Take Your Mark, Get Set, Good-bye!
The Period Between Yorktown and Evacuation Day, 1783
by C. F. William Maurer
With the beginning of World War I, a New York City holiday that had been celebrated commemorating the last day of the American Revolution was cancelled because, of all things, no one hated the British anymore! Until the bicentennial of the event twenty-five years ago, few remembered the part that early leaders of this new country, some with Masonic ties and some with the age old lament, My brother, uncle, father, father-in-law were Masons, I’m not! played such an important role in this forgotten holiday, the day the British Army left New York and ended foreign occupation in these United States.
On November 25, 1783, General of the Army George Washington, Gen. Henry Knox and New York Governor (and General) George Clinton led the American forces into New York City and down Broadway right behind the leaving British Army. That afternoon the Brits took a left turn on Pearl Street, past Fraunces Tavern, boarded ships on the East River and sailed out to sea. This signaled the end of the American Revolution and began the celebration of “Evacuation Day.” The holiday was celebrated with parades, speeches and fireworks much in the same way as today’s celebration of the Fourth of July.
Take Your Mark….
The battle of Yorktown (October 19, 1781) marked the last battle of the American Revolution when Gen. Cornwallis surrendered his entrapped army to General Washington. Sir Henry Clinton, who controlled New York City, could affect nothing but the control of the Hudson River with his small navy. The British had once before almost seized the river as far up as Albany, NY. Should hostilities be resumed, the northern colonies could be separated from the rest – as had been tried in the past. To prevent such a contingency Washington moved the American Army to encamp at New Windsor, a town near Newburgh, NY, on April 1, 1782. The officers and men eagerly awaited news from the peace negotiators in Paris. And then they waited some more.
General George Clinton Most historians acknowledge that Yorktown was the end of the American Revolution. Yet there were still disquieting events happening that were certainly not peaceful and could, at any moment, signal renewed fighting. Before rebuilding New York City, before becoming a country, the British would have to leave.
British troops accompanied by Loyalists started to sporadically raid outlying settlements. One such raid, January 9, 1782 led to the occupation of New Brunswick, NJ for about an hour. The next month, Loyalists raided Pleasant Valley in Monmouth County, New Jersey, this time taking a number of prisoners. These activities persisted and were encouraged by the Board of Associated Loyalists led by the former governor of New Jersey, William Franklin.
William Franklin, son of Pennsylvania Past Grand Master, Benjamin Franklin, had left New Jersey during the war, and settled in New York City directing these Loyalist activities. Another Loyalist raid led to the capture of Captain Joshua Huddy, commander of a blockhouse at Toms River, on March 24th. The Loyalist turned Huddy over to Sir Guy Carleton, commander in chief of the British in the colonies, and Carleton surrendered Huddy to the Board of Associated Loyalists. Huddy was then hung and a note was pinned to his clothing: We the Refugees, having long with grief beheld the cruel murders of our brethren, and finding nothing but such measures daily carried into execution, therefore determined not to suffer without taking vengeance for the numerous cruelties; and thus begin, having made use of Captain Huddy as the fist object to present to your view; and we further determine to hang man for man while there is a Refugee existing.
Immediate outrage to this “murder without even an excuse of hot blood” caused an uproar and demands that General Washington bring pressure on the British to halt such actions. Such a problem, now known as the Huddy Affair, would have to be settled in any Peace Treaty.
Also, the British Loyalists in the New York area began to leave for Canada and Great Britain. Leading the parade were those who might face collaboration or treason charges when peace finally happened and the British were not around to protect them. Yet there were still prisoners on both sides that had to be exchanged and even wounded still in hospitals unaccounted for.
Then there was a third problem that had been on a low flame brewing all through this war of Independence, and personal rights. This was the question of Slavery.
Both the Americans and the British recruited slaves to join the military forces. On the American side, the slave owner received the enlisting bonus; the slave/soldier served, and then the soldier was granted his freedom. The bonus would have paid or reimbursed the owner for his slave. This plan worked well in the north.
The British welcomed the slaves who crossed the lines and offered freedom if the slaves served in the British army. However, there was no reimbursement to the slave owners under this system.
Serious peace talks and negotiations began in April, 1782 as Washington moved the army to Newburgh. New allies began to recognize the United States. The Netherlands had now recognized American independence. Spain followed after. The Loyalists were still creating problems, by leading the Indians against fortifications and settlements along the borders.
Washington had to resolve all these problems and after some small amount of guidance and discussion with the Continental Congress, proposed that negotiations might start with a meeting to take place in a location familiar to both parties. Washington had visited Tappan, New York at least twice before. He had stayed with the De Wint family through their son-in-law, Maj. Blauvelt and took advantage of their home and hospitality while he was checking on the defenses on the Hudson early in the war and, of course, made the house his headquarters while in Tappan for the trial and hanging of John Andre in 1780.
Washington recommended to Sir Guy Carleton that a meeting between their staff be held to lay the ground work for a general exchange of prisoners at the De Wint house on September 27, 1782. Representing Sir Guy was General Campbell and Andrew Elliot (who was to take over as NY’s Tory lieutenant governor for a short time) and General Washington sent Generals Heath and Knox. Washington had met Andrew Elliot before in Tappan two years earlier when Sir Henry Clinton had made one last try to save Major Andre from hanging; Elliot was one of the team sent to plead with Washington.
Major General John Campbell had just returned from leading British forces against the Spanish in Florida and had a bitter battle and defeat in New Orleans. He was graciously allowed to leave and came to New York for a new assignment.
Not much was accomplished at the De Wint home during the meeting. Feelings, emotions and problems were too high. Many questions were raised that had to be brought back to the Generals (and Congress and the King) before decisions could be made.
