Obrazy na stronie


seated in his cabinet, examining the new-born sheet, just like any gentleman of the press of our day, when the sound of hoofs on the pavement beneath, drew his attention to the window. Looking out into the street, he beheld with dismay, his old enemy, King Sears, at the head of an armed troop of horsemen, drawn up before his door. The men and their leader dismounted with the utmost deliberation, and a part of them entered the printer's abode. A few moments after, he saw his beloved printing-press cast into the street, and heard the tumult raised in the compositors' room above him, by those engaged in the work of demolition. To his despair, the materials thrown upon the pavement were speedily transferred to the dock, and the invaders sallied forth with many a pound of precious types' in their pockets and handkerchiefs. A large crowd, collected by so unusual an event, stood aloof, quiet spectators of the scene. The cavaliers remounted their steeds, and rode off toward Connecticut, whence they came, and where, as was subsequently ascertained, the offending types were melted down to bullets. Thus liberty assailed the freedom of the press, and the balls whilome cast with joy into types réassumed their pristine shape and destination ; the ploughshare was re-converted to the sword.

Although no opposition was offered to these proceedings, by the body of citizens assembled near Rivington's door, there stood upon a neighboring stoop, a lad of eighteen years of age, with an eye of

, fire, and an angry arm, haranguing the multitude, in a tone of earnest eloquence. He urged that order should be preserved ; appealing warmly to the dignity of citizenship, which,' said he, 'should not brook an encroachment of unlicensed troops from another colony,' and offering to join in checking the intruders' progress. The sins of Rivington could not be forgiven; but the youthful orator was listened to with respectful deference by that crowd, which already recognised the genius and fervor of ALEXANDER HAMILTON.

On the following Thursday, no Gazette appeared. Whether on this account, or because the town dignitaries were really incensed, this typographical execution created much sensation in the province. Fancying it a trampling on their authority, and a reproach to their vigilance, the New York Congress complained to Governor Trumbull of Connecticut; and, demanding a restitution of the abducted types, they observed that the present contest ought not to be sullied by an attempt to restrain the liberty of the press. We shall not pause to weigh the political considerations involved in this inter-colonial dispute,

which may have been the first respecting state rights. While New-York and Connecticut were at issue, poor Rivington went off to England, and there the matter ended. This event was deemed worthy the attention of congress, and seemed of sufficient importance to be laid before the reader. It is, moreover, the only remarkable incident which preceded the arrival of General Charles Lee in NewYork.

Early in 1776, this brave but headstrong officer, begged to be despatched from Boston to Connecticut, for the purpose of raising volunteers, and of reinforcing the New-Jersey and New-York battalions under his command. With Governor Trumbull's aid, General Lee succeeded in levying twelve hundred men among the zealous


inhabitants of that spirited province, and reached New-York with his recruits on the fourth of February. He was met on the frontier by the earnest entreaty of the committee of safety, who exercised the powers of government during the recess of our Provincial Congress, that he should pause upon the borders of Connecticut. Captain Parker, of the Asia man-of-war, had menaced the town with destruction, should it be entered by any large body of provincials. Undismayed by these threats, and disregarding the prayer of the timid corporation, Lee crossed the confines. Immediately after his arrival, conscious of the designs of the British in this vital quarter, and of the need of entire harmony between himself and the local authorities, he induced congress to take its jurisdiction out of the hands of these officers, and to detach from their own body a committee of three, who, with the council and himself, were to confer upon a plan of defence. His orders were to fortify the town, to disarm all persons unfriendly to the American cause, and especially to watch and counteract the movements of a band of tories, assembled on Long-Island ; ' serpents,' says he, in his characteristic manner, which it would be ruinous not to crush, before their rattles are grown.' This duty we may fancy him to have undertaken with peculiar satisfaction. The operations of these tories and of Governor Tryon, their Coryphæus, would prove an interesting theme of research. It may be remarked, en passant, that though the city of New York was stained in those days by strong imputations of toryism, the stigma was unjust. In mixtures of colors, it requires but little of a darker hue to deepen the brighest tints; and General Lee found the majority as well affected as any on the continent.'

During the short period of his stay, this officer's proceedings were extremely active. His intended fortifications were projected on a comprehensive scale. With an intelligent eye, he embraced the extensive localities to be defended, and detected their vulnerable points. A redoubt and battery at Hellgate were destined to prevent the passage of the enemy's ships to and fro in the Sound. Similar works were contemplated on the North River, and the oppugnable portions of the town were reformed and strengthened. Long-Island was too important a field to escape his vigilance ; and he fixed, for the location of an entrenched camp, upon the very spot which subsequently became the scene of conflict.

