“Loyalist Trails” 2016-37: September 11, 2016
In this issue:
– Browsing through an Orderly Book: Getting Along with the Locals, by Stephen Davidson
– JAR: Captain John Peck Rathbun – As Audacious as John Paul Jones
– Digital Gazette: Help Save Costs; Sign up by April 14
– Where in the World?
– From the Twittersphere and Beyond
– Last Post: Albert Edward Preece, UE
© Stephen Davidson, UE
The American Revolution was a different type of war for the British army. Their troops were not in enemy territory where they could assume that they had the freedom to plunder and steal at will. Instead, they were in British territory, travelling through land that might belong to either loyalists or rebels.
The behaviour of the troops (loyalist or British) could also have a negative impact on the colony’s civilians. Soldiers that plundered would be reinforcing patriot propaganda about the heavy hand of the empire. Soldiers that behaved with respect in colonial towns would underscore the civility of rule under the crown. Given the importance of a soldier’s conduct, it is not surprising to find that the orderly book of the First Battalion of Maryland Loyalists, maintained by Captain Caleb Jones, included so many commands dealing with the treatment of civilians.
On June 23, 1778, the commanding officers offered a reward of 25 guineas for any information regarding the persons who set fire to two civilians’ homes. It was also noted that anyone who may “hereafter be found committing such disorders will be delivered to the provost for immediate execution.” Within three days, a trial convened to hear the evidence against Michael Peperly and Adam Derry who were “charged with burning houses”. They were acquitted — as was a lieutenant charged with horse stealing.
There seems to have been quite a bit of friction between troops and civilians in 1778. It is hard not to wonder what incidents prompted an order that was issued stating “Soldiers who shall molest or interrupt any persons coming or going from the market will be severely punished.” Perhaps it had to do with loyal soldiers’ outrage over the high prices that the local farmers charged.
To prevent price gouging, an order had been issued stating the allowable maximum costs for foodstuffs should the soldiers go shopping in Long Island’s Suffolk county. One shilling could buy 24 eggs. 12 shillings bought a bushel of wheat or four chickens. Beef sold for 10 shillings a pound, turkeys sold for 5 shillings, while ewes were five times that price. Soldiers were not to pay any civilian more than 4 coppers for a quart of milk. In August, servicemen were told not to purchase hay, straw, corn or oats from the inhabitants.
On July 31st, loyalist soldiers were reminded not to destroy or burn fences in the neighbourhood. This was a repetition of a July 8th order that said troops were “upon no account to cut down or destroy the hemp or spruce growing in the woods in the neighbourhood.” Later, the orderly book notes that the spruce trees were not to be harmed because they were used to brew spruce beer, a means of staving off scurvy.
On another occasion, the troops were told that a “safe guard” of loyalist soldiers had been appointed to protect the property of a local inhabitant. Anyone taking anything from the property would be “punished as the articles of war directs in that cause.” Officers could not “press or hire horses of the inhabitants without permission”; such orders had to be obtained from headquarters.
In the following month, the general issued a statement in which he hoped that the commanding officers of loyalist corps would “use their utmost exertion” to protect the property of the civilian population and “not suffer cornfields, orchards, gardens or fences to be destroyed or damaged without severely punishing the offender”. From September 13 to 26, the soldiers of the Maryland Loyalists were on daily guard duty at the Flushing Fly home of Widow Grant to protect her property from (presumably) damage caused by troops loyal to the crown.
Often loyalist and British officers would cast a covetous eye on a local house after their troops had set up camp. When the corps were on Long Island, the general had to issue an order saying that he expected every officer would stay in camp and that no one would “put his name on a house” for the purpose of taking it as his headquarters.
The civilians that lived around loyalist encampments could be troublemakers in their own way. On August 10, 1778, General Tryon was outraged that “some disaffected inhabitants on Long Island have by base and foul insinuation addressed to withdraw the affections of the soldiers from the solemn engagement …by encouraging them to desert the service.” The general hoped that every loyalist soldier would “show a proper indignation for such insults on his fidelity by apprehending such person or persons and bringing them to his commanding officer.”
Loyal regiments also feared that civilians might plunder their livestock. The care of the oxen that pulled the troops’ supply wagons was often addressed in the orderly book. A “cattle guard” took the oxen to the best pasture every morning at the break of day, going no further than two or three miles from camp. Oxen were returned to the camp in the evening and were sometimes kept in a swamp.
