The History of New York State
Book XI, Chapter II
Part III

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam

 

New York, as has been seen, had already advanced far in its emergency military preparations, and now the direction of its government affairs was in the hands of it sown Congress. The Provincial Congress met in New York may 22, 1775, and next day organized, with Peter van Brugh Livingston as president. The first resolution adopted was that "implicit obedience ought to be paid to every recommendation of the Continent Congress," reserving "the internal police of this colony: as a responsibility of the new York Congress. Next day, the Provincial congress pledged itself to "repay all monies advanced for the public cause," and although it was an extra-legal body, it soon took firm grip of all provincial agencies. Abraham Lott, who had been provincial Treasurer since 1767, was recognized as Treasurer of the Provincial Congress, and was soon distributing public funds for war needs. On July 8, however, Peter van Brugh Livingston became "a special treasurer to handle all funds for the general defense." Thus, for almost a year thereafter New York had two Provincial Treasurers.

The Provincial Congress was determined to preserve order in the province. On May 29, 1775, it called upon all people in the province to sign "the general association," also "to arm themselves and to drill in military companies." It decried riotous gatherings, as a "high infraction of the general association," and as "a reflection on the credit of the Congress." But they could not always hold the angry populace within bounds. The latter were apt to lose control of themselves at the sight of a red coat. The British garrison of New York City had been held closely to their barracks quarters, but the fact that they were in New York at all caused New Yorkers to chafe. Even when a movement was made by the King's troops to vacate the city, the people were not willing that they should depart quietly.

When, on May 26 the British Warship, "Asia," of sixty-four guns, anchored off the Battery, and the Royal Irish Regiment, which occupied the Upper Barracks, gave indications of moving out, the rumor spread that the enemy troops were to be transferred to Boston. The new York revolutionary authorities had sanctioned the departure of the King's troops unmolested and with their arms, but when, on June 4, the movement took place, other thoughts were in the minds of the people. Marinus Willett, a worthy New Yorker, who had commanded New York troops in 1758, under Abercrombie, and who was soon to become a captain in the first line regiment raised in the province, became very excited at the thought that the Royal Irish Regiment also planned to carry away a quantity of spare arms. He set out to alarm the citizens. Rushing ahead of the force he had gathered he stopped the loaded carts at the corner of Beaver and Broad streets. In explanation, Willett said that "considering the Bloody business which had taken place among our Brethren in Massachusetts whom we were bound by the ties of honor as well as Interest to support." he deemed it his duty "to prevent these arms being used against them." Willett "conceived it much more reputable" to employ them "in the defense of our Injured Country." He was supported in this by John Morin Scott, a member of the committee. A great crowd had gathered, and the moment was fraught with tragic possibilities. However, Willett was fearless, and the crowd angry. Willett climbed on to one of the carts, and addressed the troops, saying that "if it was their desire to Join the Bloody business which is transacting near Boston, we were ready to meet then in a Sanguin Field." Had the major of Royal Irish Regiment been of hasty temper, he might then have repeated in the streets of New York a "massacre" like that which had occurred in Boston. His was the only trained body of soldiers on the spot, and nearby was a British warship whose many guns were pointed toward the city. Fortunately he kept a cool head; and the royal troops departed without shedding blood, but without their spare arms.

The situation in New York was difficult and uncertain. The people of the province were not united. There were very man Tories in New York City and many more outside. The clergy of the Church of England in the province were actively loyal to the Crown, and many of the leading citizens as well as the wealthy landowners were opposed tot rebellion. As a class, the Tories were not much in evidence at the outset. They were appalled, terrified, by the aggressive attitude of the younger men who were of the patriotic party. The people of the middle class and the artisans were the aggressive spirits, the sons of Liberty being ready to go to any lengths to defend the liberties of the people; and many scions of the upper class threw in the lot with the province. Still, there was such a marked division of opinion that the English were encouraged to believe that the Loyalists unaided would, in time, be able to overcome their more belligerent fellow-colonists . However, those who thought so did not take into account the bitterness that suffering and hardship and strife can engender. With each check the English anger increased; with each hardship the resolution of the patriots hardened; with each reverse, the chasm between the two colonial classes, the Tories and the Patriots, widened.