It were presumptuous, nay useless, to attempt to picture NewYork as she then was, when so many readers, far more vividly than the writer, realize from memory the vast alterations less than half a century has produced in the metropolis of the new world. On the walls of the New-York Historical Society rooms, hang various interesting maps, whereby some idea may be formed of those ancient features and dimensions, from which, to the present magnitude of our city, the transition is as unparalleled as it seems incredible. The old Knickerbocker town is laid down on one map, as it existed under the Stuyvesant dominion. In another, may be found the English city, before and after that disastrous fire, of which the ravages are delineated in a separate drawing, by an ancient eye-witness. General Lee's letters represent military operations not easily traced upon the transformed surface. Broadway was barricadoed two hundred yards

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

in the rear of the dismantled fort, and all the streets leading to it were to be defended by barriers. He speaks, loo, of erecting batteries on an eminence, behind Trinity church, to picture which to one's self, at the present day,requires no little stretch of the imagination.

I know not whether these local changes may interest the reader, but to me they seem truthful illustrations of our fleeting destiny. Cities are the theatres of nations, where the busy throng enact an endless and varying drama, full of life and of reality. And, let me ask, what object can fill with a lonelier sense of desolation the wanderer beneath the sunny skies of Greece, or moon-illumined heaven of Italy, than the crumbling walls, the deserted benches, the voiceless echoes of the theatre, where the living impersonations of the poet’s fancy were once deified by the enthusiasm of the crowd ? When the ruins of an old city become in turn the foundations of a new one, the pilgrim vainly seeks the traces of the past, and the lesson becomes still more impressive.

Monuments commemorate the peaceful traditions, and ruins the wars, of the old world. Surrounded by the vestiges of the past, its memories dwell in the European's thoughts. A tutored fancy evokes at will, from the tower and the column, the shades of the departed, and history may be realized, not in its events only, but in all its pomp and studied detail, its costume and its court. An unbroken chain, now of golden now of iron links ; here bright, there rusted ; here jeweled, and there blood-stained; connects to-day with distant centuries. In Cologne, the mind is transported back a thousand years, in Rome, two thousand. The edifices which time hallows, in lieu of destroying, are the only monuments of this new-born land.

The British General Clinton entered New-York simultaneously with General Lee. Unaccompanied by any force, he declared to the latter that he had only come to pay his friend Tryon a visit; of which Lee remarks, in a letter to the commander-in-chief, that if really the case, it was the most whimsical piece of civility he ever heard of.' It was the subsequent fortune of these generals to meet in Virginia and in North Carolinia.

The American officer's turn for the humorous, was displayed by his giving our old friend King Sears, when sent into Connecticut to beat up recruits, the title of adjutant-general ;' a promotion with which, he jocosely wrote WASHINGTON, the rough patriot ‘was much tickled; it added spurs to his hat.' For all nominal distinctions, General Lee entertained unequivocal contempt, and declared that ratsbane were far pleasanter to his mouth, than the appellation of * Excellency' he was daily compelled to swallow. On the seventh of March, he departed for the South, where laurels awaited him among the orange flowers of spring. Lord Stirling was left in command, and the contemplated works were afterward but slowly and partially completed.

The town of Boston was evacuated on the seventeenth of March, by the British, who put to sea for Halifax. Crowned with this signal triumph, General WASHINGTON arrived at New-York on the fourteenth of April, with the American army, which, to use his own expression, * had maintained their ground against the enemy, under a want of powder; had disbanded one army, and recruited another, within

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]


musket-shot of two-and-twenty regiments, the flower of the British force; and at last beaten them into a shameful and precipitate retreat, out of the strongest place on the continent, fortified at an enormous expense.'

On the twenty-third of May, the commander-in-chief found himoself at Philadelphia, in conference with congress, who had sum moned him thither, to devise remedies for the disastrous state of affairs in Canada. It was there determined to defend New-York, and the requisite men and supplies were placed at his disposal. Returning to the city, after an absence of fifteen days, he found great disaffection among certain of the inhabitants. This was nourished by Governor Tryon, who, from his vessel at the Hook, despatched emissaries in every direction. A deep plot, of his contriving, was only defeated by a timely discovery. His agents had so far pushed their temerity, as to corrupt not only many in the American camp, but even some of the general's guard, a soldier in which, was found guilty, and shot. The object of this conspiracy was to make WASHINGTON a prisoner.

