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Chapter 42

DEPARTURE FROM PHILADELPHIA--ANECDOTES OF GENERAL SCHUYLER--OF LEE-- TIDINGS OF BUNKER HILL--MILITARY COUNCILS--POPULATION OF NEW YORK--THE JOHNSON FAMILY--GOVERNOR TRYON--ARRIVAL AT NEW YORK--MILITARY INSTRUCTIONS TO SCHUYLER--ARRIVAL AT THE CAMP.


In a preceding chapter we left Washington preparing to depart from Philadelphia for the army before Boston. He set out on horseback on the 21st of June, having for military companions of his journey Major-generals Lee and Schuyler, and being accompanied for a distance by several private friends. As an escort he had a "gentleman troop" of Philadelphia, commanded by Captain Markoe; the whole formed a brilliant cavalcade.

General Schuyler was a man eminently calculated to sympathize with Washington in all his patriotic views and feelings, and became one of his most faithful coadjutors. Sprung from one of the earliest and most respectable Dutch families which colonized New York, all his interests and affections were identified with the country. He had received a good education; applied himself at an early age to the exact sciences, and became versed in finance, military engineering, and political economy. He was one of those native born soldiers who had acquired experience in that American school of arms, the old French war. When but twenty-two years of age he commanded a company of New York levies under Sir William Johnson, of Mohawk renown, which gave him an early opportunity of becoming acquainted with the Indian tribes, their country and their policy. In 1758 he was in Abercrombie's expedition against Ticonderoga, accompanying Lord Viscount Howe as chief of the commissariat department; a post well qualified to give him experience in the business part of war. When that gallant young nobleman fell on the banks of Lake George, Schuyler conveyed his corpse back to Albany and attended to his honorable obsequies. Since the close of the French war he had served his country in various civil stations, and been one of the most zealous and eloquent vindicators of colonial rights. He was one of the "glorious minority" of the New York General Assembly; George Clinton, Colonel Woodhull, Colonel Philip Livingston and others; who, when that body was timid and wavering, battled nobly against British influence and oppression. His last stand had been recently as a delegate to Congress, where he had served with Washington on the committee to prepare rules and regulations for the army, and where the latter had witnessed his judgment, activity, practical science, and sincere devotion to the cause.

Many things concurred to produce perfect harmony of operation between these distinguished men. They were nearly of the same age, Schuyler being one year the youngest. Both were men of agricultural, as well as military tastes. Both were men of property, living at their ease in little rural paradises; Washington on the grove-clad heights of Mount Vernon, Schuyler on the pastoral banks of the upper Hudson, where he had a noble estate at Saratoga, inherited from an uncle; and the old family mansion, near the city of Albany, half hid among ancestral trees. Yet both were exiling themselves from these happy abodes, and putting life and fortune at hazard in the service of their country.

Schuyler and Lee had early military recollections to draw them together. Both had served under Abercrombie in the expedition against Ticonderoga. There was some part of Lee's conduct in that expedition which both he and Schuyler might deem it expedient at this moment to forget. Lee was at that time a young captain, naturally presumptuous, and flushed with the arrogance of military power. On his march along the banks of the Hudson, he acted as if in a conquered country, impressing horses and oxen, and seizing upon supplies, without exhibiting any proper warrant. It was enough for him, "they were necessary for the service of his troops." Should any one question his right, the reply was a volley of execrations.

Among those who experienced this unsoldierly treatment was Mrs. Schuyler, the aunt of the general; a lady of aristocratical station, revered throughout her neighborhood. Her cattle were impressed, herself insulted. She had her revenge. After the unfortunate affair at Ticonderoga, a number of the wounded were brought down along the Hudson to the Schuyler mansion. Lee was among the number. The high-minded mistress of the house never alluded to his past conduct. He was received like his brother officers with the kindest sympathy. Sheets and tablecloths were torn up to serve as bandages. Every thing was done to alleviate their sufferings. Lee's cynic heart was conquered. "He swore in his vehement manner that he was sure there would be a place reserved for Mrs. Schuyler in heaven, though no other woman should be there, and that he should wish for nothing better than to share her final destiny!"

[Footnote: Memoirs of an American Lady (Mrs. Grant, of Laggan), vol. ii., chap. ix.]

