“Loyalist Trails” 2010-31: August 1, 2010
In this issue:
– The Redcoat and the Scarlet Woman: Part Two — © Stephen Davidson
– William and Sarah Frost (Part # of 14; © 2009 George McNeillie)
+ Preserved Cooley and His Family
+ Clement Burritt, Son of Major Burritt
Mrs. Elizabeth Loring has gone down in the pages of history as the notorious mistress of Britain’s General William Howe. Making matters worse is the claim that her husband turned a blind eye to the affair in order to receive a lucrative government appointment.
While Joshua Loring was overseeing the housing and feeding of rebel prisoners during the winter of 1777-78, his wife was part of the General Howe’s entourage that was enjoying the delights of Philadelphia. Records of the period note that Elizabeth accompanied Howe “everywhere” in the city and that she “became a leader in society”. Was she simply a good friend and companion — or his mistress?
Whether innocent or guilty, Mrs. Loring’s reputation as the British general’s mistress would be set in stone in 1778 thanks to an often-quoted bit of propaganda titled The Battle of the Kegs. Written by Francis Hopkinson, a man who had signed the Declaration of Independence, the poem contained this verse:
Sir William he,
snug as a flea,
Lay all this time a snoring,
Nor dreamed of harm
as he lay warm,
In bed with Mrs. Loring.
Was Hopkinson stating what everyone already knew, or was he making a salacious conjecture? It would not be the first time an enemy leader would be accused of sexual impropriety. Although some historians claim that there were many such “ditties” exposing Howe’s reputed indiscretions, Hopkinson’s poem is in fact the only such jib at the British general. Does one poem a mistress make?
A decade later, Judge Thomas Jones offered his own opinion of Mrs. Loring when he wrote his manuscript about the Revolution in New York. A loyalist himself, Jones was furious that the British had lost the war and lay the blame squarely on Howe’s shoulders — and Mrs. Loring’s charms.
“As Cleopatra of old lost Mark Antony the world, so did this illustrious courtesan lose Sir William Howe, the honour, the laurels, and the glory, of putting an end to one of the most obstinate rebellions that ever existed.”
Was Jones giving an impartial ruling — or did his contempt for the bungling of the British military blur his vision of the actual events? Interestingly, he offers no details to back up his charges — a curious omission for one who was use to gathering evidence to prove a point in a court of law.
Coming to Elizabeth Loring’s defense are two American historians, hardly the sort of people who would take the side of a loyalist. Eva P. Boyd points out that Hopkinson’s poem and Jones’ history are the only two sources that suggest Elizabeth Loring was anything more than a companion to General Howe. Was the 25 year-old beauty and mother of two –as Boyd suggests– merely “careless of her reputation” during that winter in Philadelphia? Had Howe and Loring simply “danced too often together”?
Another American historian, John Alden, allows that perhaps the loss of her child in 1775 and the political upheavals might have led Elizabeth Loring to embrace a devil-may-care lifestyle. However, he thought it much more likely that Elizabeth was simply guilty of being indiscreet and that she became the victim of scandal-mongers.
In 1778, the British government removed William Howe from his post, and he returned to England. Although Joshua Loring continued on as prisoner commissary in New York, Elizabeth and their two children left the colonies for England with Joshua’s parents, his sister, and her orphaned children to wait for the Revolution to end.
There is no record that Elizabeth and General Howe ever encountered one another between 1778 and 1783 after their arrival in England. Two letters of Joshua’s that were written to Elizabeth during their separation contain warm expressions of affection — hardly the emotions of a man who was reputed to have allowed a friend to take his wife as a mistress or who believed that Elizabeth was seeing Howe in Britain.
At the end of the war, Joshua and Elizabeth were reunited in England. They settled in Reading, and over the next six years had three more children. In 1789, after a long period of poor health, Joshua Loring died at the age of 45. Elizabeth, a 37 year-old widow with five children, appealed to the British government for financial compensation.
Elizabeth wrote in her petition that “they must sink into the most distressing State of Poverty unless Relief is extended to them.” How would the British government respond to this plea? Tens of thousands of loyalists had sought refuge in England. What would make this woman’s petition worthy of consideration? However, a 59 year-old veteran of the Revolution put quill to paper and wrote the government on Elizabeth’s behalf.
“I certify to the Facts as stated in this Petition relative to the late Mr. Loring’s Loyalty, to the Widow’s present distressed circumstances, and to the affluent income Mr. Loring enjoyed in America.” The note was signed by none other than Sir William Howe.
Elizabeth’s petition was granted, and for the next 42 years she received a government allowance until her death at 79 years of age in 1831.
As Eva Boyd points out, it seems unlikely that the British government would give Mrs. Loring a widow’s pension (or pay any attention to Howe’s plea on her behalf) if the two “lovers” were, indeed, the reason that the Thirteen Colonies were lost.
There is another clue –though not proof– of Elizabeth and Howe’s innocence. The fact that the Loring children went on to do so well in English society also calls into question whether their mother had truly been a general’s mistress. Henry Lloyd Loring became the first Archdeacon of Calcutta. His older brother, John Wentworth Loring became an Admiral in the Royal Navy.
