Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Letter from the Forage War Sheds Light on a Forgotten Skirmish

I recently came upon a letter in the Collections of the Connecticut Historical Society written by New Jersey Brigadier General William Maxwell after a one of the many skirmishes of the so-called Forage War during the American Revolution.  The action took place on January 23, 1777 near Woodbridge, New Jersey, between Continental (and quite possibly militia forces) and a column of wagons escorted by two British regiments.  In his letter, transcribed by me below, General Maxwell chastises a Colonel Potter for not taking part in the skirmish:

"Westfield January 25th, 1777

Dear Colonel

I am really sorry that you with your Troops had not a share in the honour of the 23d for the enemy has got a very severe rub; their two Colo. & Commanders one killed the other severely wounded, 5 men left in one house and seven in another to our mercy, and one dead one left they could find, alto the wounded that could march did it; their ammunition wagons and chairs was stowed full as they could hold and we had not a man wounded and all performed with less than 200 men.  200 men of ours never came up to the action.  Had they come up we must have made them all prisoners.

The enemy is expected up today from Amboy.  I hope you with your troops will after breakfast to day, or a soon as you receive this, will proceed to Colo. Buckner’s Quarters.  I hope to Joyn (sic) you myself and if they come between us and Matesching Meeting House we will try to give them an uneasy passage.

I am Dear Colo. your most Humble servant

Wm Maxwell"
Maxwell, though a New Jersey Continental General, was at this time coordinating with both state troops from the New Jersey militia and with Continental Army forces from other states.  It was a time of great confusion, as East Jersey was still occupied by the Crown Forces and most Continental Army units were recruiting and reforming after the Battles of Trenton and Princeton.  The Colonel Buckner referenced in Maxwell's letter was Mordecai Buckner of the 6th Virginia Regiment.    Colonel David Potter, the recipient of Maxwell's letter, was, commander of the 2nd Battalion of Cumberland County (NJ) Militia, now serving as state troops far from their homes in southern New Jersey.

Potter's absence from the fight was regrettable, but Buckner's was criminal.

 In a letter to John Hancock on January 26th, 1777, Washington fails to mention Maxwell at all in connection with this skirmish, and gives credit to Buckner's Major (soon to be Lt. Colonel) Richard Parker for leading the advance while Buckner failed to come up in support.

   "On the 23d., a party of 400 of our Men under Col Buckner fell in with two Regiments of the Enemy, conveying a Number of Waggons from Brunswick to Amboy. Our advanced party under Colo. Parker engaged them with great Bravery, upwards of twenty Minutes, during which time the Colo Commandant was killed and the second in Command Mortally wounded. The people living near the Field of Action, say, their killed and wounded were considerable. We only lost two men who were made prisoners. Had Col Buckner come up with the main body, Colo. Parker and the other Officers think we should have put them to the rout, as their confusion was very great, and their ground disadvantageous. I have ordered Buckner under Arrest and shall bring him to tryal, to answer for so extraordinary a piece of Conduct."

Washington wrote to New Jersey Governor William Livingston on February 3, 1777, in which he provided a further account of the fight at Woodbridge and again failed to mention Maxwell.

"we have had two Skirmishes with large Bodies of the Enemy in which they have little to Boast of and would have had less, had not a Colo. of ours behaved Ill in each for which they are now under Arrest. In the first, two of their Regiments were opposed by our advanced Party of 160 Men, who behaved well, and if supported by the Main Body of about 260. under command of Colo. Buckner, would have done."

Buckner requested the right to resign his commission, but Washington insisted on a court martial:

    "Sir: It is not in my power to comply with your request on three Accounts, yourself, the Country at large, and the State you come from, Were the matter to remain undetermined, your Reputation must be ruined; at all events, every Officer would have reason to expect equal favor, and I shall be justly taxed with partiality. Would you reflect on the Impropriety of your Petition, you would certainly withdraw it. Resolved as I am to reward merit, and punish demerit, I shall refer your case to the judgment of a Court Martial, and shall be happy to hear that it acquits you. I am, etc."Buckner was tried at a Court Martial convened in Chatham, New Jersey under Major General Arthur St. Clair, though Washington's letters record that "Colo Buckner of the 6th Virginia Regiment who was under Arrest upon a charge of cowardice, broke his parole and went over to Bucks County, I suppose with an intent to make his Escape, but I dispatched a Troop of light Horse after him, who brought him back yesterday, and he is to take his tryal on Friday."  he was duly cashiered on February 9th having been found guilty of "Shamefully Misbehaving before the Enemy, in the Action of the 23rd. of Jan'y last" and of "Quitting his post and party in time of engagement."