Seventeen years had since elapsed, and Lee and the nephew of Mrs. Schuyler were again allied in military service, but under a different banner; and recollections of past times must have given peculiar interest to their present intercourse. In fact, the journey of Washington with his associate generals, experienced like him in the wild expeditions of the old French war, was a revival of early campaigning feelings.

They had scarcely proceeded twenty miles from Philadelphia when they were met by a courier, spurring with all speed, bearing despatches from the army to Congress, communicating tidings of the battle of Bunker's Hill. Washington eagerly inquired particulars; above all, how acted the militia? When told that they stood their ground bravely; sustained the enemy's fire--reserved their own until at close quarters, and then delivered it with deadly effect; it seemed as if a weight of doubt and solicitude were lifted from his heart. "The liberties of the country are safe!" exclaimed he.

The news of the battle of Bunker's Hill had startled the whole country; and this clattering cavalcade, escorting the commander-in-chief to the army, was the gaze and wonder of every town and village.

The journey may be said to have been a continual council of war between Washington and the two generals. Even the contrast in character of the two latter made them regard questions from different points of view. Schuyler, a warm-hearted patriot, with every thing staked on the cause; Lee, a soldier of fortune, indifferent to the ties of home and country, drawing his sword without enthusiasm; more through resentment against a government which had disappointed him, than zeal for liberty or for colonial rights.

One of the most frequent subjects of conversation was the province of New York. Its power and position rendered it the great link of the confederacy; what measures were necessary for its defence, and most calculated to secure its adherence to the cause? A lingering attachment to the crown, kept up by the influence of British merchants, and military and civil functionaries in royal pay, had rendered it slow in coming into the colonial compact; and it was only on the contemptuous dismissal of their statement of grievances, unheard, that its people had thrown off their allegiance, as much in sorrow as in anger.

No person was better fitted to give an account of the interior of New York than General Schuyler; and the hawk-eyed Lee during a recent sojourn had made its capital somewhat of a study; but there was much yet for both of them to learn.

The population of New York was more varied in its elements than that of almost any other of the provinces, and had to be cautiously studied. The New Yorkers were of a mixed origin, and stamped with the peculiarities of their respective ancestors. The descendants of the old Dutch and Huguenot families, the earliest settlers, were still among the soundest and best of the population. They inherited the love of liberty, civil and religious, of their forefathers, and were those who stood foremost in the present struggle for popular rights. Such were the Jays, the Bensons, the Beekmans, the Hoffmans, the Van Hornes, the Roosevelts, the Duyckinks, the Pintards, the Yateses, and others whose names figure in the patriotic documents of the day. Some of them, doubtless, cherished a remembrance of the time when their forefathers were lords of the land, and felt an innate propensity to join in resistance to the government by which their supremacy had been overturned. A great proportion of the more modern families, dating from the downfall of the Dutch government in 1664, were English and Scotch, and among these were many loyal adherents to the crown. Then there was a mixture of the whole, produced by the intermarriages of upwards of a century, which partook of every shade of character and sentiment. The operations of foreign commerce, and the regular communications with the mother country through packets and ships of war, kept these elements in constant action, and contributed to produce that mercurial temperament, that fondness for excitement, and proneness to pleasure, which distinguished them from their neighbors on either side--the austere Puritans of New England, and the quiet "Friends" of Pennsylvania.

There was a power, too, of a formidable kind within the interior of the province, which was an object of much solicitude. This was the "Johnson Family." We have repeatedly had occasion to speak of Sir William Johnson, his majesty's general agent for Indian affairs, of his great wealth, and his almost sovereign sway over the Six Nations. He had originally received that appointment through the influence of the Schuyler family. Both Generals Schuyler and Lee, when young men, had campaigned with him; and it was among the Mohawk warriors, who rallied under his standard, that Lee had beheld his vaunted models of good-breeding.

In the recent difficulties between the crown and colonies, Sir William had naturally been in favor of the government which had enriched and honored him, but he had viewed with deep concern the acts of Parliament which were goading the colonists to armed resistance. In the height of his solicitude, he received despatches ordering him, in case of hostilities, to enlist the Indians in the cause of government. To the agitation of feelings produced by these orders many have attributed a stroke of apoplexy, of which he died, on the 11th of July, 1774, about a year before the time of which we are treating.

