Life of George Washington

The journey may be said to have been a continual council of war between
Washington and the two generals. Even the contrast in character of the two
latter made them regard questions from different points of view. Schuyler,
a warm-hearted patriot, with every thing staked on the cause; Lee, a
soldier of fortune, indifferent to the ties of home and country, drawing
his sword without enthusiasm; more through resentment against a government
which had disappointed him, than zeal for liberty or for colonial rights.

One of the most frequent subjects of conversation was the province of New
York. Its power and position rendered it the great link of the confederacy;
what measures were necessary for its defence, and most calculated to secure
its adherence to the cause? A lingering attachment to the crown, kept up by
the influence of British merchants, and military and civil functionaries in
royal pay, had rendered it slow in coming into the colonial compact; and it
was only on the contemptuous dismissal of their statement of grievances,
unheard, that its people had thrown off their allegiance, as much in sorrow
as in anger.

No person was better fitted to give an account of the interior of New York
than General Schuyler; and the hawk-eyed Lee during a recent sojourn had
made its capital somewhat of a study; but there was much yet for both of
them to learn.

The population of New York was more varied in its elements than that of
almost any other of the provinces, and had to be cautiously studied. The
New Yorkers were of a mixed origin, and stamped with the peculiarities of
their respective ancestors. The descendants of the old Dutch and Huguenot
families, the earliest settlers, were still among the soundest and best of
the population. They inherited the love of liberty, civil and religious, of
their forefathers, and were those who stood foremost in the present
struggle for popular rights. Such were the Jays, the Bensons, the Beekmans,
the Hoffmans, the Van Hornes, the Roosevelts, the Duyckinks, the Pintards,
the Yateses, and others whose names figure in the patriotic documents of
the day. Some of them, doubtless, cherished a remembrance of the time when
their forefathers were lords of the land, and felt an innate propensity to
join in resistance to the government by which their supremacy had been
overturned. A great proportion of the more modern families, dating from the
downfall of the Dutch government in 1664, were English and Scotch, and
among these were many loyal adherents to the crown. Then there was a
mixture of the whole, produced by the intermarriages of upwards of a
century, which partook of every shade of character and sentiment. The
operations of foreign commerce, and the regular communications with the
mother country through packets and ships of war, kept these elements in
constant action, and contributed to produce that mercurial temperament,
that fondness for excitement, and proneness to pleasure, which
distinguished them from their neighbors on either side–the austere
Puritans of New England, and the quiet “Friends” of Pennsylvania.

There was a power, too, of a formidable kind within the interior of the
province, which was an object of much solicitude. This was the “Johnson
Family.” We have repeatedly had occasion to speak of Sir William Johnson,
his majesty’s general agent for Indian affairs, of his great wealth, and
his almost sovereign sway over the Six Nations. He had originally received
that appointment through the influence of the Schuyler family. Both
Generals Schuyler and Lee, when young men, had campaigned with him; and it
was among the Mohawk warriors, who rallied under his standard, that Lee had
beheld his vaunted models of good-breeding.

In the recent difficulties between the crown and colonies, Sir William had
naturally been in favor of the government which had enriched and honored
him, but he had viewed with deep concern the acts of Parliament which were
goading the colonists to armed resistance. In the height of his solicitude,
he received despatches ordering him, in case of hostilities, to enlist the
Indians in the cause of government. To the agitation of feelings produced
by these orders many have attributed a stroke of apoplexy, of which he
died, on the 11th of July, 1774, about a year before the time of which we
are treating.

His son and heir, Sir John Johnson, and his sons-in-law, Colonel Guy
Johnson and Colonel Claus, felt none of the reluctance of Sir William to
use harsh measures in support of royalty. They lived in a degree of rude
feudal style in stone mansions capable of defence, situated on the Mohawk
River and in its vicinity; they had many Scottish Highlanders for tenants;
and among their adherents were violent men, such as the Butlers of Tryon
County, and Brant, the Mohawk sachem, since famous in Indian warfare. They
had recently gone about with armed retainers, overawing and breaking up
patriotic assemblages, and it was known they could at any time bring a
force of warriors in the field.