Along the Great Warpath, which has seen so much of war during the last 150 years, bands of warriors again began to pass. Ticonderoga, once the outer guard of New France, was not looked upon as the sentinel that guarded the way into the enemy's country, Canada. Benedict Arnold comes into prominence, but he was not the only American who felt impelled to try to overcome that guard. When war came, the fort at Ticonderago was garrisoned by about fifty English soldiers. Its armament consisted of more than a hundred guns, and the place seemed capable of withstanding a siege. Yet two daring Americans conceived the plan of capturing the fort with scarcely one company of militia and no artillery. Benedict Arnold had early asked for permission to lead a storming party. He had indeed gone into Vermont for the purpose of raising a company to carry through his project, but he found himself preceded by Ethan Allen, whose "Green Mountain Boys" were already an active body, ready for any daring enterprise and especially determined to defend the Vermont settlers against the encroachments of New York. Ethan Allen was the law in that section; and, as he refused to recognize the credentials of Arnold, the latter had to modify his plans. Allen professed to be acting partly under the authority of Connecticut. In any case, his own authority was sufficient in that region, and as Allen had resolved to lead the expedition, Arnold contented himself with the capacity of an attached volunteer. So, during the night of May 9-10, 1775, Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold, with eighty-three of the Green Mountain Boys, crossed from the Vermont shore of Lake Champlain to Ticonderoga. In the grey of dawn on the 10th, they knocked at the postern gate of the fort. A sleepy sentry who opened it was roughly bushed aside, and the right-three boys from Vermont entered with their leaders. Lined up in the courtyard, they gave vent to piercing "war whoops." The garrison commander, Captain Delaplace, was startled out of his bed. With sleep still in his eyes, and "his breeches in his hand," he stumbled out of the upper doorway of the barracks and stood amazed on the upper step of the outside stair. was he dreaming? What was it that he heard--some one demanding that he surrender the fort instantly? Why, pray? So far as he knew, no war was on. Surrender a British fort and the King's garrison, by who authority? In the name of whom, pray? The gruff, rough, outspoken leader of the Green Mountain Boys had a convincing answer on the tip of his tongue. "In the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress," #12 thundered Allen, and his eighty-three horny-handed boys from the mountains were tangible evidence of authority. So the bewildered Captain and the King's garrison found themselves the prisoners of colonials of unceremonious mien, who proceeded to celebrate the victory by making "the bowl flow freely' in the old fort.

The daring of Ethan Allen thrilled America. His exploit could stir more enthusiasm in the halting young men of the colonies than a regiment of recruiting agents could accomplish with word heroics or with fife and drum. Allen struck the keynote of independence; such resourcefulness, daring, confidence, alertness would make America's sons-of-the.-soil soldiers able to defy the armed legions of a might nation. Allen "fired the imagination of the thirteen colonies and gave ringing voice to their spirit and purpose."

Another inspiringly daring enterprise, though not so spectacular, was that which gave the province possession of Crown point on the day after Allen had seized Ticonderoga. The fort which Amherst had built at Crown Point in 1759 at an immense cost, was garrisoned by only twelve British soldiers when Colonel Seth Warner, with some more Vermonters, appeared before it on May 11, 1775. It was mortifying to the English to know that such a strong fortress should have to be surrendered without a blow to a small bank of farmers. Benedict Arnold added to the mortification by pouncing upon shipping at St. John a week later. The American triumphs on New York soil added about 300 pieces of artillery to the armament of the revolting colonist. Some of the guns, by the way, did good service for the colonies in the siege of Boston during the next winter.