The Provisional treaty of Peace was signed in Paris on November 30, 1782. Almost two months later, on January 20, 1783, this great news is received at the American Army’s camp in Newburgh.
A Cessation of hostilities is then signed by the British and U.S. commissioners. February 4th, Great Britain proclaims a cessation of hostilities.
With the war now over, the problems with the troops headquartered at Newburgh, NY took on a bigger concern. The soldiers and their officers wanted to be paid and wanted to go home. While mutinies within the young Army were nothing new, the uprising at Newburgh, the Newburgh Conspiracy, was begun by the officers, the very elite of the military and the new country.
Governments need money to exist. Congress was without leadership and was bankrupt. In 1781, the Articles of Confederation gave Congress the power to maintain a wartime army but not the power to tax to pay for it. The States still retained this power and either was unwilling or unable to tax to the amount needed. By the summer of 1782, Congress had $125,000 of the needed $6 million. Loans were defaulted, interest was not paid and, of course, the military pay was stopped.Congress had, in 1780, saw the need to preserve the Army and had offered a lifetime pension of half-pay to the officers and a bonus of $80 to enlist until the end of the war.The desire to get paid and to go home was growing.
General Henry Knox Earlier in the 1780s, Washington had been approached twice by army officers who promised their support if he decided to seize civilian power. In one famous incident in 1782, Col. Lewis Nicola wrote a letter urging Washington to overthrow Congress and become America’s king. The commanding general scolded Nicola the very same day.
In 1783, on the Ides of March, Washington caught wind of officers wanting to stage a coup d’Ètat against Congress. Washington would not be moved — that die would not be cast. General Washington called a meeting to be held in the New Building – The Temple – to be chaired by General Gates, second in command in Newburgh. Gates had, personally, been working with other dissatisfied officers and members of Congress to remove Washington and take over the government. The officers were talking of a coup and then setting up martial law to secure these payments.
This detail shows the huts of the 7th Massachusetts Regiment as drawn by Private Tarbell, 1783. Tarbell identified his hut with his initials, “W.T.” This illustration is from an1890 copy of Tarbell’s original drawing. Courtesy of Washington’s Headquarters State Historic Site, Newburgh.
When the meeting was called to order, much to the surprise of all, General Washington came in.
He asked to speak to the officers, and the stunned Gates relinquished the floor. Washington could tell by the faces of his officers that they were quite angry and did not show the deference or respect that they had always shown in the past toward him.
Washington gave a short speech about the precarious finances of the new nation. He could see that they were still confused, uncertain, not quite appreciating or comprehending what he had tried to impart in his speech. With a sigh, he removed from his pocket a letter and announced it was from a member of Congress, and that he now wished to read it to them. He produced the letter, and gazed upon it. Washington now reached into a pocket and brought out a pair of new reading glasses. Only those nearest to him knew he lately required them, and he had never worn them in public.
He said: Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country.
From Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens website
This simple act and statement by their venerated commander, coupled with remembrances of battles and privations shared together with him, and their sense of shame at their present approach to the threshold of treason, was more effective than the most eloquent oratory. As he read the letter, many were in tears from the recollections and emotions which flooded their memories. As Maj. Samuel Shaw, who was present, wrote in his journal, There was something so natural, so unaffected in this appeal as rendered it superior to the most studied oratory. It forced its way to the heart, and you might see sensibility moisten every eye.
This caused most of the men to realize that Washington, too, had sacrificed a great deal, maybe even more than most of them during the years for this glorious cause. These men, of course, were his fellow officers, most having worked closely with him for several years. The conspiracy collapsed. Washington then left the room and General Henry Knox (also a Mason) and others offered resolutions reaffirming their loyalty acceptable to the group. A major crisis for the brand new country had been avoided. The new nation had a chance to succeed only if its leaders and military adhered to the rule of law. What still remained, however, was Congress being threatened with “the terror of a mutinying army.” In June Congress will leave Philadelphia threatened by 300 or so newly released soldiers. Washington will be called to put down this “riot.”
On March 23rd, in Philadelphia, the French ship “Triumph” arrived with the news.
In 1928 an interesting letter written by General Washington to General Henry Knox was made public by Gabriel Wells, a New York dealer in rare books and autographs. Wells says that this is believed to be the only letter in which Washington may be said to have overflowed in exuberance and patriotic feeling and even paraphrases scripture. The note reads:
Newburgh 26th March 1783
My dear Knox:
Such as I have, I give unto thee. God grant the news may be true. But whether it is or not, the late conduct of the army will redound to the immortal honor of it. Yrs most sincerely, Go. Washington.
The letter is believed to have been written by Washington upon receipt of a letter from Lafayette announcing the signing of the preliminary articles of peace in France.
The scriptural reference is from the 3rd Chapter of Acts, verse 6. As Peter was entering the Temple a lame beggar at the door sought alms. Peter said: “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk…”
General Washington omitted “silver and gold I do not have,” evidently intending the words to be understood by General Knox. The money question in the army had been serious. Washington possibly intended the news of peace to sooth the troubles of the army. 1
Sir Guy Carleton proclaimed the end of hostilities in New York on April 8th. Congress on the 11th signed off and proclaimed the end of the war. Washington delayed telling the troops in Newburgh for a week about the end of the war because he feared that those signed for the duration of the war would all leave in mass. On April 19th Washington ordered the cessation of hostilities to be read at noon at Newburgh and left for Ringwood to meet the Secretary of War for the purpose of making arrangements for release and exchange of prisoners. This was the eighth anniversary of the Battle at Lexington.
Sir Guy Carleton
And what about the problems that existed over a year ago? The Tories are leaving in droves on ships to Canada/Nova Scotia and some going back to England. There are still the prisoners, the sick and wounded and the slave seen as property to be decided. Importantly, there will be a need for government and police protection in New York City once the British leave. But now, finally, somewhere in the not too distant future, the British will be leaving. Now is the time to clear up these sticky issues.