His son and heir, Sir John Johnson, and his sons-in-law, Colonel Guy Johnson and Colonel Claus, felt none of the reluctance of Sir William to use harsh measures in support of royalty. They lived in a degree of rude feudal style in stone mansions capable of defence, situated on the Mohawk River and in its vicinity; they had many Scottish Highlanders for tenants; and among their adherents were violent men, such as the Butlers of Tryon County, and Brant, the Mohawk sachem, since famous in Indian warfare. They had recently gone about with armed retainers, overawing and breaking up patriotic assemblages, and it was known they could at any time bring a force of warriors in the field.

Recent accounts stated that Sir John was fortifying the old family hall at Johnstown with swivels, and had a hundred and fifty Roman Catholic Highlanders quartered in and about it, all armed and ready to obey his orders.

Colonel Guy Johnson, however, was the most active and zealous of the family. Pretending to apprehend a design on the part of the New England people to surprise and carry him off, he fortified his stone mansion on the Mohawk, called Guy's Park, and assembled there a part of his militia regiment, and other of his adherents, to the number of five hundred. He held a great Indian council there, likewise, in which the chiefs of the Six Nations recalled the friendship and good deeds of the late Sir William Johnson, and avowed their determination to stand by and defend every branch of his family.

As yet it was uncertain whether Colonel Guy really intended to take an open part in the appeal to arms. Should he do so, he would carry with him a great force of the native tribes, and might almost domineer over the frontier.

Tryon, the governor of New York, was at present absent in England, having been called home by the ministry to give an account of the affairs of the province, and to receive instructions for its management. He was a tory in heart, and had been a zealous opponent of all colonial movements, and his talents and address gave him great influence over an important part of the community. Should he return with hostile instructions, and should he and the Johnsons co-operate, the one controlling the bay and harbor of New York and the waters of the Hudson by means of ships and land forces; the others overrunning the valley of the Mohawk and the regions beyond Albany with savage hordes, this great central province might be wrested from the confederacy, and all intercourse broken off between the eastern and southern colonies.

All these circumstances and considerations, many of which came under discussion in the course of this military journey, rendered the command of New York a post of especial trust and importance, and determined Washington to confide it to General Schuyler. He was peculiarly fitted for it by his military talents, his intimate knowledge of the province and its concerns, especially what related to the upper parts of it, and his experience in Indian affairs.

At Newark, in the Jerseys, Washington was met on the 25th by a committee of the provincial Congress, sent to conduct him to the city. The Congress was in a perplexity. It had in a manner usurped and exercised the powers of Governor Tryon during his absence, while at the same time it professed allegiance to the crown which had appointed him. He was now in the harbor, just arrived from England, and hourly expected to land. Washington, too, was approaching. How were these double claims to ceremonious respect happening at the same time to be managed?

In this dilemma a regiment of militia was turned out, and the colonel instructed to pay military honors to whichever of the distinguished functionaries should first arrive. Washington was earlier than the governor by several hours, and received those honors. Peter Van Burgh Livingston, president of the New York Congress, next delivered a congratulatory address, the latter part of which evinces the cautious reserve with which, in these revolutionary times, military power was intrusted to an individual:--

"Confiding in you, sir, and in the worthy generals immediately under your command, we have the most flattering hopes of success in the glorious struggle for American liberty, and the fullest assurances that whenever this important contest shall be decided by that fondest wish of each American soul, an accommodation with our mother country, you will cheerfully resign the important deposit committed into your hands, and reassume the character of our worthiest citizen."

The following was Washington's reply, in behalf of himself and his generals, to this part of the address.

"As to the fatal, but necessary operations of war, when we assumed the soldier, we did not lay aside the citizen; and we shall most sincerely rejoice with you in that happy hour, when the establishment of American liberty on the most firm and solid foundations, shall enable us to return to our private stations, in the bosom of a free, peaceful, and happy country."

The landing of Governor Tryon took place about eight o'clock in the evening. The military honors were repeated; he was received with great respect by the mayor and common council, and transports of loyalty by those devoted to the crown. It was unknown what instructions he had received from the ministry, but it was rumored that a large force would soon arrive from England, subject to his directions. At this very moment a ship of war, the Asia, lay anchored opposite the city; its grim batteries bearing upon it, greatly to the disquiet of the faint-hearted among its inhabitants.