Lt. Colonel Richard Parker clearly distinguished himself at the Woodbridge fight, and most contemporary accounts credit Parker with the victory.  Based on his letter to Colonel Potter, one might easily assume that Maxwell had been present, but a letter from Washington to Joseph Reed on January 24th strongly suggests he was unable to take part because his militia forces failed to arrive as ordered:

"Had there not been some mistake in point of time for marching the several brigades that were ordered upon that service, and particularly in delivering an order to General Varnum, I believe the rear of General Howe’s troops might have been a little rougher handled than they were, for if an express who went to General Maxwell the evening before had reached him in time to co-operate upon the enemy’s flank, for which purpose he was sent down the day before with a respectable force, very good consequences might have resulted from it; however, it is too late to remedy these mistakes"

It certainly sounds as if Maxwell had been meant to take part in the action of the 23rd but the absence of Potter's militia left only Parker to harass the enemy column and wagons.   Parker would serve under Maxwell once more later that year during the Brandywine campaign as part of his provisional light infantry corps. 

The identity of the two British foraging units they engaged near Woodbridge requires some sleuthing to establish based on fragmentary and contradictory records.   Rivington's New York Gazette and Weekly Mercury reported guardedly in its January 27, 1777 issue:

"A Skirmish has happened in the Jerseys between a foraging Party of the King's Troops and a Large Body of the rebels, in which it is reported, we have lost several waggons, but no authentic Particulars are come to hand."
Robert Prescott (1726 - 1815)

I am indebted to Todd Braisted who located an "Extract of a Letter from a Gentleman of Character at Morris-Town, to his Friend here [Boston] dated Jan. 30" printed The Freeman's Journal or New-Hampshire Gazette of Portsmouth, February 25, 1777.  This letter identifies the British units involved as the 28th and 37th Regiments, and is probably the source for this same information that appears in an 1810  Massachusetts Historical Society publication.  Based on theses sources, about 600 royalists formed the wagon escort moving from Brunswick to Amboy that was attacked on January 23rd near Woodbridge.   Both claim that a "Colonel Preston" was killed, though according to Todd there was no such British Colonel Preston in America.  Yet Maxwell's own letter says the regiments' "two Colo. & Commanders" were casualties, with one a fatality.

The commander of the 28th Regiment at this time was Lt. Colonel Robert Prescott, whose name is quite similar to Preston.  He survived the war, however, and I have not located any account of his wounding.   After the war went on to be a Major General by 1789 and ultimately was Governor-in-Chief of British North America in 1796.

As for the 37th Regiment, it was stationed in Rhode Island on January 23, 1777 so it is unlikely that it was the other British unit that took part in the fight near Woodbridge, NJ.  One can only surmise that someone confused the unit designation, perhaps mistaking the 33rd Regiment of foot, for example, which was based at that time in Amboy, New Jersey under Lt. Colonel James Webster, for the 37th.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Wounded Warriors: New Jersey Continental Army Officers Describe their Injuries

Revolutionary War officers were expected to lead from the front and to demonstrate personal courage and unreproachable valor on the battlefield.  During the course of the war, a significant number of the officers in the New Jersey Line were wounded or killed in action.  Some of those who survived their injuries left first-hand accounts of their experiences, documented in their contemporary correspondence, memoirs and applications for pensions and other considerations based on wartime disabilities.

Maj. Joseph Bloomfield of 3rd NJ Regiment was wounded in the arm at Brandywine.  A letter from him written to Colonel Elias Dayton of October 11th, 1777 while at Pitts Grove, Salem County, NJ survives in the Gilder Lehrman Collection (#: GLC01450.455).  

Bloomfield told Dayton that this letter was his first opportunity to write since the battle nearly a month before, but that he hoped to rejoin Dayton once he was able to ride without pain.  His escape from Brandywine and convalescence had proved quite an ordeal for the young Major, who recounted that he had been unable to ride to Chester, Pennsylvania during the retreat from Brandywine due to loss of blood, and crossed the Delaware River at Marcus Hook to avoid being captured.

