13

TREASON ALONG THE CHESAPEAKE PENNSYLVANIA AND NEW JERSEY, AUGUST 1777-JUNE 1778

The Country is very much draind. The Inhabitants cry out and beset me from all quarters. but like Pharoh I harden my heart. Two men were taken up carrying provisions into the Enemy yesterday morning. I gave them an hundred [lashes] each by way of Example… . I am determin to forage the Country very bare.

—Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene to General Washington at Valley Forge1

When Gen. Sir William Howe set forth to capture Philadelphia, he sailed from the Loyalist city of New York to a loyal shore on Chesapeake Bay. His nineteen thousand invaders were unopposed when they disembarked at the Head of the Elk on the northern end of the bay. Their arrival was not a surprise. Howe’s fleet of some 250 ships had been spotted long before, and Patriots had been able to carry off supplies that had been cached at the Head of the Elk. But there was no organized resistance when Howe arrived or when he began his march to the Rebel capital, about fifty miles to the northeast.2

Three Loyalist military units were in Howe’s invasion force. And with Howe was a prominent Loyalist: a son of William Allen, the former chief justice of Pennsylvania and one of the wealthiest men inthe colony. William Allen, Jr., had been a member of the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety and, as a lieutenant colonel in the Continental Army, had fought in the invasion of Canada. Unable to support the idea of independence, he became a Loyalist. As an aide to Howe he would raise a corps called the Pennsylvania Loyalists and become its commanding officer with the same rank he had had in the Continental Army.3

Andrew Allen, a brother of William Allen, Jr., had been a delegate to the Continental Congress. Andrew had resigned because he opposed independence and would be part of the British occupation of Philadelphia, a city long controlled by rich old families like the Allens.4 The elder Allen had gone to England as the Revolution drew near. His son John had also started out as a cautious Patriot and ended up a Loyalist.5

Accompanying Howe as his principal civilian aide was Joseph Galloway, once a protégé and friend of Ben Franklin. Galloway, as a delegate to the First Continental Congress, had tried unsuccessfully to get supporters for his “Plan of a Proposed Union between Great Britain and the Colonies,” which would have created an American parliament and a royally appointed “president general.”6 He also called for loyalty oaths for colonial teachers, students, and lawyers, pledging “faithful obedience” to the British Parliament.7 The failure of his plan awakened his dormant Tory leanings. He went to New York and put himself at the service of Howe.

On hand to welcome Howe to Maryland was Robert Alexander, a prominent politician who owned a large piece of land, crowned by his mansion, the Hermitage. Three days before, Alexander had been the host of a dinner for General George Washington, who knew Alexander as a Patriot and a deputy delegate to the Continental Congress. Washington, in Head of the Elk on a reconnissance mission, expected an imminent British invasion. When he asked Alexander whether he was going to flee, Alexander said he preferred to stay.

Washington apparently did not know that Alexander had resigned as an officer in a Maryland militia after the Declaration of Independence was proclaimed. For some time, he had been conferring with British officers aboard one of the Royal Navy warships that patrolled the bay and served as floating meeting places for the state’s Tory underground.8

Alexander genially allowed Howe the use of the Hermitage as a temporary headquarters and turned a bit of a profit by selling the invaders livestock and grain.9 Local farmers with Tory inclinations followed Alexander’s example, supplying the invaders during the two weeks that Howe spent preparing for the march on Philadelphia.10 Others, aided by militiamen, showed their anti-British stance by squirreling away produce and hiding their cattle, horses, and wagons.

Howe offered a general pardon to “officers and private men, now actually in arms against his Majesty,” who “shall voluntarily come and surrender themselves.”11 In fact there were few armed men except for Loyalists, who had been organizing for months on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. In 1776 the Rebel-controlled Maryland legislature passed a law defining Tories as traitors and making execution the punishment for treason against the state.12 Maryland’s Rebel government considered the Eastern Shore to be in insurrection. But the coastal Tories were so powerful and well organized that they were not easily tamed.

