Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

During the American Revolutionary War,
From 1775 to 1783.
Describing Interesting Events and Transactions of this period;
with numerous Historical Facts and Anecdotes
From the Original Manuscript
By James Thacher, M. D.
Second Edition, Revised and Corrected.
Boston, Published by Cottons & Barnard, 1827.



Major General William Heath was a native of Roxbury, Massachusetts, and was from his youth a cultivator of the soil, which was his favorite pursuit. He was not conversant with general literature, but being particularly attached the study of military tactics, he acquired a knowledge of modern warfare in its various branches and duties.

At an early period of the opposition of the colonies to the injust and oppressive measures of the British ministry, he was an active militia officer, and assiduously engaged in organizing and disciplining the companies of militia and minute men. In the year 1775, being ranked among the patriots and advocates for liberty, he was by the Provincial Congress commissioned as a brigadier general.

In August, 1776, he was by Congress promoted to the rank of major general in the continental army, and in the campaign of that year he commanded a division near the enemy's lines at King's bridge and Morrisania. During the year 1777, and till November, 1778, he was the commanding officer of the eastern department, and his head quarters were at Boston. Here devolved on him the very arduous duties of superintendent of the convention troops, captured with General Burgoyne at Saratoga, which were quartered at Cambridge. This station required a character of uncommon firmness and decision, and had General Heath been destitute of these qualities, he would have been subjected to the grossest impositions and indignities, from the haughty Generals Burgoyne and Phillips, and the perverse temper of their soldiery. These officers, lofty in spirit, and of high rank and character, now chagrined by a state of captivity occasioned to General Heath a series of difficulties and vexations. He soon however, convinced them that he was neither deficient in spirit, nor ignorant of his duty as a military commander. In all his proceedings with these turbulent captives, he supported the authority of Congress and the honor and dignity of the command reposed in him; and he received the entire approbation of that honorable body, to whom he was amenable for his conduct. In the most interesting and critical circumstances in which a general could possibly be placed, he uniformly exhibited a prudence, animation, decision and firmness which have done him honor, and fully justified the confidence reposed in him.

" The cordial and most explicit approbation of the army, the inhabitants of this town, the army and navy of our illustrious ally, the government of this state, his Excellency the Commander in Chief, and of Congress, added to the consciousness of his having discharged his trust with fidelity, must in a great measure have alleviated the fatigues incident to his arduous station, and compensated the loss of his health so much impaired by an incessant attention to business."* In June, 1779, General Heath was elected by Congress a commissioner of the Board of War, with a salary of four thousand dollars per annum, and allowed to retain his rank in the army, which he declined, preferring to participate in active operations in the field.

In the summer of 1780, he was directed by the Commander in Chief to repair to Rhode Island to make arrangements for the reception of the French fleet and army, which were expected soon to arrive. In his interview with the Count Rochambeau, and other officers of the French army and navy, he proffered his friendly civilities, and contributed all in his power to their comfortable accommodation, which was productive of a mutual and lasting friendship between them. Indefatigable attention to duty in the various stations assigned him, was a prominent trait in his character. In May, 1781, General Heath was directed by the Commander in Chief to repair to the New England states to represent to their respective executives the distressing condition of our army, and to solicit a speedy supply of provisions and clothing, in which he was successful. As senior major general, he was

* Continental Journal, printed at Boston, November 12th, 1778.

more than once commander of the right wing of our army, and during the absence of the Commander in Chief, at the siege of Yorktown, (Someone crossed out Yorktown and penciled in "New York". ajberry) he was entrusted with the command of the main army posted at the highlands and vicinity, to guard the important works on the Hudson. On the 24th of June, H84, hostilities having ceased between the two armies, General Washington addressed a letter to General Heath, expressing his thanks for his meritorious services, and his real affection and esteem, and on the same day they took their final leave.

General Heath was corpulent and bald headed, which occasioned some of the French officers to observe that he resembled the Marquis of Granby, and he appeared always pleased with the comparison. As an officer of parade and discipline, he was respectable, but for valorous achievements we look in vain for his laurels.

Immediately after the close of the war, General Heath was called again into public service in civil life, and continued to hold a seat, either in the legislature, or in the council of Massachusetts, till the county of Norfolk was established, in n93, when he was appointed by Governor Hancock, Judge of ^Probate, and a Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, the latter office he did not accept. In the former he continued till his death. He was also a member of the state convention which ratified the federal constitution. All these offices he discharged with assiduity, affability and impartiality, and to the general satisfaction of his fellow citizens.

He had formed his opinion of human nature on the most favourable examples, and to the close of life had a strong regard to popular opinion. He repeatedly allowed himself to be held up and voted for, for the office of Governor and Lieutenant Governor of the Commonwealth, and at one period, had, no doubt, a willingness and desire to hold one of these offices. In 1806, he was elected Lieutenant Governor. His refusal of the office was matter of surprize to many, and was by some Imputed to an unwillingness to serve with Governor Strong ; while it was well known to those most intimate with him, to be owing to his disapprobation of the conduct of the legislature of that year, in their memorable attempt to defeat the voice of the people, by setting aside Governor Strong's election.

He was more than once an elector of President and Vice President of the United States, and gave his vote to those who undertook to appropriate to themselves the name, republican, till the election preceding his death, when he withheld his vote from Mr. Madison, on account of his recommending the declaration of war in 1812, and sanctioning the measures which preceded and followed this event, and which caused the general wholly to withdraw his confidence from that administration.

Such was General Heath's public life. His private one was retired and domestic, amiable, orderly and industrious, but not remarkable for hospitality, or a liberal appropriation of property to public purposes. He died at Roxbury, January 24th, 1814, aged 77 years.

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