"...My wound was not dressed till late Saturday night, being 52 hours after I received it, 23 hours of the time it bled, which with the Inflamation of my arm brought on a violent fever that - lasted fourteen days, when the swelling subsided & the wound began to heal - [illegible] 2d ins: 12,00 of the Enemy came over to the Jerseys in order to take Billingsport, the motley crew of militia to the amot. of 350 [inserted: under new castle] pretended to make a stand about 50 yards from Dr. Otto’s where I then lay, but, whilst I was preparing to move my quarters, the militia retreated (Helter - Skelter) and your major in the midst of them, The Enemy playing their artillery incessantly, [struck: having] [inserted: at] the same time their Infantry had almost surrounded us, but the militia eminently distinguished themselves by the swiftness of their heals (many but running my horse which I galloped briskly) till they got over [inserted: Mantis] Bridge which they took up & 3 or 400 yds from it made a stand - for my part I took into the Pines, part of the Enemy followed the road I took five miles - the day after I hired a wagon & came to this place. The healing of my wound being not a little retarded by my late retreat in which I suffered a good deal of pain in riding, & my arm not being dressed for three days - Though this wound is now in a fair way of healing. Yet I cannot bend my arm or stir my fingers without great pain -Dr. Harris who attends me says it is probable it will be Six or Eight months before I have the use of my arm, which discourages me very much…"

Bloomfield's wound proved slow to heal.  While he did eventually rejoin his unit at was present at the Battle of Monmouth, he left the army early in 1779. 

Staff officers were especially vulnerable as they performed their duties.   New Jersey Brigade-Major Aaron Ogden of the 1st NJ, in his 3rd person memoir, described how he was wounded during a British Raid on Elizabethtown, NJ, in February, 1779 :

"Major Ogden was sleeping in the same room with General Maxwell who commanded the Brigade, when the Field Officers of the Day rode up to the General's quarters, and informed him that one of the pickets had heard the rowing of many boats, round Bergen Point up Newark Bay.  Major Ogden knowing there was no picket on the road leading from the salt meadows on this bay, volunteered his services to reconnoitre that road. On approaching the house next to the meadows, he observed it in a light, & slackened the pace of his horse.  The night was remarkably dark and he found himself, without perceiving it among British soldiers and among the reach of a British Sentinel who ordered him to dismount.  Major Ogden, determined at all hazards to alarm the garrison, immediately wheeled and put spurs to his horse expecting a shot, but in this he was disappointed, and instead of a shot he received from another sentinel, a thrust with a bayonet into his Chest, below the short ribs.  He had strength nevertheless to reach the garrison, about two miles distant, and give to it the alarm.  On his return General Maxwell observed "that the pitcher that often goes down the well, will come back broken at last."  However by frequent copious bleedings inflammation was prevented, and Major ogden recovered from his wound, which well nigh proved fatal to him."

Lt. Colonel Francis Barber of the 3rd NJ was acting as Inspector of Lord Stirling's Division during the Battle of Monmouth when he was shot through the body.  Barely a fortnight later, he was running agents from his  Elizabethtown, New Jersey bedside and providing Washington with intelligence on the enemy.  In a letter written on October 9th, 1778 to Major General William Alexander "Lord Stirling", Barber rather casually describes his convalescence while focusing on his efforts to protect the town in the absence of the New Jersey regiments.

 "My Lord, When Colo Dayton received Orders to March for Second-River, I was, unhappily, under the necessity of remaining in Town, on account of my wound, which continues to discharge small pieces of Rib. I collected a number of Stragglers and Invalids of the Brigade and a few militia of the towns with these. I have kept guard from day to day. I was induced to this from a desire to lessen the Fears of the good people of the place as also to alarm the Country should the Enemy commence an Expedition against this Quarter where I think there remains so capital an object..."

 Barber was wounded twice more during the war, receiving a slight head wound at Newtown in August, 1779 while serving as General Sullivan's Adjutant General for the expedition against the Iroquois,  and then as commander of a Light Infantry Battalion in 1781 he took a facial wound in the storming of Redoubt 10 during the Siege of Yorktown.   He survived to the very end of the war, when he was struck and killed when a tree that was being felled by a work detail crushed him and his horse as they were passing beneath.

