Deborah Sampson, Continental Solder: The Westchester Connection
By Jane Keiter
The military service of Deborah Sampson, who fought in the Revolution disguised as a man, has fascinated readers and perplexed researchers for over 200 years. Deborah kept her journal while she was in the army, but it was lost with the rest of her possessions when her boat sank in the mouth of the Hudson River while she was returning to West Point to receive her discharge papers.
Deborah never wrote her memoirs, but instead entrusted her story to Herman Mann, who produced a flawed chronicle. Even the official documents which survive do not clear up the contradictions and ambiguities associated with her tale.
In 1797, when he was 25 years old, Mann printed The Female Review; or, Memoirs of an American Young Lady. Almost 30 years later, Deborah expressed her dissatisfaction with this book, so Mann agreed to rewrite it, expanding the information and correcting the inaccuracies. By this time many works dealing with the Revolution had been published, and Mann inserted passages from these books nearly verbatim into his text. Because he was writing in the first person, it appears that Deborah is the source of this information.
There are many other problems with Mann's 424-page draft. It does not correct all of the mistakes or fill in all of the details. Although it is frustrating to read, it does provide useful additional information.
Deborah requested that this manuscript not be published until after her death or, as Mann says, "till her spirit would have soared beyond the reach of criticism, and the cruel reproach of mortals." Deborah died in 1827.
In his preface Mann proclaims, "And it is with a heart-felt satisfaction I here state, that there is not a page nor sentence in that part of the manuscript finished before her decease, which she has not expressed a cheerful willingness to adopt." Mann had gathered the information that he needed to complete the manuscript, which he did the year of Deborah's death. His own ill health prevented him from publishing this work before he died in 1833.
In 1850 Herman Mann Jr. copied and edited his father's manuscript. He left out much of the moralizing and several small sections that he seems to have felt were either defamatory, distasteful or perhaps untrue. This manuscript of 336 pages was never published.I
In 1866 the original 1797 version of The Female Review was reprinted with an introduction and notes by John Adams Vinton, who titled it The Female Review: Life of Deborah Sampson The Female Soldier in the War of the Revolution. Many of Reverend Vinton's footnotes incorporate sections of Mann Jr.'s manuscript. Vinton did not believe that Deborah joined the army in 1781, but a year later. In this and various other ways, he tried to undermine Mann Sr.'s credibility. This book was reprinted in 1972 by Arno Press, Inc.
Did Deborah become a soldier in 1781 or 1782? This is the question which has puzzled anyone trying to write about her. In petitioning for back pay and for various pensions, Deborah, in different documents, used both dates. Most people have concluded that the 1782 date is correct; using that date, however, creates many problems that have not been satisfactorily resolved by others. Some things in Mann's narrative do not check out, although many things in it appear to be true. The people mentioned existed and can be placed where Deborah said, even when at first her statements may not appear logical. Mann's version of Deborah's story is the only one that hangs together as a whole. The year of Deborah enlistment may never be conclusively resolved, but there is much in Mann's manuscript to support the claim for 1781.
While all of the many different versions of Deborah's story which have been written over the years have been read and the extant documents studied, what follows is a retelling of Mann's 1827 manuscript augmented with research notes. Despite its many shortcomings, Mann's account contains much significant primary source material. It is the closest one can come to Deborah's telling of it, and therefore should not be ignored as it has been in the past. Only the episodes which took place in Westchester County are presented in full for this article. Deborah had many exciting and dangerous adventures while in the army, and those taking place in Westchester are no exception.
Deborah Sampson's birthplace in Plympton, Massachusetts. Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
Deborah's Early Years
Deborah was born on December 7, 1760, in Plympton, Massachusetts, near Plymouth. Among her ancestors were several prominent passengers on the Mayflower. Her father, Jonathan Sampson Jr., was a descendant both of Miles Standish and Priscilla Alden. Her mother, Deborah Bradford, was the great-granddaughter of William Bradford, Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Although descended from distinguished Pilgrim stock, the Sampson family was poor. Jonathan had tried farming, but had given it up to make a living at sea, where he had not been any more successful. He was away often, and eventually, after he had failed to appear for a long while, Deborah had been told that he must have drowned.
Recent information reveals that apparently Deborah's father was not lost at sea. "He deserted his wife and family, became involved in a trial for murder in Maine, served in the Revolutionary War, and had a common-law wife and second family in Fayette, Maine."II Deborah's mother could not provide for her seven children, so they were placed in other households to be cared for.
Five-year-old Deborah went to live with distant cousins, the elderly Miss Fuller and her brother, on a farm in Plympton. Miss Fuller was kind and taught Deborah some reading and writing. When she died three years later, Deborah was put into the home of a frail widow, Mrs. Thacher, of Middleborough. Caring for a woman in her 80s proved to be too difficult for young Deborah so she was removed.
When she was 10, Deborah was bound out to Deacon Benjamin Thomas, a farmer in Middleborough. How different her new situation must have been from the quiet home of the widow Thacher. Deacon Thomas and his wife, Elizabeth, had 12 children, a half dozen of each sex, ranging in age from 28 years old to little Zeruiah, aged three. Their oldest child, Susanna, had married her cousin Jeremiah Thomas, and by the time Deborah arrived, had given birth to four of her five sons. These boys were close in age to the Deacon's younger sons.III
It is not inconceivable that Susanna and her family lived with the Deacon, but, in any event, they were most likely close by. The boys from the two families, though technically uncles and nephews, probably romped together as though they were all brothers. Deborah had ample opportunity to observe male behavior and to compare her strength and skills with theirs.
The days were long and hard, filled with a seemingly endless round of chores, but Deborah was well fed and clothed. While she became accomplished at spinning and weaving, she was equally adept at chopping wood and pitching hay.
Although Deborah had much to be thankful for at the Thomases, she was not completely content. Deacon Thomas had rigid views with which Deborah did not always agree, and he was very strict in religious matters. What irked Deborah most, however, was his attitude toward the education of girls, which he felt was entirely unnecessary. Although Deborah had little formal instruction, she borrowed the boys' school books and taught herself.
At age 18 Deborah's service as an indentured servant was over, but she continued to live with the Thomases part of the time. During the winter she moved about, staying in various area homes while she did the owners' weaving. She had educated herself so well that she was chosen to teach school during the summer sessions in 1779 and 1780. She did not think that the girls should be instructed mainly in knitting and sewing; in her classroom, the girls received the same education as the boys.
Ever since the Battle of Lexington in 1775, Deborah had followed the course of the war. She had wanted to help, but sitting at home sewing shirts for the soldiers was not her style. She longed to travel and see the country, something that she could never do as a lone woman with no money. A further inducement to get away was the unwelcome attention of a suitor. She had decided that this "lump of a man" was a fool and that she would never marry him.
Gradually the idea of disguising herself as a man took hold. Could she really succeed in this? That she was tall for a woman at 5'7", had broad shoulders, small breasts and a Roman nose would help. In the fall of 1780 Deborah spun and wove the fabric for a suit of man's apparel which she took to a tailor in a distant town, explaining that it was for a relative of hers who was about her size. Binding her breasts, she tried on the clothes at home a number of times before venturing out, for short periods at first. When she was not recognized, she became bolder, going to taverns and fairs undetected. As spring approached she resolved that she would join the army no matter what the consequences turned out to be.
Deborah's clandestine departure from Middleborough took place in April. When she reached Bellingham, Massachusetts, she signed up for the army using the name Robert Shurtlieff.IV
She received a bounty from a speculator, Noah Taft, who was filling the enlistment rolls for the town of Uxbridge. The enlistment was for three years or the duration of the war. In mid-May a regular enrollment took place in Worcester where "Robert" was mustered into the army by Captain Eliphalet Thorp. Soon after, the recruits started their march to New York and the fortifications at West Point. They were commanded by Sergeant Gamble, who had been sent from the lies to bring them there.
It was the spring of 1781 and a war-weary land was rounding up its soldiers for the summer campaign. Another year of revolution, the seventh, was about to begin. Troops from other regions joined the flow of men and materiel heading toward the Hudson River.
Approaching Fishkill, New York, Deborah saw the road ahead ascend into the shadowy depths of a thick forest. Every muscle seemed to groan at the sight of another peak to struggle up on legs made leaden by fatigue. The mind commanded the body to proceed, but a duel had commenced between the two. The body must obey; the brain must always be in control. The destiny of her perilous excursion into the world of men at war depended on it. If the body betrayed its secret—if she were exposed as a 20-year-old female instead of a teen-aged boy who had yet to grow a beard—Deborah would consider it a fate worse than death. It would mean shame and humiliation, ridicule and disdain.
She felt confident that she could sustain her deception as long as she kept her wits about her. Unconsciousness was her greatest danger, and she must stay out of the hospital where the probing fingers of the surgeon had little respect for a person's privacy. All around her Deborah saw weary men struggling to keep up. They staggered as she did from the exertion of the long march. Deborah heard the trilling of the fife and the staccato beat of the drum as the band urged the men forward. She straightened her back and quickened her step. She pledged that no one would ever suspect her sex because she was a laggard or a coward.
Descending the hill, the troops entered Fishkill and turned south on the Albany Post Road. A mile farther, they arrived at an extensive military base and encamped in the vicinity of an inn. Entering the tavern, Deborah stepped close to the fire to warm herself and to dry her clothes, made damp by the day's chilly mist. With horror she realized that she felt faint, but by that point she was already falling toward the floor.
Slowly reviving, Deborah peered up at a ring of faces. Had they found out? Had someone unbuttoned her coat and loosened her shirt to help her breathe? All she saw, however, were expressions of kindness and concern. A young Dutch woman stepped forward, offering her a cordial and whatever other refreshments she wished from the house's stores, of which she apparently was the mistress. Then she insisted that Deborah take her place in bed with her husband so that Deborah could get a good night's rest. Deborah protested that she was quite recovered and that was ample room in the barracks, but the woman insisted. It was but a small sacrifice for her to make for a boy going to war for his country.
It was a common occurrence for strangers to share a bed while on the road. Now that the war had generated so much travel, shortages of rooms had, in many cases, made it a necessity. No one would think twice about a youthful recruit sleeping in bed with a generous homeowner.V
It seems likely that the inn Deborah refers to is the Van Wyck homestead, which was in close proximity to the barracks. The southwest room was used as headquarters for the officers in charge at the military post and depot. According to tradition, the house was occupied by the Van Wyck family during the war. If it operated as an inn at this time, no record has been preserved. It also is possible that Deborah mistakenly thought that it was one. Elizabeth (Betsy) Van Wyck was 23 years old; her husband Isaac was 25.VI
Deborah did sleep well and woke refreshed. Thanking her host and hostess, she rejoined the ranks and marched as the sun rose into a clear sky. Reaching the edge of the Hudson River opposite West Point, the soldiers began crossing the river in barges around noon. After a general parade and inspection of the new troops, the recruits were given their assignments. Deborah was pleased to be put with officers and men from her home state.
Infantrymen from the Continental Army. Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
She was detached to Captain George Webb's company of light infantry. The 41-year-old captain had entered the war at the start. He had fought at Trenton and Princeton, had been at the surrender of Burgoyne at Saratoga and had seen action at the battles of Monmouth and Rhode Island. Captain Webb's company belonged to the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment, commanded by Colonel William Shepard. Colonel Shepard, 43 and a veteran of the French and Indian War, had been a Minuteman when the revolution began and had served ever since.
On the second day, uniforms and accouterments were issued. Deborah drilled every morning and at four o'clock in the afternoon participated in the grand parade. She quickly learned the 27 maneuvers of the manual exercise, snapping her musket, a French Charleville, into the various positions with precision as the drill sergeant bellowed commands.
Deborah was always watching for any sign that her true sex was suspected. Once when she offered to mend the tattered uniform of a veteran, her proficiency with needle and thread elicited comments. The strain of remaining constantly vigilant caused her to lose her appetite for a while.
She was proud, however, that Deborah Sampson, indentured servant, school teacher, spinner of thread and weaver of cloth—Deborah Sampson, woman—was a soldier at the mightiest fort in the land. She had her uniform, and she had her gun, bayonet and sword, and she was ready for whatever lay ahead.
Deborah did not have to wait long for a dangerous assignment. Her light infantry company was part of an elite corps of specially chosen soldiers. These men tended to be younger and smaller—the quickest, the most agile, and the best shots. During battle they were placed in the most vulnerable posts, leading the attack and guarding exposed flank positions. Even when the main army was stationary, this corps was constantly on the move, reconnoitering enemy lines and serving guard duty at advanced locations.VII
Joseph Plumb Martin, who served in such a unit, described the rigors of a light infantry scouting party:
No one who had never been upon such duty as those advanced parties have to perform, can form any adequate idea of the trouble, fatigue and dangers which they have to encounter. Their whole time is spent in marches, especially night marches, watching, starving, and, in cold weather, freezing and sickness. If they get any chance to rest, it must be in the woods or fields, under the side of a fence, in an orchard or any other place but a comfortable one….VIII
Deborah could not help but feel apprehensive when she learned that she had been detached to a corps known as the Rangers and ordered to march through Westchester County to Harlem, which was below King's Bridge. The prospect of going behind British lines was intimidating enough, but she also had heard about the devastated and lawless territory called the Neutral Ground.
During the Revolution Westchester was situated between the British army, headquartered in New York City at the lower tip of Manhattan, and the American army stationed at Continental Village near Peekskill. The forward outposts of the two forces varied over the years, but in general the land south of the Harlem River and King's Bridge was considered British territory and that north of the Croton River, American-held. The area in between was referred to as the Neutral Ground.
A "Cowboy" in the Neutral Ground. WCHS Collection.
Both armies made forages into the county to supply their troops, and irregulars known as "Cowboys" (pro-British) and "Skinners" (pro-American) took advantage of the chaotic conditions, often for personal gain. The best known and most feared Cowboy was Colonel James DeLancey, who under British rule had been the High Sheriff of Westchester County. Major Benjamin Tallmadge, a Continental Dragoon and the head of General Washington's spy operations, called the Neutral Ground "the most rascally part of the country I was ever in."