While the average colonist rejoiced at the successes of Allen and Warner, the revolutionary leaders in New York were no doubt unable to enter so heartily into the rejoicing. Both Allen and Warner, indeed, were that time looked upon as rebels--not against Britain but against New York. The controversy between New York and New Hampshire as to ownership of land on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain had led the Green Mountain settlers to ignore the authority of both. For the apprehension of Allen and Warner and six others the Governor of New York actually had offered a reward of £50, their offenses insurrection.

However, this local issue was dwarfed by the greater consequences of the larger conflict. The New York leaders recognized, for instance, that the possession of the lake forts temporarily removed a danger which might early have made the interior of New York Province a region of seething native unrest. Sir William Johnson was dead; and Guy Johnson, who succeeded his uncle as Commissioner of Indian Affairs, had followed the King's orders in striving to incite the Iroquois Six nations "to take up the hatchet against his Majesty's rebellious subjects." The New York revolutionary leaders were aware of this, and sent Philip Schuyler among the Iroquois to endeavor to undo Johnson's work. They even offered to protect Sit john Johnson, son of the frontier baron, if he would keep the Indians neutral; but force had ever been the most convincing argument with the Indians; so the demonstration of it at Ticonderoga and Crown Point, by Allen and Warner, the erstwhile rebels from the authority of New York, was timely.

The clearing of the King's troops from the Great Warpath, opened the way for the invasion of Canada. Nevertheless, New York did not favor such an enterprise. In the last week of May, 1775, a Provincial Congress sat in New York, and although the delegates approved the "American Association," being willing to stand steadfastly with the other colonies in defending their common liberties, they condemned as "infamous' the carrying of hostilities against the people of Canada. The New York congress, of course, had no control over Allen, Warner and Arnold, and were impotent to hold back other colonies from such a project, but their delegates to the Continental Congress could at least put their own opinion on record.

In the same session Gouverneur Morris also carried a recommendation "for a plan of conciliation, admitting the right of the mother country to regulate trade, and the duty of the colonies to contribute to the royal treasury by grants made by the separate assemblies or by a general congress." In the next session of the Continental Congress John Jay, of New York, moved that a second petition be addressed to the King. Duane, also of New York, moved "the opening of negotiations to accommodate the unhappy disputes." Both were sustained by Congress. That body also forbade movements initiated in New York for the invasion of Canada. They would first try to draw the Canadians to their side. It was John Jay who wrote the address to the people of Canada, inviting them to cooperate with the other thirteen colonies.

However, New York made every preparation for war, while hoping for peace and conciliation. On May 25, Congress directed New York to build fortifications at the upper end of Manhattan Island, and on both sides of the Hudson River, also to construct works near Lake George. Still, there were many, probably, who doubted whether these works would ever be used. That they would not be needed was doubtless the wish of very many New York citizens--Whig as well as Tory. Indeed, the situation was chaotic. Opinions had not become positive except on one point--that peace could only come by conciliation. The colonists could not be beaten into submission, but at the time that Washington passed through New York on his way to Massachusetts to take command of the American Army, New York possessed very many citizens, even Whig inclination, who sincerely prayed fro reconciliation. Nevertheless, if denied their rights, they would fight. Washington arrived in New York City on June 25, eight days after the battle of Bunker Hill. He left the city on the 28th, confident that New York would stand firm with the other colonies until the motherland had given redress. The welcoming of the returning royal governor, Tryon, by the Mayor and Corporation of New York on the very morning of the day of Washington's departure, does not mean that New Yorkers were any less patriotic, or less determined to stand should to shoulder with their fellow-colonists in demanding their civil rights. Of course, there were many Tories in the city, also many newcomers who considered themselves Englishmen, not New Yorkers. They would side with the Crown in any case; but there were very many Americans who, while they looked upon Washington as their military leader, and would give heed first to the recommendations of the Continental and Provincial Congresses, were not inclined to be discourteous to the viceroy of the motherland. Their quarrel was not with Governor Tyron, who, indeed, had shown no despotic characteristics. However, he soon realized that his was an empty office, except in the zone controlled by British troops. The last acts of Lieutenant-Governor Colden had been earnest endeavors to persuade General Gage not to send troops to New York.

