Robert Tomes.

Battles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) online

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his house, which stood not far from the
water) observed the barge, and immedi
ately went down to the water s edge to
receive his congressional visiters. On
their landing, his lordship, looking at the
returned hostage, remarked, " Gentlemen,
you make me a very high compliment,




and you may depend upon it I will con
sider it as the most sacred of things."

They then walked up together to the
house " between lines of guards of gren
adiers, looking fierce as ten furies, and
making grimaces and gestures, and mo
tions of their muskets," which were sup
posed to be in accordance with military
etiquette, " but which we neither under
stood nor regarded," says the inflexible
republican Adams ; who, however, must
have been struck with the difference be
tween the "grimaces" of the British gren
adiers and the "straggling and loitering"
of his own undisciplined countrymen on
the roads and about the doors of the pub
lic houses.

The house occupied by Lord Howe
still stands, a solid stone structure, upon
Ward s point. It is a simple farmhouse.
Cattle feed peacefully upon the meadow,
which stretches from the door to the wa
ter s edge. Well-cultivated fields extend
back to the road; on the right there is a
grove, where school-children in the sum
mer time come from the stifling streets
of the great city, to enjoy within the
shade of the cedars the innocent gayeties
of the pic-nic, find to breathe the pure
air which blows fresh from sea and land ;
beyond, on the opposite shore, crowded
town succeeds town; on the water in
front, sail-boats and steamers pass and re-
pass in bus}^ but peaceful activity; while
everywhere upon the island is a calm
landscape, varied with hill and wooded
vale, and dotted with low cottage-roofs
of plain farmers and imposing villas be
longing to the opulent merchants of New


The house on Ward s point was then,
when visited by the congressional com
mittee, the headquarters of Lord Howe.
It had been the habitation of military
guards, and was as dirty as a stable. His
lordship, however, had prepared to do
honor to his distinguished guests, and
had accordingly got ready a large, hand
some room, by spreading a carpet of moss
and green sprigs, from bushes and shrubs
in the neighborhood, till he made it not
only wholesome, but romantically elegant,
and entertained his visiters with " good
claret, good bread, cold harn, tongues, and

While thus sharing Lord Howe s hos
pitality, a lively conversation took place,
in the course of which his lordship, look
ing toward Mr. Adams, expressed in warm
terms his gratitude to the state of Massa
chusetts for erecting a marble monument
in Westminster abbey to his elder broth
er, Lord Edward Howe, who fell at Ti-
conderoga during the French War. " He
esteemed, said he, that honor to his fam
ily above all things in this world ; and that
such was his gratitude and affection to
this country, on that account, that he felt
for America as for a brother; and if Amer
ica should fall, he should feel and lament
it like the loss of a brother." Doctor
Franklin, "with an easy air and a collect
ed countenance, a bow, a smile, and all
that naivete which sometimes appeared in
his conversation," replied, " My lord, we
will do our utmost endeavors to save
your lordship that mortification." The
earl s sensibility was not a little wound
ed by this unexpected and rather rude
shock; but he merely remarked, with his




usual courtesy, "I suppose you will en
deavor to give us employment in Eu

Lord Howe now turned the conversa
tion toward business, and began by say
ing that he could confer with his visiters
not as members of Congress, but only as
private gentlemen and British subjects.
Hereupon Mr. Adams quickly rejoined :
"Your lordship may consider me in what
light you please; and indeed I should be
willing to consider myself, for a few mo
ments, in any character which would be
agreeable to your lordship, except that of
a British subject !" At these words, Lord
Howe turned to Doctor Franklin and Mr.
Rutledge, and said, with a grave arid sol
emn air, " Mr. Adams is a decided char

It must be conceded that his lordship
was in a fair way of being roughly han
dled by these knotty republicans. He,
however, now took care to confine him
self to business, and not expose his soft
compliments to any further chance of
hard usage. The earl then repeated, in
a more serious tone, that he could not
receive the committee as delegates from
Congress; but that, as his powers enabled
him to confer and consult with any pri
vate gentlemen of influence in the colo
nies, on the means of restoring peace be
tween the two countries, he was glad of
the opportunity of conferring with those
present on that subject, if they thought
themselves at liberty to enter into a con
ference with him.