In the autumn of 1777 Brigade Chaplain Timothy Dwight was in Westchester and described the plight of the people caught between two warring armies:
These unhappy people were, therefore, exposed to the depredations of both. Often they were actually plundered; and always were liable to this calamity. They feared every body whom they saw; and loved nobody….Fear was, apparently, the only passion by which they were animated….Their houses, in the mean time, were in a great measure scenes of desolation. Their furniture was extensively plundered, or broken to pieces. The walls, floors, and windows were injured both by violence, and decay; and were not repaired, because they had not the means of repairing them, and because they were exposed to the repetition of the same injuries. Their cattle were gone. Their enclosures were burnt, where they were capable of becoming fuel; and in many cases thrown down, where they were not. Their fields were covered with a rank growth of weeks, and wild grass.IX
Conditions had not improved during the four years since 1777. Some people, too scared to spend the night in their homes, slept hidden in the woods or concealed in haystacks. All counted their blessings in the morning if their houses had not been raided or burned during the night.
About June 10 a large scouting party that included Private Shurtlieff drew provisions and headed south along the west bank of the Hudson to the fortified promontory at Stony Point. Boarding barges, they crossed the river at King's Ferry, disembarking near the outpost at Verplanck's Point. Again they wended their way southward, now following the eastern shore of the river.
At Tarrytown they bivouacked for one night. The next day the scouting party split into two groups. Deborah's unit continued south to the area of King's Bridge. Under cover of night, they took every precaution to elude the notice of British sentries and so forded the Harlem River to the island of Manhattan. Although they stayed behind enemy lines in the vicinity of Harlem for four days, they went undetected. Deborah shuddered at the thought of being captured and confined in a fetid prison ship. She and her party noted that the British were strengthening their outlying posts with the addition of men and materiel.X
Again slipping past guards, the soldiers proceeded north, this time to the east of their former route, and arrived at White Plains. Those who had not seen it before were permitted to visit the heights where the Battle of White Plains had taken place on October 28, 1776. Veterans who had fought there pointed out the positions of the opposing armies as General Washington's retreating forces tried to hold off the pursuing British.
In the summer of 1778, Private Martin, who had fought at White Plains, revisited the site:
We saw a number of the graves of those who fell in that battle. Some of the bodies had been so slightly buried that the dogs or hogs, or both, had dug them out of the ground. The skulls and other bones and hair were scattered about the place. Here were Hessian skulls as thick as a bombshell. Poor fellows! They were left unburied in a foreign land.XI
Deborah does not mention seeing any bones, but as she was viewing the rough mounds covering the hastily-buried dead, she scuffed at the turf, dislodging a musket ball. Thinking about the tragic losses that it represented, she cradled it in the palm of her hand before pocketing it as a keepsake.
About the 25th of June the soldiers left White Plains and headed west toward the Hudson, where they spent the night camped near the river. Just before dawn the next morning, Deborah's company, led by Ensign Jacob Town, set out on a scouting mission. With his swarthy complexion and dark hair, the 25-year-old officer from Hampshire County, Massachusetts, was a striking man. After three years in the field, he commanded with confidence.
The sky lightened as her party patrolled the river bank between Tarrytown and Sing Sing. The Hudson was wide here. Deborah looked across the broad expanse known as the Tappan Zee at the distant hills hovering in the morning mist. She could tell that it was going to be hot.
She had begun to relax somewhat as the days had passed and there had not been an encounter. She felt that she had performed well on this assignment, but she was glad that they would soon be heading back to the relative safety of an established army post.
Close by in front of them, a deafening volley of musket fire shattered the quiet dawn. Deborah had a man in her sights when the party of cavalry wheeled about and disappeared back behind the hill from which it had sprung. So suddenly had the mounted attackers come and gone that there had been no time to return their fire.
"They're some of Colonel DeLancy's refugees, I'll wager. Damn!" someone hissed.
The Americans were ready for the second charge and took deliberate aim. Through the haze of gun smoke, Deborah saw horses rear and men fall. Then the soldier on her left was jolted backwards and lay sprawled beside her, book spurting from the hole in his neck with each fading heartbeat.
Deborah bit off the end of a cartridge, put some of the powder in the flintlock and then rammed the cartridge down the muzzle of her gun. The more experienced men did this so rapidly that it was almost a blur. Deborah could not keep pace with them, yet she loaded and fired as fast as she could, again and again. The Americans held their ground and checked the enemy. The acrid smell of gunpowder permeated the air.
The cavalry, however, soon rallied and when they approached the next time, they led a large phalanx of Tory infantry. The opposition was now too strong for the American troops, and they were ordered to retreat to a nearby wooded area. Ducking and swerving, they sprinted while firing an occasional shot to hold their attackers at bay.
Deborah's hazel eyes widened when she saw British troops landing from the river. There was no way that her unit could withstand the onslaught of the enemy force arrayed before them. She raised her musket when she saw the cavalry begin its charge. The horses pounded up a low hill directly before her.
The sharp crack of gun fire again resonated along the shore. Deborah saw men clutching their chests as they toppled from their saddles. Horses snorted as they were reined in sharply and their heads were yanked about. Deborah did not understand at first, but then she realized that American reinforcements had arrived. She recognized the tall man leading the troops as Colonel Ebenezer Sproat of the Second Masschusetts Regiment. He was from her home town of Middleborough.
Colonel Ebenezer Sproat. WCHS Collection.
At the same time that Colonel Sproat was stopping the cavalry charge, others were attacking the Tory foot soldiers. Deborah's party closed ranks and came up in the rear of the enemy and opened fire. The smoke was so thick that they could barely distinguish their own troops from those of the enemy.
The shooting lessened, then became sporadic. The smoke broke up into wisps and drifted away, revealing that the entire opposing force was engaged in a disorderly retreat. Deborah's group pursued them for a considerable distance, and the action did not end until the sun was high overhead.
It was afternoon before Deborah returned to camp. She never knew exactly how many of the enemy were killed or wounded. Although she saw the corpses of several horses and men scattered about, some of the dead, and all but one of the wounded had been carried off in boats during the retreat. Neither did she know how many of her own number had fallen, although three of the wounded later died. Deborah found that she had two bullet holes through her coat and that the plume on her cap had been shot away.
It was late that evening before she had time to reflect on the events of the day. The warm night air soother her skin and the soft earth cushioned her tired body as she stared up at the stars. Exhausted men lay on the ground about her, guns by their sides. There was no stacking of arms while in the Neutral Ground.
Deborah had thought that she would feel trepidation before battle, but today there had been no warning. It had been so unexpected, sudden and furious that she had been in the midst of it before she had had time to think. Had she been afraid? No. She had suffered from fatigue, heat and thirst, but not from fear. She had seen men shot. She had leapt over the dying. She had aimed at another human being with the intent to kill and perhaps she had.
She had been in battle, and she had not cowered. She had seen and heard and smelled the horrors of war. It was over, and she was not trembling from the trauma of it. She knew that she would sleep and that nightmares would not haunt her. Could she face the prospect of doing it again? Deborah rolled over and drew her musket closer. The cause was just, the need was great, the will was strong. The answer was "Yes!"
The Soldiers Who Fought
Ensign Jacob Town, whose home town is variously given as Charlemont, Charlton and Oxford, at this time was an officer in Captain Webb's company. According to a descriptive list, he was 5'10" tall. He was promoted to lieutenant in May 1782 and served until November of 1783.XII If the skirmish had taken place in June of 1782, not 1781, Deborah would have referred to Jacob as Lieutenant Town. This is one of several indicators in Mann's text that Deborah was indeed in the army in 1781.
Colonel Ebenezer Sprout (or Sproat, as Mann spells it) was born in 1752 in Middleborough (modern spelling Middleboro), where his father was proprietor of the popular Sprout tavern. He was 6'4" tall, served for the entire duration of the Revolution, and was in many of the major battles. After the war he became one of the leaders of the movement to settle the territory which later became the state of Ohio. The Indians, who respected his bravery and fairness, nicknamed him "Big Buckeye." He died in Marietta in 1805 at the age of 53.
While assessing the casualties from the June 26 encounter, Mann represents Deborah as saying, "I well recollect three of the slain, with whom I was intimately acquainted—John Beeby, James Battles and Noble Sperin." This statement is puzzling because records show that none of these men was killed. All three did belong to her company, so it seems that Deborah, even if she did not remember their names accurately, should have known their fate. The correct names are Solomon Beebe, James Battles and John Sperin.
In June of 1818 Solomon Beebe, aged 63 and a resident of Salisbury, Addison County, Vermont, applied for a pension. He states that he first enlisted in Ludlow on April 9, 1776, and served for nine months and 14 days. In April of 1777 he reenlisted in the company commanded by Captain George Webb in Colonel William Shepard's regiment and served in that corps until the end of the war. He was in the battles of Danbury, White Plains and Yorktown "and at many other skirmishes which might be superflious [sic] to mention."XIII
James Battles, who was from the town of Lancaster but who was credited to the town of Leominster, enlisted in May of 1775 and again in 1777. In early 1780 he is on a descriptive list of soldiers and his statistics are given as "age, 20 years; stature, 5 ft. 6 in.; complexion, dark; hair, dark." There was also a John Battles in Captain Webb's Company. He was from the same town and had a military career similar to James's.XIV
In October of 1778 both men had been sentenced to be killed by a firing squad after being found guilty of deserting from the army the winter before. General Washington knew that examples must be set and that rules must be obeyed, but it greatly distressed him to have to order the death of any of his men. "It gives the Commander in chief inexpressible pain to find himself under the disagreeable Necessity of executing the military Laws with vigour against these Offenders – His feelings as a Man would prompt him to spare these Transgressors when his duty as an Officer compels him to punish."
Colonel James Delancey. WCHS Collection.
The execution was to take place on the common near the gallows and the day and the time had been set, the coffins made and the graves dug. Perhaps General Washington felt that James and John had suffered enough and had learned their lesson and that, as their officers had pleaded, had deserted because they had not been paid any bounty or wages, had been "naked and distressed," plus young and ignorant of the consequences. Less than three hours before they were to be shot, General Washington granted them a pardon.XV
James may have escaped the firing squad and Colonel DeLancey's troops, but his luck ran out at Yorktown. On the muster roll for February through November of 1781, he is reported sick at Virginia.XVI The muster roll for December 1781 states, "reported died Dec. 1, 1781."XVII If Deborah knew James Battles as a fellow soldier in Captain Webb's company, it would have had to have been before his death and is another indication that she joined the army in 1781.
John Sperin is cited in Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors under Sperin, Spering and Sperren. He was paid a bounty by the town of Beverly for enlisting on April 7, 1781, for three years or the duration of the war.XVIII At this time, Isaac Nobles was a wagoner for Captain Webb's company.XIX It is possible that the two names got combined to produce Noble Sperin.
In the manuscript, Deborah says that after returning to quarters "myself with some others came near losing our lives by drinking cold water."XX This seems to have been a danger. A footnote by George Grieve, an early translator of Chastellux, notes that every summer in Philadelphia when it is very hot numerous people "drop down dead upon the spot" from drinking cold water. The Pennsylvania Gazette from July 30, 1783, reported that several people had died from the excessive heat. "Others lost their lives by imprudently drinking cold water…." In New York City, Isaac Ward wrote in his journal on July 11, 1834, "that the weather had been so warm "that there has been several sudden Deaths by drinking cold water."XXI
The Campaign of 1781 Starts
After taking care of the wounded and assigning some men to relieve others at their stations in the Neutral Ground, Deborah's company was ordered to make a quick march north to Peekskill. When they arrived they found that the entire army had crossed the Hudson from West Point and was encamped there.
The soldiers wondered what this massive movement of troops meant. The conjecture that ran up and down the lines was that they were to lay siege to New York City, the British stronghold. Whatever it was that General Washington had in mind, it was clear that the campaign of 1781 had begun and that Private Robert Shurtlieff was going to be very much a part of it.
Soon after Deborah returned to the main army, a reorganization of officers and troops took place. Deborah and most of her company were transferred to Colonel Henry Jackson's regiment. Her former regimental head, Colonel Shepard, was put in charge at Springfield, Massachusetts, while Captain Webb and Ensign Town were dispatched to the South.
Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, Comte de Rochambeau. WCHS Collection.
On July 2nd the first of the troops left Peekskill and headed south through Westchester County, with the rest of the army following. The French army, which had marched from Rhode Island, began arriving on the fifth, led by their commander, the Comte de Rochambeau. The French soldiers, in pristine and colorful uniforms, were well trained and equipped. The two armies made an encampment that stretched from Dobbs Ferry on the Hudson east to White Plains, on land that had belonged to Philipsburgh Manor.
Deborah waited expectantly, but nothing much happened. Then in the middle of August, orders were issued for the troops to be prepared to move at a moment's notice, and on the 19th they were marched to King's Ferry, which they began crossing two days later.
The soldiers were lightened of all unnecessary equipment and were allowed only six hours of sleep a night. When they bypassed the camp site and ovens that had been set up in New Jersey and kept marching south, even the rank and file realized that their destination was Virginia.
The Battle of Yorktown
When they reached the head of the Elk River in Maryland, the troops boarded boats. At Annapolis they received word that a naval battle was in progress just off of the coast between the British and the French, and so they were ordered to stay in port until the outcome was known, which was not until four days later.
On the 15th of September word was received that the French fleet had prevailed, and the next day the convoy of transport vessels began streaming out of Annapolis. After landing at a spot between Jamestown and Williamsburg and marching to Yorktown, the Americans, with the French on their left, encamped two miles from the town. Lord Cornwallis and the British army were now hemmed in, the land routes cut off by the allied forces and the water routes blockaded by the French navy.
As the besieging troops set about constructing breastworks, the British began an incessant cannonade. The nights were rainy, making the sandy soil heavy to dig. Deborah came down with a miserable cold, but was relieved that it was not the virulent fever or smallpox, both of which were prevalent in the camp.
The night of October 6th was so shrouded by clouds that no light from the moon penetrated its cover. The soldiers were ordered to march with great stealth for a mile to within 600 yards of the enemy's outer works, where they began digging trenches. By midnight large blisters welted Deborah's palms. Three days later the Americans and French began shelling the town.