However, the provincials were rapidly arming. The Continental Congress authorized the raising of 3,000 soldiers in the province of New York, as her quota of troops for the public defense. These, by order of the Provincial Congress, were divided into four regiments, and placed under the command of Colonels Alexander McDougall, Gozen van Schaick, James Clinton and Colonel Holmes. Company commanders included John Lamb and Marinus Willett. Many of the prominent "Liberty Boys" joined the ranks. The provincial forces to all intents controlled the city, though a constant menace was the British warship "Asia" in the harbor. The muzzles of its many guns, though behind closed ports, seemed very near. They gave silent warning that if provoked they could bring death to many citizens. However, death is one of the risks of war, and the province was at war; so the risk must be taken. On august 22 the Provincial Congress resolved to move the guns from the Battery to the Highlands defenses. An attempt to dismount the guns brought a warning shot from the "Asia." Captain Lamb returned the fire, doing some damage. Whereupon the warship send a few shots into the town. Three of the Liberty Boys were wounded, but the others of Captain Lamb's company coolly persevered in their work, and the guns were taken away, twenty-one in all. Next morning the commander of the warship demanded an explanation by the Mayor, also satisfaction "for the murder of one of his crew."

Desultory correspondence followed, but soon its place in importance was taken by other exciting events. The populace were getting out of hand and were inclined to raid all government storehouses, military and otherwise.

The skies were darkening. Governor Tryon became alarmed at the approaching storm. On July 4, 1775, Lord Dartmouth had declared that "oceans of blood may be spilled," though in his opinion America would "never receive parliamentary taxation." As the summer passed there was a steady exodus of citizens, thousands leaving New York City which they feared would soon be the centre of "battle, murder and sudden death." The British from Canada were expected soon to be moving along the Great Warpath, a colonial force at Ticonderoga hearing that Sir Guy Carleton was planning, with the Iroquois, to attack the Lake Champlain posts. Other ominous signs within the province convinced the patriots that unless they tool sterner measures soon the enemies within and without the province might get the upper hand. When, in October, it was seen that the Second Provincial Congress could not get together the Quorum necessary to function, and that some of the counties adjoining the metropolis had sent no delegates "because the were under Tory control," it was thought that Governor Tryon's influence was increasing. On October 13 the Governor advised the Mayor that he had been informed that "the Continental Congress have recommended it to the Provincial Congress to seize the officers of this Government, and particularly myself by name." He warned the Mayor that such an attempt "would be resisted with all the power of the king's forces." Nevertheless, he thought it better to remove himself, his family, and his personal effects, to a safer administrative centre--to the warship "Asia" in the harbor; and he asked the Mayor to provide an escort. In reply, the Mayor transmitted to Governor Tryon a communication from the local revolutionary committee, the Committee of One Hundred, in which letter the Governor was assured that the report was unfounded, also that the committee hoped "his Excellency would continue his residence among a people who have the most grateful sense of his upright and disinterested administration." The Governor responded in courteous terms; nevertheless, he departed.

