Before the Civil War splintered the young country, there was another conflict that divided friends and family--the Revolutionary War
Prior to the French and Indian War, the British government had taken little interest in their expanding American empire. Years of neglect had allowed America's fledgling democracy to gain power, but by 1760 America had become the biggest and fastest-growing part of the British economy, and the mother country required tribute.
When the Revolution came to New York City, it tore apart a community that was already riven by deep-seated family, political, religious, and economic antagonisms. Focusing on a number of individuals, Divided Loyalties describes their response to increasingly drastic actions taken in London by a succession of the king's ministers, which finally forced people to take sides and decide whether they would continue their loyalty to Great Britain and the king, or cast their lot with the American insurgents.
Using fascinating detail to draw us into history's narrative, Richard M. Ketchum explains why New Yorkers with similar life experiences--even members of the same family--chose different sides when the war erupted.
|Publisher:||Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.|
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About the Author
Richard M. Ketchum (1922-2012) is the author of the Revolutionary War classics Decisive Day: The Battle of Bunker Hill; The Winter Soldiers: The Battles for Trenton and Princeton; the award-winning New York Times Notable Book Saratoga: Turning Point of America's Revolutionary War; and, most recently, Divided Loyalties: How the American Revolution Came to New York. He lived in Vermont.
Read an Excerpt
How the American Revolution Came to New York
By Richard M. Ketchum
Henry Holt and CompanyCopyright © 2002 Richard M. Ketchum
All rights reserved.
A Most Splendid Town
Long before they came in sight of land, European passengers bound for New York were greeted with the sweet scent of the continent's lush vegetation. Rounding Sandy Hook and heading for the harbor, they sailed through the Narrows between Staten Island and Brooklyn, up past the forested shores of New York Bay, and got their first, distant view of the settlement at the southern extremity of Manhattan Island. What they saw appeared to be no more than a village, surrounded by trees and open fields, but it was an experience few visitors forgot. It was "the most splendid Town in North America," according to one traveler, and few could argue with that. In surroundings of striking natural beauty, what had begun life as a tiny outpost of Holland's commercial empire was still, after 136 years, surprisingly small and compact — something like two thousand houses and a population of about twelve thousand.
The last of four great Pleistocene ice sheets that had blanketed Canada and the northeast deposited drifts of clay and sandy gravel up to one hundred feet deep across much of southern Manhattan. Where the ice stopped, as the glacier began to melt and withdraw, a terminal moraine, or accumulation of glacial debris, was left behind at either side of the Narrows, extending in a sinuous ridge from Staten Island across western Long Island.
Washed by two rivers and the ebb and flow of Atlantic tides, Manhattan had the magical, beckoning quality of all islands, but to most Dutch and its later occupants, the English, it was perceived less in spiritual than in physical terms. In addition to a central location among the colonies that were strung out along the Atlantic coastline, it possessed unparalleled access to the interior by way of the Hudson River. More important, Manhattan was blessed with a world-class deepwater port, protected by the Narrows and New York Bay, and was on the way to becoming the most important trading center in North America. Except for a handful of native hangers-on, most of the people regarded as savages were long gone, off on the frontier somewhere along with the bears, wolves, cougars, and other wild creatures that had once made their home on what the Indians called Manahata. The settlement had grown beyond the original Dutch wall erected to keep out the Indians and beyond the later palisaded barricade built across the island in 1745 by panicky residents as protection against possible invasion by the French, yet it was still a small provincial town, a community in which virtually everything was within easy walking distance, and where just about everybody was a neighbor.
The most tangible symbol of the British crown's presence was Fort George, perched on rocks at the southern tip of the island. Built by the Dutch about 1614, it had borne nine different names since that time and in the 1760s was in a state of advancing decrepitude. Despite its ruinous condition, it was the city's social and official center, since the royally appointed governor resided in a house inside the open rectangle, protected by ramparts of the Grand Battery. Behind this bulwark of a hundred ancient naval guns mounted on small wheels, the skyline bristled with church spires and the cupola and flag of City Hall. Houses clustered along and behind the waterfront, and beyond them were low-lying hills and woods.
