History From America's Most Famous Valleys
Frontiersmen of New York
by Jeptha R. Simms
Albany, NY 1883
Volume I, Page 585
Notes from an Old Soldier in July, 1851.-Flavel Clark, of Mohawk village, Herkimer county, was 90 years old April 3d, preceding our interview. He was a son of Simon Clark, of Lebanon, Ct., in which town the Rev. Eleazer Wheelock established his Indian Charity School. Mr. Clark entered the republican army at the age of 15, and was in active service most of the time during the war. He was in action on Long Island under Gen. Parsons, who was repulsed in attempting to take a fort. He was in the battle of Germantown, October 3, 1777; at the Monmouth conflict June 28,1778; and under the gallant Wayne at the storming of Stony Point July 16, 1779. In the latter affair his Captain (Phelps) was under Col. Meigs. Gen. Washington visited the fort the morning after its capture, before sunrise.
This post was not so completely surprised as it was designed it should be; and why not, the following incident will show. At a place where the Americans halted on their march for definite instructions, a British drummer who had deserted and joined the Americans a week or two before, clandestinely left the camp, and as supposed fled directly to the fort; as a guard not only met the invaders without the garrison, but the latter proved to be awake and ready for resistance. But the impetuosity of mad Anthony was irresistible and his daring followers soon planted freedom's stars where the British lion had frowned. The drummer was not again seen, and it was supposed he had been sent at once on board of a British vessel, to escape merited vengeance.
A day or two after the capture of Stony Point, one of those painful scenes came off so trying to the feelings of a soldier. Five men were tried for offenses which forfeited their lives, three of whom were condemned to be hung. A Connecticut soldier named Chase, who had deserted a second time was one of the sufferers, the other two were tories and possibly were executed as spies. Near the center of the fort two crotches were set up, across which a pole cut from a flag-staff was laid, and from it were suspended the quivering forms of the unfortunate victims. They ascended on a ladder to have the rope adjusted, and from it were thrown off into eternity. In 1777, Mr. Clark was on duty-mostly night service, in the vicinity of Philadelphia, when that city was occupied by the enemy, and so scantily was the larder of the troops supplied, that for three days the daily ration per man was only half a gill of rice. Clark had husbanded a little store of food when this allowance began; but before even a lean" calf was killed," he with others was nearly starved. At this time Clark and many of the men were nearly bare-footed. Not only did the American soldier suffer for food in this campaign, but often had he to camp down for a time, where his blanket would be frozen to the ground in the morning. At one place where they built a fire and camped around it for the night, a poor Connecticut soldier named Cook, rather a weakly man, was found dead at day light.
The historian, Botta, says that Gen. Stephens was cashiered for misconduct on the retreat of the Americans from Germantown. The circumstances leading to his disgrace, said Mr. Clark, who was a soldier under him, were much as follows: The British moved on to Philadelphia, leaving a body of Hessians behind them. Gen. Stephens wishing to distinguish himself, obtained from Gen. Varnum's brigade, three regiments, two of Connecticut troops, commanded by Colonels Duryea and Chandler, and one of Rhode Island under Lieut.-Col. Olney. With this body of men he crossed the Schuylkill in the night with the water several feet deep and ice forming upon it, and marched down several miles and almost in sight of the enemy; and in the morning he marched back again. On the following night the farce was re-enacted, and the troops again endured a fatiguing march to a close proximity to the foe. No demonstration was made to attack them in their camp, however, and on the second morning. it was broken up. The Hessians crossed the river on a bridge which they took up without molestation, and moved on toward the city. After his foes bad placed an insuperable barrier between the armies, the river not being fordable at that place; Gen. Stephens led his command with a flourish of trumpets to the abandoned camping ground, still cheered by burning camp fires; but a field as barren of glory for a military hero, as an empty oyster shell of comfort to an epicure. The soldiers thought their General was very bold when the enemy were out of sight. He again marched back to camp, having led his men at the end of his second fool's errand, a fourth time through the chilling Schuylkill,* three times out of four at the same ford. For this evident want of courage, he was tried by court-martial and cashiered.