Brig. Gen. William Smallwood, the commander of the Maryland militia, called the Eastern Shore “a Place which becomes the Reception of Deserters, escaping prisoners, and most of the Disaffectted who have been expelled [from] the neighbouring states.”13Delaware contributed many Tories to the bands formed in the Eastern Shore, where state boundaries meant little. A Tory force of two hundred was formed by men from both states. They had three cannons delivered from a Royal Navy man-of-war.14

Months before Howe’s arrival Patriots in the area had appealed directly to Congress for military aid.15 Congress responded with stern resolutions against Eastern Shore Tories but had few resources to offer.16 The Maryland militia, much as its men wanted to fight Howe on Maryland’s shore, lacked firearms. General Washington himself could do little more than sympathize, writing that “it gives me pleasure to hear that your people are so unanimously bent upongiving opposition to the Enemy. I wish it was in my power to furnish every man with a firelock that is willing to use one, but that is so far from being the Case that I have scarcely Sufficient for the Continental Troops.”17

James Chalmers, a wealthy Scotland-born planter, added to the armed Tories on the Eastern Shore by raising three hundred men for a battalion he named the Maryland Loyalists. He was commissioned a lieutenant colonel. One of his officers was Capt. Philip Barton Key, whose nephew, Francis Scott Key, would write “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Chalmers, as “Candidus,” was famous among Loyalists for Plain Truth, a pamphlet he wrote as a Loyalist answer to Tom Paine’s Common Sense18

Chalmers’s raising of the Maryland Loyalists augmented the recruiting drives of the three Tory units that arrived with Howe at the Head of the Elk.* Howe issued a proclamation promising land to all of “his Majesty’s faithful and well-disposed subjects” who signed up for two years or the length of the war: two hundred acres for a noncommissioned officer, fifty acres for each private.

Another Howe proclamation promised protection to anyone who swore allegiance to the Crown within the next sixty days.19 Concerned about the looting habits of his men, Howe issued warrants authorizing his provost marshal to waive courts-martial and “execute upon the Spot any Soldier or follower of the Army” caught plundering any Loyalist home or farm.20

Howe was still at the Hermitage when Tory spies informed him that Washington was planning to block the invaders at Brandywine Creek, about thirty miles south of Philadelphia.21 Howe marched there, his troops harassed along the way by the few militiamen who had muskets. In Philadelphia, responding to an order from the Supreme Executive Council, Patriots were arresting prominent Tories, sending some off to confinement in Virginia and offering paroles for those who promised they would not do anything injurious to “the united free States of North America.”22

At Brandywine, Howe outmaneuvered the Continentals in a battle that raged through the day and ended with hand-to-hand combat as night was falling over a battlefield strewn with the dead and dying. The Continentals and their comrades in the Pennsylvania militia lost some one thousand men killed and wounded—about twice the casualties suffered by their foes. The Marquis de Lafayette, newly arrived to the Continental Army and about to mark his twentieth birthday, was shot in the leg but continued to fight.

Stephen Maples Jarvis, a Connecticut Tory and a Queen’s American Ranger, went into battle at Brandywine. “We came in sight of the enemy at sunrise,” he wrote in his journal. “The first discharge of the enemy killed the horse of Major Grymes who was leading the column, and wounded two men in the Division directly in my front, and in a few moments the Regiment became warmly engaged and several of our officers were badly wounded.” (Maj. John Randolph Grymes was a descendent of one of the first families of Virginia.)23

The Rangers crossed the creek—” water took us up to our breasts, and was much stained with blood”—and fought into the darkness. “In this day’s hard fought action,” Jarvis wrote, “the Queen’s Rangers’ loss in killed and wounded were seventy-five out of two hundred fifty rank and file which composed our strength in the morning.”24

A few days later Washington sent Brig. Gen. “Mad Anthony” Wayne and fifteen hundred men to the Paoli Tavern, on the Lancaster Road, where Wayne was to ambush Howe’s baggage train as its wagons rumbled toward Philadelphia. Howe learned the details of Wayne’s plans from local Tories25—intelligence that helped to produce a bloody surprise attack.