Captain Daniel Baldwin of the 1st NJ was among the many casualties sustained by New Jersey regiments during the Battle of Germantown.  to President James Madison.   Baldwin was struck in the leg by a musket ball during the assault on the Chew House "Cliveden", and his leg was subsequently amputated.  Both he and his wife Phebe later  petitioned President Washington by letter for assistance.

"’tis an injury that none can feel but the Sufferer" Phebe stated in her letter of 1790 "...As it remains in your power, I pray Sir, you will cause the payment to be made querterly instead of yearly as allmost one half of the Money remains in the hands of the Brokers by the time it becomes due. I write without the knowledge of my husband but pray that you Sir, as Father of the People, will do every thing in your power, to keep us from Suffering in a Land of Plenty."

Captain Baldwin was still seeking presidential assistance two decades later, when he wrote to President Madison.

Newark, May 29, 1809.
Tho’ I have not the pleasure of being personally acquainted with you—yet, being a Soldier of ’76, and beleiving you to be the friend of such, I take this method to make myself known, and beg you to excuse the liberty.
I had the honor of bearing a Captains commission in the first New-Jersey Rigiment, during the Revolutionary War; and of sharing in the hottest conflicts and troubles of my country, from the walls of Quebec, to the commencement of peace. At the bloody affair of Germantown, I lost most of my men, with my left leg; on the stump of which, with the help of a stick, I am still able to make a slow march.
According to a late law, the Secretary at War was invested with power to issue land warrents, for a limited season, to persons who had claims on the estates of deceased Soldiers.As such, I have taken out letters of administration, upon the estates of Some of my Soldiers, who fell at the Battle of Germantown, and who were indepted to me for monies lent. One of them, a Martin Hurley, was wounded at Germantown; and taken prisoner by the British, and hung on the commons at Philadelphia: His will he left to my Leiutenant; which, together with my letters of Administration, I have sent to Mr. Rodney, attorney General. I have taken my measures according to law, and to the direction of G. Dear-bourn, which promised a speedy and favorable issue to my just demands. I was at the great trouble and expence of going to Washington, in hopes of having it speedily accomplished. But it still remains unsettled, notwithstanding all I have done. And now, Sir, as the last resourse; having lost all my old fellow officers, who often stood by me in the hour of distress—I appeal to you, as the first magistrate, and patron of this country, and solicit your friendship: Aid me to obtain my just demands, and to provide for a large and growing family, who have nothing to depend upon but the scanty pension given me for the blood I spilt—And you shall have our prayers for your prosperity and happiness."

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

"His enterprising disposition and thirst for honor led him beyond the bounds of true bravery or conduct." Captain John Flahavan of the 1st New Jersey

John Flahavan was an officer in the 1st New Jersey regiment of the Continental Line.  He was an Irish catholic (born in County Waterford) whose family settled in the American Colonies prior to the Revolution.   He began his service in the Revolution as 2nd Lieutenant in Captain Daniel Piatt's company of the 1st NJ.   John Adams records an early encounter with Flahavan in a December 10, 1775 diary entry:

"1775. Decr. 10. Sunday. Rode from Bristol to Trenton, breakfasted, rode to Princetown, and dined with a Captain Flahaven, in Ld. Sterlings Regiment, who has been express to Congress from his Lordship.

Flahaven's Father lives in this Province. He has lived in Maryland. Says that the Virginia Convention granting the Scotch Petition to be neutral has done all the Mischief and been the Support of Lord Dunmore. He says the Scotch are in some Parts of Virginia powerfull—that in Alexandria he has heard them cursing the Congress and vilifying not only their public Proceedings but their private Characters. He has heard them decrying the Characters of the Maryland Delegates particularly Chase and the Virginia Delegates particularly Lee, Henry and Washington.

Flahavan was not, at this time, the holder of a Captain's commission, and various 19th century compilations of his service record tend to be confused and misleading.   It appears that he remained a 2nd Lieutenant when the 1st NJ d began to reenlist men for its 2nd establishment in late November, 1776.   He may have been on recruiting duty for the 1st NJ when Washington selected him to lead a forty man detachment at the head of Sullivan's column during the attach on Trenton.

"Captain Washington and Captain Flahaven, with a party of forty men each, to march before the divisions and post themselves on the road about three miles from Trenton, and make prisoners of all going in or coming out from Town."It is not possible to determine whether any of the men under Flahavan at Trenton may have also belonged to the 1st NJ, but Washington's order amounted to a promotion in the field for Flahavan.  It was an honor for Flahavan but may have created some difficulty in the regiment which already had its full compliment of company officers.  Historian Larry Schmidt believes that Flahavan's was essentially a 9th company in Ogden's 1st NJ in the first half of 1777. 