By this time, the expedition against Canada was well under way. Soon after the Continental Congress has asked New York to raise 3,000 soldiers for the general defense, Major-General Philip Schuyler had been given command of the Northern Department. He was one of the four Major-Generals commissioned by the Continental Congress, and of the eighty brigadier-generals appointed, Richard Montgomery, a brother-in-law of Robert R. Livingston, was second. On June 27 General Schuyler was asked to proceed to Ticonderoga, and, in conjunction with colonels Arnold and Hinman, repair that fortress. Afterwards, if practicable, they were to take the military possession of St. Johns, or any other Canadian centres he might deem important to the interests of the colonies. Schuyler reached Ticonderoga on the 18th of July. He sent agents into Canada to ascertain the attitude of Canadians, but soon he became convinced that Canada would be won only by fighting, as the Canadians, as a whole, were unshakably loyal. So Schuyler proceeded with his plans. On August 31 Brigadier-General Montgomery left Crown Point with a force of 1,200 men. Four days later he joined forces with Schuyler, who brought about a thousand men. Schuyler advanced with the whole force on the 6th against St. Johns, the first fortified place beyond the Canadian border. meeting formidable resistance, the invaders were compelled to retire, the American forced re-embarking on the 7th. Soon afterwards Schuyler's command was increased by 700, part from New York and part from Connecticut. Schuyler was laid low by sickness, but on the 10th Montgomery again advanced against St. Johns. He failed to capture the place, however. On September 16, sickness compelled Schuyler to return to Ticonderoga. Montgomery, now in command of the expedition, was joined on that day by Colonel Seth Warner, who brought 170 men. On October 19 the Canadian fort at Chambly, twelve miles below St. Johns, was captured by Majors Brown and Livingston, but it was not until November 2 that the garrison at St. Johns capitulated to Montgomery. The garrison of 600 had stubbornly defended the post, and it was not until after the second attempt to relieve it had failed that they surrendered. Forty pieces of artillery were taken, and a vast quantity of naval stores. It is of interest to note that among the prisoners taken at St. Johns was Major John André, whose tragic end is familiar history.

Montgomery hurried onto Montreal, whither Ethan Allen had preceded him. Colonel Allen, with characteristic independence of action, had not waited for orders form his superior officers. He had gathered eighty volunteers and had appeared before Montreal on September 25. Defeat and long imprisonment was his fate, the war by this time having become too generally recognized for the element of surprise to be as successful as it have been at Ticonderoga in May. General Sir Guy Carleton, who had been Governor of the province of Quebec, i.e., of the former New France, since 1768, had not many regular troops, but he was a skillful soldier and used them to advantage. He could not save Montreal from falling into the hands of Montgomery on November 13, but he escaped in disguise at the last moment to Quebec, where by a quick reorganization of Canadian forces he was able, finally, to face the invading armies of Montgomery and Arnold with about 1,600 men-at-arms, of strong morale. The defenders of Quebec now had to face the other column, which had come into Canada by way of the Kennebec River. It was commanded by Colonel Benedict Arnold. He might have made himself "master of Quebec,' as Washington had so fervently hoped, had he been able to bring the majority of his men in good condition before Quebec; but hardship incurred on the march had thinned his ranks appallingly. Washington had detached 1,000 men for the expedition in September, and Arnold had departed from Cambridge, Massachusetts, with this number. Some days later, abut as many more New Englanders took up the line of march, about when Arnold reached Point Lévis, opposite Quebec, on November 8, his command numbered only about 500 effective men. Some more reached him from ST. Johns on the 13th, and he decided at attack. During the next few days the audacious American commander several times demanded the surrender of Quebec, but Carlton ignored the summons. All the while disease was sapping the strength of the besiegers. No vigorous offensive could be attempted. Indeed, according to Henry's journal of the Quebec expedition, Arnold had an effective strength of only 350 men during the week of siege (November 13-21). On the 19th Arnold heard that relief was on the way to Carleton. He stayed before Quebec for another two days, but then withdrew, ascending the river twenty miles, to Point Aux Trembles. There he awaited the arrival of General Montgomery.

Many difficulties confronted Montgomery. Indeed, the Canadian invasion was fore-doomed to failure. The American leaders were disappointed that the French Canadians had not rallied to their standard. Washington, on September 25, had issued a special appeal to them, on similar terms that issued by the Connecticut Congress. Washington's appeal dwelt upon the struggles of "the free-born sons of America," the blessings of liberty, the misery of slavery, the "poverty of soul and baseness of spirit" that would come to all colonists who opposed those who were fighting for their freedom. He pointed to the "cruel and perfidious schemes which would deluge our frontiers with the blood of women and children"; and referred to the "slavery, corruption, and arbitrary dominion: which would be the common lot of Americans if England should prevail. The French of the province of Quebec, however, could not forget that in 1774 England had extended freedom of worship to the Catholics of Canada, and that the extreme Protestantism of New England had at that time found voice in a vehement protest to England, said protest reading, in part: "Nor can we suppress our astonishment that a British Parliament should ever consent to establish in that country (the former New France) a religion that has deluged your island with blood and dispersed impiety, bigotry, persecution, murder and rebellion through every part of the world." How could the Catholic French of Quebec espouse the cause of an American Government which had shown itself so intolerant in religious thought? The French Canadians lived in a conquered county, it is true, but their conquerors, the English, had not torn them from their church. Maybe, too, they remembered Acadia, which had been de-populated by new Englanders. They did not respond to Washington's appeal whatever their reason may have been.