In order to complete the second parallel of trenches, it was necessary to capture two British redoubts. The French were assigned one and the Americans the other. Just before sunset on the 14th, the soldiers picked for this assignment were told to unload their muskets and to attach their bayonets. Deborah knew that that could mean only one thing—hand-to-hand combat. At eight o'clock they attacked.
Upon entering the fort Deborah saw two women. One screamed out "Yankee," and an American soldier plunged a bayonet into her chest. He yanked it out and turned toward the other woman. Deborah sprang forward and knocked the blade aside with the barrel of her gun. The frenzied soldier then turned and pointed his bayonet at Deborah. He was about to ram it into her when an officer, who had been watching, rapped him so hard with his sword that the man nearly fell down. The fighting soon ended.
During the next three days the Americans and French let loose with every cannon and mortar they had. The unrelenting din made the earth shudder. Gradually, one by one, the guns of Cornwallis fell silent.
On the morning of October 19th General Washington, mounted on a white horse, led the soldiers to a field between the trenches. By noon the Americans were lined up on the right side of the road leading to Yorktown, facing two columns of men that stretched for over a mile. At two o'clock the British marched from the remains of the fortified town, their arms shouldered, colors cased and drums beating a doleful march.
Deborah was just one of the tens of thousands of military men and spectators gathered in this Virginia pasture. Not even her right hand man knew who she really was. Deborah Sampson might be anonymous but that mattered not a whit to her. She knew that she had been at the surrender of Cornwallis.
The surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown. Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
The Winter of 1782
Although the victory at Yorktown was a decisive and glorious accomplishment, the war did not end with it. The British still had a troublesome force in the vicinity of Charleston, South Carolina, and the main British army was securely massed in and around New York City. General Washington concluded that "…our only sound policy is to keep a well-appointed, formidable Army in the field, as long as the War shall continue." XXII
While the French were to spend the winter in the South, the Americans were ordered back to West Point. The soldiers began heading north the first week in November, returning by the same route that they had come. They began arriving at West Point on December 7th.
Besides bitterly cold weather and a shortage of clothing, smallpox was a concern. The British had released the slaves that they had captured in the South and had sent them into the American camp at Yorktown. Many had been infected with smallpox. The germ warfare begun in Virginia had been carried north by the light infantry troops. XXIIII
By January 8th of the new year, 1782, the situation was deemed critical, and general orders were issued that all of the soldiers who had not had the disease should be inoculated. The inoculation process was risky. The subjects became quite ill for several days afterward and had to be cared for in makeshift hospitals where sometimes complications developed that led to death.
Deborah felt her heart skip a beat when she was ordered to parade for the purpose of culling all those who needed to be inoculated. She had never before felt unwilling to go into the ranks, but she could not allow this to happen. She would have to take the chance of contracting the illness over the surety of being sick and confined to a hospital. She dreaded the discovery of her sex vastly more than the prospect of death. When her turn came, she blatantly lied to the surgeon, saying that she had long ago had smallpox. It was an anxious time for her, as she continued to be exposed to the disease. XXIV
As spring approached the ice on the Hudson broke up in echoing cracks and booms that sounded to those who had not experienced it before like the opening cannonade of an attack. Yet all was peaceful militarily. Deborah rejoiced in the strengthening rays of the sun and the lengthening hours of the day.
American encampment at West Point. Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
While throughout most of the country farmers were tilling the soil and planting crops and turning their livestock out to pasture, those unfortunate enough to still live in Westchester County had had their lives so disrupted by the constant raids of Tory marauders that any semblance of normal life was impossible. Deborah had witnessed the pitiful condition of these hapless inhabitants.
In June she and two sergeants asked their captains to give them a detachment so that they could avenge the depredations of the outlaw bands. Deborah's captain had replied, "You three dogs have contrived a plan this night to be killed and I have no men to lose!"
Consent, however, was given, and they immediately looked for volunteers. Although whole companies turned out, only about 30 were allowed to go. The expedition set out near sunset. Traveling south in Westchester, they passed a number of guards at checkpoints where they gave that evening's countersign. They went as far as Eastchester, four miles east of the Hudson. There they quickly learned that two large parties of Tories had just left. While they were discussing the best means of attacking them, they discovered two boys who had been sent to get provisions stored in a cave in the woods.
The boys were asked if they had seen any Tories lately. One replied that a group of them had just been at this mother's, but had left to go visit the Yankees on the lines. The boy inquired who they were. The response was that they were a party on the same business. They said that they were very hungry and requested that the boys take them to the cave.
The boys led the way to a place that they called Vonhoite where they veered off the road and slipped onto a path through the woods. Soon they disappeared into an opening under a ledge. By the wavering light of a lantern, Deborah saw that the cave was well stocked with provisions: bacon, butter, bread, cheese, crouts, early scrohons, XXV and jars of honey. After they had eaten well and had filled their knapsacks, they informed the boys that they were really Yankee soldiers. The two youths made the cave echo with their cries of dismay. XXVI
Guards were stationed near the cave, while the rest of the soldiers hid beside the road to await the return of the Tories. About two in the morning a sentry rushed up and said that a large party was approaching, which outnumbered them two to one. They were mainly on horseback and were well armed.
The Tories stopped on the road. A couple of men dismounted and left to stash some booty in the cave, returning after a short while. Just as the Tories were about to ride off, one of the American sentinels fired his gun. Almost instantly a volley of pistol and carbine shots were aimed where the flash had split the night.
The soldiers emerged and directed a barrage of fire at the center of the Tory troops, scattering them. Several charges were made with bayonets, but the action almost from the start became general. Soon men and horses were lying on the ground, and riderless horses milled about. Deborah grabbed one and mounted. She pulled the reins to the left and tapped the horse's sides with her heels. He responded expertly. Deborah wheeled about and was confronted by a Tory. She sent his upraised sword flying with a whack from her bayonet.
The rest of the night became a blur. Several times she was engaged one-on-one. As there was only starlight, it was difficult to tell friend from foe. It was not until first light that the troops could assess the situation. They found themselves on the edge of a swampy area. Some of the enemy's horses with their riders still on them were stuck in the mire. All of the Tories who had not fled surrendered.
Deborah felt something running down her face that was warmer than sweat. She put her hand to her left forehead and found that blood was flowing freely from a gash. She looked down and discovered that her clothes on that side were stained red.
Feeling shaken, Deborah dismounted. Her left leg crumpled underneath her, and she slumped to the ground where she fainted. Regaining consciousness, she found herself being carried by two of her companions. She begged them to set her down and get her some water the quench an overwhelming thirst. After gently lowering her, they hastened to the place where they had thrown off their knapsacks.
Examining herself more closely, Deborah discovered that blood also was gushing from a hole make by a pistol ball in her left thigh just below the groin. What was she to do? If this second wound was treated by a doctor, he surely would discover her sex. She would prefer to die from loss of blood than to let that happen.
Her friends returned with a canteen of water and one of spirits. Deborah felt the need of both. As the soldiers bent over to pick her up again, she implored them to leave her. She could not tell them that she wanted to take her chances of either surviving or dying where she was because, above all, she must not go to the hospital. They would not think of abandoning her.
Deborah's despair increased as they headed north. She was so distressed that she hardly noticed when they crossed the Croton River and began the long ascent toward Crompond. Entering the cluster of homes that formed the hamlet, she was told to take heart as they were nearly at the doctor's.
A farmhouse had been taken over by the army to accommodate the officers of troops assigned to this outpost. A doctor was always stationed there to care for the soldiers and for the wounded brought up from the Neutral Ground. XXVII Coming in view of the hospital, Deborah reached for her holster and took out her pistol—better to end it now and avoid what was to come. But something stayed her hand, and she was borne into the house where a room had been set aside for examinations and, if need be, operations.
A French surgeon immediately hastened to her side, offering her and some others who had been wounded two bottles of fine wine. "How you lose so much blood at this early hour? Be any bone broken?" he asked kindly, giving her an encouraging smile.
His assistant swabbed the wound to her head with rum. As Deborah did not flinch, he commented that he supposed it had not yet come back to feeling. Deborah's mental pain at this moment was so all-consuming that her brain had not yet registered that caused by her flesh.
Deborah's head was bound in bandages, and she was given a thin, loose gown to change into. As she headed toward the door, the surgeon, eyeing her closely, noticed her pallor and that she limped slightly when she walked. He inquired if perhaps there was another wound that was still undiscovered. Deborah quickly replied no, the one to her head was the only one.
The surgeon was not so easily convinced. He looked her over, his gaze stopping at her boot, which was still oozing from the blood that had filled it. He ordered her to sit and carefully took off her boots and stockings. He washed her left leg to the knee, but on close inspection found nothing. Deborah told him that the blood had come from her head, and indeed her whole left side was drenched with it. She said that she would retire and change her clothes and would let him know if she found any other injury.
The doctor still seemed uncertain, but just then the wounded privates Rose, Stockbridge and Plummer were brought in, and he turned his attention to them. Deborah took this opportunity to snatch a silver probe, a needle, lint, bandages and some of the salve that had been used on her head. Hiding these in the gown she had been give, she walked out of the room. Finding a secluded spot, she gingerly removed her pants. She gasped when she saw the hole, still moderately bleeding, in her inner thigh.
She felt somewhat revived by the wine she had drunk. She inserted the probe, which was slightly curved at the end. It penetrated about two inches before hitting a solid object. On her third try, Deborah was successful in extracting the ball. XXVIII She bandaged her leg and put on the hospital wrap. Then checking to make sure that she had not left any signs of her extraction, she carried her clothes to the shed where mattresses of straw were lined up on the floor.
She was settling herself down on a pallet when the inquisitive surgeon appeared by her side, his shrewd eyes studying her face. Deborah told him that she was feeling better and, above all, she wanted to sleep. An orderly took away her clothes, which were so stiff that they could stand by themselves.
Deborah had been asleep for about an hour when the surgeon again paid her a visit. She was alarmed to see him holding her pants, still wet from the wash tub. "How came this rent?" he asked, putting his finger into it.
"I believe it happened while on horseback. A nail in the saddle must have snagged it. It's nothing. Please let me sleep. I had none last night."
Deborah never did find out exactly how many of the enemy were killed. Nine were made prisoners and eight horses were taken. Some of the wounded were brought to the Crompond hospital, one of whom soon died.
Deborah's head injury, which received expert care, healed well. She treated her leg as best she could, but it was a deeper wound that, even under the supervision of the surgeon, would have taken much longer to mend. Deborah slowly recovered and as her convalescence progressed, she was pleased to see that the doctor's scrutiny lessened.
By the beginning of August she was pronounced fit enough to rejoin the army for active service on the lines. Had the doctor known, however, of the imperfectly healed wound in her thigh, he would readily have exempted her from all military duty. Deborah realized that she could not march far in her condition, but she had no choice but to again enter the ranks and hope for the best.
No mention of a place called Vonhoite has been found. It was probably a location named for the owner of the land. Such examples were numerous in Colonial times. Most of these early Westchester names were abandoned long ago as neighboring towns grew and absorbed these small localities.
Caves were plentiful in Westchester and several are fairly well documented because they either held Indian artifacts or were used as homes by some of the country's more eccentric characters. Many of these caves, however, were lost when the land was either blasted or bulldozed to make way for roads and housing developments.
No starting point is given for the American troops' travels southward, but it would most likely have been north of the Croton River. The manuscript represents this episode as taking place in the course of a single night, which would have meant a vigorous march the length of Westchester and back. Typically, however, scouting parties such as these spent at least several days roving the county. It is possible, therefore, that the sequence of events was not so compressed.
The soldiers may have gone to Eastchester in stages, taking a day or two. They may have been wending their way north again when they learned about the Tories and followed, still staying inland, trying to overtake them. More than halfway to the Croton River they encountered the two boys, which would have put them much closer to Tarrytown and Crompond.
A possible locale is the area near where the borders of the present towns of Ossining, Mount Pleasant and New Castle intersect two miles due east of Ossining and the Hudson River. There were three caves in this vicinity, two of which were quite large. A pond, which the Indians had used as a water source, was nearby and may have been the "morass" mentioned in the manuscript. XXIX
It is in this region that William (also given as Willis) Haight had a tenant farm of 133 acres that was part of the extensive land holdings that made up Philisburgh Manor. Unfortunately for Frederick Philipse III, he chose the wrong side in the Revolution. After the war his confiscated land was put up for sale by the New York State Commissioners of Forfeitures, and Haight purchased the land that he had been farming. XXX
The name Haight has many variations, the most usual being Hoyt and Hoit, with Hoite and Haite also used frequently. It was a relatively common name in Westchester. Deborah only heard it so would have spelled it phonetically in any case. In The Female Review it says "a place called, in Dutch, Vonhoite." If the boys were Dutch, they would have used the prefix Van, but it is possible that Deborah misunderstood them. There is no mention of it being Dutch in the manuscript.
The manuscript does not tell by what route Deborah was taken to Crompond. The area of the caves is near the road (present-day Route 100) leading to Pines Bridge. She could also have gone via the New Bridge closer to the Hudson or have forded the river at some point between the two bridges.
The problems with location do not end here, however. In her pension application of 1818, Deborah says that she was wounded at Tarrytown. This has led some writers to conclude that it was in the first skirmish that she received her injury. Some have combined the two into one encounter. Some have placed both in June of 1782.
It is possible that Deborah used Tarrytown because she thought that it was the town closest to the skirmish. She had covered a lot of ground on a dark night and may not have been aware of her exact location. To those reading her petition many years after the war, Tarrytown would have been familiar as the place where Andre was captured. Vonhoite was an obscure locality that no one outside of Westchester would have known.
Some writers have claimed that Deborah crawled to a cave where she stayed until her wound healed. Because a cave is involved in this episode, it is easy to see how this rumor may have started. Others have stated that she hid in the woods. Both of these versions are believed to be incorrect.