British major general Charles Grey, wanting to approach Wayne at midnight as quietly as possible, ordered his men to remove flints from their muskets so that when he ordered a bayonet charge, no Regular would accidentally fire and give an alarm. Aiding Grey in his planning was his principal aide, Capt. John André, who had a personal reason not to like Rebels. André had been captured in 1775 during the abortive invasion of Canada. Expecting to be treated like an officer merely awaiting exchange, he had been handled roughly. Tories seen befriending him were arrested, and André’s guards once threatened to kill him. But through his captivity André never lost the savoir-faire and keen wit that marked him as a bright and rising officer. When he was finally exchanged, he was assigned to Grey’s staff.26

On September 21, 1777, Grey’s men, who probably had been given the password by a Continental deserter, got past Wayne’s sentinels and pounced on the camp. “I stuck them myself, like so many pigs, one after the other, until the blood ran out of the touch-hole of my musket,” a Hessian sergeant later wrote.27 Seeing men hacked and pierced by cold steel, Wayne’s soldiers panicked. Patriots called the battle the “Paoli Massacre” and dubbed its perpetrator “No Flint Grey.” Propagandists on both sides claimed two hundred Rebels had been killed by bayonets or sabers. Eventually the likely count came down to fifty-three.28

Although more maneuvering and fighting would go on for a few days, nothing could now stop Howe from taking and holding Philadelphia. Hundreds of Patriots fled the city, as did members of Congress, who sought safety first in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and then in York. Washington took his army to the hills around Whitemarsh, a small town north of Philadelphia. General Howe tried to attack him there but failed and pulled back, deciding to make British winter quarters in the comfort of Philadelphia, the largest and wealthiest city in America, and, like New York, a bastion of Loyalists.

On the night of December 11, Washington’s men left the camp in the hills of Whitemarsh and began pushing wagons into the Schuylkill River and placing boards between them. Through the night the army crossed the river on the wagon bridge. Washington led his men to a hamlet called Gulph Mills, where the army camped for several days.29

Albigence Waldo, an army doctor from Connecticut, looked around the Gulph Mills camp and wrote in his diary: “There comes a Soldier, his bare feet are seen thro’ his worn out Shoes, his legs nearly naked from the tatter’d remains of an only pair of stockings, his Breeches not sufficient to cover his nakedness, his Shirt hanging in Strings, his hair dishevell’d, his face meager… . exhausted by fatigue, hunger & Cold.” In the face of that soldier Waldo saw the faces of all the men, whipped by a “cold & piercing” wind, who followed General Washington down a steep frozen road to a place called Valley Forge.30

Philadelphians hailed the arrival of Howe’s army “by loudest acclamations of joy.” There was no armed resistance. Tories led the invaders to Rebels still in the city, and hundreds were imprisoned. Galloway and the Allens protected upper-class Rebels they knew, leaving them to an uneasy life in a city that belonged to the British and their Loyalist friends.31 The editor of the Pennsylvania Evening Post switched the newspaper from pro-Patriot to pro-Loyalist.32

Quakers, whose faith condemned war and earned Rebel distrust, felt more comfortable under British rule. Merchants, unenthusiastic about the Revolution, believed that the British would bring stability to the city—and payments in gold rather than near-worthless Continental currency. Young men, eager to join the winning side, signed up for the Queen’s American Rangers, which needed replacements after Brandywine, and three newly formed units: the Roman Catholic Volunteers, the Maryland Loyalists, and the Pennsylvania Loyalists led by Lt. Col. William Allen, Jr.33

British officers easily entered high society, and upper-class families were soon inviting their amiable occupiers to parties and dances. A pretty, flirtatious teenager, sixteen-year-old Peggy Shippen, was overjoyed when a handsome British officer named John André called at her family’s Society Hill mansion and sketched her.34 “You can have no idea of the life of continued amusement,” eighteen-year-old Rebecca Franks wrote a friend. “… . Most elegantly am I dressed for a ball this evening… . I spent Tuesday evening at Sir William Howe’s, where we had a concert and dance.” At one ball Howe shocked his hostess by appearing with his mistress, the beautiful Mrs. Joshua Loring, on hisarm. (Her husband was in New York, making money as commissioner of prisoners.)35