The committee replied that their busi
ness was to hear, and that his lordship
might consider them in what light he

pleased, and communicate such proposi
tions as he was authorized to make; but
that they could consider themselves in
no other character than that in which
they were placed by order of Congress.

His lordship then spoke at considera
ble length, but in all he said there was
nothing but this which could be regard
ed as an explicit proposition of peace,
namely, that the colonies should return
to their allegiance and obedience to the
government of Great Britain. The rest
of the earl s remarks were simply assu
rances that there was an exceedingly
good disposition on the part of the king
and his ministers to make the government
easy to its American subjects; and that,
in case of their submission, the offensive
acts of Parliament should be revised, and
the instructions to the governors of the
several provinces be reconsidered, in or
der that, if any just causes of complaint
should be found, they might be removed.

To this the committee replied that in
their opinion a return to the domination
of Great Britain was not now to be ex
pected, as the colonies had declared them
selves independent states, and it was not
in the power of Congress to agree for
them to return to their former condition
of dependence. There was no doubt, how
ever, they said, an inclination to peace,
and a willingness to enter into a treaty
with Great Britain, which might be ad
vantageous to both countries. As his
lordship had at present no power to treat
with them as independent states, he might
(if there was the same good disposition
on the part of the British government)
much sooner obtain fresh powers for such



a purpose, than could be obtained by Con
gress from the several states, to consent
to a submission.

Lord Howe, then remarking that he
was sorry to find no accommodation was
likely to take place, put an end to the
conference. The committee, therefore,
took leave of his lordship, and, having
passed over by barge to Arnboy, returned
through New Jersey, to their duties in

Sullivan s mission was generally con
sidered a "fool s errand." Adams expres
ses himself emphatically upon this point.
He says: "The conduct of General Sulli
van, in consenting to come to Philadel
phia, upon so confused an errand from
Lord Howe though his situation, as a

prisoner, was a temptation, and may be
considered some apology appeared to
me to betray such a want of penetration
and fortitude, and there was so little pre
cision in the information he communi
cated, that I felt much resentment, and
more contempt, on the occasion, than was
perhaps just. The time was extremely
critical. The attention of Congress, the
army, the states, and the people, ought
to have been wholly directed to the de
fence of the country. To have it divert
ed and relaxed, by such a poor artifice
and confused tale, appeared very repre

Washington says briefly of the whole
affair, " The mode of negotiation pursued
by Lord Howe I did not approve of."


Evacuation of New York resolved upon. Hale, the American Spy. His Life, Character, and Fate. The Movement of
the British Ships up the East Kiver. The Americans on the March out of New York. Washington s Headquarters.
The Morris Home. The Landing of the Enemy. The Flight of the Provincials. Washington s Indignation.
Putnam and the Rear-Guard in Danger. Aaron Burr comes to the Rescue. The Enemy too late. Escape of Put
nam and his Force. The British arrive in Full Strength. An Agreeable but Expensive Visit. " Mrs. Murray saves
the American Army." The British take Possession of New York. The Action on the Plains of Harlem. Death of
Knowlton and Leitch.


ceived a despatch on the 12th of
September from President Hancock, sta
ting that it was by no means the sense
of Congress that the army or any part of
it should remain in the city of New York
a moment longer than he should think it
proper for the public service, was left to
act according to his own judgment. His

opinion, as we have seen, was evidently
in favor of evacuating the town; and he
was now confirmed in his views by a pe
tition, signed by seven of his general offi
cers, headed by General Greene, who
urged the calling of a council of war, to
decide upon such action as the circum
stances seemed to require. A council
was accordingly summoned ; and it was



[PART n.

Sept, 12,

determined, by a majority of ten

out of the thirteen present, that
the removal of the army was not only
prudent, but absolutely necessary, as they
were entirely convinced, from a full and
minute inquiry into their situation, that
it was extremely perilous: for it appeared
from every movement of the enemy, and
the intelligence received, that their plan
of operations was to get in the rear of
the Americans, and, by cutting off the
communication with the mainland, oblige
them to force a passage through the Brit
ish lines, or to become prisoners in some
short time, for want of necessary supplies
of provisions.

