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US History E-Text > The Revolution: War and Independence > Notes and Anecdotes

      The Loyalists. -- As noted in the text, probably one third of the people of the thirteen colonies remained faithful to the king and opposed armed resistance from the beginning. These are often called Tories, but the term "loyalists" is better, as they were not in full sympathy with the Tory party in England. Usually they were headed by the Episcopal clergy and the officers appointed by the Crown. A large majority of them were native born and were sincere lovers of their country but their love for the king and their pride in being a part of the British Empire led them to oppose independence. There were loyalists in every part of the country. In New England they were few; in Central New York they were many, but still in the minority; so in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, while in the South, especially in the newly settled parts of the Carolinas and Georgia, at least half the people remained loyal to the king. Many of the loyalists were passive; they wished to be let alone; their attitude was a negative one. But the patriots were aggressive and often violent. In the early years of the war they were usually content with disarming the loyalists and forcing them to make a public disavowal of their allegiance to the king; but as the years passed they became more violent, drove the loyalists from their homes, treated them to tar and feathers, and so on. In Philadelphia two were hanged; in New Jersey several were sentenced to death, but were pardoned by the governor. The loyalists were aggressive also at times. On one occasion they made a plot against the life of Washington. (See Van Tyne's "Loyalists in the Revolution," p. 127.) The Congress and the commander in chief took measures to suppress the enemies of the country, as they were called, and various state legislatures passed test acts requiring all "suspects" to take an oath to aid the cause of the patriots. The states also passed confiscation acts. In New York alone property to the amount of $3,600,000 came into the possession of the state through the confiscation law. Ibid., p.280.

      Nathan Hale. -- After the Continental army had reached Harlem Heights above New York, Washington, desiring to be made acquainted with the force and probable purpose of the enemy, applied to Colonel Knowlton for some capable man who would be willing to attempt the dangerous task. Knowlton chose Nathan Hale, a brilliant young captain, aged twenty-one, a graduate of Yale and, before the war, a Connecticut school-teacher. Hale volunteered his services and crossed the sound at Fairfield in September, 1776, disguised as a school-teacher. He reached New York, made a careful study of the enemy's fortifications, drew plans, and was waiting for the ferry to return by way of Brooklyn when he was betrayed by a Tory kinsman who recognized him. His arrest followed, and Howe turned him over to the inhuman provost marshal, Cunningham, who hanged him the next day without a trial, and even refused him the services of a clergyman or the use of a Bible. Hale's dying utterance is well known: "I regret that I have but one life to give for my country." While Hale was engaged in this business, Colonel Knowlton, who had sent him, was killed in the battle of Harlem Plains.

      Washington in Love. -- While encamped at Harlem Heights, Washington occupied a house that must have brought him a train of recollections. In 1756 he had been sent from Virginia to Boston to confer with Governor Shirley, and he was received with great respect along the route, for his exploits under Dinwiddie and Braddock were everywhere known. When he reached New York he became the guest of a Mr. Robinson at the latter's mansion. Mrs. Robinson's sister, Mary Phillipse, a beautiful heiress, was staying at the house, and the future father of his country was greatly smitten with her charms. On his return he again stopped at the mansion and remained as long as duty would permit. He wished to make her his bride, but lacked the courage to make the proposal. He confided his secret to a friend in New York, and this friend kept him informed by mail of the movements of the young lady, and at length informed him that she was to be married to Colonel Morris. Three years later Washington married Mrs. Martha Custis, nee Miss Dandridge. With the coming of the Revolution, Colonel Morris, whose country seat was on Harlem Heights, went with the Tories, and Washington now occupied his vacated house as headquarters.

      Israel Putnam. -- General Putnam, farmer, innkeeper, and soldier, though almost threescore at the opening of the war, and never a master of military science, was yet one of the most heroic and picturesque figures of the war. He commanded a body of rangers in the French and Indian War, was present at the capture of Montreal, and of Havana, Cuba, and was a colonel in Bradstreet's Western expedition aganist Pontiac in 1764. In the French War be was taken captive by the Indians, bound to a tree till the battle had ceased, and then taken into the forest to be tortured to death. He was stripped and tied to a sapling and the fagots piled at his feet were already ablaze when a French officer dashed through the savage horde, rescued Putnam, and carried him to Montreal, whence he was exchanged.
      The best known and perhaps the most daring feat in Putnam's checkered life was his riding down a precipice at West Greenwich, New York. He had but one hundred and fifty men, and was attacked by Governor Tryon with ten times that number. Ordering his men to retire to a swamp inaccessible to cavalry, he, on the near approach of the enemy, rode down a hundred stone steps that had been cut into the solid rock for foot passengers.

      Captivity of Ethan Allen. -- In the early part of the war, and not long after his bold capture of Ticonderoga, Ethan Allen, as stated in the text, was made prisoner and carried in irons to England. His treatment was brutal in the extreme, but his spirit was unconquered. On one occasion he knocked an officer down for spitting in his face. The captain who brought him back to New York, however, was a humane man, and Allen became greatly attached to him, and saved his life by preventing a mutiny among the prisoners on the ship. Allen was released on parole, the condition being that he must not leave New York. Meantime every effort was made to induce him to join the British ranks, but no power could move him. Among other things he was offered a large tract of land in New Hampshire or Connecticut, when the country should be conquered. His answer was characteristic. He said it reminded him of an incident related in Scripture, where the devil took Christ to the top of a high mountain and offered him all the kingdoms of the world, "when all the while the damned soul had not one foot of land on earth."

Source: "History of the United States of America," by Henry William Elson, The MacMillan Company, New York, 1904. Chapter XII p. 266-267. Transcribed by Kathy Leigh.

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