In the winter of 1777 and 1778, Mr. Clark was in Capt. Henderson's company, which performed a ranging duty in the vicinity of Philadelphia; such as arresting tories, watching the motions of the enemy, and preventing so far as possible supplies or information of the rebels from reaching the city. The company was small, there being only 29 privates a part of the time, and the duty arduous; the men being obliged often to change their position in the night to avoid surprise. Some time in February a party of seven British soldiers were conducted by a tory to the house of a patriotic Quaker living 12 or 15 miles from the city, to make him a prisoner. He was a resolute fellow, and if not a fighting man, was ready to defend his own dwelling. A midnight rap summoned him to the door, and readily divining what it might be for, he opened the door with a cutlass in one hand. In an instant several armed men attempted to cross the threshold, but a blow from his
* This word which he wrote Schuilekill, an intelligent gentleman from Copenhagen a assured the writer, was of Danish origin, and signified hidden springs.
strong arm cleft the head of an assailant, and his fellows shrank back from a like fate in terror. The door was instantly closed, and just in time to receive several bullets, intended for the breast of the Quaker.
The enterprise was abandoned, and his comrades determined as soon as possible to take their friend to the city for medical aid. By dawn of day an express reached Capt. Henderson, encamped not very far off, and soon his Lieutenant with nine men-one of whom was informant-was on the trail of the enemy; easily followed by blood on a light fall of snow. The Americans did not come up with the city guests, but at the end of nine miles, they found their guns and accoutrements deposited in a fissure of rock, clotted blood being frozen upon the belt of a cartridge-box; and having secured them, they proceeded to a house near by to search for red coats. Instead of the latter they found concealed in some rubbish under a stairway, a man, who, as it subsequently turned out, had informed at the city and had led the enemy to the house of the Quaker. He was arrested and with the owner of the house taken to the camp of the captors. On arriving at the Friend's house named, his wife who possessed a heart as large as a half bushel measure, had a fine supper prepared for the wearied soldiers, to which they did ample justice. The prisoners were delivered to the army at Valley Forge, were tried, and the tory who led the enemy to the Quaker's house was found guilty and hung as a spy. The other man was dismissed with sage counsel for his future conduct.
Among other important events of the war, Mr. Clark witnessed the surrender of Cornwallis; He never was wounded. At the storming of Stony Point, he was forced sans ceremony, by the force of a cannon ball passing near him, several rods down a declivity; with no injury except the loss of a blanket. In January, 1800, he removed to New York and settled in the town of German Flats, where he ever after resided, a respected citizen. In the latter part of his life he went to a physician in Boston, and was effectually cured of a cancer upon his mouth. He died at Mohawk, January 29, 1852.
Recollections of a Revolutionary Soldier.-Joseph Moors, with whom the writer had several agreeable interviews, at his residence in Plainfield, Otsego county, where he settled after the Revolution, was born October 13, 1761, at Groton, Middlesex county, Mass. His father, after whom he was named, was a soldier in the French war, and was at the capture of Louisburg. In the Revolution he was a captain of Militia, and in that capacity was under Co1. Prescott in the battle of Bunker Hill. Just after that battle the subject of this notice, then but a lad, enlisted into the regiment of the brave Prescott. In the spring of 1776 his regiment was stationed on Governor's Island, where it remained until after the Long Island disasters, when it moved up to Fort Washington.
While constructing a fort on Governor's Island, Prescott's men dug up the body of a sailor; and no little fear was manifested in camp, lest the tar had died of small-pox. Some cannon were one day being proved by double charges on the Battery, when one of them, an old piece, exploded and killed several men, who were buried in the lower end of Broadway. At this point in the pretty little park-now Bowling Green--there then stood an equestrian statue of King George. It was of lead, bronzed. In another part of the city stood a stone statue of Pitt, then Lord Chatham. One hand was extended, with the fore-finger thrust out at length. Some person had broken the finger when informant saw it. While stationed at Governor's Island, Moors witnessed the execution of a sergeant who was one of Gen. Washington's body. guard. He was condemned, with three others, to be hung for an attempt to poison Gen. Washington at New York. The sergeant, who was a fine looking fellow, and an Irishman by birth, was hung near the Bowery. The other three conspirators, whose execution was delayed for some cause, were put in prison, where they still remained when the British took possession of the city and liberated them.
The news of the Declaration of Independence was received at Fort Washington while Moors was in it. Gen. Mifflin bore the dispatches, and, on his arrival the army formed a hollow-square to hear him read it. This instrument, that was forever to tear the richest jewel from the Crown of England, was hailed with enthusiasm by the troops. Informant recognized Gen. Mifflin at this time, having seen him at Cambridge the year before with a load of deer-skin breeches-possibly for the army. Gen. M. was a well-made man, with a dark complexion. While at Fort Washington, Moors had the camp distemper, and was removed with a load of sick some miles into the country, soon after which the fort was taken by the enemy. On his recovery, the term of his enlistment having expired, he returned home.
