History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution/Chapter VII
Freedom, long hunted round the globe by a succession of tyrants, appeared at this period as if about to erect her standard in America. The scimitar was drawn from principles that held life and property as a feather in the balance against the chains of servitude that clanked in her disgusted ear. The blood of innocence had already crimsoned over the fields which had teemed for the nourishment of Britain, who, instead of listening to the groans of an oppressed country, had recently wrung out the tears of anguish, until the inhabitants of the plundered towns were ready to quit the elegances of life and take refuge in the forest to secure the unimpaired possession of those privileges which they considered as a grant from heaven, that no earthly potentate had a right to seize with impunity.
The bulk of mankind have indeed, in all countries in their turn, been made the prey of ambition. It is a truth that no one will contest, though all may regret, that in proportion to the increase of wealth, the improvement in arts, and the refinements in society, the great body of the people have either by force or fraud become the slaves of the few, who by chance, violence, or accident have destroyed the natural equality of their associates. Sanctioned by time and habit, an indefeasible right has been claimed that sets so mischievous a creature as man above all law, and subjects the lives of millions to the rapacious will of an individual who, by the intoxicating nature of power, soon forgets that there are any obligations due to the subject, a reptile in his opinion, made only for the drudgery necessary to maintain the splendor of government and the support of prerogative. Every step taken by the British government relative to the colonies confirmed this truth, taught them their danger, and evinced to the Americans the necessity of guarding at all points against the assumed jurisdiction of an assembly of men disposed to innovate continually on the rights of their fellow subjects who had no voice in Parliament, and whose petitions did not reach or had no influence on the ear of the sovereign.
The success of the last supplicatory address offered to the Parliament of Britain by the United States still hung in suspense. Yet the crisis appears so alarming that it was thought necessary by many to attend immediately to the establishment of a continental army on some stable and respectable footing. But there were some influential members in Congress who dreaded the consequence of a step so replete with the appearance of hostility, if not with the avowed design of independence. They observed that such a measure would be an inevitable bar to the restoration of harmony.
Some who had warmly opposed the measures of administration and ably advocated the rights of the colonies were of this opinion. The idea of dissevering the empire shocked their feelings. They still ardently wished, both from the principles of humanity and what they judged the soundest policy, to continue, is possible, the natural connection with Britain. Others of a more timid complexion readily united with these gentlemen and urged, notwithstanding the contempt poured on all former supplications, that even if their late petition should be rejected they should yet make one effort more for conciliation and relief, by the hitherto fruitless mode of prayer and remonstrance. Men of more enlarged and comprehensive views considered this proposal as the finesse of shallow politicians, designed only to prevent the organization of a continental army.
The celebrated Machiavelli, pronounced by some the prince of politicians, has observed "that every state is in danger of dissolution whose government is not frequently reduced to its original principles." The conduct of the British administration towards the colonies, the corruption of the government in every department, their deviations from first principles, and the enormous public debt of the nation evinced not only the necessity of a reform in Parliament, but appeared to require such a renovation of the British Constitution as was not likely soon to take place. Thus circumstanced, many thought it the interest of America to dissolve the connection with such a government, and were utterly opposed to delay or any further application to the British king of Parliament, by petition or concession.
After a long debate on the subject, the last description of persons were obliged reluctantly to accede to a measure which they thought promised nothing but delay or disgrace. By a kind of necessary compromise, a most humble and loyal petition directly to the King of Great Britain was again agreed to by the delegated powers of the United States. At the same time, it was stipulated by all parties that military preparations should be made and an army raised without further hesitation. A decided majority in Congress voted that 20,000 men should be immediately equipped and supported at the expense of the United States of America. The honorable William Penn, late governor of Pennsylvania, was chosen agent to the Court of Britain, and directed to deliver the petition to the King himself and to endeavor by his personal influence to procure a favorable reception to this last address.
The command of the army, by unanimous voice of Congress, was vested in George Washington, Esquire, then a delegate from the Sate of Virginia. He received this mark of confidence from his country with becoming modesty, and declined all compensation for his services, more than should be sufficient to defray his expenditures, for which he would regularly account.
Mr. Washington was a gentleman of family and fortune, of a polite, but not a learned education. He appeared to possess a coolness of temper and a degree of moderation and judgment that qualified him for the elevated station in which he was now placed. With some considerable knowledge of mankind, he supported the reserve of the statesman with the occasional affability of the courtier. In his character was blended a certain dignity, united with the appearance of good humor. He possessed courage without rashness, patriotism and zeal without acrimony, and retained with universal applause the first military command until the establishment of independence. Through the various changes of fortune in the subsequent conflict, though the slowness of his movements were censured by some, his character suffered little diminution to the conclusion of a war that from the extraordinary exigencies of an infant republic required at times the caution of Fabius, the energy of Caesar, and the happy facility of expedient in distress, so remarkable in the military operations of the illustrious Frederick. [The late Kind of Prussia, well known for this trait in his character by all who are acquainted with the history of his reign.] With the first of these qualities, he was endowed by nature; the second was awakened by necessity; and the third he acquired by experience in the field of glory and danger, which extended his fame through half the globe.
In the late war between England and France, Mr. Washington had been in several military encounters and had particularly signalized himself in the unfortunate expedition under General Braddock, in the wilderness on the borders of the Ohio, in the year 1755. His conduct on that occasion raised an eclat of his valor and prudence, in consequence of which many young gentlemen from all parts of the continent, allured by the name of Major Washington, voluntarily entered the service, proud of being enrolled in the list of officers under one esteemed so gallant a commander.