The manuscript says that Deborah was taken to "the French hospital, at a place called "CromPond." The French army was still in Virginia, and it is unlikely that they had any facilities in Compond at this time. There is evidence, however, that the Americans gave medical care at this village. In an entry for February 14, 1781, Dr. Thacher states, "The advance-guard of our army, consisting of about two hundred men, is posted at Crompond, about twenty miles below West Point, and is relieved every two or three weeks. A surgeon constantly attends, and I am now ordered to repair to that post to relive Dr. Thomas." XXXI
When the French army returned to this area in September of 1782, they used the buildings set aside the year before by Commissary Claude Blanchard. He states, "On the 16th, I crossed the North [Hudson] river and caused my sick men, amounting to more than a hundred, to be taken across. I placed them in the Peekskill temple, where I had already established hospitals in the previous year." XXXII The temple referred to is Saint Peter's Episcopal Church in Van Cortlandtville.
Blanchard continues, "On the 24th, our army proceeded to Crompond, about nine miles from Peekskill;…I remained at Peekskill, not being attached to the moving hospital near the army, which was then near [enough] to Peekskill, to have the sick forwarded to it." XXXIII So even when the French army was encamped in Crompond, their hospital remained in Van Cortlandtville, near Peekskill.
It is possible that a French surgeon was attending at the American hospital. If Deborah told Mann that the doctor who treated her was French, he may have assumed that the hospital was also.
No first names are given for the men mentioned in the manuscript as being wounded in this skirmish, but they can be established from the Roll of Captain Webb's Company of Light Infantry for November 27, 1782. The original is in the Revolutionary War manuscripts collection of the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts, and appears not to have been known about by the compilers of Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolution because this information is not listed there.
Private Enoch Rose, from Granville, was 16 years old at the time and had joined the army in 1777. He was a wagoner before being transferred to Captain Webb's company in 1780. His twin brother, Elijah, also served in the army and is described as being 5'8" tall and having a dark complexion. XXXIV
Having survived the war, Enoch's life came to an early end in 1788 "falling from a frame." His only child and namesake was born that same year, but as no month is given for Enoch's death, it is not known if her ever saw his son. XXXV His widow, Lydia, who remarried, later applied for a pension. XXXVI
John Stockbridge of Pembroke first enlisted in January of 1776 at Sutton and served in different companies before joining Captain Webb's. XXXVII According to records of the Daughters of the American Revolution, he "was in 14 'pitched battles' and seven 'skirmishes.'" He was discharged in June 1783. Three years later he married Mary Dillingham in North Yarmouth, Maine.
As of 1818 Stockbridge was living in Township No. 8, Oxford County, District of Maine. In his pension application submitted that year, he states that he was surveyor of lands, but was unable to pursue his occupation because of "numb palsy." XXXVIII He died in Byron, Maine, in August of 1820 at the age of 63. Although Mary was said to be "very infirm" in 1818, she applied for and received a pension 20 years later. XXXIX
There are several entries in Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors for a Samuel under Plummer and Plumer, but none of these appears to be the right man, and without further information this soldier could not be identified. He must have been a relatively late addition to Captain Webb's company because he is not listed on the muster roll for the year before.
The manuscript also states that "Diston [sic] was killed upon the field." Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors has listings for Detson, Didson, Ditson and Dittson, but none seems to fit. It is possible that the man referred to is Samuel Ditson. Mary, his widow, filed a pension application. Formerly of Billerica, later of Boston, Ditson had served as an orderly sergeant and private from the spring of 1775 until the close of the war or "nearly that period." Mary "had lost almost all of her faculties" and could not recall much about her husband's record. XL If Samuel is the correct man, it appears that he did not die in this encounter, and it is not known why Deborah mentioned his name.
Christopher Colles' map of the road from New York to Poughkeepsie, 1789, showing the Van Tassel house. WCHS Collection, original at New York Public Library.
When Deborah rejoined the ranks, she was given a strenuous assignment that she could not perform in her injured state. She thought that she had found the perfect solution to her dilemma. As it turned out, however, she had unwittingly gotten herself into a precarious predicament.
Upon returning to the army, Deborah was assigned to a detachment of the light infantry sent to patrol the banks of the Croton River and to guard the crossings at New Bridge, about a mile inland from the Hudson, and at Pines Bridge several miles farther east.XLI Her leg ached, and when she removed the bandage, she found that the wound was oozing. She did not want to resort to deception again, yet she knew that she must find a way to avoid the common rigors of a soldier.
About two weeks after leaving the hospital Deborah received permission to nurse a sick soldier, Private Richard Snow, who belonged to her company. A house was found in a place called Collebarack, where the owner, a Dutchman named Van Tassel, agreed to take in the two soldiers in return for payment for their food and lodging and other expenses. Deborah was pleased with this arrangement, since it would give her thigh more time to heal at the same time she was helping a fellow soldier.
Van Tassel's Garret
The troops had no sooner left the area, however, when Deborah became concerned about her situation. It became apparent to her that Van Tassel's sympathies did not lie with the Americans, despite Holland having recently become an ally. The land encompassed by Van Cortlandt Manor, which stretched from the Hudson to the Connecticut border, was rife with Tories despite being so close to the American army. As luck would have it, Deborah had unknowingly been quartered in one of their homes.
When she asked for a straw bed and other articles for Private Snow's comfort, all of which had been contracted for, Van Tassel snapped, "The floor and fasting are good enough for rebels!" He led the way to a filthy garret. Except for one window with a wooden shutter, there was no ventilation, and the mid-August sun beating down on the roof made it unbearably hot and stuffy.
That night Deborah slept fitfully, waking with a start when she heard a large party on horseback ride up in the middle of the night. Peering out from behind the shutter, she surmised that they were the Tory marauders called Cowboys returning from a successful night of pillaging.
The next day, as Deborah was pondering her plight and what she could do about it, the door slowly opened. A teenaged girl peeked in. She hesitated a moment, then slipping into the room, introduced herself as Van Tassel's daughter.
"I've brought you something to eat and drink." She set down a jug of water and a cloth containing bread and cheese. "I'll get you some meat and wine later. Don't let my father know I was here." She turned and left before Deborah could thank her.
After a couple of days it was obvious to Deborah that Richard's condition was worsening. She waited at the road for a passerby and stopped a man who said that he would take a message to the army for her. She told him that there was a sick soldier at Van Tassel's who urgently needed a doctor, and that arrangements must be made quickly to have him taken from there.
That evening the Cowboys again rendezvoused at Van Tassel's after a raid. There seemed to be a larger number of them than before, and they were unusually boisterous. Deborah was certain that they were getting drunk, and she feared that they might decide to have some fun with the soldiers in the attic. She loaded her gun and Snow's guns and made fast a rope at the window to shinny down on. She would fight or retreat or do both if need be. Her precautions and vigilance proved to be unnecessary, however, and toward daybreak the revelers dispersed.
Deborah anxiously waited for the army doctor to arrive, but after two days, she concluded that her message had not been delivered. She asked Van Tassel's daughter for the name of a local physician. Deborah went to his house and procured his help, saying that he would be paid when she reported the case to the army. He came willingly, although he asked how she had ended up at Van Tassel's, who he suspected of being a Tory.
The doctor was very attentive and did all that he could to assist Richard, but he was too ill. On the 10th night he died in great agony. Most of the time Richard had been delirious, but he was lucid right before the end and whispered that he was resigned to the will of God.
Deborah wrapped Richard in his blanket and then seated herself by the window to get some fresh air. She was alarmed to see a sizable band ride up to the house, congratulating themselves on the success of their plundering. Deborah heard them milling about on the first floor, and it was not long before their voices became raucous.
Deborah's situation was not a comfortable one. She was the foe in a house full of inebriated men who had unprincipled hearts. She still had an unhealed wound, was exhausted from caring for a sick soldier and being constantly on the alert for danger, and she was trapped in a dark, dirty garret with a corpse by her side.
The room then seemed to come alive with mewing, slouching forms punctuated by glowing eyes. Hungry cats swarmed about her making passes at Snow's body. She struck several of them with her cutlass, and, with difficulty, kept the others from tearing the flesh of the dead man who had been her companion.
Hearing footsteps on the stairs, Deborah felt her heart beat harder than it had in any engagement. Hefting two guns and a broadsword, she stationed herself at the head of the stairs. Then Van Tassel's daughter softly called to her, and she was able to relax somewhat.
At daybreak Deborah went downstairs, but all of the outer doors were locked. She was turning back when she met Van Tassel's daughter, who invited "Private Shurtlieff" into her elegant room. While they sat by the window and sipped a glass of wine, the daughter apologized for the way her father had treated the two soldiers, saying that she did not agree with her father's Tory views and that she had suffered because of them. Deborah pleaded with her to convert her father or he might lose all of his possessions and be forced to leave the country as well. The daughter reached over and took Deborah's hand in hers, but just then her mother called for her, and she left.
With the help of two others, Deborah buried Private Snow, and soon after rejoined her regiment, which had crossed the Hudson and was now encamped at Peekskill.XLII She could not, however, get the events at Collebarack out of her mind. She swore that unless Van Tassel mended his ways, he had not seen the last of her, and at their next meeting she would have the upper hand.
After some weeks elapsed, Deborah learned that Van Tassel was still entertaining the Cowboy gangs. She made a full report of what she had observed to her captain and colonel and requested permission to raid the house. Her officers pointed to the red scar above her temple and asked if she wanted to take such a risk again. Deborah argued that she knew the house and grounds so well and was so familiar with the way that these scoundrels behaved that she would have every advantage on her side. Reluctantly her officers consented to a voluntary expedition which was to be headed solely by Deborah, and she had no trouble recruiting the necessary men.
Deborah's next step was to see if she could find out when the marauders were planning to meet again. Although the Van Tassel house was 12 miles from camp and quite isolated, she went to it, pretending that she just happened to be in the vicinity and was stopping by to pay her respects to the family. The father was away, but the daughter seemed pleased to see Private Shurtlieff.
Deborah pondered for a while, but finally decided to tell the girl of her plan and to ask for her help. The daughter was scared at first, but Deborah assured her that no one in her family would be harmed. She argued further that perhaps this would teach her father a lesson and that he would realize the fate awaiting the enemies of the country.
Van Tassel's daughter agreed to assist Deborah and said that when her father returned that evening, he was expected to have news about an upcoming raid. She invited Private Shurtlieff to stay the night, but Deborah thought it proper to decline. She said that she would be at the doctor's the next morning, and that the daughter should either meet her there or send a sealed letter with the information.
That evening Deborah visited the doctor. She informed him how he was to go about drawing pay for his services to Private Snow, but, being a patriotic and humane man, he declined any recompense and gave Deborah a receipt vouching for this. He remarked that he was always willing to help the army in any way that he could and readily offered Deborah lodging for the night.
The next morning Van Tassel's daughter appeared at the doctor's, and she and Deborah went for a walk. She had learned that a Tory expedition was planned for one week from that day. As they strolled down a cart path, Deborah outlined her plan.
She told the girl that for her part, when the Cowboys were inside, she was to offer them ample grog on the unlikely chance that they should be slow in helping themselves. She was to gather their arms and lay them carelessly aside, emptying out the priming, if charged, and taking out the flints, if practicable. They agreed on a spot outside for her to hide the key to the stable if they locked it. With everything arranged, it was just a matter of waiting.
A week later at the appointed hour, Deborah's troops assembled and were near Van Tassel's by nightfall. The overcast sky was favorable for their purpose. At about 10 o'clock Deborah dispatched a spy, dressed as a farmer, to reconnoiter the house. He reported back that all was quiet. Deborah told him to keep watching and to bring news of any occurrence out of the ordinary.
Near midnight he returned and reported that a large group of Cowboys, apparently heavily laden with spoil, had arrived. As many of their horses as could be accommodated had been stabled. A couple of the raiders appeared to have been seriously wounded, yet all of the rest were drinking boisterously.
Many of Deborah's men wanted to storm the house at once, but she told them she had a plan already in place and that unless they obeyed her, all was at risk. The scout found that the stable door was unbarred, and Deborah instructed a select party to bring out the horses and guard them. The remaining troops were told not to fire unless ordered to. When they were positioned in front of the house, several were allowed to discharge their muskets with powder only.
The Tories were greatly alarmed, and they rushed out of the house, falling over one another. Some shouted for their horses, some for their guns, and some were too drunk to do either. Deborah immediately demanded that they surrender or they would be dead men on the spot. All gave in without opposition. Deborah ordered some soldiers into the house to secure all of the arms. They were told not to use force on anyone unless he resisted and not to touch any other property.
When this had been done, Deborah, mounted now on a good horse, asked who their leader was. Receiving no reply, she inquired if the owner of the house was among the captured. Van Tassel stepped forward, trembling. Deborah accused him of encouraging unwarranted attacks on innocent citizens, and Van Tassel confessed he had been in error. Deborah told him he must reform his ways and renounce his misguided principles and agree to the doctrines of a free nation.
She allowed him to return to his home and his family, and she gave back two horses that she knew were his. Van Tassel was so relieved to be spared that he requested Deborah to feed her soldiers using whatever he had to eat and drink, which she did. As the new day dawned, Deborah gave orders to march. Her troops returned to the lines with 15 Tory prisoners and nine horses.
Commemorative coin issued in honor of Deborah Sampson by the Daughters of the American Revolution. WCHS Collection.
To reward the success of the expedition, she arranged for some special refreshment from the army's stores. After her men had been served, Deborah asked that the prisoners also be treated. Some of the soldiers objected to this, but she claimed that it was the humane thing to do. Deborah loosened the bonds on the hands of the captive who appeared to be the leader. He was sullen as he ate and drank. As she was fastening his hands again, he gave her a blow that sent her sprawling to the ground. Deborah jumped to her feet and drew her sword and for a moment seriously considered slashing him with it.
The man spewed forth a stream of abusive language. He cursed Deborah, saying that she had served him a damned Yankee trick by taking him prisoner. He claimed that Van Tassel's daughter had been his girl before Private Shurtlieff came along, but that now she paid the soldier the attention he had once had. His men tried to calm him and reproached him for his savage verbal attack. He received a lashing on his bare back with the cat-o'-nine-tails as punishment for his insolence. The captives were then sent to the jail at West Point. Deborah was pleased with the outcome of this expedition and was especially satisfied that no blood had been shed.