Recent accounts stated that Sir John was fortifying the old family hall at
Johnstown with swivels, and had a hundred and fifty Roman Catholic
Highlanders quartered in and about it, all armed and ready to obey his

Colonel Guy Johnson, however, was the most active and zealous of the
family. Pretending to apprehend a design on the part of the New England
people to surprise and carry him off, he fortified his stone mansion on the
Mohawk, called Guy’s Park, and assembled there a part of his militia
regiment, and other of his adherents, to the number of five hundred. He
held a great Indian council there, likewise, in which the chiefs of the Six
Nations recalled the friendship and good deeds of the late Sir William
Johnson, and avowed their determination to stand by and defend every branch
of his family.

As yet it was uncertain whether Colonel Guy really intended to take an open
part in the appeal to arms. Should he do so, he would carry with him a
great force of the native tribes, and might almost domineer over the

Tryon, the governor of New York, was at present absent in England, having
been called home by the ministry to give an account of the affairs of the
province, and to receive instructions for its management. He was a tory in
heart, and had been a zealous opponent of all colonial movements, and his
talents and address gave him great influence over an important part of the
community. Should he return with hostile instructions, and should he and
the Johnsons co-operate, the one controlling the bay and harbor of New York
and the waters of the Hudson by means of ships and land forces; the others
overrunning the valley of the Mohawk and the regions beyond Albany with
savage hordes, this great central province might be wrested from the
confederacy, and all intercourse broken off between the eastern and
southern colonies.

All these circumstances and considerations, many of which came under
discussion in the course of this military journey, rendered the command of
New York a post of especial trust and importance, and determined Washington
to confide it to General Schuyler. He was peculiarly fitted for it by his
military talents, his intimate knowledge of the province and its concerns,
especially what related to the upper parts of it, and his experience in
Indian affairs.

At Newark, in the Jerseys, Washington was met on the 25th by a committee of
the provincial Congress, sent to conduct him to the city. The Congress was
in a perplexity. It had in a manner usurped and exercised the powers of
Governor Tryon during his absence, while at the same time it professed
allegiance to the crown which had appointed him. He was now in the harbor,
just arrived from England, and hourly expected to land. Washington, too,
was approaching. How were these double claims to ceremonious respect
happening at the same time to be managed?

In this dilemma a regiment of militia was turned out, and the colonel
instructed to pay military honors to whichever of the distinguished
functionaries should first arrive. Washington was earlier than the governor
by several hours, and received those honors. Peter Van Burgh Livingston,
president of the New York Congress, next delivered a congratulatory
address, the latter part of which evinces the cautious reserve with which,
in these revolutionary times, military power was intrusted to an

“Confiding in you, sir, and in the worthy generals immediately under your
command, we have the most flattering hopes of success in the glorious
struggle for American liberty, and the fullest assurances that _whenever
this important contest shall be decided by that fondest wish of each
American soul, an accommodation with our mother country, you will
cheerfully resign the important deposit committed into your hands, and
reassume the character of our worthiest citizen_.”

The following was Washington’s reply, in behalf of himself and his
generals, to this part of the address.

“As to the fatal, but necessary operations of war, when we assumed the
soldier, we did not lay aside the citizen; and we shall most sincerely
rejoice with you in that happy hour, when the establishment of American
liberty on the most firm and solid foundations, shall enable us to return
to our private stations, in the bosom of a free, peaceful, and happy

The landing of Governor Tryon took place about eight o’clock in the
evening. The military honors were repeated; he was received with great
respect by the mayor and common council, and transports of loyalty by those
devoted to the crown. It was unknown what instructions he had received from
the ministry, but it was rumored that a large force would soon arrive from
England, subject to his directions. At this very moment a ship of war, the
Asia, lay anchored opposite the city; its grim batteries bearing upon it,
greatly to the disquiet of the faint-hearted among its inhabitants.