In 1777 Moors was on duty in Rhode Island three months. In 1779, he again enlisted for nine months, at which time he went on duty near West Point. While marching from Connecticut to the Hudson, he saw a soldier hung near the Croton river. He was in a trooper's dress, with boots on. Private soldiers in the infantry, said an old pensioner, were not allowed to wear boots, and were liable to a fine if seen with them on.
Near West Point he saw a sergeant, a corporal, and two privates stripped and flogged one cold morning, each receiving one hundred lashes upon his bare back. These soldiers belonged to Gen. Glover's brigade, and left the army with several others to go home, insisting that their term of enlistment had expired. Their officers declared the time was not up, and the men were overtaken and brought back as deserters. The four mentioned were tried by court martial and puni8hed ; the two privates being the two youngest boys in their regiment. Pease, the sergeant, who was in Col. Shepard's regiment, had been a brave soldier, having served under the daring Montgomery at Quebec. Much sympathy was felt among their fellow soldiers for these sufferers, particularly for the boys. The latter did not utter one word of complaint; but each taking a leaden bullet in his mouth, bit upon it as the punishment was inflicted. Public whipping in the army was undoubtedly productive of more evil than good; an ambitious spirit being injured, rather than improved, by so degrading a ceremony. The duty of whipping devolved on drummers; and as Moors was a drummer on Governor's Island, he once had to perform the disagreeable task. If a culprit was to receive 40 stripes, four drummers were called up, each to inflict ten blows. Early in the war, Moors witnessed an unusual amount of whipping, especially in the Pennsylvania line.
The soldier's larder is often supplied surreptitiously. On the lines between Connecticut and New York, Moors was cook for a sergeant's mess, and went one evening two miles from camp, with a friend, to forage for their own table. Their attention having been arrested by the quacking of geese ill a field near a house, they hastened to it, each provided with a long pole. As the descendants of that flock which saved Rome thrust up their necks in the uncertain light, the poles were put in requisition, and the young rogues soon after returned to camp with their plunder. Expecting a search would be made the next day for the missing geese, the soldiers buried them under their tent. In the course of the day after this adventure, the young commissaries had the audacity to go to the very house, near the goose pasture, to learn what the family might say about their loss. The lady of the house-a kind-hearted old woman, expressed her regret at her loss, but manifested great sympathy for her visitors, making the young scape-goats as comfortable as possible, regaling them with hasty-pudding and milk. Suspicion not attaching to their tent, and a suitable quantity of potatoes and turnips having been levied elsewhere, the poultry was taken up the next evening and feasted on by the soldiers
Who concluded as "stolen waters sweet,"
Were goslings doomed to suffer in a cause;
Which did not prosper without meat,
Obtained at times through stealthy martial laws.
Soldiers played cards in camp for amusement: not often for money, unless for small sums, but frequently for grog or a day's rations of food. Many a time has the loser gone hungry a day, unless he could purchase part of a fellow soldier's rations. In 1781, a sea captain named Scott, went to Groton, Mass., to . enlist recruits for the ship Venus, then at Boston, and bound on a privateering voyage. Not a few valuable prizes had been taken by the daring Yankees-many fortunes had been made; and all things considered, the enterprise promised to prove more lucrative, than farther service in the army. Accordingly, Moors, and three other young men of the same town named Peter Stevens, John Trowbridge, and one Ames enlisted for the voyage and repaired on board of the Venus, a vessel carrying 20 guns-16, 18, and 24 pounders, and four possum guns. The latter were dangerous looking engines, but being of wood were not, expected to thunder very loud.
The Venus, under the command of Capt. George Babcock, an old salt who had made several successful voyages of the kind, set sail with a crew of about 100 men, representing nearly all the nations of the earth. The first landing the ship made, was on the Island of Shoals, near Cape Breton. The island is low and can be seen only at a short distance. Cattle were put upon it at an early day by some European nation, that its mariners might there obtain provisions. The next landing of the Venus was on the coast of Newfoundland. From a small cove in which she was moored, thirty mariners were sent on shore to visit a small English settlement two miles distant, where they hoped to find an English vessel. The village was inhabited by fishermen, and not finding any shipping there, the boats sent round to act in concert with the mariners in case of necessity, took the liberty to plunder a quantity of fish their owners were drying.