New Bridge and Collebarack
New Bridge was built over the Croton River by the army early in 1779 to facilitate travel between the northern posts at King's Ferry and Continental Village north of Peekskill and the more southern Westchester outposts at Sing Sing and White Plains.XLIII Colonel Rufus Putnam wrote in his memoirs, "I was ordered down to Colla-beargh, with my regiment, to build a Bridge over Croton river. The Command was agreeable, & the troops well accommodated in House." The construction was completed by the end of March.XLIV
For the most part New Bridge supplanted the ferry at Van Cortlandt Manor, a mile farther west near the mouth of the Croton. This bridge is also often referred to as Croton Bridge and sometimes as Continental Bridge. It was located in the approximate vicinity of the present-day Quaker Bridge.XLV
The topography of this area was greatly altered in the 1840s when the Croton was dammed just east of the former New Bridge to supply water to New York City. The vast reservoirs that resulted submerged many of the landmarks from Revolutionary days. The river, which had been navigable up to New Bridge, was reduced to a narrow stream.
Collebarack disappeared as a place name around the end of the 18th century. During the Revolution it was used interchangeably with Colabaugh to designate an area extending from New Bridge north toward Crompond. There was also a Colabaugh landing in Croton Village on the Hudson that later was named Croton Point.
In his history of Westchester, Robert Bolton states, "To the east of Croton Village, the Collabergh mountains—a high ridge encompassed by woods—towers far above the surrounding hills, at the foot of which is situated the Collabergh pond (a beautiful sylvan lake in miniature) supplied by never-failing springs of pure water."XLVI Today, the name of the lake is usually spelled Colabaugh. A survey map made in the late 1700s, however, calls it Collabarrack.XLVII
In June of 1780 General Howe wrote to Colonel Putnam, "I would wish you to set out, so as to arrive at or about Collebarrack by daylight with a small party of Twenty five, or Thirty men in order to make observations and gain Intelligence.—I have directed Col. Miller who is at Crompond to move to Collebarrack…." While stationed there Putnam gave his address as Collabergh.XLVIII
Despite its proximity to the American army, the Crompond area was considered especially treacherous territory because of the many British sympathizers living there and the general lawlessness that pervaded both sides. A census taken in September 1782 tallied 3,052 inhabitants of the west and middle wards of Cortlandt Manor. Of these, 680 were listed as Refugees.XLIX
The French commissary, Claude Blanchard, claimed, "Crampond and its environs are not considered a very safe country; it is peopled by tories…."L As Dr. Thacher described it: "this vicinity is constantly harassed by small parties of volunteers on our side, and parties of royalists and tories on the other, who are making every effort to effect mutual destruction…."LI
Mildren Strang, whose ancestors settled in Crompond before the Revolution, wrote: "Groups of lawless men, loyal to none, used the war and the Neutral Ground as a cover and raided farms by night. Their Headquarters supposedly was in the Dug Way which is now under Croton Lake and they filled all people with dread and hatred. Even when I was a child people had no use for descendants of these men."LII
Private Richard Snow
Richard Snow, who was in Captain George Webb's Light Infantry Company, was from Rochester, Massachusetts. He had enlisted in the army in February of 1777 when he was 22 years old, and the next month he and Sarah Handy of Sandwich had filed their intention to marry. There is no record that this marriage took place, so Sarah most likely waited in vain for over five years for the war to end and her soldier to return home so that they could begin their married life.LIII
The manuscript does not say where Richard Snow was buried. It may have been in the woods or a field. Although the Presbyterian Church at Crompond had been burned during the Revolution, its graveyard remained in use to bury the dead from the war among others. Interred there are the former black and Indian slaves of Colonel Christopher Green's First Rhode Island Regiment who were slaughtered by DeLancey's troops at the Davenport house near the Croton River in May 1781. Few early markers remain, and many of the dead from this period may not have had any.
Another possibility is a cemetery used by the first settlers of Crompond. It was on the main road through the village. Mildren Strang's ancestor Henry "watched mounted soldiers ride across the fields to bury their dead in the little graveyard which has since become the site of a modern home."LIV
Wherever it was, Richard was probably buried in an unrecorded spot. He was but one of countless men, many separated from their homes by the Atlantic Ocean, who died here during the war and received hasty burials.
Dr. Ebenezer White
The doctor who attended to Richard Snow is referred to only as "the neighbouring pnysician." The attributes of this man as delineated in the manuscript, however, fit Dr. Ebenezer White, who lived in Crompond. Dr. White was a staunch patriot. In 1780 a band of Cowboys had plotted to capture him, but he had been warned by a Tory friend to hide. Not finding Dr. White, the raiders had taken in his stead Dr. James Brewer. In the ensuing skirmish Dr. Brewer had been shot, dying the next day in Dr. White's arms.
That Dr. White was always ready to help is demonstrated by this reference from Dr. Thacher when he was stationed at Crompond: "A gentleman volunteer, by name Requaw, received a dangerous wound, and was carried into the British lines; I was requested by his brother to visit him, under the sanction of a flag of truce, in company with Dr. White, who resides in this vicinity." LV They spent the night at Dr. White's mother-in-law's house. Dr. White's home was to the east of the center of Crompond, which means that it was not in the immediate Collebarack area. As the exact location of Van Tassel's house, however, is not known and no distances are given, Dr. White remains a strong possibility.
Abraham Van Tassel
The Van Tassels were one of the original families who settled in Westchester County. Cornelis Janszen Van Texel, who was born about 1600 in Holland, immigrated to New Netherland, where he married a Native American from Long Island. Her name was Catoneras, and she was the daughter of Wyandice, the local sachem. Their son, Jan Cornelis Van Texel, and his family moved in about 1684 to Ryck's Patent, which eventually became a part of the town of Cortlandt. They are supposed to have lived in a Native American village there.LVI
The family prospered and grew in numbers and spread throughout the county, although they remained concentrated in the areas around Cortlandt and Philipsburgh. When the war came and people were forced to choose sides, the Van Tassel clan was divided by their loyalties as were many other extended families in Westchester. The men often took up arms for their selected cause, and thus, within the larger context of the Revolution, the fighting in Westchester had many aspects of a civil war.
Abraham Van Tassel was born about 1735 in Ryck's Patent, so he would have been approximately 47 years old when Deborah was at his house. The following is from American Loyalist Claims:
VAN TASSEL, ABRAHAM, Croten Bridge, Westchester Co., N.Y. Joined Army as volunteer in Loyal Refugee Corps at King's Bridge 4 June 1779; served until the peace without pay or clothing, and drove what cattle of his he could, to Army. Memorial 9 Feb. 1786 Digby. Claim: House which was burned: cattle. Rejected. (AO13.26.506-507).LVII
This confirms that Van Tassel was a Tory. Undoubtedly "his" cattle were ones that he had stolen on raids. That he gives his address as Croton Bridge indicates that he was still living in Collebarack in 1786.
The house that was burned, however, is believed to be one that was on the property that Van Tassel moved to within the next three years and probably had lived in before the Revolution began. This land, which borders on the Hudson a mile south of the village of Peekskill in the town of Cortlandt, can be traced by land deeds and is shown on Christopher Colles' A Survey of the Roads of the United States of America 1789. On map 10 of the road from New York to Poughkeepsie, Van Tassel's house is located on the west side of the Albany Post Road (route 9) halfway between mile marker 47 and 48.LVIII
In March of 1777 the British had come up the Hudson to destroy the munitions stored at Continental Village. On their way inland they had burned a few buildings in Peekskill. Then in October of that year, the British had again advanced up the river from Manhattan. This time they had burned all of the homes by the river's edge on both sides as they had swept north.
Van Tassel's farmhouse, which was right in the path of the British troops, had surely been destroyed. Even if he had had the means and the will to rebuild, he must have realized that the location was much too vulnerable. Consequently he had moved his family east to the remote mountainous region around Colabaugh Pond. Whether Van Tassel bought, rented, borrowed or simply took over an abandoned house has not been determined. Deborah considered him wealthy, so the house must have been fairly substantial, at least by her estimation and the standards of the Colonial era.
Mary Van Tassel
Grenville Mackenzie does not give any birth dates for the children of Abraham Van Tassel, but appears to have listed them in the order of their birth: Catherine, John, Mary and Wyntje. In August of 1782 Catherine, married to Hendrick Tys (Henry Tice), was eight months pregnant with her fourth child. The Tices lived in Cortlandt. John was married and lived in Ryck's Patent.
There is not much information about Mary, but by early 1787 she had been married and had had a child. She was most likely in her mid- to upper teens when Deborah stayed at her house.
Wyntje (Vinchey) married William Lent sometime between 1790 and 1794, and her sons, John and James, were born in 1795 and 1797. Assuming that she was in her late teens when she wed and had her first child a year or so later, Vinchey would have been approximately eight years old in 1782.
Mary must have been the daughter who helped Deborah, and from suggestions in the manuscript, there appears to have been a mutual flirtation. She seems to have been independent-minded, perhaps even a bit rebellious. Unlike her sisters, she did not choose a man to marry from the long time families in town. Whether her husband was the leader of the Cowboy gang captured by Deborah is not known. All that can be established is that his last name was Males and that a son, Abraham, was born to them.
The union was brief. When Mary's brother John wrote his will on the snowy day of February 3, 1787, Mary was already living apart from her husband, and her brother felt that she should be provided for. After leaving all of his real estate and half of his personal estate to his wife, Rebecca, John, who had no children, gave these instructions: "the other half of my personal Estate I Will and bequeath to my kind and loving Sister Mary Males to her and her heirs for ever and likewise to have the full Use of one Room with a fire place, in the house I now live in during the saparation from her husband." John died in May of 1791.LIX
From the 1790 census, the first national census for the new country, it appears that Mary was living with her parents. The Van Tassel household was probably composed in this manner: one adult male, Abraham; one male under 16 years, Mary's son; and three females, Abraham's wife and his daughters Mary and Vinchey. The family did not own any slaves.
Census takers walked or rode from house to house, so names appear on the list in neighborhood groupings. When Abraham signed his will in 1784, it was witnessed by three men who lived nearby. He also felt that it was necessary to make special arrangements for Mary's future welfare:
First I give to my daughter Mary Males her Heirs and Assigns forever all my now dwelling house Garden and Orchard with as much land as to contain ten Acres more than one third of the lands I now possess to them their Heirs and Assigns forever and the remaining part of lands I Will to be equally divided between my daughter Vinchey Lent and Catherine Tice them and their Heirs and Assigns forever (proviso) that the two last mentioned Legatees admit of said Mary Males and her heirs getting fire wood enough for her own house consumption of off any part of said Land which I now posses during her or their pleasure. I likewise will to my daughter Vinchey one Milch Cow and the remaining part of my personal Estate of any kind whatsoever I will to my daughter Mary Males her Heirs and Assigns forever.LX
Because she is not mentioned in the will, it can be assumed that Abraham's wife had died sometime between 1790 and 1794, and because Vinchey now had the last name of Lent, that she had married during this period. Abraham's will was proved on March 10, 1795.LXI Perhaps after his death, Mary lived in her inherited house close by the river and her sisters' homes.
In 1829 Abraham Males of Mamaroneck bought two plots of land in Cortlandt for $530. Purchased from the Fowlers of Albany, the first parcel had about 45 acres and the second about 15. Both lots were bounded on the east by land belonging to Catherine Tice, his aunt, who died the following year.LXII
In 1831 Abraham and his wife Mary of Cortlandt sold two lots to Frederick W. Requa for $3,000. The first tract was 60 acres more or less, it "being that part of the farm late of Abraham Van Tassel, decd., which in the division thereof, was set off and allotted to his daughter Mary the mother of the said Abraham Males." The second piece of about 15 acres was "the equal and undivided half part of a piece of land commonly called the wood lot also being part of the said farm of Abraham Van Tassel."LXIII
No further trace of either Mary or her son past this time has been located. Abraham Males probably moved out of the county shortly afterwards. If Mary was still alive, she would have been in her late sixties, and perhaps she went with him. In any event the Van Tassel homestead had passed from the hands of the family. A decade later the Hudson River Railroad was built along the water's edge through this property, and the farmland eventually became covered with freight docks, warehouses and asphalt.
The campaign of 1782, which had not been an active one in the North, was winding down as was the war itself. The main army was preparing to retire to winter quarters in New Windsor, New York, north of West Point. The Light Infantry troops, however, were not granted a respite from their strenuous duties, and Deborah would have several more adventures before the year was over.
A Westchester Autumn, 1782
The French army had been sent north from Virginia in case General Washington wanted to use them for an attack on New York City. On September 14, Count Rochambeau crossed the Hudson River to Westchester County and was greeted in fine military style at Verplanck's Point. Dr. Thacher described the ceremony:
The whole army was paraded under arms this morning in order to honor his Excellency Count Rochambeau on his arrival from the southward. The troops all formed in two lines, extending from the ferry, where the count crossed, to headquarters. A troop of horses met and received him at King's ferry, and conducted him through the line to General Washington's quarters, where, sitting on his horse by the side of his excellency, the whole army marched before him, and paid the usual salute and honors. Our troops were now in complete uniform, and exhibited every mark of soldierly discipline. Count Rochambeau was most highly gratified to perceive the very great improvement which our army had made in appearance since he last reviewed them, and expressed his astonishment at their rapid progress in military skill and discipline.LXIV
On September 22nd orders from France arrived directing that if the British evacuated either New York or Charleston, the French army was to leave the country and head to the West Indies. From the 17th until the 23rd, the allied armies camped side by side at Peekskill. On the 24th, they proceeded several miles south, where the Americans camped in the vicinity of Verplanck's Point, with the French in and around Crompond.
Colonel Samuel Blachley Webb. WCHS Collection.
Colonel Samuel B. Webb from Connecticut notes the closing of the campaign in a letter written to Joseph Barrell on October 8, 1782, from the "Light Infantry Camp, near Croton River."
