of the column.' He did not die,
however, but lived to receive the laurels that his gallant action
brought him. The whole country rang with his praises.

" The capture of the fort was important in two ways. It
enabled the Americans to destroy the works which the British
had so carefully built, and it had a great and stimulating effect
on the rest of the army. Congress struck off medals which were
presented to the leaders."

" You say," said Charlie, " that the Americans destroyed the
fort. They didn't hold it, then ? "

" No," said Mr. Longwood. " They would not have been



able, in all probability, against the force the British would bring
against them. They were, you must remember, at some distance
from the main force, and in a wild country. They therefore
destroyed all the works and the supplies. They attempted to
move the heavy artillery, which they put upon a hulk. But, the
moment she set . out for West Point, the fort on the opposite
shore opened fire on her, and one or two of the British men-
of-war joined in ; and, after a little, a shot struck her below
water-mark, and she filled, and went down."

" Well, I for one am glad " said Charlie, " that I live in the
piping times of peace."

" You may well be thankful that, at all events, you did not
live in the valley of the Hudson and its tributaries," said Mr.
Longwood. " Between the inroads of the Indians, led by their
great chief Brant, and the strong Tory element that existed,
the patriot settler, on his half-cleared farm, lived always with
rifle in reach of his hand.

" I put a little book in my pocket before starting, thinking
that this subject might come up," he went on, " Let me read
you a settler's reminiscences. Possibly your satisfaction, at living
at the time you do, may increase. The writer says,

" ' We were constantly exposed to the harassing incursions
of the Tories and Indians. Almost the whole country was
alarmed by them ; and, with the subtlety peculiar to the savage
intellect, they seemed to escape every attempt at capture. Often
we have seen them running across the fields upon the opposite
side of the river, now stooping behind fences which afforded
them a partial cover, and now boldly running across the open


ground, where the fences were down, to some other enclosed
field, along which they skulked as before. During these alarms,
our neighbors used to come and live with us for weeks together
until the danger was over, and then they would return home.
The principal men of the country had guards stationed at their
dwellings. Some of the militia colonels who had become obnox
ious to the enemy were protected by guards of five and six
men about each house. Minor precautions were also taken, and
the relation of some of them will show my readers how weari
some was the life we led. My father was in the habit of stack
ing his corn in the field, and indeed all his grain, placing it as
far as possible from the fences ; for in case of surprise, and if
his dwelling should be burned, he knew what was scattered
through the fields would in a measure be safe. It was a com
mon thing in those days for the farmers with us to transport
their grain to Albany during the winter, and keep it stored there
for protection. In the summer it was carried back load by load,
as it was wanted for use.

" ' In the fall, alarms still continued ; *nd every precaution, as
was usual, was taken by us. We used to stack our straw in the
field near the house, and so erect the pile as to leave at the top
a conical hole, in which two persons kept watch during the
alarms, this way, every night. A ladder was placed for us to
mount with our guns ; and, when we were ensconced, it was
withdrawn. One slept while the other watched ; and, though
our elevation was not more than ten feet, it gave us a great
advantage in detecting the approach of the enemy. Perched in
these eyries, we passed night after night, while our sleepless


strained their vision to catch the least appearance of the
foe. Indeed, we commanded a full view of the river, and to the
north and west for a great distance. Nor was this the only
method which caution induced us to take. The horses were
frequently harnessed to our sleds at night, which made, of
course, less noise than the wagons, to transport our baggage
down to a ravine, for the sake of preserving it from an expected

" ' On one such occasion, when our neighbors were living
with us, as I have said, we had thirteen guns loaded and in
order ; and, being divided into watches, we stood as sentries
round the house. It soon came my turn to go out with one of
the blacks by the name of Ned, whom, on most occasions, a
pair of fleet heels served a friendly part.

" ' Ned, however, talked largely ; and I felt no backwardness
in stating what havoc we would make among the Tories with
our thirteen guns. While every one was fast asleep, about mid
night, during one of our walks towards a fence which ran down
to the river, as the moon was just rising behind us, and throw
ing a faint light on the scene beyond, I perceived with horror
the approach of objects whose movements appeared to be gov
erned by the most perfect military rules. Every now and then
they would halt, and, after a short rest, would move on with the
same precision. They were crossing a wheat-field which lay to
the south of the fence I have mentioned, anxious to get under
its cover for the purpose of concealing their approach to the
house. The rustling of the stubble seemed to be as carefully
avoided as possible. I watched them with the deepest interest


until they made a deliberate and regular halt when they came
to the fence. I was then convinced we were in imminent dan
ger, and, turning round to give some order to my companion,
found he was gone. I hesitated not a moment to follow his
example, and, hastening to the house, arrived there about the
same time with Ned. We woke up the sleepers with the star
tling information that a large number of disciplined men were
within a quarter of a mile of the house, and approaching it with
caution and perfect regularity.