Galloway became Howe’s spymaster, the supervisor of police, and the superintendent of the port, controlling imports and exports and setting up regulations for pricing and selling liquor, molasses, salt, and medicines.36 He also worked at preventing goods from reaching Washington’s army. He recruited spies from the ranks of the hundreds of soldiers who were deserting Valley Forge.37 By one estimate his intelligence network consisted of eighty agents who gathered information and twenty counterintelligence agents who ferreted out Continental Army spies. He also performed such intelligence chores as administering and recording oaths of allegiance and producing a map of all the roads in the area.38

About two hundred Tories served in Galloway’s police force, called the “night watch.” Galloway selected other Tories to control the entrances to the city, with the power to issue passports, and assigned men to disarm Rebels, act as couriers, oversee the care of prisoners, find quarters for troops (usually in abandoned Rebel homes), guide troops on missions in and around the city, and run a lottery for the relief of the poor. Galloway issued tavern licenses and supervised the takeover by Tories of stores that had been owned by Rebels. Among the new storeowners were Virginians and other Tory refugees who flocked to a Loyalist-controlled city under the protection of British troops.39

Galloway continually assured Howe that thousands of Loyalists were ready to spring to arms. Some did; 150 men or so joined such cavalry outfits as the Philadelphia Light Dragoons and the Chester County Light Dragoons.40 At least 255 men enlisted in the Queen’s American Rangers. A total of about fourteen hundred men joined Tory forces in the Philadelphia area. Another 400 or so enlisted in the West Jersey Volunteers, which had both infantry and cavalry units.41

At Valley Forge, Washington was losing men while desperately trying to find food for those who stayed. After the Royal Navy took control of the Delaware River, Howe began getting most of his supplies via ships from New York. The British also foraged, buying provisions from farmers who defied Patriot threats against people who aided the enemy. British Regulars and armed Tories attacked Rebel foraging parties. Washington, who had a highly efficient intelligence system inside Philadelphia, usually knew when Howe was sending out foragers. But, because of desertions and fears of mutiny, Washington had to limit sorties against them.42

The only good news at Valley Forge was the arrival in February 1778 of Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, a former Prussian captain on the staff of Frederick the Great. Steuben was jobless in Paris when he was discovered by Ben Franklin, a recruiting officer as well as a diplomat. Steuben immediately impressed Washington.

Steuben began by teaching the ragged, unruly men how to be soldiers who marched in formation and fired muskets on command. While his soldiers, under Steuben’s tutelage, began to coalesce into a fighting force, Washington made a new move to get food for his men. In January 1778, he turned to the commander of the local militia, Brig. Gen. John Lacey, a Quaker and, at twenty-five, the youngest Patriot general.43 Washington ordered Lacey to stop the “immense supplies” flowing to Philadelphia and to protect the meager provisions heading for Valley Forge.

The “market people,” as the British suppliers were euphemistically known, included both committed Tories and apolitical war profiteers. With the addition of Tory infantry and cavalry units, Howe’s foraging expeditions became bigger and bolder and persistently eluded Lacey’s patrols. Many of the Tories pillaged from longtime neighbors and kidnapped others who were Rebel leaders. In one raid, twenty-six miles from Philadelphia, about forty Loyalists killed five militiamen, took thirty-two prisoners, and pillaged a wool mill, taking two thousand yards of cloth meant for Rebel uniforms.44

Lacey did not have enough soldiers to stop the raids or the illegal trade. His frustration showed itself one day when his men stopped a farmer who was trying to smuggle a wagonload of produce to Philadelphia. The militiamen confiscated his goods and horse, tied thefarmer to a tree, and pelted him with his own eggs.45 By the end of March, Lacey was so angry that he proposed forcibly removing everyone in a wide swath of land between the Delaware and the Schuylkill rivers. Washington, who had enough problems with civilians in the area, rejected Lacey’s suggestion.46

Galloway’s operatives, who had been carefully tracking Lacey’s operations, provided Howe with information to plan a major attack on the militiamen. Howe decided to send a combined force of Regulars and Loyalists led by Maj. John G. Simcoe, regimental commander of the Queen’s American Rangers.47

A sign on an oddly shaped piece of wood marked the Crooked Billet Tavern on the old York road about sixteen miles north of Philadelphia. Here Lacey and four hundred militiamen were camped on the morning of May 1. They awakened to discover that they were surrounded and under attack. No matter where Lacey and his men turned they were targets for Simcoe’s infantrymen and cavalrymen.

