Monday, May 7, 2018

The Memoirs of Ebenezer Foote, Connecticut Revolutionary War Veteran (Part I)

The following [annotated] transcript was copied from the voluminous veteran's pension claim on the Revolutionary War service of Ebenezer Foote (1756 - 1829) of Colchester Connecticut.  It is a lively and engaging account of service on land and sea, with anecdotes of incidents during the Siege of Boston, the defense of Long Island and the loss of Manhattan, and subsequent service on a Rhode Island privateer, with the French Fleet off Newport, and in the Commissary Department in Westchester County, New York.  Some of Foote's quite detailed account can be independently corroborated.  I have tried to transcribe it accurately, with only minor standardization of spelling and adding paragraph breaks where they assist the narrative.  I have divided it into two parts and will post them sequentially.

“Memoirs of the Life of Ebenezer Foote” [Siege of Boston 1776, New York-Trenton 1776]

I was the 6th child of Daniel Foote, the son of Nathaniel, whose father came from Durham in England and settled in a town of the same name in Connecticut.  My grandfather was one of the proprietors, and first settlers of the town of Colchester where I was born on the 12th day of April, 1756.  My father having a numerous family, and barely possessing a competency to support them was unable to give his children an education equal to their wishes, They were however taught to read and write a legible hand I was allowed to go to school until I was eleven years old , after which I never was at school a day.  When I was in my tenth year, having a desire to see the world, I left my Father’s house in the night and traveled to New London, a seaport town about 20 miles distant, with an intent to embark for the West Indies with my oldest brother, but after spending two nights in a barn in the month of December, the Captain discovered and sent me back to my father, who received me without correction, a think rather uncommon as he was severe in his discipline.

The following Spring I was sent alone and on foot to Brookfield, in order to learn the trade of House Carpenter & Chaise Maker of one Hitchcock, a relative of my Mother’s, he being a morose, unjovial fellow, I soon got sick of him and his trade.  In the Fall I had a severe fit of the bilious Cholic (sp), which nearly deprived me of life, but getting better My Father sent for Me home.  In the Spring I was bound an apprentice to one Chamberlin of East Windsor to learn the trade of Hat Makeing (sp), where I continued to serve him faithfully until the year 1775, when the unhappy affair at Lexington announced the approaching war.  By consent of my Master I enlisted as a private soldier in [Lt.-Col] Col.  George Pitkin’s Company [of Hinman’s 4th Connecticut Regt.] and arrived at Camp at Roxbury, time enough to share in the famous Battle of Bunker Hill, where the brave Warren fell.  Just after the British entered the works, after we retreated from the Hill, I repaired immediately to Roxbury and joined my Company, where I was severely reprimanded for absenting myself and going to Cambridge and Bunker Hill without leave of my officers.

During the Campaign but few opportunities offered of seeing the enemy out of their entrenchments, and being a private soldier I had no means of gratifying the inclination I then felt.    However one afternoon I got leave to go out in Boston bay a fishing with two others of the company in two whale Boats.  During the time we were a fishing, I discovered a few of the British on Moon Island [in Quincy Bay], and after a little persuasion prevailed on my comrades to land, which we did, and found the enemy consisting of a Sergeant’s guard on the retreat, we proceeded on and set fire to about 40 thousand Rails and 20 tons of hay they had collected to carry to Boston.  The alarm was given and boats were dispatched by the Boyne ship of war [3rd Rate, Captain Hartwell] and the Castle.  My comrades by the persuasion of one [Aaron] Olmsted the Adjutant embarked while I was setting fire to the furthermost bale of Hay, and left me, but on coming to the point and calling to them one boat returned and we got safe to Squantum [in Quincy] though the British were very near overtaking us, and kept up a heavy fire which generally went over us.  The Troops on shore were alarmed & paraded on our landing.  The officers after enquiring (sp) the Cause of alarm gave me a severe reprimand and ordered that I should go no more on fishing voyages, as the whole was charged to my account. 

The next Spring I went a volunteer on Dorchester Point, when the first works were erected on that and Nook Point, where I stayed seven days and caught a violent cold which almost deprived me of my eye sight for 2 months.  Our terms of enlistment being expired, I returned Home and settled with my Master who received all my wages and bounty money. 
I worked about six weeks at my trade, and then enlisted in Captain Simon Woolcots Company [of Fisher Gay's Regiment of Connecticut Levies]  raised in East Windsor to go to New York, I set out in capacity of Corporal.  After we arrived at New York I was ordered by the Col. Fisher Gay to learn the officers of the Regiment the Manual Exercise, which I found was a very hard task, as they were generally very ignorant and by no means willing to submit to discipline, being generally old honest Farmers who thought it inconsistent with the character for freemen to submit to the strict discipline necessary to form the character of a soldier.  I was however releived (sic) from that duty about two weeks after we were ordered on Long Island, as the British landed there and gave us other business to transact. 