General Washington arrived at the camp at Cambridge in the neighborhood of Boston in the beginning of July, 1775. He was accompanied by several officers of distinction from the southern states, and by Charles Lee and Horatio Gates, both natives of Great Britain, appointed now to high rank in the American army. There appeared much expectation from his abilities and a general satisfaction in the appointment of Mr. Washington to the chief command. A congratulatory address, expressive of their esteem, with the strongest assurances of their aid and support, to enable him to discharge the duties of his arduous and exalted station, was presented to him from the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts through the hand of their president, James Warren. To this gentleman, General Washington brought letters of importance, and to him he was referred for advice by the delegates of the Massachusetts, as "a judicious, confidential friend, who would never deceive him."
In his reply to this address, General Washington observed, "That in leaving the enjoyments of domestic life, he had only emulated the virtue and public spirit of the whole province of Massachusetts Bay, who with a firmness and patriotism without example in history had sacrificed the comforts of social and private felicity in support of the rights of mankind, and the welfare of their country." Indeed, all ranks were emulous to manifest their respect to the commander of the army. Multitudes flocked from every quarter to the American standard, and within a few weeks the environs of Boston exhibited a brave and high spirited army which formed to order, discipline, and subordination more rapidly than could have been expected from their former habits. Fired with an enthusiasm arising from a sense of the justice of their cause; ardent, healthy, and vigorous; they were eager for action, and impatient to be led to an attack on the town of Boston, where the British army was encamped. But they were still ignorant that both private and political adventurers had been so negligent of their own and the public safety as to pay little attention to the importation of powder, arms, and other warlike stores, previous to the prohibition of Britain, restricting the shipment of those articles to America, but for the immediate use of the King's troops.
Thus when hostilities commenced, and a war was denounced against the colonies, they had innumerable difficulties to surmount. Several of the most formidable powers of Europe had been invited by Britain to aid the cruel purposes of administration, either by the loan of auxiliaries, or by a refusal of supplies to the infant states, now struggling alone against a foe whose power, pride, and success had often made the nations tremble. On a retrospect of the critical situation of America, it is astonishing she did not fall at the threshold. She had new governments to erect in the several states; her legislatures to form; and her civil police to regulate on untrodden ground. She had her armies to establish and funds to provide for their payment. She had her alliances to negotiate, new sources of trade to strike out, and a navy to begin, while the thunder of Britain was alarming her coasts, the savages threatening her borders, and the troops of George III, with the sword uplifted, pushing their execrable purpose to exterminate the last vestige of freedom.
But as Providence had led to the period of independence, the powers of industry and invention were called forth. Not discouraged by the magnitude of the work or the numberless obstacles to the completion of their design, no difficulties damped the ardor and unanimity of their exertions, though for a time it appeared as if their magazines must be furnished by the nitre from heaven and the ore dug by their own hands from the bowels of the earth. The manufacture of salt-peter, at first considered as the ideal project of some enthusiast for freedom, was not only attempted, but became the easy occupation of women and children. Large quantities were furnished from many parts of America, and powder mills were erected which worked it with success. Sulfur, lead, and iron ore are the natural productions of the country, and mountains of flint had recently been discovered and wrought for use. As nature had thus furnished the materials, every hand that was not engaged in arms was employed in arts, with an alacrity and cheerfulness that discovered a determination to be free. Precipitated into a conflict that probably might light half Europe in flames, the demand was too great, and the process too slow to rely entirely on the efforts of genius and industry.
When General Washington became fully apprised of the astonishing deficiency in the article of power, having been led into a misapprehension of the stock on hand, by irregular returns, he embarrassment was great. He immediately applied for advice to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, who judged that the most prompt measures were indispensably necessary. They agreed that the Speaker should communicate the circumstance to a few members who might be confidentially entrusted: the result was that committees were immediately sent by the Assembly to many towns in the province, in a cautious, guarded manner, to require the stocks of powder on hand in their several magazines. This was expeditiously effected, and with little difficulty; but the collection was very inadequate, yet sufficient to relieve the anxiety of the present moment. Happily they were not apprised within the walls of Boston of the poverty of their antagonists without, particularly in this article, until they had time to collect the small stocks from the neighboring towns and to receive some, though far from an ample supply, from the southern colonies. At this crisis, had General Gage ventured without his entrenchments, both the American army and the people must have been involved in extreme distress.
Several vessels had been privately sent both to the Dutch and English islands to procure arms and ammunition; but so narrowly were they watched by the British cruisers that they had returned with little success.
These circumstances accelerated a spirited measure, before contemplated only by a few. The arming and equipping of ships to cruise on British property was a bold attempt that startled apprehensions of many zealously opposed to the undue exercise of British power; but necessity impelled, and the enterprise was pursued. The General Assembly of the Massachusetts soon resolved to build, equip, and arm a number of vessels suitable for the purpose, to cruise and capture any British ships that might be found on or near their coasts. They granted letters of marque and reprisal to several adventurers, and appointed courts of admiralty for the trial and condemnation of any captures within those limits. By these means, the seasonable capture, in the beginning of this enterprise, of a British ship laden with ordnance and an assorted cargo of warlike stores sufficiently supplied the exigencies of the army and dissipated the fears of those who had suffered the most painful apprehensions for the safety of their country.
