Richard Mather Bayles.

History of Richmond County (Staten Island), New York from its discovery to the present time online

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Online LibraryRichard Mather BaylesHistory of Richmond County (Staten Island), New York from its discovery to the present time → online text (page 23 of 72)
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struggles of the dying animal, but soon recovering themselves,
they prepared to rush upon him with their bayonets, when Cole,



HISTORY OF RICHMOND COUNTY. 227

presenting the other pistol, exclaimed, ''Come on, you thieves
and robbers, with your bayonets, and I'll drop one of you at
least." The soldiers considering discretion, in this instance,
the better part of valor, turned and walked away, threatening
him with the vengeance of the colonel. ''Go tell your master,"
said Cole, as he followed them to the gate, " that I'll serve him,
or you, or any other thief who comes upon my premises at
night to steal my property, as I served that horse."

The majority of the English, of all ranks, regarded the colo-
nists as physically, intellectually and morally inferior to them-
selves. In their social intercourse with them as well as in their
plundering, they made but little distinction between loyalists
and rebels. But there were some exceptions. Among the
officers of the British army were some who were gentlemen by
nature and by culture, and a few were eminently pious men,
who found no difficulty in reconciling their obligations to their
king with their duty to their Maker. These two latter classes
were ever ready to listen to the complaints of the oppressed,
and as far as lay in their power, to redress the wrongs of the
injured.

Of this class was Captain John Yoke, of whom the following
anecdote has been preserved. He was billeted upon a farmer
in the vicinity of Richmond for some two or three months, and,
unlike many other officers, regularly paid for his board and
lodging. A few days after he had removed his quarters, the
farmer came to him and informed him that during the previous
night his house had been entered and robbed of a sum of money,
and that he suspected that it had been done by soldiers, be-
cause beneath the window through which the house had been
entered, and which had been left open, he had found a button,
by means of which, perhaps, the culprits might be detected.
The captain took the button and promised to give the matter
his immediate attention. The button indicated the regiment as
well as the company to which the loser of it belonged. During
the parade that same day, he closely scrutinized the company
indicated, and found a soldier with a button missing on the
front of his coat. After parade he communicated his suspicions
to the colonel of the regiment, and the soldier was sent for.
When he arrived, the colonel, using a little artifice, informed
him that he suspected him of being implicated in a drunken
brawl the night before at a tavern a mile or two distant. This



228 HISTORY OF RICHMOND COUNTY.

the soldier denied, saying that he could prove he was nowhere
near that tavern, or even in that direction, during the night pre-
vious. "Were you out last night?" inquired the colonel;
"Well yes," answered the soldier, "but not in that direc-
tion." "Where were you?" "In various places, but not at
that tavern." "By whom can you prove that you were not
at that tavern : The name of another soldier was mentioned,
and the colonel sent for him. When he arrived, he corroborated
all the tirst had said, adding that they two had been together
all the night. " Then," said the colonel, " you two are the burg-
lars who entered the house of Mr. - - through a window last
night, and robbed him of twenty guineas. Lay down the money
upon this table, or you shall both be executed for burglary and
robbery." The affrighted soldiers, taken by surprise, confessed
their crime, and each placed ten guineas upon the table. What
punishment was meted out to the culprits is not related, but
Captain Yoke had the satisfaction of returning the money to
the owner thereof in less than twenty-four hours after it had
been stolen.

Though there were, in the royal army, both among the Eng-
lish and Hessians, a great many idle, dissolute and very wicked
men, officers as well as privates, there were also among them
many exemplary and industrious men, some of whom were me-
chanics and some agriculturists. An army doing garrison duty
has generally a good deal of idle time, which was employed by
these men to their own profit and advantage. Shoemakers, for
instance, frequently made boots and shoes for the officers and
their families, when they had any, and for the citizens of the
county ; and were permitted to take their surplus work to the
city to sell to dealers, for all of which they were generally well
paid. The government supplying all their personal wants, the
money thus earned accumulated until, at the close of the war,
many had large sums at their command. It was generally this
class who contrived to stay behind, purchase land, orcommence
business on their own account, sometimes, it is said, under as-
sumed names. Some of the agriculturists obtained permis-
sion from the neighboring farmers to clear and cultivate an acre
or two of land which the owners, in many instances, had con-
sidered worthless, because it was overgrown with bushes and
briars, and would cost more to clear, as they said, than the land
was worth. It is said that these industrious men literally made



HISTORY OF RICHMOND COUNTY. 229

the wilderness " blossom as the rose." By a thrifty system of
culture which they applied they were able to produce, as a ven-
erable informant declared, " more from a single acre than I
could raise on five."