The night that it was said the British were landing there was a most violent Thunder storm, and there being no artillerymen at Brooklyn, I turned out a volunteer with others to assist Captain [Thomas?] Randall [of the 3rd Continental Artillery?] in taking 2 Brass 6 pounders and one nine inch Brass Howitzer to Graves End in order to oppose the landing of the British.  We had a Horrid night of it, being obliged to draw the pieces ourselves, and the frequent flashes of Lightning rendering us blind to the road.  We arrived at the high ground near Graves End, about 4 oclock in the Morning, where we continued until the next day, when we were ordered to occupy the high ground to the Eastward overlooking the flat land [Flat Bush] near the church, which station we kept until the battle of Long Island, frequently going down and fireing (sic) on the British, at and near the Church.  In one of those excursions we were covered by a party of Rifle men under the command of Maj. Green [ I have been unable to positively identity this officer] , and had orders to burn the wheat stacks where the enimy’s (sic) picket guard was kept, which was performed, but not without the loss of some men killed, and a few men wounded amongst which was Maj. Green and Captain Thompson [I am unable to positively identity these officers or their unit(s)] of the Rifle Men, we had one of our guns dismounted by a shot, which struck the barrel over the trunnion (sic), but we saved it.  Our howitzer was struck on one side of the muzzle by a shot and battered 6 inches.  Three horses we had received the day before were killed, so that we were obliged once more to draw our pieces back by hand. 

Soon after the Enemy made a general attack on the advance part of our army, in which we were driven back to our lines with the loss of our field artillery, and some of our best troops.  The seven succeeding days our duty was constant and very fatiguing, being obliged to stand great part of the time in the water up to our Middle and being kept under arms night and day, until we retreated from the Island which happily effected with very little loss although the enemy pressed our rear very hard and fired on the boats from the shore.  I being overcome with fatigue and want of sleep, set myself down by the side of a stoop near the Fly Market [at Dock St. a block from the Long Island Ferry] and fell asleep.  In the afternoon when I woke up I found myself at least 2 rods from the place where I sat down, without discovering when I was removed. Three days later this our Regiment was all ordered on guard to Turtle Bay and the Marsh south of it, we took our posts about sunset, at 12 oclock at night we discovered four or five of the Enemys (sic) ships under way coming up the East River, they passed us and came to anchor in Turtle Bay, on the morning of 15th September we were ordered into a small ditch opposite the above ships within half pistol shot of two of them, we got possession of our ground just before sunrise and could with truth say that a worse place was never occupied by any troop, The ditch was so narrow that two could not lay abreast in it, nor could we cover ourselves from the Enemies Musquetry.  When we were flat on the ground in the bottom our our Intrenchment (as it was termed) consequently we lost a number of Men during the time of the Enemies landing, which commenced about 10 oclock in the morning and was completed about 1 oclock P.M. during all which time a most tremendous fire was kept up by all the ships, five in number, though fortunately for us their Common shot were all directed over us and we were annoyed only with small arms and swivels which however killed and wounded an great number of our men.  About half an hour after they had landed their last Division the Shiping ceased  fireing (sic) upon which all our troops who were able, left the ditch and marched up the Hill in the utmost confusion and disorder, the men being almost famished with hunger and thirst, were More desirous of allaying it than of preparing to defend themselves against the enemy they knew was in their rear.  Consequently as soon as we had reached the level ground on top of the hill and were all trying to get water from a Neighboring well, The Hessian Grenadiers who had been concealed in a thick wood adjoining the orchard in which we were began the attack, and in about 15 minutes the whole regiment were cut to pieces and made prisoners, except as few cowardly souls who quit their ground the first onset, and with the Brigadier General and Major made their escape.  The General name was [James] Wadsworth from Durham in Connecticut, and the Major’s name was [Edward] Mott [ of Gay's Regiment] from Plainfield in the same State, and two greater Poltroons never has commissions.  After the enemy had done killing those who they though refractory, they Marched on toward the City with their prisoners of which I was one. 

We were extremely ill used and not allowed either victuals or drink that day.  At night the
[y] were shut up in Bridwell [Prison, located at what is now City Hall Park] and a Guard of Hessians placed on the outside of the yard.  Myself and eleven others watching an opportunity when the Guard were carousing, and inattentive, made an escape over the fence, and proceeded along the Bank of the North River as far as Greenwich in hopes of getting a boat in which we might cross the River, the whole of us being strangers to the way to King’s Bridge, we were however disappointed there being none to be found, we then held a consultation what to do, and finally a large majority agreed to go back and give themselves up, but Myself and one John Wood Sergeant Major of the Regiment [ Col. Gay's, enlisted June 24, 1776, discharged Dec 29th, 1776] determined on attempting an escape by way of the River we took an affectionate leave of our fellow prisoners who accompanied us to the waters edge and saw us set off on each of us a Pine Board numbers of which lay near the River, and after about Five and a half hours exertion we had the good fortune to reach the Jersey Shore at a village called  Communipaw below Powles Hook, but at the time of our landing I was so Much exhausted that I could not stand & had it not been for the assistance of my Comrade, who was a stout hearty man, I could never have landed, by his assistance I got to a House near the waters Edge, where by being dried by the fire & having my body & limbs rubbed, I recovered strength sufficient to set off from thence a little before day light.  The good man at whose house we were gave us a little Milk which was the only nourishment I had taken for more than 48 hours, except my own urine and the Salt water out of the River.  He also gave us such directions as enabled us to cross the Marsh and get into Bergen Wood before day light. 

About 10 oclock in the Morning we arrived at the English Neighbourhood where we got refreshment & found many sick belonging to the Army.  In the Afternoon we crossed the River at Fort Washington and joined the army again, where I continued through all the fatigues and hardships until after the Hessians were taken at Trenton with no other clothing but what I had on when I crossed the
[River] consisted of a Shirt, Hat, overalls, one Flow’d vest, Handkerchief & pair of old Linen Stockings – General Washington discharged us with his thanks after taking the Hessians at Trenton, and I arrived in Connecticut on the 7th day of February – From the 15th of September my shirt had never been washed without being put on again wet, or I had remained naked until it was dry, and the greater part of the time I was tormented with Lice & the Itch.
[Part 2 continues here]

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