These naval preparations may perhaps be said not to have been merely of a defensive nature — the line yet avowedly observed by the Americans. But they had advanced too far to recede. Sophistical distinctions of words or names were laid aside. It is a fact, of which everyone is sensible, that successful opposition to arbitrary sway places a civic crown on the head of the hero that resists, when contingencies that defeat confer a hemp cord instead of laurel. The success and catastrophe of the infant navy of America will be shown in the succeeding pages.
The naked state of the magazines had been kept as secret as possible, and every preparation for attack of defense had been made as if no deficiency was felt, while there were not three rounds of powder in the American camp. Lines of circumvallation had been formed from Mystic River to Roxbury and Dorchester. But, notwithstanding the appearance of strength, the collection of numbers, and the hostile disposition of both parties, nothing of consequence was attempted by either, after the action of June 17, during the remainder of Gage's administration. This inactivity was heavily censured by the more ardent spirits both within and without the camp. It was thought disgraceful on the one side, nor would it have been less dishonorable on the other had not their inability from the causes just mentioned prevented more vigorous movements. Yet, from the circumstances of the colonies, their petition to the King still pending, and their allegiance not formally renounced, it was judged by many most prudent for the American army to remain for the present only on the defensive.
Governor Gage obtained leave to repair to England in the autumn of 1775. It was indeed unfortunate for him that he had been appointed to the command of an army and the government of a province without the talents that qualified for the times. He was naturally a man of a humane disposition, nor had his courage ever been impeached. But he had not the intrigue of the statesman to balance the parties, nor the sagacity necessary to defeat their designs. Nor was he possessed of that soldierly promptitude that leaves no interval between the determination and the execution of his projects. Glad to quit the thorny field, he bade adieu to a country he had not the ability and perhaps not the inclination to subdue, and the command of the army devolved on Sir William Howe.
General Oglethorpe, his senior in office, an experienced veteran, grown old in military fame without sullying his laurels, had the prior offer of this command. He agreed to accept the appointment on condition the ministry would authorize him to assure the colonies that justice should be done them. His proposal at once appeared the result of humanity and equity. He declared that "he knew the people of America well; that they never would be subdued by arms, but that their obedience would be ever secured by doing them justice." [British Annual Register.] A man with these ideas was not a fit instrument for the designs of the British government. He was, therefore, agreeable to his own request, permitted to remain at home, where he was a quiet spectator of the folly of his country through a seven years war with the colonies. [General Oglethorpe had been distinguished for the benevolence of his disposition through all his transactions in America, where he had resided several years. His mildness and equity towards the natives of the early settlement of the state of Georgia, and his conduct both in a civil and military capacity had won the esteem and affection of the inhabitants of the southern colonies the approbation of his sovereign, and the applause of his native country — Modern Universal History, Volume 11]. On his declining the appointment, the important and hazardous command was given to General Howe, a man of pleasure and a soldier. But the predominance of the first trait in his character often interfered with the vigor and decision necessary to complete the last. Early on his promotion, his severity and indiscretion erased the favorable impression which many in America yet cherished for his name and family. In the beginning of his administration, he published a proclamation condemning to military execution any of the remaining inhabitants of Boston who should attempt to leave the town. He compelled them to form themselves into bodies under officers he should appoint and to take arms in case of an attack against their brethren in the country. Yet for a certain sum of money, he promised an exemption from the cruel task of imbruing their hands in the blood of their friends. But the most memorable event that took place while he presided in the province, previous to the evacuation of Boston, was the cannonade and destruction of Falmouth, a flourishing and well-built town on the eastern parts of Massachusetts.
Alarm and depredation had spread from shore to shore through all the sea coasts of America. Their shipping were seized, their islands plundered, their harbors infested by the landing of marauding parties, and many places threatened with immediate conflagration. Bristol, near Rhode Island, had been attacked in a dark stormy night, and 120 canon fired on that defenseless town within an hour. Many houses were injured, and some set on fire. A remarkable sickness had raged in the town for some time, and the languishing inhabitants were now hurried into the streets in their beds, to preserve them from immediate death in the conflagration of their houses. [The Rev. Mr. Burt, distinguished for his piety, benevolence, and attachment to the liberties of his country, was found dead in a field the morning after the conflagration. He had fled from his bed where he was confined by sickness, to escape the flames that consumed his house.] This was an uncivil mode of demanding a tax of cattle, sheep, and hogs, for the supply of the squadron of Captain (afterwards) Sir James Wallace, who had for many months harassed and distressed the state of Rhode Island.
This rude attack on Bristol took place only eight days previous to the wanton desolation which on the eve of winter stripped the inhabitants of Falmouth, both of shelter and provisions, and drove them naked into the wilderness, uncertain of any accommodations to secure them from the inclemency of the season. One Captain Mowatt, who had recently been a prisoner there and had received the most hospitable treatment from the inhabitants, was the instrument to execute this deed of unprovoked barbarity. It is true he notified the town that "he would give them two hours to remove the human species, at the period of which term a red pendant would be hoisted at the main top gallant mast head, and that on the least resistance he should be freed from all humanity dictated by his orders or his inclination." [This is an exact copy of Mowatt's letter. See British Remembrancer.]
Three gentlemen repaired on board his ship to inquire the reason of this extraordinary summons. Mowatt replied that "he had orders to set on fire all the seaport towns from Boston to Halifax, and that he supposed New York was already in ashes." He said "he could dispense with his orders on no terms but the compliance of the inhabitants to deliver up their arms and ammunition and their sending on board a supply of provisions, four carriage guns, and the same number of the principal persons in the town, as hostages, that they should engage not to unite with their country in any kind of opposition to Britain." He assured them that on a refusal of these conditions, he should lay the town in ashes within three hours.