That there was no lack of patriots on the island during the
war is shown by the following anecdote :

A man named Taylor not of the Staten Island family of that
name came over from New York, and took up his abode here
for the avowed purpose of trading with the English vessels. He
carried on the business for several months openly, and in defiance
of all the cautions he had received by means of anonymous letters,
which lie openly exhibited in public places, and held up to ridi-
cule. He defied any power which the rebels possessed to pre-
vent his doing as he pleased in the matter of trading with the
ships. One very dark and stormy night, five men entered his
dwelling unannounced. They were all disguised, and while a
part of them seized and bound him, the remainder per-
formed the same service for his wife. With pistols at their
heads, they were cautioned to make no outcry. Having se-
cured Taylor, they led him to his own barn, put a noose around
his neck, threw the rope over one of the beams, and hoisted
him from the floor by his neck ; then having fastened the rope
to a post, left him and went their way.

His wife hearing the men depart, apprehended something ser-
ious had occurred, and made most desperate efforts to loose the
thongs which bound her, and finally succeeded. Fortunately a
lighted lantern stood in an adjoining room, which she seized
and ran into the barn, where she found her worst apprehensions
realized by seeing her husband struggling in the agonies of
death. Finding she could not untie the knot around the
manger post, she found a hatchet, with which she cut the rope
and let him down upon the floor. Having removed the noose
around his neck, and finding him insensible, she ran to a neigh-
boring house for assistance, and at length succeeded in restor-
ing him to consciousness. Two or three days afterward Taylor
removed back again to New York, but he was accompanied by
a guard of soldiers all the way to the city.

At some time between the cessation of actual hostilities and
the evacuation by the British, the following incident is said to
have occurred :
There were many ships of war lying at anchor in various



230 HISTOKY OF RICHMOND COUNTY.

parts of the harbor, mostly in the vicinity of the city ;
there were some, however, which lay in, and even beyond the
Narrows, and these were anchored as near the shores of Long and
Staten Islands, as could safely be done, for the convenience of
easy access to the land in all conditions of the weather, in order
that the officers might obtain supplies of butter, vegetables, etc.,
from the farms in the vicinity. One day a boy, some seventeen
or eighteen years of age, was in search of some stray cattle in
the woods near the water, and saw a ship's boat with two sailors
approaching. Supposing he might as well keep out of their
sight in that solitary place, he concealed himself behind a large
tree ; he saw them land, and while one of them remained in
charge of the boat, the other, with a basket in his hand, en-
tered the wood. After having proceeded a few rods, until he
was out of sight of his companion, and of everybody else, as
he supposed, he took off his coat, knelt down at the foot of a
large, gnarled tree, and, with an instrument resembling a ma-
son's trowel, dug a hole in the earth, and having deposited
something therein, carefully filled the hole again with earth,
and laid a large flat stone upon it. This done he arose to his
feet, and took a long and careful survey of the surroundings,
then proceeded on his way. The youth kept in his place of
concealment for two full hours, when he saw the sailor return-
ing with his basket apparently filled with vegetables. He
passed by the place where he had dug the hole, scrutinized
it closely, and then proceeded to the boat, which was still in
waiting for him, and returned to the ship. Assuring himself
that the coast was clear, the young man went to the place, re-
opened the hole, and found therein a heavy canvas bag, evi-
dently containing, as he judged by its sound, a quantity of
money. Securing the prize, and without waiting to re-fill the
hole, he hastened away, and found some other place of deposit,
known only to himself. A day or two thereafter posters were
put up in every public place, offering a large reward for the
recovery of three hundred guineas, which had been stolen from
one of his majesty's ships, being the property of the govern-
ment, and an additional reward for the detection of the thief,
but the boy kept his own counsel. The theft occasioned a good
deal of talk at the time, but it was soon forgotten in the ex-
citement consequent upon the declaration of peace and the
preparations for the departure of the British from the country.