The fishermen were armed with guns, but the marines having succeeded in cutting off retreat to their dwellings, they made no resistance, and saw them transfer to their boats the fruit of many day's labor. The party on land scattered about the hamlet in the mean time, eagle-eyed for plunder. Moors entered a large house alone to make discoveries. In a spare room, which contained some drugs and a hogshead of coarse woollens, he espied a nice vest, which he lost no time in concealing behind the cask. He was yet in the room when a man entered it, took off his coat and reached for the vest-it was gone: he looked daggers, but said not a word. Before leaving the place, Moors secured the vest, and at the same house a flask of rum and a barn, being all the plunder he made among the fishermen. The Americans sunk about a dozen fishing schooners after taking out the fish, and making part of their owners prisoners, returned to the ship. One of their best boats had been saved, and in it the prisoners were sent back to their homes, there to mourn over the hard fate meted to them by the war-god.
The Venus now shaped her course for Europe; and after several days sailing, the crew were cheered about 11 o'clock one foggy morning, by discovering the topsail of a noble ship close by; and scarcely had they made the sight, when another and another sail met their vision. Capt. Babcock bailed the first ship, and to feed the hopes of his men came the response: "An English merchantman from England bound for Halifax," The speculating mariners now began to dream of realizing the desires of Ortugal, or of the more modern gold hunters of California-by becoming suddenly rich. Those who had wives already saw them clad in India silks and sipping India tea on the sly, and those who had none thought their chance enhanced for obtaining them, among the patriotic maidens of New England.
The presumptuous Yankees were about to bid the first merchantman haul down his pendant, when lo! to the mortification of the fortune hunters, a gentle breeze lifted the clouds, and they found themselves in the neighborhood of a fleet of English merchantmen under convoy of two British frigates, the Surprise and Diana.
A sailor's dreams of wealth at sea,
Alas! how soon may wing and flee:
How suddenly his hopes of bliss
Erebus sends to her abyss.
When force superior gains the helmsman's lee.
The deck of the privateer suddenly became one of bustle and confusion, preparation being made for an engagement: but the hazard was too great, and now every possible effort was made to claw-off. But it was no go; the Surprise had given chase-was fast bearing down on them, and soon a leeward gun from her bows brought up the Venus. She found a new commander, and Capt. Babcock and his crew were prisoners of war. In the day time the prisoners, officers excepted, were placed on deck back of the mizzen-mast, among a lot of hen-coops. What a change had passed over the young privateers' dreams. The prisoners were confined below deck at night, entering the hold at six o'clock, from which at the same hour in the morning they were let up. They received two-thirds British allowance while on board the Surprise, the officers of which were courteous and gentlemanly towards them. Several other privateers were no less agreeably surprised, than had been the Venus before they reached Halifax. The new governor of that place, Sir Andrus Snap Hammond was on board of one of the transports, which was fastened nights to a frigate. The weather was rough, and it was several days before they made the destined port, where the prisoners were transferred to a prison-ship-an old vessel of French construction. The privates were afterwards placed on a new ship and held ill durance under a British sergeant.
Moors became afraid to remain a prisoner through the winter, and as fall approached he resolved to make his escape. The ship had a bulk-head in which provisions were kept, of which it became necessary to obtain a supply. The plank for the bulk-head were in an upright position, fastened at the top and bottom. On a dark night, with a knife and crowbar, Moore soon entered the ship's larder and obtained a supply of biscuit. This accomplished, he proposed to his fellow townsmen their escape, and they all agreed to hazard the attempt. The ship was moored nearly a mile from the shore; to reach which no chicken-hearted landsman would have tried: but what was danger to the young men of the Revolution? It was agreed that Stevens and Trowbridge should start first, and after an allowance of sea-room their companions were to follow.
There were two port boles in the ship's stern, from which the prisoners could escape. With bundles fastened upon their backs, each consisting of a green baize jacket with a quantity of biscuit in the centre, Trowbridge and Stevens set out for the shore. Between the prison-ship and the shore lay the Vulture, the sloop of war from which Maj. Andre was landed the year before, below West point. She had recently been engaged with an American vessel, and her pretty yellow sides needed important repairs. Around her was a float of timber and plank, and as Trowbridge passed it. his companion, who was not the best swimmer in the world, gave out and got upon it.