Unprepared for such a attack, and intimidated by the roar of cannon which began to play on the town, the people supplicated a suspension until the morning before they replied to the humiliating proposal. They improved the short reprieve which with difficulty they obtained in removing their families and effects; after which they made no further resistance, not even to the marines who landed with lighted torches to make the devastation complete. In this defenseless situation, the inhabitants considered opposition only as a useless waste of human life, and many of them stood on the heights, the passive spectators of the fire that played on the town through the day. They beheld with various emotions a conflagration that reduced many of them to penury and despair. Thus were they prepared for the occupation of soldiers, and driven to the field from the double motive of resentment and the necessity of immediate subsistence.
New York, Stonington, Newport, and many other places were threatened, but did not experience a similar fate. The last, situated on an island, was obliged to stipulate for a weekly supply to save their town from the fury of the piratical corsairs that surrounded them, who proudly boasted to the civility and generosity of their nation. England has indeed been long celebrated for magnanimity, clemency, and humanity. But it is with nations as with individuals, when human nature falls from virtue, it generally sinks into the extremes of vice, in proportion as it was before conspicuous for superior excellence.
Thus, the monarch divested of compassion, and the ministry of principle, the naval strength of Britain, the mistress of the seas, and the terror Europe was employed to interrupt the commerce, lay waste the cities, destroy the towns, and plunge the inhabitants of America in misery and despair, forgetful that she was every contributing by the acquisitions of her industry to the strength of Britain. Nor was America yet sufficiently irritated to renounce her allegiance to the King or relinquish her connection with England, cemented by the strong ties of habit and consanguinity, language, religion, and manners. Yet, though there was no formal dissolution of the legal bands that had united them, the frequent outrages experienced by Americans convinced them of the necessity of some effectual naval preparations on their part. This was so obvious that Congress no longer delayed acting with decision on a measure that had been balanced by various opinions. they directed General Washington to contract for a number of armed vessels to cruise abroad, to defend the sea coasts at home, and as far as it was practicable, to capture British property wherever it might be found.
Many gentlemen, sanguine in opinion that an American navy was no Utopian project, but that her marine might rapidly rise to a respectable height, engaged with a energy that seldom fails of carrying into execution any attempt the human mind, on principles of reason, is capable of forming. They accordingly built on the large rivers from Portsmouth to Pennsylvania a number of vessels, row galleys, and frigates from four to forty guns; and fitted, manned, and completely equipped them for sea in the course of a few months. All encouragement was given both to public and private adventurers who engaged in the sea service. Success was equal to expectation. Many very valuable prizes, and a vast number of provision vessels from England, Ireland, and Nova Scotia were captured, and by this means the Americans were soon supplied, not only with the necessaries of war, but with the conveniences and luxuries of life.
While things remained in this situation in Boston and along the Atlantic shore, a very busy and important scene was acting in another quarter of America. The conquest of Quebec by the immortal Wolfe, in conjunction with the bold and hardy New Englanders is a story well known in the annals of Britain. On the peace concluded with France at Fontainebleau in the Duke of Bed ford's administration, the whole province of Canada was ceded to the crown of England, in lieu of more valuable acquisitions relinquished to France. Most of the inhabitants of the country were French — some of them noblesse, and all of them attached to their former master. The Roman Catholic faith was the established religion of the country, yet the Canadians were in all respects to be governed according to the laws of England, until the Quebec Bill, the subject of much political disunion in England, passed into an Act in 1774. This act cut the Canadians off from the privileges of English subjects, denied them an assembly of their own on principles of the British Constitution, deprived them of the trial by jury in civil processes. the laws of France were restored, and the boundaries of the province were extended far beyond the just limits. The Roman Catholic religion also was not only to be tolerated, but established by Act of Parliament. This was very offensive both to the French and the English inhabitants, who found their interests inseparably connected. These new regulations were made with a view of fixing the Canadians more firmly in the interest of the ministry; but as they had tasted the advantages of a less despotic government, the people in general had adopted more liberal modes of thinking, both in civil and religious matters; and most of the inhabitants were equally dissatisfied with the late parliamentary regulations.
The Quebec Act, unpopular in England and alarming in America, was particularly disgusting to all the English settlers in Canada, except a few individuals employed by the Crown. Neither the authority of administration, nor the address of Governor Carleton was sufficient to quiet the disorders that arose, or to induce the Canadians in this early stage of the dispute to take arms to assist in the subjugation of the other colonies. They murmured loudly at the measures of the British government. They refused peremptorily to act against the United Sates, and several of the principal English inhabitants corresponded with some of the members of Congress and encouraged the measures that were taken to bring the province of Canada into a union with the thirteen colonies.
Thus it required no small intrigue to instigate event he savages who delight in blood to the commission of unprovoked hostilities, which would interrupt the traffic carried on between them and the frontiers of the other provinces. It has been justly observed "that the introduction of barbarians and savages into the contests of civilized nations is a measure pregnant with shame and mischief, which the interest of a moment may impel, but which is reprobated by the best principles of humanity and reason." [Gibbon on the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire] But these were not the principles on which the American war was conducted. Congress had authentic information that every method was used to induce the savages to take up the hatchet against the Americans. Several conferences had been held the preceding summer with many of their chiefs assembled at Montreal. this was in consequence of the machination of Colon Johnson, a famous Indian partisan in the last war, whose influence among them was very extensive. In these conferences, he gave each of them a war belt and a tomahawk; invited them to drink the blood and feast on the body of a Bostonian, and to sing the war son over a roasted bullock and a pipe of wine he had prepared for the purpose. But several of them declined either to eat, drink, or sing the barbarous song. They afterwards delivered up the black belt with the hatchet depictured thereon, to some of the American officers. [General Schuyler's letter, Dec. 14, 1775, published by order of Congress.]