"Flahaven's company was essentially a ninth company from January 1777 to mid-1777. I think the remaining men (if any) were reassigned. According to documents in Piatt's orderly book, Flahaven commanded the fifth company (after D. Piatt, Longstreet, Baldwin, and Morrison) in late 1777/early 1778. Another roster states Flahaven's company is sixth, the difference being the addition of Polhemus as being senior captain, Piatt 2nd, etc. Cyrus DeHart was Flahaven's 1st lieutenant (presumably company commander during Flahaven's absence), Jesse Baldwin the 2nd lieutenant (Larry Schmidt: Personal Communication)."

In February, 1777, Captain Flahavan was definitely on recruiting duty.  Washington's General Orders of February 24th given at Morristown, NJ state: 

"The troops of Genl St Clair’s Brigade are, as soon as the weather will permit, to be drawn together and quartered as near this town, as possible: All the Recruits of Col. Ogden’s Regiment, now quartered at Troy, and elsewhere, to be immediately called together, armed and accoutred; they are to join Genl St Clair’s Brigade, and to be quartered with them. The strictest Attention must be paid by the officers, to the Arms & Ammunition belonging to their different Corps, to see them frequently examined, and kept in good Order, for Action. All Recruits raised by Capts. Morrison & Flahaven to join Col. Ogden’s Regt ’till further orders."

This was during the period known as "the Forage War" in New Jersey, in which both Continental detachments and militia units regularly harassed British outposts and forage parties.   Elements of the 1st NJ from time to time were involved in these skirmishes, and on the night of April 24th, Captain Flahavan lead a force against a piquet post near the British garrison at Amboy.  Accounts of the action vary, but the result was the capture of Flahavan and nearly all the men in his command. 

Plan of Perth Amboy 1777
Col. Israel Shreve of the 2nd NJ Regiment recorded in his diary: "Thirsday the 24th at night Capt. Flahaven of first Jersey Regt. with upwards of 20 men were Taken or kiled within the Enimy Pickets All but one that were Left Alone to tell the News..."  Surgeon's Mate Ebenezer Elmer of Shreve's Regiment offered his own assessment of the affair:  "Thursday night Capt. Flahaven went out with 20 men, but unluckily getting, as was supposed, within their lines in the dark and rain, not so much as one escaped to tell the fate of the rest...some commended him as being a very brave officer, others disapproved the action and his conduct upon the whole.  I believe his bravery was indisputable, but his enterprising disposition and thirst for honor lead him beyond the bounds of true bravery or conduct."

Major General Adam Stephen wrote to Washington on April 26th:

"Capt. Flahen of Col. Ogdens Regimt, was orderd on a patrol the night before last - He pickt up Some pensylvanians, & Voluntiers, it is Supposd to the Number 25, for I can get No Certain Acct from [Lt.]Col. Dehart [of the 1st NJ] or Othrwise - Made an imprudent Attempt it is Supposd, wt. more Courage than Conduct; & is lost, with all his party, killd or taken, or how he Managd utterly unknown - I have orderd that no project Shall be Undertaken without the Approbation of the Officer Comma[n]ding the Corps; & that the partisan shall not keep roads leading to the Enemys post - Nor patrols go Constantly the Same Way -"

Stephen was clearly trying to distance himself from Flahaven's action, knowing that Washington had forbidden independent initiatives of this sort by junior officers.  It would be interesting to know the identify of the "Pennsylvanians" with Flahavan.  The Jersey Brigade would soon be in Stirlings, rather than Stephen's Division, and their sister brigade by June, 1777 would include the 3rd, 6th, 9th and 12th Pennsylvania under General Conway.