To secure Quebec, and redeem Canada, on the one hand, to make a powerful impression in the south on the other, and finally, to possess themselves of New-York, proved to be the designs of the British, during this campaign. A part of their fleet from Halifax arrived off Sandy-Hook on the twenty-eighth of June. The remainder followed within a week, and General Howe established his head-quarters at Staten Island. In presence of a powerful enemy, gathering forces at the very door of the city, the troops were summoned to parade at six o'clock, one bright afternoon in early July. The British fleet lay in sight, and the assembled regiments knew not whether they were called together to attack or to repel. It was a fitting time and place for the proclamation of that glorious document, each word of which, well befitting a great nation speaking for itself, found an echo in every heart that beat there - the DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE. I can conceive the beams of that setting sun to have met a rival glow in the ruddy cheeks to which the warm blood mantled, under the inspiring words of liberty, drank in by willing ears. As the address ended, a shout of approbation rent the air. It was not the wild cry of a senseless mob on a holiday, but the voice of determination, which, to the close of that war, was the key-note of freedom.

This event, which transmuted into free states the dependent colony and province, rolls up the curtain from before the dramatic portion of my story The arrival of Lord Howe from England, on the twelfth of July, and the daily rëinforcements of the British fleet, from that period, justified expectations of a sudden assault. Preparations were continued under General Putnam, for the defence of the city, and General Greene was on Long-Island, superintending the erection of a chain of works, to fortify it against the enemy's approach. About this time, several of the British vessels, under a favorable breeze, ran by the New York batteries, uninjured by their fire, and much to the surprise of the Americans.

On the eighth of August, General WASHINGTON wrote, that for the several posts on New-York, Long-Island, Governor's Island, and Paulus Hook, he had but thirteen thousand five hundred and fifty-seven


effective men, and that, to repel an immediate attack, he could count upon no other addition to his numbers, than a battalion from Maryland, under Colonel Smallwood. Opposed to him, was the entire British force, united at Sandy-Hook, by the middle of the month, consisting of twenty-four thousand men, combined with a fleet of more than one hundred and thirty vessels, ninety-six of which came in from the twelfth to the thirteenth. Let the reader remember, that this armada was afloat off Sandy-Hook, between the heights of Neversink and Staten-Island. And who, on calling to mind this event, and reflecting that, but yesterday, after a lapse of sixty-two years, a proud steamer was sent from England to this very city, then doomed to the fate of Carthage, now the inalienable ally of her former enemy, will deny that the growth of events maturing nations, is a wondrous characteristic of the age; a token that in measure as it learns to ameliorate its condition, humanity is destined to cover the earth like the forest tree; and that we do not, mayhap, sufficiently regard these intimations of a mighty future.

The details of war were rapidly advancing in the city, on which the eyes of the nation were intensely fixed. Lead being scarce, the zealous burghers gave the troops their window-weights for bullets. Of these, one house alone contributed twelve hundred and another one thousand pounds weight; and I doubt not, had bow-strings been in request, our patriotic countrywomen would have hastened, like the Carthaginians of old, to offer up their longest tresses in the service of freedom. As the crisis drew near, the unseen anxiety of the commanderin-chief became redoubled beneath his clear eye and serene brow. He was every where, knowing no repose, the indefatigable guardian of the spirit of liberty.

Already was the army in possession of that memorable address, so fervently breathed by the great commander, while awaiting the attack: The time is now near at hand, which must probably determine whether Americans are to be freemen or slaves ; whether they are to have any property they can call their own; whether their houses and farms are to be pillaged and destroyed, and they confined to a state of wretchedness from which no human efforts will probably deliver them. The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army. We have therefore to resolve to conquer or die!'

At this juncture, General Greene unhappily fell sick of a fever, and the important station on Long-Island was entrusted to General Sullivan. It is impossible to compare the aims and prospects of the rival forces, at this period, without feeling how daring was the gallantry of the Americans, in venturing so fearlessly upon the unequal contest.

The long-expected hour of attack arrived on the twenty-second of August, when intelligence was received of the landing of the British on Long-Island. The report of their signal repulse at Fort Moultrie, by the Americans under General Lee, reached our camp on the preceding night, and was urged by Washington as an incentive to as proud exertions on the coming occasion.

By the twenty-sixth, the British troops extended from the coast between Gravesend and Utrecht, to Flatbush and Flatlands ; Colonel VOL. Xull.


« PoprzedniaDalej »