The Forgotten Holiday
Take Your Mark, Get Set, Good-bye!
The Period Between Yorktown and Evacuation Day, 1783
So much of the war just ending had taken place in New York State and also during the war Washington was weaned upon, the French and Indian War. General Washington was afforded a rare opportunity to visit these historic sites in style.
July 18th, Washington began his “tour to the northward” crossing the Hudson at Kinder Hook. Accompanying the General was the Governor of New York George Clinton and some officers. At Albany they were joined by General Philip Schuyler who accompanied the general to his brother, Harmanus’ home in Stillwater, NY. Philip had appointed Harmanus assistant deputy quartermaster-general.
Stories of the town were probably told to Washington about the tradition that Indians crossed here, the expeditionary forces in 1690, 1691, and 1709 met here then and during the French and Indian Wars. Certainly the immigration story years ago of the New England settlers coming “westward” down this main street of Hudson Avenue, was a vital story for Washington to learn about. Current events were mentioned too. He saw where then Colonel Henry Knox and his men brought the cannons from Ticonderoga to Cambridge, Massachusetts early in the war and how the militia under the command of General Gates led to the surprising victory over the British in these “Stillwater’s Hills” known as the Battles of Saratoga, and of Bemis Heights where members of the 13th Albany Militia Regiment helped defeat the British in October 1777.
Heading north, the General stopped at Fort Edward. This was the point on the Hudson River with rapids and falls, and ended water travel westward. Canoes would have to be carried overland from here to the headwaters of Lake Champlain. Sir William Johnson changed the name of the fort from Fort Lyman to Fort Edward in 1755. It was named in honor of Edward, the Duke of York and Albany, the brother of King George III. At this time a large military hospital complex was constructed on the island, presently known as Rogers Island.
Before the Revolutionary War, the fortifications were dismantled. With the fortifications in ruins, Fort Edward was defenseless. If there were a site where the favorable outcome of the American Revolution was foreseen, this area would play the title role. In 1777, the tragic murder of Jane McCrea took place here and many of the area’s settlers finally took up arms against the British and helped to cause Burgoyne’s defeat at Saratoga. The British defeat also sparked thinking in the French Court that maybe, just maybe, these rude colonists had a chance to win their independence. The backing of the American cause in the French court began here. Nearby, at the Battle of Freeman’s Farm, on the Saratoga battlefield today is a monument to the wounded leg of the heroic General Benedict Arnold. Many historians feel that the “seeds of treason” were planted in Arnold’s breast while he recuperated from this wound.
Washington’s party next stayed at the “Red House.” Built by Pat Smith in 1765, the house had sheltered Baroness Riedesel, the wife of Major General Riedesel, the commander of the German soldiers from the Duchy of Brunswick captured at Saratoga. Washington’s party dined there that evening and on the return trip enjoyed breakfast here.
Next they rode to Lake George and rowed up the lake to where Fort Ticonderoga was located. An important fort during both the French and Indian and the American War of Independence, Washington was getting both an idea of the history and the place needed in the future for this fort. His next stop was visiting the ruins at Crown Point where his friend and Masonic brother, Israel Putnam, led the attack so well during the French and Indian War. Putnam was also one of four Major Generals appointed when General Washington took command of the young army.
Heading south towards High Rock Spring later known as “Saratoga Springs,” Washington sampled the mineral water and thought out loud what a fine area in which to settle. After the war Governor Clinton and General Washington proposed to buy the land only to find that the Livingston family had already purchased the key properties.
The party then went south to Schenectady and followed the river to the west deep into “Mohawk” country to Johnstown and visited Johnson Hall – built by Sir William Johnson in 1762. Washington had met Sir William and his infamous son, John – the Tory leader – in Williamsburg before the war.