An anonymous American prisoner released on parole gave the following account on June 20, 1777:

"Capt. Flahaven was taken within 200 Yards of the Barracks at Amboy - He had attacked the Picketts and after firing 15 rounds each Man, had near taken the whole Party, but unluckily a Scouting Party on their return, came on their Back & took the whole of them."
The British accounts of the affair, while stressing the bravery of the picket, indicate that the engagement continued for some time. The Scots Magazine (Vol. 39) reprinted a letter from an unidentified officer in the 46th Regiment who wrote to a gentleman in Dublin;

"A very spirited action happened here on the [2]5th of April last.  Lieut. Stanley, of the 55th regiment, being detached with a part of the 4th Brigade, consisting of thirty men, as part of the picquet of that brigade, Was early in the morning attacked by a party of the rebels, near double his number, under the command of one Flahavan, who is a captain in the rebel-army.  Lieut. Stanley stood his ground, and after some minutes close engagement, totally routed the rebels,  killed an ensign and several men, and took captain Flahavan and twenty-seven men prisoners.  On the first of May Leit. Stanley received the thanks of the Commander in Chief.”  

Lieutenant Edwin Thomas Stanley, a young Irishman in Captain Trevor's Company of the 55th Regiment of Foot, had recently been commended
on April 20th Major General Vaughan for a similar action.  This time he and several other officers were singled out by General Howe for special mention -

"Head Qrs:  Amboy 30th: April 77 ...
         The Commander in Chief Desires His Thanks may be given to Leiut: C Millan Acting Majr: of Brigade Leiut: Stanley 55th Regt. Ensign Angus M'Donald of 71st Regt: Capt: Albertie & Leiut: Albertie of the 3rd Regt: of Waldeck, and the Soldiers under their Command for their Spiritd: Beheavour and good Conduct near perth Amboy in the Jerseys on the morning of ye 25th: Inst: -"

The earlier commendation from General Vaughan also acknowledged these same officers.

Captain Flahavan might have expected to be housed on parole in decent quarters while awaiting exchange, but the circumstances surrounding his conduct during the fight lead to a very different outcome.  He was accused of deliberately breaking the thigh of one of the sentries whom his force had captured before they, in turn, were overwhelmed.  Colonel Ethan Allen, himself a prisoner held in close confinement in New York, references Flahavan's plight in his subsequent narrative of his captivity:

"...it was nevertheless at the option of a villainous sergeant who had the charge of the provost, to take any gentlemen from their room, and put them into the dungeon, which was often the case: At two different times I was taken down stairs for that purpose, by a file of soldiers with fixed bayonets, and the sergeant brandishing his sword at the same time, and having been brought to the door of the dungeon, I there flattered the vanity of the sergeant, whose name was Keef, by which means I procured the surprizng favour to return to my companions; but some of the high mettled young gentlemen could not bear his insolence, and determined to keep at a distance, and neither please or displease the villain, but none could keep clear of his abuse; however, mild measures were the best; he did not hesitate to call us damned Rebels, and use us with the coarsest language. The captains Flahaven, Randolph and Mercer, were the objects of his most stagran (sic) and repeated abuses, who were many times taken to the dungeon, and there continued at his pleasure. Captain Flahaven took cold in the dungeon, and was in a declining state of health, but an exchange delivered him, and in all probability saved his life...."

The American Commissary General of Prisoners, Elias Boudinot, wrote to Washington on June 26th, 1777, about the plight of Flahavan and several other officers who were prisoners in New York:

"...there is Evidence of the greatest Cruelty being used towards several of our unhappy Prisoners, and particularly to Capt. Van Zant, Major Pain, Capt. Flahaven, Capt. Vandyck, all of whom are confined in close Goal together with the Honble John Fell Esqr. lately taken from Bergen County—That several of our Officers who have lately had the small Pox in the Goals, have been suffered to languish (one of whom died) with out the least aid either as to Physick, Provision or other necessaries—That in general the daily Rations are not sufficient more than barely to keep the Prisoners from starving...."It was not until February, 1778 that Boudinot was able to do anything about Flahavan's situation.   During a visit to New York, he recorded in his diary:

"The charge against Captain Flahavan, that he broke the thigh of a soldier with the butt of a gun, after he was shot, is positively denied by him, and Mr. Loring acknowledged the man's leg was broken by a ball...Captain Flahavan was surrounded and did not surrender, and was constantly fighting for fifteen minutes after the soldier was struck by the ball."Boudinot was able to secure parole for Flahavan, who remained in British hands until he was exchanged in November, 1778.  He resigned a few months later.