These transactions were considered as incontestable proof that administration was determined to employ as their allies the fierce and numerous hordes of the wilderness to subdue and butcher the Americans, even before they had thrown off their allegiance to the Crown of Britain. It had also been recently discovered that Governor Carleton had received a commission authorizing him to muster and arm all persons residing within the province of Canada and "as occasion should require, to march and embark the levies to any of the provinces of America, to pursue and prosecute either by sea or land all enemies, pirates, or rebels, either in or out of the province; and if it should so please God, them to vanquish, to take, and so apprehended, according to law, put them to death or to reserve alive, at his discretion." [The whole of General Carleton's extraordinary commission maybe seen in the parliamentary register of November 2, in the second sessions of the then Parliament.]
A detail of the sufferings of one family will evince the wretched situation of all in that province who had the courage to complain of the measures and administration, or indulged a favorable opinion of the exertions o the other colonies. The singular mode of bending the minds of men of liberal opinions to the designs of government was first experimented on Mr. Walker, an English gentleman of fortune and abilities, who had been many years a resident at Montreal. His avowed dislike of the Quebec Bill drew on him the resentment of the officers of government and involved him in altercation and danger. He had in answer to the service maxim "Qui le roi, est maitre" repeated by one Rouvelle, coolly replied that "with regard to Monsieur Rouvelle, it might be so, as he ate his Majesty's bread"; but added "I deny that the King is my master: I respect him as my lawful sovereign, and am ready to pay due obedience to his lawful commands; but I cannot acknowledge any one as my master while I live by my own industry; when I receive pay from the King, perhaps my acknowledgments may be equally submissive." Rouvelle immediately informed General Carleton of this conversation. His prudence was commended, and he was soon after appointed one of the judges of the Supreme Court at Montreal. This appointment was equally astonishing to the French inhabitants, as it was disgusting to the English. Men of all descriptions had a very ill opinion of Rouvelle. The recent conversation between him and Mr. Walker was misrepresented and exaggerated. The partisans of the Crown and the officers of the army were highly exasperated against him; and soon after, resentment was carried so far as to attempt the assassination of Mr. Walker.
A number of soldiers under the command of a Captain Disney entered his house in the evening when at supper with a few friends. On a sudden noise at the door of the hall, Mrs. Walker imagined it to be some Canadians who had been the preceding day on business with Mr. Walker, as an officer of justice. Without any hesitation, she pronounced "entrez"; but to her inexpressible surprise, the next moment she saw through the lasses of the inner door a number of faces, some of them blacked, others covered with a lizard of crepe, all rising on the steps, and rushing with precipitation into the room: in an agony of surprise, she exclaimed, "Good God, this is murder!" Mr. Walker sat with his back to the door, and before he had time to rise, he received from one of the ruffians a violent stroke of a broad sword on his head. He attempted to recover his arms and defend himself, but wounded in a most cruel manner, he sunk motionless on the floor, when one of the villains kneeled on his breast and cut off his right ear, while he so far retained his senses as to hear one of them say, "damn him, he is dead."
After recovering from his wounds, he commenced a civil process against Disney and his party. The crime was proved with all its atrocious aggravations, but justice had not its operation, either in compensation to the sufferer, or punishment to the guilty. Mr. Walker, finding himself unsafe in the city, retired to his country house, determined to amuse himself with his books and his farm, without farther attention to political or public scenes. But his persecution was not at an end. He had not long resided in his villa before he was molested in a still more barbarous manner.
A party of thirty soldiers was sent by Governor Carleton to bring him dead of alive to Quebec. They surrounded his house just before day and summoned him to surrender. Instead of a compliance, he courageously endeavored to defend himself and his family, until the party without set fire to his house in several places, when he was obliged to escape the flames by throwing himself from the third story. In the fall from a window of such a height, one of his legs was broken, which left him to the mercy of his antagonists, who made him their prisoner, and conducted him to Quebec, where he was loaded with irons, denied the use of pen, ink, and paper, and forbidden even the light of a taper in his darksome cell.
Mrs. Walker, a lady of great elegance and sensibility, had in the terror of the night leaped from a second story window and walked through the snow until, exhausted by fear and fatigue, she was overtaken by one of the party, who had the compassion to throw his cloak over her and conduct her to a neighboring house. She soon after made her escape from that part of the country over the lakes, accompanied by the commissioners Congress had some time before sent on to confer with and secure the interest of the Canadians. The boat in which she crossed one of those island seas passed another almost within call which conveyed her husband a prisoner to Quebec.
It has already been observed that an address had been sent by Congress to the inhabitants of Canada, couched in nervous, friendly, and -pathetic terms, reminding them of their common danger, and urging them to a union with the other colonies in defense of their common rights. But the mixture of French, British, American, and savage inhabitants of that country rendered it very uncertain how far the other colonies might depend on the aid of friendship of the Canadians. Congress apprised of the situation of affairs there, judged it prudent to endeavor to engage the people of all descriptions sin that quarter, more firmly to the interest of the union. It was thought a favorable crisis for this purpose, when the flower of the British troops then in America were shut up in Boston; and when the governors of the southern provinces, interrupted in their negotiations with the Indians, had taken refuge on board the King's ships, either from real or imagined personal danger. This was an important business, as whoever possesses Canada will in a great measure command the numerous tribes beyond the lakes. A respectable delegation was sent to Montreal to treat with the white inhabitants, and, as far as possible, to conciliate or secure the copper-colored nations.
