Baroness On The Battlefield

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During our stay at the spa my husband received the good news that he and General Phillips and their aides had permission to go to New York to be exchanged there. My husband, accordingly, went back to Colle to make arrangements for the maintenance, in his absence, of the troops, which he put in Colonel Specht’s command, and for the sale of all the things we would no longer require, particularly of our new house into which we had not even moved as yet. …

The von Riedesels left Virginia in August, 1779, and made their way toward New York, stopping over with loyalist families. When they reached Elizabeth, New Jersey, they felt elated and happy.

Being so near New York and sure of my husband’s exchange, we thought that we had now reached our immediate goals and ate our dinner there happily in the thought that, as we intended crossing over to New York directly afterward, we would be set free that same evening. But suddenly the door opened and an officer, who had been sent by General Washington, entered and handed General Phillips a letter, containing orders to return, as Congress had not given its approval to the exchange. The eyes of General Phillips, who was a very violent man, sparkled with fury. He hit the table with his fist, exclaiming, “This is pleasant!—and we should have expected it from these people, who are all rascals!” I was petrified and unable to speak a word. He took my hand and said, “Now, my friend, do not lose courage. Follow my example. See, I am quite composed!” “Everyone,” I replied, “has his own way of expressing sadness. I conceal mine in my heart, and you express yours by violence. In my opinion, however, you would do better not to show these people how angry you are, because they only scoff at you, and besides it may only cause you still further trouble.” He admitted I was right and assured me that he would bear his sorrow like me, with resignation, and was thereafter quiet.

I was pregnant and felt badly all the while, so the journey exhausted me exceedingly. I had hoped to be able to live quietly among people who would take care of me; but in vain! After only one day of rest, which had been granted us, we had to start on the return journey, and we stopped with the Van Homes again [a family the Riedesels had visited on their way to New Jersey]. This time we met a nephew of General Washington there [possibly George Augustine Washington, although his identity has never been established] with a number of American officers, who during the three days of their stay had succeeded in so changing the minds of these people (they were of the turncoat type), that not only did we find the daughter of these so-called royalists on the friendliest of terms with these anti-royalists, whom she allowed all sorts of liberties, but in addition, as they no longer felt that they needed to spare our feelings, we heard them singing all through the night “God save great Washington! God damn the King!” It was difficult for me to conceal my annoyance about this when we departed next morning.

We now returned to Bethlehem [Pennsylvania], where my husband and General Phillips had been given permission by the Americans to stay until the delayed exchange of prisoners should take place, and as our previous innkeeper had given us excellent service, we all stopped with him again. And, indeed, there were sixteen of us and four servants. The servants received money for their board. We had twenty horses. The innkeeper did not want to make a definite agreement, and as none of us had much money, we were glad that he was willing to wait until we had received some. We were even more inclined to regard him as an honest man, as he belonged to the Congregation of the Moravian Brethren, and the inn was the so-called Congregation Inn. But great was our horror, after staying there six weeks, when we were finally allowed to go to New York, on being presented with a bill for $32,000, American paper money, of course, which was around the sum of four hundred guineas. If it had not been for a royalist, who was passing through and who wanted to exchange coins at any price, we would have been greatly embarrassed and could not have left. Through this man we were fortunate enough to get eighty dollars in paper money for one piaster. …

Finally at the end of November, 1779, we left Bethlehem. My husband, General Phillips, and their aides were not exchanged, but they were given permission to go to New York on parole. …

Most of what is now New York City, including all of Manhattan Island, had been firmly in British hands since 1776. In spite of the city’s isolated position and the Baron’s ambiguous status “on parole,” New York obviously seemed an oasis of security to the Baroness.