In September the Light Infantry were embodied in Five Battallions, making about Twelve Hundred Men and the command given to Me; it placed me in an enviable, but honorable situation—and I flatter'd myself the Field of Glory was in full view—but the prospect seems vanished—Campaign is nearly pass'd without our seeing the Enemy—they do not think it prudent to quit their strongholds, nor will the Finances of these United States furnish Money for Horses to drag our Artillery, or Forage to subsist them.LXV
On October 21st intelligence was received that the British had decided to give up Charleston, and the next day the French army began leaving Crompond.
They returned to the North by the same route that they had come a little more than a year before. In Boston they boarded transports to take them to the West Indies. A special unit led by the Duc de Lauzun left on the 27th for winter quarters in Wilmington, Delaware.
A demonstration by the American army took place on October 24th at Verplanck's Point. It was a noteworthy event that was recorded with pride in the journals of privates and of generals.
Private Jeremiah Greenman of the Rhode Island line wrote, "This day agreeable to yesterdays orders the whole armey paraded & went th[r]ough Seveal Manouvers which was, thought by his Excellency Genl. Washington to surpass all of the like kind since the commencement of the present War."LXVI
Lieutenant Benjamin Gilbert of the Fifth Massachusetts Regiment remarked that the light infantry had gone to Verplanck's Point, where the whole army was reviewed by General Lincoln.LXVII
Dr. Thacher in one of his last entries reports, "Eight battalions have been selected from the army to perform some grand manoeuvres and a review. The evolutions and firings were performed this day with that regularity and precision which does them honor, and which received the full approbation of the numerous spectators, and of the American and French officers who were present."LXVIII
General Washington, who had spent so many frustrating years attempting to drill and dress a proper army, must have been gratified at last. He observed that "…the last Grand Manoevre that will be performed this Campaign surpassed every other exhibition of the kind that has been made in the American army."LXIX
After this final event, General Washington began moving the American army to a new winter cantonment at New Windsor, New York, north of West Point. He established his headquarters in the Hasbrouck house in nearby Newburgh. The left wing departed from Westchester County on the 16th, followed the next day by the right wing.
Colonel Webb, commander of the Light Infantry troops, received orders from General Washington:
After the right wing of the Army has Marched, On Sunday the 27th inst—you will remove the Camp of the Light Corps to a convenient & warm position just in the rear of the Continental Village, where you will remain until further Orders, continuing to do the duty of the Lines & advanced Posts in the following manner: One compleat Company to Mount at the Post of Dobbs Ferry, one Company to be divided between the Block House of Ver Planks & Stoney Points, and two Companies to be kept constantly in your front on this side the Croton, these latter should be continually removing from place to place, & keeping up Patroles incessantly in such manner, as you shall think best calculated to cover the Country & prevent surprise.LXX
Events in the Manuscript
Deborah sailed up the Hudson in a sloop from Verplanck's Point with Lieutenant Brown and other soldiers. They left during a fierce storm, and while still in the Highlands passed a schooner on her beam-ends. Due to their own precarious situation, they were unable to offer assistance. They went as far north as Albany, and the return voyage was pleasant.
As the weeks passed, the prospect of an engagement between the main armies became more and more remote. A considerable scouting detachment that included Deborah, was, nevertheless, ordered into part of New York and New Jersey in order to stop the ongoing depredations of the Tories and Refugees.
Although Deborah felt that her duty was the most satisfying when pursuing these insidious internal enemies, she also considered it the most hazardous part of her military employment. The tour, however, was uneventful as their quarry had for the most part either fled to New York City or to foreign lands or was petitioning for a pardon.
"The first of December," while Deborah was with a scouting party patrolling the north bank of the Croton River, mounted Tories ambushed it.LXXI The charging horses drove the soldiers west toward the abandoned and looted Van Cortlandt Manor house. Reaching the ferry crossing, they had no alternative but to try to ford the rushing Croton or to face an engagement with a force which outnumbered them three to one. A Dutchman was summoned from the ferry house and compelled to pilot them across the river on a hidden bar where the shallower water was only about breast high. They made it safely to the opposite bank.
Deborah and the others, dripping and cold, proceeded to the house of the Widow Hunt, who ran a tavern there. She greeted them in a cordial manner, but protested that she was very short of supplies. She, however, kindly offered to send "black George" to get some refreshment. The other soldiers had already made themselves comfortable before the fire, but Deborah suspected that the widow was a Tory. She whispered to her companions that they should leave immediately before George had time to alert the enemy.
Rushing out, they overtook George and obliged him to accompany them back to the ferry crossing where they spent a miserable night in the freezing weather. They had no shelter and their clothes were still damp. Deborah's imperfectly healed wound throbbed in the cold.
In the morning they discovered that the river was partially frozen, ice skimming the quieter backwaters. The patrol, however, decided to try to retrace their steps by staying on the bar. They began picking their way across the river, but the swift current made it hard to see clearly and, as the water got deeper, to maintain balance. They were halfway across when a large party of Tories appeared on the bank behind them. Deborah, attempting to hurry, was swept off her feet. Not knowing how to swim, she felt certain that she would drown. She rose to the surface gasping. A rope was thrown to her. Using all of her strength, she lunged for it and grabbed hold and so regained the bar. She was greatly relieved when she scrambled up on the opposite shore.
At a store about two miles away the frigid and hungry troops were not treated politely, so they stove in the top of a brandy cask and filled their canteens. They gave a shoe full to George and left him in better condition than that which his mistress had intended. Deborah rejoined her company at Peekskill Hollow.
The Voyage to Albany
Deborah sailed up the Hudson with Lieutenant Brown. Ebenezer Brown, from Braintree, Massachusetts, had become a minuteman in April 1775 at the age of 16 and had been wounded at Saratoga in 1777. He served for the entire war, retiring in November of 1783.LXXII The purpose of this trip has not been determined.
The manuscript states that they left during "a most severe equinoxial storm," which would have placed it about September 23. This date appears to be incorrect. Lieutenant Benjamin Gilbert, who belonged to the Light Infantry Company of the Fifth Massachusetts Regiment and whose service during this time was similar to Deborah's, kept a diary.LXXIII He often notes the weather, especially if it is unusual for the season or extreme. September was a calm month. He had to take shelter in a barn on September 19th because of a "shower of rain."
The last week of October, however, seems to have had some nasty weather. On Saturday, the 26th, it was "exceeding rain" and on the 30th there was a "very rainy night," with rain the day before and after.
Private Jeremiah Greenman confirms this weather report. On the 26th he reports, "This day wrain which prevented our marching." From the 29th to the 31st he was at Newburgh where it was "rain & stormy." It was most likely on October 26th that Deborah's sail up the Hudson took place. This makes sense because it was after the military exercises at Verplanck's Point on the 24th and before the light infantry moved to Continental Village on the 27th. If the return voyage was pleasant, it may have occurred after October 31st and before November 6th, another day of "exceeding rain."
Scouting Detachment to Orange County
Lieutenant Gilbert appears to have been part of the same scouting detachment as Deborah, which she described as being of "considerable" size. On Sunday, November 17th, Lieutenant Gilbert rose two hours before daylight and prepared for a march. He crossed King's Ferry to the west bank of the Hudson at 11 am, halted at Haverstraw and then continued south to Clarkstown.
From the 18th to the 20th he was at the Blockhouse, where it snowed. The Blockhouse was situated on the west bank of the Hudson near the Dobbs Ferry crossing. On the 21st he was at Tappan and Clarkstown and on the 25th at "Caacaat" (Kakiat). Lieutenant Gilbert returned to King's Ferry on Tuesday, the 16th. All of the towns mentioned by Benjamin are in New York, although the manuscript says that the troops were also in New Jersey. As both the Blockhouse and Tappan are very close to the New Jersey border, excursions may have been sent into that state.
The Croton River Ferry Crossing
The Van Cortlandt Manor House had been built near the mouth of the Croton River in the 1600s as a hunting lodge for the New York City-based family who owned a vast manor in the area. In 1749 Pierre Van Cortlandt had fixed up the house for use as his permanent residence. Pierre and his son Philip were ardent patriots, giving much of their time, ability and wealth to the cause. The constant danger in Westchester forced Pierre to abandon the manor house and move north to Rhinebeck to rented quarters. (His daughter, Cornelia Beekman, who had fled New York City, occupied the Upper Manor House in Van Cortlandtville near Continental Village.)
It was here that the Croton River bisected the Albany Post Road, the two parts being connected by a ferry crossing. The ferry house, comprising common rooms and bedrooms is to the east of the manor house. After the Revolution the manor house was continuously occupied by members of the family until 1940, when the last direct descendant of that name, Miss Ann Stevenson Van Cortlandt, died there. The property is now owned by Historic Hudson Valley and is open to the public.
The Van Cortlandt Manor Ferry House, restored. WCHS Collection
Mary Miller was born March 9, 1738, and married Joseph Hunt. In Mackenzie's genealogy of the Hunt family, he says of Joseph, "When his brother-in-law Gabriel Purdy went to New York about 1778, he took over his leasehold on Highland Avenue in Ossining and ran the inn."LXXIV
Because Gabriel had fled to New York City, it can be assumed that he was a Loyalist, and perhaps other members of his extended family shared his views. Gabriel also had leased more than 100 acres of land in the northwest corner of Philipsburgh Manor. This land bordered the Croton River opposite the Van Cortlandt Manor House. After her husband's death, Mary took over this property and ran a tavern there on Pines Bridge road (now Quaker Bridge Road) just northeast of the Albany Post Road. In 1785 she bought the land from the Commissioners of Forfeitures for 359 pounds and 12 shillings.LXXV Widow Hunt died in 1820.
Even if the Widow Hunt was a Tory as Deborah suspected, her tavern seems to have been a popular stopping place for American soldiers. On October 15, 1782, Lieutenant Gilbert made this entry in his diary:
I received orders from Col. Webb to join Capt. Colbourn at the New Bridge with the party mentioned yesterday, and found Capt. Colbourn at the Ferry, after noon Liunt. Givens and I went over the River and spent the afternoon at the Widow Hunts, at night we moved to the Widow Haines.
Three days later, he wrote:
We moved to Mr. Vanwarts and Breakfasted, after breakfast crossed the ferry with a party of men and marched down as far as [Pinguloes?] Mills, tarried there til five o'clock P.M. and then marched back to the Widow Hunts, where I found Capt. Colbourn & tarried all Night.
Lieutenant Gilbert records that the weather on Sunday, December 1st, was warm and pleasant. On the night of the 5th, however, there were "severe showers of rain" accompanied by heavy wind and thunder. When he got up on the morning of the 6th, he found that the weather had become very cold. Chastellux, who was in Newburgh on December 7th, reported that "the season was already far advanced and the cold very severe."LXXVI "The first of December" in the manuscript, therefore, probably means the first part or week of December, not December 1st.
The section of Mann's manuscript covering the last four months of 1782 is a classic example of the difficulties encountered when trying to accurately reconstruct the events he mentions. That dates and names are not always precise is understandable. Because Deborah did not have a diary to consult, all of the information had to be from memory. The first version of her story was written 14 years after the war, the second, revised one, almost 30 years after that. In reference to the French doctor she says: "Every encomium of gratitude is due to my surgeon, whose name I lost with my journal." Talking about a settler in upstate New York she apologizes: "I regret that I have forgotten his name."
There is more happening, however, than just Deborah having trouble remembering, and, in fact, she appears to have done a credible job of that given the passage of time. Mann is not a precise chronicler, and he gets events muddled. Perhaps Deborah talked quickly and while Mann was trying to jot down a note, she was already on to another topic. Maybe Mann did not write down anything and later tried to reconstruct his conversations with her. He also was attempting to create a detailed and sweeping history of the Revolution, so he had to keep track of this information also.
In The Female Review Mann says that Deborah "was with the armies on the 19th of October in their grand Display at Virplank's Point." In the manuscript he leaves this out, but he mentions the ceremony to greet Count Rochambeau "about the middle of September." Mann may have been unsure if there were two events or just one, as both took place at Verplanck's Point. It is probable that Deborah was at both and mentioned both to him.
Now, however, the manuscript gets even more confusing for the researcher. It states that Deborah went to visit Mary Van Tassel on the first Saturday in September, which would have been the 7th, and that her raid took place a week later, meaning the 14th, which is the same day that Rochambeau arrived. Lieutenant Gilbert records that on that day he arose one hour before sunrise when he began his march to Verplanck's Point. He returned to the encampment by midnight, a long day. It is doubtful that Deborah could have organized the raid to Van Tassel's and been part of the events at Verplanck's Point on the same day.
This is not all that is askew. Mann relates that after her stay in the hospital, Deborah rejoined the army "the first part of August" and "about a fortnight" later arranged to stay at Van Tassel's with Private Snow, who died "on the tenth night." Then "some weeks elapsed" before she went to meet with Mary Van Tassel on the first Saturday in September. Mann should have realized that adding these weeks up brings one past the first week in September. It could be that several weeks did not pass, but Deborah had pleaded with Mary to try to reform her father and so would have given her a fair chance. A reasonable conclusion is that Mann was confused about what happened in which month and should have placed the raid in the first part of October.
A timeline for this period that conforms to the facts that can be documented and also fits the order of events mentioned by Mann would be as follows:
- Saturday, September 14 – Deborah is with the army at Verplanck's Point to welcome Count Rochambeau.
- Saturday, October 5 – Deborah meets with Mary Van Tassel.
- Saturday, October 12 – Deborah conducts the raid on Van Tassel's house.
- Thursday, October 24 – Deborah marches in the maneuvers at Verplanck's Point.
- Saturday, October 26 – Deborah sets sail from Verplanck's for Albany.
- Sunday, November 17 to Tuesday, November 26 – Deborah is with a scouting party in Orange County, New York.
- Thursday, December 5 – Deborah is driven across the Croton River by Tories and spends a freezing night on its banks. She returns to Peekskill Hollow on the 6th.
Mann may be maddening, but he is not fabricating these events. They happened, and there is every reason to believe that he learned about them from Deborah, who was there.
1782 Draws to a Close
Soon after returning to Peekskill, Deborah crossed the Hudson and joined the main army at New Windsor. The year was coming to an end and with it so was the campaign and, ever more assuredly, the war itself.
