- Historic Sites
The Revolution Remembered
Newly Discovered Eyewitness Accounts of the War for Independence
April/may 1980 | Volume 31, Issue 3
With deep anxiety for the event, we undressed, bound our clothes upon our backs, drank a little ginger and water, and entered the cold waters of the lake, here about a mile in width. Webster went forward, and I followed. After proceeding a few rods, I was on the point of turning about. The water was so chilling I thought I could never reach the opposite shore, but when I reflected that the lives of many of my countrymen might depend upon the success of my effort, I resolved at every hazard to go forward, and if I perished, I should die in the best of causes. When we had got into the middle of the lake, the wind blew and dashed the water onto our bundles of clothes and wet them and made them very heavy. And the garter with which I bound on my bundle swelled and got across my throat and choked me and exceedingly embarrassed me. When we had swam about two-thirds across, I found myself almost exhausted and thought I could not proceed further. But at the instant I was about giving up, the Lord seemed to give me new courage and strength, and shifting my manner of swimming a little, I went forward and soon discovered a tree directly before, about twenty rods from the shore. This tree I reached with a struggle and thought I could not have obtained the shore if it had been to gain the world. The tree was large, and I made out to get onto it and adjust my bundle.
At this instant, Webster, who was about twelve rods north of me, cried out, “For God’s sake Wallace, help me, for I am a drowning!” The cry of my companion in distress gave me a fresh impulse. I swam to the shore, ran opposite to him, and directly found there poles, which had been washed upon the beach, about twelve or fifteen feet long. I flung one toward him, but it did not reach him. I flung the second without success. The third, I pushed toward him until the further end reached him; he seized it and sunk to the bottom. I then exerted myself with all my might and drew him out, I hardly know how. As soon as he came to a little and could speak, he cried out, “O Lord God, Wallace, if it had not been for you, I should have been in the eternal world. ” I told him not to make any noise, as the enemy might be watching us in ambush.
I then wrung his clothes and dressed him and put on my own, and we set out to find the American encampment. But it soon became so dark that we lost our way, and in a short time we found ourselves in an open field near the enemy’s guard. We then returned into the woods and remained in a secure place until the moon rose, which appeared to rise directly in the west. I, however, told Webster the moon must be right, and we traveled on until we came to the road that led north and south, just as the enemy fired their nine o’clock gun. But we did not know whether to go north or south. Our object was to find General Warner’s encampment and deliver our express to him. But we were not certain whether he was north or south of us, and we might fall into the enemy’s hands, let us go which way we would, and the whole plan of our officers fail of success. In this trying dilemma, we agreed that one should go north, followed by the other at few rods distant, and risk his life to the best advantage, and if taken by the enemy, the hind one should go south and deliver the express. It fell to my lot to go forward, and, after I had traveled about an hour, I came to a sentry who hailed me and said, “Who comes there?”
I answered, “A friend.”
He asked, “A friend to whom?”
I asked him whose friend he was.
He then said, “Advance and give the countersign.”
This I could not do, as I did not know the countersign of this detachment. I knew the sentry was an American from his voice, yet he might be a Tory in the British service. I then asked him in a pleasant voice if there was another sentry near and if he would call him. He did so, and to my great joy, I knew the man and informed them at once that I was a friend to America and had brought an express to their commander and requested to be conducted to him immediately, and calling Webster, who was a few rods behind, we were conducted by an officer and file of men to General Warner’s quarters and delivered our message, both written and verbal. I also informed General Warner that the British were much nearer than he imagined, and that unless everything was kept still in the camp, the plan would yet fail. He then ordered all lights to be extinguished and no noise to be made. We then retired a little into the woods and lay down cold and wet in blankets furnished us by the commissary, and when we awoke in the morning, all our troops destined to this service on both sides of the lake were in motion. The Indian spies took possession of all the watercraft belonging to the British on Lake George, and about five hundred prisoners were taken.
John Ingersoll of Tuckahoe joined the New Jersey sea service about 1778 in order to avoid being drafted for the militia (he had already served nine months). He might better have stayed on shore.