Imagens das páginas

prisoners of war, were constrained to take arms for the king of England; a violence, if not unprecedented, at least odious, and which rebounded, as we shall see by the sequel, on the heads of those who were guilty of it. General Clinton seeing the province in tranquillity, and the ardor which appeared universal, of the inhabitants to join the royal standard, distributed his army in the most important garrisons; when, leaving lord Cornwallis in command of all the forces stationed in South Carolina and Georgia, he departed from Charleston for his government of New York. That city, during his absence, had been exposed to a danger as unexpected as alarming. A winter, unequalled in that climate for its length and severity, had deprived New York and the adjoining islands of all the defensive benefits of their insular situation ; the Hudson river, with the straits and channels by which they are divided and surrounded, were every where clothed with ice of such a strength and thickness, as would have admitted the passage of armies, with their heaviest carriages and artillery. This change, so suddenly wrought in the nature of the situation, caused the British commanders extreme disquietude ; they feared the more for the safety of New York, as its garrison was then very feeble, and the army of Washington not far off. Accordingly, they neglected none of those prudential measures which are usual in similar cases; all orders of men in New York were imbodied, armed and officered. The officers and crews of the frigates undertook the charge of a redoubt; and those of the transports, victuallers and merchantmen, were armed with pikes, for the defence of the wharves and shipping. But Washington was in no condition to profit of this unlooked for event. The small army which remained with him hutted at Morristown, was inferior in strength even to the British regular force at New York, exclusive of the armed inhabitants and militia. He sent lord Sterling, it is true, to make an attempt upon Staten Island, and to reconnoitre the ground; but that general, observing no movement in his favor on the part of the city, returned to his first position. Thus the scourge of short engagements and the torpor which prevailed at that time amongst the Americans, caused them to lose the most propitious occasion that could have been desired, to strike a blow that would have sensibly affected the British power. If their weakness constrained them to inaction in the vicinity of New York, the English did not imitate their example. As soon as the return of spring had freed them from the danger they had apprehended during the season of ice, they renewed their predatory exploits in New Jersey. Their object in these excursions of devastation and plunder, was to favor the operations in Carolina, in order that the enemy, feeling insecure at various points, might carry succour to none. About the beginning of June, and a few days previous to the return of general Clinton, the generals Knyphausen, Robertson, and Tryon, WOL. ii. 34

who during his absence commanded the troops cantoned at New York, had entered New Jersey with a corps of five thousand men, and had occupied Elizabethtown; they conducted themselves there with generosity, and abstained srom all pillage. They afterwards advanced and took possession of Connecticut Farms, a new and flourishing village. Irritated at the resistance they had experienced in their march, having been harassed incessantly by the country militia, who had risen against them from all the neighboring parts, they set fire to this place; only two houses escaped ; even the church was a prey to the flames. This disaster was signalised by a deplorable event, which contributed not a little to redouble the indignation of the republicans against the royalists. Among the inhabitants of Connecticut Farms was a young gentlewoman, as celebrated for her virtues as for the singular beauty of her person. Her husband, James Cadwell, was one of the most ardent and influential patriots in that province. He urged her, and resorted to the entreaties of friends to persuade her to withdraw from the danger; but trusting to her own innocence for protection, she awaited the invaders. She was surrounded by her little children, and near her a nursery maid held in her arms the youngest of her offspring. A furious soldier appeared at the window, a Hessian, as it is said; he took aim at this unfortunate mother, and pierced her breast with an instantly mortal shot; her blood gushed upon all her tender orphans. Other soldiers rushed into the house and set it on fire, aster having hastened to bury their victim. Thus, at least, the republicans relate this horrible adventure. The English pretended that the shot had been fired at random, and even that it was discharged by the Americans, since it came from the part by which they retired. However the truth may be, the melancholy sate of this gentlewoman, fired the breasts of the patriots with such rage, that they flew from every quarter to take vengeance upon the authors of so black a deed. The royal troops had put themselves on the march to seize a neighboring town called Springfield. They had nearly reached it, when they were informed that general Maxwell awaited them there, with a regiment of New Jersey regulars and a strong body of militia, impatient for combat. The English halted, and passed the night in that position. The next morning they sell back with precipitation upon Elizabethtown, whether their commanders thought it imprudent to attack an enemy who bore so menacing a countenance, or that they had received intelligence, as they published, that Washington had detached from Morristown a strong reenforcement to Maxwell. The Americans pursued them with warmth, but to little purpose, from the valor and regularity displayed in their retreat. At this conjuncture, general Clinton arrived at New York, and immediately adopted a plan from which he promised himself the most decisive success. His purpose was to dislodge Washington from the strong position he occupied in the mountainous and difficult country of Morrisonia, which, forming a natural barrier, had furnished the American captain-general with an impregnable shelter against the attacks of the English, even when his force was the most reduced. Accordingly, Clinton having embarked a considerable body of troops at New York, executed such movements as made it appear