HISTORY OF RICHMOND COUNTY. 231

For nearly four years the young man kept his own secret, at
which time he had attained his majority ; and then, when he
purchased a farm for himself, and paid for it, did he first re-
veal, to his parents only, the manner in which he obtained his
means.

During the whole time of their occupancy of the island the
British kept a lookout on some convenient elevation for the
arrival of vessels. At one time a sentinel was stationed in the
top of % ' a large chestnut tree which grew upon the summit of
the island, about a mile from a small wooden church which
stood near the King's highway." There is a tradition confirma-
tory of this statement, which says that the British kept a num-
ber of soldiers on the top of Todt hill to guard the road and to
keep a lookout over the land and water. From the locality
indicated this might have been done very easily, for it com-
mands a view of the outer bay and Sandy Hook in one direc-
tion, and the kills, and New Jersey beyond, in another. The
sentinel in the tree was provided with a platform upon which
to stand, and signals to elevate upon a pole lashed to the high-
est limb of the tree. This position was a perilous one in a
heavy wind, and peculiarly so during a thunder storm. It is
said that on one occasion a soldier on duty in that elevated
place was overtaken by a sudden storm of rain, thunder and
lightning. The ladder by which he had ascended was blown
out of his reach, and he was unable to escape from the dangers
which surrounded him. When the storm had passed away his
body was found on the ground beneath the tree, with his
neck broken; and certain livid marks on his person, together
with the condition of the tree itself, indicated that he had been
, stricken by lightning and fallen to the ground. About a month
afterward another storm passed over the same locality, and the
lookout descended from his elevation as quickly as possible,
but he had no sooner reached the ground than the tree was
again struck, and he was killed at its foot. After that the
place of lookout was changed, and brought down the hill
nearer the church, probably in the vicinity of the light house.
The following season the doomed tree was again struck, and
riven to splinters.

An aged man named Brit ton, residing in Southfield, with his
wife and granddaughter, a young lady about seventeen years
of age, were seated before a bright fire on the hearth, one chilly



232 HISTORY OF RICHMOND COUNTY.

autumn evening. On a table stood a mug of cider, and in the
tire was one end of a long iron rod, with which, after heating it,
the old man was in the habit of " mulling " his cider, a bever-
age of which he partook every evening before retiring. While
thus waiting the outer door suddenly opened and a huge Hes-
sian soldier entered. After regarding the family group for a
moment, he walked to the corner in which the young lady was
sitting, and seated himself beside her. "Hey, missy," said
he, attempting to put his arm around her waist, "how
you like a big Dutchman for a husband, hey?" " Go away,
you Dutch brute," said she. " Oh, no," he answered renew-
ing his attempt at familiarity, " me not go away yet." "Go
away," she repeated, " or I shall hurt you." Laughing at this
threat he persisted in annoying her, until suddenly she
stooped down, and seizing the iron rod, thrust the red hot end
of it into his face. He uttered a yell, and in the effort to spring
up, fell over his chair. She continued her assault upon him,
by pushing the rod into any part of his person she could reach
and when he regained his feet and made for th* door, she con-
tinued to pursue him, even following him out of doors. He
made repeated attempts to strike her, but her rod being longer
than his arm, effectually prevented him from touching her.
He also attempted to seize the rod, but it was too hot to hold,
and every such effort only burned him the more. Foiled at
every point, he turned and ran away.

During the war British officers were quartered at the house
of a Mrs. Dissosway, near the present site of Tottenville. Her
husband was a prisoner in the hands of the British. Captain
Nathaniel Fitz Randolph, who was very troublesome to the
British, was her brother. A tory colonel once promised to
procure the release of her husband if she would prevail upon
her brother to remain quietly at home and become a neutral
party. "And if I could" she replied, with a look of scorn,
at the same time drawing up her tall figure to its utmost height,
"if I could act so dastardly a part, think you that General
Washington has but one Captain Randolph in his army?"