Survivors fled, firing as they ran, until Simcoe broke off the attack. Carrying away everything they could find in Lacey’s abandoned camp, Simcoe and his men returned to Philadelphia, where they sold their plunder and shared in the proceeds. On the battleground lay bodies of men who had been bayoneted, slashed by cutlasses, and burned. At least twenty-six militiamen were killed. Witnesses later swore in depositions that some militiamen had been killed after surrendering and that wounded men had been thrown to die into a burning stack of buckwheat straw.48

A week after the Crooked Billet raid, General Howe learned that his request to be relieved had been accepted and he was to be replaced by Lt. Gen. Sir Henry Clinton. British officials in London believed that the Rebels’ new French allies might lead an attack on New York or that a French fleet might blockade the Delaware. So Clinton was ordered to evacuate Philadelphia and take his army to theoretically threatened New York.

To bid farewell to Howe, André—poet, artist, actor, musician, impresario—produced what he called a mischianza, meaning “medley” or “mixture” in Italian. The extravaganza began on the afternoon of May 18, with the boom of cannon salutes as a fleet of “Galleys, Barges, & flat boats, finely decorated” slowly moved down the Delaware River. The vessels sailed past flag-festooned ships along the wharves. Shipboard bands played “God Save the King,” and cheers went up from ships and shore.

At the landing of an old riverside fort, the gala fleet disembarked its passengers—officers in their full regimentals, ladies richly gowned. They walked in a stately procession between ranks of soldiers and lines of mounted dragoons, up a gentle hill to the abandoned mansion of Thomas Wharton, a wealthy Quaker merchant who had been exiled to Virginia as a Tory.49 The promenade ended at a large square of lawn flanked by triumphal arches and grandstands, where the ladies and officers sat. In the front row were seven beautiful young women wearing flowing, Turkish-style gowns. Each wore a jeweled turban of a different color.

As André described his creation, “A band of knights, dressed in ancient habits of white and red silk, and mounted on gray horses, richly caparisoned in trappings of the same colors,” rode to the center of the lawn.50 The chief of the knights was accompanied by two young black slaves, “with sashes and drawers of blue and white silk, wearing large silver clasps round their necks and arms.” The white knights were champions for the seven young women, who included the lovely Peggy Shippen, one of André’s favorite belles. He played the role of herald, proclaiming that she and the other ladies “excel in wit, beauty, and every accomplishment.” If anyone doubted that, the herald declared, let him show it “by deeds of arms.”

Another band of knights, dressed in black and orange, galloped up and accepted the herald’s challenge. In a reenactment of a medieval joust, the chiefs of the white knights and the black knights “engaged furiously in single combat.” After the jousting the revelers walked into the mansion to dance in a ballroom “filled with drooping festoons of flowers in their natural colors.”

At ten o’clock all stood at the windows and gasped at fireworksbursting over the river. At midnight “large folding-doors, hitherto artfully concealed,” suddenly opened and revealed a huge dining hall built by British Army engineers as a temporary addition to the mansion. Bowing before the 430 guests were “twenty-four black slaves in Oriental dresses, with silver collars and bracelets.” (All the slaves in the cast were in fact slaves.)

Suddenly from the grounds came a rattle of gunfire and a flare of flame. Guests were told that it was all part of the celebration. But the roll of a drum, signaling alarm, told all the dancing officers that an attack had begun. After a few tense moments the gunfire and the alarm ceased. Cavalrymen out of Valley Forge, staging their own mischievous mischianza, had sneaked to nearby redoubts, poured whale oil over timber barricades, set them afire, and galloped away. Sentries fired at them, but they all escaped.51 The party, interrupted by the short and mysterious absence of a few officers, went on until dawn.