Elizabeth Loring’s case is not as clear-cut as some historians would have us believe. Was she a general’s mistress — or a victim of malicious conjecture?
To secure permission to reprint this article, email Stephen Davidson.
The Diary of Sarah Frost (continued)
Thursday, June 26. This morning the sun appears very pleasant. The fog is gone, to our great satisfaction. Ten of the ships are in sight. We are now near the banks of Cape Sable. At nine o’clock we begin to see land. How pleased we are, after being nine days out of sight of land to see it again. There is general rejoicing. At half after six we have twelve of our ships in sight. Our Captain told me just now we should be in the Bay of Fundy before morning. He says it is about one day’s sail after we get into the Bay to Saint John’s River. How I long to see that place, though a strange land. I am so tired of being on board ship, though we have as clever [i.e., as kind] a Captain as ever need to live.
Friday, June 27. I got up this morning very early to look out. I can see land on both sides of us. [That is, both the Nova Scotia coast and New Brunswick coast]. About ten o’clock the wind died away. Our people got their lines out to catch cod-fish. About half after five John Waterbury caught the first fish.
Saturday, June 28. Got up in the morning and found ourselves night to land on both sides at the mouth of the St. John’s River. Soon after ten, a Pilot came on board, and at a quarter after one our ship anchored off against Fort Howe in the St. John’s River. Our people went on shore and brought on board pea-vines with blossoms on them, also goose-berries, spruce and grass, all of which grow wild. They say this is to be our City. Our land is to be five and twenty miles up the River. We are to have here only a building place, 40 feet wide and an hundred feet back.
Billy has gone on shore in his whale-boat to see how it looks. He returns soon, after bringing a fine salmon. He told me to get ready to go on shore and he would take me. [In a paragraph of her diary which I regret having failed to copy the writer of the diary expresses her great disapprobation of the conduct of Capt. Sylvanus Whitney, who was in charge of the Loyalists aboard the ‘Three Sisters’, because he forbade the women to go ashore. Mrs. Frost had been now on ship-board about five weeks and was heartily tired of the ship. She expressed her determination to go ashore, even if she were compelled to go on her husband’s back, and in her diary makes some caustic remarks on Capt. Whitney’s desire to display his authority and sport his uniform. Her irritation was perhaps not unusual].
Excerpt from Book of Family History, by The Ven. William Odber Raymond, LL.D, FRSC. © 2009 George McNeillie – all rights reserved [published here with permission; see footnote].
As a descendant, I am looking for biographical, historical, and genealogical information on Preserved Cooley (b. abt. 1750 in New York; d. abt. 1816 in Ontario). My ancestry is through his son James Cooley (b. abt. 1773 in New York; d. abt. 1841 in New York) married Elizabeth Swarthout; and then through James’ daughter Sarah Cooley (b. abt. 1793 in New York; d. abt. 1841 in New York) married Jonas Elisha Freer.
I am especially interested in finding out information about Preserved Cooley’s life in New York before and during the American Revolution; his migration to Canada following the war; and his life in developing a new community in Canada. Information regarding his ancestors, or any leads in that direction, would also be appreciated.
I see in the Loyalist Directory that a number of people from Hamilton Branch have proven their descent from Preserved. I would also appreciate any contact with other descendants.
I am trying to learn the death date and burial place of my great-great grandfather Clement Burritt. ( 1810- after 1891) He is listed in the 1891 census of both Mattawa and Renfrew, but so far I have been unable to find out any information. Clement Burritt, born in 1810, was the son of Major Burritt( 1775-1861) and Mary Towsley, ( 1778-1844) and the brother of Marcus, Anson, Phoebe (Burritt) Adams, Truman, Johnson, and Electa (Burritt) Adams.
His uncle was the famous Stephen Burritt who had been a Loyalist spy during the American Revolution.
On August 21, 1834, Clement married Martha Adams. Two of his brothers also married two of her sisters. They first lived in and around Burritt’s Rapids, but moved to the Renfrew and then the Mattawa area. Clement and Martha had six children: Lucretia, born November 20, 1835, Ruth, born November 20, 1837, Elihu Adams Burritt, born 1839, Samuel Alonzo Burritt, born 1841, Martha Burritt Wilson, born 1853, and Electa Burritt Brown.
Lucretia Burritt, my great-grandmother, married Hiram Merrick (1830-after 1911) in 1853. He was the son of Stephen Merrick and Margaret Brown. Stephen died in 1830, shortly after Hiram was born, and Margaret then married James Dunn. She died in Invermay in 1869.
Lucretia and Hiram had 12 children in all….Ichobad Benedict, 1854, Truman Burritt, died young, Clement Burritt ( changed his name to George), Thomas, Hiram Jr., Martha Sides, Caroline Sheppard, Jenette MacAlpine, Margaret Anna Holborn, Ruth Wilson and Lois Pennell.
Ruth Merrick Wilson,(1869-1962) was my grandmother.
Any information about Clement, but especially about his death and burial would be appreciated.