On one occasion after the establishment of independence, it
is related that several families of those who had suffered dur-
ing the war were returning from a religious service in sleighs.
As they approached the house of a certain tory captain, they
all drew up in front, and Dissosway, the leader, went to the



HISTORY OF RICHMOND COUNTY. 233

fi'ont door and with the butt of his driving whip rapped.
When his call was answered by the captain the former ex-
plained, " We stopped to let you know we rebels have been to
church. It is our turn now to give thanks."

A Mrs. Jackson resided on the island during the war. Her
husband was for nine months in the provost, and for two years
afterward on parole. During his absence the house was the
abode of British officers and soldiers. One day this resolute
woman caught a soldier carrying her tin milk pail through the
house to take it to his master, who wished to bathe his feet in
it. Seizing the pail and tearing it from his grasp she fearlessly
retorted, " Itfot for your master's master shall you touch what
you have no business with." This lady used to send provis-
ions to the American army on the opposite shore. To do this
the utmost secrecy was required. To avoid suspicion she would
often set her husband's mill going and attend to it herself while
the black man who usually performed that service left his work
to go across the river with provisions. One day she kept a
fatted calf muzzled under her bed all day to send it to the
Americans at night. On one occasion she received intelligence
that the Americans were coming to surprise and capture the
British who were lodged in her house. She gave no warning to
the latter till the whig force was just at hand; then, not wish-
ing to have a bloody contest in her house, she told them the
wings were coming. " Run, gentlemen, run, or you are all pris-
oners." They did run, without ceremony, but the whigs were
upon them.

After Jackson's return the house was robbed. A knock was
heard at the door one night, and on opening it a disguised man
appeared, with a pistol which he placed at the head of Mr.
Jackson and enjoined silence underpain of instant death. A little
daughter standing by involuntarily screamed out, when one of
the ruffians struck her a blow on the head, which laid her in-
sensible on the floor. The house was then stripped of what-
ever articles the thieves desired to take away. Their path next
morning could be traced by the articles they had dropped by
the way in their haste as they departed. The family believed
they were a band of tories, who were often more cruel and ra-
pacious than the British soldiers.

The following incident is related as being one of the most
daring exploits of the revolution. A colonel of the American



234 HISTORY OF KICHMOND COUNTY.

army having been taken prisoner, and there being no British
officer of a similar grade in their possession with whom to re-
deem him, three men entered upon the perilous enterprise of
taking a colonel from the very midst of the enemy then sta-
tioned on Staten Island. They crossed the sound on a dark
night, and approached the house where several officers were lo-
cated, but found it strongly guarded. Proceeding with the
utmost caution they were able to evade the guard in the dark-
ness, and approaching the house took their stand near a window,
through which they could see what was going on within.
Watching a favorable opportunity they entered the house, and
placing a pistol to the breast of a colonel they ordered him to
inarch out as their prisoner, threatening to shoot him in case
he made the least noise, or resistance. They took him away
from his companions, out through the guard by which the
house was encircled, and delivered him safely in Elizabethtown
by sunrise the next morning. One of the men who performed
this daring feat was Henry Willis, who died about forty years
since, but of the names of the other two we are ignorant.

The murder of Stephen Ball and its attendant circumstances
are so intimately associated with Staten Island that we may be
excused for introducing here an account of the matter. Ball
was in the habit of supplying some of the British on Staten
Island with such beef and other provisions as he had to sell.
Upon one occasion a tory sent out from the British as a spy,
had been taken by the Americans, tried by a regular court mar-
tial and, being found guilty, was hung. One Hetfield, the
leader of a notorious band of ruffians, vowed vengeance by re-
taliation, and the next time Ball came to the island they
seized him. This was in January, 1781. He was taken before
General Patterson, and then before General Skinner, charged
with being a spy, but they both knew his mission on the
island and refused to try him, directing his release. The Het-
field gang, however, were determined to execute their threats
of vengeance, and accordingly, after robbing him of whatever
valuable articles he had with him, took him over to Bergen Point
and there hung him to a tree. This act of independent violence
appears to have been deprecated by the British authorities as
well as the Americans, from the fact that the victim was acting
no partisan character, but simply engaged in a commercial
transaction. The party engaged in it consisted of Cornelius,



HISTORY OF RICHMOND COUNTY.