Andre’s flamboyant description of his production shocked many who read it in London. One newspaper called the fete “nauseous.” Philadelphia Quakers were also aghast, as was a former Quaker, Edward Shippen IV, Peggy’s father. He was one of many wealthy Philadelphians who, having decided to remain in the city, had tried to maintain a delicate political balance. A former royal judge and an Anglican convert, he talked like a Tory and lived like a Tory. And there was Peggy Shippen starring in the mischianza, which flagrantly displayed support of Howe and the British occupiers. The timing could not have been worse, for the British were about to evacuate the city, exposing people like Shippen to Rebel justice.52

Aware of the Continental Army’s desertions and the Tory temptations to wavering Patriots, Congress decided that officers should declare their loyalty to the United States and, in a solemn oath, renounce George III, his heirs, and anyone who aided the king.53 At Valley Forge on May 30, Maj. Gen. Benedict Arnold was one of the officers who placed his hand upon a Bible, swore the oath, wrote hisname and rank on a small piece of paper with the “Oath of Allegiance” printed on it, and signed the paper.54

Arnold, limping from his most recent wound, could not take a field command. From spies in Philadelphia, Washington had learned that the British Army was secretly preparing to pull out of the city. He offered Arnold a new assignment, which he accepted: military governor of Philadelphia, eastern Pennsylvania, and southern New Jersey, with headquarters in Philadelphia.55

As the Royal Navy had often demonstrated, its ships could carry troops to their destination by sea better than their feet could on land. But General Clinton was overwhelmed by frightened Tories begging to be taken to the Tory stronghold of New York along with his army. The Tories did not want to face their Patriot neighbors after the British left. So Clinton decided he would take his troops to New York by land. The Tories—some five thousand men, women, and children—would, like their predecessors in Boston, flee by sea.56 Men dragged carts and wagons, “laden with dry goods and household furniture, … through the streets … to the wharves for want of horses.” Many of the possessions that reached the ships were thrown overboard by sailors making room for military supplies.57

Supplies and ammunition that the army would have loaded onto ships now had to be moved overland. When Clinton began his march to New York on June 18, 1778, he needed more than fifteen hundred horse-drawn wagons, carrying not only supplies for an army on the march but also loot taken from Patriot homes. In one of those wagons were books, musical instruments, scientific apparatus, a portrait of Ben Franklin, and other loot taken by Captain André from Franklin’s home, where André had lived during the occupation of the city.58 Soon to be promoted to major, André would serve in New York on Clinton’s staff as his principal intelligence officer.

Behind the wagon train and on its flanks were Loyalist units and Tory refugees who missed the ships to New York, adding themselves and their own plunder to a line of march about twelve miles long.59 Rebel militia cavalrymen followed the evacuees, snatching a few members of the Loyalist baggage guard and making them prisoners.

As the train passed through New Jersey, tardy Tory refugees joined the march, many of them drawn to the protection of the Queen’s American Rangers.60

On June 19 Washington’s new army, disciplined and confident, marched out of Valley Forge in pursuit of the British. Around sundown that day a small force under Major General Arnold entered Philadelphia to occupy it under military rule until the civilian government and Congress returned. Seated in a coach-and-four, Arnold rode up to the Penn Mansion, which had been Howe’s headquarters. Thousands of people cheered, this time for the Patriots. Howe’s men had left behind a city full of wrecked houses, gutted Presbyterian churches, and looted stores. Some grand homes had been left untouched, one of them belonging to the Shippen family.61

Patriots hastily formed a municipal government, which confiscated the property of Galloway, the Allens, and other leading Loyalists. Eventually Rebel officials exiled the wives and children of Tory men who had left Philadelphia; women who defied the banishment were put in the workhouse until they could give security that they would leave the state and never return.62

Rebel officials were empowered to collect from alleged Tories not only their weapons but even their shoes and stockings. A new ordinance authorized the seizure of the personal estates and effects of anyone who then or in the future joined Loyalist regiments or in any way aided “the King’s army.” College or academy faculty members, along with all schoolmasters, merchants, traders, lawyers, doctors, druggists, notaries, and clerks, could be fired and fined if they did not swear allegiance to the Patriots.63

On the road to New York, Pennsylvania militiamen were shadowing Clinton, sending information back to General Washington. By June 26 the departing army had reached Monmouth Court House (now Freehold, New Jersey), about thirty-five miles from ships waiting toferry the troops and supplies from New Jersey across New York Bay to New York City. The soldiers camped around a road flanked by ravines and leading across a bridge to a stretch of swampy land. Beyond were high grounds and a better road that would speed up the march to the ships. Washington chose to strike before Howe’s men reached that road.