Dr. Thacher wrote in his journal that "…the prospect of peace is so favorable and encouraging, that our Congress have passed a resolve to discharge a considerable part of the army on the 1st day of January next."LXXVII So while the troops settled into their new quarters, some soldiers were also making plans to end their service and to return home at last for good.
Many had served for over seven years and others for almost as long. They had grown from gawky teenaged boys to confident men with muscular bodies. The army had become their way of life, the only one they had known as adults. Although their success made them proud and joyous, the prospect of leaving was viewed with mixed feelings. As Dr. Thacher notes:
It is with inexpressible reluctance that I contemplate a separation from numerous friends with whom I have long associated in the most harmonious and pleasing intercourse. Engaged in the same glorious and honorable cause, encountering together the same perils, suffering unparalleled hardships and privations, and participating in the most interesting scenes and events, our mutual and cherished attachments are no less ardent that the ties of brotherly affection.LXXVIII
The men who intended to remain envisioned a quiet life in what now appeared would be their last winter cantonment. It might be supposed that Deborah at this point also would welcome a tranquil period of relative ease. However, when another opportunity to travel, and perhaps to fight, presented itself, she immediately volunteered. As far as is known, she never again set foot in Westchester, but that did not mean that her adventures were by any means over.
Soon after Deborah had joined the army in New Windsor, a detachment was formed to reinforce the troops on the frontiers in upstate New York, where the Indians and Tories still posed a threat to the citizens of this wilderness area. The soldiers set off along the banks of the Hudson heading northward until the river was frozen solidly enough for them to travel on it. North of Albany they followed the chain of old forts leading to Lake Champlain.
While bivouacking at the ruins of Fort Ticonderoga, scouts returning from the West informed them of Indian attacks. On the second day of trekking through a swirling snowstorm, they came upon a man fleeing for his life, the blood from his wounds leaving crimson blotches on the snow. He led them to the smoldering remains of his home, where the troops were soon engaged with a band of Indians. Deborah chased one into the forest and captured him. He turned out to be the leader and to be a white man disguised as a Native American.
Back at the clearing a devastating sight lay before her. The wife of the owner, horribly mangled, lay dead a few feet from the threshold. Two children were strung up by their feet, hanging from a tree. One was dead with a tomahawk through his skull. The other, who still clung feebly to life, had been scalped. When the piteous cries of a child were heard, a soldier rushed over to a pile of straw and plucked out a little girl, stiff with cold, her shoulder split open by a tomahawk.
Leaving a detachment to care for the father and his daughter and to bury the dead, Deborah's unit headed toward the scene of another attack, but found no trace of the owners, either alive or dead. Returning to the Hudson and heading south, they stopped at Albany where people flocked to see Tommy Redman, the sachem, as the soldiers had nicknamed their captive. The troops arrived back at New Windsor the last of January, happy not to have lost a man and to be reunited with their friends.
Shortly after this Deborah learned that she was to be removed from the ranks to serve as a waiter to General John Paterson, who commanded the First Massachusetts Brigade, which included her regiment. Deborah was pleased to serve this accomplished officer, who, as she soon learned, was also a pleasant gentleman. For the first time, she could enjoy some of the comforts of home life and was given a good horse to ride.
At noon on April 19, 1783, General Washington stood in the doors of the Temple, a great hall that had been built during the winter as a place for worship and for general assemblies, and read a momentous proclamation to the troops: the cessation of hostilities between the United States of America and the King of Great Britain. The soldiers responded with three resounding huzzahs and were given an extra ration of rum with which to toast the new nation.
Although Deborah's life at this point was generally uneventful, she did get into two situations which caused her alarm. One occurred when a couple of robbers ambushed her as she was riding along at dusk through the mountains returning from Smith's Clove. Deborah managed to thwart their plan. The other close call happened when the troops were marched to the Hudson and ordered to bathe. Again Deborah's quick thinking got her out of a tight spot.
While waiting for the definite treaty of peace to be ratified, the troops were gradually disbanded. Beginning in June, furloughs were freely given and after June 6th, a regiment a day was discharged. General Washington, nevertheless, still wanted some soldiers in the field. Toward the end of June preparations were made to move the remaining troops to West Point. General Paterson's brigade arrived there on June 23rd, where an encampment was made on the plain around the red house in which the general had his quarters.
The next day distressing news reached General Washington. A group of disgruntled soldiers of the Pennsylvania line had gone to Philadelphia to demand that Congress settle their accounts and redress their grievances. In the city they had been joined by other troops to form an insurgent band of 300 men. General Washington immediately ordered Major-General Robert Howe to leave West Point the next morning for Philadelphia with 1500 men. General Paterson's brigade was included in these troops.
Deborah had not been regularly drafted for this, and General Paterson had tried to persuade her not to volunteer for it. Deborah, however, set out two days later. Reaching Philadelphia, she joined the main body of soldiers encamped on a hill overlooking the city. The mutinous band, however, had laid down their arms.
An insidious danger, nevertheless, stalked the steamy streets of the city. A very mortal epidemic raged that summer, especially among the soldiers who were stationed there in late July. Deborah scarcely felt the symptoms before she collapsed. Barely aware of what was happening, she was carried to the hospital. As if in a dream, she watched as a corpse was removed from a bunk, and she was placed in it. Then the world went dark as she lost consciousness.
The one thing that Deborah had feared the most had happened, and she was incapable of doing anything about it. While examining her, Dr. Binney discovered the secret that she had assiduously guarded for over two years. He had her removed to the apartment of Mrs. Parker, the hospital matron, and under their solicitous care, Deborah's health improved.
As soon as Deborah was well enough to walk and ride, Dr. Binney took her to his home where he introduced her to his wife and small children as a gallant soldier. Two weeks passed and still the doctor did not broach the subject of her deception. When Deborah mentioned to him that she felt well enough to return to the army, he suggested instead that she might like a tour through Maryland and Virginia as far west as the Ohio River. It was being organized by Colonel Tupper of Massachusetts and the Messieurs Forkson and Graham of Philadelphia, who intended to make geological and mineralogical surveys.LXXIX Deborah did not hesitate to accept.
At the end of August Deborah's group set out from the Conastoga wagon depot on the stage to Baltimore, arriving there the next day. The explorers and their guide set out on foot across Maryland traveling from the head of the Chesapeake to the banks of the Potomac. Heading west, they crossed the Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountains until they reached the Monongahela River.
At a village called Medskar, while visiting a tribe of Native Americans, Deborah had a relapse of the fever and was left by her group at the Indian village to recover. She was soon feeling better and joined an Indian hunting party. The second day they split into small units , and Deborah formed a trio with a boy and an old man, who resented her because she was a better shot than he was.LXXX
As night fell, they placed their blankets under an enormous sycamore. The old man had been irritable all day, and several times Deborah had caught him looking at her in a spiteful manner. She felt that she dare not fall asleep. After several hours Deborah, peering between the slit of her eyelids, saw the man crawling silently toward her, a tomahawk in his hand. She waited motionlessly. When he was within two yards, Deborah sprang to her feet. As the Indian rose to his knees, she shot him through the chest. In the morning, the boy and Deborah carried the body to the Kanhawa River, strapped it to a stone and sank it.
Attempting to return to the East, Deborah and the young boy got disoriented in the vast wilderness and wandered for three days. Worn down by hunger and exhaustion, Deborah was convinced that she would die, but then she heard small arms fire from an encampment of a large band of Native Americans who had been to Detroit to get provisions and blankets. With them was a young woman who explained that she had been captured at Cherry Valley and had been sold many times.LXXXI
Deborah could not believe her good fortune, when the next day Colonel Tupper and his companions strode into the camp. Deborah told them about the captive woman, and they pooled some of their money to ransom her and began their trip back to civilization.
In Philadelphia Deborah received a warm welcome form Dr. Binney and stayed with his family for a couple of days. Again he made no allusion to his discovery of her true sex, but as she was boarding the stagecoach to leave, he handed her a sealed letter addressed to General Paterson.
About the 12th of October Deborah reached Elizabeth Town, New Jersey. The boats going to New York City that met the stage had all left. It was late in the day, rainy and blowing hard, but a group of 12 located a "crazy skiff" and, after much persuasion, hired a skipper to navigate her. As they entered the Bay of New York, the storm grew more intense. Shortly after helplessly witnessing the drowning of 19 passengers as their shallop sank, Deborah's own boat filled with water and dropped away beneath her. The air trapped in her large outer coat buoyed her up, and, although whitecaps washed over her, the current eventually carried her to shore.
Except for her canteen, her military accoutrements were gone. Her trunk containing her wardrobe, money and journal was lost. She reached into her surtout and pulled out the morocco pocketbook containing Dr. Binney's letter. Although the leather was wet and the letter damp, General Paterson's name was still legible. Three days later she had a smooth sail in a sloop up the Hudson to West Point.
General Paterson greeted Deborah warmly and was interested to hear about her trip west. The next morning Deborah reluctantly handed over Dr. Binney's letter. As she suspected, the doctor reported the truth about her sex. General Paterson found it hard to believe that what he had read was correct, and he asked Private Shurtlieff to confirm it. To further demonstrate the fact, Deborah asked to borrow one of Mrs. Paterson's exquisite gowns and accessories to complete the outfit.
The transformation accomplished, she swished into the room where General Paterson sat waiting, and curtsied. The General leapt to his feet and bowed in a courtly manner. "Madam, I was just thinking. I don't know your name." "Deborah Sampson, sir." "Well, Miss Sampson, I am greatly honored to make your acquaintance. This is astounding. It truly is. Stay as you are, and I will summon Colonel Jackson."
After some friendly banter, General Paterson addressed the Colonel. "Henry, as you know the Revolution has been full of many wondrous events and now I have one to present to you. Look closely at Miss Sampson and see if you don't recognize Private Shurtlieff."
The Colonel was dumbfounded. "You mean to tell me that this young lady is actually a man?"
"No, no, you have it backwards. Private Shurtlieff is really a woman. He is Deborah Sampson."
Then the General had an idea. "Will you accompany the Colonel and myself on an inspection of the campground dressed as you are?" The two officers then escorted Deborah between the rows of white tents. Familiar faces were everywhere, but no one recognized her as Bobby.
Deborah was assigned an apartment by herself and given a full set of clothes for both sexes. She, however, usually wore her uniform. She realized that the news must have gotten out when curious groups of soldiers and women began appearing outside her house hoping to catch a glimpse of her.
Deborah began to worry about what would happen when she arrived back in Middleborough. She tried to calm her doubts by telling herself that she had faced down adversaries far worse than gossiping tongues. She had done a man's work in a man's world, and she had done it well. No one could deny her that.
On October 23rd Deborah stood at attention before Major General Henry Knox as he handed her an honorable discharge. A final salute, an about face, and she was no longer a soldier. Directly, Deborah left West Point on a sloop bound for New York City. From there she took Captain Allen's packet to Providence. Traveling the rest of the way by land, she arrived in Massachusetts in November to begin life anew in a new nation.
Life After the Army
Uncertain of what her reception in Middleborough would be, Deborah went instead to Stoughton. There she worked on the farm of her mother's sister, Alice Bradford Waters, and her husband, Zebulon. She kept her male disguise, sometimes wearing her uniform, and went by her soldier brother's name of Ephraim.
Gannett House on East Street in Sharon, Massachusetts. Courtesy Boston Public Library.
How Deborah met Benjamin Gannett, who was three-and-a-half years older, is not known. Did she find this farmer from Sharon attractive and decide to let him know that she was a woman and available? Did he somehow ferret out the newcomer's secret? Or maybe Deborah had already shifted to female attire before they met. In any event, they were married by the town clerk on April 7, 1785, and had three children: Earl Bradford; Mary, called Polly; and Patience, called Patia.
In 1802 Deborah decided to supplement the family's meager income by giving an oration at the Federal Street Theatre in Boston on four days in March. Her speech was most likely written by Herman Mann; it was long, verbose and revealed little of substance about her military career. Supposedly the audience was satisfied. Just to see this unusual woman may have been enough. They paid attention when Deborah, dressed in her uniform and commanded by an officer, flawlessly executed the maneuvers of the manual exercise with her musket.
Encouraged by her success in Boston, she decided to take the show on the road. Deborah, who was to travel alone and make all the necessary arrangements, was probably the first woman in the country to go on a lecture tour. This arduous trip, which kept her away from home for more than a year, was mainly through western Massachusetts and around the Albany area. Although she suffered from fatigue, illness and homesickness, two pleasant stops on her journey allowed her to stay with her former army officers. She visited Captain Webb in Holden, Massachusetts, and General Paterson in Lisle, New York.
Perhaps Deborah's wanderlust was finally sated, because she never again traveled far from Sharon. "The Old Soldier," as her granddaughter called her, died on April 29 1827, at the age of 66, and was buried a mile south of her home in Rock Ridge Cemetery.
Deposition of Deborah Gannett in her claim for a pension. National Archives Facsimile No. 3, WCHS Collection.
Four years after his wife's death, Benjamin petitioned Congress for Deborah's pension. Although it was introduced by Representative John Quincy Adams, it was not until 1836 that it received attention. That year an act was passed "granting half pay to widows or orphans where their husbands or fathers have died of wounds received in military service of the United States, and for other purposes."
The committee which reviewed Benjamin's application did not feel that it fell within the spirit of the act because he had not been married to Deborah during the war.
…and, were there nothing peculiar in this application which distinguishes it from all other applications for pensions, the Committee would at once reject the claim. But they believe they are warranted in saying that the whole history of the American Revolution records no case like this, and furnishes no other similar example of female heroism, fidelity, and courage."
The Committee concluded that Benjamin:
…was honored much by being the husband of such a wife; and as he had provided himself worthy of her, as he has sustained her through a long life of sickness and suffering, and as that sickness and suffering were occasioned by the wounds she received, and the hardships she endured in defence of the country; and as there cannot be a parallel case in all time to come, the Committee do not hesitate to grant relief.
This income came too late to help Benjamin, who had died three weeks before on January 9, 1837. The next year, a special Act of Congress awarded the money to Deborah's children. So, posthumously, Deborah garnered two more "firsts," the first husband and the first children to receive a pension due to the military service of a wife and a mother.
