Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Benjamin's Letter to Congress, July 1776

In June 1776 General Washington and Congress were worried that cattle on western Long Island would, in the event of an invasion which was imminent, fall into British hands.

Congress. June 28, 1776. In answer to advice from Gen. Washington, it was ordered that a conference be had with him as to removing or securing the cattle and stock from those parts of Nassau [Long] and Staten Islands that are most exposed to invasion. [Capt. Thomas] Wickham and [Thomas] Tredwell were on the Committee of Conference. pg 692. The Refugees of 1776 from Long Island to Connecticut

On July 3, 1776 a letter was sent from Jeromus Remsen to Col. Sands, Esq. stating:

Sir:— I have this day waited upon his Excellency, Gen. Washington, relating to removing the cattle, horses and sheep on the south side of Queens county, according to the resolve of Congress and the general officers of the army. His opinion is that the commanding officers and committees of the county, order it immediately done. He further declared that in case the Tories made any resistance, he would send a number of his men with orders to shoot all the creatures, and also those who hindered the execution of said resolve, within -the limits therein prescribed. The Commissary of the army engaged to me that he would pay the full value for the fat cattle and sheep to the owners, provided they would drive them within Gen. Greene's lines, in Brookland. Proper care will be taken as to valuing said creatures. Time will not permit us to make any delay. I am, sir, your very humble servant, JEROMUS REMSEN pg 74-75 Documents and Letters Intended to Illustrate the Revolutionary Incidents of Queens County

Jeromus Remsen was a member and clerk of the county committee. Later he was appointed colonel over half the militia of Kings and Queens counties and joined forces under the brigade of General Greene in Brooklyn. These American forces were routed at the Battle of Long Island and after their retreat Colonel Remsen was forced to flee to safety in New Jersey; where he resided until the war's end.

At some point during July Benjamin writes from Cow Neck to the President of Congress about the situation:

SIR : — I have been some days, and am still, in the execution of the order of Congress for removing the cattle, horses and sheep in this county, and expect to finish it in a day or two more. From the best computation that can be made, there are not less than 7000 horned cattle, 7000 sheep and 1000 horses in this county, comprehended in the above order, and to be removed in pursuance of it. A number so large, it is conceived, cannot possibly live long where they are to be driven. On the Brushy Plains they will be entirely destitute of water, besides having other very scanty means of subsistence.

By attending myself on this business. I have had an opportunity of knowing the extreme distress to which the rigid execution of this order must expose many people with their families ; so that some among the poorer sort, for aught I know, must be left to starve. The cattle which many people have turned off to fat for the use of their families, will be lost as to all the purposes of such provision, and their families be destitute of that necessary supply for winter. In several parts of the county there was last year a distemper among the horses, which swept off such numbers of them that many people have been obliged since to depend entirely upon oxen. These being now taken away, they are deprived of the only means they had of carrying on any labor upon their farms, that requires a team of horses or oxen. The consequence of which must be, that they can neither secure their present harvest, nor till the earth for a future one.

I find the people in general are willing to enter into obligations, that (in case of immediate danger) they will drive their stock to any place of greater safety on the island, pursuant to the direction of the Congress or county committee. And considering the danger there is under the present regulation of losing a great part of the stock for want of sustenance, and the hardships to which people are reduced, I thought it might not be amiss to mention this circumstance, supposing that the Congress, in concurrence with the General, might perhaps, fall on some method, in this way, for securing the stock on an emergency.

The difficulty of keeping the stock within the limits prescribed, will be so great that I doubt it will be out of my power to effect it. A considerable number of men will be necessary for the purpose — more than I can possibly keep on that duty when harvest is so near at hand. In short I do not see but that for the present at least, I shall be obliged to leave them to take their chance. I am, sir, your very humble servant,

Cow Neck, July, 1776. BENJ. KISSAM.
pg 74-75 Documents and Letters Intended to Illustrate the Revolutionary Incidents of Queens County

So as of July 1776 Benjamin was working with Congress (I assume NY 4th Provincial Congress and not Continental Congress) but it's unclear to me in what capacity. Was he part of a committee in the county or had he been asked by a friend to help? But his letter may have had some effect on Congress:

Convention. July 20, 1776. After several days of debate, it was Resolved that it was not for the public good, even if it were practicable, to remove the stock from Nassau [Long] Island, except such cattle, sheep and hogs as were fit for the use of the Army; that the stock should be driven to the interior of the Island in charge of'the troops — the commanding officer to leave three milch cows to each large family, two to a middling family, and one to a small family; that the commanding officer might destroy the stock to prevent its capture by the enemy; that owners of stock thus destroyed would be compensated if they were loyal to the American cause; that the troops to carry out this order should consist of a draft of one fourth of the Minute Men and Militia in the Counties of Suffolk, Queens and Kings; that the said troops should have Continental pay and rations and serve until Dec. 3ist next, unless sooner discharged; and that Col. Josiah Smith should be the first Col. of the said troops, Col. John Sands, the second Col., Abraham Remsen, the Major, and Col. Rcnjn. Birdsall, the Commander of one company on the South side of Queens Co. A letter was also addressed to Gen. Washington asking him to purchase the stock for the Continental Army. pg 692. The Refugees of 1776 from Long Island to Connecticut

On August 27 1776 the Battle of Brooklyn started and the British captured Queens County and, shortly thereafter, captured New York City. Interestingly, the act of moving the cattle by Gen. Woodhull may have opened the door for the flanking maneuver by the British. If Woodhull had been stationed at Jamaica Pass like he was supposed to be than the outcome of the battle may have been different.

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