that his design was to ascend the Hudson river, in order to seize the

passes in the mountains towards the lakes. He had persuaded himself that Washington, as soon as he should be informed of this demonstration, would instantly put himself in motion, and in the sear of losing these passes, would advance with the whole or the greater part of his force, in order to defend them. The British general intended to seize this occasion to push rapidly with the troops he had at Elizabethtown, against the heights of Morrisonia, and thus to occupy the positions which constituted the security of Washington. And, even on the supposition that their distance should render it unadvisable to maintain them, the destruction of the extensive magazines which the republicans had established there, offered a powerful attraction. Washington, in effect, who watched all the movements of Clinton, penetrated his designs. Fearing for West Point, and the important defiles of that part, he retained with him only the force indispensably requisite to defend the heights of Morrisonia, and detached the rest upon the banks of the Hudson, under general Greene. The royalists then marched with rapidity from Elizabethtown towards Springfield. This place is situated at the foot of the heights of Morrisonia, on the right bank of a stream that descends from them, and covers it in front. Colonel Angel guarded the bridge with a small detachment, but composed of picked men. Behind him the regiment of colonel Shrieve formed a second line, and ascending towards the heights near Shorts Hill, were posted the corps of Greene, Maxwell, and Stark. There were few continental troops, but the militia were numerous and full of ardor. On arriving at the bridge, the royalists attacked colonel Angel with great impetuosity. He defended himself bravely, killing many of the enemy, and losing few of his own. At length, yielding to number, he fell back in perfect order upon the second line. The English passed the bridge, and endeavored to pursue their advantage. Shrieve resisted their efforts for a while; but too inserior in men, and especially in artillery, he withdrew behind the corps of Greene. The English, then examining the situation of places, and the strength of the American intrenchments, abandoned the design of assaulting them. Perhaps the approach of night, the impracticable nature of the country, the obstinate defence of the bridge, the sight of the militia rushing towards the camp from all parts, and the danger of losing all communication with Elizabethtown, contributed to this abrupt change in the resolutions of the British generals. Exasperated at these unexpected obstacles, they devoted to pillage and flames the flourishing village of Springfield; they asterwards returned upon Elizabethtown. Enraged at seeing this conflagration, the republicans pursued the British troops with so much violence, that only their discipline and the ability of their commanders could have saved them from total destruction. They profited of the cover of night to abandon the shores of New Jersey, and passed into Staten Island. Thus the design of Clinton was baffled by a resistance for which he was little prepared. The English gained by this expedition only the shame of repulse, and eternal detestation on the part of their enemies. Washington, in official reports, greatly commended the valor of his troops. But it is time to resume our narrative of the affairs of Carolina. The English administration, which, after the conquest of that province had been established by the royal troops, deliberated upon the means of repairing the evils caused by the war and by civil dissentions, in order to confirm the return of monarchical authority. Since that of the Congress had ceased to exist in the country, the paper currency had fallen into such discredit, that it was not possible to circulate it at any rate whatever. Many individuals had been forced to receive as reimbursement for credits of long standing, those depreciated bills; others had balances still due them upon contracts stipulated according to the nominal value of the paper. It was resolved, therefore, to compel the debtors of the first to account with them by a new payment in specie, for the difference that existed between the real and the nominal value of the bills; and to establish a scale of proportion, according to which, those who owed arrearages should satisfy their creditors in coined money. To this end, thirteen commissioners were appointed. They were to inform themselves with accuracy of the different degrees of the depreciation of the paper, and afterwards to draw up a table of reduction, to serve as a legal regulation in the payment of the debts above specified. The commissioners proceeded in the execution of this difficult task with equal justice and discernment; they compared the price of the products of the country, during the circulation of the bills, with that they had borne a year before the war. Examining then the different rates of exchange of the bills for specie, they formed, not only year by year, but also month by month, a table, the first column of which contained the dates, the second the ratio of the value of the bills to that of specie, the third the ratio of the value of bills to the price of produce, and the fourth the proportional medium of depreciation. This extinction of the value of bills of credit, occasioned by the presence of the English in Georgia and Carolina, induced those inhabitants who still held them, to carry or send them into other provinces, where they continued to have some circulation. But this influx itself, added to the loss of Carolina, and the sinister aspect which the situation of the affairs of Congress presented at this epoch, accelerated the fall of paper money in all the states of the confederation. Too well convinced that there was no remedy capable of arresting the progress of this appalling evil, the Congress determined to yield to the storm. They decreed that in future their bills should pass, no longer at their nominal, but only at their conventional value; and they also drew up a scale of depreciation for the regulation of payments. This resolution, which, though assuredly a violation of the public faith, was, with the exception of dishonest debtors, both agreeable and advantageous to all classes. Can there, in fact, exist, for a nation, a greater calamity than to have a currency as the representative of money, when that currency is fixed by law, and variable in opinion ? It is also to be considered that the bills of credit were then in the hands, not of the first, but of the last possessors, who had acquired them at their depreciated value. It was only to be regretted that the Congress had made so many solemn protestations of their intention to maintain the nominal value of their paper. Even the tenor of the bills, the terms of the law of their creation, all the public acts which related to them, were so many engagements that a dollar in paper should always be given and received for a dollar in silver. Scarcely were a few months elapsed since the Congress, in a circular letter, had spoken of the same resolution they had now taken, as a measure of the most flagrant injustice. In that letter they affirm, that even the supposition of a similar breach of faith, ought to excite universal abhorrence. But such is the nature of new governments, especially in times of revolution, where affairs of state are so much under the control of chance, that they frequently promise what they cannot perform; the empire of circumstances seems to them a fair plea for not keeping faith. Their precarious positions should render them at least less prodigal of promises and oaths; but, as inexperienced as presumptuous, and vainly believing their object attained, when they have found means to push on for a day, they seem the more bold in contracting engagements, the less it is in their power to fulfill them. The proclamation by which the British commanders had absolved the prisoners of war from their parole, and restored them to the condition of British subjects, in order to compel them to join the royal troops, had created a deep discontent among the Carolinians. The greater part desired, since they had lost liberty, to remain at least in tranquillity at their homes, thus conforming themselves to the time, and submitting to necessity. If this repose had been granted them, they would not have exerted themselves to obtain a change; they would have supported less impatiently the unhappy situation of the republic; little by little they would have accustomed themselves to the new order of things, and would have forgotten the past. But this proclamation rekindled their rage. They cried with one voice, “if we must resume arms, let us rather fight for America and our

« AnteriorContinuar »