The importance of possessing Canada strongly impressed the minds at this time of gentlemen of the first penetration. A very respectable committee was sent by Congress into the country, with Dr. Franklin at the head of the mission, whose talents as a statesman, perfect knowledge of the French language, extensive literary acquaintance with that nation, urbanity of manners, courteous deportment, united with a prudent reserve, marked him as a suitable character to negotiate with and endeavor to attach the Canadians of all descriptions to the American union. Mr. Carrol of Maryland, a clergyman of the Roman Catholic profession, was sent on with the delegation to administer the ordinances of religion, baptism, absolution, etc., which they had been denied for some time by their clergy under British influence; who, instead of bestowing the blessings of the church, had denounced their anathemas, to the great grievance of many tender consciences, and threatened the vengeance of heaven, as well as earth, on failure of due submission to parliamentary mandates.
These efforts to engage and fix the Canadians to a certain point failed. The committee returned with little success. Words and professions are of little avail when the sword is, or is about to be, lifted for decision. Congress now found that a force sufficient to strengthen the hands of their friends in that province was the only mode to be relied on. In consequence of this necessity, they directed two regiments of New York militia and a body of New Englanders, consisting in the whole of about three thousand men, to proceed under the command of Generals Schuyler and Montgomery, by the Lake Champlain to the River Sorel, which empties itself into the St. Lawrence, and immediately attempt the reduction of Quebec. They arrived at the Isle Noix, which lies at the entrance of that river in the autumn of 1775.
The commander there published a declaration announcing the reasons of this movement and inviting the inhabitants of every description to arrange themselves under the banners of liberty, and unite in the common cause of America. After this, they immediately pushed on through woods, swamps, and morasses to a fort about 12 miles distance. Here an unexpected attack from a large body of Indians obliged them to retreat to their former post and wait the arrival of reinforcements.
On this retreat to the Isle Noix, General Schuyler immediately returned to Albany. The ostensible reason was the broken state of his health, which indeed was so impaired as to render him unfit for the fatigue of such a service. Thus the whole weight of the war in that quarter was left to the intrepid Montgomery, who, though qualified by his courage, capacity, and military experience, was not in force sufficient for so great an undertaking. He, however, notwithstanding the vigilance of General Carlteton, made himself master of the forts of Chamblee and St. John's, and with various other successes arrived at Montreal about the middle of November. General Carleton had arrived there some time before and had made every exertion for the preservation of all the posts in the neighborhood, as well as those above mentioned; but the people disaffected, and his army weak, his efforts were lasted, and he thought himself happy to escape the vigilance of Montgomery, who had placed guards at every post for his interception. He, however, in a dark night, in an open boat, fortunately passed them all, and arrived at Quebec in safety.
When General Montgomery arrived at Montreal, the inhabitants, both French and English, wished to surrender by capitulation. but with a spirit and dignity consistent with his usual character, he refused this, though at the same time he gave them the strongest assurances of justice, security, and personal safety. He pledged his honor for their peaceable possession of their property, and the free exercise of their religion: he expressed in liberal terms his disposition to protect the inhabitants on the same footing with the other American colonies. He then demanded the possession of the gates and the keys of all the public stores, and ordered them to be delivered by 9 o'clock the ensuing morning. Accordingly, the gates were thrown open, and his troops entered at the appointed hour: thus without the smallest resistance, he took possession of this important post. He treated every class of inhabitants with that lenity and politeness which at once attached them to his person, strengthened their prejudices against the British government, and cherished the favorable ideas many had before imbibed, both of the Americans and the cause in which they were engaged.
When Montgomery had made all proper arrangements for the security and peace of Montreal, he prepared immediately to go forward and invest Quebec, then in a week, defenseless condition, their governor absent, the inhabitants disaffected, and but a handful of troops in the garrison. When General Carleton left the neighborhood of Montreal, he made the utmost dispatch to reach and put the capital of Canada in a proper state of defense; but he found Quebec in the greatest consternation and danger, from a quarter not apprehended and scarcely conceived possible — from the novelty and hazard of the undertaking.
A detachment of upwards of one thousand men had been marched from the army near Boston. The command of this little band had been given to a Colonel Arnold, a young soldier of fortune who held in equal contempt both danger and principle. They took passage at Merrimack and arrived at the mouth of the Kennebeck on September 22. There, finding it probable their provisions might fall short where there could be no possibility of fresh supply, Arnold sent back three hundred of his men. [These appeared ready to desert with a field officer at their head if they had not been permitted to return.] Most of the remainder embarked in bateaux prepared for the purpose — a small division of the troops marched slowly and kept the banks of the river.
They encamped together every night, though frequently interrupted in their progress by rocks, falls, rapids and carrying places where they were obliged to carry their boats for several miles together on their shoulders. With incredible perseverance, they traversed woods, mountains, swamps, and precipices, and were obliged alternately to cut their way where no human foot had trodden, to ford shallows, o attempt the navigation of a rapid stream, with a rocky bottom, which seemed not designed as a passage for any human being to attempt. At the same time, their provisions were so reduced that they were obliged to eat their own dogs and convert their shoe leather into food.