The island was fourteen and a half miles long and ranged in width from half a mile to two and a half miles or — as men tended to figure it in those days — two hours by cart from north to south, an hour's walk from east to west. But the city proper was only a mile long and no more than half that in width, which was a godsend to everyone involved in trade. In a day when nearly all business was conducted on foot or by horse-drawn vehicles, a visitor remarked that "the Cartage in Town from one part to another does not at a Medium exceed one-quarter of a mile. [This] prodigious advantage ... facilitates and expedites the lading and unlading of Ships and Boats, saves Time and Labour, and is attended with Innumerable Conveniences to its inhabitants."
Manhattan's insularity was further intensified by problems of communication. Letters, news, and official documents traveled only as rapidly as a man on foot or horseback or in a ship could carry them. This was a world in which it took at least six weeks or more to get a letter from "home" in the British Isles, carried by a sailing vessel struggling against the westerly winds and subject to all the vagaries of weather, shipwreck, war, and piracy. Stockings, linens, shirts, kerchiefs, dresses, woolens, shoes — every item of clothing, it seemed, came from Britain, and New Yorkers were accustomed to delays of four or five months between the placing of an order and its arrival. A trip to Philadelphia, in good weather, with a good horse and solid footing on the roads, took at least forty-eight hours. A journey upriver to Albany — normally a three-day trip by schooner — might take twice that long if winds and tides were uncooperative.
Throughout the colonies, similar conditions existed, with the result that New Yorkers often knew more about goings-on in London than in the Carolinas or even Pennsylvania. Newspapers carried little but foreign news, largely because most colonials had almost no interest in what was happening in other colonies, and this self-imposed isolation was at the very root of the problems America faced during the seemingly incessant warfare along its vast frontier.
In theory, mail from England was put aboard a packet in Falmouth on the second Saturday of the month, but with the uncertainties of weather or possible damage to the ships one could only guess when it might be delivered. So the moment the packet boat was sighted sailing up the bay, word flew around town and people ran to the wharf to be on hand when the vessel docked, bringing official dispatches, letters, and the latest London papers.
When the Philadelphian Benjamin Franklin took over the slow, undependable colonial postal service in 1753, one of his innovations was to have newspapers print the names of persons who had mail waiting for them. Then he initiated the penny post, which provided that letters not called for on the day the post arrived were sent to the addressee the next day by the postman for an extra fee. (Letters which had been advertised in newspapers and remained unclaimed for three months were forwarded to the Dead Letter Office in Philadelphia.) But as welcome as these improvements were, long-distance mail, especially, remained uncertain at best. No wonder: as an instance of how mail was addressed and sent, Cadwallader Colden's father, in Scotland, directed a letter to his son thusly:
To Cadwallader Colden, Esq.
How it was to be put on board ship left a good deal to the imagination:
To be Left at the Sun Coffee house
Behind the royal exchange London
Yet somehow, it arrived.
* * *
The premise that the distance between two points divided by the rate of travel indicates the time it takes to get there governed relations between England and America, and it was significant in more ways than might come to mind. (One imponderable, of course, was the impossibility of predicting what the rate of travel across the ocean might be.) New York society, led by the mercantile aristocracy, was patterned on and imitative of that in London, which meant that court gossip about the foibles and follies and fashions of the highly placed were extremely important to provincials, who were prone to social insecurity. The faster they received word of what was de rigueur the more secure they felt.
Shopping seasons for English goods were a boom time and a boon for every kind of hostelry and eatery in the city. Crowds from near and far flocked to New York to see the large fleet of English ships sail into the harbor, as they did every April and October, and their arrival was followed by a shopping frenzy that might last for weeks. The ships made the round trip in about six months, taking half of that time for loading and unloading, and so it was that the very latest in garments — apparel from head to toe — along with books, pictures, furniture, and just about everything else was the main topic of conversation in those two months of the year.