The Maryland Loyalists also had to keep watch over their herd of dairy cattle, their immediate source of milk and meat. The orderly book has a reference to the fact that after the troops marched off at six one morning, an officer and 30 soldiers were left behind to escort the cattle. This type of duty must have been chaffing for loyalists who wanted to fight against rebel forces. But cattle guard was only one of several demeaning tasks for the men.
On October 5, 1778, one brigade had to provide a “subaltern guard” for the protection of the loyalist woodcutters on Long Island. These men, chiefly refugees from Connecticut, provided desperately needed wood for heat and cooking for the British garrison in New York City; local rebels were more than happy to try to thwart their efforts. However, watching men fell trees day after day must have been mind numbing for the Maryland Loyalists. On another occasion, twelve “rank and file” men of the loyal battalion were to march immediately to Harlem to “guard the general hospital in that place”. Protecting the loyal doctors and their patients safe from patriot attack was very unlikely to go down in the annals of glorious military adventures.
Thanks to the efforts of Captain Caleb Jones, the orderly books for the First Battalion of Maryland Loyalists has left posterity with an invaluable glimpse into the life of a corps, revealing the human flaws and foibles of its troop as well as a record of its successes in battle – and relationships with American colonists.
To secure permission to reprint this article, email Stephen Davidson.
by Eric Sterner, September 6, 2016
John Paul Jones tends to overshadow the study of the American Revolution at sea. While his accolades are well deserved, Jones earned many of them with John Peck Rathbun at his side. An American-born merchant captain who joined the Continental Navy at its beginning, Rathbun’s exploits are as daring as Jones’s, but less well known.
Rathbun was born in Exeter, Rhode Island in 1746. Orphaned at an early age, he likely grew up in Boston under the tutelage of his maternal uncle, Thomas Peck, and went to sea as a ship’s boy. By 1773, Rathbun commanded a small schooner plying the coastal routes in New England and Canada’s maritime provinces. Peck was actively participating in the patriot cause, likely involving Rathbun in Boston’s political cauldron. When the 1774 Intolerable Acts closed Boston’s port, the young cargo captain found himself beached. That winter and spring the restless skipper courted a much younger Polly Leigh, marrying her less than a month after Lexington and Concord.
The outbreak of fighting led Rathbun to leave Boston and head for Rhode Island, where his last living sister resided. Conveniently, Rhode Island’s Esek Hopkins had just become Commander in Chief of the new Continental Navy, leaving recruiting in the hands of Abraham Whipple. By November, 1775 Rathbun had signed papers to join the Navy of the United Colonies and departed for Philadelphia with a handful of recruits aboard the sloop Katy, already in the service of Rhode Island under Whipple’s command as a warship defending the colony’s interests. Katy also bore John Trevett to Philadelphia as a new recruit in the Marines. Arriving in Philadelphia, the Rhode Island sloop joined the Continental Navy as well, becoming Providence. Rathbun would enjoy a fruitful relationship with both the ship and the Marine.
Editing and design work for the Fall 2016 issue of the Loyalist Gazette are well under way.
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- Brian McConnell visited the grave of Loyalist Nathan Savary in Savary Park, NS and placed the Loyalist Flag
- Brian McConnell visiting Old St. Edward’s Loyalist Church in Clementsport, NS. (Youtube video)
Col. John Butler (Niagara) Branch is saddened to report the sudden passing of Albert Edward “Ed” Preece, UE at his home on Thursday, September 8, 2016 at the age of 85. He was the father of Branch Past President Paul Preece, UE and he was very proud of his Loyalist ancestor John Garner.
Ed was the beloved husband of the late Shirley Ann Preece (1992) and loving companion of the late Lynn Eisinger. Dearly loved father of Craig (Cathy) Preece, Paul (Colleen) Preece, Aaron (Koreen) Preece and the late Melissa Leeson (Ray). Cherished Grandpa of Megan, Kailey, Cassandra, Kalsey, Braiden, Auston and Keaton and G.G. of Lincoln. Dear brother of Bea (Bill) Foottit. Predeceased by his brother Art Preece (Claude). Ed was a long time employee of the Ford Glass Plant in Niagara Falls.
Visiting and Funeral Services were held at the PATTERSON FUNERAL HOME, Niagara Falls and interment followed at Fairview Cemetery. In memory of Ed, donations to the Canadian Diabetes Association would be appreciated. Online condolences at www.pattersonfuneralhome.com.
A couple of things happened before we left so this issue is shorter than planned; the next two may well be short as well, and it remains to be seen when they will be delivered. Cheers from the Trans-Siberian Express!