A Hessian Visits The Victors: 1783

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In order to block the channel completely to armed vessels and warships, since the river is not controlled above and below the fortress, a chain of a special construction has been placed between the western point and Constitution Island. Since the right bank of the river is perpendicularly steep and several hundred rods high at some places, the forts cannot be bombarded by warships, although they would have enough deep water.… Should an armed vessel attempt to pass the works on the water side, and try to break the chain by force, to which the tide and a favorable wind could greatly contribute, it could get only as far as the point, because the river here forms a deep and double bend where the wind becomes unfavorable. Besides, the men on deck could easily be killed by pistols from the steep bank. So much is certain, that determined men could make the conquest of this post sour and expensive to an enemy.—But are there not enough examples in ancient and modern history where the strongest and impregnable posts have been betrayed by treachery or surprise?

 

In the afternoon we crossed the river again. The fortress appeared like a three-story amphitheater, and the many waterfalls tumbling down from the steep and rocky bank provided a majestic sight to the eye. Toward three o’clock we rode to General McDougall’s residence, where we met a company of three ladies and about twenty officers. One of the ladies was a daughter of the general and was married to an American colonel. Of the others, one was the wife of a major, with her daughter. The major was born in Frankfort-on-the-Main and seemed to me from beginning to end to be a military charlatan, but not without some knowledge.

Since we dined in the best English fashion, we did not go to the table until half-past four. At this time the conversation turned to General Arnold, who had been commandant at West Point, and was willing to play this post into the hands of General Clinton [Sir Henry Clinton]. But Madam Lawrance [Elizabeth Lawrance, General McDougall’s daughter], who did not like the military and political talk, took her lute from the wall, played it, and favored us with several first-rate English arias.

At the appointed hour we went to the table, and I had the good fortune to be seated between Madam Lawrance and Miss Bauman. The former was a very pleasant and vivacious blonde with light-blue eyes which possessed much worldliness to entertain a stranger, and I do not deny that the company of this charming woman was so pleasant that I felt much regret when we rose from the table. As soon as the ladies had withdrawn and the glasses were more frequently filled, the general came closer to me. Heart and mouth were unbuttoned and I began to speak English very fluently. I discovered that the general must be a reasonable and excellent soldier, for which he was already noted in our army. He was a native Scotsman, had commanded a privateer at his own expense during the Seven Years’ War, and since the Americans took him for a courageous man, the Congress had appointed him a general at the beginning of the war. In a word, I was so impressed by this man during this short acquaintance that I was very glad to have made it. Toward half-past seven, the ladies called us for tea. After I had enjoyed the company of the pleasant Madam Lawrance for another hour, we took our leave of these good people and rode back to Nelson’s house, where we met our three traveling companions and clean rooms and beds, and rested our bodies for the first time on this journey.

Since Captain Hinrichs wished to pay his respects to General McDougall on the morning of the 24th, and Dr. Michaelis wanted to call upon a famous rattlesnake doctor, we did not depart from Nelson’s house until around midday. Toward seven o’clock in the evening we arrived at Tarrytown, thirty-nine English miles from our last lodgings, where we seemed to be quite welcome for our money.

Here we met an American councilman who was a zealous defender of the American cause and a great enemy of the English government. For the sake of independence he had abandoned all his possessions which lay in and around New York. At first this man appeared to be quite reasonable, but in the end he seemed nothing more than a fool and a pettifogger. As we did not contradict him due to courtesy and caution, he began to speak rather severely of the cruelty of the English army. But since our hostess feared that such talk might injure her trade, because she had recommended her house highly to us and our acquaintances traveling into this country, she became arbitrator and addressed the councilman, who had continually entertained us during the supper with his reputation and dignity in his country, in the following fashion.—“Sir, I will not stand for such talk in my house. My house is open to everyone who spends his money, and I like most he who spends the most. I like the money of these gentlemen better than the money of all you councilmen, for they deposit it in the cashbox, and the others let it slide.”

At this, we all began laughing, and “my dear senator” clasped his ears to his head and quietly retired to his sleeping place.

On the morning of the 25th, about nine o’clock, we left our amicable hostess and toward two o’clock arrived safely at our quarters at McGowan’s Pass on York Island.