But with astonishing resolution, they surmounted every obstacle, and near two thirds of the detachment completed a route of several hundred miles through a hideous wilderness, unexplored before but by the beasts and savages of the forest. It was at the time thought that if the historian did justice to the heroic firmness of this little party, that would be as honorable a testimony of the exertions of human intrepidity as the celebrated march of the renowned Hannibal: but the enterprising sprit of America has since taught her sons to tread over a track of the forlorn desert so much more extensive that this now appears but an epitome of their hardihood.
Colonel Arnold, with his little army almost exhausted by hunger and fatigue, reached the Canadian settlements on the third of November. He was received in a friendly manner, and a liberal supply of provisions was collected for his relief. By the alacrity of the inhabitants, he was in a few days furnished with boats to cross the St. Lawrence, and by favor of the night he effected his passage, in spite of the vigilance of several frigates that lay in the river. When he sat down before Quebec, he found all the batteries manned from the shipping; but having no artillery, he could do little more than parade before the city and wait the arrival of General Montgomery.
In the mean time, General Carleton was not idle. Every preparation that courage of vigilance could dictate was made for the reception of Montgomery. He ordered by proclamation all who refused to take arms, immediately to quit the city with their wives and children, on peril of being treated with the utmost severity, as rebels and traitors to the king. Many of them obeyed and abandoned their residence and property. The Scotch inhabitants and the French noblesse, he could at that time firmly rely on. All others, disgusted with the Quebec Act and alienated by the severity of the governor, were in a temper to renounce their loyalty and join the Americans. Yet the fear of losing their property in eh confusion that might ensure if the city was obliged to change its masters operated on some and caused them to arm, though with great reluctance. The consideration of pecuniary losses will always have a powerful influence on the minds of men. Thus, the zeal which had been nurtured for the defense of liberty soon began to abate; and both English and Canadians, actuated by the principle of immediate self-interest, concealed their former defection to the British government. Many of them were wealthy and opulent, and became daily more disposed to unite in defense of the town, which contained more families in opulent circumstances than all the province besides.
After placing a garrison in Montreal, new clothing his troops and stationing some small detachments in the outposts in the neighborhood, General Montgomery sent a few troops to different parts of the province to expedite farther supplies of provisions, clothing, and other necessaries. He then pushed on his march beneath the fall of snows, embarrassed with bad roads, a severe winter, an inhospitable climate, and the murmur of his little army. The term of their enlistment was nearly expired. Nothing kept them together but their attachment to their commander, and that zeal in the public cause which had already prompted them to encounter perils and endure hardships which the human constitution seems not calculated to surmount, after being softened by the habits of civilized life. But by the address of the commander and the resolution of the troops, they with incredible expedition arrived at Quebec, notwithstanding the impediments that lay in their way.
The soldiers in garrison, with the marines from the King's frigates, that had been placed therein, and the armed militia, both French and English, did not amount to more than 2000 men when the army arrived from Montreal. But by the intrepidity of general Carleton and the activity of his officers, they had prepared for defense with the sprit of veterans. They rejected with disdain a summons from Montgomery to surrender the town, to prevent the fatal consequences of its being taken by storm; fired on the flag that offered to convey letters with proposals for capitulation, obliged it to retire, and all communication was forbidden by the inflexible Carleton.
General Montgomery after this sent a second letter [See General Montgomery's letter, December 6, 1775, Note 15 at the end of this chapter.] by Colonel Arnold and Mr. MacPherson, his aide-de-camp, to General Carleton. He upbraided him with personal ill-treatment, with the cruelty exercised towards the prisoners that had fallen into his hands, and with the unparalleled conduct, except among savages, of firing at a flag of truce. He warned him not to destroy either public or private stores, as he had done at Montreal, and kept up a tone of superiority as if sure of success. The messengers reached the walls of Quebec, but were ordered to decamp with speed, and informed that the Governor would receive no letters or hold any intercourse with rebels.
Thus circumstanced, General Montgomery judged that immediate and decided action was the only means of serving his country, and securing to himself that renown which the luster of his former conduct had acquired. Thus, depending too much on his own good fortune, and too little acquainted with the arrangement and vigor within the walls, he resolved on the dangerous and desperate measure of an effort to take the city by escalade. He made his dispositions accordingly, and under the cover of a violent snow storm, he army, in four separate divisions, began the arduous work at the same moment, early on the morning of December 31.
But the enemy had gained intelligence of his movements, the alarm had been given, and a signal made for the general engagement in the lower town, some time before Montgomery had reached it. He, however, pushed on through a narrow passage with a hanging rock on the one side and a dangerous precipice on the banks of the river on the other, and with a resolution becoming his character, he gained the first barrier. Warmed with the spirit of magnanimity and a thirst for glory, the inseparable companions of exalted minds, he met undaunted the fire of his enemies and accompanied by some of his bravest officers, he rushed on to attack a well-defended barricade. But to the regret of the army, the grief of his country, and the inexpressible sorrow of his numerous friends, the valiant Montgomery, with the laurels fresh blooming on his brow, fell at the gates by a random shot from the frozen walls of Quebec.
Connected with one of the first families in New York, [He married a daughter of Judge Livingston.] happy in the highest enjoyment of domestic felicity, he was led by principle to quit the occupations of rural life; and animated with an ardent zeal for the cause of human nature, the liberties of mankind, and the glory of America, both his active life, and his heroic death verified his last expression to his amiable lady - - "You shall never blush for your Montgomery." [The writer of these annals had the particular of his last adieu in a letter from his lady immediately after his death.]