John, Smith, Job and James Hetfield, Elias and Samuel Mann
and Job Smith, all of New Jersey.

At the close of the war, Staten Island, New York island, and
a part of Long Island, were peculiarly circumstanced; through-
out the country the several state governments, and the minor
county and town governments under them had been organized,
and were in full operation, except in the counties mentioned ;
these had been under the control of the British military au-
thorities, and whatever civil government they had continued
to be under the English laws ; any attempt to organize a gov-
ernment which had the least tincture of republicanism would
not have been tolerated a moment ; therefore, when the English
evacuated the country, the government which had directed its
destinies for a century, was, so far as these counties were con-
cerned, annihilated as it were in a day, and the people, without
any previous instruction or experience, were suddenly brought
under the influences of a new code of laws. It would be inter-
esting to trace the steps taken by the people of the island to
acclimate themselves to the political atmosphere which they
were thereafter to inhale, but here the resources fail.

In proportion to its population, Perth Amboy contained more
tories than any other place within the limits of the state of
New Jersey. Many of them enlisted in the regiment known as
the Queen's Rangers, and in the several companies composing
Colonel Billop's regiment. We have been able to obtain the
names of but two of the captains of the companies, viz.: Abra-
ham Jones, a native Staten Islander, and David Alston, an
Englishman or Scotchman by birth, but for years before the war
a resident of New Jersey, in the vicinity of Rahway, and, after
the war, of Staten Island. Many of the British officers, in all
parts of the country, remained after the cessation of hostilities,
but many more of the rank and tile. This was particularly so
on Staten Island, and many of the families now residing here
are the descendants of these officers and soldiers. There were
not as many tories on the island at the close as at the beginning
of the war.

It is, after all, a doubtful matter whether there were many of
the people on Staten Island who were really tories from prin-
ciple. The Seaman and Billop families, and two or three others
not quite so prominent, were all beneficiaries of the British
government; they were the proprietors -of lai-ge and valuable



236 HISTORY OF RICHMOND COUNTY.

estates bestowed upon them for merely nominal consideration;
they were also the incumbents of lucrative offices, which gave
them a power and an influence which otherwise they would not
have possessed. The British officers, both of the army and
navy, were lavish of their gold, and the people of the island,
so far as money was concerned, were never in better circum-
stances. The temptation then to infringe the resolutions of the
provincial congress, prohibiting all intercourse with the vessels
of the enemy, was irresistible, more especially as the congress
was powerless to enforce its own ordinances, or to punish the
infraction of them.

The injustice and cruelty of the British during the war, and
the frequent disrespect of their own promises, often repeated,
as well as the inhumanity with which they treated the American
prisoners who fell into their hands, had caused many to regret
the step they had taken in publicly advocating the cause of
the crown, and gradually they became converts to the cause
of their native country, so that when the end came, there
were few left who declined to take the oath of allegiance to
the new government, and fewer still who were so infatuated
with royalty as to abandon their property and the land of
their nativity, to follow its fortunes. Of this latter class we
have been able to find but two families, the Billops and the
Seamans. The property of these families was confiscated and
sold by Isaac Stoutenburgh and Philip Van Courtland, com-
missioners of forfeiture for the Southern district of New York.
On the 16th day of July, 1784, they sold to Thomas McFarren,
of New York, the Manor of Bentley, containing 850 acres for
4,695 ($11,737.50) forfeited to the people of this state by the
attainder of Christopher Biliop. The boundaries given in this
conveyance are as follows: "Bounded southerly by the Bay or
water'called Prince's Bay, westerly by the river that runs be-
tween the said Land and Amboy, Northerly partly by the Land
of Jabob Reckhow and partly by the road, and Easterly partly



Online LibraryRichard Mather BaylesHistory of Richmond County (Staten Island), New York from its discovery to the present time → online text (page 23 of 72)