John Flahavan began a very different kind of Revolutionary service in 1779 in Philadelphia, where he and his brother Thomas went into partnership as investors in a number of privateering enterprises.  The firm of John Flahavan & Co. outfitted the Pennsylvania Schooner "Hope" of 6 guns on August 18th, 1779 with a Letter of Marque under Captain Thomas Ward, and the following year on March 3, 1780 the Pennsylvania Schooner "Sally" with 2 guns and a crew of 10 under Captain Uriah Smith went privateering with Flahavan's backing.  Fellow catholic John Walsh was captain of another Flahavan vessel, the 50 ton Schooner "Dolphin" with 6 guns and 11 crew, that made two cruises in 1781.   John and Thomas Flahavan also owned and bonded for 8 gun privateer Brigantine "Betsey" on December 28, 1781, with a bond of $20,000 and a crew of 20 men under Captain George Fleming.

Flahavan belonged to St. Mary's church in Philadelphia and several of his family members are buried there.  Neither he nor his brother Thomas ever married.  Near the end of the war, John Flahavan made a voyage to Holland to advance the mercantile interest of the family firm.  On January 1783 he embarked on his return yoyage to America, but the vessel vanished without a trace.  The following year, a letter from the firm, now called  Flahavan and Willcox with the addition of his brother-in-law to the partnership, records the family sorrow at his loss:

"It grieves us to inform you that our dear brother John Flahavan sailed from Ostend Jan. 25th, 1783, & since then have no acct. of him; therefore we gave him over for lost, as there is no account from the vessel or crew..."

Friday, June 5, 2015

"After getting what arms and arminition (sic) they could find, and what plunder they pleased": The Final Fight of Shay's Rebellion (Part II)

Theodore Sedgwick memorial stone
Stockbridge, Massachusetts
Captain Perez Hamlin's first move during the night of February 26-27, 1787 with the rebel forces under his command was to cross over from New Lebanon, New York into West Stockbridge, Massachusetts.  Many of Hamlin's fellow insurgents were from this very community, including at least 21 subsequently taken prisoner in the aftermath of the Sheffield fight that afternoon¹ -14 of whom were subsequently brought up on charges.

The impetus for this incursion may have been the opportunity presented by the withdrawal of most of the Commonwealth's troops from the region on February 21st after their terms of enlistment expired.  There was also a field piece that they may have hoped to capture, though it had already been removed to Pittsfield and was beyond their reach².  Finally, there was a score to settle with Theodore Sedgwick and other government supporters in the adjacent town of Stockbridge, and that is where Hamlin turned next with approximately 120 men under arms.  According to historian Lion G. Myles, Sedgwick was a particular target³, but there were many other loyal citizens in Stockbridge whose persons were tempting hostages and whose properties invited plunder. 

At this stage in the Rebellion, the "Regulators of Government" were on the defensive.  They had lost much of their unit discipline and their political and military aims had given way to marauding and revenge.  A 1938 newspaper article on file at the Pittsfield Atheneum references old court records - rediscovered by WPA workers -  that describe some of what took place when the insurgents reached Stockbridge that morning.

Isaac Marsh would bring charges against Peter and Nicholas Brazee of West Stockbridge, Daniel Owen 
Elizabeth Freeman and Catherine Sedgwick memorials,
Stockbridge, Massachusetts
of Tyringham, and Isaac Vosburgh, Jr. of Sheffield for housebreaking and theft that day of

"a silver mounted sword valued at six pounds; one gun bayonett(sic) valued at one pound sixteen shillings, one powder horn and cartridge box valued at twelve shillings". 

These items were of military value, but these four men also entered the house and stole from Erastus Sergeant

"personal effects and clothing therefrom to the value of 13 pounds, including a beaver hat valued at two pounds, a shirt worth ten shillings, and did damages to the house of around six pounds." 

At Theodore Sedgwick's house (from which the owner had wisely decamped on the news that he was a target of the incursion), the same four men stole numerous items, though they famously missed the family silver thanks to the quick thinking of former slave Elizabeth "Mumbet" Freeman. Nevertheless, they made off with

"a mare valued at 30 pounds; 50 pounds of beef worth three cents a pound; two firearms valued at 30 pounds;  a silver mounted hanger worth six pounds; a broadsword valued at seven pounds, four shillings; a horse pistol worth one pound and 10 shillings and three shirts worth 2 pounds and 14 shillings, a total of 74 pounds and six shillings for lost articles and damage done."

They also took a gelding worth 20 pounds and a saddle worth six from Samuel Kirkland, among other items.

