History From America's Most Famous Valleys
Frontiersmen of New York
by Jeptha R. Simms
Albany, NY 1883
Volume I, Page 536
Modern Events Connected with the River Obstructions, or a Vindication Explaining Itself.-- In June 1855, the following notice appeared in the Albany Argus: "Efforts are being made at West Point to raise, by means of Bishop's Floating Derrick, the massive chain which was stretched across the Hud. son river at that point during the Revolution, to intercept the passage of the British vessels above that place. Its weight was 500 tons, and it was broken at each end a few years after it was put up, and has remained ever since at the depth of 125 feet." Under the date of June 29th, following this notice, thinking some one might make a fruitless waste of time in the search -knowing that the weight of the chain proper could not have been more than about 40 tons, and knowing also that it was never left in the river over winter on account of frost, and that iron was too valuable in the impoverished condition of the country to allow the chain at the close of the war to be lost--I stated through the Argus about what the chain must have weighed, and that probably no part of it would be found in the river; that, on the contrary, a portion of it was formerly at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, while much of it had been worked up by blacksmiths, and not a few of its links had gone into antiquarian cabinets.
The derrick was taken there, however, and, as a reward for the effort, two spars chained together were raised from the river's bottom close in shore, in 160 feet of water, which serve to show how the boom was made. How this fragment of the obstruction came there is a mystery, but I think it was dumped into the river by the enemy-as they claimed to have destroyed this boom, and did, some part of it-and sunk to the bottom, and remained there until thus recovered. These relics were taken to Newburgh, and subsequently deposited, says Mr. E. M. Ruttenber, at Washington's headquarters. Mr. Ruttenber figured those relics in the Newburgh Telegraph-a newspaper of which he was editor-August 5, 1855, and then said: "The length of the logs are 19 feet; diameter, nearly two feet. Three links of chain are between each end; links about 18 inches long." In 1860 Mr. Ruttenber published a very creditable work entitled Hudson River Obstructions, in which he figured the relic, and described it, "to consist of two logs, one of white wood and the other of white pine, about 15 feet in length, and about 12 inches in diameter, dressed in the centre in the form of an octagon and rounded at the ends. These logs are united to each other by an iron band around each end, and two links of chain of nearly two-inch bar iron, etc." I mention I these two descriptions to show the shrinkage of the relics in five I years; the spars from 19 to 15 feet in length, and from two feet I to one foot in diameter, while a whole link of chain fell out at I each end. Probably the last account is given under the least excitement, and, of course, entitled to credit.
Mr. Ruttenber, in our newspaper controversy in 1855 and 1856, was disposed to discredit nearly all I said of the. river obstructions; claiming that the relic found was a portion of the I only impediment in the river at West Point, which he thought, "by his superior knowledge," would lead me to understand the precise manner in which the river was obstructed. When I said there was a double obstruction, consisting of a massive, contiguous chain, and a boom of timber and chains at West Point, he said I was in error, and " had confused the several obstructions placed in the river': which he thought it was natural should be the case-from the crude and conflicting testimony to which I had been compelled to resort;" and yet ten years before, with all the papers of the engineer upon that subject before me, I had published to the world the fact of the double obstruction. And so elated was he with the conviction that he was all right and I was all wrong in the matter, that he closed his letter of January 3, 1856, by saying, that "only one chain was ever placed across the Hudson, and that was at Fort Montgomery;" and very flippantly added: "History fixes the fact of a chain at Fort Montgomery: tradition furnishes the evidence of a chain at West Point." This precise sentiment he reiterated at the close of another letter dated February 8, 1856.
In a letter written by Robert Townsend, Esq., October 16, 1858, to H. A. Homes, Esq., of the State Library, after inserting the last sentence above quoted, says: "This is a cool and bare-faced assertion: and it indicates a peculiar obliquity of the mental vision, when we contrast it with his own quotations from contemporary evidence (Gov. Clinton, Capt. Machin, Lieut. Woodward and Dr. Thacher), all speaking explicitly of the obstruction at West Point as a chain. Every history that mentions the' subject speaks of it as a chain, and persons yet living have seen large masses of it piled up at West Point. If all this evidence is only tradition, what are we to regard as history? Although this singular arguer makes a great flourish about documentary evidence "as opposed to "tradition," he does not seem to produce any. - But his arguments are all of the same order: Mr. Simms positive evidence is to him only" tradition," and his own" documentary proof" is, to men of ordinary apprehension, nothing but unsupported assertion, etc." I should remark that, very kindly, Mr. Townsend requested Mr. Homes to send the letter containing the above to the author, who would here express his thanks for it.