When the two armies clashed, clouds of dust swirled through ninety-degree heat. Scattered units of British and American forces were spread across a battlefield that covered some twenty miles. Soldiers on both sides dropped from heat exhaustion. One of the Continental wings was commanded by Maj. Gen. Charles Lee, recently exchanged and back from his comfortable sojourn as a coddled captive in New York City. Lee had argued against Washington’s decision to fight Clinton on the march, suggesting that he be allowed to reach New York. But Washington had made up his mind, and he ordered Lee to pounce on the British rear guard, which was separated from the main force, on June 28.64

Lee failed to fight. Instead he ordered a retreat. “Grating as this order was to our feelings,” Pvt. Joseph Plumb Martin later wrote, “we were obliged to comply.” Martin was sitting by the side of a road when an infuriated Washington rode up to Lee. Martin was close enough to Washington to hear him ask officers by whose order the troops were retreating. Washington rode off, and Martin believed he said, “Damn him!” Whatever his words, Martin thought Washington “seemed at the instant to be in a great passion.” He gathered Lafayette and other officers around him and started calmly giving new orders while, Martin later wrote, British cannon shells were “rending up the earth all around him.”65

When Washington asked the bewildered retreating soldiers if they could fight, they answered him with three cheers. “His presence stopped the retreat,” Lafayette later wrote.66 The battle ended with both Americans and British settling down for a night of rest. Before dawn Clinton ordered the rejoining of the rear unit, the wagon train, and the rest of his troops, and the reconnected army slipped away on the road to New York. Washington did not attempt to attackhim again. Although the British successfully escaped, the Americans claimed a victory, marred by Lee’s order to retreat. Lee’s disobedience, along with his subsequent ranting to and about Washington, led to his being court-martialed. Lee’s behavior inspired a duel in which he was wounded. He was dismissed from the Continental Army; and, long after his lonely death, revelations surfaced about the strategic plan he had treacherously presented to General Howe.67

In the spring of 1778, as better days were dawning at Valley Forge, Washington had received a routine letter from a young Pennsylvania officer reporting on legal matters concerning two civilian prisoners. After giving his equally routine reply, Washington spewed a surprising diatribe: “With respect to your future treatment of the Tories, the most effectual way of putting a stop to their traiterous practices, will be shooting some of the most notorious offenders wherever they can be found in flagrante delicto. This summary punishment inflicted on a few leading traitors will probably strike terror into others and deter them from exposing themselves to a similar fate.”68 Washington’s outrage was understandable. Tories and Tory sympathizers had been starving his soldiers while feeding the British occupiers of Philadelphia.

A short time after suggesting that Tories be shot, Washington got news about the shadowy role that Tories and Indians were playing on the frontier. An officer, on home leave in Wilkes-Barre in northeastern Pennsylvania, learned that a combined force of armed Tories and Indians was planning an attack on a nearby settlement called Wyoming Valley, on the Susquehanna River. He rushed to York, where Congress’s Board of War still had its headquarters, and asked that men be released to defend their homes. On June 19, as Washington was heading out of Valley Forge in pursuit of General Clinton, a member of the board wrote a letter to the commander in chief asking for the release of men from the threatened settlement.69

Already, desperate men were heading for Wyoming Valley—somewith orders, some without, some led by officers who had resigned commissions, all moving faster than the letters and documents that were churning through the Continental Army and the Board of War.70 Washington approved the sending of the men to Wyoming Valley. But he knew that soon he would have to send far more to rescue the entire frontier.

* The prestigious Queen’s American Rangers, the Second Battalion of the New Jersey Volunteers, and a detachment of the Royal Guides and Pioneers. See ToriesFightingForTheKing.com for information about Loyalist military units.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at admin@erenow.org. Thank you!