His philosophic taste, his pleasing manners, his private virtues, and his military abilities were acknowledged and revered even by his enemies, who cannot but pronounce the Canadian fields are marked with peculiar glory. It is there the choicest flowers of fame may be culled to crown the memory of a Wolfe and a Montgomery. Yet, while one of those illustrious names, written in characters of blood, reflects luster on the glory of a British monarch, the other will announce to posterity the efforts of virtue to resist the tyranny of his successor.
General Montgomery was justly considered as an early martyr in the cause of freedom, and the premature stroke that robbed his country of an officer of tried bravery and decided merit, was not only bewailed by his friends, but excited the tear of generous compassion from all those who were susceptible of the nobler feelings of the soul, among such as were opposed to him in political opinion. The animosities of war, and the enmities created by different sentiments or rivalry in fame, should ever expire with the life of a hero. Yet the obsequies of this great and amiable man were not attended with those honorary marks of respect usually paid to illustrious military characters when victory has satiated resentment. His body was thrown into a sledge and, without even a coffin, conveyed to the place of burial. The manner of General Montgomery's interment was at first reported much more to the honor of General Carleton, but the above account is from the testimony of several respectable American officers then in Quebec. [Particularly Captain, afterwards General, Dearborn, taken prisoner at the attempt on the second barrier.] By the persuasion of a lady who afterwards married the Lieutenant Governor of Quebec, who had formerly served in the British army with General Montgomery, the body of this worthy officer was taken up and again interred in a rough coffin, but without any particular marks of respect. The other officers who fell were indiscriminately thrown with their clothes on into the same grave with their soldiers.
The death of General Montgomery decided the fate of the day, though Colonel Arnold and his party with great bravery kept up the attack. Nor did they quit the field until after Arnold was obliged to retire, having received a dangerous wound. Notwithstanding this accident, added to the unspeakable loss of their brave commander, this small resolute party kept their ground, until galled on every side, attacked in the rear, and their retreat cut off by a British party who found means to secure a passage that prevented even the attempt, yet they kept up an obstinate defense for several hours, but at last were obliged to surrender themselves prisoners of war. [Most of the American officers distinguished themselves by their intrepidity and vigilance on this fated day; but none more than Captain Morgan, who seemed to be adapted by nature, by his strength of body, vigor of mind, and unconquerable resolution, for the severe conflicts of war. This was afterwards exemplified in the many renounters he met in the ravage of the Carolinas.]
Though the manes of their commander in chief had not been treated with that generosity which is usually the result of true magnanimity, yet General Carleton treated the prisoners that afterwards fell into his hands with more humanity. Their wounds were dressed, their wants relieved, and his own physicians sent to visit the sick. He also endeavored to recall those who, after the defeat, had taken shelter in the woods, or such as had been left sick or wounded on the way, after the retreat; and by proclamation, he promised liberty to all t he unhappy stragglers when they should be cured of their wounds and diseases.
After the death of Montgomery, the retreat of Arnold, and a surrender of a considerable part of his troops, the broken forces collected and retired about three miles from the city. There they kept up a kind of blockage through the winder; and by the spirit of Arnold, on whom the command had devolved, and the vigilance of his party, they prevented in a great measure, additional recruits and supplies for the relief of the city. This there was every reason to expect would be attempted, not only from the difficulties of their situation within the city, but from the fickleness of the Canadians without and their manifest disposition to enlist under the banners of success. From their local circumstances, this change of temper might from the beginning have been apprehended, for those pretended allies of the United States. Their neighborhood and the connection with the savages, their long habit of oscillating between England and France, and their ignorance in general of the grounds of the dispute must naturally render their fidelity to the states under the jurisdiction of Congress very uncertain.
But we leave the lakes, the wilderness, the savages, and their employers in that quarter for the present, to observe for a time the interesting movements on the borders of the Atlantic, and the disposition discovered by the ancient parent of the colonies which soon produced consequences of the highest moment. It may, however be proper to observe here that General Arnold extricated himself in a remarkable manner from his embarrassments in this quarter and lived to be conspicuously distinguished through the American war for his bravery and address, his activity, and his villainy.
Copy of General Montgomery's last letter to General Carleton.
"Holland House, December 6, 1775
"Notwithstanding the personal ill treatment I have received at your hands, notwithstanding the cruelty you have shown to the unhappy prisoners you have taken, the feelings of humanity induce me to have recourse to this expedient, to save you from the destruction which hangs over your wretched garrison. Give me leave to inform you that I am well acquainted with your situation; a great extent of works, in their nature incapable of defense, manned with a motley crew of sailors, most of them our friends an citizens, who wish to see us within their walls, — a few of the worst troops that call themselves soldiers, — the impossibility of relief, and the certain prospect of wanting every necessary of life, should you opponents confine their operations to a single blockade — point out the absurdity of resistance; such is your situation.
I am at the head of troops accustomed to success, confident of the righteous cause they are engaged in, inured to danger and fatigue, and so highly incensed at your inhumanity, illiberal abuse, and the ungenerous means employed to prejudice them in the minds of the Canadians, that it is with difficulty I restrain them till my batteries are ready, from insulting your works, which would afford them the fair opportunity of ample vengeance and just retaliation. Firing upon a flag of truce, hitherto unprecedented, even among savages, prevents my following the ordinary mode of conveying my sentiments; however I will at any rate acquit my conscience. Should you perish in an unwarrantable defense, the consequence be upon your own head. Beware of destroying stores of any fort, public or private, as you did at Montreal or in the rive. If you do, by heavens, there will be no mercy shown."