- Historic Sites
The Revolution Remembered
Newly Discovered Eyewitness Accounts of the War for Independence
April/may 1980 | Volume 31, Issue 3
I was then grown to manhood, in the full vigor and strength of life, and heard much about the cruel and arbitrary things done by the British. Their ships lay within a few miles of my master’s house, which stood near the shore, and I was confident that my master traded with them, and I suffered much from fear that I should be sent aboard a ship of war. This I disliked. But when I saw liberty poles and the people all engaged for the support of freedom, I could not but like and be pleased with such thing (God forgive me if I sinned in so feeling). And living on the borders of Rhode Island, where whole companies of colored people enlisted, it added to my fears and dread of being sold to the British. These considerations induced me to enlist into the American army, where I served faithful about ten months, when my master found and took me home. Had I been taught to read or understand the precepts of the Gospel, “Servants obey your masters,” I might have done otherwise, notwithstanding the songs of liberty that saluted my ear, thrilled through my heart. But feeling conscious that I have since compensated my master for the injury he sustained by my enlisting, and that God has forgiven me for so doing, and that I served my country faithfully, and that they having enjoyed the benefits of my service to an equal degree for the length [of] time I served with those generally who are receiving the liberalities of the government, I cannot but feel it becoming me to pray Your Honor to review my declaration on file and the papers herewith amended.
A few years after the war, Joshua Swan, Esq., of Stonington purchased me of my master and agreed that after I had served him a length of time named faithfully, I should be free. I served to his satisfaction and so obtained my freedom. He moved into the town of Milton, where I now reside, about forty-eight years ago. After my time expired with Esq. Swan, I married a wife. We have raised six children. Five are still living. I must be upward of eighty years of age and have been blind for many years, and notwithstanding the aid I received from the honest industry of my children, we are still very needy and in part are supported from the benevolence of our friends. With these statements and the testimony of my character herewith presented, I humbly set my claim upon the well-known liberality of government.
Most respectfully your humble servant
In September of 1777, Richard Wallace, a farmer of Thetford, Vermont, marched with Connecticut troops against Fort Ticonderoga—and found himself swimming for his life.
General [Horatio] Gates contrived to cut off the British watercraft on Lake George, and for that purpose sent two detachments of five hundred men each, one on the west side of the lake to the south side of the mountains that lie south of Ticonderoga, where our troops were ordered to halt. I belonged to this detachment.
Directly after halting, Colonel Brown came to me and inquired if I could swim. I told him I was not a great swimmer. He said he wanted me to swim a little way but did not then tell me where or for what purpose. After excusing myself a little, I agreed to swim, [as] he was exceedingly earnest to have me engage. He then said he wanted a man to go with me and inquired who would volunteer in the service. A man by the name of Samuel Webster offered himself and said he was a great swimmer. Colonel Brown engaged him to go with me. This done, Colonel Brown called several officers and some soldiers, and we all set off together and traveled up the mountain a few miles until we came in full view of the British encampment, and after reconnoitering the mountain east and west for about three miles and taking observations, the officers arranged all things for an attack at break of day the next morning. Colonel Brown then called Webster and myself and told us of “the little way” he wished us to swim, which was nothing less than across Lake Champlain, then in view about five miles distant. He accordingly gave us our instructions, both verbal and written, and we made our [way] over rocky mountains and through hurricanes of fallen trees to the lake, where we arrived a little before sunset, so near the enemy’s ships that we could see them walk on their decks and hear them talk, and had they seen us they might have reached us with their grapeshot.