Montgomery, and Arnold had to realize that they were in a hostile country, and that the rigors of winter had come to increase their difficulties, which were appalling enough, if only in sickness and hunger. Moreover, the volunteer troops were hard to control. Desertions were frequent, the freedom of life in the colonies manifesting itself in a reluctance of colonials to observe military discipline. Still, Montgomery and Arnold had no thought of abandoning the campaign. With the capture of Quebec, Crown dominion in Canada would end. So, on the 3d of December, the combined American forces moved down the river, and next day invest Quebec. However, it was not until the last day of the year that the final assault was made by a force that was only an emaciated shadow of what it have once been. The plan of operations called for two feints on the upper town by detachments under Colonel Livingston and Major Brown; Arnold, with Lamb's artillery, was to advance on the suburbs of the north; while Montgomery was to attack the lower town, when the troops formed junction. The darkness of the darkest hour before dawn was made darker by the heavy snowstorm that was at its height when the American forces began their operations. They seemed to be defying the warnings of Providence. It seemed folly to be even in the field, without shelter and proper food at such a season. They needed the courage of the most heroic patriotism to hold them to their purpose under such forbidding conditions. But had they been lacking in courage the colonists would never have rebelled. So the brave followers of Montgomery and Arnold, in one of he most heroic efforts of New York history, groped their way through the storm to their objectives. Theirs was a most difficult and dangerous undertaking, and success seemed barely possible. Yet Montgomery had no option. To remain before Quebec spelled failure; to raise the siege without an attempt to storm the place seemed inglorious. With only Quebec between American and the winning of Canada, it seemed that one last gamble with death should be made. As Ramsay, in his "History of the American Revolution" (1789) points out: "Great minds are seldom exact calculators of danger. Nor do they minutely attend to the difficulties which obstruct the attainment of their objects. Fortune, in contempt of the pride of man, has ever had an influence in the success or failure of military enterprises. Some of the greatest achievements of that kind have owed their success to a noble contempt for common forms."

Fortune as unkind to Montgomery on this stormy morning. He had chosen to head the most dangerous operations himself, but he has been criticized for having attempted to escalade the lower town at all. Military tacticians of a later day have averred that it would have fallen without fighting had he succeeded in taking the upper town. But the brave Montgomery saw that the power town would develop the hardest fighting, and he felt that his supreme duty lay there. With "native intrepidity and an ardent thirst for glory," General Montgomery "resolved at once wither to carry the place or perish in the attempt." Montgomery's column took the road along the river bank, made their way with extreme difficulty over blocks of ice and through drifts of snow, and while it was still dark reached the first barricades under Cape Diamond. These were passed without difficulty. "Push on, brave boys, Quebec is ours!" he shouted as they rushed toward the next barrier, a blockhouse well fortified and garrisoned. They were net by a deadly hail of bullets, fired at almost point-blank range. Montgomery was instantly killed. With his death the chance of winning Canada passed, never to come again. The feints on the upper town succeeded, and Arnold's column was advancing victoriously under Captain Morgan after Arnold had been wounded, but the death of the heroic Montgomery so dispirited the American that Montgomery's column drew back and the day was lost.

For the remainder of that bitterly, cold season, the Americans could do no more then maintain a blockade, hoping that the spring would bring reinforcements.

 

The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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