Guy Carleton In a letter dated April 21, Washington invites Sir Guy to meet again face to face and Sir Guy agrees three days later. The purpose is “to speed business and restore the Prisoners.” The idea is advanced, that the British take a frigate, the H.M.S. Perseverance, to the meeting so that each may entertain under equal advantages; the British on board the ship and the Americans on shore.
Petty problems affected the meeting. William Smith, loyalist Chief Justice of the Province of New York, from 1763 to 1782, was personally concerned about his relationship with General (and now Governor of New York) George Clinton. Clinton had clerked for him as a young lawyer. Smith wrote that it could not be grateful to me to treat with a man who was once my clerk and now assuming the station of a superior and perhaps disposed to consider me as an Enemy.
Smith was the son of Judge William Smith of New York. His brother, Doctor Thomas Smith, was the owner of the “treason house” in Haverstraw, Orange County, New York that was being occupied by his other brother, Joshua Hett Smith, at the time that Benedict Arnold and Major John AndrÈ planned their conspiracies. Smith tried to stall the meeting and did not want any “interview” with the Americans until there had been a prisoner exchange.
Sir Guy Carleton was not in any hurry either. He wanted to make sure that all the Loyalists were taken care of and had left for new homes before the protection of the British Army was ended. Also he was waiting for news from General Charles Grey on the return of the British prisoners. Grey was the commander of the British forces at the massacre of Baylor’s Dragoons – a Virginia cavalry unit – in Old Tappan in 1778.
There was another officer named Smith involved in the negotiations. This was Lieutenant Colonel William Stephen Smith, General Washington’s aide-de-camp. It is interesting to notice that this young man later married Abigail Adams, the daughter of John and Abigail Adams. The couple met in London while the Honorable John Adams was the U.S. foreign minister to Great Britain. Of course, he later was the second U.S. president. The Smith’s had had four children, and their only daughter, Caroline Abigail Smith, married a Peter De Wint (b. 1787) in 1814.
Off shore in the Tappan Zee, the British ship, H.M.S. Perseverance, welcomed the Americans aboard with a seventeen gun salute. This is the first time that the British acknowledge Washington and the American flag. The date to hold the meeting, 6 May, was mutually agreed upon.
The British party landed at Piermont, then listed on maps as Dobb’s Ferry, on the west side of the Hudson. The party disembarking consisted of Sir Guy’s two aides, Majors Beckwith and Upham, Ship Captain Lutwyche, Justice Smith, Mr. Elliot and American Lieutenant Colonel Smith who had sailed with the British by Washington’s orders. General Washington waited on shore. The distance to the De Wint House was about three miles. Justice Smith wrote that the Generals rode in a four horse “chariot,” some of the others by horseback, but he and Mr. Elliot walked the distance with Col. Smith.
After arriving at the De Wint house, about an hour was spent outside in pleasantries and “separate chats” until the Generals entered the house. General Washington spoke first. Three points needed to be resolved as soon as possible. First there was a need to protect property from being carried off by the Loyalists. The property he was most concerned with was the “negroes.” Secondly, a day and time needed to be set for the evacuation of New York and lastly, there must be a government in place when the evacuation would take place.
Sir Guy listened. When General Washington had made his points, Carleton agreed that a day and time must be set for the evacuation (we can work on that) and that he had already sent some 6,000 Loyalists to Nova Scotia. Sir Guy had appointed teams to inspect the ships to check for any property taken and had made a registry so “that the owners might eventually be paid for the slaves who were entitled to their Freedom by British proclamations and promises.”
Washington appeared startled, and said, “Already embarked?” Sir Guy pointed out that nothing could be changed in any articles that were inconsistent with prior policies or national honor. He added that the only mode was to pay for the Negroes in which case justice was done to all, the slaves and the owners. Sir Guy Carleton stated that it would be a breach of faith not to honor their promise of liberty to the Negro and declared that if removing them proved to be an infraction of the treaty then compensation would have to be paid by the British Government. To provide for such a contingency, he had a register kept of all Negroes who left, entering their name, age, occupation, and name of their former master. This was agreed to by the Americans but, as far as can be determined, no compensation was ever paid. 2
Details were discussed and in the late afternoon, General Washington noted that dinner was approaching and offered wine and bitters. The meeting was over. Sir Guy rose and General Washington asked him to check over the notes of the meeting so that he, Washington, could pass them on correctly to Congress to avoid any misunderstandings. A “plentiful repast” or as another recorded, “a most Sumptuous Dinner” was served under a tent nearby. About thirty officers and guests took part. This dinner was prepared by a friend of Washington’s, none other than Samuel Fraunces, a member of Holland Lodge and owner of a tavern in lower New York City at 54 Pearl Street.
That evening, Washington sent a letter to Governor of Virginia Benjamin Harrison that told him of the meeting in progress, that Sir Guy was indisposed and has been taken back to New York before the business could be brought to a close and I have discovered enough however, in the course of the conversation which was held, to convince me that the Slaves which have been absconded from their Masters will never be restored to them. Vast numbers of them are already gone to Nova Scotia.3
And to Sir Guy he wrote: …I cannot however conceal from your Excellency that my private opinion is, that the measure is totally different from the Letter and Spirit of the Treaty. But waving the Discussing of the point, and leaving its decision to our respective Sovereigns I find it my Duty to signify my Readiness, in Conjunction with your Excellency, to enter into any Agreements, or take any Measures which may be deemed expedient to prevent the future Carrying away any Negroes or other property of the American Inhabitants. 4
The next day, May 7th, Captain Lutwyche, of the H.M.S. Perseverance, gave a dinner for General Washington and his staff aboard the ship. Sir Guy was not feeling well, having an “ague” caught before or just after coming aboard the ship and did not attend. Accompanying Washington were Governor Clinton, Mr. Scott, Mr. Duer, Mr. Benson, Colonel Cobb, Colonel Humphreys, Colonel Smith and Mr. John Trumbull, Washington’s secretary. The comment of Richard Varick, a former aide to Gen. Arnold, and now a member of Washington’s staff, was that While an elegant dinner (tho’ not equal to the American) was prepared” not much was accomplished. Both sides had to check with their respective bosses or sovereigns, letters had to be and would be exchanged and both were eager to continue negotiations favorable to their side.