In this situation of affairs Washington was happy to leave such an
efficient person as General Schuyler in command of the place. According to
his instructions, the latter was to make returns once a month, and oftener,
should circumstances require it, to Washington, as commander-in-chief, and
to the Continental Congress, of the forces under him, and the state of his
supplies; and to send the earliest advices of all events of importance. He
was to keep a wary eye on Colonel Guy Johnson, and to counteract any
prejudicial influence he might exercise over the Indians. With respect to
Governor Tryon, Washington hinted at a bold and decided line of conduct.
“If forcible measures are judged necessary respecting the person of the
governor, I should have no difficulty in ordering them, if the Continental
Congress were not sitting; but as that is the case, _and the seizing of a
governor quite a new thing_, I must refer you to that body for

Had Congress thought proper to direct such a measure, Schuyler certainly
would have been the man to execute it.

At New York, Washington had learned all the details of the battle of
Bunker’s Hill; they quickened his impatience to arrive at the camp. He
departed, therefore, on the 26th, accompanied by General Lee, and escorted
as far as Kingsbridge, the termination of New York Island, by Markoe’s
Philadelphia light horse, and several companies of militia.

In the mean time the provincial Congress of Massachusetts, then in session
at Watertown, had made arrangements for the expected arrival of Washington.
According to a resolve of that body, the president’s house in Cambridge,
excepting one room reserved by the president for his own use, was to be
taken, cleared, prepared, and furnished for the reception of the
Commander-in-Chief and General Lee. The Congress had likewise sent on a
deputation which met Washington at Springfield, on the frontiers of the
province, and provided escorts and accommodations for him along the road.
Thus honorably attended from town to town, and escorted by volunteer
companies and cavalcades of gentlemen, he arrived at Watertown on the 2d of
July, where he was greeted by Congress with a congratulatory address, in
which, however, was frankly stated the undisciplined state of the army he
was summoned to command. An address of cordial welcome was likewise made to
General Lee.

The ceremony over, Washington was again in the saddle; and, escorted by a
troop of light horse and a cavalcade of citizens, proceeded to the
head-quarters provided for him at Cambridge, three miles distant. As he
entered the confines of the camp the shouts of the multitude and the
thundering of artillery gave note to the enemy beleaguered in Boston of his

His military reputation had preceded him and excited great expectations.
They were not disappointed. His personal appearance, notwithstanding the
dust of travel, was calculated to captivate the public eye. As he rode
through the camp, amidst a throng of officers, he was the admiration of the
soldiery and of a curious throng collected from the surrounding country.
Happy was the countryman who could get a full view of him to carry home an
account of it to his neighbors. “I have been much gratified this day with a
view of General Washington,” writes a contemporary chronicler, “His
excellency was on horseback, in company with several military gentlemen. It
was not difficult to distinguish him from all others. He is tall and
well-proportioned, and his personal appearance truly noble and majestic.”
[Footnote: Thacher.–Military Journal.]

The fair sex were still more enthusiastic in their admiration, if we may
judge from the following passage of a letter written by the intelligent and
accomplished wife of John Adams to her husband: “Dignity, ease, and
complacency, the gentleman and the soldier, look agreeably blended in him.
Modesty marks every line and feature of his face. Those lines of Dryden
instantly occurred to me:

‘Mark his majestic fabric! He’s a temple
Sacred by birth, and built by hands divine;
His soul’s the deity that lodges there;
Nor is the pile unworthy of the God.'”

With Washington, modest at all times, there was no false excitement on the
present occasion; nothing to call forth emotions of self-glorification. The
honors and congratulations with which he was received, the acclamations of
the public, the cheerings of the army, only told him how much was expected
from him; and when he looked round upon the raw and rustic levies he was to
command, “a mixed multitude of people, under very little discipline, order,
or government,” scattered in rough encampments about hill and dale,
beleaguering a city garrisoned by veteran troops, with ships of war
anchored about its harbor, and strong outposts guarding it, he felt the
awful responsibility of his situation, and the complicated and stupendous
task before him. He spoke of it, however, not despondingly nor boastfully
and with defiance; but with that solemn and sedate resolution, and that
hopeful reliance on Supreme Goodness, which belonged to his magnanimous
nature. The cause of his country, he observed, had called him to an active
and dangerous duty, but _he trusted that Divine Providence, which wisely
orders the affairs of men, would enable him to discharge it with fidelity
and success_. [Footnote: Letter to Governor Trumbull.–Sparks, iii.,


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