Here may be seen the upper chamber in which St. Patrick’s Lodge, F. & A. M. was instituted in 1766, where, with Sir William who was the Provincial Grand Master of New York and now as Master, the Lodge met before the erection of a building of its own. One can still see marks made by the Indian Chief Joseph Brant with his tomahawk on the mahogany stair-rail leading to the second story. What made Brant do these acts of vandalism are told in conflicting traditions: one is that he left the marks for a sign to the Indians not to burn the house; the other that, he was assembled in the upper hall with friendly Indians and hearing the approach of a company of militia, he left in haste and rage, inflicting savage blows in malice. 9 10
Brant was born in 1742 in the area around the banks of the Ohio River. His Indian name was Thayendanegea, meaning ëtwo wagers (sticks) bound together for strength’ or ëhe places two bets’ and as a child he was educated at Moor’s Charity School for Indians in Lebanon, Connecticut, where he learned English and European History. He became a favorite of Sir William Johnson, who had taken Brant’s sister Molly as a mistress, although they were married later after Johnson’s wife died. Johnson was the British Superintendent for Northern Indian Affairs, and became close to the Mohawk people, and enlisted their allegiance in the French and Indian War of 1754-1763, with a young Brant taking up arms for the British.
After the war, Brant found himself working as an interpreter for Johnson. He had worked as an interpreter before the war and converted to Christianity, a religion which he embraced. He translated the Prayer Book and the Gospel of Mark into the Mohawk language, other translations included the Acts of the Apostles and a short history of the Bible.
Around 1775, after being appointed secretary to Sir William’s successor, Guy Johnson, Brant received a Captain’s commission in the British Army and set off for England, where he became a Freemason and confirmed his attachment to the British Crown.
Brant was raised in Hiram’s Cliftonian Lodge No. 814 in London, early in 1776, although his association with the Johnson family may have been an influence in his links to Freemasonry. Guy Johnson, whose family had Masonic links, had accompanied Brant on his visit to England. Hiram’s Cliftonian Lodge had been founded in 1771, and during Brant’s visit to the Lodge, it had met at the Falcon in Princes Street, Soho. The Lodge was erased in 1782. Brant’s Masonic apron was, according to legend, personally presented to him by George III.
On his return to America, Brant became a key figure in securing the loyalty of other Iroquois tribes in fighting for the British against the ërebels’, and it was during the war that Joseph Brant entered into Masonic legend. After the surrender of the ërebel’ forces at the Battle of the Cedars on the St. Lawrence River in 1776, Brant famously saved the life of a certain Captain John Mc Kinstry, a charter member of Hudson Lodge No.7 11of New York, who was about to be burned at the stake.
Remembering that Brant was a Freemason, and Mc Kinstry, certainly in distress, gave him a Masonic sign – that Brant recognized – which secured Mc Kinstry’s release and subsequent good treatment. McKinstry and Brant remained friends for life. 12
There is a duplicate story that after the Massacre at Cherry Valley, a captured William Stacy, also a Mason, was released in the same “distressful” manner.
In 1795, the proprietors granted the Freemasons property to build a lodge hall in Hudson. The actual year of the lodge founding was 1787 and before there was an actual lodge temple, the members met in a public house. The first meeting was held at John Mc Kinstry’s house where it is noted that he was the first keeper of a public house in Hudson. The lodge was organized as #13 but was incorporated in 1824 as Hudson #7.13 In 1805 Mc Kinstry and Brant together visited the Masonic Lodge in Hudson where Brant was given an excellent reception. However, when Brant toured New York State, the Governor provided an escort for him as he had received numerous threats. Brant’s portrait was hung in the Lodge.
Washington’s group continued to travel by horse back. This certainly showed the fine shape the General was in. A recent weigh-in had him at 209-210 pounds. Arriving at Fort Schuyler or Fort Stanwick, General Washington heard about two men who in particular saved the fort. The siege of the fort began officially on August 3, 1777 when the British sent their first surrender demands to the fort, and would continue through the next 21 days. The two men who contributed so much to saving the fort and the day were again General Herkimer and again General Benedict Arnold.
Washington stopped at Palatine Bridge about three miles southeast of Fort Plain. The party stayed at the home of Peter Wormouth. The house was small and many of the officers crossed the river and stayed at the fort. By this time the local population had heard that His Excellency was travelling through the country side and, respectfully, stayed a proper distance from him. Washington was certainly aware of the attention and came out the next morning and walked in the garden so people could see him. A few of his officers returned then and conducted him to the fort.