The Dewint House in Tappan, NY
Washington wrote in the closing of his expense account, To Expenditures upon an Interview with Sir Guy Carleton at Orange Town, exclusive of what was paid by the Contractors viz: Maj. Blauvelt for the use of his House, furniture etc. 10 guineas a 37/4 5
General Henry Knox
The Americans were represented by General Washington. His Masonic record is quite well known to all. General Henry Knox is thought to have been a member of the First Lodge of Boston.
General Clinton was not a Mason and his Masonic membership is often confused with his nephew George, a member of Warren Lodge No. 17, of Little Britain, NY. Another, nephew, De Witt Clinton, was Grand Master of New York for the longest time and also New York’s Governor.
Grand Master Dewitt Clinton
Sir Guy Carleton (aka. Lord Dorchester) has a close tie to the Craft. In 1772, Sir Guy married Lady Maria. From 1782 until 1789, Carleton’s brother-in-law, Thomas, 3rd Earl of Effingham served as Acting Grand Master of the Premier Grand Lodge of England.
One of the more interesting events in Effingham’s tenure as Acting Grand Master was that in 1784 Prince Hall wrote to a Brother Moody in London seeking help in applying for a warrant for Hall’s “African Lodge No. 1.”6
The Petition was successful and the Grand Lodge of England (Moderns) issued a warrant to African Lodge No. 459 on 20 September, 1784. It was the Grand Master’s practice to leave the signing of warrants to Effingham – Sir Guy’s brother in law – so Effingham’s signature appears on that important warrant. 7
In 1869 a fire destroyed Massachusetts’ Grand Lodge headquarters and a number of its preiceless records. The Prince Hall charter in its metal tube was in the Grand Lodge chest. The tube saved the charter from the flames, but the intense heat charred the papere. It was at this time that Grand Master S. T. Kendall crawled into the burning building and in peril of his life, saved the charter frm complete destruction. Thus a Grand Master’s devotion and heroism further consecrated this parchment, and added a further detail to its already interesting history. The original Charter No. 459 has long since been made secure between heavy plate glass and is kept in a fire-proof vault in a downtown Boston bank.
The Prince Hall Charter was damaged by fire in 1869
General Washington wrote to the President of Congress that, the men engaged to serve three years were formed into regiments and corps in the following manner’ namely, the troops of Massachusetts compose four regiments; Connecticut, one regiment; New Hampshire, five companies; Rhode Island, two companies; and New York artillery, two companies. The army being thus reduced to merely a competent garrison for West Point, that being the only object of importance in this quarter, and it being necessary to employ a considerable part of the men in building an arsenal and magazines at that post, agreeably to the directions given by the secretary at war, the troops accordingly broke up the cantonment (at New Windsor) yesterday, and removed to that garrison, where Major-General Knox still retains command. 8
An important letter was written June 11, 1783 to John Hancock from Headquarters at Newburgh. Washington was setting the stage for America’s future with this introductory preface:
The great object for which I had the honor to hold an appointment in the Service of my Country being accomplished, I am now preparing to resign it into the hands of Congress, and to return to that domestic retirement, which, it is well known I left with the greatest reluctance; a Retirement for which I have never ceased to sigh through a long and painful absence, and in which (remote from the noise and trouble of the World) I meditate to pass the remainder of life in a state of undisturbed repose. But before I carry this resolution into effect, I think it a duty incumbent on me to make this my last Official communication…
There are four things, which I humbly conceive are essential to the well being, I may even venture to say, to the existence of the United States, as an Independent Power —
1st An indissoluble Union of the States under one federal Head.
2dly A sacred regard to public Justice.
3dly The adoption of a proper Peace Establishment, and
4thly The prevalence of that pacific and friendly disposition among the People of the United States, which will induce them to forget their local prejudices and policies, to make those mutual concessions which are requisite to the general prosperity, and in some instances, to sacrifice their individual advantages to the interest of the Community.
These are the Pillars on which the glorious Fabric of our Independency and National Character must be supported–Liberty is the Basis and whoever should dare to sap the foundation or overturn the Structure, under whatever specious pretexts he may attempt it, will merit the bitterest execration, and the severest punishment which can be inflicted by his injured Country.
On July 16, Washington in Newburgh wrote the President of Congress a note. I have resolved to wear away a little time (while expecting the definitive treaty) in performing a tour to the northward, as far as Ticonderoga and Crown Point, and perhaps as far up the Mohawk River as Fort Schuyler. I shall leave this place on Friday next, and shall probably be gone about two weeks.
So much of the war just ending had taken place in New York State and also during the war Washington was weaned upon, the French and Indian War. General Washington was afforded a rare opportunity to visit these historic sites in style.
July 18th, Washington began his “tour to the northward” crossing the Hudson at Kinder Hook. Accompanying the General was the Governor of New York George Clinton and some officers. At Albany they were joined by General Philip Schuyler who accompanied the general to his brother, Harmanus’ home in Stillwater, NY. Philip had appointed Harmanus assistant deputy quartermaster-general.