" ' In an instant all the men were armed and ready. My
father volunteered to run down a few rods, and reconnoitre. He
did so, and came back with the news that they were coming.
A brief consultation was held as to the best manner of receiving
them ; as flight was impracticable under the circumstances, with
out abandoning both wives and children. One was for firing as
they mounted a fence that went across at right angles to the
house, parallel to the river. Another was for opening upon them
as they ascended the rising ground that intervened between the
house and bank of the river. The last project was approved,
and we were cautioned to fire low, and to make every shot tell.
The party stationed themselves accordingly, and I then volun
teered to go down and take another look. They still appeared in
motion, but, apparently without caution, approached the bank and
fence running parallel to it. There they halted for some time,
and I hastened back with the intelligence. Their apparent irreso
lution inspired us with fresh vigor, and we began to grow more
resolute as our enemy seemed to hesitate. A half hour passed
away, when they again moved forward briskly to the north ;


and this change of plan seemed to be the result of consultation,
and led us to expect their attack through the hollow, which it
seemed their object to gain, and by which the house was more
easily assailable. We now felt confident that some of the party
must be familiar with the ground, for no stranger would have
thought of approaching through the ravine. We shifted our
ground a little upon seeing this, and threw ourselves farther to
the right, where we still maintained the advantage of our ele
vated position. Learning all this manoeuvring, the wives of our
friends, and my mother, came out, almost crazy with alarm, yet
not daring to make any noise for fear of the consequences.
My father peremptorily ordered them back without explanation
Our eyes were still intent on our foes, when they suddenl
stopped near a spring which gushed out of the hill below u,
and there remained, until the moon, rising higher and higher,
threw its clear detecting light over the scene, and discovered to
us that our enemies were six of our horses that had broken
loose from their pasture. What a change from the sublime to
the ridiculous ! In an instant we discovered the curious causes
which led to our mistake. Six horses belonging to us and our
neighbors had been tied together abreast, and hoppled, to pre
vent their straying. It turned out that they had been without
water for two days previously, and, incited by thirst, had broken
into the wheat-field, and followed the fence until they came to
the spring of water.' '

" Of course it was awfully hard for the men of those days,"
interrupted Will. " It could have been no fun to fight on, half-
fed and half-clothed, for year after year, in the camp, and away


from home. But just think what the women must have suffered!
They could not relieve their feelings by taking a musket, and


marching against the foe ; but must stay at home, and live in
terror of visits from the dreaded Hessians, or some prowling
band of rascally Tories, who in a single morning would eat and


drink up every thing that was to have kept them through the
winter. It is a pity Carrie is not here to stand up for them.
But go on, please, Mr. Longwood."

" ' One Sunday night, after all the family had retired to their
bed, it being a still, clear night in the fall of the year, we
heard our dogs barking violently in the front of the house, while
a confused sound of voices accompanied the deep-mouthed bay
ing. In an instant my father was out of bed, and ready for
action, when my prudent mother checked his impetuosity by
saying he was not a match for the persons without ; that, if he
went out, he would be taken ; and that perhaps, if all was kept
still within the house, the enemy would not think it necessary
to commit any violence for the sake of securing their own
safety, and go off. Gradually the noise of the dogs became
fainter and more distant ; and, before many minutes passed away,
it was as still and tranquil as ever. When all was quiet, my
father, with his gun in his hand, stole cautiously out of the
house, and followed in the direction of the noise when last
heard. It led him to the river ; and he had scarce reached the
bank, when he distinctly heard the noise of a canoe-paddle as
it touched the sides of the sonorous machine. Every one who
has noticed the sound of the oars of a boat, or the paddles of
a canoe, will readily recollect the hollow tone which they make,
and which, on some occasions, has an unnatural effect upon the
ear. My father, by long use, had become accustomed not only
to distinguish these peculiar sounds, but knew his own canoe by
the tones its hollow trough gave out at the touch of the rower.
On this occasion, his acute ear told him that his canoe was


nearly across the river. For a moment he hesitated whether he
should not fire in the direction of the noise ; but, on reflection,
he thought the risk too great, and the advantage too remote, to
be hazarded by the discharge of his rifle. Slowly he turned his
back homewards, while his faithful curs, at his first approach,
having discovered their master, followed at his heels with a
whine which almost spoke their uneasiness and. alarm. In the
morning the canoe was discovered on the other side of the
river, and the circumstances led to suspicion that all was not
right. My father, as the sequel will show, had been in great
danger ; and his neighbors felt very unpleasantly about it, and
were constantly on the alert to discover who those persons could
have been, and whether they were in the vicinity. There \vas a
Capt. Dunham, who commanded a militia company in the neigh
borhood, a great Whig, and a firm friend of ours, who also
exerted himself to trace the marauder, and was in frequent con
sultation with Col. Van Vechten on the subject. One evening,
as they were together at a place of public entertainment, if such
a thing could be in those times, a boy was seen emerging from
the woods in the neighborhood on horseback, and, presently
approaching the place where they were, asked if he could pur
chase a little rum. When he was answered, " No," he imme
diately mounted, returned a considerable distance, and then wa?
seen galloping down the main road by the river-side. On
seeing this, Dunham exclaimed, " This means something, I am
sure of it ! " They then watched for the boy's return, and in a
few minutes he repassed at full speed. He then re-entered the
wood, and was gone from their sight in an instant.



