Tuesday, January 12, 2010

January 12, 1776

The Connecticut Gazette (New London) published a letter from Major Alexander Spotswood of Col. William Woodford's regiment, describing the Battle of Great Bridge (Dec. 9, 1775) in Virginia. The letter mentioned British Capt. Charles Fordyce: "Col. Woodford is a brave officer, and a man I love. He had Capt. Fordyce buried with the military honour due his rank, and all the prisoners that fell into our hands, taken the greatest care of."

On Dec. 12, 1775, the records of the Virginia Convention reflect Edmund Pendleton, President of the Convention, "laid before the Convention a Letter received from Colonel Woodford, which being read, Resolved unanimously, That this Convention do highly approve of Colonel Woodford's conduct, manifested as well in the success of the Troops under his command, as in the humane treatment of, and kind attention to, the unfortunate, though brave Officers and Soldiers, who were made prisoners in the late action near the Great Bridge, that the President communicate to Colonel Woodford the sense of his country on this occasion."

After the Battle of Princeton (Jan. 3, 1777), in New Jersey, the Pennsylvania Evening Post (Jan. 7, 1777) published a letter from a gentleman in the Continental Army to a friend in Philadelphia: "I am just called on to command the infantry at the funeral of...a British officer, killed at Princeton. we bury him with military honors."

This concern and respect for the interment of British dead contrasts with British and Tory treatment of American dead in British-occupied New York City, from 1776 to the end of the war, in 1783. Ethan Allen, a captured American officer granted parole in New York City, visited the prisoners confined in confiscated non-Anglican churches in the winter of 1776-77.

In a 1779 narrative of his captivity, Allen recalled, "It was a common practice with the enemy, to convey the dead from these filthy places, in carts, to be slightly buried, and I have seen whole gangs of tories making derision, and exulting over the dead, saying, there goes another load of damned rebels."

In Canada, the British under Gov. Sir Guy Carleton respectfully interred American dead, like Major General Richard Montgomery, who died at Quebec City Dec. 31, 1775. French Canadians, sympathetic with American Revolutionaries, also interred American dead with great ceremony. See Thomas A. Desjardin, Through a Howling Wilderness: Benedict Arnold's March to Quebec, 1775 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2006) and Michael P. Gabriel, Major General Richard Montgomery: The Making of an American Hero (Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2002)

The respectful burial of an American officer by Catholic Canadians prompted American John Henry to rethink his anti-Catholic prejudice. Henry wrote, "This real catholicism toward the remains of one we loved, made a deep and wide breach upon my early prejudices, which since that period...has induced a more extended and paternal view of mankind, unbounded by sect or opinion."

Please consult John Joseph Henry, Account of Arnold's Campaign Against Quebec, and the Hardships and Sufferings of that Band of Heroes Who Traversed the Wilderness of Maine... (Albany, NY: Joel Munsell, 1877), page 76; also quoted in Desjardin, Through a Howling Wilderness, page 144.
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