Stories of the town were probably told to Washington about the tradition that Indians crossed here, the expeditionary forces in 1690, 1691, and 1709 met here then and during the French and Indian Wars. Certainly the immigration story years ago of the New England settlers coming “westward” down this main street of Hudson Avenue, was a vital story for Washington to learn about. Current events were mentioned too. He saw where then Colonel Henry Knox and his men brought the cannons from Ticonderoga to Cambridge, Massachusetts early in the war and how the militia under the command of General Gates led to the surprising victory over the British in these “Stillwater’s Hills” known as the Battles of Saratoga, and of Bemis Heights where members of the 13th Albany Militia Regiment helped defeat the British in October 1777.
Heading north, the General stopped at Fort Edward. This was the point on the Hudson River with rapids and falls, and ended water travel westward. Canoes would have to be carried overland from here to the headwaters of Lake Champlain. Sir William Johnson changed the name of the fort from Fort Lyman to Fort Edward in 1755. It was named in honor of Edward, the Duke of York and Albany, the brother of King George III. At this time a large military hospital complex was constructed on the island, presently known as Rogers Island.
Before the Revolutionary War, the fortifications were dismantled. With the fortifications in ruins, Fort Edward was defenseless. If there were a site where the favorable outcome of the American Revolution was foreseen, this area would play the title role. In 1777, the tragic murder of Jane McCrea took place here and many of the area’s settlers finally took up arms against the British and helped to cause Burgoyne’s defeat at Saratoga. The British defeat also sparked thinking in the French Court that maybe, just maybe, these rude colonists had a chance to win their independence. The backing of the American cause in the French court began here. Nearby, at the Battle of Freeman’s Farm, on the Saratoga battlefield today is a monument to the wounded leg of the heroic General Benedict Arnold. Many historians feel that the “seeds of treason” were planted in Arnold’s breast while he recuperated from this wound.
Washington’s party next stayed at the “Red House.” Built by Pat Smith in 1765, the house had sheltered Baroness Riedesel, the wife of Major General Riedesel, the commander of the German soldiers from the Duchy of Brunswick captured at Saratoga. Washington’s party dined there that evening and on the return trip enjoyed breakfast here.
Next they rode to Lake George and rowed up the lake to where Fort Ticonderoga was located. An important fort during both the French and Indian and the American War of Independence, Washington was getting both an idea of the history and the place needed in the future for this fort. His next stop was visiting the ruins at Crown Point where his friend and Masonic brother, Israel Putnam, led the attack so well during the French and Indian War. Putnam was also one of four Major Generals appointed when General Washington took command of the young army.
Heading south towards High Rock Spring later known as “Saratoga Springs,” Washington sampled the mineral water and thought out loud what a fine area in which to settle. After the war Governor Clinton and General Washington proposed to buy the land only to find that the Livingston family had already purchased the key properties.
The party then went south to Schenectady and followed the river to the west deep into “Mohawk” country to Johnstown and visited Johnson Hall – built by Sir William Johnson in 1762. Washington had met Sir William and his infamous son, John – the Tory leader – in Williamsburg before the war.
Bro. William Johnson by John Woilston, Jr. about 1751
Here may be seen the upper chamber in which St. Patrick’s Lodge, F. & A. M. was instituted in 1766, where, with Sir William who was the Provincial Grand Master of New York and now as Master, the Lodge met before the erection of a building of its own. One can still see marks made by the Indian Chief Joseph Brant with his tomahawk on the mahogany stair-rail leading to the second story. What made Brant do these acts of vandalism are told in conflicting traditions: one is that he left the marks for a sign to the Indians not to burn the house; the other that, he was assembled in the upper hall with friendly Indians and hearing the approach of a company of militia, he left in haste and rage, inflicting savage blows in malice. 9 10
Brant was born in 1742 in the area around the banks of the Ohio River. His Indian name was Thayendanegea, meaning ëtwo wagers (sticks) bound together for strength’ or ëhe places two bets’ and as a child he was educated at Moor’s Charity School for Indians in Lebanon, Connecticut, where he learned English and European History. He became a favorite of Sir William Johnson, who had taken Brant’s sister Molly as a mistress, although they were married later after Johnson’s wife died. Johnson was the British Superintendent for Northern Indian Affairs, and became close to the Mohawk people, and enlisted their allegiance in the French and Indian War of 1754-1763, with a young Brant taking up arms for the British.
Bro. Joseph Brant Painted in London by George Romney in 1776
After the war, Brant found himself working as an interpreter for Johnson. He had worked as an interpreter before the war and converted to Christianity, a religion which he embraced. He translated the Prayer Book and the Gospel of Mark into the Mohawk language, other translations included the Acts of the Apostles and a short history of the Bible.
Around 1775, after being appointed secretary to Sir William’s successor, Guy Johnson, Brant received a Captain’s commission in the British Army and set off for England, where he became a Freemason and confirmed his attachment to the British Crown.
Brant was raised in Hiram’s Cliftonian Lodge No. 814 in London, early in 1776, although his association with the Johnson family may have been an influence in his links to Freemasonry. Guy Johnson, whose family had Masonic links, had accompanied Brant on his visit to England. Hiram’s Cliftonian Lodge had been founded in 1771, and during Brant’s visit to the Lodge, it had met at the Falcon in Princes Street, Soho. The Lodge was erased in 1782. Brant’s Masonic apron was, according to legend, personally presented to him by George III.