Daniel Owen was also charged, along with Stephen Seyley, Aaron Knapp, John Minclair and Asahel Newell (all of West Stockbridge) and Nathaniel Austin of Sheffield with the theft from Silas Pepoon, among other items, of "a gun valued at 45 shillings and a cartridge box worth 12 shillings.

Similar acts were repeated throughout the town as the insurgents went from house to house.  Other sources tell us that from Captain Josiah Jones they stole a considerable amount of wampum, while at Timothy Edwards' place they appropriated and consumed a great amount of alcohol, which only contributed to their marauding.

They also took many citizens prisoners.   Dr. Erastus Sergeant described his ordeal a few days later in a letter to Major General Shepherd dated March 5, 1787:

"...On Tuesday morning the 27 ulto. about daybreak I had my house surrounded by twelve armed men, with a demand of enterance (sic) and surrender to Shays with the most horrid imprecations and diabolical visages that it is possible to possess the human appearance before we could have time to determine whether it would be best to grant them enterence (sic), they drove their bayonets thru the window of my lodging room and by repeated thrusts broke the sash and 6 or 8 lights of glass, in the room I, my wife and small children lodged, then with the same degree of violence burst an outside door and an entery (sic) door which led into the same room, pointed the bayonet to my wives breast, with a demand of arms and arminition (sic) at the same time they had found enterance (sic) into almost every room of my house, after getting what arms and arminition (sic) they could find, and what plunder they pleased, which consisted of cloathing (sic), silver buckles some cash hats etc etc they ordered us to preparte to march immediately to head quarters, which was then at Mr. Bingham [the current Red Lion Inn], where I found almost all my neighbours in the same unhappy situation.  The commanding officer, Capt. Hamlin, informed me I must go with him and gave me permission to return home and take a horse or sleigh and what other comforts I pleased, which I considered as a very great indulgence, they plunders 6 horses and mounted them as videts and marched out of town sun almost two hours high in the morning with 32 prisoners, we went to Barrington where they were joined by a number more, our Friends at Barrington got information timely to make their escape to Sheffield..."

Solomon Glezen Stone, Stockbridge, Massachsuetts
Other prisoners of the Shayites included twenty-six-year old school teacher Solomon Glezen, jr., who would be killed in the crossfire during the fight that afternoon at Sheffield.   Also taken captive was Judge Jaheel Woodbridge, whose son Timothy was just three year sold at the time and recalled the event in later life as one of his earliest memories.  Timothy Woodbridge remembered

"...seeing a number of brutal soldiers with their green boughs (the insignia of rebellion) waving over the bed where my father and I lay.  The dreadful gleam of their arms was reflected by the burning lights in the room.  They demanded the surrender of my father, and I shrieked in an agony of terror as my father passed me between the guns to the arms of my sister.  They plundered the house most unsparingly, and continued these deprecations for some time - going from house to house, frightening the inmates unmercifully..."

Other prisoners of Hamlin's men taken at Stockbridge included a number of leading citizens and their family members, among whom were Moses Ashley, Ephraim Williams, Silas and Daniel Pepoon, Edward Edwards, Henry Hopkins, Deacon Stephen Nash, jr., Henry W. Dwight, Jonathan Woodbridge, Silas Whitney, Captain Joshua Jones and Joshua Jones, Jr.

The insurgents left Stockbridge with their prisoners and plunder and headed south toward Great Barrington.  The alarm had been raised and pursuit could be expected, but there were friends of the Regulators to be freed from gaol before crossing back over into New York and beyond the jurisdiction of the Bay State.  The next post in this series takes up the story in Great Barrington and the response of loyal militia forces to Hamlin's incursion into Berkshire.

1.  "List of Prisoners taken at Sheffield 27 Febr' 1787", Benjamin Lincoln Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society
2.  Starkey, Marion L. (1955) A Little Rebellion; Alfred Knopf: New York;  pg. 176
3.  Myles, Lion G. (2002) "Shay's Rebellion in the Housatonic Valley"; Upper Housatonic Valley Heritage Area pamphlet, National Park Service.
4.  "Shays Rebellion Recalled By Old Court Records" (March 22, 1938); courtesy of the Pittsfield Atheneum local history collection, Pittsfield, Massachusetts
5.  "Extract of a letter from Hon. General LINCOLN, to his Excellency the GOVERNOUR, received last evening" - Pittsfield March 3d. 1787