Four years later-having, in the meantime, had access to a portion of the Machin papers-be issued his book; and what is surprising, after what he had said about my ignorance in the matter as implied, he says on page 139: "From the facts stated, it is apparent that the obstructions at West Point consisted of a boom and a chain." When, in 1855, I said the derrick had raised a portion of the -boom, he ignored such an opinion, only to fall back into the belief that the boom must be considered by his readers as the chain. Verily history could now establish the fact of a chain at West Point: but what- surprised me on the appearance of his book was, not so much the fact that with the same testimony, he bad come to learn the" precise nature of the several obstructions," but that he should use my thunder without one word of apology or explanation, for previously attempting, so repeatedly, to place me in a false light before the American reader. I would not be considered captious or egotistical, but when I publish a fact with satisfactory proof that I am correct, and my statement is ignored by one who, without proper testimony, is disposed to exult in his ignorance, I claim that gentlemanly candor, when one is convinced that he has been in error, should be sacredly observed between man and man, whether strangers or not, when both are seeking for truth. Mr. Ruttenber very properly gives a cut in his book of the relics raised by Bishop's derrick as a portion of the boom-instead of chain-and also figures a coil of chain links to show the character of the continuous chain. Mr. Ruttenber, although he was not disposed to treat me courteously in a matter in which my historical reputation was at stake, bas, nevertheless, done a good work for posterity, on which account I commend his book to public favor.
I beg leave to say in this connection, however, that the floats for the West Point chain were not made as is shown in a figure upon page 64 of Mr. Ruttenber's River Obstructions, as in that form they would too much impede the flow of water; but they were more like the figure on page 62 of that work, though evidently held together as I have before shown, by four bars. The tradition of the late Gen. Machin, a son of the engineer, as also that of Co1. McCarthy, of Ulster county, as given me in 1845, each corroborated my present position. Besides, the spars for the floats were 50 feet long and the oak crossings but 16 feet, proving that the floats had only four spars in each. Mr. Leake in his L1/e and Times of Gen. Lamb, erroneously figured the boom as above instead of below the chain; at Fort Montgomery, as indeed several other writers have. The truth is the booms were both below the chains, at Fort Montgomery and West Point.
The Machin papers as published in 1845, I have still placed together, except those relating to Sullivan's expedition, which will be found in a history of that event. Some of the papers although in themselves unimportant; still serve to show the bent of thought and what experiences all grades of actors in the times must have passed through-hence they are inserted. Here is a letter from Dr. Freeman, to Capt. Machin when so busy with the boom.
August l0th, 1778.
"DEAR SIR- Your favor by Mr. Williams I received, also one before; am very glad to hear you are well, and employing your ingenuity and abilities in such a glorious cause, and with such promising aspects.
"Your chest of books and instruments are safe here, and ready to be delivered to your order at any time, and should be very happy to see you here yourself, which hope shall have opportunity for ere long. Mr. Williams can tell you all ye news from this quarter, to whom I refer you. He manifests a great regard for you, and any favor you can show him will meet my sincerest gratitude, as he is my neighbor and friend. Your letters give me much satisfaction, and would have been answered before, but for want of opportunity. As often as you write me you will greatly oblige you affectionate friend and humble serv't.
"Mrs. Freeman sends her compliments, etc."
"P. S.-Our report respecting the channel was seasonably made and in favor of it, but nothing done."
Lieut. Woodward, mentioned by Capt. Machin as being his assistant at West Point, became after they separated .his constant correspondent. The following is one of his letters.
PLAINS, 5th Sept., 1778.
"DEAR CAPTAIN-This is the fourth time of my writing without hearing or receiving from you. I believe you to be buried by this. Give me joy; I am ordered to join Capt. Walker, who is annexed to Gen. Huntington's Brigade near the Artillery Park. We live exceedingly happy on rum, beef and bread. The board of officers are sitting to settle the rank of the regiment, which makes me sorry you are not present. I waited on Gen. Parsons yesterday, who expressed surprise that you had not got down yet. Your lads are all well and want to see you. Our Captains are all high for rank. I hope you will not forget my foiles, but send them down by the first opportunity. I should be very glad if you can send down my ward, which is in my chest at Mr. Fraser's. Give my tender regards to Mrs. Logan and the Major if returned-also to all your friends as well as mine.
" PETER WOODWARD."
The following letter from Gen. Clinton again found Capt. Machin at New Windsor:
BRITAIN, Oct. 31st, 1779.