On his return to America, Brant became a key figure in securing the loyalty of other Iroquois tribes in fighting for the British against the ërebels’, and it was during the war that Joseph Brant entered into Masonic legend. After the surrender of the ërebel’ forces at the Battle of the Cedars on the St. Lawrence River in 1776, Brant famously saved the life of a certain Captain John Mc Kinstry, a charter member of Hudson Lodge No.7 11of New York, who was about to be burned at the stake. Remembering that Brant was a Freemason, and Mc Kinstry, certainly in distress, gave him a Masonic sign – that Brant recognized – which secured Mc Kinstry’s release and subsequent good treatment. McKinstry and Brant remained friends for life. 12
There is a duplicate story that after the Massacre at Cherry Valley, a captured William Stacy, also a Mason, was released in the same “distressful” manner.
In 1795, the proprietors granted the Freemasons property to build a lodge hall in Hudson. The actual year of the lodge founding was 1787 and before there was an actual lodge temple, the members met in a public house. The first meeting was held at John Mc Kinstry’s house where it is noted that he was the first keeper of a public house in Hudson. The lodge was organized as #13 but was incorporated in 1824 as Hudson #7.13 In 1805 Mc Kinstry and Brant together visited the Masonic Lodge in Hudson where Brant was given an excellent reception. However, when Brant toured New York State, the Governor provided an escort for him as he had received numerous threats. Brant’s portrait was hung in the Lodge.
Washington’s group continued to travel by horse back. This certainly showed the fine shape the General was in. A recent weigh-in had him at 209-210 pounds. Arriving at Fort Schuyler or Fort Stanwick, General Washington heard about two men who in particular saved the fort. The siege of the fort began officially on August 3, 1777 when the British sent their first surrender demands to the fort, and would continue through the next 21 days. The two men who contributed so much to saving the fort and the day were again General Herkimer and again General Benedict Arnold.
Washington stopped at Palatine Bridge about three miles southeast of Fort Plain. The party stayed at the home of Peter Wormouth. The house was small and many of the officers crossed the river and stayed at the fort. By this time the local population had heard that His Excellency was travelling through the country side and, respectfully, stayed a proper distance from him. Washington was certainly aware of the attention and came out the next morning and walked in the garden so people could see him. A few of his officers returned then and conducted him to the fort.
Here he met with Colonel James Clyde. On July 17, 1777, by order of the Provincial Congress of New York, two ranger companies had been established under the commands of: John Harper and James Clyde. Clyde distinguished himself during the French and Indian War and again at Ticonderoga. That evening, after dinner, the group left for Cherry Valley and stayed as the guests of Col. Campbell who had recently returned to the Valley and built a new log house.14
The party pressed on over the portage to Wood Creek and then on to Oneida Lake northeast of Syracuse. Turning to head “home,” Washington took a side trip to Otsego Lake as far as Cooperstown. During the war, Washington had given orders to General James Clinton and a force of some 5,000 men to go to Lake Otsego and required them to hack a trail through the dense forest and build a dam at the place where the lake goes into the Susquehanna River. The dam raised the water level four feet. Then embarking on some 200 boats, the troops knocked out the dam and surged down on this high tide to Tioga Point where they joined a second army and defeated the British and Joseph Brant and his Indians. 15 Washington’s love for the study of rivers was shown again.
That night the party returned to Fort Plain, and the next morning began the trip to Albany, reaching there on August 4. Two days later, Washington was back in his headquarters in Newburgh.
Washington returned and was back in his office by Wednesday, August 6, 1783. He wrote a note to James McHenry that read, “After a tour of at least seven hundred and fifty miles, performed in nineteen days, I returned to this place yesterday afternoon, where I found your favor of the 31st ultimo, intimating a resolution of Congress for calling me to Princeton, partly as it would seem, on my own account, and partly for the purpose of giving aid to Congress.”
The Army again was using the “threat” card of a coup over the lack of pay. Congress had fled Philadelphia to Princeton, New Jersey because of the appearance and threat of 300 Pennsylvania soldiers clamoring for their back pay. Washington responded.
When he arrived and tried to get lodgings in Princeton, he ran into unforeseen difficulties. The owners of many of the best homes in Princeton would only agree to rent to Washington for a full year. The only suitable home sat four miles away in Rocky Hill, N.J. and belonged to the widow of John Berrien. Mrs. Margaret Berrien agreed to rent Rockingham to the General, and his entourage, on a monthly basis. On August 23rd of 1783, General Washington—accompanied by his wife, a small guard of 12 to 24 men, and servants—took up residence.
The General would ultimately stay there for almost three months, August into November. Martha Washington accompanied her husband and remained here until October when she left for Mount Vernon “before the weather and roads should get bad.” In October, Congress concluded its business. News of the signing of the Peace Treaty in Paris arrived. Washington prepared his Farewell Address to the Armies of the United States, and legend says he read it to his attending soldiers at Rockingham. It was published in the Philadelphia papers on the 2nd of November. General Knox would get to read the letter to the Newburgh troops.
Life was relaxing here. Rockingham’s had varied orchards and spacious grounds and Washington entertained frequently. Along with individual visitors including dignitaries Jefferson, Madison and Paine, he hosted at least one party with over two hundred guests. 16
Rockingham is believed to tbe the second-oldest housein the Millstone river Valley, its original rooms built between 1702 and 1710
On September 5th, 1783, Lieutenant Bezaleel Howe replaced Captain William Colfax who was in charge of the Commander in Chief’s Guard. The rest of the members of the Guard were discharged. To replace them, a group of soldiers from the New Hampshire Continental Line was assigned. The following month, on October 10th, 1783, Bezaleel was promoted to Captain. He was placed in command of the newly organized detachment of the Guards that was to escort General Washington’s baggage and records to Mount Vernon – an important event inasmuch as it was the final mission of the Commander-in-Chief Guards and was another signal that the eight years of war was really at an end.
Captain Howe selected twelve guardsmen to accomplish this task, the last mission of the Guard. These guardsmen were: 1st Sergeant Nehemiah Stratton, 1st Corporal Asa Reddington; Corporal Joel Holt, who served as wagon master, Privates: Stephen Ames, William Batchelder, James Blair, Ebenezer Coston, Abraham Currier, William Ferguson, David Morrison, Benjamin Pierce and Luther Smith.