In this situation of affairs Washington was happy to leave such an efficient person as General Schuyler in command of the place. According to his instructions, the latter was to make returns once a month, and oftener, should circumstances require it, to Washington, as commander-in-chief, and to the Continental Congress, of the forces under him, and the state of his supplies; and to send the earliest advices of all events of importance. He was to keep a wary eye on Colonel Guy Johnson, and to counteract any prejudicial influence he might exercise over the Indians. With respect to Governor Tryon, Washington hinted at a bold and decided line of conduct. "If forcible measures are judged necessary respecting the person of the governor, I should have no difficulty in ordering them, if the Continental Congress were not sitting; but as that is the case, and the seizing of a governor quite a new thing, I must refer you to that body for direction."

Had Congress thought proper to direct such a measure, Schuyler certainly would have been the man to execute it.

At New York, Washington had learned all the details of the battle of Bunker's Hill; they quickened his impatience to arrive at the camp. He departed, therefore, on the 26th, accompanied by General Lee, and escorted as far as Kingsbridge, the termination of New York Island, by Markoe's Philadelphia light horse, and several companies of militia.

In the mean time the provincial Congress of Massachusetts, then in session at Watertown, had made arrangements for the expected arrival of Washington. According to a resolve of that body, the president's house in Cambridge, excepting one room reserved by the president for his own use, was to be taken, cleared, prepared, and furnished for the reception of the Commander-in-Chief and General Lee. The Congress had likewise sent on a deputation which met Washington at Springfield, on the frontiers of the province, and provided escorts and accommodations for him along the road. Thus honorably attended from town to town, and escorted by volunteer companies and cavalcades of gentlemen, he arrived at Watertown on the 2d of July, where he was greeted by Congress with a congratulatory address, in which, however, was frankly stated the undisciplined state of the army he was summoned to command. An address of cordial welcome was likewise made to General Lee.

The ceremony over, Washington was again in the saddle; and, escorted by a troop of light horse and a cavalcade of citizens, proceeded to the head-quarters provided for him at Cambridge, three miles distant. As he entered the confines of the camp the shouts of the multitude and the thundering of artillery gave note to the enemy beleaguered in Boston of his arrival.

His military reputation had preceded him and excited great expectations. They were not disappointed. His personal appearance, notwithstanding the dust of travel, was calculated to captivate the public eye. As he rode through the camp, amidst a throng of officers, he was the admiration of the soldiery and of a curious throng collected from the surrounding country. Happy was the countryman who could get a full view of him to carry home an account of it to his neighbors. "I have been much gratified this day with a view of General Washington," writes a contemporary chronicler, "His excellency was on horseback, in company with several military gentlemen. It was not difficult to distinguish him from all others. He is tall and well-proportioned, and his personal appearance truly noble and majestic."

[Footnote: Thacher.--Military Journal.]

The fair sex were still more enthusiastic in their admiration, if we may judge from the following passage of a letter written by the intelligent and accomplished wife of John Adams to her husband: "Dignity, ease, and complacency, the gentleman and the soldier, look agreeably blended in him. Modesty marks every line and feature of his face. Those lines of Dryden instantly occurred to me:


  'Mark his majestic fabric! He's a temple
  Sacred by birth, and built by hands divine;
  His soul's the deity that lodges there;
  Nor is the pile unworthy of the God.'"


With Washington, modest at all times, there was no false excitement on the present occasion; nothing to call forth emotions of self-glorification. The honors and congratulations with which he was received, the acclamations of the public, the cheerings of the army, only told him how much was expected from him; and when he looked round upon the raw and rustic levies he was to command, "a mixed multitude of people, under very little discipline, order, or government," scattered in rough encampments about hill and dale, beleaguering a city garrisoned by veteran troops, with ships of war anchored about its harbor, and strong outposts guarding it, he felt the awful responsibility of his situation, and the complicated and stupendous task before him. He spoke of it, however, not despondingly nor boastfully and with defiance; but with that solemn and sedate resolution, and that hopeful reliance on Supreme Goodness, which belonged to his magnanimous nature. The cause of his country, he observed, had called him to an active and dangerous duty, but he trusted that Divine Providence, which wisely orders the affairs of men, would enable him to discharge it with fidelity and success.

[Footnote: Letter to Governor Trumbull.--Sparks, iii., 31.]


THE END of VOLUME I.

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Washington Irving