IThe original manuscripts written by Herman Mann and his son are owned by The Dedham (Mass.) Historical Society. Bob Hanson, former president, was very helpful with the initial phase of the research for this article.
IIBarbara Lambert Merrick, "The Secret Life of Jonathan Sampson," The Mayflower Quarterly (November 1982), 172.
IIIJohn Marshall Raymond, Thomas Families of Plymouth County, Massachusetts (No place: Thomas Family Publications, 1980), 15, 17.
IVSecretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolution. 17 vols. (Boston: Wright and Potter, 1896-1908), 14:164, 185. Except for the highly educated, phonetic spelling was commonly used in the 18th century. This can be confusing when applied to proper names. In Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors, the name Shurtlieff is listed 23 different ways. Herman Mann's spelling is the one used here. For some reason, Mann's son changed it to Shurtliffe. Deborah used different variations in different pension applications. In Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors she is listed under Sirtliff and Shurtlieff.
VGeorge Grieve, an Englishman who spent the year 1782 traveling in this country, comments: "Throughout America, in private houses, as well as in the inns, several people are crowded together in the same room; and in the latter it very commonly happens, that after you have been some time in bed, a stranger of any condition (for there is little distinction), comes into the room, pulls off his clothes, and places himself, without ceremony, between the sheets." Howard C. Rice, Jr., trans., Travels in North America in the Years 1780, 1781 and 1782 by the Marquis De Chastellux. 2 vols. (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1963), 2:603.
VIThe Van Wyck house is now a museum owned and occupied by the Fishkill Historical Society. In James Fenimore Cooper's 1821 novel, The Spy, it is depicted as the home of the Wharton family. Sources include: Willa Skinner, Fishkill Town Historian; Anne Van Wyck, Descendants of Cornelius Barentse Van Wyck and Anna Polhemus (New York: Tobias A. Wright, 1912), 87; Harold Donaldson Eberlein, The Manors and Historic Homes of the Hudson Valley (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1924), 175-176.
VIIThe Light Infantry Corps was created by General Washington in August 1777. It was so valuable that he placed a light company in every regiment. During a campaign, the companies were combined to create a separate corps.
VIIIGeorge F. Scheer, editor, Private Yankee Doodle: Being a Narrative of Some of the Adventures, Dangers and Sufferings of a Revolutionary Soldier by Joseph Plumb Martin (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1962), 68.
IXTimothy Dwight, Travels in New-England and New York. 4 vols. (New Haven: S.Converse, 1821), 3:491-492. Timothy Dwight was from Connecticut and served from October of 1777 until January of 1779. He became well known as a preacher and writer of verse and was president of Yale from 1795-1817.
XBecause General Washington was seriously contemplating an attack on New York City, it was crucial for him to reconnoiter the enemy's outer defenses. This expedition makes more sense in 1781 than in 1782.
XISheer, ed. Private Yankee Doodle, 134.
XIIMassachusetts Soldiers and Sailors, 15:911; Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army During the war of the Revolution, April 1775 to December 1783 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publish Co., Inc., 1982), 546.
XIIINational Archives, Washington, DC Pension #S 38.531.
XIVMassachusetts Sodiers and Sailors, 1:810, 814-816.
XIVNational Archives Series M853, Roll 4, Jackson Orderly Book #6 written at headquarters, Providence, October 15, 1778, 40 and October 17, 41-45. General Washington's quote is on page 41.
XVIMuster Roll of Capt. George Webb's Company of Light Infantry From the 1st of February to the Last of November 1781, Massachusetts State Archives; Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors, under the name Battls, 1:816.
XVIIMassachusetts Soldiers and Sailors, 1:815; also Clarence Stewart Peterson, Known Military Dead of the Revolutionary War ( Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1967), 21.
XVIIIMassachusetts Soldiers and Sailors, 14:724.
XIXMuster Roll of Capt. George Webb's Company of Light Infantry From the 1st of February to the Last of November 1781, Massachusetts State Archives; Isaac is listed in Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors, 11:484, 490, 499.
XXRice, Jr., trans., Travels in North America, 1:334.
XXIIsaac Ward Journal, ms. at WCHS Library.
XXIIJohn C. Fitzpatrick, ed. The Writings of George Washington From the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799. 39 vols. (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1931-1944), 23:217.
XXIIIThe growing smallpox crisis is recorded in, among others, Thomas Egleston. The Life of John Paterson, Major-General in the Revolutionary Army. (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1889), 246, 250-251; James Thacher. Military Journal of the American Revolution. (United States of America: Arno Press, Inc., 1969), 307-308.
XXIVIt seems unlikely that Mann would have known about the inoculations unless he had been told about them by Deborah. Mann clearly used Dr. Thacher's Military Journal when he rewrote The Female Review, but this episode is mentioned in his earlier work which was published years before Thacher's. In February 1782 a duel by pistols took place at West Point between Lieutenant Nathaniel Stone and Captain Luke Hitchcock resulting in the captain's death. This is related in Mann's The Female Review, but curiously he places it at Goshen, New York, nearly a year later. Thacher mentions this duel but refers to the men only as Captain H____and Lieutenant S______. In his manuscript Mann relates Thacher's version, but also leaves in the Goshen incident perhaps unaware that they are the same. Again it would appear that Deborah was the source for the story. Both incidents indicate that she was in the army before May of 1782.
XXVResearch has not determined what sort of foodstuffs "crouts" (perhaps sourkraut) and "scrohons" are.
XXVIAlthough it was a moonless night, it seems that the boys would have been able to tell the identity of the soldiers if they had been in their regimentals. Perhaps they were wearing more casual dress on this occasion.
XXVIINo description of the "hospital" is given. It was most likely some outbuilding associated with the farmhouse. In August of 1781 Claude Blanchard, commissary of the French army, visited a hospital near West Point. "The buildings which serve for the hospital were nothing but barns which had not even been repaired." Thomas Balch, ed. The Journal of Claude Blanchard. (United States of America: Arno Press, Inc., 1969), 131.
XXVIIIThe manuscript says, "which I still possess, as a sacred relic."
XXIXLeslie V. Case, "The Ossining Rock Shelter," The Westchester Historian (October 1929), 81-85.
XXXAbstract of Sales, New York State Commissioners of Forfeitures. Westchester County Archives. William Haight paid 339 pounds for his land, which was bounded on the north by the Sing Sing Kill. Map of the Upper Part of the Manor of Philisburgh Showing Occupants in 1785. Westchester County Archives.
XXXIThacher. Military Journal. 255.
XXXIIBalch, ed. The Journal of Claude Blanchard. 174.
XXXIVSecretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolution. 17 vols. (Boston: Wright and Potter, 196-1908), 13:569.
XXXVVital Records of Granville, Massachusetts to the year 1850. (Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1914) 71, 219.
XXXVIPension claim BLWT 1198-100, National Archives.
XXXVIIMassachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolution, 15:40, 41.
XXXVIIIPension claim W250575, National Archives.
XXXIXPension claim BLWT 2233-100, National Archives.
XLPension claim W15892, National Archives.
XLIThe manuscript says that Deborah "rejoined the army on the liens" so this would be the most likely assignment and is consistent with the location of Collebarack.
XLIIOn August 21st General Washington ordered "The Corps of Light Infantry to encamp forthwith upon the high ground in front of Peekskill….The duty on the lines is to be done by them as usual." General Orders of George Washington, Commander-in-Chief of the Army of the Revolution. Issued at Newburgh on the Hudson. 1782-1783, comp. and ed. by Edward C. Boynton (Harrison, NY: Harbor Hill Books, 1973), 41. The Light Infantry moved to Peekskill the next day. William Heath, Memoirs of Major-General William Heath by Himself, ed. William Abbatt (United States of America: Arno Press, Inc., 1968), 323.
XLIIILetter from General McDougal, Dec. 28, 1778, to George Clinton. Public Papers of George Clinton, First Governor of New York, 1777-1795, 1801-1804. 10 vols. (New York: State of New York, 1899-1914), 4:432.
XLIVRufus Putnam, The Memoirs of Rufus Putnam, comp. Rowena Buell (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1903), 79.
XLVElliot Baldwin Hunt, "Quaker Bridge," The Westchester Historian (v.30, no.3, July 1954), 83-89.
XLVIRobert Bolton, The History of the Several Towns, Manors, and Patents of the County of Westchester, from Its First Settlement to the Present Time. 2nd edition. 2 vols. (New York: Chas. F. Roper, 1881), 1:184.
XLVIIMap 359, Department of Public Works, Albany. Copy by Michael Calman at the Yorktown Museum. It is thought that the map was made in 1797.
XLVIIIRufus Putnam, The Memoirs of Rufus Putnam, 164.
XLIXEdmund Bailey O'Callaghan, The Documentary History of the State of New-York. 4vols. (Albany, NY: Weed, Parsons & Co., 2849-1851), 3:958.
LClaude Blanchard, The Journal of Claude Blanchard, ed. Thomas Balch, trans. William Duane (United States of America: Arno Press, Inc., 1969), 113.
LIJames Thacher, Military Journal of the American Revolution (United States of America; Arno Press, Inc., 1969), 255.
LIIMildred E. Strang, "Crompond Street Over the Years," The Westchester Historian (v.41, no.1, Winter 1965), 7.
LIIIRichard Snow is in Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolution. 17 vols. (Boston: Wright and Potter, 1896-1908), 14:621; Vital Records of Rochester, Massachusetts to the Year 1850. 2 vols. (Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1914), 1:279, 2:285. Sarah Handy is mentioned in "Richard Handy of Sandwich, Mass.," The Register (Sandwich Archives & Historical Center, July 1971), 191-192.
LIVStrang, "Crompond Street Over the Years," 6.
LVThacher, Military Journal of the American Revolution, 255.
LVIGrenville C. Mackenzie, Families of the Colonial Manor of Philipsburgh, 2 vols. (Westport, CT, unpublished typescript, 1966) at the Westchester County Historical Society. Other sources were used, but much of the genealogical information about the Van Tassel family in general and the Abraham Van Tassels in particular is from this work. Abraham and his children are listed on p.752, vol. 2.
LVIIPeter Wilson Coldham, American Loyalist Claims (Washington, DC: National Genealogical Society, 1980), 505. The original documents are at the Public Record Office in Kew, Surry, England. A microfilm of Van Tassel's claim was examined, but it was too faint to decipher.
LVIIIChristopher Colles, A Survey of the Roads of the United States of America 1789, ed. Walter W. Ristow (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1961), 130. Today the 47th mil marker is set in a building south of the intersection of South and Division streets. Because of road reconfigurations and the encroachment of the city, the area has been altered considerably and the Van Tassel house was probably torn down long ago.
LIXWestchester Wills Liber A, 247.
LXWestchester Wills Liber B, 287.
LXIThere was a graveyard just north of Abraham's house where he may have been buried, but it is no longer there, and it appears that an overpass has replaced it. (Map of the village of Peekskill in 1800 made by J.B. Brown in 1859).
LXIIWestchester Land Deeds, Liber 35,155-156.
LXIIIWestchester Land Deeds, Liber 41, 215-217.
LXIVJames Thacher, Military Journal of the American Revolution (United States of America: Arno Press, Inc., 1969), 322.
LXVWorthington Chancey Ford, ed. Correspondence and Journals of Samuel Blachley Webb, 3 vols. (United States of America: Arno Press, 1969), 2:427.
LXVIRobert C. Bray and Paul E. Bushnell, eds., Diary of a Common Soldier in the American Revolution, 1775-1783; an annotated edition of The Military Journal of Jeremiah Greenman (DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 1978), 260
LXVIIBenjamin Gilbert manuscript diary for March 1782-December 1786. Library of the New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, NY. A microfilm copy was examined.
LXVIIIThacher, Military Journal, 3220323.
LXIXJohn C. Fitzpatrick, ed. The Writings of George Washington From the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799, 39 vols. (Washington, DC: GPO, 1931-1944), 25:293.
LXXFord, Correspondence…Samuel Blachley Webb, 2:428-429.
LXXIColonel Rufus Putnam called being on duty at the Croton River "far mre feteauging Slavish, hazardous, & requiring much Greater vigilance, then common reotean duty performed with the army…." Rowena Buell, comp., The Memoirs of Rufus Putnam ( Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1903), 86.
LXXIIMassachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the American Revolution, 17 vols. (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1903), 86.
LXXIIIGilbert, manuscript diary.
LXXIVGrenville C. Mackenzie, Families of the Colonial Manor of Philipsburgh, 2 vols. (Westport, CT: unpublished typescript, 1966) at the Westchester County Historical Society, 1:352.
LXXVAbstract of Sales, Commissioners of Forfeitures. Westchester County Archives, 62 #29. See also "Map of the Upper Part of the Manor of Philipsburgh," Westchester County Archives.
LXXVIHoward C. Rice, Jr., trans. Travels in North America in the Years 1780, 1781 and 1782 by Marquis De Chasetellux, 2 vols. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1963), 2:514.
LXXVIIThacher, Military Journal, 324.
LXXIXIn 1785 Benjamin tupper was a member of the corps of surveyors who mapped the lands northwest of the Ohio River, and the next year he helped form the Ohio company. In 1788 Tupper loaded his wife, five of his children, and the fmaily's belongings into two wagons and headed west to help establish the new settlement of Marietta at the junction of the Muskigum and Ohio rivers.
LXXXDaniel Boone, who was adopted in 1778 by a tribe of Shawnee living near present-day Zenia, Ohio, reported, "I was careful not to exceed many of them in shooting, for no people are more envious than they in this sport." John Filson, The Discovery and Settlement of Kentucky (United States of America: Readex Microprint Corp., 1966), 65.
LXXXICherry Valley, New York, west of Albany, was the scene of a massacre by Tory and Indian forces that was so brutal that "Remember Cherry Valley" became a rallying cry for American troops. The massacre took place on November 11, 1778, and is well documented. All of the survivors, including captives, are accounted for. A second attack about which little is known occurred in April of 1781. Eight people were killed and 14 prisoners taken away. Public Papers of George Clinton, First Governor of New York, 1777-1795, 1801-1804, 10 vols. (New York: State of New York, 1899-1914), 6:811-812.