Saturday, March 31, 2012

March 28

Richard Smith wrote in his diary for March 28, 1776 that Thomas McKean "informed Congress that the Tory Prisoners in Philada. Goal [Jail] have attempted an Escape & have provided Implements and a Ladder to escape this Night whereupon Mr. McKean is to direct the Sheriff to confine Conolly, Smith and Kirkland seperately & get a sufficient Guard from the Barracks."  Paul H. Smith, et al., eds, Letters of Delegates to Congress: Vol. 3: January 1, 1776-May 15, 1776 (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1978), 248-59.

Smith mentions the prisoners Dr. John Connolly, Moses Kirkland and John Smith.  In 1775, Smith hoped to recruit Native Americans to fight for the Loyalists against Americans opposed to Crown authority.  Walter Scott Dunn, Choosing Sides on the Frontier in the American Revolution (Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 2007), 81. 

March 27

Regarding Captain Peter Dundee, captured at St. Johns, Canada, General Philip Schuyler wrote to General George Washington on 27 March 1776, “The officers, (prisoners,) that came a few days ago from Canada, refused to give their parole, and one of them, a Captain Dundee, was very cavalier with me. I have ordered him into close custody. The others have since given their parole; but as some of them had dropped expressions, as if they should not consider a breach of it criminal, I convened them all, and informed them that if any of them attempted an escape after having given their parole, and I could lay hands on them, I should resent the injury done to mankind in general by hanging such faithless wretches.”

Many British officers believed they could violate an agreement with “rebels” (unlawful combatants). As New Jersey Governor William Livingston remarked in 1778, “Ever since the commencement of the present war, it hath been the cruel and perfidious policy of Britain to consider us as rebels, with whom engagements were not to be observed and whom she might treat with the utmost severity.”

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Commercial Tyranny

On March 26, 1776, Elbridge Gerry, a Massachusetts Delegate to the Continental Congress, wrote to James Warren, President of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, urging the Provincial Congress authorize the colony's delegates to vote for American independence from Great Britain. Gerry thought the publication of the instructions, with a list of grievances against British policy, would encourage "doubtful minds" in other colonies. In his pamphlet Common Sense, Thomas Paine recommended the colonies issue such an enumeration of grievances in a declaration of independence.

Gerry remarked, "Is it not curious that the British Ministry should know so little of our feelings or character, that, after seizing our property, burning our towns, and destroying their inhabitants, they should make an act to interdict our trade, and suppose that Towns, Counties, and Colonies will bury in oblivion all former abuses, and subscribe themselves slaves, in order to be rescued from the severities of this this commercial tyranny?"

Read Gerry's letter in its entirety at the American Archives site of the Northern Illinois University Libraries.

Saturday, March 24, 2012


On March 25, 1776, Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull wrote wrote to Congressmen John Adams and George Wythe, "Burning and destroying our Towns...and cruel treatment of the persons so unhappy as to fall into their hands, are injuries of the first magnitude." Trumbull wrote, "The prisoners in our custody meet generous entertainment. Is it not time the law of retalliation should take place?" Robert Joseph Taylor, ed., Papers of John Adams: Vol. 4: February-August 1776 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979), 64.

Threats of retaliation figured in the unwritten laws of war in the late-1700s. Months later, Trumbull would get more accounts of cruel treatment and lethal neglect of American prisoners in British custody. Americans agonized over the option of retaliation. For the destruction of towns, please consult entries on Norfolk, Virginia and Falmouth, Massachusetts (currently Portland, Maine).

Monday, March 12, 2012

March 13, 1775: As Merciful as They are Bold

A report from Boston dated March 13, 1775 described magnanimous treatment shown by American Whigs to Massachusetts Tories.
“We are informed, that through the prudent and spirited behavior of the minute men in and near Petersham, a little inveterate knot of conspirators against the constitution of their country, has been entirely broke up—they were made prisoners in a house they had fortified; and upon their signing an engagement not to act against their country for the future, and to behave themselves peaceably, the WHIGS, who are as merciful, as they are bold and resolved, have forgiven their offences, and promised them favor so long as they keep up to their engagements.”
The Pennsylvania Evening Post (Philadelphia), 23 March 1775

Sunday, March 11, 2012

March 11, 2012

In a speech before both houses of the New Jersey legislature on 25 February 1777, Governor William Livingston condemned the cruelty of British soldiers and Hessian mercenaries during their occupation of the state:

They have warred upon decrepid Age; warred upon defenceless Youth.  

Carl E. Prince, editor, The Papers of William Livingston: Volume 1: June 1774-June 1777 (Trenton: New Jersey Historical Commission, 1979), page 255.  Such outrages, Livingston remarked, inspired "Disgust" even among many former-Loyalists (ibid., page 254).

Please consult Taimoor Shah and Graham Bowley, "Army Sergeant Accused of Slaying 16 in Afghan Village," The New York Time, 11 March 2012,  

Friday, March 9, 2012

March 13, 1776

     In March 1776, the revolutionary Maryland Council of Safety acknowledged a British officer's kindness to American prisoners.
     On March 13, 1776, the Maryland Council of Safety informed the Virginia Committee of activity by the British sloop-of-war Otter under Matthew Squires, captain. "Just before they weighed anchor, a flag came on shore with some prisoners, who said they had been treated with great humanity; and, in return, it was thought proper to compliment the officer with two quarters of beef."

Friday, March 2, 2012

March 3, 1776

On March 3, 1776, Joseph Reed wrote from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to George Washington, "Notwithstanding the act of Parliament for seizing our property, and a thousand other proofs of a bitter and irreconcilable spirit, there is a strange reluctance in the minds of many to cut the knot which ties us to Great Britain, particularly in this Colony and the southward."

Thursday, March 1, 2012

March 2, 1776

The New New Jersey Provincial Congress understood that the Continental Congress authorized the seizure of any ships bringing supplies to British forces in America.

Learning that American forces under William Alexander, Lord Sterling, intercepted the British ship Blue Mountain Valley, John H. Dempster, captain, the Provincial Congress resolved on March 2, 1776 "That the Captain and Seamen belonging to said Ship when seized, be suffered [that is, permitted] to go to any place they may think proper, his Majesty's Fleet or Army only excepted.  And this Congress recommend the captors of said Ship to make some gratuity to each of the Seamen taken on board, to enable them to travel to some other parts in pursuit of business."