Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Gen. Nathaniel Woodhull

     On August 31, 1776, Colonel Henry B. Livingston wrote to General George Washington, "I have...received by express an account, which may be depended upon, that General Woodhull was taken prisoner by our enemies on Wednesday last."
     Nathaniel Woodhull was the President of the New York Provincial Congress and the commander of the Suffolk County, New York militia.  The previous Wednesday was August 28, a day after the Battle of Long Island.
     Livingston wrote, "General Woodhull was taken a prisoner and treated cruelly by them.  After he was taken he received in his head, and much uncivil language, and finally committed close prisoner to Jamaica jail."
     For background on the Jamaica neighborhood in the New York City borough of Queens, please consult the Wikipedia entry on Jamaica.  For more on General Nathaniel Woodhull, please consult Edwin G. Burrows, Forgotten Patriots: The Untold Story of American Prisoners During the Revolutionary War (New York: Basic Books, 2008), page 14 and page 269note26.  

Monday, August 27, 2012

Samuel Tallman

   Stories of butchery surrounded the August 27, 1776 British victory at the Battle of Long Island.  More Americans probably died, however, from prolonged neglect as prisoners than from gruesome acts of violence.  Lieutenant Jabez Fitch offered the story of a Native American comrade in his regiment.

One Sam Talman, (an Indian fellow...) after he was taken & strip'd by the Barbarians, was set up at a small Distance as a mark for them to shoot at for Diversion or practice, by which he Recd: two severe wounds, one in the Neck & the other in the Arm, but alth'o it appear'd that their Skill was not sufficient to Despatch him in that way, yet it afterward Appear'd that they were sufficiently Skil'd in the Cruel Art of Starving with hunger Cold &c, to Destroy him with many hundred others who perrish'd in N. York.

   Please consult the except from Jabez Fitch's Diary in John H. Rhodehamel, editor, The American Revolution: Writings from the War of Independence (New York: Library of America, 2001).
     Samuel Tallman was one of nineteen Privates "Missing" from Captain [Jonathan] Brewster's Company of Col. [Jedidiah] Huntington's Regiment, the Seventeenth Regiment of Continental Infantry, after the Battle of Long Island.  Henry P. Johnston, The Records of Connecticut Men in the I-War of the Revolution, II-War of 1812, III-Mexican War (Hartford: The Case, Lockwood & Brainard Company, Printers, 1889), page 102.

27 August: Battle of Long Island

     The Battle of Long Island (27 August 1776) was the first major confrontation between American and British forces after the 4 July Declaration of Independence.  It was also the first in a string of engagements that left New York City in British hands for the duration of the American War of Independence.
     American newspaper The Massachusetts Spy published an intercepted letter supposedly by a Scottish officer in a British regiment of Scottish Highlanders.  The letter contained allegations of battlefield atrocities by the British.

The Hessians and our brave Highlanders gave no quarters; and it was a fine sight to see with what alacrity they despatched the Rebels with their bayonets after we had surrounded them so they could not resist.

     The officer explained, "We took care to tell the Hessians that Rebels had resolved to give no quarters to them in particular, which made them fight more desperately, and put all to death that fell into their hands."  David McCullough, in his book 1776, expressed doubts about the authenticity of the letter.  Other sources, however, support its details.  Hessian officer Col. Henrich Anton von Heeringen wrote, "The English did not give much quarter, and constantly urged our people to do the like."

Please consult Edward J. Lowell, The Hessians and the Other German Auxiliaries of Great Britain in the Revolutionary War (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1884), page  68.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

August 11

From his Headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts on August 11, 1775, General George Washington of the Continental Army wrote to British commander General Thomas Gage in Boston.

I understand that the officers engaged in the cause of liberty and their Country, who, by the fortune of war, have fallen into your hands, have been thrown indiscriminately into a common jail appropriate for felons....

According to the Laws of Nations as understood in the eighteenth century, captured officers should have parole.  That is, officers should have freedom of movement and the right to secure private lodgings in a district occupied by the enemy upon their word as gentlemen not to escape.  Officers could even have the option of returning to their homes, if they gave their word not to rejoin the fight until notified of their official exchange for an officer of equal rank.
     Under Gage's successor, William Howe, the British did extend parole to captured American officers.  Gage, however, claimed in his August 13 response that he "lodged" the American prisoners "indiscriminately...for I acknowledge no rank that is not derived from the King."  George Washington, however, learned that American officers suffered even worse in their confinement in Boston Jail: consideration has been had for those of the most respectable rank, when languishing with wounds and sickness; and that some of them have been even amputated in this unworthy condition.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

For Syria Rebels

Throughout the American War of Independence, British forces operating in America made themselves notorious for cruelty to military prisoners and crimes against civilians.  In his 1779 instructions to John Paul Jones, Benjamin Franklin urged Americans to believe their national honor depended upon the decent treatment of prisoners:

“As many of your officers and people have lately escaped from English prisons in Europe or America, you are to be particularly attentive to their conduct towards the prisoners…lest resentment of the more than barbarous usage by the English in many places towards the Americans should occasion a retaliation, and an imitation of what ought rather to be detested and avoided for the sake of humanity and for the honor of our country.”