Anxious to have more explicit infor
mation of the condition and the intended
movements of the enemy, it was deter
mined to send a spy into the British camp
on Long island. Colonel Knowlton was
requested by Washington to obtain some
one from his regiment, which had a high
character for its daring, to undertake this
perilous duty. Captain NATHAN HALE, a
young Connecticut officer, immediately
volunteered his services, and, being pro
vided by Washington with an order to
the commanders of all American vessels
to convey him wherever he desired to go,
set out. Crossing the sound, Hale reached
Huntington, on Long island, and thence
proceeded to the British camp, where, by
skilfully avoiding suspicion, he gathered
such information as he had sought. He
now returned to Huntington, and was
about recrossing to New York, when he
was arrested by a British guard, and, be
ing taken before General Howe and ex
amined, condemned to die. When Howe

removed his headquarters to New York,
Hale was brought over from Long island
and confined in the greenhouse attached
to the Beekman mansion, on the East
river, of which the British commander-
in-chief had taken possession in the ab
sence of its patriotic owner. Hale was
treated with great severity. Pronounced
guilty without the form of a trial, he was
not even allowed the usual privileges of
a condemned criminal. His bible was
taken from him, the presence of a cler
gyman denied him, and his last written
words to his mother and sisters were de
stroyed. He was led out to be hanged,
and, as he stood beneath the fatal tree,*
he said, " I only lament that I have but
one life to lose for my country." Hale
was young, and full of patriotic enthusi
asm. He had left Yale college but three
years before, and had, by his zeal for
study, given great promise of distinction
in the higher walks of civil life. His ar
dent temperament was, however, greatly
inflamed by the wrongs of his country ;
and when the Revolutionary struggle be
gan, he threw aside his books, and took
up the sword with the patriotic resolute
ness of a young Brutus.

Four ships-of-war, two of forty and two
of twenty-eight guns, had moved up the
East river, and anchored about
a mile above the city. The fort
at Governor s island, now in possession
of the British, kept up a brisk cannonade,
and the ships were pouring broadside
after broadside upon the works at New

* " He was hanged upon an apple-tree in Rutgers or
chard, near the present intersection of East Broadway and
Market street." LOSSINQ.

Sept. 13.




York, as they sailed with a gentle breeze
slowly up the river. The Americans re
turned the fire, and Washington was ri
ding on horseback from point to point,
encouraging the cannonade. As he was
entering one of the forts, a ball fell within
six feet of his horse ; and another struck
down and killed with one blow three citi
zens who were looking with idle curiosi
ty upon the scene. General Howe had
also landed a considerable body of his
troops upon Buchanan s and Montressor s
(now Ward s and Randall s) islands, in the
East river, off the mouth of the Harlem

Six more of the enemy s ships, trans
ports, and men-of-war, now joined the
other British vessels in the East river.
Soon an express came hurriedly to Wash
ington at his headquarters, with word
from Colonel Sargent at Horen s Hook,
that the enemy had crossed with large
reinforcements to the encampment on
Montressor s island; and again, immedi
ately after, another messenger rode in,
with a despatch from General Mifflin, sta
ting that he discovered "uncommon and
formidable movements" among the Brit
ish troops. Washington at once galloped
to Harlem and Morrisania, where he sup
posed the principal attempt to land would
be made. Nothing, however, was done
until next day.

In the meantime, the measures deter
mined upon by the council of war were
being carried out with all possible de
spatch. The first movement was, to get
the sick, the ordnance, the stores, and the
provisions, safely away from the city.
Colonel Glover and his ready-handed

Marblehead fishermen were especially
employed for that service. The work
was begun late at night. An attack from
the enemy was expected every moment.
Some five hundred sick were, however,
safely carried over the river to New Jer
sey, without interruption, before sunrise
next morning. On the following day,
Glover with his active brigade was back
again to the city, at work from morning
until late at night, in striking the tents
and carrying the heavy stores and ord
nance to the water s side, ready to be
transported by boats up the North river ;
while wagons were loaded with the light
baggage, prepared to start by land. The
commander-in-chief was anxiously await
ing the result of Glover s labors. "I fully
expected," he writes on the 14th of Sep
tember, "that an attack somewhere would
be made last night. In that I was disap
pointed ; and happy shall I be, if my ap
prehensions of one to-night, or in a day
or two, are not confirmed by the event.
If it is deferred a little while longer, I
flatter myself all will be got away, and
our force be more concentrated, and of
course more likely to resist them with