Here he met with Colonel James Clyde. On July 17, 1777, by order of the Provincial Congress of New York, two ranger companies had been established under the commands of: John Harper and James Clyde. Clyde distinguished himself during the French and Indian War and again at Ticonderoga. That evening, after dinner, the group left for Cherry Valley and stayed as the guests of Col. Campbell who had recently returned to the Valley and built a new log house.14
The party pressed on over the portage to Wood Creek and then on to Oneida Lake northeast of Syracuse. Turning to head “home,” Washington took a side trip to Otsego Lake as far as Cooperstown. During the war, Washington had given orders to General James Clinton and a force of some 5,000 men to go to Lake Otsego and required them to hack a trail through the dense forest and build a dam at the place where the lake goes into the Susquehanna River. The dam raised the water level four feet. Then embarking on some 200 boats, the troops knocked out the dam and surged down on this high tide to Tioga Point where they joined a second army and defeated the British and Joseph Brant and his Indians. 15 Washington’s love for the study of rivers was shown again.
That night the party returned to Fort Plain, and the next morning began the trip to Albany, reaching there on August 4. Two days later, Washington was back in his headquarters in Newburgh.
Washington returned and was back in his office by Wednesday, August 6, 1783. He wrote a note to James McHenry that read, “After a tour of at least seven hundred and fifty miles, performed in nineteen days, I returned to this place yesterday afternoon, where I found your favor of the 31st ultimo, intimating a resolution of Congress for calling me to Princeton, partly as it would seem, on my own account, and partly for the purpose of giving aid to Congress.”
The Army again was using the “threat” card of a coup over the lack of pay. Congress had fled Philadelphia to Princeton, New Jersey because of the appearance and threat of 300 Pennsylvania soldiers clamoring for their back pay. Washington responded.
When he arrived and tried to get lodgings in Princeton, he ran into unforeseen difficulties. The owners of many of the best homes in Princeton would only agree to rent to Washington for a full year. The only suitable home sat four miles away in Rocky Hill, N.J. and belonged to the widow of John Berrien. Mrs. Margaret Berrien agreed to rent Rockingham to the General, and his entourage, on a monthly basis. On August 23rd of 1783, General Washington—accompanied by his wife, a small guard of 12 to 24 men, and servants—took up residence.
The General would ultimately stay there for almost three months, August into November. Martha Washington accompanied her husband and remained here until October when she left for Mount Vernon “before the weather and roads should get bad.” In October, Congress concluded its business. News of the signing of the Peace Treaty in Paris arrived. Washington prepared his Farewell Address to the Armies of the United States, and legend says he read it to his attending soldiers at Rockingham. It was published in the Philadelphia papers on the 2nd of November. General Knox would get to read the letter to the Newburgh troops.
Life was relaxing here. Rockingham’s had varied orchards and spacious grounds and Washington entertained frequently. Along with individual visitors including dignitaries Jefferson, Madison and Paine, he hosted at least one party with over two hundred guests. 16
On September 5th, 1783, Lieutenant Bezaleel Howe replaced Captain William Colfax who was in charge of the Commander in Chief’s Guard. The rest of the members of the Guard were discharged. To replace them, a group of soldiers from the New Hampshire Continental Line was assigned. The following month, on October 10th, 1783, Bezaleel was promoted to Captain. He was placed in command of the newly organized detachment of the Guards that was to escort General Washington’s baggage and records to Mount Vernon – an important event inasmuch as it was the final mission of the Commander-in-Chief Guards and was another signal that the eight years of war was really at an end.
Captain Howe selected twelve guardsmen to accomplish this task, the last mission of the Guard. These guardsmen were: 1st Sergeant Nehemiah Stratton, 1st Corporal Asa Reddington; Corporal Joel Holt, who served as wagon master, Privates: Stephen Ames, William Batchelder, James Blair, Ebenezer Coston, Abraham Currier, William Ferguson, David Morrison, Benjamin Pierce and Luther Smith.
Howe and his detachment left Rocky Hill, New Jersey the next day, Monday. They arrived in Philadelphia on Tuesday Evening of November 11th. The next day they left Philadelphia for Mount Vernon. They passed through Chester, Wilmington, Baltimore, Bladensburg, Georgetown and Alexandria and then Mount Vernon. According to Corporal Asa Redington, the detachment of Guards marched back to West Point, New York, a distance of 295 miles. Upon their return they crossed the Hudson River to Constitution Island where they were honorably discharged from the Continental Army on December 20th, 1783. 17
Washington wrote to Sir Guy Carleton on November 6th to ask again “… that you will be so obliging as to inform me of the particular time, or even the certain day, if possible when this event will happen.”