Unfortunately, many Syrian rebels mistreat captured Syrian soldiers and militia.  Sometimes, rebels even kill their captives, as Ben Hubbard reported for the Associated Press.  Martin Chulov reported for UK paper The Observer on one Syrian leader, Sunni sheikh Omar Othman, who showed consideration captives.  Sadly, not all rebels follow such examples.  The New York Times released this video of Syrian rebels with a cruel plan involving a prisoner:

Benjamin Franklin, Instructions to John Paul Jones, Commander of the American Squadron in the Service of the United States, now in the Port L’Orient (28 April 1779), in Francis Wharton, ed., The Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, 6 vols. (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1889), 3:145-46

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Humanity to Prisoners

     On August 23, 1776, the Marine Committee of the Continental Congress wrote to Lieutenant John Baldwin, commander of the Schooner Wasp, “Use your people well, but preserve strict discipline; treat prisoners, if any you make, with humanity, and in all things be duly attentive to the honour and interests of America.” 
     More than once, the Marine Committee implied a link between kindness to prisoners and the honor of the country.  "...If you make any:" The Marine Committee was not reserving for the captain the right to refuse to take prisoners, but was simply giving instructions in case prisoners fell into his hands.  

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Humanity and Generosity

On August 22, 1776, the Marine Committee of the Continental Congress wrote to Commodore Esek Hopkins, “You will instruct the Commander of each vessel to write us, by all opportunities, of their proceedings….  They will no doubt, from principles of humanity and generosity, treat their prisoners with all kindness and attention their respective situations and circumstances will admit of; and we hope their conduct will in all things be such as to merit the continuance of our confidence.”  

For more on the Marine Committee, and the earlier Naval Committee, recommending kindness to prisoners, please visit the post here.  

Monday, August 20, 2012

Continued Close Confinement "Would Have Endangered Their Lives"

In July 1776, the Committee of Litchfield, Connecticut balked at receiving prisoners from New York that included former New York City Mayor David Mathews.  The Committee that already overcrowded conditions of the Litchfield Jail rendered the state of the prisoners already in custody “incompatible either with the publick safety, or even with the safety of the prisoners’ lives….”
    Abraham De Peyster, who escorted the prisoners to Connecticut, returned to investigate the conditions of the Loyalist prisoners from New York.  On August 21, 1776, De Peyster wrote, “When I arrived there [i.e., in Litchfield] I found that the Committee of that town, in my absence, had permitted all the prisoners, who had been put in close confinement, (except Gilbert Forbes,) to go at large about the town, as the keeping them shut up in jail would have endangered their lives.”
    De Peyster found prisoners Isaac Young and Israel Young living in the home of Litchfield County Sheriff Lynde Lord, Esquire.  Prisoner John L. C. Broome [Roome?], Esq. lived in the Jailer’s apartment near the Jail.  “The others were at work in different places, some in harvests, and others at their respective trades, as journeymen.  Mr. Mathews, during my absence, I understand, had agreeable to his promise, strictly confined himself to Captain Seamour’s house, in which I had left him.”
    De Peyster reported, “This change in the prisoners’ situation from that in which they were when I left Litchfield, made the account I brought them of their removal very unwelcome; and they now, to a man, solicit as much to remain at Litchfield as they had before to be conveyed to some other place.” 
    Broome and Mayor Mathews pleaded to stay in Litchfield, Mathews likely the reasonable rent at Captain Seamour’s lodgings, and Seamour pledged security for both gentlemen.  Sheriff Lord, likewise, pledged for the security of the Youngs.  De Peyster and a company of guards transferred six other prisoners to Norwich, Connecticut.   Sadly, De Peyster “was under necessity” to leave sickly “old [Nathan] Gyre” at the roadside lest the jostling wagon on the bumpy road “deprived him of what little life he had left.”    

Sunday, August 19, 2012

News from St. Augustine

In a letter dated from St. Augustine, August 20, 1776, an inhabitant of the British province of East Florida reported that Colonel Lachlan McIntosh of the Georgia Militia made prisoners of the British and Loyalists troops stationed at Fort Wright on the St. Marys River, the northeast boundary of East Florida with Georgia.  

The prisoners included Charles Wright and Jermyn Wright, two brothers of the Royal Governor of Georgia Sir James Wright.  The Florida resident believed East Florida officials provoked the raid by trying to recruit the Creeks and Cherokees against the colonists and by sending "plunderers" of East Florida into Georgia.

For more on Sir James Wright, please visit the New Georgia Encyclopedia.  For a brief history of Fort Wright, please check the blog British East Florida.  

Joseph Haight

On August 20, 1776, the Continental Congress indicated

   The Board of Treasury reported, that there is due,
   To Joseph Haight, for sundry supplies of provisions and wood for the British prisoners at Burlington [New Jersey], from the 10th June to the 18th July...two hundred and seventy seven dollars and 36/90 of a dollar:
   Ordered, That the sum be paid

Major Joseph Haight was an office in the Second Regiment of the Burlington County New Jersey Militia.  In addition to his care for British prisoners, the New Jersey Convention ordered Haight and several other officers of the Burlington and Monmouth county militia to "disarm and take prisoners" Monmouth County Loyalists arming to aid the British Army.

