Baroness On The Battlefield


We again passed through Elizabeth, where again we were very well received, crossed the Hudson, and reached New York late at night, my husband having gone on ahead. A soldier, who had been sent with us to show us the way, led us to a large, handsome house, where everything had been prepared for our coming, even a good supper. I was too busy putting the children to bed, and too tired myself, to ask where we were and thought it was an inn. My husband, who had eaten supper with General Cornwallis [then in New York as Clinton’s second in command], came home late. The next morning I was asked what I should like to have to eat. I replied that, as my husband would not take his meals at home, I should not need more than three dishes for six people; that is, for myself, my children, my maids, and Pastor Mylius, the chaplain of my husband’s regiment, who travelled with us and taught my children. He was a very pious man of excellent character, always in good spirits, much beloved by the children and all of us. I was told that orders had already been given to serve us six large and four small dishes every day. Still thinking that we were in an inn, I protested against such excess, as I feared the size of the bill. I learned then that we were in the home of the Governor [of the New York district], General Tryon, who had forbidden that I be told where I was being taken, because he was afraid that I would not accept his hospitality. In addition, this noble-minded gentleman had left for Long Island, where he had temporary command, in order to avoid our expressions of gratitude. Every wish of mine was anticipated, and I was ever fearful of taking advantage of so much kindness. General Pattison, commandant of the city, called on me and said that a house was being furnished for us, where we should make our real home. Lord Cornwallis and General Clinton [Sir Henry Clinton, commander in chief of the British armies] also both visited me. The latter offered to arrange for my stay at a country estate, which he had at his disposal, and where my children should be inoculated against smallpox, which would be too dangerous a procedure in the city, where there was an epidemic of this disease at the time. I gladly accepted this offer and made all necessary preparations to move there. I gave our cook ten guineas to buy all sorts of supplies. When he returned soon after and asked for more money, I learned to my horror that this was only enough to last for two days, everything being so expensive there, even the most simple food. …

The von Riedesels then spent a few weeks in General Clinton’s country house, the first of two stays there, while their daughters recovered from smallpox inoculations. When the family returned to New York, the Baroness was delighted to find their new home “furnished throughout with mahogany furniture,” courtesy of the British government.

As the birthday of the Queen of England drew near … it was decided to celebrate the day, as usual, with a big fete; and desiring to honor me—partly to please General Phillips, who wished it, and partly to help me forget all the trouble I had gone through—they chose me to be queen of the ball. In order to accomplish this the wife of General Cornwallis’ aide, who, as an English noblewoman ranked higher than I, and should, therefore, have been chosen, was persuaded to stay at home because she soon expected to be confined. When the festive day arrived, all the ladies went to General Tryon’s home, where I was received with all ceremony. The General presented all the ladies to me, some of whom plainly showed their jealousy at my having been thus honored. I declared immediately that I would only accept this distinction for that day alone, as they had wanted to do me the honor of letting me represent the Queen, but that afterward I would give place to the ladies who were older than I. As there were a number of them older than I, and some of them felt complimented by this remark, their faces brightened up and I was soon on cordial terms with them.

At six o’clock I got into the coach with General Tryon and General Pattison and drove to the ball, where I was received with drums and trumpets.

As my own pregnancy was pretty far advanced, I did not want to dance, but could not refuse to open the ball by dancing a minuet with one of the generals. Because of my condition, as well as my shyness, I felt that my dancing was not very good, but to encourage me the others said I did very well, so that I had to dance another minuet, and finally even some English dances as well. …

Not only this day, but all during my stay I was overwhelmed with kindness, and the rest of the winter was most pleasant, except that we suffered a great deal from the cold. The commissary had not had enough wood chopped because, in order to save money, he had wanted to have this done by Negro slaves. However, the winter had come earlier than usual, and as the rivers were half frozen, it was impossible to transport the wood either by boat or by sleighs, and the garrison was greatly in need of fuel. We received our tickets for wood, to be sure, but what good were they when there was none to be had? Frequently we had to borrow wood from General Tryon for Saturday and Sunday, which we returned to him on Monday, if we got some ourselves. The cold was so fierce that I often kept the children in bed, and often wood could not be bought at any price, and when it was sold it cost ten pounds a cord. … The poor people burned lard to warm their hands and to cook over.