" ' Dunham, when he reached home, immediately went to a
person by the name of Green, an able-bodied, bold, and perse
vering fellow. He was the safeguard of the people around him,
always ready for action, never desponding, and fearless to an
extent that was remarkable. He was always relied upon in try
ing emergencies by the leading men in the vicinity ; and what
completed his merit was, he was never dilatory. Dunham related
the circumstance to him, and declared his belief that there was a
party of Tories in the neighborhood. Three other persons were
called upon the same night for their assistance ; and, when the
rest of their neighbors were asleep, these hardy men com
menced their reconnoissance. Every suspected spot was carefully
approached in hopes to observe the objects of their search.
Every hollow that could contain a hiding-place was looked into ;
but in a more particular manner the out-houses and barns of
those persons who were suspected for their attachment to the
enemy were examined by them. It seemed all in vain. No
traces of a concealed foe were discovered, when towards day
break it was proposed to separate, and make one final search
for that time. Dunham took two men with him, and Green but
one. The former, as a last effort, returned to the house of one
Odeurman, who, it was probable, would be in communication with
an enemy, if near him. As he approached the house, he had
to pass a meadow adjoining, and observed a path leading from
the house to a small thicket of about three acres extent. Dun
ham immediately suspected it led to his enemy. He pursued it,
and found it passed round the thicket ; and, when it almost met
the place where it turned off, the path entered the wood. Dun-


ham paused, and, turning to his companions, said, " Here they
are : will you follow me ? " They instantly agreed to accompany
him ; and the party moved on in single file, with light and
cautious steps. As they got nearly to the centre, Dunham in
advance, a log stopped up the path, and seemed to prevent
any further approach. With a motion that indicated the neces
sity of their remaining still, he mounted the log, and, looking
over, discovered, sure enough, at once a desired and yet impos
ing sight. Round the remains of a watch-fire, which daybreak
rendered less necessary, sat a group of five fierce-looking men,
with countenances relaxed from their usual fixedness, but yet
betokening boldness, if not savageness of purpose. They were
dressing themselves, and putting on their shoes and stockings,
which stood by the side of their rude couches. Their clothes
were much worn, but had a military cut, and a peculiar snug fit,
which made their stout and muscular forms more apparent, and
distinguished them from the loose, slovenly, scarecrow figures
which the homely character of our country seamstresses imposed
upon every thing rural or rusticated among our people. Their
hats or caps were set carelessly on their heads, with the air of
regulars ; and what made them still more observable was, that
every man of them had his musket at his side on the ground,
ready to be used at an instant's notice. Dunham surveyed this
scene a few moments, and then drew back cautiously to his
companions. In a tone not above a whisper, he said, " Shall we
take 'em ? " A nod from his companions decided him. Each
now examined his musket, and re-primed it. The captain took
the right of his little band, and they moved forward to the log.


They mounted it at the same instant ; and, as they did so, Dun
ham cried out, " Surrender, or you are all dead men ! " The
group that thus found themselves almost under the muzzles ot
their enemies' guns were indeed astonished. All but their leader,
Lovelass, seemed petrified and motionless. This resolute man
seemed disposed to make an effort for their lives. Twice, amid
the silence and stillness of the perilous moment, he stretched
out his hand to seize his gun. Each time he was prevented by
the nearer approach of the muzzle that pointed at his head, and
beyond which he saw an unflinching eye steadfastly fixed upon
him : at the same instant he was told that if he touched it he
was dead.

" ' At this critical period of the rencontre, Dunham peremp
torily ordered the party to come out, one by one, which they
reluctantly did ; fearing, perhaps, that they were surrounded by,
and in contact with, a superior force. As fast as one came over
the log, he was secured by the most powerful man of the three,
while the other two kept their pieces steadily pointed at the
other prisoners. In this way they were secured, and were
marched out of the thicket to the adjacent house. The inmates
of the dwelling were thunderstruck at perceiving the prisoners.
Some young women, who proved to be sisters of some of the
party, gave way to the most violent grief. Well aware of the
danger they were in, and of the speedy vengeance inflicted upon
Tories and spies, they anticipated the most dreadful conse

Online LibraryRichard MarkhamColonial Days : being stories and ballads for young patriots ; as recounted by five boys and five girls ; in Around the yule log, Aboard the Mavis, On the edge of winter → online text (page 28 of 30)