Howe and his detachment left Rocky Hill, New Jersey the next day, Monday. They arrived in Philadelphia on Tuesday Evening of November 11th. The next day they left Philadelphia for Mount Vernon. They passed through Chester, Wilmington, Baltimore, Bladensburg, Georgetown and Alexandria and then Mount Vernon. According to Corporal Asa Redington, the detachment of Guards marched back to West Point, New York, a distance of 295 miles. Upon their return they crossed the Hudson River to Constitution Island where they were honorably discharged from the Continental Army on December 20th, 1783. 17
Washington wrote to Sir Guy Carleton on November 6th to ask again “… that you will be so obliging as to inform me of the particular time, or even the certain day, if possible when this event will happen.”
On November 10th, General Washington left Rocky Hill for West Point.
Brigadier General Huntington, commanding at West Point, on April 16th had written General Washington and pointed out the importance of having a strong base remaining at West Point. The following day, in a confidential letter, Gov. Clinton from Poughkeepsie echoed Huntington’s note and added that it might not be a bad idea to have – in each state – a training ground for young soldiers.
On his way to visit the fortifications at West Point and to get ready for the imminent march into New York City, he was caught in a snow storm and trapped for three days at the familiar De Wint house. On the 14th he finally arrives at West Point. Since the troops had been dismissed, and the New Windsor Cantonment gone, the remaining troops were gathered at West Point under the command of General Knox. Washington went to be with them to assure the plans for the entry into New York City were underway and to look at the progress of the proposed magazines and arsenal. On the 16th Garrison Orders from West Point read that the evacuation of New York City will be on the 22d instant, and that His Excellency proposes to celebrate the Peace at that place, on Monday, the first day of December next, by a display of Fire Works and Illuminations, which were intended to have been exhibited at this post, or such of them as have not been injured by time, and can be removed. 19
Washington sent a note again to Congress including Sir Guy’s note of November 12th. Sir Guy’s note read, I propose to relinquish the posts at Kingsbridge, and as far as McGowans Pass inclusive on this Island, on the 21st instant; to resign the possession of Herrick’s and Hempstead with all to the eastward on Long Island, on the same day; and, if possible to give up this city with Brooklyn, on the day following; and Paulus Hook, Dennis’s, and Staten Island, as soon after as may be practical.
The date was set and agreed upon as November 22, 1783.
Washington stays at West Point until the 19th and began his return to New York City. He was met by Governor Clinton, Lt. Governor Van Cortlandt, Col. Benson and Col. Campbell and proceeded together with General Cortlandt and lodged at Edward Covenhoven’s in Tarrytown where he dined with General Lewis Morris.
He stopped Friday morning at the home of the late Mrs. Francis Jay Van Cortlandt and her oldest son, James, the evening of the 20th. James had married Elizabeth Cuyler (1731-1815) and moved into the Van Cortlandt House in 1754 and Mrs. Van Cortland lived with the couple until her death in 1780. During James Van Cortlandt’s occupation, the turbulent years of the American Revolution brought troops to lower Yonkers and threatened the security of local residents and their property. The house hosted numerous military encampments by both the Americans and the British. General Washington set up headquarters in the there before in 1776 and in this visit at the very end of his war. The next day, November 21, General Washington’s party was joined by General or Governor Clinton’s staff. That night they stayed at the widow Day’s tavern where we held a council. (Near the corner of the present One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street and Eighth Avenue.) Final details of the order of receiving their Excellencies Governor Clinton and General Washington beg leave that the troops under the command of General Major-General Knox will take possession of the city at the hour agreed on, Tuesday next. 20
Our pickets are advanced to Dove Tavern, five miles from the city read an article in the Pennsylvania Journal, November 29, 1783.
The order of procession is to be — A party of Horse will precede their Excellencies and be on their flanks – after the General and Governor, will follow the Lieutenant Governor and Members of the Council for the temporary Government of the Southern Parts of the State – The Gentlemen on Horse-back, eight in Front – those on Foot, in the Rear of the Horse, in like Manner. Their Excellencies, after passing down Queen-Street, and the Lines of Troops up the Broad-way, will a-light at Caps’s Tavern. The Committee hope to see their Fellow-Citizens, conduct themselves with Decency and Decorum on this joyful occasion. 21
The date for the evacuation of New York had been set for November 22nd. Then the rains began and the most important date in New York City and the American Revolution was called and postponed until November 25! 22
The small body of troops from West Point had moved down at a most leisurely pace and encamped at McGowan’s Pass, within and near the present northeastern entrance to Central Park. The group consisted of old soldiers, “bronzed and scarred,” “representatives of the protracted struggle.” The troops were the Massachusetts line, the New York artillery, the Second Regiment commanded by Colonel Joseph Vose – who had been in service since the beginning of the war – and a composite corps from the four West Point regiments led by Lieutenant Colonel William Hull, another well know veteran and comprised the eight hundred marching men. They were commanded by Brevet Brigadier General Henry Jackson of Boston. The chief officer remaining in service was Major General Henry Knox whom Washington had put in “general” charge.