From autumn into spring, New York's well-to-do attended assemblies run by the merchants William Walton and James McEvers, dancing classes, and concerts, which were almost always followed with balls. Gentlemen arrived dressed to the nines in silk or broadcloth suits trimmed with gold, boots with silver buckles, richly embroidered waistcoats trimmed with lace, and wigs freshly powdered and scented, lending support to Benjamin Franklin's comment that men "fear less ... being in hell than out of fashion." On their arms, their companions were beautifully gowned in satin or silk hoopskirts, wearing shoes with impossibly high heels and tight bodices that covered stays cut high in the back and low in the front. And woe to the poor soul who had not yet heard from the staymakers who made regular trips from London and was unaware that waistlines had gone down this season.
At some balls the ladies were expected to stand in line according to their purported "rank," but this practice led to what Ann Watts described to her cousin Ann DeLancey as "a monstrous Fight," after which it was decided that "there shall be no Lady or Gentleman invited to dance that will not be willing to draw for a place, and that will be the only way to make things easy." The role of almost all women then was a restricted one, as Anne Moore complained to Ann DeLancey. "You will readily allow," she wrote, "that our sex can appear truly amiable in no light but the domestic," and only in that manner can she "find room to display every virtue."
The social whirl included regular evenings at the theater, musicales as well as more formal concerts, entertainments given by the governor at his house in the fort — often celebrating some event like a royal birthday — as well as parties given by British officers at the garrison. And moneyed New Yorkers had the same enthusiasm for sports as the English gentlemen they admired — everything from bowls to cockfighting, fowling, sailing, fishing, horse-racing, and foxhunting on Long Island, and they welcomed one governor who arrived at his post with "nine gouff clubs, one iron ditto, and seven dozen balls." The long winters were enlivened with shooting, skating, and sleighing parties just beyond town.
For a good many of these prosperous merchants' households the descriptive word was "luxury." They had their portraits painted by such fashionable artists as Benjamin West and Pierre du Simitière, and by itinerant limners. (During her lifetime, Alice DeLancey Izard and her husband had their portraits done many times, by the likes of John Singleton Copley, Gainsborough, Thomas Sully, and others.) They purchased fine clocks, silver, wall hangings, and figured wallpaper from England. They ate off Lowestoft, Wedgwood, and Canton china. They drank fine Madeira, claret, burgundy, and champagne. They were served by a butler and maids, and driven by a coachman — all of them Negro slaves.
These people were gregarious and convivial, meeting and gossiping in coffeehouses, inns, and private homes. One group of men called themselves the Hungarian Club and met regularly at Todd's Sign of the Black Horse in Smith Street. Astonishingly, they met every night, and a visitor noted that only good topers were accepted for membership. "To talk bawdy and have a knack at punning passes among them for good sterling wit," he observed sourly, but he concluded that "in this place you may have the best of company and conversation as well as at Philadelphia."
A newcomer from Philadelphia was similarly impressed: "This is a better place for company and amusements than Philadelphia," he said, "more gay and lively. I have already seen some pretty women." But his enthusiasm quickly palled. It was the novelty of the city that he had found enchanting at first, but before long he discovered that one day's exposure to the people, manners, living, and conversation conveyed as much as fifty days'. Making the rounds of many homes he found the same topics discussed — "land, Madeira wine, fishing parties or politics. ..." What's more, in the coffeehouses they had "a vile practice ... of playing backgammon (a noise I detest) from morning till night, frequently ten or a dozen tables at a time."
John Adams, accustomed to the ways of Boston, looked down his nose at New Yorkers. "With all the opulence and splendor of this city," he commented, "there is very little good breeding to be found. I have not met one gentleman. ... There is no conversation. The people talk very loud and fast and all together and break in upon you in speaking."
