Sunday, March 24, 2013

The High Chancery of Heaven

The August 1, 1778 Pennsylvania Packet (Philadelphia), carried an open letter to Sir Henry Clinton, the commander of British military forces operating in America, and Britain's Peace Commissioners, William Eden, George Johnstone and Frederick Howard, the 5th Earl of Carlisle.  The author was the pseudonymous "Civis."

Civis reminded the Carlisle Peace Commission of the grievances Americans had against British leadership.  In particular, Civis called attention to the mistreatment of prisoners:  "Prisoners of war, who used to be treated with some degree of clemency, have not been entitled to the common rights of humanity....  Hunger, nakedness, cold, cudgels...have been the instruments of destruction."

Civis warned the British, "The cries of these unhappy men, are yet ascending to that throne, where they will most certainly be heard, and when heard, recorded with indelible characters in the high chancery of Heaven."

The essay by Civis was dated July 28, 1778, about a month after British forces withdrew from Philadelphia on June 18.  

Friday, March 15, 2013

Provost Marshal Cunningham

   Captain William Cunningham was notorious for the mistreatment and neglect of American prisoners.  The Irish-born Loyalist served the British as Provost Marshal. 
   On November 25, 1783, the British military withdrew from New York City.  Anticipating the arrival of General George Washington and New York Governor George Clinton, the residents of a home near Chappel Street raised the flag of the United States.  British personnel still occupied the city in the early part of the day.  To Cunningham, the raising of the American colors was premature. 
   Cunningham led a party to confront the residents and pull down the flag.  A contemporary account, dripping with sarcasm, referred to “the humane and polite” Cunningham shouting at the flag wavers “with his usual politeness,” cursing them with “scores of double headed Damns…in the true Milesian Cadence….”  
Connecticut Journal (New Haven), 3 December 1783.
Milesian” refers to the legendary Celtic settlers of Ireland who arrived from Spain.  For an account of Cunningham's neglect of wounded officers captured at the Battle of Bunker Hill (June 17, 1775), please consult the post here.  For a fraudulent account of Cunningham's execution for forgery, please visit the post here.
     For Francis Hopkinson's denunciation of Cunningham for the starving American prisoners to death during the 1777-78 British occupation of Philadelphia, please visit this post
  In November 1776, American officer Colonel Samuel Atlee referred to William Cunningham as "the most infamous of mankind" for his cruelty and rudeness to prisoners.  

Monday, March 11, 2013

Philip Jones, Irish-American

Philip Jones, an Irishman in the Continental Army, testified that the British colonel who took him prisoner asked “what we did to the Irishmen that made them rebel, I answered I knew no reason excepting they lived better here than at home, upon which he struck me with his sword….” Affidavit of Philip Jones, sworn before Major General Israel Putnam, 6 March 1777, in The Pennsylvania Evening Post (Philadelphia), 3 May 1777.