On November 10th, General Washington left Rocky Hill for West Point.
Brigadier General Huntington, commanding at West Point, on April 16th had written General Washington and pointed out the importance of having a strong base remaining at West Point. The following day, in a confidential letter, Gov. Clinton from Poughkeepsie echoed Huntington’s note and added that it might not be a bad idea to have – in each state – a training ground for young soldiers.
On his way to visit the fortifications at West Point and to get ready for the imminent march into New York City, he was caught in a snow storm and trapped for three days from November 11th to the 14th at the familiar De Wint house. 18 During the war General Washington forbad his soldiers to play cards as this activity took attention away from their military duties. The war was now over and General Washington, warmed by the large Dutch fireplace, relaxed and played cards with the Blauvelt – De Wint family.
On the 14th he finally arrives at West Point. Since the troops had been dismissed, and the New Windsor Cantonment gone, the remaining troops were gathered at West Point under the command of General Knox. Washington went to be with them to assure the plans for the entry into New York City were underway and to look at the progress of the proposed magazines and arsenal. On the 16th Garrison Orders from West Point read that the evacuation of New York City will be on the 22d instant, and that His Excellency proposes to celebrate the Peace at that place, on Monday, the first day of December next, by a display of Fire Works and Illuminations, which were intended to have been exhibited at this post, or such of them as have not been injured by time, and can be removed. 19
Washington sent a note again to Congress including Sir Guy’s note of November 12th.
Sir Guy’s note read, I propose to relinquish the posts at Kingsbridge, and as far as McGowans Pass inclusive on this Island, on the 21st instant; to resign the possession of Herrick’s and Hempstead with all to the eastward on Long Island, on the same day; and, if possible to give up this city with Brooklyn, on the day following; and Paulus Hook, Dennis’s, and Staten Island, as soon after as may be practical.
The date was set and agreed upon as November 22, 1783.
Washington stays at West Point until the 19th and began his return to New York City. He was met by Governor Clinton, Lt. Governor Van Cortlandt, Col. Benson and Col. Campbell and proceeded together with General Cortlandt and lodged at Edward Covenhoven’s in Tarrytown where he dined with General Lewis Morris.
He stopped Friday morning at the home of the late Mrs. Francis Jay Van Cortlandt and her oldest son, James, the evening of the 20th. James had married Elizabeth Cuyler (1731-1815) and moved into the Van Cortlandt House in 1754 and Mrs. Van Cortland lived with the couple until her death in 1780. During James Van Cortlandt’s occupation, the turbulent years of the American Revolution brought troops to lower Yonkers and threatened the security of local residents and their property. The house hosted numerous military encampments by both the Americans and the British. General Washington set up headquarters in the there before in 1776 and in this visit at the very end of his war. The next day, November 21, General Washington’s party was joined by General or Governor Clinton’s staff. That night they stayed at the widow Day’s tavern where we held a council. (Near the corner of the present One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street and Eighth Avenue.) Final details of the order of receiving their Excellencies Governor Clinton and General Washington beg leave that the troops under the command of General Major-General Knox will take possession of the city at the hour agreed on, Tuesday next. 20
Our pickets are advanced to Dove Tavern, five miles from the city read an article in the Pennsylvania Journal, November 29, 1783.
The order of procession is to be — A party of Horse will precede their Excellencies and be on their flanks – after the General and Governor, will follow the Lieutenant Governor and Members of the Council for the temporary Government of the Southern Parts of the State – The Gentlemen on Horse-back, eight in Front – those on Foot, in the Rear of the Horse, in like Manner. Their Excellencies, after passing down Queen-Street, and the Lines of Troops up the Broad-way, will a-light at Caps’s Tavern. The Committee hope to see their Fellow-Citizens, conduct themselves with Decency and Decorum on this joyful occasion. 21
The date for the evacuation of New York had been set for November 22nd. Then the rains began and the most important date in New York City and the American Revolution was called and postponed until November 25! 22
The small body of troops from West Point had moved down at a most leisurely pace and encamped at McGowan’s Pass, within and near the present northeastern entrance to Central Park. The group consisted of old soldiers, “bronzed and scarred,” “representatives of the protracted struggle.” The troops were the Massachusetts line, the New York artillery, the Second Regiment commanded by Colonel Joseph Vose – who had been in service since the beginning of the war – and a composite corps from the four West Point regiments led by Lieutenant Colonel William Hull, another well know veteran and comprised the eight hundred marching men. They were commanded by Brevet Brigadier General Henry Jackson of Boston. The chief officer remaining in service was Major General Henry Knox whom Washington had put in “general” charge.