"DR. SIR-I received your favor and am much obliged to you for the trouble you have taken: the key of my case is in the major's chest, I believe, so that you have done all for me I expected or could wish you to do.
"I left East Town last Wednesday, at the time the army set off for Warwick, and had Gen. Sullivan's permission to go on before the brigade to visit my family: when I got to Sussex Court House there arrived an express from head quarters for our army to march from East Town to Pumptown, but as our army was then at Log Gaol, within ten miles of Sussex Court House, I don't know what route they have taken, but it was thought they would march from thence to Hacket's Town and so to Pumptown.
"As I consider myself on furlough I can't pretend to order you for the above reason, but would advise you to send the baggage agreeable to Lt. Hervey's orders. 1 expect to go to head quarters on Tuesday next, where 1 expect to receive orders what to do with the troops of the brigade, &c. at New Windsor. In the meantime let the commanding officer know that it's my orders that he hold them in readiness to march on the shortest notice.
am sir, Yours, &c.,
"P. S.-I expect to be at N. Windsor on Tuesday as I go to head quarters, when perhaps I will see you."
The following extract of a letter from Lieut. Woodward to Capt. Machin, dated "Newburgh, Nov. 20, 1779," shows Cupid recruiting for his service in the American army.
" We have had the most surprising accident happen that ever you could hear of, which is, that a sergeant of our company has run" away with a young lady of this place by the name of Fauster, who is the first fortune in town, and she is the only heiress."
In May, 1779, Capt. Thos. Machin was engaged in taking a water-level between Albany and Schenectada, with a view of supplying the former city with water. He submitted a plan for this object to the city corporation, with drawings to show the manner in which an aqueduct and reservoir should be constructed. Agreeable to his table of levels, a mark on the post at the watering trough at Bratt's half-way house, was 277 feet 3 53/100 inches above the City Hall wharf. The first mile stone out of Albany was 211 feet 5 -No inches below the mark at Bratt's. This survey, said Gen. Thomas Machin,* son of Capt. Machin, was also made with reference to an inland water communication,
*Thomas Machin, Jr., died at his residence In Albany, May 18, 1875, in his 90th year. He had the misfortune to be born club-footed; but his father, a stern man In his day, at once twisted the infant toes forward and they grew so the son was an officer of some grade In the war of 1812. His residence for nearly his life-time was in Charleston, Montgomery county, where he is remembered as a surveyor, often appearing at courts as a witness in land cares; and also as being for many years what was termed a member of the 3d house, or a lobbyist upon the Elate Legislature.
between the Mohawk river at Schenectada and the Hudson at Albany, with the contemplated design of its being extended westward from Schenectada. Here was the embryo thought of that water communication. which 50 years later united the Hudson River with Lake Erie.
I have before adverted to the suffering of the American army in the winter of 1779 and 1780;. the following letters from Henry Rutgers, Esq., and Dr. Young, allude to the same subject:
NEW WINDSOR, Jan. 18, 1780.
"My DEAR SIR-I was this moment favored with your letter of the 14th inst., and with pleasure read its contents, as your troubles were beginning to cease by the necessaries of life coming in again. By this time, I make no doubt, you have have experienced every vicissitude of fortune in almost every stage of your life-hunger, cold and every inconveniency attending a soldier, you are no stranger to. It is needless for me to moralize or philosophize on the subject, to encourage your perseverance, as such arguments are familiar to you. One thing I would only beg leave to mention, which is, that this spring, in my opinion, the war will either cease or be transferred to some other part of the world; as I conceive it impossible for Britain to continue it at so great an odds. In either case I shall be content, as my country will then be enabled to recruit from the depredations committed upon her by the cruelty and tyranny of Britain.
I was just now entertained with an agreeable view: 2 or 300 cattle passing
to Windsor on the ice, for head quarters. If entertaining to me, what will
you feel upon their arrival! I flatter myself that I anticipate the pleasure.
Want of time and paper prevent my saying more, than that I wish you every
succession of happiness with the blessings of the year. Mr. and Mrs. Bedlow,
with Miss Caty and Polly, join me in their professions for the same, and
believe me, dear Sir, that I remain
Your friend and very humble servant,
"To Capt. Machin, at Morris Town."
"DEAR Sir-I received your kind epistle of the 14th instant, and most feelingly sympathize with the noble boys who have suffered such uncommon hardships without complaining. If this is not patriotism, I will thank the British Despot that will inform me what it is. However, I rejoice that you have obtained a supply of provisions, and hope you will not experience such another trial.