Harper’s Monthly Magazine in the centennial issue in 1883 describes the scene: The element of splendor which often distinguished a New York gathering was this time wanting. Still the throng could not have been other than striking in appearance. In almost any state of dilapidation the colonial dress will set off the figure like a picture; in a crowd the effect would be enhanced. In spite of the general weather-worn aspect one may imagine the display of powdered wigs, of profuse and snow-white ruffles, of polished buttons, of silver buckles, of ladies’ head-gear and flowing dresses, and of venerable silks of every hue, that marked the occasion. Include the cocked hat, the high-collared and continuous coat, and the vest that rivaled it, and still further brighten the scene with Continental uniforms, as well as with fragments of British and Hessian gorgeousness decorating the colored servant – and we have a sightlines and variety which no modern crowd presents. But that particular crowd cared very little how it looked. Its impoverishment was an honor to its patriotism. It could only feel the gladness of the hour. It welcomed the troops with plumes and garlands all along the route. The soldiers, too, march along with the conscious air of victors and protectors. 23
The troops marched down Queen Street, wheeled onto Wall Street and then continued down to Broadway past the site of the statue of the Earl of Chatham. Can you imagine the feeling of the soldiers looking up where the statue mutilated by the British soldiers of the American respected Earl of Chatham (William Pitt) once stood and remembering his prophetic words, “You can not conquer America!” 24
As the military parade turned on Broadway, they halted opposite Cape’s Tavern, at the northeast corner of Rector Street, where it was to receive the civic procession. Down at the Battery the formal act of occupation was to take place. Upon the military halting, one company of light infantry and another company of artillery were detached with orders to march down Broadway to Fort George – The Battery), take possession of the works, hoist the American colors on the flag-staff and fire a salute of thirteen guns.
This was done with the assistance of a member of the crowd who shimmed up the greased flag pole, tore down the British flag (which had been nailed to the staff) and replaced it with the American colors.
Ayoung hero came to the rescue. John Van Arsdale, from Goshen, NY is known in history for his feat of climbing the flag-staff and pulling down the English colors. Van Arsdale had served throughout the war, first as a sergeant and then as a captain. He suffered during the expedition against Quebec, was wounded and taken prisoner at the capture of Fort Montgomery and Fort Clinton. He spent months in the Sugar-house prison and in the hold of a British prison ship. Recently he had fought against the Indians. He was just the man at the right time to strike this final blow for Amerian Independence. Van Arsdale had the idea of hammereing nails into the pole, had begun his climb and then finally someone found a long ladder.
By three o’clock Knox had taken formal possession of Fort George to the cheers of thousands. General Washington and his party then took quarters at the spacious Fraunces’ Tavern. Governor Clinton planned a party for that evening.
And the British? The British had some 6,000 troops to be removed. The fleet in the harbor was under the command of Admiral Robert Digby. Marching ahead of the Americans they turned at Pearl Street, boarded their ships moored on the East River and sailed towards the open sea. Before the “Narrows” a cannon shot was fired towards Staten Island that fell short in the water. Was it a final wave good-bye or a last thumbing of the nose? Beside some administrative types on Staten Island, the British were gone!
Once the British had finally left, New York City could be rebuilt, and the building of the United States could begin. Washington, too, had a few more goodbyes’ to say and then he was on his way home to his beloved Mount Vernon and he hoped a life as a successful plantation owner.
History — and America — had other plans for him.
1 The American Scrap Book: The Golden Harvest of Thought and Achievement, from the NY Times, McKellar & Platts, Inc, 1929, p. 111.
2. Thomas W. Smith “The Slave in Canada,” “Collections of the Nova Scotia Historical Society, X. (1896-98), p. 22, n. 1
3. John C. Fitzpatrick, Editor. The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources 1745-1799, Vol. 26, January 1, 1783-June 10, 1783. Washington DC: United States Government Printing Office.
5. Washington’s Expense Account
7. Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon, at http://freemasonry.bcy.ca/biography/carleton_g/guy_carleton.html
8. “Itinerary of General Washington from June 15, 1775 to December 23, 1783,” William S. Baker, 1892. Reprinted by Hunterdon House 1970.
9. Johnson Hall, State Historic Site at http://www.oldfortjohnson.org/jhallfolder/jhall.html
10. Leaflets of Masonic biography, or, Sketches of eminent freemasons, Cornelius Mooreat http://worldcat.org/wcpa/oclc/11083836
11. Chancellor Robert R. Livingston Masonic Library of Grand Lodge Collection at http://126.96.36.199:81/index.php
12. MQ Magazine, October 2007 issue 23 at http://www.mqmagazine.co.uk/site/index.php
13. “Historical Sketches of Hudson embracing the Settlement of the City, etc”, Stephen P. Miller, Bryan and Webb Printers, Hudson, NY, 1862, p. 85.
14. George Washington in New York: Allan Boudreau and Alexander Bleimann: 1987. pgs. 66 – 70.
15. Cooperstown New York: America’s Village at http://www.baseballhalloffame.org/news/download/americas_village.PDF
16. Rockingham State Historic Site, Kingston, New Jersey at http://www.rockingham.net/history.html
17. The Men of the Commander-in-Chief Guards Captain Bezaleel Howe, Donald N. Moran at http://www.revolutionarywararchives.org/howebezaleel.html
18. Magazine of American History, v.109.
19. Itinerary Of General Washington June 15, 1775 to December 23, 1783, William Spohn Baker, >Lambertville, N. J., Hunterdon House 1970, c1892, p. 310-311.
20 Van Cortland House Museum at http://www.vancortlandthouse.org/history
21. Itinerary of Washington, p. 312.
22. Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, Evacuation of New York By the British, 1783. November 1883, p. 914.
23. Ibid., p. 919.
24. The Right Honorable William Pitt, the Earl of Chatham, was a favorite of the Americans and in public testimony to his memory especially that of repealing the Stamp Act, in 1770, a marble statue was shipped to America and displayed. After the Americans broke up George III’s statue with axes, and when the British took control of NYC they knocked Pitt’s statue down breaking off the head. For years the broken statue remained in the area as witness to the destruction of NYC.
A Journal of People, Issues, and Events in 18th Century America
|Vol. VIII No. 2||Summer/Fall 2008|