* * *
Most of New York's streets were crooked, but many were wide, paved with cobblestones, with a gutter running through the middle, and lined with shade trees that made walking in summer on sidewalks laid with flat stones a pleasure. At night the lamplighter made his rounds and the streets were lit, as they had been since 1693, by "lanthorn & candle" hung from every seventh house, with the expense borne equally by the seven homeowners.* Over the years, the forest on the lower half of the island had been cut over for building, but in 1708 citizens were given permission to plant trees in front of their houses, and half a century later the leafy canopy caused visitors to comment that the place "seemed like a garden" because of the salubrious mix of beech, locust, elms, and lime trees, as the lindens were called. Many houses had balconies on the roof that enabled people to sit outside in summer and admire the lovely prospect of the town, with the sparkling rivers and bays beyond. In 1760 nearly every house lot of any size had a garden, as did the country estates north of town, many of which also had orchards growing all kinds of fruits, along with meadows and pastures for livestock. Saltwater fish were plentiful in the Hudson, as were oysters, from the huge beds on the New Jersey shore.
By 1760 the city's population was at least four times what it had been ninety years earlier and farms had sprung up over much of the island, but Manhattan retained most of the characteristics described by one Daniel Denton in 1670. He noted that the land grew corn and all sorts of grain, providing pasture in the summer — grass as high as a man's waist, he said — and fodder for winter. In the woods, "every mile or half-mile are furnished with fresh ponds, brooks or rivers, where all sorts of Cattel, during the heat of the day, do quench their thirst and cool themselves. ..." Despite the number of streams that traversed the island, good, fresh drinking water was scarce, however. Numerous wells, public and private, existed in the city, but the output of most of them tasted so bad that people who could afford it purchased water by the cask or bottle from springs north of the settled areas. For those who wanted a daily supply of decent water for their tea or cooking, a horse-drawn cart made the rounds, hauling hogsheads of water from a spring where the Tea-water Pump was located, selling it for something less than a dollar a bucket.
* * *
The Hudson River was a constant reminder of Albany and the frontier that gave it such importance. For generations Albany had been the important end of the river, the collection point for all the furs sent from New York to Europe's hungry market, the source of so much wealth for the Dutch and their successors. It seemed that every well-dressed man or woman in Europe must have a beaver hat, and in the first year of Dutch settlement some fifteen hundred of the skins had been shipped to Holland. By the eighteenth century colonial hatters were exporting ten thousand beaver hats to Europe annually — infuriating English hatters, who petitioned Parliament to stop the importation of these finished goods from America.
Excerpted from Divided Loyalties by Richard M. Ketchum. Copyright © 2002 Richard M. Ketchum. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. A Most Splendid Town,
2. Salutary Neglect,
3. Year of Wonders,
4. Join or Die,
5. George — Be a King,
6. Gentle Shepherd,
7. A Stamp Tax,
8. Slavery Fenced Us In,
9. Petitions and a Dagger,
10. The City in Perfect Anarchy,
11. Madness and Folly,
12. An Act to Repeal an Act,
13. An Unsupportable Burden,
14. A Tax on Tea,
15. Incentive to Rebellion,
16. The Wilkes of America,
17. Battle of Golden Hill,
18. Coercive Measures,
19. An Act of Tyranny,
20. The Mob Begin to Think,
21. Blows Must Decide,
22. Affairs Grow Serious,
23. The Sword Is Drawn,
24. You Must Now Declare,
25. The Proposition Is Peace,
26. Full Exertion of Great Force,
Also by Richard M. Ketchum,
About the Author,
What People are Saying About This
B>Douglas Brinkley, Director of the Eisenhower Center for American Studiesand Professor of History at the University of New Orleans
Without question Richard M. Ketchum is the finest historian of the American Revolution currently working. His newest bookDIVIDED LOYALTIES: HOW THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION CAME TO NEW YORK is a brilliant, landmark study which reminds us that the creation of the United States was considered an act of treason. Blessed with an impeccable instinct for illuminating detail, Ketchum tells the riveting story of John Jay, Robert Livingston, and other brave New Yorkers in pitch-perfect rose. A truly important and engaging work.