"We have nothing new in this quarter worth your notice, but hope, if
Lord Sterling succeeds in his enterprise against. Staten Island, you will
embrace the first opportunity to inform me of the particulars, together
with what other news you may hear from any other quarter.* I hope soon to
have the pleasure of seeing you in Albany, when I will show you with what
dexterity and pleasure I ride my Electrical Hobby Horse. Till then I am
" Your sincere friend and humble servant,
"JO. YOUNG. "P. S.-My kindest compl'ts to all my friends in camp. "Albany, Jan'ry 24, 1780."
The following letter from Lieut. Patterson to Capt. Machin, is inserted because of its historic interest:
PITT, July 3d, 1780.
"DEAR Sir-Nothing can contribute more to my happiness, in this distant a.nd remote part of the world, than a correspondence with a gentleman of your natural and acquired abilities, upon the genuine principles of true and disinterested friendship, and nothing prevented me from writing sooner but a diffidence of my own abilities.
"As the bearer is waiting, I have only time to inform you of our safe arrival at this post the twenty-fourth ult., very much fatigued, after a long and tedious march, of near five weeks, from Carlisle. I begin to find we shall not be so fond of the .place as we imagined before we arrived, for there is nothing but repeated scenes and ideas, and such a sameness in every day's transactions, that will make time glide on a very slow pace.
"The Fort is very pleasantly situated in the forks at the conflux
*The enterprise on the ice from New Jersey to Staten Island proved a failure, the American troops not arriving In sight of the British garrison - they were sent to surprise-until after daylight. Nearly a sleigh load of black soldiers, sent on the expedition, were frozen to death. Co!. Angel's regiment of blacks, although said to have been as brave, could not endure the cold as well as white soldlers.-James Williamson.
flux of the Mahangahela and Alleghana Rivers. It is very strong, but, the walls and barracks are much decayed', and the best buildings we (e destroyed by the English when they evacuated the garrison. The town, which consists of about fifty loghouses and cabins, is situated on the bank of the Mahangahela, about two or three. hundred yards from the Fort. There is [are] about fifty Delaware Indians and a number of Squaws at this place, which [who] brought in a quantity of skins and furs, but it is hard for the officers to get enough to supply their wants, there is such a number of old traders that can talk Indian, and they are much fonder to exchange them for shirts, blankets, &c., than any other way. I am informed there are continually a number of them loitering about town to draw provision.
shall inform you more particularly of the place the next opportunity,
by which time I will be better acquainted, and therefore in my power to
do it with more exactness. Please to write every opportunity and inform
me of your transactions at Head Quarters, for we have scarcely ever any
news here that can be depended on. I am, with the greatest--
"Your most obedient and very humble servant,
"Present my best compliments to Mr. Woodward and the Gents. of my acquaintance."
The following copy of a letter of instruction to the committee of conference with the Legislature of New York, shows the poverty of the army in a pecuniary view. I regret that I am not able to give the names of the officers under whom the committee, on the part of the army acted:
STEENRAPIN", Sept. 6th, 1780.
" GENTLE'N.- We have chosen you our Committee to wait upon the Legislature of the State of New York, for the important purposes of representing to that body the unhappy and distressing situation of the troops under our command, and their immediate care and direction, and of inforcing a speedy execution of the resolves of Congress relative to the supplies necessary for the comfortable subsistence of the army; and as well to ascertain and liquidate the loss sustained by the army by the depreciation of the currency, as to obtain proper security for the payment thereof. These, Gentle'n., are the essential objects to which we would call your attention. The real depreciation upon the monies received and expended by the Army you are. well acquainted with, and the most eligible mode to ascertain it, we conceive, will be by taking a comparative view of the prices of articles most needed in camp, beginning at the first establishment of our present pay, and thence computing at different periods the advance upon such articles. You will please to have in view, that the pay of the troops has been very irregular, and that they have seldom been with less than three months pay in arrears, and often with more; especially in the present year, the pay for which from the 1st of January is still due, the 'depreciation on which can be computed at nothing less than the real value of the money on the first of August. With respect to the payment of such depreciated money as may be due us, we think that cash, or nothing less than a real security or Transfer of land8, will by any means answer the good intentions of the state, or relieve us.