Worthington Chauncey Ford, ed., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789: Vol. 5: June 5-October 8, 1776 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1906), 673; William S. Stryker, Official Register of the Officers and Men of New Jersey in the Revolutionary War... (Trenton: Wm. T. Nicholson & Co., Printers, 1872), 359; Isaac Collins, ed., Journal of the Votes & Procedures of the Convention of New-Jersey... (Trenton: Joseph Justice, Printer, 1831 [1776]), 36.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Teachers of Religion

1.  Teachers of the Christian Religion
In a 7 August 2012 letter to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Baptist minister and President of the Interfaith Alliance C. Welton Gaddy protested Jindal's plan to fund private schools, including religious schools.
Gaddy wrote, "When in 1785 the state of Virginia considered a bill that would fund "Teachers of the Christian Religion," James Madison penned his famous remonstrance reminding his contemporaries, and indeed, generations to come, that 'it is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him.'"
Gaddy explained, "Put another way, funding...and sending our children to religious education programs is the right and responsibility of faith communities, clergy, and parents as they see fit--not of our government.  Every American also has an equal right to choose not to fund or participate in religious education."
2.  Gaddy was right on James Madison, but... 
Madison did not believe in tax funding for religious education.  Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia with no professor of divinity.  In his 19 March 1823 letter to Edward Everett, Madison wrote approvingly of the absence of religious instruction "from a University established by law and at the common expence...."
Nevertheless, Gaddy misunderstood the Virginia state bill to fund "Teachers of the Christian Religion." The bill was meant to support Protestant preachers, not religious schools.
In December 1776, the Virginia legislature exempted non-Anglicans from tax support of the Church of England and suspended the taxation of Anglicans (Episcopalians) for the support of their church.  In 1785, several lawmakers proposed restoring the tax support for clergy but expanded it to all Protestant ministers.  The lawmakers exempted Quakers and Mennonites, who objected to tax support even for their own ministers as a matter of conscience.  The assembly rejected the bill, however, after receiving a flood of petitions against it.  Madison wrote one such petition, circulated in several counties.
3.  Why Not Call Them Clergy?
In 1771, Presbyterians petitioned the royal governor New Jersey, William Franklin, for a charter of incorporation for a "Fund for the Support of Widows and Children of Presbyterian Clergymen."  Franklin sought opinions from his Council, from a justice of the colony's supreme court, and his attorney general.  The attorney general suggested substituting the word "Clergymen" with "Ministers" or "Teachers."
The New Jersey attorney general explained that "the King can't know [acknowledge], or with Propriety call, any Men Clergymen, but those of the established Church of England, at least in England, Ireland, and these colonies."
Perhaps Episcopalian lawmakers in Virginia could not bring themselves to think of Baptist and Presbyterian preachers as "clergymen," a title that carried some dignity.  The law benefited Baptist and Presbyterian ministers along with Episcopalian clergymen.  This might explain why Virginia lawmakers referred to the various clerics as "Teachers of...Religion."
A less unflattering possibility also exists.  "Teacher" was also an acceptable term for a minister or clergyman.

James Madison to Edward Everett, 19 March 1823, in The Writings of James Madison: Volume 9: 1819-1836, ed. Gaillard Hunt (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1910), 126; Sanford Hoadley Cobb, The Rise of Religious Liberty in America: A History (New York: Macmillan & Company, Ltd., 1902), 417-418; Daniel L. Dreisbach, "George Mason's Pursuit of Religious Liberty in Virginia," in The Founders on God and Government, ed. Daniel L. Dreisbach, Mark D. Hall, Jeffry H. Morrison (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2004), 219.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Swiss Day: 1 August

After a string of British victories put New York City in British hands, John Jay composed a December 1776 message to the state's residents from the Convention of New York Representatives.  The Convention reminded the people of New York of the example of Switzerland:

Remember the long and glorious struggle of the United Netherlands against the power of Spain....

Switzerland presents us with another instance of magnanimity.  That country was oppressed by cruel tyrants, but the people refused to continue in bondage.  With arms in their hands they expelled those tyrants, and left to their descendants the portion of freedom.

In the United States, gun control advocates like Dr. Arthur Kellerman and gun ownership advocates like David Campo agree that Switzerland and Israel have rates of gun ownership almost comparable to the United States but without the homicide rate.  Please consult myth number 6 at Campo's item for the Cato Institute, here.  In a 1998 opinion piece for The New York Times, Fox Butterfield suggested the US homicide rate is partly a legacy of slavery.
     For a contrasting understanding of current Swiss firearms laws, please consider the remarks of Janet Rosenbaum, assistant professor of epidemiology at the State University of New York (SUNY) Downstate Medical Center School.  Interviewed for The Washington Post WorkBlog by Ezra Klein, Rosenbaum said, "The laws [in Switzerland]  are done canton by canton, which is like a province.  Everyone in Switzerland serves in the army, and the cantons used to let you have the guns at home.  They've been moving to keep the guns in depots.  That means they're not in the households...."