Washington had already moved the
main body of his army, which
had been principally stationed
along Turtle and Kip s bays (leaving, how
ever, a force of militia to guard the works
at those points), to the upper part of the
island. General Putnam had been left
with four thousand men within the city,
as a rear-guard to protect the removal of
the stores, and with orders to close up
with the rest of the army whenever he

Sept, 13.



[PART n.

should find it necessary, from any move
ment of the British.

The chief himself took possession of the
mansion of Colonel Roger Morris, his old
companion-in-arms under Braddock, and
his successful rival for the hand of the rich
Mary Philipse. Morris had, since his mar
riage, made America his home, and had
retired to his beautiful country-seat, in
the enjoyment, as he hoped, of a secure
retreat for life. On the possession of the
island of New York by the American ar
my, however, he was obliged to abandon
his home, and seek safety at the house of
his brother-in-law, Beverly Robinson, in
the Highlands.

The Morris mansion still stands, upon
the high ground which rises from the
marshy margin of Harlem river ; and, not
withstanding the ambitious city already
claims it as its own, and fixes it with nu
merical precision in "one hundred and
sixty-ninth street," it yet retains in its
situation much of its former picturesque
beauty. Standing upon the heights of
Harlem, it commands an extensive view
of land and water. At the base of the
hill upon which the house is built, flows
the Harlem river, where it is spanned by
the High-bridge aqueduct, through which
runs a stream (drunk up by the daily
thirst of the great city) more copious
than the whole river below ! Toward
New York are the plains of Harlem, up
on which houses now are crowded, but
which then were green meadows and not
seldom bloody battle-fields. Beyond, to
the east, is the sound, now enlivened by
steamboats and the peaceful sails of com
merce, but then gloomy with threatening

men-of-war. The Morris mansion was
then all astir with the busy activity of a
commander-in-chief s headquarters : it is
now the solitary dwelling of an eccentric
Frenchwoman,* the widow of Aaron Burr.

The American chief s apprehensions of
an attack were proved to be well found
ed. Early in the morning which succeed
ed the night when he had been hastily
summoned to Harlem, the enemy began
their operations. Three ships-of-war sailed
up the North river as high as Blooming-
dale, and thus put a total stop to the re
moval (which Colonel Glover from an ear
ly hour had begun) of the heavy baggage
by water. As the day advanced, the fleet
in the East river began also with a most
severe and heavy cannonade to " scour
the country," and thus cover the landing
of a large body of British troops.

As soon as he caught the sound of the
firing, Washington hurried to the breast
works between Turtle bay and Kip s bay,
where some militia had been left to guard
them, and where the enemy were now
landing. He found to his " great surprise
and mortification" the troops which had
been posted in the lines retreating with
the utmost precipitation ; and Parsons
and Fellows Connecticut brigades, which
had been ordered to support them, flying
in every direction and in the greatest con
fusion, notwithstanding the exertions of
their generals to form them. Washington
rode up, and, finding his own attempts to
stop the fugitives fruitless, was so indig
nant at their cowardice, that he drew his
sword, threatened to run them through,
and cocked and snapped his pistols at

* Madame Jumcl.




the "scoundrels." He used every means
in his power to rally them, but his efforts
proved ineffectual; and when a small par
ty of the enemy, not more than sixty or
seventy, made their appearance, the dis
order of the cravens increased, and they
continued to run away, without firing a
single shot, leaving Washington himself
in so hazardous a situation, that his at
tendants, to extricate him, caught the
bridle of his horse and gave him a differ
ent direction. There he was, within eigh
ty yards of the enemy, "so vexed," wrote
General Greene, " at the infamous con
duct of his troops, that he sought death
rather than life." Washington dashed
his hat upon the ground, and cried out,
almost in despair, as he beheld the flight
of his soldiers, "Are these the men with
whom I am to defend America!"