After the two named left, Moors attempted to procure a boat which was fastened to the ship's side. He swam round to it, and while loosening it the noise attracted the notice of a sentinel, who caught hold of the painter and drew it up. Leaving his hat in the boat, he dropped into the water silently, and swam back to Ames at the vessel's stern unobserved. Securing their scanty wardrobe to their shoulders, they also trusted to the waves, and ere long joined Trowbridge on the beach. They were attracted to the same landing by a blazing fire on shore.
Stevens was discovered crawling up on the float and an alarm given, when he was taken on board; and after a day or two he enlisted to remain upon her. Only a few days after, long enough to repent of serving his country's foes, a fire broke out in Halifax, and the Vulture's men were taken on shore to aid in extinguishing it. In marching back to the boats, Stevens resolved to escape, and sprang into a lane. The darkness 'favored his flight. He left the city, found friends to aid him, land after a while reached his native town in safety.
The country was somewhat marshy around Halifax, and the trio who had gained the shore wandered about for some time to find a road by which to leave town, still hoping that Stevens would join them. Daylight overtook them yet in sight of the city, and fearing they might be arrested, they concealed themselves in woods not far from the road. The day was one of anxiety and fasting, the sea water having saturated their biscuit. The first house the party arrived at in the evening, was a tavern, which they dare not enter. They halted at a log house, and Trowbridge entered it and made known the wants of the party, and as the family was friendly to the American cause, they were gIven food and told to avoid Windsor, a town they were approaching; and some two miles distant to take a by road which would lead them to a settlement, where they would find friends.
They traveled a great distance that night and gaining the place foretold, were treated with marked hospitality. They went to work for a time, and the employer of Moors bought him a fashionable beaver hat. He had proceeded thus far from Halifax bare-headed. After a stay of several weeks at this place, the trio went to Port Royal-now Annapolis, and were there temporarily safe with a friend. Trowbridge had an uncle near this town, and going to see him became an object of suspicion, was taken up and sent to the guard-house. This was a result anticipated by his comrades, for while they were concealed in a barn, the former got a boat and crossed the river in the night to his uncle's. Next day he imprudently exposed himself and was arrested. He was paroled under the security of his uncle, with whom he remained to the close of the war.
Near the mouth of the Bay of Fundy was a port, where sometimes chanced a British and at others an American vessel. To this place Moors and Ames repaired, and there they found an American privateer, and small prize she had taken. They readily agreed to work their passage to Boston, and Moors was put on board the prize; and as she leaked badly, he was kept most of the time at the pumps. There were only two of the privateersmen on board of her, one of whom was an old Skipper and had the craft in charge. Parting company with her captor the prize moved across the bay to a small island, near which they awaited for fair weather. After remaining in this position for nearly a week, Moors pumping in the mean time, fair weather came and they crossed over to the main land.
Having been treated severely on board the prize, Moors resolved to leave it. The old Skipper with a small boat at his service, concluded to go on shore and get some milk, but instead of heeding a call to breakfast, Moors stepped into the boat and pulled for the shore himself. It was the only boat the vessel had, and seeing his man escaping, the Skipper brought an old gun from the cabin, and threatened to shoot him if he did not return. If loaded it would not discharge, for the deserter gained the shore unharmed, although he swamped the skiff before reaching it. At some distance from the shore he received the hospitality of a kind hearted woman, who, having furnished him with provisions and good advice, sent him to Machias, in Maine, eight miles distant from her own dwelling. Blessed be the memory of this and all similar women, who aided the men who battled for freedom. At Machias, Moors found a family which had removed thither from Groton, with which he remained a week, when a Boston schooner came along and took him home. Thus ended his first and last voyage as a privateer. His fellow townsmen regained their homes in safety, Ames* on a privateer belonging to Salem; but like him they all failed to realize their dreams of sudden wealth as many had before, as many have since, and as still more will hereafter. Mr. Moors died highly esteemed in the community in which he long lived, on Monday, March 5, 1849, in the 88th year of his age. His amiable wife followed him to the spirit land August 20, 1850.
*At Annapolis Moors and Ames fell in with a deserter from a British frigate, a native of Philadelphia, who had been pressed into the British service; and who returned, with the latter to the States.
Copyright © 1998, -- 2004. Berry Enterprises. All rights reserved. All items on the site are copyrighted. While we welcome you to use the information provided on this web site by copying it, or downloading it; this information is copyrighted and not to be reproduced for distribution, sale, or profit.