Harper’s Monthly Magazine in the centennial issue in 1883 describes the scene: The element of splendor which often distinguished a New York gathering was this time wanting. Still the throng could not have been other than striking in appearance. In almost any state of dilapidation the colonial dress will set off the figure like a picture; in a crowd the effect would be enhanced. In spite of the general weather-worn aspect one may imagine the display of powdered wigs, of profuse and snow-white ruffles, of polished buttons, of silver buckles, of ladies’ head-gear and flowing dresses, and of venerable silks of every hue, that marked the occasion. Include the cocked hat, the high-collared and continuous coat, and the vest that rivaled it, and still further brighten the scene with Continental uniforms, as well as with fragments of British and Hessian gorgeousness decorating the colored servant – and we have a sightlines and variety which no modern crowd presents. But that particular crowd cared very little how it looked. Its impoverishment was an honor to its patriotism. It could only feel the gladness of the hour. It welcomed the troops with plumes and garlands all along the route. The soldiers, too, march along with the conscious air of victors and protectors. 23
The troops marched down Queen Street, wheeled onto Wall Street and then continued down to Broadway past the site of the statue of the Earl of Chatham. Can you imagine the feeling of the soldiers looking up where the statue mutilated by the British soldiers of the American respected Earl of Chatham (William Pitt) once stood and remembering his prophetic words, “You can not conquer America!” 24
As the military parade turned on Broadway, they halted opposite Cape’s Tavern, at the northeast corner of Rector Street, where it was to receive the civic procession. Down at the Battery the formal act of occupation was to take place. Upon the military halting, one company of light infantry and another company of artillery were detached with orders to march down Broadway to Fort George, take possession of the works, hoist the American colors on the flag-staff and fire a salute of thirteen guns. This was done with the assistance of a member of the crowd who shimmed up the greased flag pole, tore down the British flag (which had been nailed to the staff) and replaced it with the American colors. By three o’clock Knox had taken formal possession of Fort George to the cheers of thousands. General Washington and his party then took quarters at the spacious Fraunces’ Tavern. Governor Clinton planned a party for that evening.
And the British? The British had some 6,000 troops to be removed. The fleet in the harbor was under the command of Admiral Robert Digby. Marching ahead of the Americans they turned at Pearl Street, boarded their ships moored on the East River and sailed towards the open sea. Before the “Narrows” a cannon shot was fired towards Staten Island that fell short in the water. Was it a final wave good-bye or a last thumbing of the nose? Beside some administrative types on Staten Island, the British were gone!
Once the British had finally left, New York City could be rebuilt, and the building of the United States could begin. Washington, too, had a few more goodbyes’ to say and then he was on his way home to his beloved Mount Vernon and he hoped a life as a successful plantation owner.
History — and America — had other plans for him.
3. John C. Fitzpatrick, Editor. The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources 1745-1799, Vol. 26, January 1, 1783-June 10, 1783. Washington DC: United States Government Printing Office.
16. Rockingham State Historic Site, Kingston, New Jersey at http://www.rockingham.net/history.html
17. The Men of the Commander-in-Chief Guards Captain Bezaleel Howe, Donald N. Moran at http://www.revolutionarywararchives.org/howebezaleel.html
19. Itinerary Of General Washington June 15, 1775 to December 23, 1783, William Spohn Baker, >Lambertville, N. J., Hunterdon House 1970, c1892, p. 310-311.
20 Van Cortland House Museum at http://www.vancortlandthouse.org/history
24. The Right Honorable William Pitt, the Earl of Chatham, was a favorite of the Americans and in public testimony to his memory especially that of repealing the Stamp Act, in 1770, a marble statue was shipped to America and displayed. After the Americans broke up George III’s statue with axes, and when the British took control of NYC they knocked Pitt’s statue down breaking off the head. For years the broken statue remained in the area as witness to the destruction of NYC.