The cowardly militia continued their
headlong scamper across the island until
they were met by Colonel Glover with
his spirited Marblehead men and other
troops, who had been suddenly called
away from their works, to come to the
defence of the posts on the eastern part
of the city. The fugitives, encouraged or
shamed by the presence of these steady
brigades of Glover, now halted, and, be
ing formed in rank, marched on along the
Bloomingdale road, and took post on the
heights of Harlem.

Cheered by the presence of the more
regular troops, the militia seemed eager
to redeem their tarnished valor, and would
have faced about at once to attack the
approaching British, who now appeared,
coming up in large force. Washington
at first encouraged this newly-awakened

zeal, and ordered them to give battle to
the enemy; but, after a moment s reflec
tion upon their late conduct, he natural
ly distrusted their courage, and counter
manded the order.

The chief s great anxiety was now for
Putnam and his rear-guard, who were still
within New York, and in imminent dan
ger of being hemmed in by the enemy,
as they thronged upon the shore, and
prepared to stretch their lines across the
island. Washington immediately sent an
express to Putnam, ordering him to hast
en away from his perilous position ; and,
fearful lest the British might pass over
from the East river to Harlem plains, and
cut off the retreat of that part of the ar
my still in the city, he ordered the heights
of Harlem to be secured in the best man
ner by the troops which were stationed
on or near them.

Putnam, finding that the enemy had
landed and taken possession of the main
roads which led from the city to the up
per part of the island where Washington
had extended his lines, was greatly per
plexed to discover a means of escape.
His aid-de-camp, Major Aaron Burr, ob
serving the perplexity of Putnam and
his general officers, and being well ac
quainted with the ground, suggested a
road which led along the North river
from Greenwich to Bloomingdale. Put
nam now hurriedly abandoned the city,
leaving in his necessary haste most of the
heavy cannon and a part of the stores
and provisions which had been got ready
for removal. Taking the road suggested
by Burr, the troops were urged on to a
rapid march. Putnam would allow of no



flagging; and he himself was flying about
on his horse, covered with foam, and stir
ring up the energies of the whole column.
The day was stifling hot; the road was
in a continued cloud of dust; a large num
ber of women and children, who had fol
lowed the troops out of the city, embar
rassed the march, and the men suffered
greatly; but "Old Put," by his own per
sonal exertions, infused such a spirit of
activity into his men, that they moved
on rapidly in spite of every obstacle.

They were just turning into a cross-
path which led from Bloomingdale to
Harlem, when an aid-de-camp rode up to
Putnam in full speed, to inform him that
a column of British infantry was coming
up against his right flank. The order for
the troops to file to the right with all
speed was hardly given, when the enemy
came within firing distance of Putnam s
rear and opened a volley. One of the
colonels fell at the first shot. Some sev
enteen men were killed and three hun
dred taken prisoners. With no other loss,
the troops succeeded just at nightfall in
reaching the American lines at Harlem

Putnam s escape was, however, due to
a fortunate incident, which shows how
great events may often be traced to the
most trifling causes. The British troops
had landed in large force, and to the num
ber of some eight thousand were stretch
ing across the island. Having put to flight
the militia who had so ignominiously de
serted their posts at Turtle and Kip s bays,
the enemy halted temporarily before ex
tending their lines as they designed, and
by which they would have certainly cut

off Putnam s retreat. The day, as before
observed, was hot, and the British gener
als were thirsty: so Governor Tryon, well
acquainted with the ground, volunteered
to guide them to a place where good re
freshments might be secured. He accord
ingly took them to the country-house of
a Mr. Robert Murray, a patriotic Quaker,
who lived on Murray hill, near by. On
entering, they were met, in the absence
of her husband, by the wife, who cour
teously received her visiters, and offered
them the best cheer she had. Wine and
cake were served up in abundance ; and
the thirsty and gallant British officers,
gratified with the good Madeira, and
charmed with the courtesies of their host
ess, were disposed to linger. Tryon was

Online LibraryRobert TomesBattles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) → online text (page 45 of 126)