Certificates, or notes for payment, we find by long experience, like other paper credit, are subject to the ebbs and flows of the times: we have had melancholy instances of this ill the Eastern State's, where the notes given to the troops have been sold at the most enormous discount, and the distresses of their army; which the Legislatures had in view to relieve, have by means been removed. Good landed interest is secure from these failures, and is the security we wish to receive; it is such, if conveyed to us firmly and bona-fide, will always form a capital upon which we can draw without any discount. When we say landed interest, we mean, Gentlemen, improved estates, such as have a real and immediate value, of which the state to which we belong have an abundance, by the attainder of many of its inhabitants who have withdrawn themselves from its allegiance. In settling the value of these lands, it will be necessary for you to pay particular attention to the mode to be adopted. We would recommend that three different men may be appointed under oath for that purpose, and that we may have a voice in nominating as well the persons to value, as the lands to be apprized. As Congress has, by a resolve of the 24th of August last, recommended to the different states to make provision for the widows and orphans of Officers who have died or may die in the service, we request your attention thereto, and that the provision therein recommended, or some other, may be extended to the widows and orphans of the Non-Commissioned Officers and soldiers in the like circumstances.
"We beg gentlemen that you will proceed as soon as possible upon the important business to which you are delegated, and we have the utmost confidence in your zeal and abilities to serve us, we would wish you to consider these instructions more or less absolute as you shall find circumstances require, and to do whatever else may be necessary for our interest, tho' not particularly mentioned herein. We wish you, gentlemen, a pleasant journey and happy success in your endeavors to serve us.
are, gentlemen, yours, &c."
"To Lieut.- Col. Willet, Major Fish, Capt. Machin."
The following letter from Lieut. Bradford directed to Capt. Machin at the assembly, Poughkeepsie, or Esopus, affords another evidence of the sorry condition of the army in the fall of 1780, and the importance of the committee's visit to the Legislature.
QUARTERS, 17th September, 1780.
"DEAR SIR-This being the first conveyance since you left us, you will permit me to enquire after your welfare, and to inform you of that of your friends and acquaintances in this quarter: Capt. Matt and Lieut. Ashton excepted-the former is very ill, and the latter much indisposed-since your departure we remain in the same position, no alterations in the army in general, and but few in our regiment. One circumstance which probably will not be unexpected, [is,] that of the desertion of Mr. Gable; he left Capt. Moodie on the 14th inst., since which we have heard nothing from him. The night before he went off, Lieut. Brewster lost every article out of his tent, the shirt on his back excepted, and at the smallest computation his loss must amount to £4,000. Mr. Brewster's situation is truly chagrining; and from some circumstances appearing against Mr. Gable, that of his leaving his blanket and knapsack, and stealing two empty ones before he went off, gives. every suspicion of his being the thief. In consequence of those circumstances appearing against the deserter, Mr. Brewster with two mattrosses set out to Bloominggrove in expectation of coming up with the scoundrel. Corporal McBride and James Whitemore set out for Morris Town, in some hopes of meeting with him there. I sincerely wish Mr. Brewster every success, tho' I much despair of his meeting with the fellow.
"The situation of our army since you left us has been truly distressing. Six days out of fifteen have the principal part of our army been without provisions' tho' it has not been the case with us; but we have had some small share in the disappointment: these circumstances are much against us, tho' it would not be thought so much of, was it not for a d-d rascally resolve of Congress; who say that if any officer or soldier does not draw the rations on the day they are due, they shall not receive them afterwards; from those circumstances we may naturally suppose, if we judge from the present, we shall be starved one-third of the time. From this, and almost every other proceeding of that August Body, they seem as tho' they had positively determined to injure the most Virtuous Body in the United States (that of the army) ; permit me, Dear Sir, to say things with us. appear very gloomy. . It is confidently asserted that the state of Connecticut has refused to supply the army with any more beef, in consequence of which one of the general's aids, Capt. Humphrey, set off with letters to Governor Trumbull to know (as we suppose) the reasons.
"Of the accounts from the southward, the newspapers will give you more particular information than I can. We have it confidently reported, and, indeed, generally believed, that Admiral Rodney, with thirteen sail of the line are arrived at New York from the West Indies, and the French fleet, consisting of eighteen sail of the line, are arrived at Rhode Island; should this be the case, we are in hopes the French will be able to give a good account of Mr. Graves.
"Mr. Burnside requests me to inform you that, as he was not on the New
Windsor side, and being disappointed in not succeeding agreeable to his wishes,
he entirely forgot to leave your letter for Mr. Rutgers; a neglect for which
he is very sorry. Dean has returned to us from Capt. Moodie, being very much
indisposed. By the same post as this is sent, I have forwarded you a letter
from Capt. Wool. Thus have I agreeable to my promise, given you a short and
as minute a detail of circumstances as my abilities will admit, and hope they
may prove agreeable. I am joined with Mr. Burnside and the remainder of the
officers, with best wishes for your happiness. Believe me, with every sentiment
of respect and esteem,
Your Obedient, humble servant,
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